Playing Through Representation: Disability, Fable 3, and Consequences

Curator's Note

For every choice, a consequence. Imagine a world where every choice and action determines what you become. 

Such is the promise of Fable, released by Lionhead Studios in 2004. Lead designer Peter Molyneux reiterated these promises before the releases of Fable II (2008) and Fable III (2010). In the abstract, this offers a deeper kind of play. In practice, the range of effects is largely cosmetic – my avatar developed quite the shoulder muscles from welding in Fable II, but my terrible fighting skills left only scars on my face.

In a game series in which avatars are scarred by battle, experience some effects of aging, and are “knocked out” in battles that go poorly, physical disability is a constant specter, haunting game play with its absence. Thus, the incorporation of blindness in this segment of Fable III marks an unusual instance in which disability is represented, and present, in-game.

In this clip, Walter’s sudden blindness forces the player to make an impossible choice; either leave him because he is “too weak” to cross the desert, or to bring him along, after a minute of which he collapses and must be left in order to continue the game. This segment partakes of a “wounded warrior” representational trope of disability and masculinity, in which a physically strong, hegemonically masculine, and morally upright character experiences disablement as a near-total loss of that identity, a fate worse than death, and may sacrifice himself. The game then commands the player to adopt and enact these politics of disability. In playing this scene, the player’s subjectivity is challenged as they become complicit – not watching, but doing – and potentially experience conflicts between their personal politics and avatar’s actions.

The subsequent scene implements a fuzzy visual style, mimicking a sand-blindness as the voice of “The Darkness,” the major villain of Fable III, taunts the player’s forced decisions and threatens to take their vision as well. The enforced guilt and emotional manipulation of this scene end when the player and Walter are rescued by locals, after which it is established that the blindness brought by The Darkness is temporary; the characters and visual style return to normal, and the brief flirtation with consequential changes to avatarial embodiment is at an end.

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