Thunderbolt logo

Dissecting Girlfriend Mode

Sexism

One of the strangest additions to Borderlands 2 is the Mechromancer, a new female class, and her skill branch which gives non-FPS players a leg-up. The skill is officially titled, inoffensively enough, Best Friends Forever, but due to a slip of the tongue it may forever be known simply as girlfriend mode.

The idea behind it is to remove any barriers to playing Borderlands 2 that may exist, thereby making the game appeal to more people, ultimately resulting in more sales. Nothing wrong with that, but there’s something about the phrase that strikes the ear wrong. Is this a mode strictly for girlfriends, emulating the experience of what it’s like to play as boyfriend and girlfriend, scouring Pandora for loot while stopping to occasionally talk about where the relationship is heading? Can wives play, too?

screenshot

Another reading is that it implies women are so bad at videogames that the developers literally had to come up with an entirely new mode of play so the rest of us could stand playing with them online. This sort of miscommunication happens, and it’s very easy to see how the term has had a life of its own. Unfortunately, the choice of words matter. Unless there’s a demo, interviews and press releases are really all we have to go on in order to generate interest in an upcoming title, and sometimes foots get stuck in mouths.

While I question the decision to have this ability attached to a female class, I do believe it was an unintentional misstep. Is it offensive? Possibly, but then again I believe the idea of aim assist is offensive to both sexes and should be forever removed from the realm of videogaming. Still, it may be a better alternative than having the message ‘your teammates are way beyond your current level, perhaps you should go back to milking cows or whatever people do in Farmville?’ pop up when you want to play.

screenshot

In either case, it’s more fuel for the fire after sexism has been a major topic of discussion lately. 2012 has been something of a lightning rod for this sort of thing. The timing of the phrase ‘girlfriend’ mode couldn’t be much worse. Or timely, depending on your point of view. On the totem pole of offensive things one can say, this one is pretty low.

After all, it’s nowhere near the comment David Jaffe made in regards to oral sex acts and playing Twisted Metal, but much like the Tomb Raider reboot it’s worth examining at the very least to see how outside observation changes the context of what developers say about their games. These things are said in the heat of genuine enthusiasm, and sometimes the words that slip out are regretted later.

screenshot

It’s enough to make me almost believe the people that made Duke Nukem Forever may have actually thought it was a good game. A classic example is anything spoken by Peter Molyneux, who has made so many ridiculous and unfulfilled promises it’s a wonder he hasn’t had a lucrative career in politics yet.

It occurs to me that developers are not necessarily the best PR people. Please don’t misread me and think that I have some sort of bias against Gearbox and the Borderlands franchise. On the contrary, it’s a game I really enjoy, and I’ll pre-order the sequel without question, but sometimes your favorite developer can say some pretty silly things.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

Gentle persuasion

You should follow us on Twitter.