Going Out

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with David Rust-Smith, local creator of a video game you’ll actually WANT your kids to play

A screenshot of the underwater level in Bibz.

This is no Grand Theft Auto. Ottawa-based David Rust-Smith, a recent computer science graduate, launched an educational video game earlier this week that was created by youth, for youth. The game, Bibz, aims to educate players about global issues and raise money for orphans in Ethiopia (definitely an improvement over games that give players points for committing felonies, right?). Interview by Emma Paling

How did this project come about?
It was a combination of things. I was sort of working on a game anyway, but I have a passion for leveraging technology for social benefit. When kids are young and you tell them that kids in other places don’t have food or a place to live, let alone video games or laptops, they want to help, but they don’t have the tools to do so. Then they grow up, become jaded, and kind of accept the world’s problems. Kids play so many video games anyway, I wanted to make one where the artwork was created by them – a truly global project that would also be a tool to make a difference.

What are the project’s goals?
There are three main goals. One is to empower the youth who are involved in the project – 50 kids from Canada, Australia, and Ethiopia. The second goal is to educate the players of the game. It’s really easy to pick up. You can play it with your mom, little brother, whoever. But before each level there’s a multiple-choice question, so it educates the players. The third goal is to raise funds for Beyond the Orphanage.

Children from Beyond the Orphanage.

Why are proceeds donated to Beyond the Orphanage?
Basically I was working on the game anyway and I saw a posting on a website where young professionals can volunteer their time for a non-profit. On that website, the founder of Beyond the Orphanage had a posting about leveraging video games to raise awareness. So I partnered with him to get kids involved in making the artwork, and decided to donate all the profits.

Why kids from Ottawa, Ethiopia, and Australia?
It is sort of an eclectic mix, isn’t it? I partnered with Beyond the Orphanage because it’s smaller than Oxfam or Unicef, so our project has an impact for them. Even if we don’t sell a million copies, it makes a difference for them. They’re based in Ethiopia and some of the kids there made some of the artwork. I have a lot of family from Australia so I did a workshop with elementary school kids there while I was visiting. And I grew up in Ottawa so I went back to my high school and got some of the artwork and design done with students there.

Bibz box art.

How were the topics of the questions – millennium development goals, geography, gender equality, etc. – chosen?
When I first came up with the questions, the game was very focused on Beyond the Orphanage and helping orphans in Ethiopia. We changed it for two reasons – one, if it looked like a marketing push for Beyond the Orphanage that would be tacky. Also, if the questions were too specific no one would know the answers. So we went with broad global awareness questions. But players can change the age range on questions so that eight-year-olds aren’t getting morbid questions about infant mortality and 13-year-olds aren’t getting questions that are too easy. It was very hard coming up with the questions – you want to be realistic, but not too pessimistic, and not condescending.

Bibz is now for sale (only $6!) for Xbox 360 and PCs. Visit the indie games section of the Xbox Marketplace or www.bibzgame.com.