Rhianna Pratchett: A lot of people fail to understand games writing

Rhianna Pratchett: A lot of people fail to understand games writing
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

August 16th 2016 at 2:23PM

“It’s like thinking you know how to make cake because you like eating cake”

The award-winning writer behind the Tomb Raider reboots, Mirror’s Edge and the Overlord games says the industry is still fighting misconceptions about the process of games writing involves.

During a Reddit Ask Me Anything, Pratchett described the lack of attention paid to writers is “one of those teething troubles” that comes from the industry still learning how to integrate writers into teams. She added that writers aren’t helped by the fact that they possess something of an “invisible skill”.

“It's much easier for the average person to tell if someone is a lousy artist or musician,” she said. “Many people think they can write stories because they can write words, and fail to realise that there's a lot more under-the-hood skills going on. Often those people have a lot more power than the writers... and yeah, you can imagine what happens.

“As an industry, our team narrative sensibilities are quite low when compared to other industries. As with writing, lots of people think they understand stories because they watch movies, or read books. But they have very little experience of actually putting this to the test – creating characters and worlds, growing their story sensibilities, knowing what works and what doesn't, reading scripts, being able to make that mental transition from page to screen. It's like thinking you understand how to make cake because you like eating cake.

“But in reality the more an entire team – not just the writers – comes to understand about storytelling, the more (hopefully) they'll come to appreciate writers/narrative designers, And understand the difference between those who can do it well and those who are just trying to shoehorn in something they watched in a movie the night before.”

The answer stemmed from a question put to the author by an anonymous triple-A developer, who observed that many of the most successful stories in games are produced by teams where the writer is one of the most senior people on the team. He pointed to examples such as Amy Hennig, Ken Levine and Neil Druckmann.

Pratchett replied, observing that most writers don't have what she referred to as “hard power” in the industry, meaning only creative or game directors like Levine, Hennig, or Druckmann have true control over a game’s story.

“As a freelance writer you definitely have a voice, but ultimately you only have the power that others give you, or you manage to fight for,” she wrote. “Now that can be a little or a lot depending on the team you're working with, the size, the budget and their narrative sensibilities.

“You sort of have to make a kind of uneasy peace with it. As mentioned earlier, I work freelance because I like being able to work across multiple projects in different disciplines at the same time. I feel it strengthens me as a writer. But it means I trade power for freedom.”

You can read more from the AMA here.