Montreal game designer launches Rainbow Billy featuring a non-binary lead character
MONTREAL -- The Montreal gaming company Manavoid has designed a children’s video game featuring an 8-year-old non-binary lead 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 colour into the world.
“As you’re talking things through with the characters, their colours get revealed and you understand who they are,” said Manavoid co-founder Chris Chancey.
The idea of recolouring the world is meant to symbolize the modernization of technology and identity.
“As we were developing the game we were realizing there’s an underlying storyline that we could put into the game, and symbolism we could put there, that would be good representations of diversity and inclusion,” said Chancey.
Billy’s gender is non-binary, meaning neither male nor female. The company’s executive producer says binaries - like, black and white, right and wrong, male and female - provide some great symbolism for powerful messages.
“With the game, we wanted to show a more positive and optimistic side how we can embody and integrate more sweetness in life,” said co-founder and executive director Kim Berthiaume.
Even though no one on the development team identifies as gender diverse, meaning non-binary or transgender, Chancey said he didn’t want to shy away from the message of diversity and inclusion.
“Oftentimes, you’ll hear a developer say, 'Oh well I’m not a homosexual, so I don’t want to write a homosexual character in my game,' which I think is kind of part of the problem," said Chancey, "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 they accurately portray Billy as a character, so the team worked with a professor who holds a Canada Research Chair on Transgender Children and their Families, Annie Pullen Sansfacon.
She consulted on the game and on the development of Billy’s character.
“I recently went to Manavoid to test their game and see how all those ideas materialized," said Sansfacon.
"I must say that they did a really good job in 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 every time there’s a colour, there’s even a symbol linked to it for colour-blind people.
Chancey says there are a lot of video games out there featuring white heterosexual males doing violent things, and that’s not the game he wanted to make.
He created what he calls, a non-violent combat system.
“In the game, we have confrontations with different characters where you need to engage in dialogue with these characters," he said.
"Oftentimes they’re going through an issue, it might be something with mental health, might be something they’re experiencing in their lives, and Billy is going to just try and talk things through.”
Now that the game is available on most gaming platforms, the team has a modest goal.
“Our hope is that we have parents play with their kids and there are meaningful conversations that can emerge from those play sessions," said Chancey.
"If can do that I think we’ve already had an impact and that’s meaningful to us."
Berthiaume said another goal is for the game to stand the test of time, not just in the market but with each individual player.
“We really want to have a lasting impact that can stay with the kid as they play the game, can think about it afterwards, and maybe grow with it,” said Berthiaume.