Hay Festival #3: Rhianna Pratchett on Writing for Games

I’m back from Hay Festival, the campervan is unpacked and I’ll be posting my favourite snippets from the 10-day literary event over the next few days. First up, Rhianna Pratchett in conversation with Guy Cocker.

Rhianna Pratchett

Rhianna Pratchett: A Narrative Paramedic

‘Fifteen years ago when I was a games journalist, no one talked about narrative,’ said Rhianna Pratchett to a multi-generational Hay audience. Even today writers in the games industry, she said, were seen as narrative paramedics. ‘It’s only when a story is bleeding so badly that someone will say, “We really need a writer.” A lot of projects out there are like that.’ In general, writers were brought in too late because the industry failed to appreciate how much they added to a project. “There needs to be a narrative logic so that players actually care.”

Rhianna Pratchett is perfectly placed to comment on writing for the games industry. In 2007 she was a BAFTA nominee for her work on Heavenly Sword and she won a Writers’ Guild of Great Britain script award for Overlord. She’s also known for developing the voice of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.

‘Narrative designers are becoming more prevalent and it’s their job to make sure the narrative works – sometimes they write, sometimes they don’t.’ And as a games writer she cautioned aspiring young writers ‘you end up fighting a lot of battles’ with the developer side of the business.

Answering a question on female characterization in games she said, ‘My main games have all been female protagonist-led. With Lara Croft it’s a story about human resilience and not a story about being female… Lara Croft is now physically more in proportion and less sexualized… We don’t have gender-based insults.’

Pratchett also mentioned the Hawkeye Initiative. From the HI website:

Created on December 2nd 2012, The Hawkeye Initiative uses Hawkeye and other male comic characters to illustrate how deformed, hyper-sexualized, and impossibly contorted women are commonly illustrated in comics, books, and video games.

With this Hawkeye system, games developers check if a female character’s pose looks wrong when she’s substituted by a male character. ‘If it looks ridiculous we don’t use it,’ said Pratchett.

In terms of adaptations of games, she commented, ‘Comics are where it’s at,’ rather than novels. ‘And it’s difficult to adapt a book to a game.’ She and her father Terry Pratchett are not averse to taking Discworld into a gaming environment but she said, ‘We haven’t received the right kind of pitch as yet.’ Last year, Terry Pratchett announced he would leave the intellectual rights of Discworld to his daughter.

According to her website, ‘Rhianna has worked on titles such as Sony’s PS3 epic Heavenly Sword, Codemasters’ twisted fantasy games Overlord, Overlord II and Overlord: Dark Legend, EA’s Mirror’s Edge, Deep Silver’s Risen and SEGA’s Viking: Battle for Asgard. She is currently wrestling the wild beasts of narrative on two projects for Eidos/Square Enix and two screenplays, Vigilia and Warrior Daughter.

I found Rhianna Pratchett’s event a particularly refreshing addition to Hay and I’m pleased that the Festival is embracing writers from diverse disciplines.

Tomorrow: first stab at a fiction round-up from Hay including Elif Shafak, Jonathan Coe, Catherine O’Flynn, Amit Chaudhuri and favourite quotes from the likes of Lydia Davis, Francesca Segal, Collum McCann and more. My brain hurts already, but I like a challenge.

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