Activision Blizzard Announces Tool That Measures Characters' Diversity

It's not a great look for the company.

The gaming industry has long had a problem with diversity, and there have been initiatives by different studios over the years to rectify the issue. But not all efforts, while well-intentioned, are good. In a blog post, Activision Blizzard detailed a decision to use a "character diversity tool that quantifies ethnicity, beauty, cognitive ability, and other things that indicate "you're different," is one such measure that feels particularly bizarre if not offensive.

Developed by King and MIT Game Labs, this diversity tool was meant to "create and monitor guidelines for character conception and creation." King globalization project manager Jacqueline Chomatas further explained the tool's mission, saying, "The Diversity Space Tool is a measurement device, to help identify how diverse a set of character traits are and in turn how diverse that character and cast are when compared to the 'norm.'"

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As you can see from the image below, categories like culture, socioeconomic background, cognitive ability, facial features/beauty, and more are all assigned a value depending on how far they are from the norm of "typical character traits." This tool can then "weigh new character designs against [the established baseline] to measure their diversity."

Diversity Space Tool

Apparently the Call of Duty: Vanguard and Overwatch 2 dev teams beta tested the tool and thought it was helpful. The reception was "immediate and enthusiastic," and Activision Blizzard plans to launch the tool internally during the summer and Q3.

Needless to say, people over on Twitter have been less-than-enthusiastic about Activision Blizzard's diversity tool. It skews a little too close to phrenology, psuedoscience in which traits can be measured by looking at people's skulls. There are also questions like, how is the "norm" baseline even decided on? Obviously, Activision Blizzard's intentions are good: it's trying to diversify its characters, but attempting to translate diversity into numerical values seems to miss the point.

Activision Blizzard's been in the news a lot this year and not for good reasons. The company was sued by the state of California in 2021 for allegedly fostering a sexist working environment, and a report from WSJ also alleges that CEO Bobby Kotick covered up misconduct at the company. The company has also been allegedly union-busting, asking its Raven Software QA employees to not unionize.

Activision Blizzard is in the midst of being acquired by Microsoft, a deal currently under review by the FTC.

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