When Rhianna Pratchett was a little girl, she wanted to be a writer. Or a mermaid. Today she is an award-winning scriptwriter, story editor and - a term that she coined - a narrative paramedic for videogames. In a recent TEDx talk on the future of videogames writing, she explained why her job lets her write stories as well as vicariously live out her Ariel-esque fantasies - and those of being anything else she damn well likes, including a gun-toting archeologist. And Rhianna knows all about those - she is the woman behind the latest incarnation of Lara Croft who appears in the Tomb Raider reboot which is released next month.
After nearly 15 years in the games business, first as a journalist and then as a scriptwriter who created the narrative for the critically acclaimed Mirror's Edge as well as the very funny Overlord series, Rhianna has been asked one or twice (try about 700 times) about what it's like to be a woman who likes games - much the same as a man who likes games, but with a different physique - as well as what it's like as a woman working in the games industry.
"Anyone who writes about games will have been asked to do the "women and games" piece, and I always felt a bit uncomfortable with that because I never wanted it to be about anything other than my work," she explained to Lady Geek as she prepared for a Tomb Raider talk at BAFTA this week. Luckily for the future of the games business, her position has changed. "With the release of Tomb Raider and people being interested in talking about Lara, it seemed a good time to do it - to come out as a woman! Even though I don't think about myself as being A Woman In Games, I do know that other people think about it. I get emailed a lot by young girls who are really interested about getting into games or who are asking me about how I got started, what kind of courses they could take."
She's also passionate about making sure that younger generations of would-be games developers, designers, scriptwriters and artists are given role-models to look up to - one of the key ways to bridge the gap between girls and technology, as I've written about in the Little Miss Geek book. "I think it's essential. I don't think, particularly young girls, realise the opportunities that are out there. I think there's a perception of what you have to be to work in the games industry and then there's the reality which is a lot more diverse."
It's not news to acknowledge that the games business has something of a reputation when it comes to sexism. Booth babes and beach volleyball Sims anyone? Despite games being her great love as well as her bread and butter, Rhianna has proved willing to weigh into the gender issue in the games industry. Late last year, #1reasonwhy (there aren't more women in gaming) became a hot topic on twitter, with women - and men - taking to the site to talk about sexism in the business. With tweets such as
It made for depressing, if important reading. Then another hashtag appeared - #1reasontobe. Started by Rhianna, it was about celebrating the good things about the business. What was her thinking?
"Because I get mistaken for the receptionist or day-hire marketing at trade shows" and "The worst sexism is the "harmless" assumptions. I'm sick of being told art is the only appropriate career for a woman in games."
"I contributed a couple of examples of sexist treatment myself, but as I pinged the tweets, I suddenly thought, 'I'm not sure that this is helping, actually'. I've had some really exciting opportunities in my career and while it is important to shine a light into those dark corners in the industry, and it's important to show the battle, but it's also important to show what we're fighting for. I wanted other female developers to share what they loved about the industry because if there were any young girls on Twitter wanting to go into the business and they see the negatives, they might have thought that it was only like this. It's not - there are problems, but there's also really wonderful things about working in this industry and those need to be highlighted as well." She may not have Ariel's tail, but she's certainly got a voice that needs to be heard.