Fable II is a fantasy/ adventure role-playing game for the XBox 360.
You start as a child and grow into adulthood in a medieval-esque world. As you play the game and live in this world you are presented with all manner of moral choices from the quests that you choose, the deeds you do, the person(s) you marry, how many children you have, how you treat them, etc. It’s a multifaceted and fairly enthralling adventure where you are constantly making moral decisions.
Your character will age and grow based in large part on those moral decisions. If you are good, you will look healthy and angelic, over time a halo will form over your head. If you are evil, you will look pale and menacing, ultimately growing horns.
XBox 360 games have something called achievements.
Basically, when you accomplish something that is designated as special in the game you get achievement points. They aren’t really worth much except video game geek-cred. However, when the achievements are unlocked via an online gameplay account through XBox Live, it seems that the game companies have a record of the achievements.
Here are some achievement stats from Fable II:
- 2.6 million copies of Fable II have been sold
- The easiest achievement, “The Whippersnapper” has been unlocked by 2.8 million people (more than the copies sold because games can be traded, borrowed, resold, or a single player can have multiple accounts)
- The hardest achievement to unlock is “The Dollcatcher” with only 61,037 or 1.9% (This is an achievement for completists)
- At the end of the game, the player is faced with a big moral decision. Help yourself, help your loved ones, or help the world. There is a special ending and a different achievement associated with the different outcomes. One million gamers chose “The Family.”
What’s my point?
It seems to me that this is an opportunity for serious social science research.
People play video games differently. When I find the time to play a game like this, I actually put thought into my actions in the world (even though there is nothing compelling me to do so). When I accidentally destroy the economy of a town by selling too many items to the shopkeepers without buying anything or I inadvertently incinerate an innocent bystander with a fireball there is a part of me that wants to make up for it and fix things (Honestly, who doesn’t run away from the guy with the big axe shooting fireballs from his hands? A little common sense from the common folk would be greatly appreciated).
Back to my point.
By adding more specific achievements and tracking the manner in which people play some of the more enthralling, morally ambiguous games, someone might be able to do some interesting research on how people act in video games. I’m not saying it will be a reflection of how they act in real life, because I know it won’t. However, it might offer insight into how people act online. Maybe there is a correlation between people who like to hurt video game citizens and people who are prone to flaming on blogs, twitter, and message boards. At the very least, I think it is worth investigating.