Teenagers often complain about having to read a Jane Austen novel for school. They may be put off by a dry title like Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice. But these novels conceal vivid human drama and biting wit that wouldn’t be out of place on a Comedy Central offering. Soon, rather than telling your son or daughter to just read it already, you might be able to fire up a video game to pique their interest.
Ever, Jane’s Origins
Ever, Jane is a unique and ambitious massively multiplayer online game set in the world of Jane Austen. The gameplay involves selecting different stories you would like to play and then working with other players to tell those stories.
Still in development and due out next year, the game is made by 3 Turn Productions. Ever, Jane is the brainchild of Judy Tyrer, a veteran MMO game developer. Her resume includes stints with Sony Online Entertainment and Linden Labs, working on Second Life. Tyrer is attempting to bring a historically accurate version of the ultra-civilized society of Austen’s Regency England to modern gamers.
“Because we call them stories,” Tyrer says, “we’re doing things that nobody else has done.”
A story might begin with a simple prompt such as “two very lonely people who meet at the funeral of a mutual friend.” It can then develop into a timed challenge to elope before the couple’s disapproving parents find out and stop the proceedings. This is great way to show a younger generation the drama and high stakes that play out in Austen’s mannered prose.
Ever, Jane’s Unique Role-Playing Gameplay
One tool the game uses to teach players interactive roleplay is a gossip system that prompts players to spread the dirt on each other’s characters. For example, you can tell the truth about the visitor you met at Mrs. Holliwell’s house or you can invent a lie. Character journals will track progress through different stories.
There are a couple of types of events in the game. One type arises naturally from other players (a wedding, for example). Another type of event is organized by community managers (such as a ball), announced in the in-game newspaper.
Tyrer says facilitating stories while still relying on player creativity is one of the biggest challenges she faces. “We want our gameplay to inspire the stories, not be the end in itself.”
Since her vision is so dependent on a curated community, Tyrer has emphasized having active community managers to moderate the servers. Players are expected to be role playing in character whenever online. She’s also creating a “penal colony” server for players who behave disruptively. She has no intentions of trying to please everyone.
Tyrer herself is an avid MMO player. She uses old favorites like World of Warcraft to see the “gaping holes” in her design. She takes inspiration from games like A Tale in the Desert, which she calls “an excellent example of getting large communities of players to cooperate.” And she’s inspired by sandbox-style games that reward player cooperation and creativity.
Players who seek out Ever, Jane will be attracted by the bookish, storytelling gameplay rather than by sleek graphics or impressive design. Avid, enthusiastic role players in the Jane Austen fanbase have already been playing in the game’s alpha.
Ever, Jane’s Educational Potential
Ever, Jane has received an enthusiastic response from many members of the Jane Austen Society of North America, as well as from the educational market. Tyrer is already working with schools and colleges to create private servers where teachers can use the game as a tool in the classroom. It’s easy to see why educators would be eager to hop on board. Tyrer becomes positively gleeful when discussing the implementation of historically accurate concepts like primogeniture. (Primogeniture is the system in which the eldest son inherits the bulk of a family’s property and wealth.)
Ever, Jane is focused on inspiring imaginative play. But it does so through providing a structured environment for storytelling that ensures the spirit of Austen is never far away.
If successful, Ever, Jane could blaze a trail for other offerings that combine the ability to teach, foster creativity, and inspire players to discover (or rediscover!) classic literature.