Ethical Escapades of Arkane Studio’s Dishonored – Part 5

For this game log, I wanted to dig deeper into the studio behind Dishonored as we talked a lot about game development practices, team composition and more. Arkane Studios has two teams, the first and larger team based out of France and a smaller second team based out of Austin, Texas. This second team led a lot of the work on Dishonored and was directed by industry veteran Harvey Smith. Just looking at the picture of the studio on their website it’s clear to see there’s little to no diversity at all, they’re all white guys and one white girl (See Fig 1).

sandbox_Arkane_Austin_Team_2012_850.jpeg
Fig 1

This is probably why there was such abysmal representation in the first game, not only in terms of female characters but any non-white characters at all. As we talked about this unit, who gets to make the games plays a huge role in what kinds of games get made and what characters, stories and experiences players ultimately get. I’m sure this time under Harvey’s direction didn’t set out to have horrid female representation in their game, but without any differing perspective to challenge their design decisions we got tropey, discouraging female characters.

Arkane Studios sought out new perspectives and listened to critiques of the first Dishonored before designing Dishonored 2. This helped immensely in crafting a more compelling and less sexist experience, one that ultimately the designers were more proud of and fans loved. The composition of the team for Dishonored didn’t change drastically for Dishonored 2, it was still directed by Harvey Smith and a majority of the same white men still worked on it, but they listened to criticisms of the sexist design decisions made previously and changed their personal values, which then changed the values that made it into Dishonored 2.

As for what I played this week, the sections of the game this week were also lacking in any substantial moral choice as with previous chapters. One decision the player makes early in the chapter is about what weapon upgrade they would like, one that kills targets and one that knocks targets out. They both function identically in terms of time to fire, reload and desired effect (removing a guard from patrol). But the difference is the guard can either be dead or just knocked out. No substantial impact is to be had from this choice, and it leaves me wondering why it was included at all.

There’s only one chapter left so I’ll be saving it for my last game log. As far as the rest of the unit content goes I wasn’t able to find any information on Arkane Studios work practices. The reviews on Glassdoor (an anonymous review site for employees to talk about workplaces) none mentioned crunch or abusive workplace practices. The studio appears to have a reasonable workflow split between two teams, allowing one to work on Dishonored 2 while the other worked on Prey. This splitting of teams within a studio is common and I think allows for team members to move from one project winding down to another project winding up, forgoing the unfortunate (and highly unethical) practice of firing a lot of staff when a game nears completion.

Published by Stephan N. Reilly

Freelance writer and designer.

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