Yesterday, uninvited, Activision Blizzard published a lengthy blog post showcasing a “diversity space tool” created by King, the Swedish-founded, Malta-based company’s mobile arm.
In it, they show how the tool can be used to help ensure that games have diversity and that there are no team blind spots in terms of underrepresented characters or unconscious biases. But while the mission seems noble, the way the system works in practice by assigning seemingly arbitrary “ranking” numbers to different races, genders, sexualities and body types has united players left and right to doom how much this happens.
Activision Blizzard has now released an addendum to the post, in addition to editing portions of it, based on yesterday’s backlash that caused the company to trend negatively, which is usually the only reason it possesses trend over the past year or so. Another controversy like this is not what they need, and that’s how they tried to explain the tool, besides heavily editing the post itself and removing all images which were published there:
EDITOR’S NOTE (7:42 PM PT – May 13, 2022): There have been conversations online regarding the Diversity Space tool, particularly regarding its intent and our commitment to diversity. We have edited this blog post to clarify that this prototype is not used in active game development. We would like to add the following comment for additional context:
Launched in 2016, the Diversity Space tool – currently in beta – was designed as an optional add-on to hard work and already focuses our teams on telling diverse stories with diverse characters, but making decisions about game content have been and will always be driven by the development teams. The tool was developed at King and has been beta tested by several developers in the company, all of whom provided valuable input.
The goal of using the tool is to uncover unconscious biases by identifying existing norms of representation and recognizing opportunities for growth in inclusion. It does not replace any other essential efforts by our teams in this regard, nor will it change our company’s diversity hiring goals. Over the past few years, the development of the tool has been done with the support of all of our networks of DE&I employees, and we have worked with external partners to create an even more robust tool.
The tool is not intended to be used in isolation; teams sat down with company DE&I personnel to identify existing standards, then discussed, educated, consulted, and collaborated on how a character’s portrayal expressed beyond those standards. This process is intended to create a conversation where our developers, aided by the tool, challenge assumptions, evaluate choices, and find opportunities for authentic representation to foster in our games.
Activision Blizzard is committed to reflecting the diversity of its millions of gamers around the world through representation and inclusion in its games and its employees. Our intention with this blog entry was to share an ongoing part of our journey in this business. We recognize and respect that all people can be alone, a unique point in their journey with DE&I. The Diversity Space tool is not a definitive assessment of the diversity of game content; rather, it’s a bridge to open up previously unspoken conversations about how thoughtful inclusion can happen – and thrive – in games.
These images will stay on the internet forever, of course, and raise a lot of questions, like the one shown of Ana from Overwatch:
While I understand that the default “zero” baseline here would be cis, straight, white male, the most overrepresented demographic in gaming, it raises all sorts of questions:
- If Ana gets a 7/10 for “Culture” and “Race” being an Egyptian Arab, what is a 10/10 or a 3/10? How are these “steps” calculated?
- If his age of 60 is also a 7/10, does a 100 year old character earn a 10/10? Or a toddler because you don’t normally see them in FPS games?
- We also classify disabilities. Having a missing eye gives Ana a physical ability of 4/10. Is color blindness a 1/10? Is complete paralysis a 10/10?
- Ana is female, which earns her 5/10. How would trans characters be rated here? What is a 10/10 in this category?
- Ana has a 0/10 for body type because she is “thin + curvy”, but another deleted image shows that the muscular Zarya scored higher in terms of body type than Torbjorn, the short dwarf type and round. …Why?
So you can see the problem here, and why everyone was wondering about the ins and outs of this system. I’m not sure the new explanation is doing them any favors, and really, I just want to know what a 10/10 would look like in all categories.
Bottom line: Hire diverse teams.
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