Rhianna Pratchett is one of the globe’s most respected video game writers and narrative designers, shaping may of the medium’s best known worlds from Tomb Raider to Mirror’s Edge. In 2007 she received a BAFTA nomination for her creative contribution to lauded adventure game Heavenly Sword, before claiming a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Best Videogame Script award the following year for her involvement with the spirited action-RPG Overlord. In 2016, her work as Rise of the Tomb Raider’s Lead Writer secured her the Writers Guild of America’s Outstanding Achievement in Video Game Writing. Having been awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the London College of Communication, she spoke to UAL and Will Freeman (The Guardian) about forging Lara Croft, her career as a journalist, and mapping new territories in video game writing.
Q: How does it feel to be honoured by University of the Arts London with this award?
A: It’s great, it’s wonderful! It’s a great honour to be given the fellowship, and because I kind of work in games writing, I think it’s great to see someone who works in games recognised as well. I feel working in games you sometimes feel like the underdog – even though we’re not, but sometimes we’re treated like the underdogs – it’s nice to see that recognition towards the games industry.
Q: How did your degree in journalism at LCC help you launch into the world of games writing?
A: It was a really good course, because it actually, unlike probably many courses in the country, I came out actually knowing how to do something in the real world. It was quite practical, it was quite vocational, I learned how to write news stories, feature stories, do shorthand, which unfortunately I didn’t keep up but it was very useful, and an easily translatable skill into the world outside. And I actually started working professionally in my last year of college, so I did some little bits and pieces for a woman’s magazine called Minx. At the time it was aimed at eighteen to twenty-four year old young women, and they started covering games and then it all went from there really, so it all rolled into the next thing very nicely. So I got my first piece of my kind of professional commissions in my last year of university, and then it spiralled.
Q: What do you enjoy about games writing?
A: It’s very challenging, ‘there’s no maps for these territories,’ it feels like you’re adventuring. Film has come a long way, TV, novel-writing even further, with games it feels like you’re the adventurer, planting a flag and investigating new lands that just have ‘here be dragons’ on the maps; it’s truly developing and you feel you can riding the crest of the wave with that, and that’s exciting.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve gravitated towards strong action heroines?
A: Adventure heroines are becoming a lot more popular these days, and I’ve got a good oeuvre of writing now with Nariko with Heavenly Sword and Faith in Mirror’s Legend, and Lara in Tomb Raider. I’ve actually had the edge covers for each of those games framed, and it looks really nice, it’s my oeuvre of action ladies, so it is all very exciting… I grew up in the eighties, which I think explains a lot of things about me, but I grew up with characters like Ellen Ripley, Sarah O’Connor, and when I was a kid I just thought fighting killer robots from the future, or aliens in space, you know, that’s what women did. It was a big disappointment to find out that’s not the norm! So I went into an industry to help make female characters do more than that, and kind of create the games that would have appealed to a younger me.
Q: Have improvements in technology increased the capacity for games to tell stories?
A: Definitely, things like motion capture, for example, I believe Heavenly sold as the first entertainment product to capture facial and body mo-capture at the same time, and we had Andy Serkis as our dramatic director… so we had, you know, the top notch people working on it… Performance capture I think has been the big one for me. I think it’s going to be interesting to see where VR goes, AR and MR, how we all need to shape storytelling for that environment is all very interesting.
Q: What advice would you have for aspiring games writers?
A: Advice for potential games writers is really threefold: it’s play lots of games firstly, all kinds of games, all genres, look at the way the narrative is being told in the game, and from the obvious ways it’s being told, from the script, from the text, but look at the more subtle ways it’s told, look at how mechanics, level design, music, art, all come together to support the story. Or, maybe they don’t, and you can see how it’s a missed opportunity, but basically immerse yourself in kind of games, and what’s being done in those. Keep honing your writing skills, get your writing right, keep practicing, go to classes, read books, not just read books about writing but read books about everything, read news stories, read, talk to people, just saturate yourself in stories and people, always keep improving your writing. And then network, go to conferences, as many as you can, there are ones big and small all over the world, meet developers, meet other writers, talk to them, make contacts.