Video game: ManaVoid, a benevolent lighthouse in a sea of ​​violence

“Making video games doesn’t cost much, apart from computers and brains,” says Montreal studio ManaVoid founder Christopher Chancey bluntly. These brains, if you take care of them, a lot of times it gives better results. »An approach that is reflected in its youngest, Rainbow Billy : The Curse of the Leviathan, a role-playing game with a non-binary protagonist in which conflicts are defused not by violence, but by dialogue and empathy.

In an environment recently branded with a hot iron by denunciations of sexual violence and often accused of treating its craftsmen with more or less compassion, the small independent studio of Mile-Ex, made up of around thirty employees, appears as a beacon. benevolent in a sea too rough.

“We think that we in the industry can hardly compete with the big studios when it comes to salaries,” adds Chancey. But we can certainly compete with them when it comes to the quality of life we ​​can give to our employees. “

With small onions

Four-day work week, lunches and dinners provided, group insurance, RRSPs, four weeks of vacation upon hiring, telemedicine service… ManaVoid treats its team very well. The studio even ignores the ” crunch ”, A practice yet popular in the industry, when the employer requires developers to work evenings and weekends just before the release of a game in order to meet the deadline.

Rainbow Billy was announced in 2018 during a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. It was slated for release in May this year, but it was eventually postponed until October. Armed with its budget of 3 million, the small studio wanted to take its time to do things right. “In recent months, the crunch, for us, well, it was that several employees decided to work a fifth day a week, says Chancey, a smile in his voice. Then there, we have just fallen back to four days a week, now that the game is launched. “

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The CEO, also vice-president of the Guild of video games of Quebec, does he want to be at the head of a movement? A big fish in the industry here, the Montreal branch of the studio Eidos, owned by the multinational Square Enix, has also just switched to the four-day work week. Christopher Chancey does not advance any further.

“I applaud initiatives that treat employees well, but I don’t lecture anyone,” he replies cautiously. The so-called triple A productions in the industry, which often have ” deadlines tight “and in which” millions of dollars “are invested,” perhaps “face different challenges, he observes. “Maybe at that size it doesn’t work. But with us, we have our recipe and we will certainly not change it. “

“Be part of the change”

Rainbow Billy : The Curse of the Leviathan is a turn-based role-playing game in which Billy, a young, non-binary child, must restore color to a world made monochrome by an evil entity. The altercations are non-violent: players must empathize with the little monsters Billy meets in order for them to join his team.

It would have been much more difficult to carry out such a project in poorer working conditions, believes Christopher Chancey. “I think that, in such a benevolent project, people had to be in a good mood too. We wanted people to be able to think about what they wanted to put in the game and not have to worry about anything else. “

Characters from gender diversity are not uncommon in the world of low-budget indie video games, projects often led by teams of two or three and aimed at a small audience. But the need for representativeness is more pressing in productions which have more resources. Rainbow Billy stands out in this sense.

“There was a side in me that wanted to be part of the change,” Chancey explains of his young, non-binary character. “Seeing positive characters who can represent them can be very important in young people who are in the process of discovering their identity. “

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His team, “quite diverse”, however, did not include a member of this community. The studio therefore surrounded itself very early on with consultants, including Annie Pullen Sansfaçon, a researcher from the University of Montreal who is an expert on the issue.

“At first, I was not convinced, confides at the end of the line Mme Pullen Sansfaçon. I had a hard time imagining how they could translate these questions into a video game, but, in the end, I was pleasantly surprised. “

“I would love to play it all, but I don’t have the skills to do it,” she laughs. But from what I saw, it is very well done. The bad guys Billy has to fight against represent oppressive factors that we see in the research. For example, the extended family who do not support Billy, who does not want to believe in his identity. “

“We learned a lot by doing this production on different communities,” says Christopher Chancey. Everyone has little bugs, everyone has mental health issues, but, through the eyes of a child, with a little empathy, we create a dialogue, we discuss it, we try to unravel it. , then, at the end of the day, we re-color the person, they join our team and we become stronger. “

“That’s kind of what we wanted to build: a really positive loop of reinforcement to try to encourage young people to talk, to communicate and to have a little empathy. “

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