The title image for my blog post, “'Marking the manners of the times:' A Creative Simulation of Metagames in Frances Burney’s Evelina."

“Marking the manners of the times:” A Creative Simulation of Metagames in Frances Burney’s Evelina

Kellen Aguilar Essay, Humor, Video Games Leave a Comment

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The title image for my blog post, 'Marking the manners of the times:' A Creative Simulation of Metagames in Frances Burney’s Evelina.

This simulation gamifies some of the thematic elements in Frances Burney’s Evelina, such as female delicacy and satire, women’s vulnerability to violence in the public sphere, and 18th century British society’s imposition of marriage as women’s sole telos. I have chosen the medium of a video game to simulate these themes because the formal, rule-bound dimensions of play that are characteristic of video games mirror the rule-bound society that Evelina navigates in Burney’s novel. As players become more familiar with the rules of the simulation, they will become more adept at bringing about their desired outcome, though “winning” is inextricably tethered to and idealized in marriage. In a parallel way, Evelina becomes more adept at maneuvering through London society’s high- and low- class social circles as the novel progresses, but her increasing independence and sense of self ultimately resolve into a traditional marriage. The simulation is an attempt to effect Evelina’s character progression by allowing players to play within the rules of a system that is based on Evelina’s historical reality.

A presiding concern of the simulation, then, is what Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux refer to as “metagaming” — that is, gaming that is located in, on, and around the peripheral spaces of games. “In the same way a preposition situates the noun that it precedes,” write Boluk and Lemieux, “the meaning of metagame emerges within the context of specific practices and historical communities of a given game.”1 While Boluk and Lemieux refer specifically to the kinds of metagaming that materializes in excess of the game itself — for example, spelling words or forming shapes with the falling blocks in Tetris — I want to suggest that matters of taste, manners, sensibility, delicacy, gentility, and so on are metagames that are played out in, on, and around the matrimonial endgame of Evelina. If marriage in Evelina is understood as a “game,” then the metagames that develop around marriage work towards reimagining or expanding its prescribed rules of play. Thus, I reiterate that the ludic aspects that are unique to video games — if not constraints expressed in rules, then limitations anchored in mechanics that nonetheless encourage players to innovate around or through them — present optimal ground for exploring the nature of metagames in Evelina.

Simulation Rules and Outline

Players begin the simulation by creating their character. They can assign a name to the character, customize the character’s dress and hair style, and outfit the character with accessories, though these are purely cosmetic decisions that have no impact on the outcome of the simulation. At this stage, players are encouraged to situate themselves in Evelina’s world through a personalized avatar.

An illustrated scene from Frances Burney's novel, Evelina. In the scene, Evelina is having her hair dressed. Source: Web edition of Evelina, published by the University of Adelaide.

In my simulation of Frances Burney’s Evelina, players begin by creating their character, as in typical role-playing games like The Sims or Dark Souls. Image source: web edition of Evelina, published by the University of Adelaide.

The next stage requires players to “roll stats” (randomize their character’s attributes). There are three categories of character stats: “Delicacy,” “Satire,” and “Taste.” A player’s base character stats are made up of an allotment of ten skill points to some combination of the three skill categories (e.g. three points to Delicacy, five points to Satire, two points to Taste) and establish a foundation from which the player will make decisions for the rest of the simulation. These decisions will either raise or lower their character’s stats, or else have an alternative effect on the events of the simulation. Each stat category serves a specific purpose: Delicacy is essential for achieving the ideal “win state” of the game; Satire is useful for warding off persistent and ill-mannered suitors; Taste increases the skill points that are gained and decreases the skill points that are lost by players’ actions.2 Juggling these stats to inform different outcomes forms the metagame of the simulation, and invokes the metagames that I argue are played on the periphery of marriage in Evelina.

