Activision Blizzard’s new “Diversity Space Tool” has received a frosty reception from the developers

Activision Blizzard’s new “Diversity Space Tool” has received a frosty reception from the developers

Today, Activision Blizzard released a tool it plans to use across its teams in the coming months. It’s called “Diversity Space Tool” and unlike other game development tools, it’s not used directly to generate game content, but rather to assess the diversity of game characters and quantify that diversity in numbers and spider charts.

The tool was apparently created by the team at Candy Crush Developer King and on games as tested Call of Duty: Vanguard, in which an international cast of various characters fought Nazis during World War II. It was also tested by the surveillance 2 Team who expressed an “optimistic first impression”.

There are a lot of good intentions behind this new tool. King Globalization Project Manager Jacqueline Chomatas explained in Activision Blizzard’s blog post that the tool’s intent was to rank game characters as they are repeated, to show their creators that stereotypical patterns might be expressed that reinforce classic notions of sexism. racism or other prejudices.

Calling it a “gauge,” Chomatas explained that the tool is “intended to identify how diverse a set of character traits are and how different that character and its casts are from the ‘norm’.”

King employees also appear to have spent time developing this tool in their spare time as a “voluntary” effort, which does not bode well for a company that describes it as an effort to prioritize diversity.

There’s a lot of good intentions here too. But game developers on social media are mostly negative after the Activision Blizzard announcement. When you delve into how the tool works, things get very awkward very quickly.

Chomata’s explanation of how the tool works highlights a core complaint that many game developers have: All characters that go through the tool are judged against a “norm,” and that “norm” appears to be a powerful, white, cisgender, straight male. Characters’ diversity values ​​will be increased if they deviate from this description.

A screen shot of over watch Egyptian medical sniper Ana stresses how uncomfortable this is. It is rated and received ratings on a series of axes summarized in a spider chart. As Egyptian, she gets a “Culture” score of 7, as does as Arab. Her age (60 years old) also earns her a 7, and her physical ability (having only one eye) is a 4.

Her “cognitive ability” is rated 0, indicating that Ana’s cognitive ability, whatever it is, is part of the “baseline” against which other characters might be measured.

Activision Blizzard's Diversity Space tool in action

I cannot express enough how uncomfortable it was to write this paragraph. I tried to write three paragraphs Highlighting how even Ana’s normative “cognitive ability” shows the dangers setting up such a norm and deleted each one because they all sounded gross.

Why is the “norm” favored so much?

Michael Yichao, narrative designer at Phoenix Labs, neatly exclaimed like It was strange creating a system like this, judging characters against a norm. “This tool assumes that white males are the basis upon which ‘points’ are earned through deviance, which in itself is a reinforcement rather than a reinterpretation of currently non-inclusive paradigms,” he emphasized.

It doesn’t help that many of the metrics chosen by King and Activision Blizzard uncomfortably reflect the real-world beliefs of racists and fanatics. The eugenics movement of the early 20th century took particular delight in the study of phrenology in the 19th century; a practice in which one’s intelligence (or cognitive ability) is said to correlate with the size and shape of one’s skull.

By coincidence (it was no coincidence), phrenology experts considered the skulls of non-white groups such as Native Americans or black Americans to be deviant, which was often used to justify atrocities such as genocide or slavery against these groups.

It’s likely that whoever added “cognitive abilities” to this list wasn’t trying to make the same connection. But treating people with cognitive impairments (or simply different, different cognitive abilities) as deviant still has ramifications for people today.

Given that many, many game developers have spoken out about the struggles they’ve had with corporate executives to diversify their game casts, this tool seems like an uncomfortable natural extension of the games industry’s toxic logic about non-white, non-male characters .

Just this week, developers at Respawn Entertainment spoke out about the backlash they reportedly received when they advocated casting a black woman as the heroine of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. 2020, a former BioWare writer described complaints ffrom their creative director on the addition of another Asian character to the game’s cast.

Activision Blizzard says the Diversity Space Tool “can clearly distinguish between tokenized characters and true representation,” but it might actually do the opposite.

The revelation of this tool will also deep uncomfortable when weighed against Activision Blizzard’s years-long record of a string of lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination against the company.

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