I Blew Up A Misogynist In Borderlands 2 And It Felt Great
By Alex Cranz
Gearbox got a lot of flack for Duke Nukem Forever and rightfully so. But then nobody played it and talking about misogyny in it almost seems like complaining about someone clapping in the forest even though no one could hear them you know?
And then when describing a DLC playable character Gearbox dropped the dreaded phrase “girlfriend mode” and that was pretty terrible too. Just because developers use stupid and sexist words like that while programming doesn’t mean you should use them when you’re describing your game (and also developers maybe you just shouldn’t use the phrase at all? It saves everyone the hassle of talking about how sexist you are and you trying to defend what we can all agree is a pretty sexist phrase).
But because I love a good dungeon crawl game that’s all about loot and I also love good first person shooters that are flexible enough to support multiple playing styles I picked up Borderlands 2 anyways.
I didn’t play the female playable character available at launch though. Her design is a little too Barbie-anime mash up for me and her skillset does not lend itself to my play style at ALL. She’s a support style character meant to control mobs and heal and buff her group. That’s not what you solo with.
It’s also kind of weird that female characters in anything remotely RPGish always end up being support style characters that control mobs and buff groups. I know that many women dislike confrontational play style and prefer standing back and playing support but I am always left to gaze at my navel and wonder: do we prefer support play style because it’s our tendency or because thirty years of gaming have told us we should?
No, I selected the smoking hot Commando who was a widow and has an unhealthy relationship with his gun turret. There’s a lot of flexbility in his skillset so I could go for DPS if I grouped up or I could rely on my turret and my not too shabby sniping skills if I was soloing. Also he’s a wounded widow that has an option to look like Hugh Jackman in Les Mis. So fuck yeah.
The game has been tremendous fun. As long as you spec right you can tackle a great deal of quests all by your lonesome and if you get some lucky loot drops you can take on mobs way above your level. There’s a definitely sharp difficulty curve around level seventeen that’s mildly alarming. One minute you’re laying waste to everything you find and the next you’re scrambling to have enough money to afford to be brought back to life (because when you die they take money away from you to rebirth you).
One day though I realized I had a quest I hadn’t touched that had turned “trivial.” Being a completionist I HAD to go and finish it right? I returned to a town full of dying people trapped in their homes where a lady doctor asked me to retrieve a battery to build a shield that would save the town. While doing all her tasks this guy provides running commentary on how stupid she was and how unmanly my character was for helping her.
He had choice zingers like “make me a sandwich.”
I hated him immediately. It’s Pavlovian guys. If you’re a woman who plays video games you will immediately hate anyone who makes a request for a sandwich. You get your first request the very first time you play a video game online. Like the first HOUR. You say “hey I’m a lady” and they say “hey make me a sandwich” because apparently it’s in a manual for all guys playing games that they say that. Some are being ironic. Some are being assholes. Some just say it because the manual told them to.
All guys do it. But having it come from a NPC? That was a little new.
I manage to ignore him (because he is not real and it was clearly leading up to something delightful) and followed her requests. Her final one was for me to test the shield. I climb up a cliff face, kill some robots and take control of a giant mortar that overlooks the serene little town. I fire.
And I watch as that mortar slowly makes its decent and hits the jerks’s house on the fringe of town. He tumbles to his death. I’m a little sad because I hate killing people when it’s unnecessary.
But then I’m laughing because the voice actor did a great job being obnoxious even as he died and because it was IMMENSELY satisfying to blow up a virtual misogynist.
I don’t condone killing you know. It’s not how you solve disagreements and it’s not a way I feel we can make the world a batter place. That was my disclaimer just in case some MRA dude reads this and is like YOU LIKE KILLING GUYS YOU’RE A MISANDRIST. No. No more than you killing a lady in a myriad of games makes you a misogynist.
But I had no idea how satisfying and amusing it would be. Even when I was climbing up that cliff face and knowing full well I’d probably kill that guy on accident.
Playing that quest made me feel like, briefly, this game was built for me. That doesn’t always happen. While games have broad appeal and there are plenty of games I adore there’s often this sense that I, being a lady, am afterthought to the designers. Great if they can get me to play, but they’re really much more focused on their 18-30 white male demographic.
There are other moments in the game that hint that it was written for more than that core demographic–or at least that the designers were aware of other gamers besides that core demographic.
While the female models for the game aren’t nearly as diverse as the male models we do get Tiny Tina, a little girl with a weird speaking affectation who watched her whole family die and has turned to throwing tea parties fueled with explosives.
And we get Ellie.
She’s a hyper stylized woman that isn’t also sexualized! I didn’t even know such a creature existed! I mean, yes she’s a little hypersexual (she wants to ride ‘em cowboy) but she’s also a new and interesting design! Her breasts are ginormo and not getting nearly the support they need and her head is tiny and basically she’s what I feel like when I’m in a bitter mood and PMSing but she isn’t the traditional skinny comic book looking woman I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in my games. Nor is she the super old and rail thin woman that’s a close second in popular lady tropes in games.
Maybe it’s just a bone Gearbox is throwing. Maybe it’s just a way to get people talking about their game. Perhaps cynicism and business acumen fueled the decision. I could be cross that unbridled idealism wasn’t what went into the game.
But I blew up a misogynist.
And it felt great.