In certain circles of education and pedagogical theory, gamification seems to be all the rage right now. Well, I’m all for it. My own foray into gamifying my relationship to the literary world has taken the form of counterfactual biographical interactivity. Not surprisingly, I found a way to use the video game format to support my fanatical enthusiasm for all things Ouida.
I found that Nintendo’s Tomodachi Life was a game that was perfectly suited for creating an interactive environment based on Ouida’s biography. Tomodachi Life (called "Tomodachi Collection: New Life" in Japan) is a Mii-based game that was released for the Nintendo 3DS in North America in the Summer of 2014. Even before I got my hands on a copy, however, I anticipated what I could do with it by populating my Mii Plaza with Ouida’s family, friends, enemies, acquaintances, and publishers. For those of you who do not know already, Miis are cartoonish video game representations (i.e. chibis, meaning “cute, small persons”) of real or fictional people, living or deceased. Many people use the Mii to gamify themselves as well as their family and friends. Others use them to gamify celebrities. Accordingly, the common trend in Tomodachi is to use autobiographical Miis in combination with celebrity Miis to play out one's life in an amusing, fictionalized, interactive game. My approach was decidedly different. I opted to write myself completely out of the game’s story. Instead, I chose to populate my Tomodachi Island exclusively with individuals from Ouida’s biography. I named that Island “Trouville” in honor of her 1880 novel, Moths.
How did I design the Miis? For the most part, I used printed Ouida biographies as well as the internet to hunt down images and background information on the individuals that would form the basis for my Miis. In the instances where I could not find an extant image of such persons, I relied upon textual descriptions. For others, such as Lady Orford and Stufa, I drew upon descriptions of Ouida's fictional characters that were clearly meant to portray them. In the relatively uncommon event that I couldn’t find any of this other kind of information to go on, then I had to completely rely upon my own imagination.
The goal of my game was simple. I have attempted to play out Ouida’s biography as closely as possible. Keeping this overarching intent in mind, I directed my Ouida Mii to seek out the affections of Mario Candia, Marchese della Stufa, and Lord Lytton. I tried my best, for example, to build up animosity between Ouida and Janet Ross and to construct strong bonds between Ouida, her mother, Susan, and her maid, Gori. I even played out such aspects of her life as her financial difficulties, her sometimes peculiar fashion fancies, and her famous love of dogs. Some of the other characters I created for the game include Lady Paget, Sydney Cockerell, Baron Tauchnitz, and Max Beerbohm. And what would this game be without the great Oscar Wilde—one of the most entertaining characters living on Trouville Island! With silly songs, secret affairs, hookups and breakups, and gossipy afternoon tea parties, the game has been an immensely enjoyable way for me to learn about the author and her compelling life. I would urge others to use these kinds of games as a new and exciting way to engage with literary history.