Ever, Jane: Mansfield Park and MMORPGs

Every MMORPG I’ve ever played has had murder as a basic and essential game mechanic. Need to complete a quest, advance a level, acquire an item? Better go kill a dozen wolves/bandits/pirates/mages so that you can get enough exp/gold to… buy more powerful weapons and kill stronger wolves/bandits/et cetera. Even in Lord of the Rings Online’s Shire area has kill quests – there are hobbit-suited quests like delivering mail and avoiding nosy neighbors, but there are also assignments to kill bears and slay wolves, even if the books themselves say it’s been generations since wolves appeared in the Shire. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this style of gameplay, but it’s become so ingrained into the MMO experience thatI I’ve come to assume it’s essential.

Enter Ever, Jane, an online roleplaying game currently in open Beta that is based on the novels of Jane Austen.


The village of Tyrehampton. Screenshot from Ever, Jane.

Yes, Jane Austen. Set in Austen’s vision of early 19th-century Regency England, Ever, Jane allows players to create a character who – instead of climbing levels and increasing their strength, defense, HP, and other familiar stats – will develop traits called Status, Happiness, Kindness, Duty, and Reputation. Instead of kill quests, players may embark on ‘stories’ with or without the help of other players. As the game’s website says, “It’s not about kill or be killed but invite or be invited. Gossip is our weapon of choice. Instead of raids, we will have grand balls. Instead of dungeons, we will have dinner parties.”

Unlike Lord of the Rings Online, where roleplaying is only encouraged and required on specific servers, roleplaying appears to be the heart of Ever, Jane: players are encouraged to stay in-character at all times, build storylines with other players, and adhere to role-playing etiquette. However, the game’s stories and character traits introduce more traditional elements of gameplay that players of other MMORPGs might expect. Balls and dinner parties act like special events (or exclusive dungeons) where a player must meet certain requirements to enter; mini-games will simulate era-appropriate pastimes which help increase stats. Instead of slaying your enemy in PvP, you can ruin their reputation with gossip.

I was impressed with the creators’ passion to translate the experience of Jane Austen novels into a gaming experience — especially an MMO. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for instance, lends itself easily to action and adventure. To adapt Austen’s works the creators needed to challenge the basic notions of what an MMORPG is and cut away the stereotypes of the medium to get to the heart: community.

An online game based around Jane Austen novels might sound like a niche product, but it’s a niche with an enthusiastic fan base: during the game’s Kickstarter campaign, 1,600 backers pledged $109,563. As the game passes through its Open Beta and into full launch, it will be interesting to see which classical MMORPG elements will be integrated and altered to suit the game’s goals and which won’t be invited to the dinner party.

Cavafy’s “Ithaca” and The Video Game Arms Race

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Don’t get caught up in this damn World of Warcraft arms race,” he told me. “You’ll only lose sight of why you enjoy the game in the first place.”

He was referring to the fact that in World of Warcraft, a game that we played together when I was younger, the developers constantly released new, awesome material that required your constant attention and dedication in order to master. A lot of this came in the form of high end “gear,” or equipment that would grant bonuses to a player’s abilities. Once you got towards the end of the new content, you might get diminishing returns on your investment in terms of stats, but it was still noticeable, and a lot of players still grind out countless hours for the sake of becoming a tiny bit stronger. I was one of those players.


Though my old account has long since been deleted, this is some of the stuff I was working with. You tend to have a lot of free time when you get grounded as a teenager, and oh lord could WoW use every bit of it. There was a never-ending stream of items, equipment, skills and mounts to obtain and master. I’d spend a lot of time going through the same dungeons and events over and over in the hopes of getting some gear that I hadn’t gotten yet, half for my own abilities in the game and half for pride.

My dad would notice my reaction when I’d lose some sort of achievement that I wanted, and he’d usually get on me for not enjoying the game itself. You know, cuz that’s kinda the point of a game. I’d spend most of the time that I played with my dad looking forward to simply getting loot, losing track of what was most valuable about that time with my dad.

One of our favorite dungeons was called Karazhan; it was an old castle filled with all sorts of magic creatures and haunting spirits who held strong items and fun challenges.

This is but one of them, as our heroes attempt to defeat the actors in the play. The play changes between three random options, and in this one they try to defeat the Big Bad Wolf as he spontaneously chases random members of their party, who are designated as “Little Red Riding Hood,” all the while screaming “Come here little girl!”

