Two characters getting married in Fable 3 (via Co-Optimus)
"This is my bold claim - I need you to experience something in Fable that you as gamers have never experienced before...Everybody is talking about emotion, story, engagement and narrative. We have tried to approach it in a different way. We are going to explore love." -- Peter Molyneux, creator of the Fable games (Via BBC)
I firmly believe that someday, playing a video game will involve a huge room, a pair of virtual reality goggles, and a lot of physical exercise. But there's one futuristic upgrade to video games that I'm glad I probably won't be alive to see: making virtual love.
The most recent attempt at virtual sexy-time that I've experienced was in Fable 3. Sex in this game involves a fade to black, orgasm vocalizations that would make Meg Ryan roll her eyes, and a bouncy horn soundtrack that only a circus clown could find arousing. Then, the lights come up, and both characters are still standing exactly where you left them, fully clothed, and stretching a little. I remember hiring my first prostitute in Grand Theft Auto, and even though the actual action on screen was about as exciting as Fable 3's, at least I didn't feel so embarrassed afterward.
There've been more graphic attempts at virtual lovemaking. You've got everything from the love scenes with Liara in Mass Effect to what games press called the "sex mini-game" with Aphrodite in God of War. With all these promising visual renderings of muscled chests and heaving bosoms, why is it that I'm relieved I probably won't live to see the day that these wii-mote dildos have virtual reality to go along with them?
Part of the problem, at least for me, comes from this "gamification" bullshit that certain games industry cash cows (*cough* Zynga) have been eating by the bowlful lately. If you've never heard of this concept, let me sum it up for you: people will theoretically like something more if it's a game. And not cinematic games like Heavy Rain that care more about narrative than leveling up -- think FarmVille. Think Everquest. Think about those point systems that credit cards use to get you to spend more money and "earn" "free" "gifts" (take note of those scare quotes, kids). High scores, moving up leveling trees, delivering rewards in random bursts - that's all gamification. It's the way that games manage to keep you addicted.
I don't much care about unlocking every achievement, upgrading every weapon, or making sure I've played a game as both an evil and a good character just so I can see all the different cut-scenes. If I really love a game, I'll do all this of my own accord ... or so I tell myself. I'm not completely immune to the gaming industry's bag of addictive tricks, though, and most gamers aren't.
My boyfriend, for example, describes himself as a "completionist." It's a term for gamers who don't feel like they've really finished a game until they've unlocked every last trophy. He typically spends a lot more time than I do on a single game as a result. Fighting the same simplistic monsters over and over in order to level up a spell or weapon will nearly always cause me to abandon ship. If the final boss is too hard, not seeing that final cut-scene doesn't usually keep me up at night. ... But I admit: sometimes, it does.
Not to mention that Xbox Live gives you a "gamer score" based on how many achievements you unlock, and shows this "score" to all of your friends. The PlayStation Network isn't quite so obsessed with exhibitionism, but your friends can still check how many trophies you've earned. If the game's tricks aren't enough to convince you to keep power-leveling, your friends will be there to mock you for leaving missions unfinished.
What's all this got to do with virtual sex? Don't worry; I'm getting to it.
I've been watching my boyfriend play Fable 3 for a few weeks now. Two nights ago, he admitted he needed to unlock a trophy for marrying another player character. We don't know anyone else who plays the game, and he considered out loud whether he should create a character on a second account and marry himself. With a bit of controller juggling, it's manageable. (Insert innuendo here.)
Although ordinarily I prefer games where dubiously homosexual soldiers fight side by side in war-torn trenches (Gears of War, Black Ops, etc), the idea of my boyfriend marrying himself in what I interpreted to be a silly RPG seemed too pathetic for me to bear. I logged in, created a flouncy princess, and started slaughtering some monsters.
My boyfriend and I have a years-long, real-life love for each other as it is, but normally this relationship in video games amounts to kicking zombies off of each other in Resident Evil 5 or accidentally stealing each others' mushrooms in Super Mario Brothers Wii. Finally, we had a relationship in a video game that marginally reflected the way we really feel about each other, and in Fable 3's virtual world, we had enough money to do everything we can only dream of in this one.
First, the guy and I became business partners. Immediately, I found myself with half his cash in my own wallet. As soon as I voiced disappointment at my character's simplistic beginning outfit, my boy filled my chamber with dozens of wrapped presents containing an impressive array of corsetry, tights, jackets, hats, and boots. He gave me books so as to train and level up, and he even tossed a few extra weapons my way. His inventory was mine, and what little I had was his. I had all the proof I'd ever need that my boyfriend would be happy to lavish me with presents in real life if he only had the means.
Not long after that, he proposed, and the game quickly offered us a handful of wedding venues. We got hitched on the town's bridge and culminated our whirlwind love affair with a visit to our latest purchase, the best house in town. As night fell, we gleefully tromped up the stone steps to the bedroom, and ... watched Fable 3's embarrassing "sex scene."
When the lights came up and our characters dusted themselves off, I felt disappointed. That wasn't even close to as romantic as everything else leading up to it had been. Fable 3 creator Peter Molyneux had been doing so well. He'd given us ways to give each other gifts, teach each other new skills, dance with each other, and even kiss -- but the sex was a total let-down.
Of course, I'd only agreed a minute ago to have and to hold, for richer or for poorer, until death to us part, so I turned to my new husband and said, "Well, I guess we're monogamous now! No more flirting with random townspeople."
"Oh," he said. "But I have to go have sex with 15 men and 14 more women in order to upgrade one of my swords."
I sputtered. "But you've already got like fifteen weapons! Why do you need to upgrade that one? And ... I thought ... we were married." I was dimly aware of how stupid I sounded, but I pressed on anyway. "Isn't the game going to realize you're committing adultery? Isn't it going to turn you into an evil character if you do that? I thought you wanted to be a good guy for this play-through."
"I hadn't really thought about that," he said slowly. Then, with reluctance: "I don't have to level up that sword." Oh, my poor completionist boyfriend. I could tell what my next line had to be: You want to see other people. We should get a divorce.
I remembered then why I had created the character in the first place: my boyfriend wanted to unlock the achievement for marrying another character. And now he wanted more achievements, of course, like always. It wasn't about me. He could've done it all himself with two controllers and a bit of patience. I was just a prop for his upgrading needs, a role that I was happy to fill -- until I found out it had a time limit. I'd fallen for my boyfriend's character as hard as I'd fallen for the real guy, and boy, did I feel like a fool.
Peter Molyneux has definitely "explored love" in Fable 3. But the game also explores gamification - enough to break a girl's heart.
But how much more heartbroken would I have been if the sex had seemed real?