INTERVIEW: Putting Empathy First in ‘Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan’

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Rainbow Billy - But Why Tho

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is an adventure game with RPG elements developed by ManaVoid Entertainment and published by SkyBound Games. In this unique kids’ game, you play as Billy, who is working with his friends to help save the world. But in this game, your only weapons are empathy and the words you speak to others, as this non-violent game asks you to talk through your feelings rather than fight over them.

We spoke with the folks at Manavoid to get a deeper understanding of why communication and empathy were the keys to making Rainbow Billy.

BUT WHY THO: Why was it important to you that Rainbow Billy not feature violence in its confrontations?

MANAVOID: A statistic came out in 2019 that only 17% of games that year at E3 were considered non-violent. We thought that was a sad statistic to see, there’s so much to do and discover with video games as a medium that violence at this point just feels overdone. We then decided to make our turn-based RPG system about dialogue, recoloring, and understanding. Our core design pillar was always to have our game revolve around empathy.

BUT WHY THO: How did strong communication become the vehicle for confronting enemies and eventually befriending them?

MANAVOID: We live in an age where people have never been more polarized. When you look at what’s happening on social media, it’s easy to see that there isn’t a conversation happening, just a bunch of people yelling in their echo chambers. The path to change and understanding starts with being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Communication is a two-way street, and we wanted that to be apparent in the game. Billy is figuring out who these characters are and is understanding them in the process. In the end, recoloring a character meant knowing where they come from and who they are, only then can you really have them on your team!

BUT WHY THO: I love that Billy isn’t a silent protagonist, they’re just shy. Why was it important that Billy speak for themself rather than have, say, Rodrigo always speak for them during confrontations?

MANAVOID: There’s a layered story in the game that you might only get a glimpse of if you pay attention to the images in the credits, so I don’t want to go too much into it for spoilers! What I’d say is that it was important to us that Billy be a character that anyone can project themselves into. Everyone knows a Rodrigo, someone who isn’t afraid to speak their mind, sometimes too quickly and without thought, and it was important for us to contrast between the characters in order to explain the nuances of healthy conversation. Still, this is Billy’s coming-of-age tale. Starting off shy and slowly becoming more courageous as the game progresses, as Billy lives through new experiences and the characters surround themselves with more and more friends was a way of letting everyone know that a healthy/safe environment leads to confidence and being able to take life in stride.

BUT WHY THO: Enemies in Rainbow Billy are usually struggling with their own insecurities, from being bullied to self-image to an unhealthy relationship with masculinity. How did you choose the kinds of troubles the game’s enemies were dealing with, and how did you choose the types of responses Billy and their friends would offer?

MANAVOID: This was one of the more challenging parts of the game. There was a line that we tried to keep throughout the writing where kids could feel connected with what was going on, but with some glimpses and references that only older players could understand. Disney is exceptionally good at toeing this line, and we did our best to do it with Rainbow Billy.

For the subject matter, we wanted everyone to be able to see themselves in these characters. Our hope was that people going through some of these situations could be able to make sense of it or feel acknowledged in some way and that people who have gone through these situations in the past could also feel like they were being spoken to directly as well. The important thing is to talk it out and move forward!

BUT WHY THO: Who do you hope will play Rainbow Billy, and what do you hope they will get out of it?

MANAVOID: We hope kids get to play a colorful game where they can maybe see themselves in certain situations and connect with Billy in a meaningful way. We hope parents play with their kids to stimulate some cool conversations about empathy, positivity, and dealing with messy life situations. We hope indie enthusiasts get to experience a game that mixes a bunch of genres together in a new and innovative way. We hope that a variety of communities find some form of representation of themselves in the game and that they feel acknowledged.

Most importantly, we hope everyone just has a blast playing a fun game that’s got something for all ages!

Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan is available now on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.

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