I love Fable II, and why not? It's a great game despite all the glitches and bugs. Lionhead has, once again, succeeded in creating a game that lasts, demanding your attention despite its limited multiplayer options. While I had previously written an editorial poking fun at the effect Physique has on female Heroes -- transforming them into hulking Amazonian women -- the game certainly provides many opportunities for discussion with its numerous story and gameplay aspects. Some can treat Fable II as just another sandbox game, never looking for a deeper meaning in the choices they make and what these choices can say about a person.
The option to marry and raise a family interests me the most, and Lionhead keeps that pretty open-ended so players can go all out. Your Hero can marry as many people as you want, provided you don't get caught, provide for your spouse, have a child (or two), all while saving the world from a crazed old man.
While generalizations can be proven false on an individual level, they are not completely untrue. More specifically, player conduct in Fable II reminds me of the ol' sociological differences between men and women, and how the two sexes perceive relationships. Research has shown that stereotypically speaking, men tend to place more emphasis on sex, the physical aspect, while women prefer a closer bond based on emotion. That's not to say men don't care about emotions and women don't care about sex; it's a question of priority, and what we consider to be the foundation of relationships.
Traditionally, women have been the homemakers while their husbands are out making a living. Men who switch roles to take care of the house and children while their wives bring home the bacon will often face ridicule or disapproval. We accept these societal norms, evidenced by our media, especially advertising, through which we still see that familiar image of a housewife preparing dinner, cleaning her home, and playing with her toddlers. Sure, she's no longer in a yellow dress and apron with her curly hairdo and pearl necklace, but that contemporary mom with her denim jeans and ponytail still represents a very outdated standard. Sure, she's now got countless gadgets to help ease the cooking and cleaning process, but her role remains the same.
So playing Fable II and other RPGs or life simulators that allow customization gave me the notion that games can be more than just a hobby. Some of us might find ourselves expressing our desires through such games, using them as an outlet or at least an opportunity for experimentation. They make us wonder, "How real is the virtual?"
As the Hero in Fable, you can basically sleep around and have as many babies provided you don't get caught, and familial responsibilities lies mostly on your spouse(s), though occasional conjugal visits and a generous allowance are pretty essential in keeping them from divorcing your sorry ass. Loading screen tips tell you that multiple spouses are allowed but can become tricky after a while because the nagging duties of family life can pile up. Never mind what happens if you get caught.
My first Hero is, of course, female. While she has a husband, acquiring multiple spouses has never been a gnawing curiosity. I was satisfied catering to the needs of one husband, and the idea of marrying behind his back seemed a bit wrong. My character, with her sparkling halo and stash of Holy Tofu would never betray his love (those orgies were only for the Achievement, I swear). Sounds terribly cheesey, but my own values reflected upon her, and the idea of running about the continent collecting husbands was, well, not too tempting when the Tattooist's personality meant he would not have approved of sharing his wife. If she wanted to be true swinger, she simply would not have gotten married. But then we have to wonder if Albion's population was meant to attract single straight females; honestly, just look at the men and compare them to their female counterparts. I challenge you to find enough attractive men, and perhaps then I may convert my Hero to polygamy.
Players can treat their families with the same consideration given to loved ones in real life, or they can take things as they are -- AI within a virtual realm. So why keep them happy? No one is really getting hurt. And with the way Fable II has you raising your kids, it's a miracle they don't grow up into spoiled little Hero-brats.
There is something about Fable II and other similar games that I can truly appreciate, and that's the freedom it offers. The notion that the individual, the player, holds the power to change the world by making seemingly mundane choices can provide some relief for those of us who feel that the reality in which we reside is completely beyond us. But the draw of Fable is more than that, I feel, in that it addresses the smaller decisions and the gives players a chance to explore emotional bonds. Gender roles can be switched when the female Hero is able to do whatever she pleases because the game doesn't include all the intricacies of gender and acceptance. It doesn't care if a woman is bedding with six guys at a time, though it also doesn't seem to take into account how taxing childbirth is on a woman (thank goodness). In a way, we can say there is no gender in Fable and many other games. Gender is simply a construct of society, after all -- girls are pink, boys are blue. We use that word in place of "sex" anyway because S-E-X is such a filthy term. X and Y chromosomes? That's just dirty talkin'.
Life sims also address sex, but we've seen them handled in a similar way across the board throughout the years. Most games continue treating sex like an inside joke, with innuendos, blacked out screens, vague yet suggestive audio clips, or any combination of those things. Joking about it somehow takes away the edge, the discomfort that comes with unspoken tension, and it becomes a safety barrier through which we can easily look at sex and intimacy with amused detachment. All the baggage of sex in real life is thusly eliminated. Are gamers afraid to face even virtual sex, or is this just a way of warding off the censor-crazy and hyper-conservative?
I can only think of one major title that actually attempted to depict in-game sex with emotional nuance, and that's Bioware's Mass Effect. Not surprisingly, a handful of politicians tried to attack it for including "inappropriate" content, but that didn't go very far because there was nothing truly offensive about the way Mass Effect portrayed sex. Blaming GTA is much easier anyway.
There are certain standards that cross that border between real and virtual, however. Even in GTA, there are no children, elderly, or physically disabled. In Fable II, if you go on a murderous rampage, you'll discover that the kiddies are off limits, shrouded by that protective purple aura even when your safety is off. Guess some crimes are just too heinous, even for video games.