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The “Girlfriend Mode” Experience

August 13, 2012 by Miss Lemonade

The hubbub this morning is over how Eurogamer basically broke that John Hemingway, lead developer for Borderlands 2, referred to their new mechromancer character as having a “girlfriend mode.” This colloquial reference (presumably a joke) is for the “Best Friends Forever” mode that the mechromancer has that allows people who are not “good at shooters” to play and still be entertained.

“The design team was looking at the concept art and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we’ve ever had. I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, 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 in the BFF tree is called Close Enough. This means your bullets that hit walls or other objects, that is, miss their target, have a chance to ricochet off towards the enemy.

“Can’t aim? That’s not a problem,” Hemingway said.

It’s 2012 and gaming companies are still letting their lead developers go in front of journalists without an ounce of PR training to say stuff like this, let alone actually hiring people within the industry that aren’t designing games with this ridiculous “boys club” mentality behind the things they put so much work into. Hilarious to treat a mode to make the game wildly easier as a joke on women, right?

This sort of stuff bothers me on a lot of levels because it still reflects how far down this idea of women being shitty at video games penetrates even if it isn’t glaringly on the surface. The nature of jokes, internal builds (see Dead Island’sfeminist whore” stuff. Warning: That is a Kotaku link.) and presumably what devs talk about in private still floats to the surface because companies don’t inherently see this as a problem and neither does the “community.” Girlfriend mode is going to stick because it’s always been there. It is in the sexist Jungian shared consciousness that gamer culture is built upon.

If male gamers wanted to pay money to experience the real “Girlfriend Mode” they’d be in for a wild shock. It’d be a woman character that would be given a random level of ability and you’d have to attempt to quest and shoot bad guys while dodging epithets, jokes at your expense and commentary on your body, your skills and your gender as a whole. You’d be reduced to an attachment to whatever male protagonist is on the front of the box or featured in the story.  You wouldn’t have any independent desires, motivations or intrinsic characteristics outside of what hobbies your male paramour wheedled you into accepting. Getting top medals or ranks would earn you a “Good Enough!” achievement, or perhaps commentary about how you’re decent “for a woman.” Anything less than perfect would just get you laughed at and NPCs would pat you on the head to give you the beginning tutorials again. Your character’s life would close at the end of the game with you being married or pregnant.

Coming as someone who would be termed a very “casual gamer” just on the dint that I’m a) female b) heavily play World of Warcraft, I find it really galling that all women are shrunk down to being brought into games as part of a (presumably heterosexual) relationship because being good at games is a male pursuit. I didn’t get into gaming because of a boyfriend. I wanted to play with my friends. My casual nature with gaming historically has almost nothing to do with the fact that I couldn’t “grasp” games but more to the fact that I never owned a console and couldn’t really afford to game most of my life.

Men do not need a spouse or a partner to get them into gaming because it is already marketed at them. They also are given wide berth on how good their skills are because men are already seen as baseline “decent” at gaming due to the fact that it is their hobby. This kind of presumption has been pounded into stone and still is the foundation for a lot of shittiness that we see around gamer culture today. Women can never get into gaming, especially the shooter genre, on their own, never be good at it, because well, it’s not for them. We have to be lead into it with sugar cubes like some irascible horse that needs breaking in. Once we’re in, our natural inability to hold electronics or jump into pipes will hold us back and you’ll never be able to play with us without bringing deep shame on the house of Gaming.

See how fucking ridiculous that shit is?

We need to stop letting male gamers get away with this pervasive attitude that women don’t get gaming, aren’t interested in it and definitely aren’t GOOD at it despite the fact that the gaming industry has been telling us this for years. If I could even take this a step further, I’d say that we need to stop caring whether people are good at video games or not like it fucking matters. Because it doesn’t. Everyone should have the ability to be good or not and break down this uber-masculine need for levels of playing ability determine how much fun someone can have playing a video game. Being bad at a video game isn’t the end of the world, nerds, and it isn’t a solely feminine thing.

Gearbox, like so many other gaming companies, needs to start making their games equitable to everyone, regardless of gender, and not just for the consumer, but for the people who work on the games as well. If I was a woman working for Gearbox, I’d be fucking flipping out if a lead developer made a joke like that in front of reporters. How do you feel good about yourself working on a project when someone that notable on your team says shit like that?

Clean it up, dudes.

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6 Comments »

  1. Mirco says:

    All this rant because a stupid marketing dude or gal has called a feature that should have been callen Casual Gamer Mode, Girlfriend Mode.

    You know what, they won, because you just jumped on their train and you promote the game because you hung up on one sexist term wich should have been a genderless term.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am on your side and I hate sexism, but I belive you fell in their trap and just give em some free promotion.

    Besides I am a guy who would turn this Girlfriend mode instantly on, because I suck so much with shooter games, a little baby could hunt me down every time.

    • It’s not a rant on one thing, it is one thing revealing the very large, incredibly dense thicket of shit that goes on in gaming. This is but one thing, a tip of the iceberg so to speak. There’s no “winning or losing” here because women already lost just by the virtue that we’re still being treated and talked about like this. Keeping silent is worse than “free promotion.” And yes, one sexist term is one too many and I will stick to that opinion ardently. Because it’s not just ONE sexist term. It’s a whole sexist gaming industry.

      I didn’t fall into a trap. Don’t be patronizing. I have my opinions and I don’t feel they are silly as you seem to be insinuating.

      • Mirco says:

        Didn’t want to be patronizing, sry english is not my native language.

        What I wanted to say: This smells to be a marketing skim to get press about the game.

        And sadly all in all nothing will change as long as most development teams are only males. I vote for more Women to apply in tech jobs. my experience since 20 years in that buisness, is that I get a lot of complaints of women about sexism but slim to no women that want to participate in any part of the design process. In all that time I got to employ three women in this company. And that are all that ever applied for an interview. And we tried over and over to get more. We now dtart a trainee program only for women to hopefuly get more interested in that kind of work and to get a view of them on our products while design.

        My experience is and I dont take me out of the picture, that a lot of sexism arent offending but a missinderstanding in communications. And fell in that teap my fair share of time and I am still often amazed what can be seen offending, even when the opposite was intended.

        To be 100% clear about it. Women and men are equal except one little thing. They can all do zhe same things and have equal powers.

  2. Shadowspawnd says:

    You might find the updates in this link interesting. It does not seem like a one off occurrence. http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/girlfriend-mode-a-storm-s-coming-and-it-s-heading-gearbox-s-way/0101160

    • Pai says:

      It’s funny how all of a sudden there are -plenty- of ‘better terms’ for it being put forward in reply to a comment that there wasn’t any other way to label an Easy Mode.

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