The simulation’s ideal goal is to marry Lord Orville by maintaining the Delicacy stat at six points or above (three fifths or more of the stat meter, which caps at ten skill points for each category). The simulation is made up of four successive rounds of different scenarios, some of which correspond to events from Evelina’s three volumes and some which are invented. In each round, players must leverage their Satire in order to ward off ill-mannered, undesirable, and/or foppish suitors while maintaining their Delicacy (thus, reputation and desirability to Lord Orville). At the end of each round, there is a possibility for a chance environmental scenario to activate, in which players will have the opportunity to gain or lose additional skill points by extricating themselves from a given situation with the most effective or appropriate selection from a list of dialogue options.

There are four possible endings to the simulation, and each is ranked from most to least ideal. As aforementioned, the ideal ending (“S Rank”) of the simulation is marriage to Lord Orville. This ending accords with the one envisioned in Evelina. The second tier ending (“A Rank”) is marriage to any of the suitors who accost the player throughout the simulation. Here, marriage is still figured as the expected arrangement for a young woman in 18th century British society, but it is not the ideal arrangement. In the third tier ending (“B Rank”), the player does not marry anyone; they become a spinster with a high Satire/low Delicacy (and, likely, low Taste) stat spread. Lastly, the fourth tier ending (“E Rank”) is granted if either the player’s Delicacy or Satire stat is reduced to zero; the player is scandalized and the possibility of marriage is preempted.

Simulation Playthrough

This section will explore a possible, albeit abridged playthrough of the simulation. The playthrough is not meant to be a totalizing representation of all of the possible scenarios, choices, or ways of playing that are presented by the simulation. The playthrough should also not be taken as a substitute for the experience of playing the simulation, since that experience can only be achieved through a physical interaction with the simulation’s gameplay mechanics and hardware.3 To be sure, because the simulation does not involve player mobility, but simply selecting options from a list of choices, the aesthetics of the simulation are imagined as minimalistic, two-dimensional, and cartoonish in the spirit of the animation style of South Park or Worthing & Moncrieff’s strategy game, Austen Translation. Accordingly, a console controller or a mouse and keyboard would suffice to facilitate the simulation’s gameplay, though future iterations of the simulation could incorporate new and more complex mechanics, higher fidelity graphics, and greater degrees of mediation such as virtual or augmented reality. Nonetheless, the playthrough I offer below is hypothetical; it is focused less on the phenomenological encounter with the simulation and more on how the ways that a player might navigate the simulation’s formal rules and mechanics serve as an analogue to Evelina’s navigation of the social rules of her society.

Both the art style and the game mechanics of Worthing & Moncrieff’s strategy game Austen Translation inspired my vision for a gamified simulation of Frances Burney’s Evelina.

My hypothetical character for this playthrough is named Pamelina. Her hair is styled in the classic regency look, she sports a simple though elegant dress and a close-fitting bodice with wrist-length sleeves, she wears a conservative amount of makeup, and her neck is adorned with a chic silver pendant on a thin chain, also silver. In terms of character stats, I have rolled Pamelina as five Delicacy/three Satire/two Taste. With these base stats, I am one Delicacy point away from attracting Lord Orville’s attention. At three Satire, I will be able to ward off weakish fops such as Mr. Lovell (2 Satire Resistance) or Mr. Smith (1 Satire Resistance), but I will need a higher Satire skill level to take on more persistently brazen gentlemen like Sir Clement (5 Satire Resistance) or Lord Merton (6 Satire Resistance). Finally, at two Taste, I will not gain a bonus modifier to my actions; the modifier only kicks in at four Taste, and increases incrementally by half a point every two skill points thereafter (see footnote 2).

The four rounds of the simulation are introduced by the following letter from Mr. Villars:

My darling, beloved child [Pamelina], your humble servant — not father, though if you think of me as approaching something of a father figure then my low and unprepossessing self would fain accept that glorious title in eager, willing hands from so charming and guileless a creature — most certainly does not, nay, cannot presume to tell you how to live your life or what the world is like; it is for you to learn, experience, and decide. Yet, I am compelled by something like fatherly affection — though I could not assume that role, lest it be granted by the one I most gratefully serve — to tell you that nothing is so Delicate as the Reputation of a woman: it is, at once, the most beautiful and most Bridal of all human things. As I commend you to the world of men — again, not as he who sired you, but if it should be so, then so be it — I urge you to not only judge but to act for yourself by adhering to my principles, being as I raised you — but only out of compassion for your delicate, fatherless situation — and know you better than yourself in your gentle inexperience. — ARTHUR VILLARS

