Activision’s new diversity tool for Overwatch and CoD characters isn’t the answer
Activision Blizzard King has unveiled a new tool to rank characters across the network based on their diversity, from Overwatch to Call of Duty, but its unveiling raises more questions than answers.
Eric Alt, Activision’s Director of Editorial Content, published an explanatory text for the feature on May 12 using Activision Blizzards Official blog page.
In the statement, the organization confirmed that they had worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop software that counteracts unconscious bias. King Globalization Project Manager Jacqueline Chomatas said, “The Diversity Space Tool is a gauge that can be used to determine how diverse a set of character traits are and how different that character and its casts are from the ‘norm’.”
This is the publisher’s first public move since joining the company’s board of directors promised to be more transparent about diversity in their video games as early as December 2021. In that report, data showed that women make up just 24% of the Activision workforce, with 36% of US-based employees identifying as belonging to an underrepresented ethnic group.
The diversity statistics were branded as unacceptable in the press release, agreeing to increase diversity in the workforce and also in the video game universes. That’s where the new ranking system comes in – a diversity space tool.
How it works
With a mission to combat unconscious bias and exclusion in video game listings, Activision Blizzard King introduced a ranking methodology. The Diversity Space tool scores character designs for different things, from gender to race and body type.
As can be seen in the diagram below, which illustrates the use of the model, the metrics include facial features, beauty, culture, race, sexual orientation, and more.
However, if more points are awarded based on these items, what is the starting point? Is it a white straight male character? Who also determined the starting point? This is crucial information, regardless of whether the results lead to further diversity in the creative universes of Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and other series.
Certainly the parameters that are set must have been generated through lengthy discussions by a diverse group of workers, although this is not stated. All we have are annual stats that say King’s level of diversity in the workforce is “woefully inadequate.” Your words, not mine.
Further explanation of how these metrics are currently impacting rosters would provide better insight and whether or not the model was supported by the majority of employees belonging to underrepresented ethnic groups. Again unspecified, apart from a comment from Alayna Cole, DE&I Manager at Sledgehammer Games – who supported the results but didn’t really touch much else.
The announcement states, “The Diversity Space Tool can clearly distinguish between tokenized characters and true representation,” addressing a concern of gamers of all backgrounds. It’s a common criticism from video game developers that “token characters” are added for no reason, but this tool seems to focus more on authentic storylines. This is positive and will likely provide good insights for the next transparency update.
Still, it seems from the outside that more diversity in the development studios would work better than any tool of its kind. Models are great for analysis, but in practice I believe that the process of producing characters of color or the LGBTQ+ community to represent, would be infinitely better if it were designed by people who share those experiences.
Diversity in a game should reflect an inclusive development approach. An exercise in ticking boxes – not so much.
Activision’s new diversity tool sparks debate
Reactions to the tool have been mixed on social media.
Elise Favis, Features Editor at Fanbyte, said, “Activision Blizzard reducing diversity to extremely weird and demeaning metrics AND announcing it on their blog on their own terms – as if it were something to be proud of – is both extreme strange as well as horrific.”
For Activision Blizzard to reduce diversity to extremely weird and degrading metrics AND announce it on its blog on its own terms – as if it were something to be proud of – is both extremely weird and appalling
— Elise Favis (@elisefavis) May 13, 2022
Austin Walker said: “You may be wondering why the often marginalized people who work at DEI would ever consider using this tool? My (well-informed) guess is: because their advice is often dismissed by decision-makers who claim they are wrong without hard data.”
Walker also says the methodology doesn’t exactly align with the company’s goals.
The thing you really need to understand here is that you can assume this in good faith – you can understand how it works, how they want a bias identification tool, etc. – and still think that the methodology achieves its goals absolutely undermines.
— Austin Walker (@austin_walker) May 13, 2022
Others believe that the publisher has actually landed in a “no win” situation.
Sophia Nartwitz, a YouTuber and Twitch streamer, tweeted, “The recently revealed Overwatch diversity rating chart is beyond chilling, but I can’t blame Blizzard for it. The first Overwatch is one of the most diverse AAA games of all time, and yet it was attacked by the media for not being diverse enough.”
The recently revealed Overwatch Diversity Rating chart is mind-blowing, but I can’t blame Blizzard for it. The first Overwatch is one of the most diverse AAA games of all time and yet it was attacked by the media for not being diverse enough.
You are in a no-win situation. 🤷♀️
— Sophia ‘Honorary Latinx’ Narwitz (@SophNar0747) May 13, 2022
Sophia also makes a good impression. It’s not easy to keep everyone happy when working towards diversity in any industry, although – for the sake of transparency – it might have been better to bring the diversity tool to a live stream audience for polling. This allowed people from different backgrounds to have their say and Activision bosses to respond. That would be a much more open form of communication than a press release for websites to report on the “progress” they’ve made.
Let’s be clear, the intentions behind creating the tool are absolutely correct. The entire industry needs to become more diverse, from the media to the games we cover every day. Not to meet quotas, but because inventiveness and different perspectives are always better than an echo chamber.
This isn’t an argument against the goals of Activision’s diversity tool, although more details on its execution are needed.
Until then, it shouldn’t be promoted as a solution to improve diversity in “broader entertainment industries including television, film and literature” — until it’s been vetted by a diverse team of people over a long period of time. More inclusive development studios will outperform any model, that’s for sure.
https://www.dexerto.com/opinion/activisions-new-diversity-tool-for-overwatch-cod-characters-isnt-the-answer-1823649/ Activision’s new diversity tool for Overwatch and CoD characters isn’t the answer