Fable II, box art, video game, featured, hero

Finding myself in Albion: the personal meaning of Fable

It was The Secret of Monkey Island that started my love of point-and-clicks.

As I’ve written before, this was the first game I played after being gifted an Amiga 500 for Christmas by my parents as a kid. A particular box had caught my eye, one showing a huge skull and fearsome pirates, and this was what I’d picked when my dad asked me what I wanted to try.

I fell in love with adventures that day and afterwards played anything in the genre I could get my hands on. I went sailing around the Caribbean with Guybrush in the Monkey Island series, learnt how to become a wizard with Simon in Simon the Sorcerer, searched for Princess Cassima with Prince Alexander in King’s Quest. My fondness for reading and a vivid imagination had combined in a format which was perfect for me.

Sadly, you start to become aware of your differences as you get older and try to change to fit in. I was the shy kid at secondary school who liked to play video games, during an older decade where they weren’t something girls were supposed to be interested in. This viewpoint affected me as a teenager and I forced myself to enjoy activities considered more appropriate for females for the next few years.

Although this made me more relatable for my classmates, I wasn’t completely happy. I gradually grew apart from my friendship group after leaving college as I didn’t have much in common with them and began to go back to adventure games occasionally. I kept it quiet though. It may have been allowed, if not yet entirely accepted, for young men to talk about video games in the workplace but it certainly wasn’t considered professional for a woman to do the same.

Fable II. video game, screenshot, dog, Hero

I gained several male friends over the next few years and they didn’t mind me hanging out with them when they played together, even if I was still thought of as an anomaly. Their titles of choice weren’t the sort of thing I’d usually be interested in but watching them battle it out on Worms felt far more comfortable than going shopping with the girls did. One of these friends turned up at my apartment carrying an Xbox and a copy of Fable under his arm in September 2004 and this was when things changed again.

After half an hour of watching him play, I was hooked. I ended up borrowing my brother’s Xbox for the next couple of weeks and purchasing a copy of the game for myself. All my free time was devoted to trying to find every side-quest, figuring out who to get through the demon doors and meeting as many residents of Albion as possible. You know how everyone has that gaming moment they’ll never forget and would love to experience again? Well, playing Fable back then is one of mine.

The thing that fascinated me most about it was the sense of character development, as it was the first time I’d seen anything with an alignment mechanic. Good deeds such as saving villagers caused my character to become a blonde hero with a halo above his head, while evil acts made his eyes glow and a malevolent haze appear around his legs. Drinking excessive amounts of beer made my protagonist sick, bad food made him put on weight, and his behaviour affected how the townspeople reacted to his presence.

The absence of intricate statistics was also interesting. Unlike many RPGs at the time which often drowned players in menus and stat sheets, Fable had a more intuitive and immersive approach. Instead of wading through numbers, I could focus on my character’s journey, choices, consequences – and generally be a hero in what felt like a living world. This design philosophy allowed me to truly immerse myself in the game’s narrative and explore its landscapes, reinforcing my love of the power of storytelling.

Having this experience changed my outlook. I started playing video games more often and stopped hiding the fact I did. In October 2008, I took several days of work so I could play Fable II upon release and it still has a spot on my favourites list today. In October 2010, I spent an awful lot of hours trying to earn enough gold to save all my people in Fable III. And in September 2014, I went to the EGX event for the first time and had the opportunity to try Fable: The Journey.

It’s for these reasons that I’ve always wanted to meet Peter Molyneux, one of the series’ designers. Most people reading this will likely have played a title of his before but even if you haven’t, there can’t be many gamers who haven’t heard his name. Despite the critical and financial success of past releases such as Dungeon Keeper and Black & White, Molyneux became known for his over-ambitious reputation – a trait that caused many to lose faith in his work and for some to harass him online.

When Fable was released in 2004 without many of the features he’d mentioned during interviews, he posted an apology on the Lionhead forums. Five years later he took part in an interview with Develop, in which he said he’d no longer talk about any mechanics unless they could actually be shown in the game. And after founding 22cans in 2012 and completing a successful Kickstarter campaign for Godus, there was an emotional interview with Rock Paper Shotgun during which he was asked whether he thought he was a ‘pathological liar’.

