I want to start a youth developed video game program in Baltimore. I am also dating a video game designer.  I think that because of these two circumstances, as of late, I have begun playing more video games. My most recent game experience has been playing Fable III. The game has a premise I found interesting, the character that you play as is the sister or brother (depending on your preference) of the king. Early in the game one has to decide whether to save one's love interest or a group of people who have been protesting against the king, but done nothing wrong. The king sentences the unchosen party to death and you must flee the castle. Making one's way through the kingdom, you have the opportunity to interact with people, make money through jobs, spend money, help people, fight bad guys, and ultimately become a leader and hero that heads the rebellion against the king. I watched my sweetie play through much of the game before I began my own. What I found interesting was this idea that you would gain popularity, strength, etc. by the choices that you make and experiences you have and that through interacting with people you could alter their perceptions of you. 

I began playing as the princess. As a side note. In the screen where you get to choose to be either the prince or princess the female character also has the male character's face so she looks like a man in drag. This made me hesitate to select my gender, but once I did, she did have a female face in the rest of the game. I thought this was a huge oversight however, and cannot believe it was left this way.

I have played through several quests now and have run around exploring the game. Human interactions are limited to shaking hands, belching, and holding hands until one unlocks skills that also allows one to dance, and chat. I heard that you could have sex and children in the game. I found this interesting and wondered as a female character what would happen if I became pregnant, would this stop or end the game? I have not been able to discover this yet. For a game about choices and the effects of one's actions, game play is extremely limited. One has to play through certain parts of the game before one can do things. For instance when you flee the castle you are unarmed, but when you get to a moment when you need a weapon one is given to you. This doesn't seem very heroic to me or to follow the implication that your choices have the biggest impact on what you become. In fact I would argue that this game is really about circumstance and environment. You play as a prince or a princess. Your tools are given to you. You can come and go from jobs as you please. The folks in the town you come across are described by pushing the right trigger. These descriptions range from "Common, straight, prudish," to "Common, straight, flirty" to "Common, lesbian, joyless". I can't say for sure, but most people are described in negative terms. Terms that categorize them by their sexual preference and class and that more often then not, put them somehow below your royal blooded character. Ugh. 

So this game becomes about society and the construction of class. You, as the hero, must help and save the underclass. In no way can you really make a decision to work with them, you must help them find their chickens, kill their gnomes, fight the mercenaries, etc. This game is about choices within an oppressive structure. A structure that does not allow all human interaction to be human at all. A structure that prevents one from making some decisions and then gives false choices between being "good" or "bad". This game gives the illusion of being about something deeper than a fighting game, but in reality it is still about an individual hero working against something evil. If you don't think too hard then you think that the choices you make could be good or bad and make you a better leader or not, but they don't question the hierarchal structure that allows you to make these choices. Or the fact that in reality no choice is ever so clearly cut good or bad. There are myriad shades of gray.

I have nothing against video games. I enjoy playing them, but I do think that there is far that they can go and if the game industry is willing to look critically at the role it plays in shaping our society, could be a really powerful tool in working toward social justice. If you have not listened to it yet, listen to Jane McGonigal talk about how video games can make a better world: http://www.ted.com/speakers/jane_mcgonigal.html.