For those unaware, Gearbox has again managed* to portray itself as grossly misunderstanding what terms mean by referring to a ‘make the game easier’ skill tree within Borderlands 2 as “girlfriend mode”. Doing so taps into the very large stereotype of ‘women suck at gaming’ (which I’ve seen a number of people argue is ‘true’) while also ignoring the very large stereotype that gamers don’t have girlfriends because they are socially inept introverted nerds (which I’m sure those same people would argue is ‘false’ and grossly unfair).
However, what happens when a gamer-who-totally-has-a-girlfriend (Gamer) tries to get their non-gaming girlfriend (GF) to play Borderlands 2?
Gamer: I’ve got an idea tonight – let’s play a video game together.
Gamer: Why not? It’ll be fun.
GF: Because I don’t like your video games. And every time you play you get angry when things don’t go your way and yell at the screen and stuff, then get grumpy when I make you turn it off so we can watch a movie.
Gamer: I don’t remember that ever happening. But this will be different. It’s a new game called Borderlands 2.
GF: I haven’t played Borderlands 1 yet.
Gamer: You don’t need to.
GF: But that means I won’t understand the story and the characters.
Gamer: They don’t matter. It’s all about shooting stuff and picking up loot.
GF: That doesn’t sound very fun.
Gamer: Trust me. You’ll enjoy it once we start.
GF: You’ve used that line before and it didn’t work then either. But… okay. Just the once. But I don’t know how to play.
Gamer: Awesome. And that’s okay – you don’t need to. This game has an easy mode called Girlfriend Mode. Okay, it says “Best Friends Forever” mode, but the developers called it Girlfriend Mode in a press interview and that’s much more catchy.
GF: Because only girlfriends need the game set to easy to be able to play it? That’s a bit patronising.
Gamer: But you are my girlfriend and you need it to be able to play right.
GF: I’m only playing this because you asked me to and now you’re talking down to me. Is this how it’s going to be?
Gamer: … err, I didn’t mean to. Let’s start. It’ll be fun.
GF: I’m starting to wonder.
Gamer: Okay, you have to be the redheaded girl.
Gamer: Because that’s the character with the Girlfriend Mode.
GF: Oh, so the girl character needs Girlfriend Mode because that’s the only way girls will play?
Gamer: … no, it’s just what is.
GF: I don’t want to be that woman. I don’t like the way she looks. I want to be a guy.
Gamer: Umm, it’ll be easier if you play the girl.
GF: I don’t really want to.
GF: … why don’t you play as the girl? You play as female characters in every other game I see you on.
Gamer: That’s because I like looking at their … extra agility. But you’ll have to play the girl here if we want to have fun.
GF: I don’t think that word means what you think it means. But… fine. Girl selected. “Mechromancer”? Does that mean she love loves robots?
Gamer: We could google it to find out…
GF: Let’s not – even I know about Rule 34. I’m ready.
Gamer: Great! Now we start.
GF: How do I move?
Gamer: The left analog stick moves you and the right analog stick turns you. The trigger buttons fire your primary and secondary weapons, then those coloured buttons use other special abilities. You use both sticks to circle strafe. Simple.
GF: … no hablo inglais?
Gamer: … here, let me show you.
AN EDUCATIONAL PERIOD LATER
GF: HAHA! I did it! I landed the killing blow on the big ugly boss guy and got all the loot while you were lying dead on the ground. HAHA! So much loot. All mine!
Gamer: That… that… that only happened cause you are playing on easy mode!
GF: … excuse me?
GF: EXCUSE ME? This is the mode you have me play on a character you made me play in a game you asked me play and then you complain that I do better than you? Really?
GF: Just for that, I’m making you watch “The Notebook”. Twice. It’ll be ‘fun’.
Gamer: … that could have gone better.
*Gearbox do this often enough that I’m tempted to see intent as a way of getting press coverage… but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.
While your point on “Girlfriend Mode” being awfully sexist and stereotyping is valid, I must remind you that it is in no way an official term – just a stupid comment in an interview. And honestly, what kind of person would actually act like the gamer in your example?
Well, ok, many people probably. Still, I hope Gearbox learns something from this. Also, yeah, Duke was over-the-top, ridiculous, offensive and in the end pretty bad from a gameplay perspective. But I suppose that’s the whole point of Duke (ok, most if not all of the jokes in Forever fell flat and it pretty much sucked, they just tried too hard).
It might have been a stupid comment in an interview, but so have been a number of telling slips that indicate mindset (and Gearbox keep doing it). Of all the terms that could have been used, ‘girlfriend’ was the one that was told to a reporter during an official visit. Unofficial term of not, it’s now out there.
And as for guys getting upset if the hypothetical GF beat them, that (to me) is question behind how BFF mode is going to play out – if someone in BFF mode fails, they fail because they suck at the game. If they succeed (or exceed the person they are playing with) it’s because they are on easy mode.
Pingback: 2012: Your Year in Gaming Misogyny « Vicarious Existence
Pingback: 2012: Your Year in Gaming Misogyny | just a game