Totally fun, right? I missed out on a lot of the pure enjoyment of the game because I was too concerned with the end result. Another good example comes from the final boss of Ulduar, an ancient Dwarven city dedicated to the mystical Titans who created this world.


Besides the innovative combat, the stunning location and graphics, and the numerous challenges present for players, Ulduar offers some of the most expansive and immersive lore that I’ve ever encountered as a gamer. Hours of gameplay must be dedicated to reach this point, and we are given a lot of incredible story line along the way that culminates in our showdown with Yogg-Saron. This encounter is both extremely challenging and totally fun, but I spent most of this time worrying about what loot he was going to drop.

Had I not, I might have enjoyed the game as it was meant to be played. I couldn’t tell you now all the stuff that my characters possessed in this game, or even how much time I spent acquiring it. However, I can’t describe the nostalgia that I got when looking up videos to put in this blog. Each of them brought back individual memories with my dad, or they reminded me of how much fun I had immersing myself in one of the great games of our time.

This is all to say that we should take the message of Cavafy’s “Ithaca” to heart, especially in gaming. If we start to stress too much about the end goals of the game, or keep chasing minor achievements and a minuscule leg up on other players, then we start to lose the reason that we play games like this in the first place.

Silumni, Easily Lost

A lot of my fellow posters have been talking about Braid, which is a fantastic puzzle-platformer that absolutely deserves to be talked about.  However, I thought that I should change it up a bit and instead talk about the other game that we’ve played in this class so far: LOTRO, or Lord of the Rings Online.

LOTRO is an MMORPG, or a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.  As such, many (but not all) see role-playing as an important component of playing these types of games.  While I don’t necessarily get into the social aspect of role-playing (as can be seen most commonly on the role-playing required servers of LOTRO), I do think that creating a character who is an interesting, complete individual in and of themselves is an integral part of enjoying RPGs.  Therefore, as a thought exercise, I would like to introduce all of you to my Elven Loremaster, Silumni.

The Lord of the Rings Online™ 9_1_2016 9_19_43 PM

Here she is.  Isn’t she great?

In all seriousness, creating a complete character in LOTRO is a bit harder to do than in other RPGs that I have played, such as Bioware’s Dragon Age series or even Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, simply because those games gave me dialogue choices that help me cement my character’s personality traits and even parts of their backstories without me having to really devote time outside of the game to thinking about my character, something that LOTRO does not do.  This doesn’t necessarily make LOTRO bad for role-playing; it just means that creating a whole character is a bit more front-heavy.  I can’t just figure it out as I go.

Because of this, a lot of the character choices I made for Silumni were made in the character starting screen.  For example, her name is not actually related to Tolkien’s works at all (mostly because any interesting Tolkien-related names have already been used by the thousands of players who have come before me).  Instead, “Silumni” is the Sylvan word for animal-according to one site on the internet, at least.  Since I knew I wanted Silumni to be a pet-based Loremaster, this seemed fitting for her character. I also chose to have her be from Rivendell, which is surrounded by nature.  This helped me create a character who loved nature and the animals found within it more than even Radagast the Brown, if such a thing were even possible.

I from this point on, I tried to make my in-game choices show Silumni’s love of nature.  For example, the Elven hair choices in this game are surprisingly varied, given how long this game has been out.  I purposely avoided the more “cultivated” hair options-the ones that included hair decorations or intricate braiding.  Instead, I gave her the roughest-looking hair I could find, since she would be almost exclusively hanging around animals who wouldn’t really care about the state of her hair.  I also made her an “Explorer,” a crafting vocation focused on going out into nature to find natural resources.  This also allowed me to craft the absolutely beautiful armor you can see on her in the picture.

Honestly, that’s about all I have when it comes to Silumni’s character.  I still need to give her an interesting personality, even if I won’t necessarily use it when questing.  I know that her character isn’t totally loyal to Tolkien’s works, but I really wanted to give her a unique personality, and I didn’t want to be limited to the fairly strict limitations Tolkien puts on his elves.  What do you guys think? Do you have any helpful comments on where I should take her personality, or is there any constructive commentary you could offer me?  Thanks for reading!

