Dear Steve

I preface this post by saying that it began as a comment and then spiraled wildly out of control.

 

Image of cover art taken from Fable wiki page

Image of cover art taken from Fable wiki page

Dear Steve,

It really is important to note that Fable isn’t the first game to produce such a system Knight’s of The Old Republic had an “alignment” system that would mark a player as being “light” or “dark” based upon their actions (KoTOR was released a year before fable). While KoTOR predates Fable an alignment system was simply a feature of KoTOR, while it was the lynchpin of Fable’s gameplay.  The Fable franchise has done a fair job of creating a powerful mechanic for Video RPGs to better emulate the look, feel and customizability found in “pen-and-paper” RPGs. Fable and its initial expansion only had a singular axis on which a players morality could be judged. II and III used a two axis 3 x 3 grid with “good” and “evil” set against “purity” and “corruption” or “moral” and “immoral”.  Fable marks a serious step forward in Video RPGs as it’s the first time where players had to stop and ask the age-old D&D question “is this what my character would do?” To be honest, I think you’ve undersold how important this addition to the tool box of modern video RPGs is. Without Fable’s contribution, we’d still be playing RPGs with that very “on rails” feel. That initial feeling of freedom to make choices “good” or “evil” was a powerful story telling tool that made the narrative of Fable that much easier to become invested in.  I think your contention with the system stems from your play style.

 

“I still feel compelled to identify and manipulate the system at hand to get what I want in the game rather than to buy into it.”

 

Why feel compelled to identify the system? If you’re looking for the man behind the curtain you’re always going to find him. Don’t spoil the adventure. Just play the game. After all, it is a ROLE PLAYING GAME.  You have to willingly suspend disbelief to become invested in a fantasy world (and so your character there in) of an RPG. Part of that suspension process it to suspend the part of yourself that’s going to be critical of the gameplay mechanics. If you’re looking to analyze the game sure, by all means pick it apart. However, if your first priority is to enjoy the experience you have to get out of your own way.  I say all of this as a fully invested, self-affirmed “Power Gamer” who loves to manipulate the system to get the most bang for my buck. I understand that desire to take it all apart and see how it ticks.

 

You have to step into the magic circle fully prepared to play by its rules the way they were intended to be played by. Obey them in sprit, not as they are written.  If you’re going to use the circle to get a leg up in game play, then be aware that you are warping the world to suit your desires rather than participating in a genuine way.  That is a real and valid way of experiencing a game, but it’s not the one the creators of that game intended.  To critique a game simply because you chose to play it in an unexpected and unintended way as a tad unfair.

 

“Players need to have sufficient freedom and opportunity within the world of the game for them to buy into the world with full authenticity. Only then, if thrust into a well-constructed narrative, will a player begin to make morality decisions based within the actual constraints of the narrative.”

“freedom” is what you make of it, The importance of Fable’s world really was the “not on rails” feel of game play.   It was an open world game in which you could choose to complete the story quests, or you could just as validly go spend hours in “the hobbe cave” mowing down the loathsome little gray dudes to farm EXP (and “good” points). Which in and of itself is something interesting, you can delay saving the world to make the world a “better” place by slaying monsters.  I think that the open world and the sense of agency Fable allows for are what really set it apart from the rest of the crowed. I think focusing on those elements is more important than critiquing the shallowness of its morality system.

 

Hobbe_Caves

(image: a screen shot taken from Fable wiki page)

Overall, I was really excited about your post and its topic of discussion. When I saw that it was about fable I was thoroughly giddy, I do believe I had a “holy shit that’s so cool” moment. I was excited because I was totally set to see someone talk about how intensely xenophobic the morality system pushes the player to be (especially considering many of the monsters are former humans who were the victims of supernatural forces). Or how such a system actually enforces a very narrow opinion of “morality”.  Or any other of a wide variety of critical approaches to the way the game imposes morality onto players. Your post left me feeling underwhelmed to see your formal analysis, which seems to draw its major critique from your inability to become invested in the narratives of decision-making games.  You did a fantastic job cataloging the sort of technological development this game represents (although I think you undersell its importance).  Further, you also handled the development backstory of the game and the initial promises its designers failed to deliver very well.  You’re right Fable was promised to totally reinvent the way we conceive of RPGs and it failed to deliver on many of those claims but it did deliver on a morality system that truly impacts the way a player experiences a games narrative.   Fable is truly one of the first games of its kind where a player’s decision matter, where the player will then be allowed or denied different aspects of gameplay based upon past decisions.

Cheers,

Patrick

  2 comments for “Dear Steve

  1. Steve Rechter
    February 24, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Patrick,

    Let ME preface this comment by saying that I appreciate your critique of my post, though I feel your undying love for Fable as an entertaining experience of your past clouds your ability to look at the game objectively. I love Fable as well, that’s why I wrote about it. But you can’t be a fan and an objective analyzer at the same time. You take multiple jabs at the arguments I present but only support your refutations with opinions, such as how the magic circle should be applied to games. You note “If you’re looking for the man behind the curtain you’re always going to find him.” We’re always mentally detecting the man behind the curtain, we simply allow him to stay there sometimes. Great games, immersive games anyway, can make him harder to see, harder to find. As a gamer, a partaker in the experience of the game, I agree that it can damage the experience to intentionally break the magic circle. In terms of critical analysis however, your concerns are misplaced. In a sense, my post is an analysis of the durability of Fable’s magic circle, especially in light of more sophisticated, modern experiences with advanced systems of morality. Your concerns are based around the fact that I didn’t acknowledge the depths and sophistication of a system I feel hardly exists as anything beyond simple gimmickry. I can’t analyze the circle without seeing it from the inside out. Sorry I “undersold how important this addition to the tool box of modern video RPGs is”, that wasn’t necessarily my intention. As I wrote, “Fable’s issues make it a valuable case study in the building of methods for players to dynamically interact with characters and narratives.” I know you wanted to read a Fable love letter, but that’s not always the most interesting discussion!

    Best,

    Steve

  2. Steve
    February 24, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Patrick,

    Let ME preface this comment by saying that I appreciate your critique of my post, though I feel your undying love for Fable as an entertaining experience of your past clouds your ability to look at the game objectively. I love Fable as well, that’s why I wrote about it. But you can’t be a fan and an objective analyzer at the same time. You take multiple jabs at the arguments I present but only support your refutations with opinions, such as how the magic circle should be applied to games. You note “If you’re looking for the man behind the curtain you’re always going to find him.” We’re always mentally detecting the man behind the curtain, we simply allow him to stay there sometimes. Great games, immersive games anyway, can make him harder to see, harder to find. As a gamer, a partaker in the experience of the game, I agree that it can damage the experience to intentionally break the magic circle. In terms of critical analysis however, your concerns are misplaced. In a sense, my post is an analysis of the durability of Fable’s magic circle, especially in light of more sophisticated, modern experiences with advanced systems of morality. Your concerns are based around the fact that I didn’t acknowledge the depths and sophistication of a system I feel hardly exists as anything beyond simple gimmickry. I can’t analyze the circle without seeing it from the inside out. Sorry I “undersold how important this addition to the tool box of modern video RPGs is”, that wasn’t my intention at all. I don’t hold back on the inspiration Fable had for future games at all, even citing ones that borrowed from it. As also I wrote, “Fable’s issues make it a valuable case study in the building of methods for players to dynamically interact with characters and narratives.” I know you wanted to read a Fable love letter, but that’s not always the most interesting discussion!

    Best,

    Steve

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