Mr. Villars’s letter encourages players to close read his language in order to extrapolate that Delicacy should be prioritized over all else, and that doing so will result in the simulation’s ideal “bridal” ending. In this regard, players who have read or have some knowledge of Evelina may be at an advantage. Mr. Villars’s original line is, “Remember, my dear Evelina, nothing is so delicate as the reputation of a woman: it is, at once, the most beautiful and most brittle of all human things” (emphasis added).4 By changing “brittle” to “bridal,” the simulation draws attention to the matrimonial telos of Evelina and its association with the paradoxical expectations of female delicacy, in which women are encouraged to withstand assaults on their reputation while staying prostrate before such assaults to contain the threat of public scandal and humiliation. Moreover, “bridal” evokes a phonetic elision with “bridle” to imply the matrimonial constraints that circumscribe 18th century British femininity.

The simulation then proceeds to the first round, or scenario. In my hypothetical playthrough, the first round is a social assembly and is introduced by a letter from Pamelina to Mr. Villars that trails off into the simulated scenario to give the impression that I am writing and finishing Pamelina’s letter as I play. For this specific scenario, Pamelina’s letter reads:

My pen struggles to keep apace of my racing mind as I reflect on the events of the previous evening, but I will dedicate myself to the task at hand for the sake of my dear guardian. We ventured to attend what, in the parlance of our times, is commonly called a private ball. I really believed there would be no more than four or five couple in attendance. Yet , my dear Sir, half the population of London appeared to preside before us upon our entrance, including, as I had been informed by Miss Mirvan, the sensible and spirited Lord Orville — oh, paragon amongst men! But no sooner had we sat ourselves down in the large room that accommodated the dancers when a young man, who had likely set his eyes on me from the moment I ventured into his field of vision, approached. To think of his foppish appearance even now forces from me an involuntary, unfeigned laughter at his ridiculousness that I am at a loss to stifle. The coxcomb sauntered up to our group and, bowing to an absurd level such that his forehead nearly tapped the floor, extended his arms in front of him and searched covetously for my hand whilst crowing in the slippery, bassless tones of a man wanting in virility: “Madam — may I?”…

An illustrated scene from Frances Burney's novel, Evelina. In the scene, the foppish Mr. Lovell asks Evelina to dance at a social assembly. Source: Web edition of Evelina, published by the University of Adelaide.

In the first scenario of my hypothetical playthrough, Pamelina is accosted by a fop at a social assembly. The scenario is based on an actual scene in Frances Burney’s novel (the fop is actually Mr. Lovell, a minor character and one of Evelina’s many suitors). Image source: web edition of Evelina, published by the University of Adelaide.

I am now given three options from which I can choose to have Pamelina respond to the young fop who, in Evelina, is actually Mr. Lovell. The options are as follows:

  1. Laugh loudly and uncontrollably at the appearance of the young man.
  2. Accept the young man’s invitation to dance.
  3. Offer a faint smile to the young man, but otherwise ignore his overtures.

Each of these choices is assigned a hidden point value. Players must select the option that they believe will advance them towards marriage with Lord Orville, or that will at least bring their desired ending to fruition. The hidden point values are:

  1. -2 delicacy, +1 Satire
  2. +1 Delicacy, -1 Satire, -1 Taste
  3. -1 Delicacy, +1 Taste

The hidden point values are partly based on Evelina’s observation of the “impropriety of refusing one partner, and afterwards accepting another.”5 In the current scenario, (1) laughing brashly at the young man would be satirical — it would expose the foppish young man’s gauche dress and behavior — but it would also create a public spectacle and redound negatively on Pamelina’s delicate reputation. Notably, the simulation does not count this action as being in poor taste since the fop is, in actuality, lacking in taste. (2) Accepting the young man’s invitation to dance would increase Pamelina’s Delicacy since it would accord with society’s expectations of female behavior — to protect the male ego by hewing to male advances; to protect a woman’s reputation by not making a public scene — but it would also diminish Pamelina’s Satire (her letter indicates that she does not fancy the young man, so giving in to his whims subjugates Pamelina’s will to his) and her Taste, since the young man is a fop. The last option — (3) smiling faintly at the young man, but ignoring his invitation — reduces Pamelina’s Delicacy because Pamelina asserts her sense of self rather than remain vulnerable to what could potentially become an assault on her Delicacy and it increases Pamelina’s Taste because she demonstrates her discernment of the young man’s dandyism. Pamelina’s subtle rejection of the young man does not affect her Satire.

