Friday, December 12, 2008

Fable 2 - Moralizing vs. Choice

For some reason there's a stigma about posting something on one's blog that one has said elsewhere. If I've said something in such a way that I think eloquently, and quickly, gets to the point, what's the harm? That's right - there is none.

This is a discussion with the ever-thoughtful Simon, over on the GA Tech News Games Blog, about Moralizing vs. Choice in Fable 2. Enjoy.


Great article.

On the topic of Fable 2, as you know, after passing the game you are given an excellent, and truly differentiated set of choices. The largest problem therein lies with the fact that each of these choices gives varying degrees of reward *quality*. Let me stress the word "quality" once again.

By presenting rewards of different quality, the game inherently biases the player toward one of the three outcomes (guess which one?).

One of the choices gives the player something they could otherwise not have (given they choose one of the other rewards), another of the choices gives the player something they could easily obtain on their own with a little more work, and the remaining choice gives no reward whatsoever (except maybe feeling a little better, morally).

By giving rewards of different quality, the game is in fact NOT asking the player to make a moral choice, but one of utility.

In order to truly task a player with moral choice, a game must offer rewards that are unique, but generally equal in utility. You hint at this briefly with your reference to the first KOTOR - by choosing one path the player inherently gives up another. In Fable 2, though, the player can effectively have it all by making a single choice, thus making the other two choices moot.

Thoughts? And keep up the good work.

~David S.



Thank you so much for this comment. It's the best I've gotten on the articles I've posted for this site (maybe because you're a designer, so you know how to cut right to the chase). I definitely tried to voice my general discontent with the alignment choices in Fable II when I said "despite the utter lack of meaningful choice I found while playing Fable II..." but you really nailed it. For me the last choice was difficult only because I'd been playing the game as a complete bastard. The third choice, the one with the least quality, would have been much better if like the other three it had anything to do with the Spire and the souls locked within it (but it doesn't). Since I'd played the game slowly over the course of a month, I had so much money from rent payments by the end that this choice was really laughable. But the other two gave me quite a pause. I liked that the game all of a sudden made it difficult for me to a bastard.

So yes, I completely agree with you that the varying levels of quality in these choices makes the somewhat obvious. Raising the idea of utility, however, I'd be interested in playing through a game like KotoR or Morrowind or Fallout 3 as a strict utilitarian to see how many "good" or "evil" choices I end up making. Also the idea of designing a game with more nuanced philosophies than "good" and "evil" would be fun (I think Fallout 3 does a good job of making neutral a viable option). Thanks again for reading and writing!


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