Girlfriend mode.

So apparently there’s going to be a Borderlands 2 skill tree that emphasizes a support role, where the character can summon a robot to tank for her. And the lead designer called that “girlfriend mode.” This actually happened a bit ago, and the president of Gearbox has since come out against the nickname.

But still. Um… wow.

As full disclosure, I have not personally played Borderlands. I watched Mike play it, and it looked kind of fun if you’re in to first person shooters, which I am manifestly not. I haven’t liked them since the first time I tried one out, which was, oh gosh, back when Doom first came out. I find them a bit stressful for something that’s supposed to be fun.

I also have ovaries. Personally, I don’t think these two facts are related.

I could go on and on about how girls do too play first person shooters, but I’m not going to. A lot of other people already have. The thing I’m more annoyed by is the way playing as support is often couched in incredibly dismissive terms, which is why I think it’s worth pointing at an article that’s over a week old.

To begin with, often in classical fantasy literature and roleplaying games, the healers and support characters are depicted as women. That’s probably where a lot of this got started. Maybe we’re supposed to be more nurturing, and thus somehow averse to hitting kobolds in the head with a club. That’s transfered through into video games as well – in any of the rpgs I’ve played, one of the female characters is always the white mage/healer.

I played World of Warcraft for years; during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion I actually raided 3-4 times a week and eventually took down the Lich King. I didn’t hear that kind of dismissive talk in my guild – considering my co-GM and I are both women and both played healers it would have taken a special kind of dumb to say that out loud even if someone actually thought it – but it’s definitely something that was around in the wider game. Gaming culture in general has a misogyny problem.

This is the reason it bugs me, though – support is hard. I’ve played as all three roles – tank, healer, dps – in a multitude of game. I tend to find dps kind of boring, particularly ranged dps. (Face roll to victory, guys!) I actually did enjoy playing as tank, but only did it infrequently because I got tired of people being giant shitcocks to me. (Why people are jerks to tanks, I will never understand.) Healing was where I spent most of my time. I found it just as challenging as tanking, and honestly more interesting. Keeping someone alive while they’re being punched repeatedly in the fact by a giant monster is not a simple task.

I think there’s a consistent narrative about women playing support in those kind of games because it often does shake out that way. The most challenging roles are tank and healer. If your boyfriend or husband is already a tank, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to roll another tank. And you want to play together so – aha! Healing! It’s challenging, important, and you get to stick with your hubby. But then, as with anything, if a lot of women gravitate toward a role, it gets pigeonholed as a “girl thing” and thus seen as lesser, not as difficult because our ladybrains can’t handle games or something.

Now, Borderlands is not World of Warcraft. But I think the narrative is the same. Oh obviously girls just do support stuff. Haha, healing, it’s so stupid despite the fact that without it the monster would eat your head and the game would be over. Maybe calling it ‘girlfriend mode’ wasn’t intended to be dismissive, though it sure came out that way when coupled with the idea that girls don’t get first person shooters. The wider culture of seeing roles and games that women like to play as worthy of mockery doesn’t help. And the implication that women only play games because we’re giant tag-alongs to our boyfriends and husbands makes the comment extra douchey.

The sad thing is, them adding a support role to the game means I’m actually curious to try it. Because I find that way more interesting than shooting things. I just hope they don’t make it too easy; support isn’t supposed to be.

Leave a Reply