Over the past week, word has gotten out over Activision Blizzard’s ‘Diversity Space Tool’, a measurement device apparently created to assist developers in creating a more diverse cast of characters for their games. As reported by Eurogamer, various internal staff at the company are not happy about the tool, stating that such an approach belittles diversity and diminishes it to a mere ‘dystopian’ checklist. Activision Blizzard has since clarified that the tool, created by King, is in no way a replacement for diverse perspectives, but the general online reaction certainly hasn’t been positive.
Development and testing of the tool goes all the way back to 2016, and it turns out that a GDC talk from 2017 featured what appears to be an early version of the tool, as highlighted by developers at King (makers of Candy Crush and part of Activision Blizzard since being acquired in 2016) — and both Super Mario and the Zelda series went under King’s diversity microscope.
The talk (see below), which recently resurfaced after @UltimaShadowX highlighted it again on Twitter, discussed how to successfully implement diverse characters and better representation in games whilst avoiding stereotypes, showcasing an approach that would eventually evolve into the derided Diversity Space Tool. As part of the discussion, the character diversity from popular IPs was discussed, with both Super Mario Run, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess included in the talk.
With Super Mario Run specifically, points were raised analysing (possibly, just possibly over-analysing) the characters’ ethnicity, gender diversity, and body shape, among other things. Having two female characters netted the game points, although it didn’t do well in the ‘Sexual Orientation’ category as they’re all “presumably straight”. (We’ve happened across plenty of fan art that would suggest otherwise, but this is a family site!)
Seeing well-established and iconic characters boiled down on diversity scales is… interesting, to say the least! There’s no denying that the Mushroom Kingdom cast isn’t exactly the most diverse crowd when it comes to representations of skin colour, but it’s also somewhat bemusing to see heavily stylised characters like Toad and Toadette classified as children. Hey, maybe they are! We never really thought about it.
You can check out the full video above: the section on Zelda: Twilight Princess comes immediately after the Mario discussion.
The question of diversity in the Mushroom Kingdom is a poser. Wider representation is always a good thing, and the obvious answer to remedying a lack of diversity in a 35-year-old kid-friendly franchise would be to bring in a wider range of characters in newer titles — and Nintendo can certainly do better there. In certain ways, King’s diversity efforts could be viewed as admirable if it weren’t for the dystopian overtones, but we imagine there are plenty of people out there now saying the same thing: This ain’t it, chief.
What do you make of the diversity, or perceived lack thereof, within the Super Mario franchise? Let us know in the comments below.