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Interview with Rhianna Pratchett about the character of Lara Croft in Rise of the Tomb Raider

The daughter of legendary fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, Rhianna Pratchett has already built an impressive career giving voice to strong female characters in both games and comics. Pratchett has previous worked on titles like the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, Heavenly Sword, and Mirror's Edge. Now that she’s reuniting with Lara as a writer on Rise of the Tomb Raider, we took some time to chat with the prolific author about what happened to all of Lara’s wealth, why getting lost and frustrated should be part of a video gaming experience, and whether or not Lara is a little crazy.

What excites you about this game’s premise and the quest for immortality?

Whether it’s the Holy Grail, the Tree of Life, or eating five-a-day, living beyond our years is one of humanity’s eternal questions. Exploring what that really means, both the pros and cons, is certainly interesting to me as a writer. However, what particularly excited me about this project was helping guide Lara on the next stage of her journey. She’s done things that she didn’t think she was capable of – both good and bad – and that’s shaken her preconceptions about the person she thought she was. She’s also seen things she doesn’t quite believe and is looking for answers about what those mean for both her and for the wider world. She’s a woman with a lot on her plate.

Does the development process change the narrative much after your initial script?

Yes, all the time. Writing is rewriting and nowhere is that more the case than in games. You’re constantly tweaking and reshaping. We spent a long time working out the state of Lara’s mind at the start of the game and how the other characters play into that during the story. We also wanted to decrease the number of characters this time as we definitely felt that the cast was too large last time and we suffered through lack of space to fully realize them. I think it’s safe to say that the second step of Lara’s journey was much more challenging than the first.

Who’s funding Lara’s adventures? Is she still pretty wealthy?

The Yamatai exhibition was funded by Sam’s uncle, rather than Lara’s wealth. This latest expedition is largely funded through Lara’s savings (she has had several jobs, both mentioned in the game and the comics.) By and large she self-funds and considering the expeditions are not really particularly weapon- and gadget-based that makes a difference. However, Lara’s relationship with her family’s wealth is something she’s wrestled with ever since Yamatai. She still comes from a wealthy family, but her attitude towards that wealth is what’s changed.

Maybe I missed some journal entry in the first game, but what's the status on Lara Croft's mother?

That’s not something we’re discussing at the moment.

In the last Tomb Raider, Lara's narration was constantly reminding players what just happened and what she was after. Do you feel like games lack some of the storytelling subtlety of other mediums since they want to ensure players know where to go?

Lara does tend to talk to herself a fair bit, but that’s partly just a quirk of who she is. I think it’s rather an only child trait! However, certain elements of game narrative are somewhat unrealistic and, well, game-y. Like barks, for instance – the small lines of dialogue, which enemies often spout during fights. I mean, who in their right mind telegraphs their actions and intentions during a fight? However, I think we’ve become so used to it as gamers that we don’t really think about it too much. Likewise, I’ve noticed an industry-wide trend over the last five years or so where games seem very keen that players shouldn’t get lost or frustrated at any point. I’m of the school of thought that being lost and getting frustrated is all part of the fun.

The first trailer indicated that Lara's not in the healthiest place mentally, how dominant will her battle with PTSD be throughout the storyline?

It’s part and parcel of her journey, but not the central theme. I think she’s just trying to unravel the Gordian knot that her life has become. She’s trying to reconcile what she saw and what she did, with who she thought she was and who she might become. Lara’s someone who thought her path ahead was clear and instead she has been violently thrown off it. As a consequence she’s looking to her past for answers and guidance, and also seeing that in a completely new light as well.

Strong female leads are a rarity in the video game world. Do you think people are nervous to put females in a leading role? Crystal Dynamics almost had to fight to make Lara less of a sexed up caricature of femininity.

I personally don’t have an issue with female characters being sexy. However, in the past the industry has suffered from sexy merely being used as a solo personality trait. Likewise, the definition of what constitutes sexy has been very narrow and frequently meant overly sexualized, which was off-putting for some. We definitely need more diversity in this area and to create more characters who’re sexy because they’re smart, funny, thoughtful, loyal, textured and flawed people, on top of whatever they may look like. I still think Lara’s sexy. She’s beautiful, fierce, empathetic, determined and smart – which arguably she was before. But now she’s just not sexualized. I think that decision has definitely helped us reach new audiences.

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Illustration: Lara´s face by the artist Leon de Leon.

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