So what does Jane Austen and gamebooks have in common?

Verily, thou suggestest the improbable! Austen, author of immaculately proper prose, indulging in something as trivial as games? Surely thou art pulling mine freaking legs?
But hangest thou on one minute – what are gamebooks?
Well now, that takes me waaay back.
According to gamebooks.org, a gamebook is defined as “as any book in which the reader participates in the story by making choices which affect the course of the narrative.” As you read, you are offered a choice of actions that the central character of the story can take. The different actions unfold in different ways, typically either towards better or worse situations for the character.
During my primary school days, I was fascinated with gamebooks. I have gamebooks that allowed the readers to engage in combat with monsters, complete with hit points and inventory that the reader has to keep track of, even gamebooks that allowed two players to play against each other! I still have all of my gamebooks (naturally!), and they bring a flood of nostalgia now that I think about them. Highly literate novels they are not, immensely fun they definitely were.
So anyway, back to my point. Emma Campbell Webster has whipped up something truly interesting.

The book is called Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure, and it promises the reader a romp through Austen’s famous novels. The blurb for the book is:

Name: Elizabeth Bennet.
Mission: To marry both prudently and for love.
How? It’s entirely up to the reader.
The journey begins in Pride and Prejudice but quickly takes off on a whimsical Austen adventure of the reader’s own creation. A series of choices leads the reader into the plots and romances of Austen’s other works. Choosing to walk home from Netherfield Hall means falling into Sense and Sensibility and the infatuating spell of Mr. Willoughby. Accepting an invitation to Bath leads to Northanger Abbey and the beguiling Henry Tilney. And just where will Emma’s Mr. Knightley fit in to the quest for a worthy husband? It’s all up to the reader.
A labyrinth of love and lies, scandals and scoundrels, misfortunes and marriages, Lost in Austen will delight and challenge any Austen lover.

Now I found this book by chance, and of all the amalgamations I could have thought of, never had I imagined Austen as fodder for gamebooks. After all, gamebooks based off of famous authors’ works have been done before. Some are obvious choices. Sherlock Holmes, for example, was turned into gamebooks, and it was an interesting effort too (I have one of them). But Austen? Way out of the park.
I’m not sure exactly which audience Webster is shooting for. Gamebooks have long been out of vogue, and although there are some still being sold in the bookshops, I hardly think they are flying off the shelves. But even if they were, the target audience for gamebooks have always been the young readers and gamers/role-players (the Sherlock Holmes one was aimed at young readers – it was not incredibly challenging prose-wise). They would be bored to tears helping a chick they can’t visualize do, of all things, get married. Yeah. Wonderful.
So no. Probably aiming for Austen fans. But you’d have to wonder if the regular Austenite would actually entertain the idea of ‘playing’. Some in the reviews have said that certain passages in the book are so highly reminiscent of the originals that fans may feel that they are re-reading the novels again.
Anyway I think it’s a great try, and a fresh idea. I think this book would be a lovely addition to Austen fans anyway. Who know, maybe Austen fans will like it, and like it so much that they start to campaign for Choose Your Own Adventures for Kafka, Nabokov, Doestoevsky (now that would be interesting).
ps. Yes, I know Austen doesn’t talk like that.


2 Comments

  1. your resourcefulness on books never cease to amaze me. well.. ok, don’t crack ur head over what to get me on my next birthday. this will do, thank you :p
    p/s: u’ve read every Austen there is?

  2. Haha! Are you sure you want a gamebook for your bday? 🙂
    No, I’ve actually not read *any* Austen, although I have Pride and Prejudice on my shelves.
    You should check out Ep 28 of Bookbabble to find out who else dipped into Austen classics and whipped something completely new and, uhm, interesting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *