Gay marriage may not be legal in parts of the real world yet, but it’s alive and well in the fantasy kingdom of Albion.
In Fable 3, released today for the Xbox 360 (and slated for the PC in the future), you play a prince or princess who leads a rebellion against your brother, the tyrannical King of Albion. The much-anticipated action-adventure game offers a rich immersive world in which gamers can not only fight, explore, and treasure-hunt, but also marry and raise children.
"If you want to make your world close to the world we live in, a rich and interesting place, then why wouldn’t you do something like this?" says Lionhead studio head Peter Molyneux. "It’s not a hard choice to make."
But it’s not a choice most game studios make, judging by the absence of gay, lesbian or bisexual characters or relationships in almost all other video games (with the notable exception of the Sims games). In 2005, BioWare allowed the female version of their lead character in Mass Effect to have a "lesbian" relationship with a female-looking alien, and triggered a massive backlash from Christian fundamentalists in America. The option to have a same-sex relationship was not included in this year’s Mass Effect 2 (although the game’s final DLC allowed players to resume their relationship with the alien). BioWare’s DragonAge: Origins (2009) did include same-sex romance options, however, and the studio promises the sequel will remain inclusive.
But walk into any village in Albion and you’ll find gay, lesbian and bisexual characters you can befriend or romance. "A lot of games don’t explore relationships between characters," says Fable 3 Lead Designer Josh Atkins, "because it’s hard, and it’s something you have to
have a reason to do." It also takes up a lot of disk space — an entire layer of the Fable 3 DVD.
Molyneux believes more games will include LGBT characters in the future. "The industry is still in the early stages of character development. A lot of games are so focused on plot and action, there’s no time to build up a character. You may play a computer game and think ‘Hey, that guy is probably gay’ but there’s no reference to that. If I go back to something like Street Fighter, I have my views on which characters are gay, but there’s no real development of their characters to back up my assumptions. It’s getting a lot better now. In the next three or four years, I think we are going to see a lot more character-driven games."
As character-driven games become more prevalent, Molyneux believes, "the old ’oh, we don’t know what sexuality this person is’ doesn’t became an [acceptable] excuse any more."