The premise of fashion gaming app Covet is simple enough: Select a challenge, choose your model, and style her in the clothes, shoes, and accessories you think best suits the directive. The more votes your red carpet or cocktail party ensembles get, the higher you'll rise on the leaderboard. But in the years since its 2013 release, Blair Ethington, Covet's senior vice president and general manager, discovered something concerning: Users would only choose the game's lighter skinned models because they found that those models scored higher in challenges. "We saw it as creative freedom, but what it became was a competitive strategy," Ethington says of allowing users to choose the model's skin tone and hair and makeup. "I received a heartbreaking letter from a woman who loved the game but realized she couldn’t ever use the darker skinned models [if she she wanted] to receive a higher score." These issues, of course, extend far beyond the game and are indicative of larger prejudices — subconscious or not — that still exist in society. President Obama addressed discrimination directly in last night's farewell address: "After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. "
In its redesigned app, which launches today, Covet is attempting to counter these biases. Now, users will all be assigned one model for each challenge. Instead of the same, sample size model that the app has used in the past, the redesign includes 50 models of all different shapes, sizes, and heights, as well as various skin tones and hair types. No sizes are labeled, so as to avoid having users create "narrow definitions," Ethington says. She notes that the app's 50 models are "far from representative of the whole population" but that Covet will continue adding more over time. The change is one that's important for the gaming industry, which, especially in male-centric games, still prefers to feature the stereotypical voluptuous skinny blond. (Of the smaller number of games that target women, many of which are celebrity games of the Kardashian variety, diversity is still an issue.) But it's also a move that Ethington hopes will impact the mainstream designers whose clothes are a prominent part of every style challenge. "I love all the brands we work with, but unfortunately many only offer up to size 10 or 12," she says. "If we can drive interest and demand from users, maybe brands will respond." One fashion game's redesign isn't a solution for the prejudices we still see across the fashion industry and mobile games. But it is a start that's worth celebrating.