Judging by events over the past few years, it feels like gaming hasn’t been the friendliest space for women. The summer of 2014 saw the eruption of #Gamergate, where female video game journalists and developers were subject to a campaign of online harassment by angry anonymous trolls, who accused the women — falsely — of bias.
“What I think Gamergate was symptomatic of was anonymous online cultures, so we have [platforms] such as 4chan and Reddit, where you have lots of young, disenfranchised, lonely people who communicate in sort of online, chaotic anarchic groups together in a sort of strange culture,” then Guardian games editor Keith Stuart told GN Focus on the sidelines of last year’s Emirates Literature Festival.
At the same event this year, we sat down with Rhianna Pratchett, lead writer of the rebooted 2013 and 2016 Tomb Raider games — upon which this week’s eponymous film is based — to talk about gaming industry misconceptions and why girls have a bigger voice in the space than we might realise.
Lack of representation
Pratchett, 41, enjoyed a gaming-rich childhood.
“I grew up playing games, and I played a lot of these with the little girl living next door to me. We lived in a tiny village and there wasn’t a lot to do, so we’d play adventure games together. I’d swap these games with girlfriends at school. I always thought that girls were interested in games, but then I joined PC Zone magazine and I was the only girl on staff there.
“There were very few female voices in games journalism – there are a lot more now, some really great ones,” she adds.
It’s not just programming
Pratchett, daughter of acclaimed fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett, likes to visit girls’ schools to encourage the students to enter the gaming industry, which she believes is largely misunderstood. “People haven’t realised that it’s not all programming. You don’t have to be into hard maths and science to work in games.
“They use artists, musicians, producers, writers… all sorts of people are involved in a game. When I was at school I wasn’t really told about opportunities in entertainment.”
The rebooted Tomb Raider games were lauded for their nuanced, realistic portrayal of protagonist Lara Croft – “a young woman paying her way through university, with flatmates” as opposed to the questionably proportioned, salaciously marketed symbol of the Nineties. In Pratchett’s opinion, the average gamer today is far more diverse than the characters they control on-screen.
“It’s strange – we’re kind of lagging behind our own audience. When we talk about diversity in games, it’s often been about women. It’s a much bigger topic – it’s about ethnicity, background – all the things that make human beings diverse and interesting. The conversation needs to be widened a bit more I think.”