With the release of Borderlands 2 last week I found myself trying to figure out how I was going to play my favorite split-screen co-op without having a reliable internet connection due to my recent move back home. I quickly recruited my younger sister to play the game with me despite her inexperience playing video games of any kind. As we play more and more she becomes a tyrant over my free time; whenever I get home from work I am expected to be ready to play at a moments notice. I’m definitely not complaining, I am so proud of my sister and her new desire to play this game as much as possible, but it is interesting to note that she went from zero to sixty in just a few days of playing time.
I started to ask myself how this transition occurred; I had attempted plenty of times in the past to get her to play games with me but to no avail. What made this time around different? Before I explain what I think made this experience different for her, I’d like to talk about Gearbox’s attempt to introduce less experienced gamers to this kind of game play.
This past August Gearbox’s lead designer John Hemingway caught himself in an internet uproar over his discussion of a new character in an interview with Eurogamer prior to the studio’s release of Borderlands 2. Hemingway described this new character as “the cutest character we’ve ever had” and because of this the character was assigned a skill tree called “Best Friends Forever” AKA Girlfriend Mode. In Hemingway’s own words he describes the skill tree as: “I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters. Can we make a skill tree that actually allows them to understand the game and to play the game? That’s what our attempt with the Best Friends Forever skill tree is.” One of the first skills available within the Best Friends Forever tree is called Close Enough and allows the player the ability to shoot without the need to aim; “ your bullets that hit walls or other objects, that is, miss their target, have a chance to ricochet off towards the enemy.”
You can see why the internet was in an outrage over such a class and skill tree. Randy Pitchford, Gearbox Software President, quickly spoke out on Twitter claiming that there is no such thing as “girlfriend mode” in the game and that the name was just a “personal moniker” of Hemingway’s. While Gearbox can claim up and down that this is not sexist, an article by Lauren Hunter republished on xoJane quickly points out that no matter what they call this mode or claim about it’s gender neutrality it is very clearly designed for women who do not know how to play video games and apparently cannot learn how to do so.
Why is the introduction of this kind of “mode” even necessary? My sister, a non-gamer, picked up on mechanics, controls, and aiming her gun without a skill tree to help make things easier for her. I truly believe that her transformation occurred with this game specifically because of my ability to patiently explain how game play works and her eagerness to do something exciting with me. If Gearbox is aiming this type of mode at girls whose boyfriends play video games than they have done it unnecessarily so. Guys, if you want your girlfriends to play with you sit down and explain the game, if they don’t catch on to the controls right away be patient! If you have a girl in your life who wants to spend time bonding with you (girlfriend or not!) than spend the time to make the experience enjoyable for them. We don’t need a ‘girlfriend mode’ to successfully play a video game!