Activision Blizzard today released a tool it plans to develop in its teams in the coming months. It is called the “Diversity Space Tool” and unlike other game development tools, it is not used directly to create game content, but to evaluate the diversity of game characters and quantify this diversity in numbers and spider graphs.
The tool was obviously created by the team at Breaking candies developer King, and tested on games like Call of Duty: Vanguard, which included an international cast of different characters who fought the Nazis in World War II. It has also been tested by Overwatch 2 group, which expressed “optimistic first impressions.
There is a lot of good intent behind this new tool. King Globalization Project Manager Jacqueline Chomatas explained in an Activision Blizzard blog post that the tool was intended to evaluate the game’s characters as they were repeated, to help their creators express stereotypes that reinforce the classic ideas of sexism. racism or other prejudices.
Calling it a “measuring device”, Chomatas explained that the tool is intended to “determine how different a set of character traits is and in turn how different this character and cast are compared to the” normal “.
King’s employees also spent time developing this tool during their off-hours as a “voluntary” effort, which does not bode well for a company that claims it is an effort to prioritize diversity.
Again, there is very good intent here. But game developers on social media are mostly expressing negativity after the announcement of Activision Blizzard. If you look for how the tool works, things get very uncomfortable very quickly.
Chomata’s explanation of how the tool works underscores a key complaint many game developers have: All characters running through the tool are judged on a “normal” basis, and this “rule” seems to be a capable, white, cisgender straight man. Character diversity scores increase when they deviate from this description.
A screenshot of it Overwatch Egyptian medical sniper Ana emphasizes how uncomfortable this becomes. It has been graded on various axes that are grouped on a spider graph and have been graded on them. Being Egyptian gives her a “culture” rating of 7, as does being Arab. Her age (60 years old) also gives her 7, and her physical ability (with only one eye) is rated at 4.
Her “cognitive ability” is rated 0, indicating that whatever Ana’s cognitive ability is, it’s part of the “baseline” against which other characters can be judged.
I can not express enough how deeply uncomfortable it was to write this paragraph. I have tried to write three paragraphs noting how even Ana’s regulatory “cognitive ability” shows the dangers of such a norm and deleting each one because of how crude they all sounded.
Why is “normal” so favored?
Michael Yichao, storytelling designer at Phoenix Labs, shouted neatly how it was strange to create such a system that judges characters against a rule. “This tool assumes the white male as the baseline against which ‘points’ are earned through the deviation, which in itself reinforces rather than redefines the currently non-comprehensive examples,” he said.
It does not help that many of the measurements chosen by King and Activision Blizzard uncomfortably reflect the true beliefs of racists and bigots. The eugenics movement of the early 20th century was particularly enjoyable with the study of 19th century phrenology. a practice where intelligence (or cognitive ability) is supposed to be related to the size and shape of one’s skull.
Coincidentally (it was no accident), phrenologists believed that the skulls of non-white groups such as Native Americans or black Americans were divergent, which was often used to justify atrocities such as genocide or slavery against such groups.
It is possible that anyone who added “cognitive ability” to this list was not trying to make the same connection. But treating those with cognitive disabilities (or just different, varying degrees of cognitive ability) as deviant still has consequences for people today.
As many, many game developers have talked about the battles they had with company executives to diversify their game casts, this tool seems like an awkward natural extension of the toy industry’s toxic logic to non-whites, non-men. characters.
Just this week, developers at Respawn Entertainment talked about the repulsion they allegedly received when they claimed a black woman would be his hero. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. in 2020, a former BioWare writer described complaints fby its creative director on adding another Asian character to the game’s cast.
Activision Blizzard says the Diversity Space Tool can “clearly distinguish between symbolic characters and true representation,” but in reality it can do just the opposite.
This tool is also being unveiled deeply You feel uncomfortable when you weigh it with Activision Blizzard’s annual bill with a series of lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination against the company.