Recently Borderlands 2 lead designer John Hemingway was quoted saying the following: “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.”
Now let me start off with I think the idea in general is great. I see nothing wrong with implementing a skill tree which allows friends who are lousy game players to be able to try their hand with a game they otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to keep up on. That being said the issue lies in calling it girlfriend mode. However there are some people out there who don’t think this is an issue:
IGN’s Colin Moriarty says, “Many people are tired of knee-jerk reactions that attempt to take people’s words and spin them into something offensive when they were meant innocuously. And they’re especially sick of being subjected to the vocal whims of a few people that feel like they need to be there to protect someone or something that never requested their help in the first place.” He later adds, “any rational person already knows that the mention of ‘girlfriend mode’ doesn’t make a person sexist.”
So is this sexist or not?
The answer to that is an obvious yes. While Colin Moriarty may believe this is people being melodramatic and quick to jump on the political correctness train, it isn’t. It’s people like me, a woman who plays and designs games not wanting to have to put up with the thoughtlessness of outdated and sexist terms.
Let’s be clear on this, I don’t think John Hemingway was intending offense in any way. I have plenty of guy friends who I game with who throw out the same idiotic terms and I know they don’t intend any offense. However, now that women are making up nearly half the video game market I think its time we cut the stupid boys club terms and start treating women like they are a valued part of this industry.
The defense of ‘Well this is the way its always been and you just have to deal with it’ isn’t cutting it anymore and the reason the game industry has come under fire so much recently is women are tired of putting up with it. And just ignoring this and brushing it off as a harmless term like Colin Moriarty suggests is a way of perpetuating the cycle and allowing these things to continue.
As Brandon Sheffield says, “Eventually, with enough blowups like these, we may eventually not need to have them as often. There is something of a digital women’s movement happening in games, as more voices cry for better representation in our favorite medium. People who think we’re making mountains of molehills haven’t seen how moles can tear up your yard. That is to say, sometimes there’s something deeper behind something that initially appears innocuous.”
So maybe the comment was unintentional and innocent but that doesn’t make it ok and the only way anything will ever change is if we continue to acknowledge these mistakes.