In my hypothetical playthrough, I seek the ideal “S Rank” ending of marriage with Lord Orville. Thus, I need to consider Pamelina’s current stats — five Delicacy/three Satire/two Taste — and what attributes she should prioritize. To marry Lord Orville, Pamelina must attain and maintain a six or higher Delicacy stat until the end of the simulation. Since Pamelina is only one Delicacy skill point away from gaining Lord Orville’s attention, I should choose option (2), which will increase Pamelina’s Delicacy at the expense of her Satire and Taste.6 Note, however, that I do not know that option (2) will grant the skill points that Pamelina needs, since the values that are associated with each option are hidden; I must rely on my intuition, just as Evelina does. Note also that my choices might be entirely different if my goal was not to achieve the ideal ending, but rather to have Pamelina marry the young man or a similarly foppish or less desirable suitor (“A Rank” ending); I would want to keep Pamelina’s Delicacy stat hovering just below six, her Satire and Taste stats hovering just above zero. Once again, I stress that these are the metagames that emerge in, on, and around the marriage-driven game of both the simulation and Evelina. Nonetheless, for the sake of my playthrough, I will choose option (2) so that Pamelina’s stats become six Delicacy/two Satire/one Taste.

Rounds two through four unfold in a similar fashion to round one, with each scenario introduced by a letter from Pamelina to Mr. Villars or another recipient and a set of choices with hidden point values put on display for the player. In the interest of space, I will summarize the progress of my playthrough:

Round Two (Pamelina’s stats: six Delicacy/two Satire/one Taste) — Pamelina is coerced into sharing a chariot-ride with Sir Clement, who repeats flirtatious “fine speeches” ad nauseum and aggressively seizes and fondles Pamelina’s hand.

  1. Slap Sir Clement square across the face while belittling his manhood and castigating his sense of propriety, all to the snickering amusement of Sir Clement’s carriage driver (requires six Satire or greater)
    → -2 Delicacy, +2 Satire; Prevent Sir Clement from making future advances (is no longer a potential spouse)
  2. Observe snarkily that Sir Clement’s fine speeches sound remarkably similar to the terribly stilted dialogue of a French romance novel you recently read.
    → +1 Satire, + 1 Taste
  3. Withstand Sir Clement’s siege, uttering the occasional protestation, but mostly remaining silent in thunderstruck disbelief at his boldness.
    → +1 Delicacy, -1 Satire

Outcome: Pamelina could not perform option (1), since her Satire stat was too low (two Satire). Note that were Pamelina to choose option (1), it would permanently alter the progression of the simulation. Option (3) is the response that is most faithful to the text of Evelina, though it did not seem like a wise choice for Pamelina given her low Satire stat (recall that reducing either the Delicacy or Satire stat to zero results in an automatic scandal and foreclosure of the possibility of marriage). I opted for Option (2), hoping (rightfully so) that pushing back against Sir Clement with a witty, cultured retort would increase Pamelina’s Satire and Taste stats.

An illustrated scene from Frances Burney's novel, Evelina. In the scene, Sir Clement persistently tries to seduce Evelina during a meandering carriage ride. Source: Web edition of Evelina, published by the University of Adelaide.

The second scenario of my hypothetical playthrough is also based on a scene from Frances Burney’s novel, in which Sir Clement aggressively foists himself onto Pamelina during a meandering carriage ride. Image source: web edition of Evelina, published by the University of Adelaide.

