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Friday, August 22, 2014

Jane Austen in Video Game Land

Sam, twitter buddy, RPGer and blogger extraordinaire over at Cherry Blossoms & Maple Syrup, has done some hard, hard work here, folks. Toiling, backbreaking work. I had to twist her arm to do it, and I'm not sure how she kept it together... What task did Sam have to undertake, you ask? What gargantuan, unusually cruel, horrible thing did she take on in the name of Austen?
She played video games. Lots and lots of video games. And they all had something to do with Jane Austen, which makes me think I should do as Wil Wheaton is always suggesting, and PLAY MORE GAMES! ;)

Jane Austen in Video Game Land
As Janeites, we take great pride in the media transformations of our favourite Austen characters. From literature to film, Jane Austen’s works has seen some interesting retellings and adaptations. However, Jane and her heroines have not fully crossed over into the land of video games, so I’ve decided to share with you a few games that I have found or even played that use Jane or her heroines in some way.
Saints Row IV (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
In Saints Row IV, players take on the role of The Boss, who has approaching the end of their first term as President of the United States. However, the ramp-up to re-election is cut short when a well-read and charming alien overlord named Zinyak, destroys the world. Meanwhile, the Boss and her cohorts, steal an alien ship just before the world is destroyed, and vow to take revenge on Zinyak in the virtual world.
The plot is completely ridiculous and it’s something you must simply roll with. Also you get super powers! So how does Jane tie into all of this? For starters, she is the narrator of this tale, as the story is told with a regency-style gaze, borrowing the opening from the 1982 film version of Conan the Barbarian. Furthermore, Zinyak is quite the Pride and Prejudice fan, as while players are exploring the virtual version of Steelport, he will read you the entire first chapter!
I’m not going to lie, but if Zinyak’s voice actor did a full audiobook for Pride and Prejudice, I’d be all over it.
Jane’s only physical appearance in the game happens in the ending, sadly. When the player begins the game, the narrator is not identified in any way, so when players reach the end of Saints Row IV, they learn that their regency-style narrator is none other than the Queen of the Regency novel, Jane Austen. How does this happen? Well, in the end of the game, the cast of Saints Row time travel through history… because stuff. It’s silly, and crazy, and you have to wonder if the developers had a clear idea for this (Saints Row V, anyone?). My only disappointment is that the game never allows for Jane to ever become a playable homie that I could call up and hang out with. Seriously, that was a low blow for my little Austen-loving heart. Could you see Jane running around Steelport with an Inflato-ray or a Dubstep Gun? It’d be all kinds of fabulous.
Ever, Jane (PC)
Official Website: http://www.everjane.com/
So unlike Saints Row IV, which is a crazy over-the-top action game, Ever Jane is described as a massive multiplayer role playing game (MMORPG) that allows players to explore the regency world of Jane Austen’s novels. Unlike most RPGs which use combat as a means to gain levels and experience, Ever Jane uses a gossip system for it means of gaining levels. Plus, what real weapon of choice would there be in a Jane Austen RPG? Gossip is king in her novels and they usually fuel the drama.
Ever Jane was Kickstarted last year, and even now it’s still in its Beta phase. Those who gave money in a certain tier were able to have Early Access to the game and play it during its development. The goal of the game is that players can spread rumors about other players. There’s consequences for those caught in their lies, just as there are rewards for those who use their deductive skills to find the culprit. The game also features grand balls that players can dress up and attend, as well as fancy parties, and the all the glamour and works one would expect from Jane Austen’s regency era.
Unlike most RPGs that have stats, Ever Jane uses a Personality System that will increase or decrease based on a player’s daily activities. The Gossip system is integrated in to also affect a player’s reputation and status. Players can also mold their characters to be similar to the heroines of Jane’s novels, though their traits can affect the types of relationships you have with other players. One example the developer provides is: “Marianne Dashwood preferring Happiness over Duty.  This decision will gain the admiration of those around her who enjoy her lightheartedness, but will offend those like Mr. Knightly who prize duty. “
Ever Jane is still in its Beta phase and has yet to entirely implement all the systems it wishes to add to its core gameplay. However, this may be a game to keep watching if you’re a hardcore Janeite, because it looks as though it has a lot to offer for fans who have ever wanted to role-play in a regency setting.
Jane Austen’s Estate of Affairs (PC)
Official Website: http://www.bigfishgames.com/download-games/24526/jane-austens-estate-of-affairs/index.html
The game in Jane’s romp through Video Game Land is one actually funded by the BBC, titled Jane Austen’s Estate of Affairs. This is a hidden object game that has players touring Jane Austen’s estate and finding random objects off a check list. Players take on the role of Christiana, the niece of beloved novelist Jane Austen, who is searching for her aunt’s unpublished novel. In this game players actually get to go through the history of Jane Austen’s life, as well as explore areas of her personal history.
The actual gameplay however, is the standard collect items off a list, as well as some brain teasers and puzzles to vary the experience. The game will have you find objects from Jane’s novels, share experts from her most popular works, and have players explore more than just Regency England. Overall, it seems like it’d be a great experience for the more casual Janeite who just wants an easy game to relax with.

I wish that there were more exciting Jane Austen inspired games out there. The few that I’ve managed to share with you are such a small (if fun) part of having Jane in the video game medium, but it’s simply not enough. I can only hope that developers out there find new and interesting ways to incorporate Jane’s worlds or her characters to make for some interesting interactive storytelling. Still, I appreciate what has been done so far, and I can only hope there will be more in years to come.

Sam Marchello is a fellow YA junkie, Japanese Literature buff, and Labrador Retriever and English Bulldog lover. You can check out her bookish adventures over at Cherry Blossoms and Maple Syrup with her partner-in-crime, River. Or you can follow her on twitter @merrygodown and watch her be a terrible enabler at people. When she is not loving on literature, you can also find her reviewing and role-playing over at RPGamer.com as the site’s Operations Manager.

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  1. I knew there were hidden object games out there, but not about the others. In a way I am glad there is not a lot out there, there is enough to distract me from my reading time already without adding gaming into the mix!

  2. Ever, Jane sounds like it has some SIMS-like elements. I'm totally in favor of it expanding such that I can buy a subscription. Or beta test! :D

  3. I am so far out of it when it comes to virtual games that these sound really impressive to me. Thanks for doing the research, Sam.

  4. I loved Matches & Matrimony, a mesh of different Austen novels and a sort of choose-your-own-adventure/suitor.

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