Borderlands 2 Reveals Easier Girlfriend Skill Tree, Controversy Ensues

Borderlands 2 caused mild uproar (for some reason) when Gearbox Software announced they had begun working on the Mechromancer DLC, but now the internet has a fresh controversy courtesy of a Eurogamer interview and a somewhat sexist nickname being attributed to one of the character’s skill trees.

In the interview, lead designer John Hemingway detailed a skill tree for the Mechromancer that makes the game significantly easier for those that aren’t particularly FPS inclined.

Officially called the ‘Best Friends Forever’ skill tree, it includes abilities like ‘Close Enough,’ which grants bullets that miss their target a chance to ricochet and hit them anyway, and sounds like an interesting way to make the game more accessible. However, Hemingway decided to dub this the “girlfriend skill tree”, a controversial comment that is fully contextualised in the following quote:

“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.”

Responses to the term range from it being merely an unfortunate turn of phrase to an indictment of the sexism that runs rampant through Gearbox Software. Some have lost faith in the company, others have lost faith in journalists and gamers alike viewing this controversy as nothing more than sensationalist spin and overreaction.

One of the most prominent voices to emerge from this ‘debate’ is, unsurprisingly, president of Gearbox Software Randy Pitchford who has taken to Twitter to refute this “girlfriend mode” and defend Hemingway:

“Borderlands 2 does NOT have a girlfriend mode. Anyone that says otherwise is misinformed or trying to stir up something that isn’t there.”

“The future DLC Mechromancer class has a skill tree that makes it easier for less skilled coop partners (any gender!) to play and be useful.”

“There is no universe where Hemingway is a sexist. All the women at Gearbox would beat his and anyone else’s ass.”

“I’m sure Hemmingway is getting noogied now, but not his fault. A personal anecdote has been twisted and dogpiled on by sensationalists. Fun!”

I am painfully aware that adding yet more noise to the ‘debate’ is unnecessary, but here is my take on the latest brouhaha surrounding Borderlands 2 for those that want it:

I’m inclined to think that the term was, much like Pitchford has said, an attempt at an analogy. The use of the term girlfriend, as opposed to just girl, suggests that Hemingway wasn’t trying to broadly label every female as an incompetent gamer.

His attempts to mediate the nickname, with the phrase “for lack of a better term”, perhaps brings his PR abilities into question, as he obviously knew it was potentially inflammatory, but I don’t think it provides sufficient evidence to claim sexism on the behalf of Gearbox or Hemingway himself.

That some people are upset by this comes as no surprise, but being offended by something doesn’t make you right and I think that holds true in this instance for anyone looking at this as anything beyond a PR faux pas.