The Austen Games!
Jane Austen’s birthday rapidly approaches in December and rather the way that Christmas stirs the hearts of millions, so does ‘anything Austen’. What I have been introduced to with the Austen Games takes appreciation of ‘anything Austen’ to a whole new level. Intrigued, curious, I contacted the ideas-people in New York and Connecticut and quizzed them on this startling and highly interactive concept.
May I introduce my good friend Adam Spunberg from the phenomenally successful Austen Twitter Project of earlier this year and his creative partner, Kimberly Denny-Ryder…
How did you conceive this whole Games idea?
Adam: My answer to that question is as twofold as Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth (though not nearly as eloquent!): The Austen part originated with the Austen Twitter Project (http://www.austenproject.com), in which 50 writers from six continents tweeted a Jane Austen novel. Lynn Shepherd and I were interviewed by this very blog about it! The “Games” component spawned from “The Potter Games,” in which we combined the worlds of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games into a choose-your-own-adventure mash-up game. Both projects were enormously fun to create and very well received, so I think The Austen Games could be our most exciting one yet!
Creative partnerships are frequently talked about and carried out by Indie writers. It seems that a work can be taken to a whole new level by joint intellectual input. How does your creative partnership work?
Kim: We’re fortunate enough to have a large group of people behind us willing to help on every level of this project; writing, editing, coding, art design – you name it, there is someone willing to help. (They of course will all get credit for the characters that they’ve worked on!) Luckily there are Austen fans all over the world that are eager to be part of any type of project with her name attached to it. Our partnership works because of the passion that all of these fans have for her works. Her work inspires us to produce the best writing we can create.
Adam: And I’d add that it’s been such a pleasure to work collaboratively on the administrative side as well. In the past, I’ve had amazing experiences working with Lynn Shepherd, Savanna New, and now, Kimberly Denny-Ryder who has done a FABULOUS job!
One can understand the idea of Potter Games and Hogwarts Games – there is an essential ‘what if’ in wizardry. But why Jane Austen?
Kim: I think the question we should really ask is why not Jane?! Jane Austen’s novels have been around for over 200 years, and the mania behind them is only getting stronger. I guest review for Austenprose (http://austenprose.com), a blog which is solely dedicated to books/films about Jane Austen. It continues to amaze me month after month at how much media is out there dedicated to Jane and her creations. From my viewpoint it doesn’t look to be slowing down one bit. There are new contemporary novels and films that are based off of her original works coming out all the time. These fan fiction works seem to spreading the gauntlet of genres as well – from the paranormal to murder mysteries to sexy romances. There just doesn’t seem to be an end to what people come up with!
Adam: Because it is a truth universally acknowledged that millions of people love Jane Austen, and they’re all going to be in want of more. Besides, I think Jane would make a wonderful witch at Hogwarts, fully capable of as much wizardry with the wand as she has always demonstrated with the quill.
What about the possibility that this might be viewed by the hardcore traditionalists as sacrilege?
Kim: In any project you run the risk of displeasing people. I think what makes our project special is that no matter how you like your fan fiction there will be a path for you to follow. We’ve asked all of our writers to have a path that sticks with Austen’s storyline, and then given them total creative freedom for the other path. I can tell you from the drafts we’ve seen so far…well let’s just say there will be something for everyone!
Adam: And I’ll just add that if anyone does think this is sacrilege, try and see the best in what this project represents. We are just trying to pay homage to Jane, whom we all love. I’d be happy to address any concerns people have, because the intentions and sprint behind this are entirely genuine and developed from a good place. Ultimately, we think people will be quite happy.
Let’s talk about novel choice then. Why Pride and Prejudice and not one of her other novels.
Kim: In taking a look at what’s out there in terms of the Jane Austen fan fiction world, I think it’s safe to say that the characters of Pride and Prejudice are the ones most written about. There is something about revisiting the world of Meryton and Pemberley that makes your heart just flutter with excitement. Now don’t get me wrong, as much as I love Pride and Prejudice I do have a huge love for her other novels which is why Adam and I have discussed expanding the games out to include all the characters of the other books as well. It’s going to really depend on the feedback we get though. If everyone loves the games then it’s a given and WILL happen.