Round Three (Pamelina’s stats: six Delicacy/three Satire/two Taste) — Captain Mirvin grows tired and impatient with the high class thrills that the London entertainment scene has to offer, especially that infernal and unintelligible opera. With Pamelina and the Mirvin clan in tow, Captain Mirvin jaunts over to the local zoo to “t’chew the rag with that ol’ fop Monsieur Clapperclaw and his dandy fellows.” The zoo is packed to the gills with patrons, some of whom seek diversions other than those locked behind cages. When Pamelina becomes separated from the Mirvins in the thick of the crowd, she is accosted by three young rapscallions with less than modest intentions. One arrests Pamelina in place by taking hold of her shoulder, while another lilts, “And how did this pretty bird fly its cage?”

  1. Remain quiet as the men continue to harass you and pray that someone or something — the Mirvins, a good samaritan, an act of God — comes to your rescue.
    → +1 Delicacy, -1 Satire; Chance that no one comes to the rescue, resulting in an automatic “E Rank” ending
  2. Affect a fainting fit (“play dead”) (requires five Delicacy or greater).
    → -2 Delicacy, -2 Satire, -2 Taste; Activate environmental scenario
  3. Verbally roast the scoundrels, giving them a tongue lashing that they will not soon forget, and taunt them to do their worst (requires four Satire or greater).
    → -1 Delicacy, +2 Satire

Outcome: This scenario did not proffer any obvious options that could be interpreted as directly conducive to moving Pamelina closer to a marriage with Lord Orville. Pamelina was incapable of choosing option (3) because of her inadequate Satire score. Option (1) seemed distressing at best and hopeless at worst. To be sure, option (1) entails the chance that no one rescues Pamelina, resulting in an automatic scandal and foreclosure of Pamelina’s marriage potential. I decided to go with option (2), partly out of a sense of morbid curiosity and partly because Pamelina had a sufficient Delicacy score to perform it. While option (2) inflicted the strongest stat repercussions, it also instigated an environmental scenario in which a constable chases Pamelina’s harassers away, only to question what business Pamelina has laying down among a group of young men at the zoo. Of the four possible answers — 1. “I’m not even quite sure how I ended up here;” 2. “I promise dear Sir, it’s not what it looks like;” 3. “Do you know who Lord Orville is? I danced with him once;” 4. “Oh, just chewing the rag with Monsieur Clapperclaw and his dandy fellows” — dialogue option (4) resulted in making the constable guffaw with laughter and inclining him to overlook the matter. In addition, Pamelina was spared the stat repercussions of her “fainting fit,” and was granted +1 Satire, -1 Taste instead.

Round Four (Pamelina’s stats: six Delicacy/four Satire/one Taste) — In the true spirit of gaming, Lord Merton and Mr. Coverley engage each other in one of England’s great pastimes — a geriatric foot race! Pamelina, Mrs. Selwyn, that queer fop from the private ball, and other upper crust personages — including the most animated and expressive Lord Orville — preside to witness this most masculine display of male daring and determination. Pamelina takes her place alongside the gravel path-turned-speed-track when — oh happy day! — none other than Lord Orville himself sidles up next to her. Today’s elderly racers — two poor old women — are brought up to their starting places by their corresponding coaches, the one counseling his investment on proper hobbling form and the other lambasting his with venomous threats of personal retribution should he be humiliated with a loss in front of the crowd. The bell is rung and the women are off! Pamelina observes that Lord Orville wears a very grave expression on his face throughout the entire affair.

  1. Remark angrily that if you had your druthers, the winnings from this obscene business would go to some socially worthy cause — like keeping the two insolent horse jockeys locked up for life (requires four Satire or greater).
    → -1 Delicacy, +1 Satire
  2. Attempt to raise Lord Orville’s spirits by relating your adventures at the zoo the previous week.
    → -1 Delicacy, -1 Taste
  3. Remain silently anxious as you consider the possibility that these hoity toity parvenus might actually be more boorishly dissipated than the Branghtons and come to terms with the fact that you’d rather spend time in the company of the latter, at least in this particular moment.
    → +1 Delicacy, -1 Taste.

