Hello and welcome to Wednesday, friends! I’m falling back into old habits and really enjoying Final Fantasy XIV lately. It’s been ages since I played an MMO, but I like this one because I don’t feel a huge sense of urgency to get anywhere. I level up quickly almost entirely with story and class quests so (aside from a very bad quest chain to unlock Titan) I don’t spend much time doing busywork; I hop in and out of dungeons with friends and then chase down that asshole Thancred once again. It’s a lot of fun, even if I’ve heard that the story exponentially improves later on.
Someday I’d like to start a news post with, “Everything’s going great and there’s nothing to worry about,” but that day isn’t today. Reproductive rights are under threat in the US and elsewhere, and if you want to help in exchange for a collection of cool-ass games, check out the Itch TTRPGs for Reproductive Rights bundle, which includes games like Glitter Hearts and Beam Saber.
Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was recently elected as president of the Philippines, bringing the Marcos family back into control of a country ravaged by generations of abuses of power. This may harm Filipino artists who depend on online payments—if you’d like to help, consider commissioning, tipping, or otherwise tossing some money at one of many Filipino artists collected in this Twitter thread.
If neither of those are catching your fancy right now, it never hurts to donate to a local mutual aid fund to help people in your community thrive.
And now, let’s get on with the news.
Lawsuits! Unions! Legal Stuff!
Believe it or not, this isn’t the Activision Blizzard section this week. We’ll get to that in a bit.
First up, WATA Games, a company that grades video games for collector value, is now the subject of a class-action lawsuit.
BREAKING NEWS: WATA Games Has Been Sued in Federal Court
The class-action complaint alleges RICO violations, Unfair Competition, False Advertising, Intentional Misrepresentation, Illegal Nondisclosure, and violations of the Consumers Legal Remedies Act. https://t.co/mt2gMssVEt
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) May 11, 2022
The lawsuit claims a number of violations, including inappropriate business relationships between WATA and auction companies, potential insider trading, and other violations that affect people who have used WATA’s services. Writer Pat Contri broke down some of the allegations on Twitter.
Management at Raven Software, which handles QA testing for some of Activision Blizzard’s games, is reportedly urging staff to vote against unionization in the upcoming union vote. According to Raven employees who spoke with the Washington Post, management (and Activision Blizzard) is suggesting that unionization could impede game development and even hinder the rate of promotions for employees. The deadline for the vote is May 20, with the National Labor Relations Board counting ballots live on video conference.
Activision Blizzard is union-busting in the middle of the union election by Raven Software game testers.
They've fired 12 team members, transferred others to different departments, and are now threatening promotions and benefits. pic.twitter.com/uVxMVjL2GA
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) May 11, 2022
Several Employees at Card Kingdom, a popular Magic: The Gathering retailer, have come forward to discuss the poor working conditions at several King County, Washington stores. According to employees, Card Kingdom has not maintained a safe working environment and requires “flex” work that can fall outside the scope of an employee’s position. Many employees are now working together to push for unionization throughout Card Kingdom. Voting for or against the union took place on May 17.
What Activision Blizzard’s Been Up To
When not working with Raven Software management to union-bust, Activision Blizzard has been working on a tool to… well, ostensibly it’s to measure and improve diversity in their character rosters. In practice, it’s… interesting.
ZENYATA, A ROBOT, HAS MORE RACE THAN LUCIO pic.twitter.com/fmPtVJ1zxB
— Ava Miranda (@Avagardra) May 13, 2022
Activision Blizzard released a blog post about the tool on Friday, May 13, which has since been edited to remove the screenshots and some other content. According to Activision Blizzard, the tool is not actively used in game development, but it is intended to help demonstrate unconscious bias among character designers and other people working on their games. While that might sound valuable in theory, it leads to some truly baffling conclusions, such as the above observation that Zenyatta, a robot, has “more race” (which is itself a nonsense statement) than Lucio, a Black Brazilian man. This attempt to quantify diversity ends up looking a lot more like a ranking system, which didn’t sit well with anybody, Activision Blizzard workers included.
God I swear our own company tries so hard to slaughter any good will the actual devs who make the game have built
Overwatch doesn't even use this creepy distopian chart, our writers have eyes. The artists: have eyes. Producers, directors, etc, as far as I know also all have eyes https://t.co/WEMRf8QmBu
— melissa kelly 💙 (@_mlktea) May 14, 2022
Following social media backlash, Activision Blizzard revised the blog post and clarified that all decisions about character appearances and other examples of diversity in their games are first and foremost decided by development teams rather than this tool.
We recently shared a blog post that raised questions about how we approach diversity in our games. While the prototype tool has been tested internally, it is not in active use. Our dev teams have always and will continue to drive in-game content. (1/2)
— Activision Blizzard (@ATVI_AB) May 14, 2022
Even so, the release of the blog post about this tool speaks to a larger problem—while diversity on the screen is great, it can’t be done algorithmically. Diversity on screen should reflect diversity behind the screen. This measurement tool is reminiscent of deeply racist systems like phrenology, which attempt to quantify things like morality and intelligence based on physical traits. While that likely wasn’t the intent of Activision Blizzard’s tool, attempting to remove personal bias via ranking systems, algorithms, and similar tools isn’t a solution—hiring diverse teams, paying them well, and listening to their feedback is. With the company mired in lawsuits for employee exploitation and “frat boy culture,” it’s unfortunately not a surprise that this tool seemed to be such a point of pride for Activision Blizzard.
In other news…
The Chainsmokers sampled Clarisse, a Granblue Fantasy character, in a new song. God help us all.
— Granblue EN (Unofficial) (@granblue_en) May 13, 2022
I have so many questions inspired by this trailer for MultiVersus, in which a whole bunch of cartoon characters fight one another.
— MultiVersus (@multiversus) May 16, 2022
Blaseball, the game that got me, personally, through the long dark of 2020, is coming out in card game form!
We are delighted to announce that Blaseball: The Card Game will be launching on @Gamefound on Tuesday, May 24th.
For more information, sign up at https://t.co/QQTXMC3slE
It's time to Play Ball. Again. pic.twitter.com/wYiAovJ1w2
— BLASEBALL: THE CARD GAME (@blaseballtcg) May 12, 2022
Let Me Solo Her, the Elden Ring player famed for defeating Malenia 1,000 times in only a loincloth and pot, is receiving some kind of special recognition from Bandai Namco.
Microsoft is creating a new range of controllers and other accessories for players with disabilities.
Microsoft is launching a range of adaptive accessories which are designed to augment or replace a regular mouse or keyboard that people with disabilities might struggle to use. These are the latest example of Microsoft's accessibility push. Details: https://t.co/32wsPqrut0 pic.twitter.com/0oPTCX2Jj6
— Tom Warren (@tomwarren) May 10, 2022
After years of searching, video game historians Kate Willært and Kevin Bunch were able to contact Van Mai, the creator of one of gaming’s first female protagonists—Wabbit‘s Billie Sue. Van Mai changed her name after getting married, and her maiden name was both misreported and accidentally confirmed by employees at Apollo, where Van Mai worked on the development of Wabbit. The Video Game History foundation put together a mini documentary discussing Van Mai’s contribution to gaming history.
Melissa Brinks is Sidequest’s editor in chief, co-creator of the Fake Geek Girls podcast, author of The Compendium of Magical Beasts, and an aspiring beekeeper. She once won an argument on the internet, and tweets at @MelissaBrinks.