Deborah Yaffe

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To the manor born

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 23 2020 01:00PM

It’s no secret that many Jane Austen screen adaptations owe their popularity in part to the appeal of their detailed period costumes and elegant settings. Bonnets! Ballgowns! Stately homes with floor-to-ceiling French windows! The meticulously coordinated pastel color scheme was practically an extra character in this year’s movie version of Emma.


So perhaps it’s not surprising that an entire Jane Austen-themed video game is devoted to the task of dressing up a Regency avatar and decorating her many-roomed mansion.


Jane Austen Manors isn’t new – it was created four years ago by Jeffrey Ainsworth, a Massachusetts businessman – and it’s clearly a niche product, with about seventeen hundred Facebook fans. (By contrast, World of Warcraft has more than six million.) But according to a story in the local Greenfield Recorder newspaper, the quarantine regime has increased traffic to the game that fans call JAM.


Over the years, Jane Austen-themed video games have come and gone, establishing a small but persistent foothold in a world often stereotyped as the exclusive domain of teenage boys who fantasize about blowing things up. Typically, Austen games allow players to engage in a version of Regency husband-hunting, wielding such weapons as gossip and social status to vanquish female competitors and win the most desirable man.


As far as I can tell from a quick tour through the free demo, JAM dispenses with such plot devices, focusing exclusively on the creation of dress-up outfits, the decoration of rooms, and the completion of puzzles (word searches, hidden-object hunts, paint-by-numbers games) that allow you to earn the virtual currency with which to buy more accessories and furniture. It’s a Jane Austen movie without all those pesky Jane Austen stories.


It also seems curiously addictive, at least for someone like me who spent much of her childhood sprawled on her stomach rearranging the furniture in her dollhouse. These days, decorating a virtual manor house could be the perfect escape from the world outside.


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