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Rhianna Pratchett: ‘Fantasy is not as divorced from reality as we think’

After rebooting Lara Croft, acclaimed games writer Rhianna Pratchett is taking fantastical adventure to the next level
The ethereal Mont St Michel in France could exist in a fantasy world. Image credit: Riccardo Bertolo/Pexels

Rhianna Pratchett knows a thing or two about fantasy and escapism. 

One of the world’s leading writers for video games, the 43-year-old has carved an impressive CV, writing for heavy-hitters like BioShock Infinite and bringing memorable female protagonists to life like Nariko in Heavenly Sword and Faith in Mirror’s Edge – both mid to late-2000s cult classics.

But her most indelible mark has undoubtedly been on Lara Croft. The 2013 Tomb Raider series reboot, and 2015 sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider, saw the first lady of gaming given a makeover with her humanity and vulnerability on show rather than the disproportionate pixelated boobs that had made her a Nineties icon.

Pratchett exited the franchise in 2017 but her ideas can still be felt in Lara today, inspiring the 2018 Alicia Vikander film and its upcoming sequel.

It was a publicity tour for the 2013 game that inspired Pratchett to go on an adventure of her own – into the realm of the written word.

“It seemed slightly scary and I didn’t know if I should do it. So probably I should,” she reasoned. “It was a good sign, I should do the things that scare me slightly.”

“Lara’s new mum”, as Pratchett calls herself, was put in contact with “Lara’s old dad” Ian Livingstone, the former boss of Tomb Raider’s original publisher Eidos and the co-creator of the Fighting Fantasy book series.

He offered Pratchett the chance to try her hand at the revived interactive game/novel series.

Much like readers of new book Crystal of Storms, she decided to roll the dice.

Late dad Terry’s revered Discworld stories, and many others, are beloved – allowing all ages to step into fantasy worlds at a moment’s notice.

“I’d definitely stayed away from novels in the past,” Pratchett says. “I’d made a name for myself working in games narrative and I sort of chose a field where I could be very much me and do things separately from my father and his realm.

“But because this was part-game, part-book I felt a little bit more that this was in my wheelhouse and quite a challenging way of writing, of creating a game and of creating a book. I thought that this was the right time for me to give it a go.”

Pratchett was always a strong candidate for writing a Fighting Fantasy book. After all, an eight-year-old Rhianna was so into the books that she was threatened with court action over a library fine.

Her own contribution to the decades-old series lets kids become the hero, locking horns with sea beasts, surviving storms and exploring the Ocean of Tempests.

And in a Covid-ravaged world, fantasy tales are not just escapism, says Pratchett. They can be a vital tool to understanding the world around us as well as boosting literacy.

“Fantasy is not as divorced from reality as we might think. It’s just a lens through which we dissect and look at our world and the way we choose to live our lives,” she says.

“I think it’s always been important and I know I’m saying this as someone who has grown up where fantasy has been like water is to a fish. It was part of everything.

“But there has definitely been a change with how fantasy has been accepted in the mainstream. Fighting Fantasy was always a gateway to getting into reading too.

“It allows kids to drive the story and stimulate their imagination and cognitive reasoning and puzzle-solving abilities.”

Pratchett’s multimedia career is far from over. With work on comics, TV and film as well as short stories and non-fiction books all in her repertoire, she continues to work in video games, having completed a comedic story mode for Surgeon Simulator 2 during lockdown.

Pratchett has seen the gaming medium transform in her time, with narrative work now an integral part of a game’s development and no longer the job of whoever had time free.

But as the esteemed Pratchett name returns to books – what would dad Terry make of Rhianna’s first foray into the genre where he excelled and enchanted?

“I think my dad would be pleased to see my name on the front of a book instead of his,” she says. “He was always pleased that I tried to find my own particular path in the world. I don’t know if he would necessarily play it – he didn’t play many games – but he would definitely be pleased.”

Crystal of Storms by Rhianna Pratchett is out now (Scholastic, £6.99)