Outcome: Since this was the final round before I received my simulation rank, I did not want to take any chances. At six Delicacy/four Satire/one Taste, Pamelina’s eligibility to marry Lord Orville could easily be compromised if an errant decision lowered her Delicacy below the six Delicacy minimum that is required to achieve an “S Rank” ending. While this was the first round in which Pamelina met the requirements for an explicitly satirical option (1), I wasn’t certain that pursuing the satiric route would not affect Pamelina’s Delicacy. It seemed like option (1) was less public in nature than previous satirical options — that is, option (1) seemed to be an aside to Lord Orville, whose “grave” expression implied that he also disapproved of the spectacularized foot race. Nonetheless, Lord Orville’s stoic countenancing of the foot race suggested a model for Pamelina to follow. Thus, I interpreted option (3) as nearer to the mark in terms of preserving (or increasing) Pamelina’s Delicacy, regardless of that option’s effects on her other stats. Option (2) clearly presented itself as leading towards an ending alternative to the one that I wanted for Pamelina, though its callback to the previous round tempted my curiosity.

The simulation concludes with a score screen that tabulates the total skill points the player’s character has generated or lost from her respective decisions over the course of the four rounds. In addition, the simulation depicts a decision tree that reveals the player’s decisions, displays the aggregate percentage of players who made the same decision in their playthroughs, and conceals the decisions the player forewent, as well as those decisions’ branching paths (this is intended to encourage repeat playthroughs and experimentation). A rank is then conferred, along with a closing letter from the player’s character to a character from Evelina or vice versa.

Because I maintained Pamelina’s Delicacy stat at six or above by the final round of the simulation, I succeeded in my original goal of acquiring the ideal “S Rank” ending and marrying Pamelina to Lord Orville. Pamelina’s final letter is addressed to Mr. Villars and reads as follows:

It is done and cannot be undone, my dear Sir! The fate of your Pamelina is sealed. Your generous, selfless, somewhat father-like counsel has guided her to this most exalted of ends as she unites herself for eternity with that incomparably perfect, impeccably well-mannered, and faultlessly virtuous object of her dearest affection. You, my dear father-esque guardian, who have drubbed the urgency of preserving that most bridal of qualities — a female’s delicate reputation — into my soul have surely played a part in my present happiness. But, I must not tarry any longer! My chariot awaits to convey me to a life that will surely renew itself each day with newfound joys. Yes indeed, I’m sure that this new and final chapter in my life will not become tiresome as I live out my days with my beloved master and his lovely social circle. — Pamelina

Again, players that are familiar with the plot or themes of Evelina may derive a greater degree of satisfaction, or at least understanding, of what the simulation seeks to construe in Pamelina’s final “S Rank” ending letter. There is a sense that Pamelina is faintly aware of the societal constraints that bind her as a woman — her fate is “sealed” and cannot be “undone;” she has joined herself “for eternity” to Lord Orville — and that part of her may balk at a resolution that is so traditional and runs counter to her character progression and discovery of self (denoted by her accumulation of stat points). The fact that Pamelina is a character that I created and whose actions I have micromanaged from the very beginning of her conception is intended to underscore this point. By comparison, Evelina is also born into a world that takes a societally imposed female role — marriage and sexual availability — for granted. While Evelina brings a country perspective to her experiences in London and is able to exercise a greater degree of perception of her conditions than, for instance, the Branghton daughters are capable, she does not question the overarching system that encloses and confines her. The simulation, then, highlights the possibility that Pamelina (as an analogue for Evelina) is doubtful about her conjugal future, even if she ultimately capitulates to it.

Conclusion

This simulation was designed as an experimental application of some of the rules, formulas, and mechanics of video games — namely, text-based role-playing games — to an 18th century novel of manners. That video games could serve as an illuminative vehicle for exploring some of the key historical, ideological, and gendered coordinates of Frances Burney’s Evelina is suggested by the codified nature of both objects. While Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemieux would argue that video games do not have rules, but rather mechanical limitations that players circumvent through the activity of metagaming, I nonetheless insist that the structural constraints of video games mirror the social rules and other societal limitations represented by novels of manners like Evelina. In fact, this observation was the genesis of the idea for the simulation, since the metagame of juggling a character’s stats to effect a desired outcome is intended to parallel what I argue is the metagame of Evelina — that is, the game that Burney’s characters participate in when they depend on and deploy delicacy, satire, sensibility, gentility taste, manners and so on to navigate 18th century British society. In part, then, the motivations for the simulation echo Burney’s preface to Evelina: “To draw characters from nature, though not from life, and to mark the manners of the times, is the attempted plan of the following letters.”7

