by Kristin Bezio
Namely, because I downloaded the free digital copy, so there wasn’t anything TO throw out the window. Let’s see, where do I begin? How about, like all good fairytales, at the beginning?
For the sake of your amusement, dear reader, I chose to write this post while playing. This means you get the full impact of the experience my husband… er… “enjoyed” of me periodically talking back to my Xbox. I’ll give you a little wrap-up at the end of the post.
I start up the game and am immediately presented with the choice of Prince or Princess. Red flag number one. I don’t WANT to be a princess. I would much rather be a soldier or a farmer or a common laborer if it’s going to be my fairytale. Resigning myself to royalty, I asked the husband, “Do I play a male or a female?”
Now, I usually default male as my avatar in games, and Fable III will immediately explain why. But this time, the husband said, “You’re going to hate it anyway, so why not double down?” Okay, princess it is.
My patronizing butler wakes me up, and I’m wearing pink, frilly pajamas with an enormous pink bow over my even more enormous boobs. When not moving, my character cocks one hip suggestively and sways her impressive badonk (especially for a skinny white chick) while her breaths (and yes, she breathes) heave her bosoms up and down, up and down.
I don’t think I can take this. And I haven’t even left my bedroom.
I am asked to choose an outfit. I pick the less frilly of the two. I am told that Master Elliot will approve. Personally, I don’t give two rats titties what Master Elliot thinks. I’m playing this game evil all the way. Because I already hate everyone in it, including myself, so I might as well – as the husband says – “double down.”
Oh, look. I get to follow sparkles outside (although I’m pretty sure the prince has to follow sparkles, too). I can’t wait.
And that guard just said, “Your highness, you can always count on me to protect you.” I will kill him first, I think. If that’s even an option in this game. Also, the next swooning maid to tell me how ravishing I look is going to get decapitated and have her head put on a pike. At least Master Elliot likes my dog?
Oh, god. She just giggled. And my first interaction options are “Hug” and “Kiss”? Excuse me while I vomit. (Yes, those are also the options for the prince, who is talking to a woman, instead of a man.) I don’t want to hug him. I want to punch his smarmy face.
Rebellion, eh? I’m going to raze this town, kill my brother, and throw Elliot off a tower. If it lets me. No? I have to hold his hand and be escorted through the garden? Well, I suppose that will have to do, then.
Pause, resume later when I’ve become less angry. I’m now trying to ignore the conspicuously heaving bosoms in every scene, or the butt-sway-sashay that I think is supposed to be my princess’s walk. But now we’ve arrived at the catacombs and I’ve received the Guild Seal (vague artifact is vague) and I’ve learned that I’m the most special special to ever special.
I hate “chosen one” stories. I don’t want to be the chosen one, I want to be bloody competent and have agency, dammit. I like the heroes in BioWare games (Hawke and Shepard) because although they’re special, they earned that special by being badass, they weren’t magically born to it just because Someone Said So. But this nameless princess, she was born to it. She’s Special. Ugh.
Also, the fact that I have inherited my magical Specialness from my father (patriarchy, anyone?) rubs this early modern sovereignty scholar the wrong way. Even Shakespeare understood that patriarchal means of inheritance was a fundamentally flawed way to develop leadership skills, and we’re a good four centuries on from then and should really have moved past that by now. Right?
Resume playing. Okay, a bit about the mechanics of the game. I can run. I can cast silly spells to kill wolves and bats (in fact, I have to, which I find annoying, because I’d rather leave the bats and wolves alone unless they explicitly do damage to me, which the bats don’t). I can belch at people, shake their hands, or (sometimes) give them money. I have all the social skills of… well, parakeets can talk and monkeys can fling poo, and my dog in the game has more options (chase tail, dig, bark, lay down, run, fetch) for social interactions than I do. So… an intelligent rock? Perhaps it’s because I’m coming off playing Mass Effect and Dragon Age, which have highly complex conversation trees, but I feel like Fable III has stripped me of that most basic of human communication abilities: speech. I make weird baby-noises at my dog, I awkwardly engage in handshakes and fist-bumps with total strangers, and I belch rudely at people I don’t like. I mean… c’mon. Basic “Hello” and “Please go away” aren’t really that complex of conversation pieces, here, people.
Oh, and when I do have something more important to do? I act like a complete ham-fisted barbarian. For instance, I am given the option (the only option) of showing the Librarian the Seal. Instead of calmly pulling it out of my pocket and putting it calmly on the table, I raise it over my head in one fist and stick out both boobs and hips. Really? Was that strictly necessary? Couldn’t a more civilized, “Hey, look at my shiny disk that’s too big to be concealed by my clothing yet somehow is” work just as well?
