Activision Introduces a Tool to Rate Character Diversity Metrics
I don’t know if you have heard, but corporate oligarch Activision-Blizzard-King has an image problem when it comes to marginalized groups. ABK has a little reputation to salvage, whether it’s the cartoon-like actions of CEO Bobby Kotick or the California labor suit that appears to involve the Governor acting inappropriately for the company.
When a company is in dire need of fundamental changes in the way they treat and hire diverse employees, I would argue that the solution isn’t in creating and publishing a tool to reduce diversity design to predefined metrics.
And yet, that’s kind of what King is doing according to a blog post published yesterday on Activision-Blizzard’s website. King employees created a tool to break down character attributes and rate them according to their diversity. This post claims that the idea is to protect against unconscious bias and exclusion in the creation of characters and games.
These metrics include culture, race, age, cognitive ability, physical abilities, body type, facial characteristics/beauty as well as gender identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background.
Ana, an Overwatch Character, has points in culture and race, age, physical abilities, gender identity, and gender identity. The tool appears to assume that a white heterosexual, heterosexual, male character is the default. However, this assumption is difficult to codify, even though it is often a good one to use in practice. In an ideal world, decades of poor results shouldn’t create a default. They should be recognized as something that is unnecessarily common.
It’s…uncomfortable, a little bit. This is mainly because it seems like a bad idea and a failure to simply hire diverse designers. It’s one thing to get them on a team, but getting their feedback and letting them run designs and teams is another. This tool is only useful in the most bizarre and dystopian scenarios. We are focusing on the quantifiable results and not thinking about why they are occurring.
Although I doubt this was done with malice, it is a technological solution to a problem that already exists. Diversity & Inclusion doesn’t come in a vending machine where you can keep putting effort tokens until a badge says “You can’t yell anymore”. It is a continuous process that requires everyone to listen to others who are trying to be heard.
It is impossible to make “objectively” different games. You can only create games that are influenced by diverse cultures and experiences. Let their design speak for themselves.
The blog post states that Sledgehammer’s Duty: Vanguard, as well as Blizzards Overwatch, have used the tool to great success. We’ll be able to see how it works in practice but it’s still a strange tool for an industry that largely knows how to hammer nails.