MONTREAL – Montreal-based video game company Manavoid has designed a children’s video game featuring an 8-year-old non-binary main character.
“Rainbow Billy” takes players on a journey through a black and white universe and through themes of healthy communication, empathy, friendship and active listening.
The hero Billy adds color to the world.
âAs you chat with the characters, their colors come to light and you understand who they are,â said Chris Chancey, co-founder of Manavoid.
The idea of ââre-coloring the world is believed to symbolize the modernization of technology and identity.
âAs we developed the game, we realized that there was an underlying storyline that we could put into the game, and symbolism that we could put into it, that would be good representations of diversity and inclusion, âChancey said.
Billy’s gender is non-binary, which means neither male nor female. The company’s executive producer says binaries – like black and white, good and bad, male and female – provide excellent symbolism for powerful messages.
âWith the game, we wanted to show on a more positive and optimistic side how we can embody and integrate more sweetness into life,â said co-founder and CEO Kim Berthiaume.
Even though no one on the development team identifies as gender heterogeneous, i.e. non-binary or transgender, Chancey said he doesn’t want to shirk the message of diversity and inclusion. .
âA lot of times you’ll hear a developer say, ‘Well, I’m not a gay man, so I don’t want to write a gay character in my game,’ which I think is part of the problem,â Chancey said, “because we want to have more representation in games.”
While Billy’s gender isn’t the focus of the game, the team says it was important that they accurately portray Billy as a character. The team therefore worked with a professor who holds a Canada research chair in transgender children and their families, Annie Pullen Sansfacon.
She consulted on the game and on Billy’s character development.
âI recently went to Manavoid to test their game and see how all of these ideas came to fruition,â Sansfacon said.
“I have to say they did a really good job translating some of the concepts we discussed earlier.”
The team also worked to make the game accessible in five languages, created font options for people with dyslexia – and whenever there’s a color, there’s even a symbol attached to it for those who are color blind.
Chancey says there are plenty of video games out there that feature straight white men doing violent things, and that’s not the game he wanted to do.
He created what he calls a nonviolent combat system.
âIn the game, we have confrontations with different characters where you have to interact with these characters,â he said.
“A lot of times they go through a problem, it can be something with mental health, maybe something that they are going through in their life, and Billy will just try to chat.”
Now that the game is available on most gaming platforms, the team has a modest goal.
âOur hope is that parents play with their children and that there are meaningful conversations that can emerge from these play sessions,â Chancey said.
“If I can do it, I think we’ve already made an impact and that’s important to us.”
Berthiaume said another goal is for the game to stand the test of time, not only in the market, but with each individual player.
âWe really want to have a lasting impact that can stay with the kid while they play the game, can think about it afterwards and maybe grow up with them,â said Berthiaume.