Adam: Exactly what Kim said! I’ll just add that there’s also a large contingent of people who know Elizabeth and Darcy’s story, even though they haven’t read the rest of Austen’s novels (or even Pride and Prejudice). Perhaps we can use this fun, interactive experience to get the Keira Knightley fans to delve into the literature as well.
Have you ever examined the demographic for the other Games? Who do you believe will be the Austen Games demographic?
Adam: I have, and I’m actually far too excited to explore these differences. The other “Games” have appealed mostly to a younger crowd, with considerably more women than men. (What can we learn from this? Women read more, and have better imaginations, and that’s probably why I adore them:P). I expect The Austen Games will have an even greater gender-ratio disparity, but I’m really hoping we can help bridge the generation gap here. Imagine if we can inspire more teenagers to read Jane Austen, and in turn, invigorate middle-aged women to give Harry Potter a true chance. I know those who have in both cases have been very satisfied!
Is it the same people that become co-writers of each of the Games because of course it should be explained that you have co-writers who are responsible for each character’s movement through the Games.
Adam: Yes, and we will definitely credit the writers, who have been so devoted and deserve all the recognition in the world. However, keep in mind that the PLAYER is, in a sense, the real author of this story … which will be revealed in more detail when the site launches.
How do you come up with the number of options to be offered per character? For example, Aunt Gardner will be written by a single individual and will require twelve decisions? And she’s essentially a MINOR character.
Kim: Austen’s novels are full of characters. No matter how many pages they’re on or how many scenes they’re in they all play their part. The argument could be made that Darcy is essentially a minor character when you think about the fact that he’s missing for half of the book! We wanted to give all of Austen’s characters a chance to tell their story and give players the chance to get to know these minor characters (Georgiana, Aunt Gardiner, Caroline Bingley) better. I think that players will be pleasantly surprised by some of the story-lines that our writers have come up with.
Adam: Yep, what Kim said. As for exact numbers, well … you will have to wait and see 😉
What do you believe is the essential ingredient thus far for the success of the whole Games concept?
Adam: I can answer that in one phrase: The wonderful people who play them.
Kim: I couldn’t have said it better!
It’s every interviewer’s duty to create breaking news. I’ve heard of the possibility of the Hobbit Games next year. Would you like to comment?
Kim: I’ll leave this one totally up to Adam!
Adam: Certainly. No matter what Sauron tells you, there WILL be a Hobbit Games. And in addition, I encourage everyone to check out THEFANDOM.NET on December 26, which will reveal a LOT more great stuff!
And finally, what do you both do when you are not working on some of the biggest interactive Games to hit the internet?
Adam: In my “real job,” I’m an editorial producer for MLB.com (Major League Baseball), and lately, I’ve been working on icenetwork.com, the figure skating site (powered by MLB). I also write movie reviews. But mostly, I enjoy tweeting, emailing, chatting — really, any kind of interaction with people like you:)
Kim: When I’m not working on the games I’m usually working at my “real job” in vehicle funding or reading for my blog, Reflections of a Book Addict. I also volunteer with the alumni association for my alma mater, as well as co-chair the planning of a huge 24 hr cancer awareness fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
Thank you so much, both of you. Like any Austen fan, I hover on all the new detail emerging, both creative and factual. I have no doubt that the following for The Austen Games will do our Aunt Jane proud and can’t wait to participate. Keep your eyes peeled, everyone, for The Austen Games launch on 16th December!
Links to the other Games.
Adam Spunberg is a Columbia graduate with a law degree from the University of Florida. In addition to producing websites for Major League Baseball, he hosts the Fireside Chat podcast with Savanna New and serves as a Senior Writer for Picktainment.com. He lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City with two roommates and his adorable cat, Brandon.
Kimberly Denny-Ryder is the owner/moderator of Reflections of a Book Addict, a book blog dedicated to following her journey of reading 100 books a year, while attempting to keep a life! When not reading, Kim can be found volunteering as the co-chair of a 24hr cancer awareness event, as well as an active member of Quinnipiac University’s alumni association. She lives with her husband Todd and two cats, Belle and Sebastian, in Connecticut.