A Musing About Games and Gender

In a relatively recent video series on youtube, PBS Game/Show, one of the videos discussed was “Are You Weird if You Play as the Opposite Sex?” (source below). In it, there was quite a bit of discussion into a genre of roleplaying games that allow players to design their own characters. These game include many MMORPGs and single player games, such as World of Warcraft, Mass Effect series, the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and many others. After watching the video, I have been thinking a bit about why I sometimes play as opposite genders in roleplaying games.

It would be lying if I said I often play as female characters in games. If one looks at my Mass Effect save files, the ration is something around 2:5 female to male. As a man, I still usually default to being a man in video games as well. While I do not consider this skewed ratio an issue, I have seriously thought about this particular behavior. Is it simply because I am a guy, or because I am uncomfortable playing a women, or perhaps I am unconsciously gynophobic? That last one is a joke, mostly. After thinking about it and getting nowhere, I decided to jump in and start a female Commander Shepard, back when I was playing Mass Effect 2. And I enjoyed it just as much as playing the male Shepard, even when I am getting her…romantically involved with other men, or male aliens (yep, you can do that). The experience was fun, engaging, and maybe even a little bit enlightening.

So understandably I was sorely disappointed with other games such as Skyrim, where playing male or female characters hold no difference whatsoever, aside from the occasional pronouns. In Skyrim, and most MMORPGs, the sex difference is very glossed over, and have next to no bearing on the gameplay or the narrative. At this point, I have actually surprised myself, because I am now actively trying to learn more about the female perspective from video games.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this little habit of mine has contributed to my sense of gender equality. Unfortunately, I still can’t come to any sort of productive conclusion about playing games as the opposite sex, but nonetheless, it has me intrigued, and of course I am not going to quite anytime soon.


LOTRO: A Test of Patience

While I revel in the ability to run around for hours in a virtual environment while still convincing myself that I’m being productive, I must say that it has gotten to be a bit tiresome at times. My one biggest complaint about LOTRO is that there is just

I picked up the controls to the game very quickly and I have enjoyed juggling the various quests I taken on; however, again and again I find myself just running back and forth between the various areas in this vast world of the game.

Now, I do appreciate how that adds to the experience of the game as well as contributes to the narrative. It enhances that sense of journey–of being just a tiny figure in this massive world. It goes along with the long and tiresome journeys we read about in the novel. With this being said, my patience runs rather thin when it comes to video games and I would rather not spend a significant portion of the time just running from location to location.
I did recently learn about the auto-run key, so that along with riding horses has eased my frustration on the matter, though the quests are still often more a test of my patience than anything.

I’ve only come across one quest so far that was even remotely challenging. I had to sneak around these goblin-like creatures and pick off one or two at a time in order to finally reach and kill the Goblin Chief. I later realized that this quest was definitely meant to be conquered with a partner or team, but I still enjoyed the challenge of taking it on by myself. Other than that, my quests have mostly been a matter of taking the time to run and find or deliver various objects or creatures. But maybe I just need to get to a higher level first.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed exploring this enormous world; however, I’m just hoping that as I progress, the challenges and quests will become much less wearisome than they have been thus far. I also really look forward to being able to work with the other players on quests and toward a shared goal, as I have yet to experience that.

– Logan W

To War – Reflections on Lord of the Rings Online

What would Tolkien have said about LOTRO? I wish we can know. Because this is one heck of a way to explore the rich mythology Tolkien has created.

In the familiar trilogy, the story is mainly focused on the Fellowship of the Ring and its adventures during the War of the Ring. However, given that there is a full-scale war going on, what happened everywhere else? Did the elves, humans, and dwarves  just sat around and waited for Gandalf and Aragorn until the few momentous battles occur at Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith? LOTRO seeks to fill this gap, and I think it did a very good job of it, so far.

I have played LOTRO  briefly once before, but for some reason I found the narrative so much more engaging this time around. The story line of the epic quests provided a nice view of the beginning of the War from a fresh perspective, of forces from both sides working to gain more advantage (aside from fighting for that one magic bullet, that is) for the looming War. These forces included many elven guardians, dwarf champions, human vagabounds, unlikely hobbit warriors, Southern raiders, local scoundrels, ring-wraiths and many more. These narrative made Middle-Earth so much more lively and colorful, providing details I have never imagined in, for example, Bree before. It is also nice to see characters, places, and events mentioned in the original material and see many characters come to life and fleshed out. I felt a pang of excitement and urgency while helping Aragorn in ensuring the safety of Bilbo and company, could not help but feel alone and confused trekking the Old Forest, and stood in mild confusion talking to Tom Bombadil.

