‘Tomb Raider’ writer urges women to kick ass in the gaming sector
Rhianna Pratchett says there are plenty of possibilities for women in the industry
Rhianna Pratchett: “When I was a kid I thought fighting robots from the future or killing aliens was just what women did.”
Inspirefest takes place at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre over the coming days. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES
While most children might dream of becoming doctors, lawyers or even fighter pilots, Rhianna Pratchett’s ambitions were always somewhat grander in scale.
“When I was a kid I thought fighting robots from the future or killing aliens was just what women did,” she says laughing.
“Luckily I ended up going into an industry in which I’ve been able to ensure that this sort of thing happens,” Pratchett adds.
The veteran video game writer, who is well known for her work on the recent Tomb Raider reboots, Heavenly Sword and Mirror’s Edge, is talking to The Irish Times ahead of a visit to Dublin where she is to speak at Inspirefest, which takes place this week.
In addition to speaking about her own career as a writer, firstly as a journalist and then as scriptwriter, story designer and as a “narrative paramedic” across games, film and comics, Pratchett is hoping that her visit will inspire more youngsters, and in particular, women, to consider gaming as a profession.
“I’ve spoken to many young girls and they often don’t realise the opportunities there is in the gaming industry. At best they think it is all hard maths and science which might not necessarily appeal to everyone. They can also be under the impression that it is a complete boys’ clubs,” she says.
“The truth is though that there are lots of disciplines involved in making games. These include writers, musicians, designers, artists, producers and programmers, so there are plenty of possibilities but that isn’t something you’ll probably learn much about at school.”
Having Terry Pratchett, the much missed author of the Discworld series of fantasy novels as a father certainly helped the aspiring writer to open up to other worlds and possibilities. But she also says she was lucky to grow up in an era in which strong female protagonists such as Terminator’s Sarah Connor and Alien’s Ellen Ripley served as aspiring role models for young women.
“I did a lot of my growing up in the 1980s, which in my opinion is the heyday for sci-fi and fantasy movies and so I was lucky enough to see strong female characters as the norm,” she says.
Lara Croft, the heroine of the Tomb Raider series, which first appeared in 1996, is of course another strong female protagonist and one that Pratchett was asked to reimagine with the recent reboot, which kicked off in 2013.
Pratchett admits that Sarah Connor was an inspiration for the series, which focuses on Lara Croft’s early life.
“Exploring Lara on the road to becoming a tomb raider is amazing fertile ground for a writer and was a great challenge to take on. I’d worked on two other female protagonists in action games before I was asked to tackle Lara so it felt that I was ready for it, as though it were fated,” she says.
Pratchett worked on both the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider and the script for 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, which won outstanding achievement in videogame writing at the 2016 Writers Guild of America Awards.
The writer surprised many fans earlier this year when she sent out a tweet announcing she was “packing up” her climbing axe “plus a little venison jerky for the road, and bidding a fond farewell to Lara”.
But Pratchett has plenty of new adventures planned, which includes working with the Jim Henson company on script development for a film version of her father’s book The Wee Free Men. She’s also been involved in work on a script for another strong female character, which she says is based on Scáthach, a figure that features in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology.
“The character is essentially a Pictish Wonder Woman,” she says, adding that the search is currently on for a female director for the script.
Narrative more valued
Pratchett, who describes herself as an “amphibious writer” believes the role of narrative in gameplay has become more valued in recent years.
“In the past story and narrative weren’t taken that seriously in the gaming sector. Writing was often left to designers or producers who had the time and/or inclination to write scripts. Games usually weren’t story-led unless they were specific genres such as role-playing or adventure games. That has largely changed now with more time and effort going into the storytelling element,” she says.
“The indie space meanwhile has been flourishing with lots of great games coming out that don’t use traditional forms of storytelling, such as Inside, which won a Bafta for narrative despite its lack of dialogue,” Pratchett adds.
She also says gaming has become something that has spread far beyond spotty, teenage boys.
“I firmly believe there is a game out there for everyone, regardless of your age, gender or experience. In the last few years there’s been a big rise in mobile and casual gaming that have brought more people into the fold.”
Meanwhile, for anyone wishing to pursue a career as a writer in gaming, the advice is simple.
“You wouldn’t write for movies without having watched some of them and the same applies with gaming. So play lots of games, read everything you can, write as often as possible and go to gaming conferences and network,” Pratchett says.
What is Inspirefest?
Now in its third year, Inspirefest is a conference that focuses on technology, science, design and the arts.
The event, which takes place primarily at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin over the coming days, covers everything from blockchain, fintech and robotics, to artificial intelligence, infosecurity and gaming.
In addition to the main conference, which will feature more than 50 speakers from 15 countries, a number of fringe and family-focused events will also be held.
Main speakers at this year’s event include Dr France A Córdova, director of the US National Science Foundation, president and CTO of Nokia Bell Labs, Marcus Weldon, Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters and now a BBC Click contributor, Gizmodo Media Group editor RaJu Narisetti, Sugru inventor Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, game developers Brenda and John Romero, and Mashable UK editor Anne-Marie Tomcha.