The game industry has long had a problem with diversity and there have been initiatives over the years from various studios to solve the problem. But not all efforts, while well-intentioned, are good. In a blog post, Activision Blizzard describes a decision to use a “character diversity tool that quantifies ethnicity, beauty, cognitive abilities, and other things that indicate you’re different,” one such measure that feels particularly bizarre, if not offensive.
Developed by King and MIT Game Labs, this diversity tool was designed to “create and monitor guidelines for character creation and creation.” Jacqueline Chomatas, King’s Globalization Project Manager, further explained the tool’s mission statement, saying, “The Diversity Space Tool is a measurement tool to help determine how diverse a set of character traits is and how diverse that character and cast are compared to the ‘ norm.'”
Zoals je kunt zien in de onderstaande afbeelding, krijgen categorieën zoals cultuur, sociaaleconomische achtergrond, cognitieve vaardigheden, gelaatstrekken/schoonheid en meer allemaal een waarde toegewezen, afhankelijk van hoe ver ze verwijderd zijn van de norm van ‘typische karaktereigenschappen’. Deze tool kan dan “nieuwe karakterontwerpen afwegen tegen” [the established baseline] to measure their diversity.”
Apparently the beta of the Call of Duty: Vanguard and Overwatch 2 dev teams tested the tool and found it useful. The reception was “immediate and enthusiastic,” and Activision Blizzard plans to launch the tool internally during the summer and third quarter.
Needless to say people have been on Twitter less-than-enthusiastic about Activision Blizzard’s diversity tool. It leans a bit too close to phrenology, pseudoscience in which traits can be measured by looking at people’s skulls. There are also questions like, how is the “norm” baseline even determined? It’s clear that Activision Blizzard’s intentions are good: it tries to diversify its characters, but an attempt to convert diversity into numerical values seems to miss the point.
Activision Blizzard has been in the news a lot this year, and not for good reasons. The company was sued by the state of California in 2021 for allegedly promoting a sexist work environment, and a report from WSJ also alleges that CEO Bobby Kotick was covering up wrongdoing at the company. The company would also destroy unions and ask its Raven Software QA employees not to join a union.
Activision Blizzard is currently being acquired by Microsoft, a deal currently under review by the FTC.
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