Fable III Fling explodes into Real Life Brawl

Fable III Fling explodes into Real Life Brawl

  • By: CM Boots-Faubert
  • Posted 16th Dec 2010

Fable III

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The story you are about to read is true. Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent - and the idiots -- because enough humiliation has been heaped onto the shoulders of these people already, and we do not need to add to it.

At approximately half-past ten in the evening this past Friday (10 December, 2010), Brandeis University student Amy Smith opened the door to the flat of her boyfriend of two years, Jeff Cooper, and was confronted by the last thing she expected to see: the man she was engaged to getting married to a stranger.

According to Smith, having finished her shift early at a tech company she works for part-time as a data processor, she was looking forward to surprising her boyfriend -- who was not expecting to see her until the following day, when they had plans to spend the afternoon shopping for Christmas gifts, before driving to Connecticut to visit with Cooper's family.

When she opened the door to the flat she says that the loud sound of video game music verified that her boy was home; following the music down the short hallway to the living area of the loft-style flat confirmed this, as she immediately spotted Cooper sitting in front of the flat panel display, his XBox 360 contoller clutched in his hands.

The largest room in the flat, the area is set up as a combination work space and entertainment zone, filled with an extensive collection of computer and video game console hardware, and at its center, a large comfortable 1960's vintage overstuffed couch.

The couple had "rescued" the couch from the curb the previous Fall, and Smith had spent several weeks re-stuffing it, and then custom sewing a new cover constructed from old bluejeans with the back pockets strategically located along the sides to hold remotes, and the wireless controller that operates the lights and other automated features of the flat -- pay attention to all that detail, because it becomes significant in a bit.

As she stood behind him unnoticed, she watched Cooper as he played the video game Fable III, the popular action role-playing game from British gaming guru Peter Molyneux's Lionhead Studios, of Guildford, Surrey. The third game in the Fable series, Fable III features a very large fantasy world in which gamers can adventure, battle, complete quests to become its king, and if they have a broadband Internet connection, play with other gamers co-operatively.

An Online Betrayal

As she stood behind the couch unnoticed, she observed the familiar in-game character of her boyfriend -- they play the game together almost daily -- and a female character on the screen who she at first mistook for an NPC character that was part of the game. It soon became painfully obvious to her that it was in fact another person as the couple on the screen stood intimately close and she listened to the voice of her boyfriend's character proposing marriage.

"Of course I will marry you!" the virtual female interloper gushed in reply.

As she stood in stunned silence her boyfriend chose the home that he would share with his new in-game wife, and then the location for their wedding: the historic Academy in the village of Brightwall.

On the screen, surrounded by dozens of the village citizens, the official announced: "I now pronounce you husband and wife," and then the on-screen couple embraced and kissed. Before she could find the words to voice her anger, the couple then retired to their new family home and had sex. The words that finally broke her emotional paralysis was what her boyfriend said into the wireless headset he wore: "Let's make a baby right away!"

That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, it seems. The first indication that the neighbors had that anything was wrong was the sound of shattered glass and the crash as an almost brand new black slim model XBox 360 gaming console flew through the window and smashed on the street three stories below.

While no injuries were reported to police save for the window, the Xbox 360, and the couch, whose custom-made covering she so lovingly crafted the year before she quickly slashed into shreds with a kitchen knife, it is a safe bet that their relationship is over.

"I cannot believe that he cheated on me with a virtual person!" Smith says. "After all the time we spent together in game, and two years in real life? Men are pigs!" she concluded.

No formal charges were filed in the matter, but it illustrates a growing problem as online games add in personal and social activities that promote relationships.

A little background data

In-game infidelity is a lot more common than common sense suggests, and has been listed as the grounds for so many divorce filings in the United States and United Kingdom that the press rarely considered a new event of the sort to be news worthy!

The last heavily covered case in the United Kingdom was in 2008, when virtual Romeo Dave Pollard (40) had an affair in the game Second Life with American Linda Brinkley (55), causing his wife Amy Taylor (28) to file for divorce. Pollard was dubbed the "Second Life Love Rat" by the Daily Mail, as the newspaper closely followed the story, which was sordid but still a valid and newsworthy event due mostly to the couple's prominence in the world of Second Life, where they ran the successful and popular nightclub, The Holodeck.

"You have to understand, it is like a different world," explains Andrew Keats, a long-time in-game mate of Pollard's Second Life persona Dave Barmy.

"The Holodeck is a destination mate, and you know, Dave Barmy? He's a good mate, he is wealthy and likes to spread it around; gave me a job when I really needed the money. When Modesty (Modesty McDonnell is the in-game persona of American Linda Brinkley) came to work at the Holodeck she was really popular. Likes to spend time topless so you know, that helps. She was a big draw as hostess, a lot of blokes liked her," Keats explains.

