Activision Makes ‘Diversity Tool’ For Overwatch 2, Call of Duty

Activision Makes 'Diversity Tool' For Overwatch 2, Call of Duty

Characters in Overwatch 2 are rated based on their gender identity, body type, abilities, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, and more.  via Activision Blizzard's diversity tool.

Image: Activision Blizzard

Today, Activision Blizzard fulfilled its daily oopsie quota by blogging about how the publisher’s affiliates apparently used a special tool to help develop more “diverse” characters. He apparently thinks he can accomplish this without, I don’t know, talking or hiring marginalized developers. Why rely on pesky, fallible humans when we have powerful data to tell us we’ve reached enough diversity points to start a new video game culture war? The numbers don’t lie. I mean, look at this. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The well-designed graphic says it all, clearly and calmly.

Damn, I’m glad that technology allows us to solve racism, sexism, ableism and all the other problems facing video games. Who knew it was so easy? When former Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan said he “would hate for diversity to ever feel flattering, like we just had this spreadsheet with a bunch of checkboxes,” Activision Blizzard really took that to heart. Alright, not really.

I’m being sarcastic, but in many ways it’s hard to contain how maddening it is. It’s not just that anyone thought such a complex problem could be solved with a glorified Dungeons & Dragons character sheet that makes no sense. And it’s not just that Blizzard is in the midst of a slew of ostensible “diversity” disasters right now, including allegations of sexual harassmentinability to recruit or retain marginalized talentand persistent union tensions.

But a number of people probably not only built this thing, but also wrote the blog, got interviewed for it, and then signed it off to share it with everyone. The reaction on the internet to the post and the tool it describes has been utter disbelief, and rightly so. Consider the fact that no one there saw this coming, amidst all the other complete PR disasters. What does this say about Activision’s real ability to address the endemic issues that have come under public scrutiny over the past year and that the publisher has repeatedly pledged to to resolve ? Right now, it looks like no one in charge is really capable of that, if that’s what they’re offering.

And make no mistake, this is a public relations disaster. I’m not just saying this because I disagree with the basic premise that you can, as the blog post states, use a handy, practical tool to magically “dissect their own assumptions” and quickly, avoiding “token characters” and achieving “true representation” by identifying “more diverse character narratives” that go beyond “mere appearance”. Humans struggle with these things not because we We’re mere mortals who can’t understand the primitive logic of 1s and 0s, but because getting to a better world is a painful process. You can’t speed it up. The moment you try to take a shortcut is the when you are no longer engaging with the real problem.

While addressing these issues may involve tools, Activision Blizzard has proven time and time again that it’s at the stage where it needs more education, guidance, and mentorship from real people with skills. non-technical to help establish a basic understanding of what diversity means before you can even think. on creating a tool like this. When a company like this it takes years to introduce a black woman in a video gameI cannot believe in good faith that he has the ability to “measure” what diversity is or means, let alone implement it well.

But even if we take the thing in itself, it makes no sense. Can you look at any of the visualizations shared in the blog post and tell me what they might mean?

A visualization of Activision Blizzard's new diversity tool.

Screenshot: Activision Blizzard

I guess there’s some logic to this, maybe logic that’s only explained and known to people who regularly use the tool, but even suggesting that you can list something like “capacity” is completely silly. What is ability 0? What does it mean when the image in the blog post says someone has “sexual orientation: 0.357”?

How can you put that in front of someone and not feel weird about what you did or what you say?

While hardly significant, the use case examples cited in the blog post will not be compelling to the average person. There’s Call of Duty Vanguard, a game that Activision not only tried to distance himself from, but the one that friends actively hate because it has diversity. Then his other example is Overwatch 2, a game that almost everyone asks, “Why does this exist?“Are these just reasons to set something aside? No, certainly not. But they add to the top of an already crappy pile. Nobody’s gonna say “Ooo, they used that to the Call of Duty that disappointed everyoneAgain, the levels of marketing failure here are unfathomable.

So yeah, it’s not the most compelling way to package what’s already a tough sell for people who want change but don’t think it can be achieved through representation alone. Nor for those other people who think just putting a woman in a video game is inherently too political.

But maybe it was inevitable. Technology is in many ways the most extreme manifestation of whiteness and capitalism, structures that actively invest in defining, codifying and ranking markers of identity in order to maintain power and profit. The marginalized are seen only when useful, and then only in the most degrading terms, for shitty ends. Identity is key to achieving these goals. After all, if you can develop a system for, say, defining things like gender or race, you can use that information to “inform” broader choices, like making sure your character designs are diverse from more complex way.

In reality, more often than not, such data is used to monitor, imprison and monitor identities that are put under the microscope, often by people outside their own communities. In this case, whether the entities collecting the data realize it or not, its most direct effect will be to better equip them to deflect criticism from the very parties they claim to want to hold accountable. It’s funny how it works.

Why hire more people of color when you have software that already tells you what to consider, or worse, that might make you think you already know what is what? Do you really have to think about your biases if the character you created spits out a 3, 4, and 5 on the computer’s diversity scale? Those are some pretty good numbers, man! Now that we’ve sorted that out, it’s time to spend some quality time develop realistic horse balls. Polish is king.

“The traits and metrics are applicable to broader entertainment verticals, including TV, film and literature,” the blog post read. “The only change required if used in these verticals would be the base traits, which would need to be calibrated to be relevant to the genre and universe in which each character exists.”

Activision Blizzard’s blog post ends by saying that ultimately it’s just a tool, and ultimately it’s always up to the people behind the wheel to make the choices. But not before betraying a more grandiose vision of a world that lives under the influence of its tool, and therefore of its master logic.


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