Okay, and now I have simply grown bored. Skeleton-things come out of the ground and attack me, I kill them, my dog finds treasure, Jasper (the butler) periodically calls me to teleport back to a closet to give me new weapons or whatever. But none of it is interesting. I don’t care about Albion. I really don’t care that my brother is an asshat. And I don’t really care what happens in the game because I’m going to hit random buttons, things will sparkle and die, and then I will make weird cooing noises at my dog. Not interesting.
I do not feel a sense of thrill when enemies spawn or when I defeat them… more a sense of relief that I can keep moving and make it all end faster. And that’s not a feeling one wants to get while playing an epic fantasy. Honestly, I’d really prefer that this fantasy were less epic. It’s… boring. And annoying. And I really wish I didn’t make such idiotic noises at my dog.
Oh, look. And now I’m being told I’m on the Road to Rule. How… original. What if I’d rather be the genius behind the throne? Or a farmer? Bring a princess is so trite and, quite frankly, BORING. And I have yet to say anything even remotely intelligent. I hate my character. I am irritated at the butler, and I’m even starting to resent my dog because every time I want to be nice to it, I have to make really nauseating cooing noises at it. Ugh.
Well, that’s new. After completing the library quest I’ve developed the ability – instead of shaking hands – to do a “Hero Pose.” And, quite frankly, it makes me not want to interact with anyone. It’s embarrassing to watch, it’s embarrassing to choose as an option, and I’m embarrassed for the developers who had to implement that. I would prefer to wave, shake hands, say “hello” like a normal person… any of those would be acceptable. But to make bizarre noises that sound vaguely like my princess is constipated while “posing” like Mr. Universe is just… awkward. And humiliating. I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to see it, and I can’t imagine that anyone other than a pre-programmed AI would find it at all appealing.
I’m also not sure how much more of this game I can take.
I’ve now defeated a mercenary lord, earned his loyalty (I did have the option of killing him), and then found a scroll that I’m supposed to take back to a proprietor with pink hair.
I’m so thrilled I can’t stand it. Literally. If I’m going to wander about through the countryside in search of random things to collect, I’d rather do it somewhere where my conversation options don’t include belching or farting and I use actual language. In other words, I’m going to go play Skyrim.
Will I ever come back to Fable III? Probably not. In fact, next time I go into a game store I’m going to by Tomb Raider just to feel better about being a female gamer.
So, to wrap up, while I think that there is a market for Fable III, I’m also pretty sure it involves people who are unconcerned about narrative or realism – and there are many of them, and they probably have the capacity to overlook things like cooing and lack of basic speech that I simply don’t have. I know – from watching the husband play Fable II back in the day – that the series actually has a fairly complex and comprehensive system for developing your avatar based on his or her decisions; the hero can marry, have children (or not), be evil, be good, and be everything in between. The world and the options presented to the hero change based on his or her behavior, and that’s actually quite a compelling mechanic.
But the trees are impeding my ability to enjoy the forest because they’re oozing this weird-smelling goo that gets in my hair and stains my clothes. In other words, I can’t get over my utter inability to conduct myself like a normal human being by using basic speech. Yes, I know important conversations are had in English, but the vast majority of the things I do are so utterly asinine that I just can’t take it.
And, finally, there’s my character. Yes, I could have chosen the Prince, but the fact that I decided to try the female hero tells me that this developer has miles and miles to go before they reach a point where I’m not going to think of them as sexist. The frills, the idiotic giggling, the hip-cock, the booty, and the massive heaving bosoms are just so fantasy-porn clichéd that I’ve lost utter respect for whomever designed and approved that model. I’m also pretty sure that in a fight the dog could beat her up because she’d tip over on her face due to lack of balance.
Here’s the thing. I know that there are games out there capable not only of implementing a complex narrative system in a fantasy universe in which a female player-character is realistically depicted as having basic human proportions (even if she is unrealistically attractive and perhaps a bit on the skinny side, but at least her boobs aren’t bigger than her head) because I’ve seen it in BioWare games. I’ve seen it in Bethesda games. I’ve seen it in World of Warcraft (although less often, admittedly). Sure, the characters in many of those games are still sexualized (male and female), but I don’t take one look at my own avatar and think “Oh, god, REALLY?!” in the way I did in Fable III.
What it boils down to is that games are capable of being and should be better than what Fable III offers us. What Fable (the first one) did in terms of innovation was great – and a lot of the core ideas are still good ones, but games (especially narrative games) have come so much farther since then than you would guess if all you played was the Fable series. And as a player I want to see that complexity. I want to play a character who isn’t just a stock fairy-tale fantasy. I want a character who doesn’t look like she stepped out of a thirteen-year-old’s fantasy of a princess (or prince). I want a character capable of basic speech and appropriate behavior who doesn’t embarrass me when I’m playing in a room by myself with headphones. I’m not saying that all games have to be BioWare or Dishonored or Skyrim (and those are three very different games). But I am saying that each game should be the best it can be, and I just feel like Fable III isn’t – it’s phoned-in, a knock-off of itself thrown together because it thinks it can rest on its own laurels.