Feminist gaming blog with a heaping dash of science and politics

A disappointing return trip to Albion

Been playing Fable 3 off and on the last couple of weeks and I must say it’s a huge let down compared to what I remember of Fable 2. In terms of pure gameplay and overall story it’s just as good as it’s predecessor with a couple of improvements here and there, but in terms of the social and visual aspects it’s a huge step back.

Apparently one of the more prevalent critiques of Fable 2, which was the first game in the series to offer the option of a female Hero, was that the female avatars were too manly. She had the same animations, walk/run gait, and body morphing traits as the male Hero. For me the animations were pretty awesome because those weren’t masculine animations, they were gender neutral animations that showed the strength, power, and competence of your Hero regardless of what their gender was. The body morphing was a little less awesome because while my character became very muscular and strong looking, it was in a way that made it somewhat obvious that the female body morphing had just been copied over from the male Hero which had a completely different stature than the female Hero, thus creating an odd look. Women can get very muscular and can look great that way, but it shows bad design and a lack of care about the women in your audience when you just copy-paste a feminine face and some boobs onto a male body and call it a day. We do have different skeletal structures, frames, and musculature that should be given the same respect when doing character design that is given to male characters.

So, what did they do fix these problems when it came time to make Fable 3? Well that depends on your definition of ‘fix’. The female and male Hero now have a completely different set of animations, with the male Hero getting to keep the gender neutral animations and the female Hero getting new and ‘improved’ feminie animations. She no longer stands in a balanced and ready stance, no, now she stands with hips fully cocked and back arched. She also has a lovely idle animation of her swinging her hips back and forth to wiggle her butt at the camera. On top of that her character model has been taken in a completely different direction than in Fable 2. She has a huge rack and a tiny waist which does not work well with whatever engine Lionhead studios used for the game. The end result is that she looks like a badly drawn and even more badly rendered drawing of your prototypical oversexualized video game heroine. It’s also become nigh impossible to make her visibly muscular and imposing like you could in the previous iteration of the series. They took what was a slightly fudged but conceptually great non-sexualized female video game Hero and feminized and sexualized her to the point of deformation and having the character lose most of the competent, skillful, and powerful attitude she had in the other game.

Sadly that wasn’t the only mark against the game. As you might recall, I gushed about the female characters in Fable 2 because they were all strong, capable, and were saving Albion without needing men to tell them how to go about it. A female hero type character didn’t even show up until halfway thru the game (not counting your character if you were a female Hero). This was so awesome and novel to me because you never see that happen in movies, shows, or games that aren’t explicitly going after the “rah, rah, grrrl power” theme. Heck in most media you see the reverse, men going about their adventuring with nary a women in sight, let alone in the midst of the action. So having three female character sitting around conversing battle plans and saving Albion’s ass sans men was a great thing in Fable 2. In Fable 3 though, there are only two (I’m not counting Teresa cause she acts mainly as an occasional narrator in this game) female characters besides the (possibly) female Hero, the first of which you don’t meet till the game is almost half over and the second of which you only really interact with for like 5 minutes. They also never talk to each other. The funny thing is, in this game, the astonishing lack of female characters is illustrated for you every time you level up. During the “Road to Rule” scenes where you pick out your new power-ups and skills, all of your allies are displayed for you and it never ceases to be anything more than a parade of an overwhelming number of men that are mostly white and have a large variety of body types. The two female allies you gain, who both have the same sexualized body type of the female Hero and are ‘exotically’ beautiful, really do seem like both race and gender tokens so Lionhead can point and go, “See! We’re totally progressive!”

Speaking of progressive, they really were in Fable 2 with their relationship system. You, as the Hero, could befriend and possibly romance the citizenry of Albion. You had your pick of merchants, travelers, and househusbands and housewives (yea, you read that right, househusbands, how awesome is that?). There were also a plethora of gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters to romance. in Fable 3, I could only find one lesbian and two or three bisexual characters, and I never did see any gay characters. Also, your character always starts off with a significant other of the opposite sex (which is promptly fridged if you’re a ‘good’ Hero). With this bit of mandatory character development and the scarcity of same-sex possible romances, you are effectively shoe-horned into playing a straight character which is a huge let down after the freedom given to you in Fable 2.

