Activision Blizzard is facing backlash from both sides of the aisle for being too woke with their creation of a “Diversity Space Tool.” The tool allows developers to formulate the ultimate “token” diverse character by ticking checkboxes based on scores assigned to each attribute.
King, a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard and the creators of Candy Crush developed the tool as an objective way to determine how diverse a character actually is, and to inform their character design decisions for the protagonists of Overwatch and Call of Duty.
Activision Blizzard, which publicized the tool in an official blog post, said that the decision to create the tool came about in 2016 in response to the understanding that at least 80% of video game protagonists are straight white males.
Under the tool, characters are assigned scores for culture, race, age, cognitive ability, physical ability, body type, facial features/beauty, gender identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background.
The post explains that the tool has been tested by development teams working on Call of Duty: Vanguard, and quotes a Sledgehammer Games developer who says that the team is using the data in the next games that they are working on.
“The Overwatch 2 team at Blizzard has also had a chance to experiment with the tool, with equally enthusiastic first impressions,” the post noted.
As detailed by Kotaku, turning each immutable characteristic into a metric is often used to profile minorities.
“In actuality, more often than not, data like that is used to surveil, imprison, and police the identities that get put under the microscope, often by people outside of their own communities,” wrote Kotaku writer Patricia Hernandez. “In this case, whether the entities collecting the data realize it or not, its most direct effect will be better equipping them to deflect criticism from the very parties they claim to want to empower. Funny how that works.”
Following its appearance, Activision Blizzard faced tremendous backlash from gamers as well as journalists who criticized it for tokenizing identities.
Left-wing game journalist Imran Khan savaged the company for “creating a tool when you could just hire diverse designers and listen to them.”
Khan called it the “Diversity Robot,” while others described the tool as “dystopian.”
An Overwatch developer responding to the news criticized the company for burning “any good will the actual devs who make the game have built.”
“God I swear our own company tries so hard to slaughter any good will the actual devs who make the game have built,” wrote character artist Melissa Kelly. “Overwatch doesn't even use this creepy dystopian[sic] chart, our writers have eyes. The artists: have eyes. Producers, directors, etc, as far as I know also all have eyes.”
There’s an ongoing belief that the game industry often panders to its mainly straight white male demographic by producing characters that only reflect their identities. However true or false that may be, creating a diversity robot to determine the oppression score of each character to inform design decisions is hardly the answer, and one can almost assuredly expect from a corporation dedicated to streamlining its processes and catering to the lowest common denominator.