Fable III

By Karen (Kat) Schrier

Fable III is a role-playing game. It can be used to teach ethics, civics, social studies, ELA and economics, as well as ethical decision-making and critical thinking.

Summary of Fable III

Fable III is a role-playing video game developed by Lionhead Studios and published by Microsoft/ Xbox. It is the third in the Fable series of games, where a player inhabits the imaginary world of Albion, a fantasy-flavored game set in 1800s London. In Fable III, players take on the role of a prince or princess, who must go on quests to save Albion from a “coming darkness.” Along the way, players need to respond to ethical choices and make decisions for Albion, such as whether to build a brothel or orphanage in a town. The choices have consequences for the game player and the game world, as well as financial implications. For example, if a player builds the orphanage, they can go visit the orphanage later in the game. If a player builds the brothel instead, they may see homeless non-playing character (NPC) kids and the surrounding town may look darker and more economically depressed. Building a brothel, however, earns the player more money and helps save more villagers from the “coming darkness,” which arrives at the end of the game. Each dollar saves one townsperson (NPC), so if a player has $200 saved, they save 200 NPCs, while the rest are destroyed. Most choices relate to civic, social, or economic aspects of Albion, such as whether to raise, lower or leave taxes alone, whether to drain a lake, or whether to sacrifice a friend or some villagers.

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How to Use Fable III

Fable III includes a number of compelling ethical choices, civic questions, and policy decisions, and would be potentially useful for teaching skills related to ethical thinking and civic literacy, such as reflection, empathy development, reasoning, and information gathering. For instance, players need to decide whether to raise or lower taxes or sacrifice a friend or three villagers. Students in a class could play through these different scenarios and discuss what they would do in each scenario and why. A teacher could set this up in a few ways. One, a teacher could have half the class work through a similar scenario on paper. The students could work together in pairs or as a group discussing what they would do, why, and what they think the consequences of their decision would be. The other half of the class could work in pairs or as a group to play through the game, and make those same decisions but within the game context. The players can stop the gameplay at different points to decide what they want to do, why they want to do it, and what they imagine the outcomes will be. Then, they can continue to play after the decision was made to see how the game illustrated the outcome, whether it was what they expected, and to reflect on what they might have done differently given the consequences. Then, the class could switch, work through the scenario on paper or in the game, and then see how it played out differently given each context (game vs. paper).

Or, the teacher could play the game with all of the students at once (such as projected onto a large screen in the front of the class), and show various decision points in the game. The teacher could have the students deliberate each decision and then choose what to do as a class (via a voting mechanism) or, the students can come to a consensus following a full class debate, where they collaboratively think through each choice and its possible consequences. Students could provide evidence for their decisions, such as from the game or even from outside of the game by doing further research. They could also provide clear, evidence-rich arguments of why the other decision is not optimal.

Another way to use the game is when teaching philosophy and different approaches to ethics. For instance, teachers who are trying to relay frameworks such as the utilitarian approach, Kantian ethics, or virtue ethics, may be able to help students understand them by applying them to the game. A teacher may ask, “if we were to use a utilitarian approach, what would we decide to do, based on what we know about the approach? Would we drain the lake or preserve it? Would we save the lake or try to gain more money to protect the villagers from the coming threat? What are the short-term and long- term decisions?” Then, after a discussion of this, students could compare this to how a virtue ethics or Kantian approach to ethics may differ. Teachers can then compare how different factors matter, such as the consequences of the decision, or the person or agent making the decision, given a particular ethical framework.

Another possibility is to use the game to think through the design of ethical choices in a game. One of the complexities in making a game is how to design it to have ethical scenarios, content, or meters that are meaningful and nuanced, rather than overly simplistic or irrelevant. I have used Fable III in a college “Ethics and Gaming” classroom to help students consider how to design ethical choices in games, and the difficulty of creating “black and white” versus more “gray” decisions in video games. For example, students played the game to explore how character development, story, gameplay, avatar

gender, relationship with NPCs (non-playing characters), and the presence of other characters affect how a player makes ethical decisions in games, and how this might relate to how people make ethical decisions more generally.

Because of the mature themes, role-playing elements, and fantasy violence, the game is much more appropriate for college students and young adults. The game also takes a significant amount of time to play (at least 10 hours), and costs money ($20 for the PC version), making it not particularly useful for a quick in-class exercise or short module. One possible way to include the game in the classroom is to show clips from the game, pause just before choices are made, and use them to explore what decisions the students would make, what types of consequences they would expect from each decision, and whether their expectations were met.

Finally, research has suggested that enabling students to play the game in a classroom, at home, or in an afterschool setting might be beneficial for the practice of ethical thinking and empathy. I investigated the skills and thought processes players used when working through the ethical scenarios in Fable III. I found that game players practiced many ethics-related skills, such as interpreting evidence, weighing pros and cons, and reflecting on past decisions. Educators in general can use this type of game to help students think through ethical scenarios, consider other’s perspectives, and walk through potential consequences and what ifs.

Tips & Best Practices

  1. Teachers should play the game beforehand to understand the different decisions that are possible in the game. This could take 10+ hours!
  2. Teachers need to set the expectations for students that this is a lengthy game that takes patience.
  3. Students may want to keep a “journal” of their decisions in the game, and jot down ideas of why they decided to make their decision. This could also include explaining the different perspectives on each decision and why one was more compelling than another. For instance, in Fable III, a character (NPC) will often give the “pros” to a decision, and another will give the “cons.” Students could explain why they agreed with one character versus the other.
  4. Students could explain their most difficult decision in the game, and why it was so difficult.
  5. Teachers should encourage their students not to “cheat” to make extra money in the game, but to think through the decisions and their financial impact.
  6. After the students play the game, have them share with the rest of the class their decisions, and communicate to each other their reasons for making them.

Related Games

Fable I and II
Dragon Age
Knights of the Old Republic
Mass Effect

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Further Reading

Schrier, K. (2021). We the Gamers: How Games Teach Ethics and Civics. Oxford University Press.

Schrier, K. (2017). Designing games for real-world moral problem solving. Games & Culture. Online on May 31, 2017. Doi:10.1177/1555412017711514

Schrier, K. (2017). Designing role-playing video games for ethical thinking. Educational Technology Research and Development. 65(4): 831-868.

Schrier, K. (2015). EPIC: A framework for using video games for ethics education. Journal of Moral Education. 44(4): 393-424.

Schrier, K. (2015). Ethical thinking and sustainability in role-play participants: A preliminary study. Simulation & Gaming. 46(6): 673-696.

Schrier, K. (2015). Emotion, empathy and ethical thinking in Fable III. In S. Tettegah & W. Huang (Eds.) Emotion, Technology, and Games. New York, NY: Elvesier.

Schrier, K. (2014). Designing and using games to teach ethics and ethical thinking. In K. Schrier, (Ed.) Learning, Education, and Games Volume 1: Curricular and Design Considerations. Pittsburgh, PA: ETC Press.

Schrier, K. (2012). Avatar gender and ethical thinking in Fable III. Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society. Sage Publications. October 2012, (32) 5, 375-383.

Sicart, M. (2009/2011). The Ethics of Computer Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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