Badass Babes: A ‘Borderlands’ Feminist Critique

Tom Coyne ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer


With so many arguments flying around the internet these days, it can feel sometimes as though video games and feminism seem to be odds with each other. However, with adult women actually outnumbering men in video game consumption, developers are starting to take notice. Feminism has become such a scary word, one that sparks intense arguments and shuts down conversation. For the purpose of this review I’ll define this “scary” term as: the pursuit of equality in representing men and women. Now that’s cleared up, onto the review.

On the whole, there aren’t many first person shooters that allow you to play as a female character. There’s Metroid Prime, Portal, Mirror’s Edge and Left 4 Dead, but not too much more than that. In games where you’re allowed to choose from several stock characters, like Left 4 Dead, the male to female ratio is usually 3:1 based on the assumption that fewer women are playing than men. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a tremendous step forward for several reasons, but the equal number of male to female characters is a great start.

In one of the promotional videos you may have seen, Mr. Torgue, the head of the explosive gun manufacturing company in the game, shouts “GENDER EQUALITY” once all the playable characters are listed. This is the kind of thing that makes Borderlands as a series stand out from traditional FPS games. It’s an aggressive affirmation that yes, these games are played by women, and yes they should be able to have just as much representation as male fans of the series. Moving beyond the character selection to the meat of the game, the missions of the Pre-Sequel continue to push strong feminist messages.

In the quest “Wherefore Art Thou” the player is asked to help a man find his wife who has disappeared. She’s discovered running a group of bandits and explains she ran away from her husband because he was smothering her. The goal of the mission becomes helping fake her death so her husband will leave her alone. A theme that runs through much of the Pre-Sequel is women outsmarting, or attempting to teach men how their actions can be unintentionally hurtful.


Another early mission “Torgue-o! Torgue-o!” makes the player decide between destroying a laser weapon component for Mr. Torgue, or return it to Janey Springs for a complete a laser gun. If the player gives the component to Springs, Torgue will get upset because “THE PEOPLE DON’T WANT EXPLOSIONS ANYMORE, THEY WANT LASERS!”. Springs tries to make him feel better and Tourge, taking it the wrong way, asks her out. When she explains she’s not into guys, he yells that he’s been friend zoned. Because the story is being told in flashback, the post Borderlands 2 Mr. Torgue interjects and explains that he now feels really uncomfortable that he used the term “friend zoned”. He goes on to explain how its a misogynistic term and that other men shouldn’t use it. That’s incredible.

There aren’t a whole lot of games that use the term misogynistic, or attempt to analyze the parts culture that might be harmful for the women playing the game. This joke written into the mission isn’t just a simple parody, or a throw away line. Games have made fun of “oh, isn’t it dumb that women in _____ genre of game wear so little armor?” or other silly tropes before. This is looking at the male perspective of a common problem and saying, “Think, maybe only befriending women for sex or a relationship is wrong.” The writers are using video games as a medium to talk about sexism and try to make male gamers understand a female perspective. Really cool stuff! One of the main story missions, and be aware this steps into spoiler territory, actually uses the controlling of women as an example of how far the main characters have fallen.

Two of the playable characters from the Pre-Sequel, Nisha and Wilhelm, appear as bosses in Borderlands 2. The main focus of the Pre-Sequel is of course the transformation of Jack, a lowly Hyperion programer, into a true villain. Just as he falls and is corrupted by his power, so are Nisha and Wilhelm. In the mission “Intelligences of the Artificial Persuasion” the player frees an AI who was once a part of the military grade computer program that flew a Dahl space shuttle. She’s freed from one of the ex-crewman of the vessel who had repurposed her because he “Hadn’t been doing too well with the ladies.”


Once freed she realizes how strange and wonderful it is to be free and not tied to any hardware.  She renames herself “Felicity” and leads the player to the next quest “Let’s Build a Robot Army”. Jack reveals that he only views Felicity as a tool and rather than copy her consciousness, repurpose her just as the ex-crewman did. The player is tasked with assembling the parts of the machine Felicity will be put into, while she wonders if being a military AI is what she really wants for herself. In the end the player is forced to wipe Felicity’s personality and re-shackle her after just freeing her.

Being forced to free, then imprison Felicity is a very sick sequence. It’s meant to show how far Jack will go to be a “hero” and imply that the player characters aren’t necessarily the good guys this time around.  Making the AI female is important because it demonizes forcing control on women. It equates and reinforces that the most evil thing that Jack could do is tell a woman how to think and feel. What kind of “Hero” could do that to someone?

Overall Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is an amazing piece of feminist fiction. It uses the form of a video game to explain how masculine methods of control are extremely harmful and downright evil. Sometimes the message it delivers is a bit heavy handed, but only to make it clear that feminism is the subject of the conversation it’s trying to provoke.

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  1. Nice article but I dunno if I would tack on ‘feminist’ to it. It’s just my opinion, but I can’t be the only lady gamer who doesn’t appreciate the labels. Thank God we have Mr. Torgue who knows respecting women is @#$%*(^ awesome. His grandma raised him right.

  2. Hmmm so the new borderlands is feminist hate porn… do not buy. Thanks for the review wish you were around before I got the new dragon age.

  3. Fack! understanding and being female minded makes you gay! no wonder why gays are nearly overpopulating straight men, they are just a disgusting figure on how sexuality has become, and now this game is encouraging it!? fack you! but, as long as you’re straight in your track of gender, you’ll need to put a mental shield of what’s being a man and what the game is telling you, do this and you’ll end up having fun playing female characters (since they’ve got awesome skills than the male characters, IDK why they decided to do that. but it is shit.) than being converted to the disgusting “gay” sexuality eww.

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