Virtual Relationships are Real

It may seem like a stretch, but the virtual relationships that take place in online games often have as much emotional significance to the participants as their real life relationships, and a growing percentage of online citizens say that they do not see any difference at all between the two. The notion that love is love, no matter where it is encountered is the underlying philosophy here, and just like their real-life counterpart, virtual relationships can lead people to perpetrate crimes -- like murder.

In 2008 a 43-year-old woman in Japan was happily going about her daily life, both online and in the real world, when her in-game persona in the virtual world of Maple Story was served with the equivalent of a divorce decree with absolutely no warning.

Her reaction? She murdered her in-game ex-spouse... In game.

The result of what may very well be the first virtual love murder was an arrest -- for hacking. Police in Tokyo investigating the charges filed by the man who was virtually slain concluded that the woman had violated the law when she hacked into his game account to set him up to be murdered, so they arrested her, charging her with multiple counts of illegally accessing a computer, and with manipulating electronic data. Police claim that she used his identification and password to log onto popular interactive game "Maple Story" to carry out the virtual murder in mid-May 2008, and then tried to cover her tracks by deleting evidence of the hack on her computer.

Sometimes the game is enough

Infidelity is not the leading cause of video game related divorces, rather it is the games themselves that are the spark that often leads to the fire.

"Sometimes the game is enough," says Ray Norris, a 27-year-old Physicians Assistant from Houston Texas. "I get most of the social interaction that I need from WoW, the rest I get at work, so you know, sometimes the game is enough," he repeats.

Norris is just one of the thousands of men it is estimated were divorced or are facing divorce in part due to their addiction to the Massive Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft (more often known as WoW).

"Games like WoW just suck you in," Norris says. He should know -- after buying a copy of the game in 2006, he began to spend more time with it than he did with his wife, and eventually more time in the game than in all of the other activities in his life combined.

"Life was just so much better in the game," he says. "I was rich, powerful, and respected there. In this world I am just nothing. I liked that world better," he admits. Norris is now in treatment for his addiction to WoW and hopes to regain some normalcy in life and, with luck, win back his wife before their pending divorce proceedings take place.

The view from the other side of the table is often more dire and stress-filled than that of the gamer, as is illustrated by the case of a 28-year-old California woman who felt she had no choice but to divorce her husband after he became addicted to WoW.

"He would get home from work at 6:00, start playing at 6:30, and he'd play until three A.M. Weekends were worse - it was from morning straight through until the middle of the night," she says in an interview with Yahoo! Games. "It took away all of our time that we spent together. I ceased to exist in his life."

The irony in her story is that she is an ex-employee of Blizzard, the company that created and operates the game, and gave it to her husband as a Christmas gift. While she does not blame herself for his addiction, she does feel pain for having been the one to expose him to the addiction in the first place.

Picking up the pieces

A growing number of courts are starting to accept video game addiction -- and video game infidelity -- as reasonable grounds for divorce, and the problem has grown so obvious that medical associations all over the world are looking into it with an eye towards classifying it as a legitimate mental illness.

Treatment programs are being created to address the issue, and intervention strategies are now well developed. Some pro-family employers in California expressly forbid their employees to smoke, drink to excess, and now participate in online games, and that attitude is spreading.

Because virtual infidelity does not present the same clear-cut issues as video game addiction, it is not as easy to define the mechanism behind it as it applies to real life. The fact that it takes place in a game leads many otherwise logical and reasonable legal experts to conclude that it should not carry the same weight in law as an affair in real life, a position that mental health experts adamantly oppose.

"A betrayal of that magnitude -- whether it is real or virtual -- has a perpetrator and a victim" one psychiatrist posted anonymously to a blog on the subject of video game ills. "You cannot look at it as a victimless event, and you should not consider it to be harmless; it does great harm," they conclude.

In the case of Dave "Barmy" Pollard a lot of the people close to him believe that it was, in fact, a victimless crime -- if it was a crime at all.

There is a general sense of entitlement in those virtual worlds, with the belief that it should be like the popular Las Vegas tourism commercials, expressing the view that "What Happens in Second Life Stays in Second Life," whether the event is prostitution, affairs, or casual sex -- at least that is how Andrew Keats and a significant percentage of the population of these online games feel about it.

"I don't think she was a prostitute," Keats says, referring to the claims made by Taylor, who was convinced that the relationship her ex-husband had with McDonnell began as a paid fling. "If I was a woman I might go that route, you can make a lot of money doing that, and who does it hurt?" Keats commented.

The view of prostitution in alternate game worlds like Second Life is largely the same as that of casual sex -- it is virtual, and therefore it should not matter. "Who does it hurt?" is the question most often asked, and while proponents of the wide-open lifestyle promoted by the games may be confused on that part, people like Smith are not.

"It hurt me. It hurt me to see the man I loved cheating on me," she says. "It would hurt any woman to confront that sort of infidelity. You can understand if it is just sex; a mistake that happened in the heat of the moment. But this? This is a relationship, not just sex, and that hurts."