Monday, October 1, 2012

Stepping Down

Several months ago, a Borderlands 2 developer called a new game mode that strives to make the game more accessible 'girlfriend mode'. It wasn't the official name of the mode, just one developer's off-the-cuff remark in the middle of an interview.

When this happened, I reacted angrily on Twitter (as many did), and I tweeted that I would no longer buy Borderlands 2. Considering that yesterday I bought Borderlands 2, perhaps I need to admit that I may have over-reacted.

Casual sexism should, of course, always be called out. Consistent, unthinking reinforcing of gendered power relations (such as the notion that it is 'girlfriends' who will most need this mode, not 'partners') that are most pervasive in society and which need attention drawn to them each and every time. (As always, The Border House went through this superbly).

But perhaps my casual slacktivism was no better, my off-the-cuff boycott no better than some developer's off-the-cuff casual sexism.

Or perhaps I just lack commitment and really like Borderlands, and perhaps that just makes me part of the problem.

Or perhaps I should just think about the things I say online for a few seconds before I say them.

Probably some combination of all of these.

So calling the mode 'girlfriend mode', even unofficially, was a blatant example of casual sexism, subjacating women within videogame culture as second-class citizens. I'm really disappointed that rather than apologise for the poor word choice, Gearbox stubbornly insisted the developer "wasn't a sexist". Whether or not the developer is a 'sexist' is beside the fact that he said something sexist.

But, really, me not playing the game isn't going to change that. And I think I perhaps overreacted to what was casually sexist, berating when perhaps a calmer and more accessible conversation (maybe a 'boyfriend mode' conversation about privilege lolol) could've taken place. At the end of the day, not playing Borderlands 2 isn't going to make our culture any less hostile or uninviting to females, but calling out casual and blatant sexism whenever we see it will.

So I'm not angry I added my voice to the many others who were (and are) pissed off, and I would not at all begrudge any one who still decides not to purchase Borderlands 2 over this. But in this specific instance I've decided to go back on my word to not purchase the game, and it seemed worthy of a blog post before someone digs up the old tweet where I claimed I would not buy it and rubbed it in my face.

So now that that is said and done, I can head back over to Twitter and complain about how Borderlands 2's inventory system is somehow worse than Borderlands.

EDIT: So this post actually sparked a really great Twitter conversation about authorial intent and other things that you can read on Storify, here:


Leigh said...

I was (and still am) of the view at the time that this particular event was a storm in a tea-cup, however I admit to having not read much of the discussions about it. Only the attempts by Gearbox to repair the damage, really.

Up to and including that point I actually thought Gearbox needed to go to VideoGames Jail for separate reasons anyway, I feel confident saying 'I was there' - I saw DW's tweet (and then everybody's tweets) and then read the EG story while it was all pretty raw and happening as-it-happened.

It's dangerous in this day and age. Standard and traditional artists and celebrities need only deal with paparazzi historically, nowadays social media can damage everybody involved equally.

How do you find your tweets that far back without great difficulty, honestly?

Brendan said...

I seriously just googled "Brendan Keogh girlfriend mode". Which, in hindsight, might look pretty weird.

Cha said...

I stuck by my decision not to buy Borderlands 2 on release because of the "girlfriend mode" comments. Not so much that someone made a casually sexist remark, but that on being called out for it they didn't seem to understand why it would even bother anyone.

But yeah, I'm not kidding myself my little boycott really means anything or makes a difference.

I've been thinking about boycotts quite a bit recently and whether they are ever a viable way to cause change. It's pretty much impossible to only ever give my money to companies I approve of 100%, and in most cases I don't think the impact is significant enough.

All the more reason to value critics for making sure issues are discussed.

Brendan said...


Indeed, it was the way Randy et al reacted to the outcry that was by far the most disappointing part of the whole ordeal. Instead of acknowledging how it was problematic, they stuck to their stubborn, predictable defence of "This man is not a sexist!" as though that mattered. So continuing to not purchase Borderlands 2 based on the apparently pervasive culture of sexist at Gearbox is totally justifiable.

I've had a few interesting discussions about the pros/cons of boycotts on Twitter since I wrote this post. People have made the interesting point that 'voting with your wallet' perhaps just jams demands for equality into the same old capitalist model of profit/loss. Ideally, I guess I don't want devs to stop making sexist comments/design decisions because they don't make money. I want devs to stop making sexist comments/design decisions because they realise it is offensive and perhaps requires some further consideration. THat's why I am glad I got pissed off about Girlfriend Mode with everyone else, because next time someone wants to use the word 'girlfriend' to describe an easy mode, they might remember people got pissed off, think about why they got pissed off, and perhaps reconsider. But if they just don't do it because they need to make money, then deep down that really isn't changing anything.

Then, I guess, there is the need to split the artwork from the artist. Plenty of good art is made by people with terrible opinions, and Borderlands 2 just seems another example of that.

But, again, I can't begrudge anyone who decides to not purchase a game based on the discriminatory cultures it was apparently made in. I totally respect that decision. I just think, for me, I rashly made that claim but, really, I don't think I ever made that decision.

And, yes, indeed re: the need for critics. I'm already seeing a stack of disappointing casual sexism within the game itself, and I will certainly be making a comment on these after I finish the game. Whereas if I boycotted it, all I could talk about would be Girlfriend Mode.

Leigh said...

You know the chief writer is a games critic? His web-series (changed and evolved, though it may now be) savaged a number of games during a time when no other 'name' critics with large audiences did.

He's 'part of the system' now so by all means he can be judged by the same standards anybody else in game dev is. He's no special case.

However like I first said, a person's actions on a medium such as the Internet matter a hell of a lot these days

Leigh said...

Sorry sorry sorry - that should be 'savaged a number of games "for being sexist and or otherwise denigrating to women".

Didn't realise I submitted it without my main point!

harry lopiz said...

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