An interview with Borderlands 2 lead designer John Hemingway posted on Eurogamer this morning showed off a new character class for people that are maybe new to shooters. It’s a punky female robot-tank summoner with a cyborg arm – the Mechromancer. The best part for FPS noobs? It comes with an entire skill tree tailored specifically for them. Shoot at the enemy and miss? No biggie – your bullets will ricochet off nearby walls and hit them anyway. This is honestly a terrific idea to get siblings, friends, your mom, really anyone unfamiliar with first-person shooters into the game with you. In fact, it’s called “Best Friends Forever” mode. Cute! I hope other games borrow this idea.
Unfortunately, Hemingway referred to it colloquially as “girlfriend mode.” You know, because girlfriends (and, by extension, girls in general) aren’t good at these hardcore shoot-y games, RIGHT?! Despite Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford’s assertions to the contrary, it seems like that has been an internal nickname at Gearbox for quite a while. If your Lead Designer is spouting it off casually to members of the games press without a second thought, you can be pretty sure he never considered the implications.
On the one hand, what can we really expect from a company that made an official trailer for their universally panned Duke Nukem Forever featuring all the fun things you can do with feces? On the other hand… No. This sort of cavalier misogynist attitude and casual sexism has been a part of the entire video game industry for decades, and it’s only been in recent years that people of all genders have found the voice to speak up against these injustices, be it through feminist blogs like The Border House, getting called out on the now-defunct GameJournos, or even just the fact that an incredible 47% of gamers today are women. Every time this happens, it needs to be brought to the world’s attention, and the perpetrator needs to learn that you can’t bully the fairer sex any more.
You are not “more of a gamer” because you were born with a penis. The “girl gamer” stereotype that licks PSPs and sells herself with sex is no longer a thing. Guys and gals are on near-equal footing now, but offhand comments like Hemingway’s prove time and time again that we still have a long, long way to go.
And it’s not just Gearbox’s John Hemingway, either. Remember way, wayyyy back (in September – almost a whole year!) when someone dug around in the Dead Island source code and found that “Feminist Whore” skill? That was fun. Because when someone calls someone a feminist whore, they’d only ever be referring to a male, right? WRONG. And sure, it may have been only in the unfinished version that was released on Steam accidentally, but that doesn’t keep it from being a thing that a game developer put into a game. Women finally have the respect they’ve been desiring for years! Nope.
Or how about just this last February when Eat Sleep Play head David Jaffe claimed that if you play Twisted Metal on split-screen with your girlfriend and let her win, she will literally give you a blowjob. She will take your unkempt, virgin gamer dong and stick it right in her mouth, moaning like a porn star the whole time because she’s clearly enjoying it, and swallow every drop of the gravy, if only you’d let her win at a game that was clearly designed for the sole purpose of getting you some unearned, unrequited fellatio. NOPE.
These comments aren’t innocuous. These comments aren’t cute. Don’t you want a girlfriend that will play games with you? Telling her you just bought a new game with an easy mode so she can play too isn’t the brightest idea. And we’d know this if we weren’t all dumb, typical men. Guys, am I right?! Always just thinking about boobs, car movies, football, and steak. Sigh. Breaking men down isn’t the answer either, though. Just treat females the way you’d treat males, on even footing. We’re all people.
Finally, using sexist comments as a joke to hide your disdain of women doesn’t work either. That’s like introducing someone as “your black friend” to show how cool and hip and non-racist you are. You know what? Just introduce your black friend as your friend. We can see he’s black. We don’t care, so why should you? Oh yeah, because you’re a racist piece of crap. It works the same with sexism. There aren’t girl gamers and guy gamers; we’re all just gamers. That’s all we’ve ever wanted to be, playing games all so happy together.
The worst part? The Mechromancer would have been a super cool class, very Mass Effect Engineer-y. Hemingway could have called it Easy Mode, or Noob Mode, or Hardcore-Lite, but no. He went with the one thing that would label him and Gearbox as a whole sexist jerks. As if Duke Nukem Forever didn’t accomplish that well enough by itself.
“Oh, hello, random internet person. Nice to meet you. You’re the Mechromancer, huh? You must be a girl! So… A/S/L? Wanna cam chat? … Hello?”
Some things never change. But only if good people stand by and do nothing.