Press Start: Token diversity doesn’t belong in ‘Call of Duty: WWII’
The reveal of “Call of Duty: WWII” last week earned the game's developers the scorn of at least one publication for treating diversity like a “checklist,” reiterating once again that no matter how hard they try, developers can never please everyone.
Video game news site Polygon took “Call of Duty” development studio Sledgehammer Games to task for allegedly treating diversity in its upcoming World War II game as “nothing more than marketing.” During the game's reveal, developers spoke briefly about how it would include women, an African-American unit and a child.
Apparently, this wasn't good enough for Polygon, which criticized the developers for reducing everyone but the game's white, male protagonists to “a bullet point on the back of a box, yet another feature.”
The irony here is that Polygon's constant criticism of a lack of diversity in games is what led Sledgehammer to try to squeeze it into this one. The developers tried to appease their critics, and it backfired in their faces.
But Polygon is right: Diversity for the sake of diversity is disingenuous and, frankly, dumb. When developers force token characters into a game for no other reason than to earn brownie points with certain critics, the developers' artistic integrity goes out the window.
But who knows Sledgehammer's true intent for the game's diversity? Is it mere virtue signaling, or does it serve the story's purpose in a meaningful way? As of Polygon's writing, not even its own critics knew.
“…They want you to think this is a more inclusive tale of World War II. It may yet be. We won't know until Nov. 3,” the piece reads.
Polygon wasn't the only one concerned with “Call of Duty: WWII's” diversity. Another popular gaming site, Destructoid, asked in a recent article, “Should developers take a less historically accurate approach to games set in the early 1900s for the sake of including women in roles they traditionally wouldn't fill?”
The answer depends on the developer and the game series, but for “Call of Duty,” the answer is no.
Until “Call of Duty” games started going past modern times and delving into the idea of futuristic combat, they largely tried to be realistic. Considering “Call of Duty: WWII” is returning to a boots-on-the-ground experience that has traditionally strived for accuracy, forcing female characters into roles they never held would be ridiculous.
Imagine, while playing an otherwise serious and historically accurate World War II game, storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day with a platoon of women. It would be jarring and laughable—an example of the exact type of tokenism and pandering developers should avoid.
But that doesn't mean such scenarios have no place in fiction. “Wolfenstein: The New Order” is a popular shooter that takes place in a fictitious world where the Nazis won World War II. Such games are the ideal setting to twist history and include frontline women soldiers and other historically inaccurate—yet interesting—ideas.
Fortunately, it sounds like “Call of Duty: WWII” won't be doing anything like that. According to Sledgehammer's co-founder Michael Condrey, the game will feature diverse characters that accurately fit into the “global cast” World War II included.
For instance, you'll be able to play as Rousseau, a woman who joins the French Resistance. You will also be able to play as women in the game's multiplayer, which is always taken less seriously than “Call of Duty's” campaigns.
Is “Call of Duty: WWII's” diversity mere pandering as an attempt to fall into the good graces of social critics, or is it a meaningful addition to a game that better tells a World War II story?
We'll find out when the game launches this fall. In the meantime, let this be a reminder to developers that shoehorning in diversity for diversity's sake sacrifices artistic integrity and a genuine creative vision.
Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.