I experienced something that could be described as an epiphany while playing Borderlands 2 last week while blasting away at the creatures of Pandora. A group of spiderants attacked me, a small one leading the assault. This tiny creature was followed by a few larger Soldier Spiderants. I easily dispatched of these, and then the “King Spiderant” charged towards me. My shotgun made short work of it.
What happened next revealed a lot about how a simple design choice can leave a lasting impression.
A much larger creature called the “Queen Spiderant” attacked me. She was much more powerful than the king, and defeating her gave me a lot more loot and experience.
What seemed to be a simple event that probably would have passed right over my head under any other circumstance had a stunning effect on me. My brain immediately flew into overdrive without my consent.
“Wait, why did that Queen give more experience than the King? Shouldn’t the King be worth more? Hold on a second, that seems like an awfully sexist thing to think; why would I instantly assume that the King would be of more value?”
I realized at this point that most games I could think of set you in a mindset that a King is stronger and worth more than a Queen. Think about it for a second, how often is a queen viewed as the ultimate ruler when a king is present? Almost never. This issue It isn’t specific to video games either.
In chess, the queen is without question the most powerful piece on the board. She can go anywhere and do just about anything as long as the king is present. But, the second the king is lost, the game ends. Checkmate. The queen is just as expendable as any other piece in the game. Another example? In any standard deck of cards, the king is assigned a higher numeric value than the queen.
I suppose at this point I should make it clear that this isn’t a rant about how human society is silently brainwashing people into believing that women are inferior to men in all situations. I would never point out how women have treated as inferiors all across the world for thousands of years. Never. In all honesty, however, I’m not launching a conspiracy theory that every game ever conceived is somehow sexist in it’s core; I’m merely making an observation. But the most shocking thing about this is that the game to make me think about these issues in such depth is…Borderlands 2? A game derided for its immaturity?
Another point for Borderlands: There are multiple homosexual characters in Borderlands 2 who are…guess what? Normal goddamn people. One of the characters can be described as an eccentric, cordial, astute gentleman. These are the traits that make him a unique character. He isn’t defined as “the gay guy”. At another point a woman expresses her love for her wife, and a man expresses his love for his husband as the villain puts all of them in danger. Even the bad guy never makes a negative reference to their sexuality, he simply is using them as human beings he is willing to exploit.
I shouldn’t have to praise a game for portraying a gay character realistically. It’s sad that as a society we still have to even discuss gay rights, but a step in the right direction is better than no step at all.
Borderlands is a brilliant game for being able to act silly and stupid on the surface, but thinly veiling its intelligence just below it. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to see that Borderlands 2 is an intentionally silly game made by incredibly smart people.
Engaging in deep philosophical thought and discussion about design and society was not the first thing I expected to come from Borderlands 2. But maybe that’s just how life works. Or something. *Fart noise*