I started Fable II as a man, and now I am a woman. Let me explain.
When you finish the main storyline and buy the castle Fairfax, you are given a short quest to clear your dungeons of bandits. At the end of the quest you discover a potion that is in a vial shaped suspiciously like a penis. “This potion will alter the very gender of the man or woman who drinks it,” the potion’s description informs me. What the hell, I think, why not? I place the phallic glass between my lips and I tip my head back. A puff of smoke and I emerge a woman. Obviously the first thing that you do when you get a sex change is to check out the new equipment. I take off all of my clothes. I’m still muscular and tattooed, but I have a brand new pair of breasts.
Even though I’m a woman, I still look like a man. I’m taller than everyone on the street. I’ve got a square jaw and burly arms. I wonder: what will my wives think?
I have two living wives and one fiancé. The fiancé was an accident. She was standing next to my future wife and I proposed to the wrong woman. As far as I can tell, there is no way to break off the engagement. She still follows me around sometimes, nagging me about when I’m going to get her a house (you can’t get married without a house).
My first wife died in a bandit raid. My second wife, Ellen, lives in Bowerstone and we have a little girl named Angela. When I return home my wife greets me with “Oh, honey! I’m so glad you’re home!” My kid runs up to me: “Mommy! Mommy!” It’s actually pretty eerie. No one comments on my sex change. The thing is, my wife is straight. I wonder if she’ll still sleep with me. In Fable II you have to flirt with your wife before she’ll sleep with you. So I whip out her favorite gesture: seduce! She laughs at me “I’m not that desperate!” Well how about a smooth pick up line. “Oh please. Find someone else!” Apparently her scripted responses are exactly the same as they would have been if we were just two strangers on the street.
My third wife is a zombie. I brought her back from the dead and then got her to marry me, which was probably the most awesome thing I’ve ever done in Fable II. Her name is Lady Grey. Unlike my second wife, Lady Grey is bisexual. How will this affect her response to my sex change?
Lady Grey and our daughter–my second child, Angela–are both ecstatic to see me. Again no one seems to notice my new body. I waste no time in propositioning my wife for sex. Flex, flirt, seduce. “You make me feel so…feminine!” says my wife. HA! Well, I’m on a roll. Boom, I pop the question. You? Me? Upstairs? “Please,” she responds, “be gentle.” We hit the sack for some unprotected love-making. Just like we would have if I had been a man.
I’m glad that Fable II provides room for all sorts of different sexual identities. It seems strange, however, that there is so little difference between the way that people treat a straight man and the way that people treat a transsexual lesbian. This is obviously not the case in our society. Maybe that’s okay, though. Maybe it’s a good thing that in this fantasy world people aren’t judged by their gender or their sexual preferences. If Fable II is imagining some ideal alternative to our own world, why shouldn’t it sweep discrimination under the rug?
Still, though, I’m convinced that my wife should have some reaction when I get a sex change. There has been only one time that any NPC has so much as acknowledged my gender swap. “Hey, didn’t you used to be a man?” asks a random man on the street. And that’s it. Otherwise, the game just treats me like a woman. Who is somehow married to a straight woman.
Let’s count the gender differences that the game does provide: for one thing, men can’t get pregnant. When you are a pregnant female character and you are starting to show, the game just fast-forwards nine months and then you can leave your kid with your husband. You can’t get pregnant unless you’re married, you can’t get pregnant with lesbian sex, and you can’t miscarry.
Men can’t have sex with straight men or gay women and women can’t have sex with straight women or gay men. Men and women look different.
If you’re a man and you put on women’s clothes, your “silliness” will increase. Putting on a man’s clothes as a woman has no different effect. In fact, my now female character still runs around in male clothing, since it makes me marginally more attractive than wearing a dress would. The main way that attractiveness is calculated in Fable II is through the clothes that you wear (weight, strength and hairstyle are minor factors). Generally, posh and expensive clothing makes you more attractive. Running around topless makes you less attractive, regardless of how you sexy you think you look with your shirt off. In order to win over the affections of nearly anyone, all you have to do is put on a fancy coat and stand next to them. There are literally hundreds of characters in love with me in Fable II. Running through a populated area inevitably leads to an entourage of babbling admirers.
For both men and women, being muscular makes you more attractive and being fat makes you less attractive.
In our society, the “ideal woman” isn’t muscular—she’s thin and toned. If you want to make your female character look “pretty” in the conventional western sense of the word, you would need to avoid using physical attacks in the game. I imagine that Lionhead didn’t want the player to feel like having a female character would limit his or her experience of the game. Thus, in Albion muscles look good on men and women, and a female body-builder would be twenty points more attractive than the digital equivalent of Penelope Cruz or Scarlett Johansson.
Again, I don’t think that there is necessarily anything wrong with this. But maybe they could have programmed each NPC to find different things attractive. Maybe some people don’t like muscular men, some love muscular women, and some people love a shirtless guy. Maybe some people are turned on by ruffled shirts. Maybe your spouse gets annoyed if you always wear the same clothing.
The more I think about it, though, the more I feel like the big problem here isn’t with Fable. It’s with games in general. We just aren’t at a place where we can create anything similar to the feelings that a real relationship would produce. My wife’s stilted reaction to my sex change is bothersome, but would it really be that much better if she got upset and divorced me? The game doesn’t attempt to convey the social repercussions of getting a sex change—but does it effectively convey the experience of any relationship? Not really. Maybe the real question here is why I’m looking for something like a real relationship in a video game at all. I guess that I want to play a video game that can make me as attached to an NPC as I was to Aragorn or President Bartlett. It hasn’t happened yet.
“Why does our society reinforce gender stereotypes?” My daughter randomly asks me. Is she saying this because she has two mothers? Would she have said this if I was still a man? I have no idea. “Never mind,” she continues, “I’ll just go and play with my dolls.”
This is why I still like Fable II despite its many flaws. The game doesn’t take itself seriously, so why should we? It makes me laugh. It makes me think. Maybe that’s enough. You get a pass this time, Molyneux. But I’m still pissed about the race thing.