Last week, the new £10 note featuring the face of Jane Austen was released. Many women, myself included, were overjoyed to see this small but significant step towards equality happen in our lifetimes.
And now, there is another – some may say lesser, but this is 2017 and really I’m not sure any more – honour for the author: someone making a video game inspired by Jane Austen’s work. Ever, Jane is a virtual roleplaying game created by Judy L Tyrer that sees players living and thriving in the Regency era town of Tyrhampton. When you start the game you pick your gender, skin tone, outfit and backstory – are you married? A widowed? Engaged? Rich? Poor? – and then off you go, trying to find your fortune and your happiness.
It’s a roleplaying game, so there are very few restrictions on what you can and can’t do. Do you want to have a gentle wander and explore the town? Great! Do you have a particular goal – marriage, becoming a writer, causing mayhem? Also great! If you’ve ever idly daydreamed about what you’d do if you were a secondary character in Pride and Prejudice, here’s your chance to find out – and because it’s an online game, there are thousands of others playing along with you.
So much of Austen’s novels are about social status and position, and Ever, Jane is no different. Instead of developing your stamina or defence stats, you work on your character traits
There are two things I love about Ever, Jane. The first is that it’s an entirely normal game with entirely normal game mechanics, but put in a way that makes sense for a Jane Austen world. So much of Austen’s novels are about social status and position, and Ever, Jane is no different. Instead of developing your stamina or defence stats, you work on your character traits (status, happiness, kindness, duty and reputation) to advance. Instead of defeating end-of-level bosses, you have to get rid of love rivals or stop people trying to sabotage you and, instead of a sword and shield, you have gossip. For anyone who has ever played a game before it’s all so recognisable, but it’s also utterly frivolous and it all sounds so fun.
And that’s where the second thing comes in. I love how unashamedly feminine this game is. Gender stereotypes are bullshit and it’s fine for women to like “male” things and vice versa. But also, so many video games put me off because they’re full of things I’m just not interested in doing. Despite admiring the game mechanics of GTA, I’ve never played it because I’m not interested in gratuitously torturing people or only interacting with women in order to sleep with them or murder them. But a game that asks me to learn a new dance to increase my gracefulness, or lets me have very serious conversations about Lady Penelope’s conduct at the Spring Ball last week? Just let me get my bonnet and my book of romantic pianoforte tunes and I’ll be there.
The ultimate goal of Ever, Jane is the same as the ultimate goals of many of Jane Austen’s characters: to be happy. When we don’t have control over so many aspects of our lives, it’s incredibly comforting to be able to escape for a few hours into a game where your happiness depends entirely on whether your dress is pretty enough and whether you’re sat next to an eligible bachelor at a dinner party. Gaming is the purest form of escapism, and so I’m glad that games like Ever, Jane exist. Austen fans deserve to take a few hours away from reality, too.