Essentially, I’d forced Grace into the seductive stage of the whole relationship, sweeping her into a whirlwind engagement period that lasted for maybe three hours, having finally settled on a goggled but always-friendly chemistry shop owner, engaging in unprotected sex on her wedding night, and subsequently having a beautiful baby girl show up -- as far as we could tell -- the very next day.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Grace, my wife of nearly three years, agreed to humor a plea from Lionhead Studios’ lion king himself, Peter Molyneux. As reported in Variety
, a letter from Molyneux was enclosed with review copies of Fable II. The letter read: “I have a favor to ask you -- We built this game not only to appeal to gamers like yourself, but to appeal to anybody. So please, please, please, please, please find somebody who doesn’t play games, watch them play it and see how their world turns out, because I think it’s only when you see those differences that the unique experiences come through.”
Not that I’m a sucker for just anybody that says the word “please” five times in a row, but I’ve always, always, always, always, always been struck by the incredible heart that Molyneux pours into each of his creations. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but even if you latch onto the staid argument that Molyneux over-promises and under-delivers, it’d be difficult to say that the first Fable had no heart. Or that Black & White had no heart. Or, for that matter, Populous. Amidst so many games that seem to lack “soul” (which is admittedly a nebulous thing to grasp at in a videogame), Molyneux’s work has never lacked that certain something.
Even as venomous commentary poured into the Variety forums and in many other places that posted the same story, I felt conflicted but certainly not cynical regarding Molyneux’s request. Grace has been diligently editing my videogame reviews for years -- she’s as hardnosed as they come, trust me -- but she’s uninterested in playing videogames herself for any of their mental, physical, or emotional benefits. I subscribe to the camp that videogames can tap into each and every one of those pieces of the Human Experience pie chart, but that doesn’t invalidate her opinion in the least. She read through Irving Stone’s biographical novel of Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy, in the amount of time it took me to secure the mining ship Ishimura from its plague of Necromorphs in Dead Space. She’s now halfway through Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, and any counterargument from me would go something like, “Yeah, well, I just prevented a rival gun dealer’s convoy from completing its circuitous route past the petrol station in Far Cry 2!”
As you can see, I don’t always set myself up for success.
Regardless, I told Grace that her playing Fable II, coupled with copious note-taking from me, would synergize our efforts into a worthy editorial for posterity’s sake. She doesn’t play videogames, but from editing my oft-times lazy and/or verbose missives, she’s developed a vocabulary that allows her to hold intelligent conversations on a medium that she doesn’t personally engage in. And Fable II -- don’t let Molyneux fool you -- is a rather complex role-playing game, single-button combat or not. Arguably, Halo is single-button combat, so it’s obvious that Fable II’s social, economic, and narrative complexities immediately skyrocket past anything that could be misconstrued as simplistic. Nevertheless, Grace agreed to the project, and I insistently shoved the controller into her hands before she could change her mind.Here are some entertaining quotes (and observations) I got out of Grace during her 20 or so hours in Fable II’s land of Albion:
- "I’m really uncomfortable with the pedophiliac undertones coming from that thug towards these two little girls.” - After a shady character approaches Sparrow’s (the main characters) older sister, offering her an undisclosed amount of money to perform an undisclosed act for him.
- Grace was uncomfortable with Lucien, Fable II’s villain, inviting two pre-teen girls up to his castle in the middle of the night. As the castle’s butler escorted the girls to Lucien, Grace (in parenthesis) reads between the lines of the butler’s spoken dialogue: “He eats in his study” (Because he’s creepy!). “He’s doing research” (On little girls!). “You must show respect at all times” (As well as your pre-teen bodies!) Grace was definitely convinced there was a pedophiliac subtext in the narrative.
- "The dog is okay. But it would’ve been more meaningful if I’d been able to choose whether or not to keep the dog in the first place.”
- “Awww, I’m sorry, doggy.” - Overheard anytime her pooch was limping around the screen after getting hurt in a fight.
- "Why does Sparrow keep grabbing her junk when she’s standing around? That’s odd for a girl.” - Sparrow’s idle animation (whether a boy or girl) sometimes involves a little adjustment.
- “It’s 10 years later. Doesn’t that make my dog, like, 70 years old? He’s still alive?” - After meeting the dog in the childhood prologue, the story advances 10 years ahead for the main body of the game, but the dog is sprightly as ever.
- “Why would I want to play a game that resembles stuff I can do in real life? Browsing real estate? I can do that on the internet. Where do I go for the story?”
- “I can’t dig for treasure in somebody’s flowerbed. I have principles.” - Grace refuses to use her spade to make a quick buck when her dog leads her into a Bowerstone resident’s front yard.
- “I didn’t want to kill you. But you followed me. Shooting. So I had to kill you.” - After Grace does the right thing by freeing a couple slaves, the slave owner eventually gets what’s coming to him.
- “Oh no! I accidentally got engaged! How do I … disengage?” - Overheard after Grace “accidentally” flirted heavily with a Bowerstone local, gave him a gift, then handed him a Civil Ring as a proposal of marriage.
- “Hm. They must’ve been drunk?” - After an encampment of three roadside thugs don’t seem to respond to arrows being shot into them from 30 yards away. (She was fully capable of role-playing away technical bugs.)
- “The harder these fights get, the less interest I have in the game.” - This revelation, after two flawless rounds and only dying once during The Crucible, an intense wave-after-wave set of arena-based battles.
It’s sometimes unconscious what kind of character we end up “role-playing” in a role-playing game. In her personal and professional life, Grace is able to keep a lot of plates spinning. She’s a multitasking robot, and grows notably depressed if she doesn’t have a bulleted list of activities lined up and checked off in order to get through evenings/weekends/her life. But in Fable II, she ironically felt distracted and discouraged by the continually-opening sets of subplots and side-missions. She only deviated from the critical story path when absolutely required.
That said, after I could tell that she wasn’t going to thoroughly explore the economic aspects of the game, I encouraged her to buy a couple of Bowerstone’s market stalls so that she could begin pulling a steady income. She bought up the Meat Stall and the Pie Stall (two of her real-life favorite meal time items) and was always pleasantly surprised during each game load when a couple thousand gold pieces populated her purse from her stall’s sales. Unfortunately, it didn’t pleasantly surprise her enough to make her go out and buy up more businesses or purchase homes to rent out. This economic aversion from a woman that surfed Century 21’s housing lists for three hours every night (every! night!) for two years (two! years!) before we bought our first home together only eleven months ago.
Further, after I could tell that she wasn’t going to thoroughly explore the social aspects of the game, I encouraged her to get involved in a long-term relationship, buy a home, and have a baby. After she did have a baby, I noticed that she stopped paying much attention to her alchemist husband, though she appreciated the frequent Resurrection Phials she received as gifts. I’m personally noting this behavior for my future reference.
I’m 100-percent convinced that Grace enjoyed her time in Fable II. And she is too, though she’d certainly cite a much lower two-digit percentile. But with too many (in her opinion) distractions from the main storyline, she’s putting down the controller with the writing of this editorial. She has, however, haphazardly tossed out the idea that she might visit Albion again once a week or so. In which, no doubt, she’ll be pleasantly surprised by the modest income her two market stalls bring in, she’ll say out loud “Hi, Honey!” to her in-game husband before going upstairs and spending time with the baby, and probably leaving the house just to do some furniture shopping across the plaza … that is, if she can’t find an immediate way to advance the central narrative’s heroic epic.
Now, after being more than patient, I finally get to pick up the controller and see for myself -- from a gamer’s perspective -- how my own version of Fable II will turn out.