All in all, I was really disappointed with Fable 3. With Fable 2, Lionhead Studios had a pretty groundbreaking game, but instead of continuing forward with Fable 3 they took huge steps backwards. It’s like they scared themselves (and their audience) with some of their progressive ideas and had to shove the game back into the stereotypical game tropes box to make it more acceptable. It’s hugely disappointing and leaves Fable 3 as little more than a hollow shell of the awesomeness that was Fable 2, which is a shame with all the potential the overall story of Fable 3 presents.

ETA: I can’t believe I forgot the gnomes. God, I hated those gnomes. It’s not a huge analytical point, but it was a huge annoyance that made all these other disappointments even more sharp. Mainly what I’m talking about, for those who haven’t played the game, is that there are lawn-gnomes-gone-bad strewn about the world that you have to destroy and they like to announce their presence by insulting you. Some of these insults are gender neutral, but a good deal of them are very, very sexist. Most of the male-specific insults are about how they are feminine and this is an insult because obviously being feminine is a bad thing. The female-specific insults are a lovely mixture of anti-feminism bullshit and insult about how the hero is either too feminine or not feminine enough. I realize the gnome is *supposed* to be insulting, but there’s a ton of ways to be insulting without reinforcing the very prevalent idea that being a woman or being feminine is a bad thing.


13 responses to “A disappointing return trip to Albion

  1. Ladebug April 25, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    An interesting point of view. I haven’t ever played the game and in fact have only heard about it through some of our conversations. But just from what I have read here, I think I would rather play the Fable 2 than te Fable 3. Yeah, I don’t mind playing a sexed-out char but not one that is so much so that it looks like she couldn’t possibly do the job – the job of being a hero. As to the other options of romancing yada yada, not sure about that option in a game – sounds too much like real life.

    Good posting – clear and to the point.

    • Zaewen April 25, 2011 at 7:22 pm

      It’s not that she’s super sexed-out (cause there are far worse examples of oversexualized video game characters) but that it’s done poorly and as a half-assed attempt to bring the female Hero more in line with the mainstream notion of what feminine heroes ‘should’ be. Same with the feminized animations, there’s nothing wrong with feminine or even hyper-feminine movements as long as she still conveys her competency as a Hero (which she still does to a degree in Fable 3). The problem is this idea that for a female character to be recognized as appropriately feminine (or even to be considered feminine at all) they must be both sexy and sexual for the (assumed) male audience, and display many hyper-feminine and over-sexualized movements/animations that tend to sap away a lot of the strength and competency that should be behind such a heroic character.

      • Ladebug April 27, 2011 at 6:40 pm

        So with the thought in mind that female chars should be over-sexed to appease the male audience, why don’t they have over-sexed male chars much like those found on the front of most “romance” novels. Now that would be interesting to play with. Pun fully intented.

        But seriously, don’t most gaming corps understand that it’s the Baby-Boomers who are playing the games more and more. We have more time on our hands and for some this is a way to connect to their grand and great grand children. They don’t want some over-sexed char be it female or male. Seems like the gaming community has not kept up with how their market is morphing into something other than a teenage boy. Well in Business 101 the say goes “Ya snooze ya loose”.

        • Zaewen April 28, 2011 at 7:06 pm

          You’d be surprised how many people still think that the vast majority of gamers are white men in the age brackets of 18-25. It’s like they’ve completely missed out on the mainstreaming of gaming that’s brought older people, women, and people of color into the gaming fold. Sadly, tho, even for the game-makers and marketers that realize how big these new demographics are, they still prefer to make and market towards the stereotypical gamer because they know/beleive that games marketed to the stereotypical gamers will sell to the non-stereotypical gamers (because it’s all we have to play and we’re so used to it anyways). However, they don’t market games to the non-stereotypical gamers because they believe that their preferred audience of young, white men will never want to play games that don’t constantly pander to them and thus they will not be as profitable.

