Dueling Jane Austen Games, Not Exactly a Win for Female Gamers (But Not Entirely a Loss, Either)

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Jane Austen’s admirers are legion. There are Jane Austen spin off books, most notably Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but also Darcy’s Story (a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the male character’s standpoint). There are also cookbooks and knitting books (yes, plural) based on or inspired by Jane Austen.  There are people that claim to dislike Jane Austen’s works but love the stories in other forms, including the movies Clueless and Bridget Jones’ Diary.

Now there’s a new way to experience all the fabulousness of a Jane Austen book: by virtual game.  In fact there are two sites with Jane Games going at this point. The first is Ever, Jane,  a online role-playing game set in the virtual world of Regency England and the works of Jane Austen. Ever, Jane killed it in a Kickstarter campaign that ended December 2, 2013 fully-funded. As its Kickstarter campaign notes, Ever, Jane is about playing the actual character in the game, building stories. It involves sleuthing out rumors and gossip and winning invitations to parties and balls.

A second group has created the Jane Austen Games.  The site was started by a group of Jane Austen fans “who think that the game world could do with a period game or two.”

What’s interesting about the dueling Jane Games is not only that there are two sites, but whether it is an invitation to the literary folk to start gaming or whether it’s a reaction to the treatment of women in gaming. As to the latter, women make up nearly half of the gaming world, according to a 2012 report from the Entertainment Software Association, yet the constant refrain that women aren’t gamers, or women gamers are only posers has been so prevalent a video responding to that nonsense went viral earlier this year.  There are entire sites devoted to creating a community women who dig gaming. But run a “girl gamer” search on Google and watch out for the soft core porn images of women barely covered by gaming controls.

In response, there have been studies that show most of the playable characters in games are men, with female characters who are unrealistic both in body shape and in depth of character.  But on the flip side of that, the Jane Austen Games presented include “Matchmaker” and “Party.”  They are hardly the stuff of more traditional games – no one is going to set Mr. Darcy on fire to save the world from an invasion of aliens. In fact, the site currently shows fashions from the time period of Jane Austen that you can choose for your characters and several lovely CGI of English countrysides.

In describing its games, the Jane Austen Games states that “Party is about hosting different regency parties. The goal will be to satisfy the various, specialized and sometimes conflicting needs of a wide variety of guests….Matchmaker is a strategy game where you better your standing in the world by making acquaintances and marrying your daughters as advantageously as possible or just find a nice husband yourself.”

In the Ever, Jane site, it describes its purpose as not about kill or be killed, but invite and be invited with gossip our weapon of choice.

Not exactly the stuff feminist gamers would move mountains for. However, gaming itself is an important resource.  According to TED talker Jane McGonigal, “people who spend more time playing video games actually have a wealth of psychological resources, like mental and emotional resilience, that can be used to tackle tough challenges in their real lives — with more creativity, determination, motivation and social support.”

With that in mind, if we look back at Party and Matchmaker, they are obviously logic games.  Logic games that could be found on standardized entrance exams to law school, medical school or any other graduate school.  If they are a reaction to the lack of opportunities for women in gaming, then maybe they do achieve that goal.

As to the Ever, Jane game, the point is to decrease a character’s reputation by spreading rumors without getting caught.  The site’s founder says that the game is based on Game Theory, or in simpler words, is a strategy game, as opposed to the logic-based Jane Austen Games.  Ever, Jane also is focused on long term development of a character, and includes forums for introducing yourself to others playing the game.

If the Jane Austen Games and Ever, Jane are an invitation to cash in on the Jane Austen marketing world, then perhaps they are genius.  Just how popular is Jane Austen? Well, there is an entire club devoted to her called the Jane Austen Society of North America, which was started in 1979 and now boasts over 4,500 members (disclosure: this author has been a member).  Jane Austen may even be featured on currency in England.

Looking again at the games offered, Jane Austin Games’ Matchmaker picks up on the themes of Pride and Prejudice but misses Austen’s entire point.  If you take the efforts to marry the sisters off as a fun game, then you’ve lost Austen’s criticism of the limited role of women in society.  The harshness of how women could not inherit in Regency England is so clearly laid out in Sense and Sensibility of the sisters who are forced from their house to a “charming” but cold and cramped situation in the country.

Similarly, it’s possible that the developer of Ever, Jane missed the underlying issue of Persuasion when developing an entire game based on rumors. While one’s reputation and standing in society were immensely critical in Regency England, Austen’s body of work, such as Persuasion, was directed at showing how unnecessary and harmful those values were.  It’s possible that the themes of Austen’s work when presented via film, rather than in her own words in her books, lost something in translation.  And that something would be that Austen’s contribution to the literary world was founded on her critique of society, and that critique included the underbelly of society in rumors and gossip.

Hopefully the Jane Austen Games and Ever, Jane will be an opportunity to get more girls and women into gaming and into the world of strategy itself.  The world could use some innovative thinking on long term planning.

~

By day, Maggie is a mild-mannered attorney who used to be the Director of Sprout Yoga, a nonprofit dedicated to Yoga for Eating Disorders.  By night, Maggie works on many projects to empower women globally and right here in the USA, including Someday Sophie.  She continues to teach yoga at prisons in Delaware.  When she’s not writing, she is generally being loved on by a pouncy dog and two soft kitties. She’s a baker, runner, knitter, and artist.

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