Fellow Jane Austen fans, rejoice. There’s a new interactive computer game—a choose-your-own-Regency-era-adventure—taking the literature we know and love and turning it digital.
While some historical or literary purists may balk at the idea that Jane Austen’s writing has inspired interactive comic books, I find the whole medium absolutely fascinating.
Especially in the male-dominated world of gaming, where women are routinely objectified, The Lady’s Choice, a “visual novel” if you will, is particularly refreshing. This "visual novel" is an interactive story game, where readers encounter static digital illustrations and must choose how they react to certain situations—leading to very different endings. In this case, the choices lead readers down paths that I believe Austen herself would approve of—even if the creator, self-taught British developer, Mishka Jenkins, told me that there is a touch of modern here and there. "I tried my best to hold to the rules of the time period, but I wasn't overly focused on historical accuracy," she confesses, wanting to "translate to a modern audience."
Jenkins, who benevolently lets users decide how much they want to pay to play, shares that The Lady’s Choice is no big-budget production, rather one of the “indie” sort. Yet, what it lacks in flashy special effects, Jenkins makes up for in remarkably good writing and beautiful illustrations.
A lifelong Austen fan, Jenkins initially released the visual novel in October, yet due to an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response, she added another route to the story, finalizing it this past December.
Not to be confused with the bigger-budget production Ever, Jane—another Regency-inspired game that’s of the “virtual reality” sort—Jenkins’ The Lady’s Choice is instead a complex interactive story, sans the potential for chatroom shenanigans.
“I had a very different mindset coming into this visual novel than a lot of the male-led games in the gaming industry,” she shares.“For some reason, in a lot of media, the idea of a strong female character seems to be the ones who emulate male roles, or strive to be physically strong and warrior-like, or feisty, brash, or argumentative.”
While that’s great for some, Jenkins believes it's an incomplete definition of a strong woman. “Elizabeth Bennett doesn't need to go around sword-fighting. Her strength comes from her mind, her personality, and ideals.”
Your novel begins journeying to Bath as a wealthy daughter of a Viscount. Like Austen’s Emma Woodhouse, or Anne Elliot, your situation is unique: you have zero pressure to marry (thank you, small fortune), and, therefore, are afforded more freedom than most women of that era. Quickly, you find yourself navigating the complicated upper class society of 18th-century England, with your widowed-and-therefore-more-independent friend, Arabella.
As your novel unfolds, you’re given complex backstories, convincing villains, regency-era girl talk (that, frankly, can get pretty deep)—along with a list of wonderfully flawed suitors, who you can dazzle with your choice of Lizzie Bennet-caliber zingers, charm with Anne Elliot-grade altruism—or cause scandal with Lydia Bennet-inspired, wince-worthy flirtations.
While at times the plot might lend itself to scenes that have a touch of Brontë—depending on your choices, there’s a mischievous man in a mask, or a brooding gambling-affiliated Lord—it’s still very much carried in an authentic spirit of Jane, leaving you breathless with its twists and turns over the course of several hours. I, for one, was absolutely enchanted.
Yet, there’s no guarantee of a happy ending. In Austen’s world, where society is a perpetual awkward third wheel, it’s apparently easy to screw up a happy ending. In my case, one imprudent move could even banish your Captain to the frontlines of battle, or cause your gentleman’s family to forbid any marriage possibility.
That's where this interactive story has something to teach modern-day players. These days, we take it for granted that our narrative is in our own hands. While Austen was very much ahead of her times, she still lived in an era where women’s choices, even very wealthy privileged women’s choices, were severely limited. Yet she, and the game, has a lesson for the modern woman: happiness isn’t found by doing what we like, whenever we want.
For instance, to draw from a real scenarios in the story (if you want to try the game, you might want to avoid the following spoilers), after playing The Lady's Choice several times, I realized a pattern. In order to “win” you needed to navigate society’s rules—while also choosing the right times to break convention in order to follow your heart. So thinking about yourself too much earns you an unhappy ending, but if you meekly don't think about yourself at all or blindly follow the rules like a close-minded hall-monitor, you'll also lose.
In one particular scenario, you have a slimeball suitor, Lord Huntington. He has the unrelenting persistence of a Mr. Collins, but the conniving nature of Mr. Elliot. Jenkins confesses that simply writing his dialogue made her uncomfortable, “but that was the feel I wanted to give the reader.” Yet, even though he deserves all the condescending, snappy comments in the world, you still have navigate the situation with poise, otherwise it could ultimately estrange you from your beau.
This balancing act to live in the world while also being true to yourself is one we apparently always need reminding, today no less than in Austen's time. Our current society might play by different rules, but just as Austen's stories transcend time to tell us something for our own, the game does the same. This game may not be the speed of all literature fans, but it's delightful to know it stays true to Austen's integrity and is a refreshing drop of refinement in what's often a pool of questionable gaming offerings. The Lady’s Choice reminds players that Jane Austen’s books are about so much more than merely finding a man. They’re about finding happiness yourself.
Note: If you have either or a Mac or a PC, you can download the game here. Before you download, you may have to adjust your Firewall settings, since this game isn't sold on a mainstream market.
Photo Credit: Buena Vista International