As you can see, there has been a rather shaky relationship between the designer, press and players over the past 20 years. I can understand how this has occurred as ambitious promises can lead to disappointment if they don’t materialise, regardless of the reason why they weren’t fulfilled. And let’s face it, we gamers can be a demanding bunch: it’s sadly not uncommon to see online outrage at release delays, characters not making an appearance or how a protagonist identifies.

For me though, Molyneux will always be someone I admire. He may be over-ambitious but has never shied away from challenging the status-quo. His grand promises might not always work out but I respect him for dreaming big and being enthusiastic. I know many people won’t agree with this view. But it’s hard to deny he’s a designer who pushes boundaries and takes risks instead of churning out carbon-copy titles with little vision, someone who’s able to create stories which remain in the minds of those who experience them for years afterwards.

Being able to see him talk at the EGX event last week was therefore amazing. To find out that the idea for Fable came about while waiting for Dungeon Keeper code to compile, and hearing how some of the systems within the second game came to be, has given me so much more respect for the development teams. And although Fable III might be my least preferred instalment, it’s remarkable how much was achieved in only an 18-month window. Molyneux came across as someone relatable who’d love to spend an evening in the pub with.

There’s a possibility I wouldn’t be the gamer I had today if it hadn’t been for Fable. I might not have started blogging for been fortunate enough to meet some amazing writers in the community who ended up becoming good friends. The first game allowed me to find myself again and not be ashamed of it. It gave me the opportunity to join in with people who have similar interests and be introduced to newer titles that now reside alongside those point-and-click classics in my heart.

Fable’s creator taught me that it’s ok to dream big and, even if your ideas don’t always come to fruition, you shouldn’t let that stop you from aspiring to achieve greater things. One day, I’d love to shake Peter Molyneux’s hand and explain how much his ambition means to me.

13 thoughts on “Finding myself in Albion: the personal meaning of Fable

  1. I can relate so much to trying to hide your love of gaming as a girl in school. I did the same thing, sadly, until I also met a friend group of mostly boys who didn’t mind it.

    • When I talk to my teenage stepson, sometimes I find it difficult to believe how much things have changed. He tells me things his female friends are doing – gaming cosplay, fan art – and he doesn’t even bat an eyelid. It’s so different from my school days, and in a good way. There might be a lot of things the gaming community still has to work on but sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves of how far we’ve come too.

  2. I love posts like this, that show the very personal effects specific games can have on us. Are you excited for the new Fable or does it feel like something completely separate to you, considering it’s a new team?

    • I’m cautiously excited, if that makes sense? On one hand, I’m really looking forward to it because there were a lot of things which could have been improved upon in Fable III. On the other though, all the stories about ‘development hell’ for the next game are a concern. Will it have a different feel because it’s being made by a different team?

      Saying that though, it’s incredibly likely I’ll end up buying it on release day regardless of the reviews. And during the talk at EGX, Molyneux said he had an idea for a game set in the Albion world from Fable, so it will be interesting to see where that goes.

  3. I remember playing my first online game. I was so happy to meet another female gamer who liked games just as much as I did. Well, it turned out it wasn’t the case. I was playing with a guy who likes using female avatars😊. Despite that, I had fun playing games for the game’s sake. I felt like I actually had a “real” friend. Growing up it was just me and my brother. These days, only one of my female friends I know in person likes games. The rest are accepting of my hobby but don’t know what I am talking about most of the time. So, for my sanity, I created a blog. I like to pretend someone knows what I am talking about even if it’s just me talking to the void. 😊

    • You’re definitely not talking to the void! I’ve been enjoying reading about your experiences with horror games that I’m too cowardly to play, and living vicariously through your posts. 😀

      It seems like there are a few of us who started blogging because we previously didn’t have much contact with anyone who had similar interests. Gaming might still be thought of as a solitary hobby sometimes, but it’s able to bring people from different backgrounds together and form lasting connections between them.

      • Thanks! I have been enjoying yours as well. I find it quite inspiring. I may be brave in horror games, but I never had the courage to attend a gaming convention. So it’s nice to read about your experience. 🙂 It makes me feel like I am there! Haha

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