The main task of the simulation is to represent through gamification the decision processes that Evelina deploys as she navigates the high- and low-class circles of London society, anxiously guards her female delicacy and reputation against public and private male assaults, and develops her character and selfhood. To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that Evelina bases her decisions in her narrative on point values hidden behind a limit of three choices per individual scenario that she faces. I am less concerned with programming a 1:1 mimetic simulation of Evelina’s — a fictional character’s — affective and cognitive experience and more interested in considering how the confluence of video games and literature could be mutually revelatory.

The simulation demonstrates or thematically reinforces the paradoxical primacy of female delicacy, the vulnerability of women to violence in the public sphere, and the imposition of marriage as women’s entire raison d’être. The simulation vaunts marriage to Lord Orville as the ideal ending. The ideological linkage of marriage with female value and spinsterhood with female degradation is indicated in a scene from Evelina that showcases Mr. Lovel’s cocky confidence as a bachelor in search of a spouse, that is, as a buyer in a buyer’s market:

“I assure you, Ma’am,’ added he, ‘there is not only Miss Biddy, — though I should have scorned to mention her, if her brother had not blabbed, for I’m quite particular in keeping ladies’ secrets, — but there are a great many other ladies that have been proposed to me, — but I never thought twice of any of them, — that is, not in a serious way – so you may very well be proud,’ offering to take my hand, ‘for I assure you, there is nobody so likely to catch me at last as yourself.”8

Mr. Lovel operates under the assumption that Evelina will be grateful to him for proposing the prospect of marriage to her — in fact, he assumes that she has already accepted. Similar to how Evelina (and, in my playthrough, Pamelina) cannot see beyond the societal moors that confine them, Mr. Lovel is completely interpolated into a system in which, to his mind, an extended offer of marriage is as good as guaranteed. The simulation seeks to replicate this ideological structure by ranking marriage — whether to Lord Orville or a less desirable suitor — as a “successful” ending (“S Rank” and “A rank”), thus propelling players towards that goal. Notably, Evelina goes further in critiquing the ways by which the value that marriage confers onto a woman faces a countervalue in a woman’s age, as when a young harasser derides Mrs. Selwyn: “I don’t know what the devil a woman lives for after thirty: She is only in other folks’ way.”9 While the current iteration of the simulation does not account for this countervalue, it is hoped that future iterations will incorporate or expound upon it.

In tandem with the matrimonial telos of Evelina, the simulation also seeks to put into relief the paradoxical or contradictory underpinnings of female delicacy as an ideological construction in service of the conflation of marriage with female value. To marry Lord Orville and achieve the simulation’s ideal ending, players need to achieve and maintain a high Delicacy stat by the end of the final round. Ironically, however, many of the decisions that would increase the Delicacy stat in my playthrough of the simulation required that Pamelina remain susceptible to male overtures without protest. These options had the effect of lowering Pamelina’s Satire score so near to zero that Pamelina was at risk at one point of being scandalized and automatically incurring an “E Rank” ending.

By representing the difficult and near impossible feat of balancing all of a player character’s stats, the simulation exposes the impossible standards that Mr. Villars — the novel’s outspoken moral voice and proponent of female delicacy — elaborates and espouses. While Mr. Villars urges Evelina to “judge” and “act” for herself, he simultaneously insinuates himself into Evelina’s decision-making by foisting his gendered precepts onto her (this aspect of Mr. Villar’s relationship with Evelina is parodied in his above introductory letter to the simulation’s four rounds). And while Mr. Villars admonishes Evelina to protect her reputation, he also dissuades her from taking legal action to revive her claim to the Belmont name: “I own myself greatly surprised, that you could, even for a moment, listen to a plan so violent, so public, so totally repugnant to all female delicacy… Never can I consent to have this dear and timid girl brought forward to the notice of the world by such a method; a method, which will subject her to all the impertinence and curiosity, the sneers of conjecture, and the stings of ridicule.”10 Essentially, players’ adherence to or divergence from Mr. Villars’s conception of female delicacy will directly effect the outcome of the simulation, thus reflecting the tension between acting and judging for oneself vis-à-vis absorbing and practicing prescribed rules.

