I’m on my third game of Fable III. I’m molded into the corner spot of my Ikea sectional, I’ve got a bag of Pop Chips nearby, and my laptop is open to the walkthrough on IGN.com. This time, I will find every silver key, destroy every evil gnome, and marry my childhood friend Elliott. This time, I will play the perfect game.
It started in February of this year, when my worst nightmare came true (about 40 years early, I might add): I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27 years old. In what felt like a heartbeat, my life spiraled out of control. Suddenly my days were a whirlwind of blood tests, CAT scans, ultrasounds, and IVs.
A few weeks later, I was at home recovering from a successful cancer-obliterating surgery with nearly a month of quality couch time ahead of me. It didn’t take me long to re-watch every episode of The Office on Netflix, and soon I was getting bored and cranky.
One night my husband came home with a GameStop bag for me. Inside was Fable III. I’m not much of a gamer — in fact, I’m the type of person who packs up my top hat and my paper money in the first round of Monopoly if my opponent gets to Boardwalk first — but my husband fired up the Xbox, handed me a controller, and told me to just have fun.
And so I did. That first game, I spent the bulk of my time exploring the bounds of my heroine’s behavior: attempting to lure unsuspecting villagers into group sex, conversing with demon doors and avoiding quests — the real point of the game — as much as possible. I married a foppish nobleman named Anthony because he was from the tony burg of Millfields and he shared a name with my real-life husband. He was always bugging me for money. After a week of fairly steady playing, I just barely beat the game. I had to resort to some evil deeds to save the citizens of Albion, and my moral standing in the end was pretty dismal. I’m talking Reaver-quality evil.
A few days later, still recovering at home, I decided to play again. This time, I promised myself, I’d stick to the moral high ground, and always act in the interest of the greater good. One of the first moral choices a Fable III hero must make is whether to kill a group of rebels justifiably protesting King Logan’s brutal regime to save the life of your childhood sweetheart, or kill your sweetheart for the sake of the greater good. Ice water ran in my veins as I held the A button, sparing the rebels. See you in the next lifetime, Elliott.
I played my second game according to a strict code of moral goodness. I gave money to the poor in the Dweller’s Camp, and I tried not to steer my hero into any children wandering around the square in Brightwall. I wasn’t sure if group sex adversely affected your morality score, so I decided not to chance it. After a few more days, I’d beat that game, too, with money and morality to spare.
But this victory felt hollow. Though I’d saved the good people of Albion from the shadow monster from Aurora, my decision to kill Elliott haunted me: acting for the greater good had deprived me of what was possibly my one true love.
After my second win, I took some time to think about my strategy. Was a heroic life worthwhile without love? If I dedicated my Fable life to helping others, would I deprive myself of satisfaction and enjoyment? In Fable, we’re presented with an opportunity to mold a life in any way we choose, and in Albion all moral choices are a transparent binary: hold A for good, hold X for evil. What would my perfect Fable life look like?
I started again, for the third time, and this time I chose my childhood sweetheart over the rebel leaders — who were they to me? When Elliott and I finally got married, I put him up in the Megafun Mansion, and I visited him whenever my map indicated he was feeling amorous, or even the slightest bit unhappy. (This annoyed my real-life husband, who claims he gets no such consideration from me.)
I tried to stick to the moral high road, but I also tried to give my heroine an enjoyable life, as neurotic as that might sound. I bought a bully expression pack—which gives your hero the ability to call people chicken, belch heartily, and engage in other unsavory behaviors—and used it to fart on some mercenaries, and discovered that their opinions of me actually improved for it. I tried it again on some children: they laughed and begged me to do it again. Soon, the final conflict of the game approached (it’s over money, of all things), and in preparation, I set all my rents to the highest level — a morally repellent choice, but an essential component of beating the game. When I beat Fable III for the third time, my moral standing was dead neutral, but I’d married the right man, I’d found every gnome and silver key, and I’d had fun. It turned out that good enough was, well, good enough.
Not long ago, I was at my monthly appointment with my oncologist, and I told him about a book I’d been reading, which advised cancer patients to go cold turkey on white flour, refined sugar, alcohol, soy, red meat, and a host of other supposedly carcinogenic substances we unavoidably encounter in everyday life. I confidently announced that I intended to be his perfect patient. He looked at me over the top of his glasses and gently explained that there’s no possible way I could do that: I could drive myself crazy, he said, cutting out this food and that household chemical, and the cancer could still come back.
“It’s just part of the mystery of life,” he said.
And in this way, I suppose, Fable had become the perfect analogue for my life. When my reality flew out of control, I turned to a fictional world where I could control nearly every aspect of my avatar’s life, I sought to create virtual perfection in Fable. And in playing my perfect game, I found out that sometimes, perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
In my fourth game of Fable, I’ll have all the group sex I want.
Photo by Amy Collier