Video games are lagging behind TV and film in the stories they tell, Rhianna Pratchett says.
Rhianna Pratchett is one of the most veteran and accomplished writers in games. Her most notable work is perhaps the acclaimed 2013 Tomb Raider reboot and its sequel, while she also worked on Mirror's Edge, Heavenly Sword, and the Overlord series. A lifelong gamer herself, Pratchett has seen the evolution of video games over the years. Her work on the new Tomb Raider games depicted what could be described as a more genuine take on the iconic female hero compared to her earlier, over-sexualised days. Video games have made strides in the stories they tell, but they still have some growing up to do, Pratchett tells GameSpot.
A recent trend in gaming, highlighted most recently with Sony's God of War, is what Pratchett calls the "dad-ification of games." That is, as male developers have grown up and had children of their own, they write stories about father-son relationships. These stories may be well-crafted and genuinely compelling, but Pratchett wants to see stories about mothers, too. In an earlier interview, she said it would be interesting to see a Tomb Raider game with Lara Croft as a mother. She told us more about that idea and why it's important to her.
"That was one I kind of threw out there as a thought exercise partly as a reaction to the fact that there are so many father stories being explored in games," she said. "As developers themselves become fathers, [they] start thinking perhaps a little bit more deeply about the world and their place in it. There are very few mother stories. Mothers--and this goes for film and TV as well as games--they often tend to be absent or dead or missing."
"I think we need more older female protagonists in games" -- Pratchett
"We've had a lot of what gets called the 'dad-ification' of games. You don't really see moms in games, especially not kick-ass moms in games. [Lara Croft as a mom is] one of the things that I thought could be one interesting avenue to explore," Pratchett explained. "I am not a mom and not likely to be a mom, but I have friends who are mothers and I obviously have a mother. I find it very interesting and powerful in itself. And I think the challenges of being a mother, while still being a superhero, are really interesting."
Pratchett said she received a lot of positive reactions from fans about a Tomb Raider story with Lara Croft as a mother, but others were less enthusiastic. She said some fans said "that's not my Lara" and said they believed Lara is too independent to ever have a child. Maybe so, but you can't always plan for what happens in life, and Pratchett thought this would be interesting to explore in the Tomb Raider universe.
"There's lot of reasons why someone between the ages of 21 and 35 might end up having a kid. You could start of being young and independent, but life happens," she said. "Things don't always go the way you planned and you have to roll with it. There are a lot of reasons why people become mothers, and they don't have to be naturally maternal to end up with a kid. I think that would be something interesting to explore."
In our interview, Pratchett also said she would like to see more game stories with older female heroes. She said it's not fair that male characters can age with grace while female ones often cannot.
"I think we need more older female protagonists in games. Often male protagonists are allowed to age in their games, thinking of Snake or Sam Fisher," she said. "They are allowed to get older and more grizzled. Whereas ladies aren't allowed to age that much. That would be nice to see, because Lara is one of the longest-running female-led franchises in history. It would be nice to see that evolution of her age and her experience as a kind of battle-worn tomb raider. I would like to see that. It would be interesting to see how a character would balance being a mother and a superhero. There are some interesting dynamics there. Lara being older and wiser and bitter and battle-hardened, that's very interesting to me."
Overall, Pratchett said there is "so much" that has gone unexplored in video game character writing compared to TV and movies. "We really are lagging behind everyone else," she said.
The "dad-ification" of games stories is "at least something" towards advancing the narrative ambitions of games beyond shooting people and killing aliens, Pratchett said. But it should go further.
"Don't get me wrong, I love aliens and Tarantino, but we were always pulling from the same entertainment wells," she said. "So we were always looking at Hollywood and movies for inspiration and now I think we are looking a little more inside ourselves as human beings for what we want to explore."
Pratchett, the daughter of acclaimed English fantasy author Terry Pratchett, will give the keynote address at PAX Australia in October. GameSpot also spoke with her about coming back to Australia for the first time since she was 16--you can read our interview here.