Finally, the simulation strives to address the pervasive threat of male violence towards women in the public sphere. There is a constant anxiety in Evelina of female vulnerability in public spaces, whether on the road in a carriage or along the footpaths of the Vauxhall Gardens. Furthermore, in contrast to a novel like Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, where male violence is sourced to the familiar Mr. B., the violence in Evelina is both familiar — Sir Clement, Lord Merton — and anonymous. Many of the scenarios in the simulation revolve around interactions between the player character and familiar or anonymous male violence. In order to emphasize the threat of this violence, some actions incur permanent changes or premature endings to the simulation. In my playthrough, slapping Sir Clement in Round Two (an action that Evelina does not take in the novel) would ultimately cancel him as a potential marriage partner for an “A Rank” ending and nix the possibility that Sir Clement could show up in a future round to continue his advances. On a bleaker note, opting for Pamelina to remain silent in the face of her assaulters in Round Three (the zoo) carries the chance that no one will intercede on her behalf, resulting in an automatic “E Rank” ending. Here, the idea is to draw attention to the extremely precarious circumstances that Evelina and Pamelina encounter when they are confronted and surrounded by anonymous groups of men in public places. In every instance, Evelina is rescued by someone else — Sir Clement, Lord Orville, a pair of prostitutes — though the simulation makes clear that the threat to Evelina’s delicacy, as well as her life, is urgent and real.

Works Cited

Boluk, Stephanie and Patrick Lemiuex. Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Burney, Frances. Evelina. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

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  1. Stephanie Boluk and Patrick Lemiuex, Metagaming: Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 11.
  2. The Taste skill applies a bonus modifier to players’ actions at four Taste, and increases incrementally by half a point every two skill points thereafter (e.g. four to five Taste applies a +.5/-.5 modifier, six to seven Taste applies a +1/-1 modifier, etc.). In effect, this means that if a player’s character has six Taste and chooses an action that increases her Delicacy by +1 but decreases her Satire by -2, then the Taste modifier will kick in to increase the character’s Delicacy by +2 and decrease her Satire by -1. Alternatively, if the action increases Delicacy by +1 but decreases Taste by -1, then the Taste Modfier’s effect will occur after the -1 Taste reduction — that is, the character’s Taste will be reduced to five, resulting in a reduced modifier effect of +.5/-.5.
  3. Boluk and Lemieux posit the phenomenological experience of playing video games as the key feature that distinguishes them from traditional games: “Unlike traditional games in which voluntary rules are consciously chosen to further constrain or interpret the physical properties of dice and cards, balls and bats, or track and field, videogames conflate the rules of a game with the mechanics of the equipment.” Boluk and Lemieux, Metagaming, 8.
  4. Frances Burney, Evelina (New York: Penguin Books, 1994), 183-84.
  5. Assuming that Pamelina will dance with Lord Orville after this interaction, as Evelina does in the novel. Ibid., 36.
  6. What if I had rolled Pamelina with a more precarious skill point distribution, such as two Delicacy/five Satire/three Taste, but still wanted an “S Rank” ending? In that case, I would need to be extremely cautious, as option (1) would end the simulation prematurely, scandalizing Pamelina and forsaking her to spinsterhood by reducing her Delicacy to zero. Under these circumstances, it might be more astute to choose option (3), which would increase Pamelina’s Taste at the expense of her Delicacy, but grant her a bonus modifier (e.g. four Taste; see footnote 2) that would help her gain Delicacy points more quickly in successive rounds.
  7. Burney, Evelina, 7.
  8. Ibid., 251.
  9. Ibid., 305.
  10. Ibid., 142-143.

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