  2. Dee May 31, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Urgh, yes this; so much all over this.

    The one thing I do like in F3 is the way it handles gendered clothing (my male hero tends to get about in a mix), which is something I’d like to see more of in games. But everything else has been pretty disappointing, particularly the early fridging, the gnomes and the heterosexist slant to relationships.

    Big disappointment from a game studio I though should know better. 😦

    (Also: I didn’t know you had a blog! :O)

    • Zaewen May 31, 2011 at 9:45 pm

      Hey Dee!

      Yea, I’ve had it for a bit but it was all cobwebby until that Rift article I did for Border House gave me the itch to blog again. This time I’m trying to make sure I write at least once a week or so, otherwise I tend to forget about it for a while and just rant to my husband instead of the interwebs.

      I did love the gendered, yet unrestricted clothing in Fable 3. Even more so, I loved that despite the generous bosom my character had, there weren’t many cleavage baring outfits, which was a nice change of pace from a certain other game *shakes fist at Rift*.

  3. Noire sam June 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Did you use sword or hammer?

    For apparently you have to use the hammer to get bigger muscles.

    Sword does nothing with your body.

    And apparently we will not get any customization at all in Fable: The Journey.

    What the “#¤%&¤””#.

    • Zaewen June 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      I used swords and guns, but had my strength maxed out. Never tried the hammer, tho it seems odd that’s the only time you’d see your body changed (I seriously noticed almost no change in my character as I progressed through the game, minus the morality changes).

      And we won’t be getting any customization in the Journey? So, no options to be a woman? Awesome…….

    • rance August 10, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      sword makes her big. it takes a while but it happens. it also sharpens the lines of her face and seems to extend her chin. subtle, but eventually you’ll load up the game one day and be very disheartened by the sexually ambiguous, pale skinned, no eyebrow having cave troll on the other end of the controller.
      and when her child genuinely expresses a desire to be ‘as pretty as you’ when she grows up, it’ll be all you can do not to back hand her hopelessly misguided ass into oblivion with a flick of your hulk fist and break down crying because nothing you are or do will ever be even a shadow of the already pretty questionable thing you started out as
      sure, you’ll save the kingdom and all its millions of inhabitants, but, why. and all the sympathetic chiming of the towns people that you look great and pretty and nice wont make it true. so you might as well slink off to a hobbe cave to spend the rest of your days with the other female heroes of fable

      and that’s how sword works

  4. carrie brookes June 19, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    I found this blog by typing in “Fable 3 big breasts problem.”

    Downloaded the trial version of Fable III and was very unpleasantly surprised to find the heroine a double G. Double H? Seriously? And the gnomes sound vile. Thanks for the heads up. I won’t be purchasing this.

    • rance August 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      i dont know where this is coming from, unless you confused the girth of her whisky barrel shaped upper body for breast size

      • Maria89 January 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm

        I was laughing so hard at your post above and in this again, I had tears leak out of me eyes – thank you!

        Also, I got here by Googling where to find girls that might be inclined to date my Fiona-esque princess character.

  5. Kakarot Pride January 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    First of all, the NPCs’ sexual orientation is RANDOMLY GENERATED. You may have met few bisexuals & gays or lesbians, but when I played the game, I found about 6 lesbians/gays in brightwall.

    Also, the gnomes’ insults aren’t mocking feminism as a whole or saying that it’s bad, it’s just that, clearly if you’re male, you’d want to be masculine, not feminine. Obviously, if you’re a female, you’d want to be feminine.(Well, unless you’re a tomboy, it really just depends.) Calling a male feminine & a female masculine/too feminine would be offensive, which is the point overall why the gnomes say those insults. You’re a bit oversensitive if virtual gnomes can really hurt your feelings.

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