Aside from the narrative perspective, playing LOTRO has been a fairly standard MMORPG, where target selection is done by clicking the mouse, and extra abilities are with pressing progressively large numbers of buttons. While this in itself is not a huge problem, it does show that Turbine (LOTRO’s maker) did not try very hard in pushing the envelope or challenging RPG conventions (many of which are set by another MMORPG, World of Warcraft). Granted LOTRO was created in 2007, fairly early in the history of MMO games, Turbine could have made more effort in designing a better tutorial, for instance.

All in all, I feel LOTRO is a great MMO game, despite certain shortcomings. It has great narrative, amazing world-building, and serves as a great exploration of the original material. While the gameplay itself is not very innovative, it plays smoothly and is, most importantly, fun. I believe I will continue to play LOTRO and slowly make my way through the epic quest line, if only to see what happens to Skorgrim, push towards Angmar, take on a Balrog, and even participate in Helm’s Deep (soon-to-be-released).


Echoes, Quests, and Neekerbreeker Nests

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” Among those quotes that send shivers trailing down my spine, few have had as lasting an impact as these words, spoken by the wizard Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. The same lines, barely altered, appear in the wildly successful film adaptation of the novel. The raw power and beauty of Gandalf’s speech seem an inseparable part of the Lord of the Rings experience, yet not all storytelling mediums are equal where emotional attachment is concerned.

In the gaming world of Lord of the Rings Online, though the creators gave a valiant attempt at staying faithful to the book, an observant player realizes quickly that some things simply cannot transfer from page to computer screen. This fact is seen clearly in the Midgewater Marshes, a key stop in both Frodo’s quest and the player’s. While the consistent presence of physical action in the game’s rendition of the marshes engages the player’s thirst for adventure, both the novel and the film provide the audience with an enduring emotional connection, stemming from a persistent atmosphere of loneliness, a setting which highlights the plight of travelers in the marshes, and the use of central characters filled with a haunting fear of the unknown. While the memories of virtual victories eventually grow faint, the passions excited by novels and films grab hold of the audience and refuse to let go, ensuring that the magic of the stories, as well as the lessons they teach, will never fade with the passage of time.

In the game, the first item that the player notices is the convenient map residing in the top right-hand corner of the computer screen. Whenever the player doubts his sense of direction in an area akin to the Midgewater Marshes, he can simply look to the map and follow an unambiguous little arrow towards his quest’s goal. If moused over, it will even reveal how far away the goal lies. The dense fog becomes all but irrelevant, for the player’s eyes watch the arrow, not the ground before his feet.

In contrast, the novel depicts Frodo and his companions slogging through the marshy waters alone and arrowless, forever wondering where and when their dangerous travels will come to an end.  How can a gamer develop a sense of Frodo’s terror when the player can never be lost? One is never truly alone, for one can always turn to the handy arrow and make off swiftly towards home. This lack of fear and loneliness prevents the player from truly appreciating how it feels to wander the spider-infested marshes alone, despite the fact that his avatar traverses those same bogs. The action is the same, yet the feeling is vastly different. The game is forever leading you gently by the hand, while the novel and its cinematic counterpart drag you blindfolded into the gloom of the unknown.

If it is clear that the game’s helpful features bar it from evoking raw emotion, how then does the novel differ? The secret lies within Tolkien’s ability to not only relay the action, as the game does, but to relay the setting, the atmosphere, and the characters’ endless interpretations of the two. As the hobbits struggle to follow Aragorn through the bug-infested marshes, Tolkien provides the reader with a glimpse of their agony by commenting that “the hobbits [are] nearly frantic” as they hear the eerie cries of the swamp beasts, the Neekerbreekers. He describes their exceedingly unpleasant night, a sleepless one thanks to these unseen, yet not unheard monsters. This fear of the unknown permeates the Midgewater section of the novel, giving the reader a taste of how it feels to be alone and hunted in such a dismal place.

Here one discovers the true difference between the player’s avatar and the hobbits of the book. In the game, you play the part of a hero, a hunter. You blaze a trail through the marshes, destroying hordes of Neekerbreekers and taking trophies from the fallen beasts. You fear nothing, and why would you? Forever helpful, the game supplies a detailed analysis of your opponents’ strengths, even color coding them based on the probable victor of a theoretical battle.

