Activision Blizzard recently announced a Diversity Space Tool aimed at developing diverse characters, quickly creating controversy within the gaming community.
Blizzard shared a blog post on May 12 that discussed something known as the Diversity Space Tool. The tool is designed to encourage and guarantee more diverse characters in games like Overwatch. It also identifies common stereotypes to help developers avoid those and create more diverse character narratives, according to the post.
“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 casts are when compared to the ‘norm.’ Once it establishes a baseline for typical character traits (which is done by the creative team working closely with DE&I experts), it can then weigh new character designs against it to measure their diversity. During this process, the tool can also uncover unconscious bias, such as why certain traits are seen as “male” vs. “female,” or why characters from certain ethnic backgrounds are given similar personalities or behaviors,” King globalization project manager Jacqueline Chomatas said.
Gaming community reacts to Diversity Space Tool
The Diversity Space Tool was immediately criticized by members of the gaming community, who pointed out that Blizzard should just hire more women and POC and have them take part in the character development process. Instead, it appeared as though Blizzard was focusing on data.
Many were particularly critical of the Diversity Space Tool due to Blizzard’s troubled history. The company was notoriously sued for gender discrimination and workplace harassment and toxicity. The sexism lawsuit unraveled many alleged experiences within Blizzard’s headquarters, including black women being unfairly managed, breastmilk being stolen, and employees being silenced. As the allegations continued, Blizzard didn’t seem to handle the resulting situations appropriately, often denying the accusations or choosing not firing the accused employees.
Due to Blizzard’s past refusals to hire or promote female employees and the accusations of treating black employees unfairly, the announcement of a Diversity Space Tool seemed to some like a way for the company to avoid hiring marginalized team members. Instead of having a more diverse workspace, Blizzard seemed more comfortable relying on algorithms to determine if characters were diverse and appropriate enough.
Others voiced concerns with the use of an algorithm to arbitrarily create diversity rather than having diversity be a natural part of the character creation and storytelling process.
Blizzard responds to backlash over Diversity Space Tool
On May 13, Blizzard decided to respond to the ongoing negative discussion surrounding the Diversity Space Tool.
Blizzard explained that the Diversity Space Tool was in beta back in 2016 as an “optional supplement to the hard work and focus our teams already place on telling diverse stories with diverse characters.” But Blizzard added that in-game content has always been driven by the development teams.
“[The tool] is not a substitute for any other essential effort by our teams in this regard, nor will it alter our company’s diversity hiring goals,” the blog post stated.
Blizzard went on to explain that the tool shouldn’t be used in isolation and is instead meant to aid Blizzard’s staff in identifying “existing norms.” The team would then “discuss, educate, consult, and collaborate” to ensure the character’s representation goes beyond those norms. The tool, Blizzard insisted, is just a way to “create conversation,” but developers are the ones making the actual choices.
While Blizzard chose to double down on the use of its Diversity Space Tool, many fans and players remain unconvinced.