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Activision Blizzard brag about weird diversity tool, quickly walk it back after backlash

Tool rates the diversity of characters

Earlier this week, Activision Blizzard published a post on their website about their "Diversity Space Tool". Developed by subsidiary King, it's a tool for rating video game characters along certain axes in order to rate their relative diversity. Several people then pointed out that sounded mildly dystopian.

Yesterday, Activison Blizzard responded, saying that the "prototype is not being used in active game development", and was designed as an optional supplement to other work.

Desigend by King alongside the MIT Game Lab, the tool - as described by Activision Blizzard - allows designers to weigh their character designs against a set of diversity guidelines. These guidelines consider gender, body type, character role, pose, body movement, and aims to differentiate between "token characters and true representation."

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"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," says the post.

As Fanbyte pointed out, boiling diversity down to a set of metrics is uncomfortable - particularly given an easier solution might simply be to hire and listen to diverse designers.

After Fanbyte's story gained attention on Twitter, Activision Blizzard updated the post about the Diversity Space Tool and added a clarifying note at the top. "The objective of using the tool is to uncover unconscious bias by identifying existing norms in representation and acknowledging opportunities for growth in inclusion," the added note says. "It 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."

Activision Blizzard, of course, don't have a lot of goodwill at the moment when it comes to trust in their employment practices. The company is the defendant in several lawsuits, including by the State Of California regarding an alleged culture of workplace harassment, by by an employee alleging harassment and retaliation, and by New York City regarding CEO Bobby Kotick's fitness to negotiate the company's impending sale to Microsoft for $69 billion. Employees have also recently led walkouts over changes to work-from-home and vaccination policies, while QA staff at subsidiary Raven Software are voting on whether to unionise.

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