Terry Pratchett is best known for his Discworld series and other fantasy works, but his name has recently cropped up outside the literary world as well. Even after his passing in 2015, Pratchett’s fans are still reeling, looking for places the prolific author might have left his mark. Finding it in a place they would not have expected, it turns out that Pratchett was an avid gamer and especially a fan of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series.
Animation student David Oneacre tweeted an outtake from a 2009 interview with Pratchett, in which the author was asked about his favorite video game. Pratchett enthusiastically answers that it is “undoubtedly” Oblivion.
favorite thing i've discovered in years: terry pratchett describing how he modded oblivion (non-combat life sim mods especially) pic.twitter.com/3eC5iYXJNP
— 💫 david oneacre (@davidoneacre) May 27, 2018
According the transcript, Pratchett’s love for the game and other titles under the Elder Scrolls umbrella largely came from the franchise’s modders. Bethesda definitely did not foresee the growth of the modding community with their original intentions for the Elder Scrolls games, but modding has thrived and translates these games into new perspectives, a fact that “warms [Pratchett’s] soul.”
“I just enjoy the fact in this world that is rather controlled by commerce, there is this inner world of people giving up their time and effort to perfect some little detail about a computer game for the delectation of others,” he said.
Prachett’s respect for modders and their dedication is what initially drove his own modding hobby. He wrote lines for a character named Vilja in Oblivion for a companion mod. He additionally extended this character’s history by including her descendent in a mod for Skyrim. Later in the interview, Pratchett also discloses that at some point that he was approached by a fan about approving a Discworld-related mod in Oblivion. Despite his appreciation for the notion, he ultimately did not give it a pass. He even mentions he used to do computer programming, briefly meditating on a time period where computers were feared before they became commonplace today.
It is typical for most creatives to venture into other media to gain perspective on their work. But it is especially important for creatives to explore pure play and escapism as anyone else would. Pratchett identified as a gamer and still professed his identity as an artist appreciating others’ work. He especially stressed the importance and beauty of sustaining these communities in games. Research on transformative work in gaming has shown outlets like game mods can nurture the self, foster relationships, and encourage creations even worthy of artistic value.
And yet, Pratchett himself didn’t always practice what he preached. Pratchett’s passion to create persisted as he penned his final works, even through his struggles with Alzheimer’s. Per his wishes after his death, the hard drive that supposedly contained the remainder of unfinished works and other unreleased projects was ritualistically and literally streamrolled so that no further works from Pratchett can be published without his blessing.
— Richard Henry (@richardhenryflo) August 29, 2017
Although a reasonable request, it is interesting for someone who has been a strong advocate for game modding to be highly protective of the writing he leaves behind—especially as Vilja continues to drift among Elder Scrolls’ communities. Discworld is a product of Pratchett’s mind, but there is still a debate in modding communities about the extent to which a mod made from another person’s game is really one’s “own.”
What’s interesting is the way Terry’s daughter Rhianna has interests and entered disciplines parallel to her father’s, combining play and creativity in her own work. Rhianna Pratchett herself has her own successful writing career mostly within the video game industry. She has been a major lead writer in the recently rebooted Tomb Raider games, and her other notable credits include Mirror’s Edge, BioShock Infinite, and the Overlord series.
Rhianna Pratchett’s career certainly is not under the shadow of her father, but it is worthy to acknowledge that the same passion drives their respective works. There is definitely a distinction between a world you create from scratch versus a world you create from within. However, artistry and inspiration come from the same place. Rhianna Pratchett’s path into writing is not a result of nepotism, but it is proof that creativity and the practice of play can go into hand in hand.
As games today are full of messy battles over the murky differences between modding, “hacking,” and developers’ power over these behaviors, games should still strive to not only be environments of play, but also environments that can spark creativity. With streaming becoming more popular and game development resources becoming more accessible, the gaming world is approaching—if not already in—an era where it is more acceptable that the roles ofplayer and artist go hand in hand.
Elvie is an animator by day and tries too hard to be everything else by nightfall. Feel free to join her in screaming about anime and animals as she puts off what she should be really doing at @lvmaeparian.