Activision Blizzard’s new "diversity tool" isn’t the end of gaming’s problems with representation, as much as the Call of Duty publisher would have liked it to be given its various lawsuits. Introduced to the world last week, the tool grades character diversity on a ten-point scale, with categories including age, physical ability, cognitive ability, beauty, body type, gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, socioeconomic background, and race.
Announced in mobile developer King’s official blog, the stated reason for the tool’s existence was to prevent "token characters" from populating its games. The move to "true representation" seemed like a good idea but with bad execution, with public backlash on social media ridiculing the diversity tool for days.
That ridicule got a shot in the arm when one Twitter user unearthed a presentation from GDC 2017 where a King representative showcased the diversity tool in action. They gave Mario and friends a moderate grade," noting that the characters had "some points in some areas but completely lacked in others."
For example, none of Mario’s characters are disabled, so the gang lost points in the “ability” category. Sexual orientation was another lost opportunity as the King rep nervously said "they are all presumably straight.” Mario and Luigi? Almost certainly, but I’ve heard Toad doesn’t discriminate.
Where Mario and Luigi regained points was in “culture” for both being Italian, and also “body type” for being various sizes and heights.
While this seemed like a serious presentation, the nervous laughter of the presenter and audience revealed the problem with trying to quantify sexual orientation and ethnic backgrounds. It just doesn’t work, which is why Activision Blizzard faced so much criticism for this diversity tool that it had to walk back its earlier enthusiasm and even clarified “that this prototype is not being used in active game development.”
As noted by one Twitter user, the best way to improve diversity in your games is to improve diversity in your workforce.
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