In the novel, the likelihood of success versus defeat is not so clear. There, Frodo and his companions are not the hunters, but the cornered prey. They struggle to travel through the shadows, desperate to avoid the eyes of the Black Riders and their power-hungry master. No helpful floating names identify the whereabouts of their enemies; no color coded rings attempt to gauge their power. Thus, the reader experiences the terror of the hunted in a way that the player cannot hope to comprehend, for one medium provides an intricate world of fear and uncertainty, while the other merely depicts the action, like a rough pencil sketch devoid of color.

Like its written companion, the film is also able to draw out emotions in its audience that are beyond the scope of the online universe. While briefly touching on the fear of the hobbits, the cinematic version of the marsh scene elects to focus on the guide, Aragorn, and the pain he feels for a love left behind.  As the hobbits attempt to sleep amidst the cries of nighttime animals, the ranger softly sings the tale of an elf maiden who fell in love with a mortal, letting his voice carry through the lonely darkness of the swamp. Though his young charges do not know it, the haunting song, which ends in the maiden’s death, reflects Aragorn’s own love for the elf Arwen, as well as his fear that their love will destroy her.

Enhanced by the gloom of the surrounding marshes, the mixture of heartbreak and longing exuded by Aragorn grows to fill the audience, as well, and thus the pain of a single man becomes the pain of an entire crowd. This miracle of empathy simply cannot exist in the game world, where both written and visible emotions are brushed aside by the importance of the central adventure. Amidst the endless stream of quests to be fulfilled, the player cannot waste precious time on a woeful tale of lost love, nor a quiet song in the nighttime of the marsh. Though the powerful scene fits perfectly into the fabric of the movie, filling its viewers with both love and despair, it has no place in the realm of gaming, where emotions are a frivolity distracting from a player’s ultimate goal.

Though computer games currently lack the potential for emotional investment, this by no means suggests that the Lord of the Rings game is irrelevant to Tolkien’s fantasy world. Rather, the game was simply not engineered for the same purposes as its written and filmed counterparts. Whereas these forms of storytelling reach one’s imagination by means of the heart, the game is meant to feed on a player’s desire for adventure, entrancing one’s mind with events that are visually rather than emotionally stimulating. The online universe calls to those who desire battles and balrogs, not subtlety and suspense. The very reason the game cannot compare to the novel or film is the reason why it succeeds brilliantly in fulfilling its own purpose: to entertain, engage, and challenge its players.

While one may lament for marshes drained of their mystery or beautifully written characters depicted as static NPCs, you cannot deny that the game achieves the goal for which it was created. It brings the player into Tolkien’s world and weaves him into the story, filling him with excitement, anticipation, and a thirst for what lies ahead. Where the game falls short, where plot becomes side note and battle becomes routine, the novel and film are there to pick up the slack, adding life and color to supplement the game’s limited storytelling abilities. If the game were an outline, written in dull greys and blacks, the others would be vibrant dyes; whereas the game alone would be a poor excuse for the real story, the mixture of all three creates a tale that is beautiful to behold.

In the end, though, why does any of it matter? Whether boxed, leather-bound, or projected on a screen, are they all not just different forms of entertainment? Not quite. Though games, books, and movies all have a component of pleasure, the latter two occasionally provide a more permanent benefit. Of course, the flash of swords and the cry of an angry cave troll, whether heard or imagined, will always bring excitement. Without the thrills, who would pay for the ticket or purchase the book? Yet every once in a while, a novel or film comes along, and it does not just amuse—it teaches.

Like the words of Gandalf resonating in the reader’s mind, or Aragorn’s soft voice echoing in the darkness of the theater, the story begins to take on a life of its own, entrancing the audience with joy and fear, love and hatred. Aragorn’s pain becomes the pain of all who have ever loved; Frodo’s fear belongs to any who have ever felt afraid. When Frodo laments over his bad fortune, wishing that evil had never touched his doorstep, Gandalf’s famous next words are spoken not only to him, but to us: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Suddenly, the story is real, and the battle is our own. We feel Gandalf’s words in our very bones, and they return to us, lovingly, whenever we feel despair looming near. While the crashing excitement of adventure must always fade into silence, the softer passions of the novel remain attached to the heart like a living organism, a symbiotic being that retains life while we do the same. And long after the last pages have been turned, Tolkien’s words remain, echoing like a song in the night, growing soft, but never quite fading away.


–The Humblebug