On the Borderlands: My Descent into the World of Shooters

by Colin Harvey-Lewis

Borderlands, Gearbox Software, 2009

Borderlands, Gearbox Software, 2009

“I don’t want to buy a shooter game,” his sarcasm, or lack thereof, was masked by GChat. “I mean – I have all the mainstream reservations about the glorification of gun violence. The real problem however…” two minutes of ‘Alex is typing’ flashed on the screen, punctuating his seriousness, “…is that all that AAA game studios care about is shooters. That prevents a large portion of the population from becoming interested in video games. But, if there were a larger range of games being made, video games would, in general, be more interesting, and more creative. Video games should be about more than just return on investment.   However, developers only understand the language of money, so I will speak to them in that way, and not spend my money on shooters.”

It wasn’t hard to understand where Alex was coming from; I appreciated the empathy towards my plight as a casual video game player (n00b, for short), albeit contaminated with hoity-toity art-theory concepts I could care less about. My interest in videogames has always been an extension of my sports fandom – the only digitized fantasy worlds I care about are those in which the Dolphins are repeat super bowl champions and Brett Lawrie is a first ballot hall-of-famer.

“Ok.” My lukewarm response was crafted solely to dodge Alex’s diatribe sure to follow any display of interest. You see, I am not a mass murderer and, by extension, have never had much interest in first person shooter games. My only extended experience with games of this type was making cameos – as an auto-kill – in dorm-room games of Halo. Despite my monosyllabic concurrence, the shooter-game embargo was met with my utmost enthusiasm.  I was looking forward to conquering a video game in tandem. The thought conjured up memories of sleep-overs as a kid, of passing around the controller all night, of achieving a shared goal as a unit, of high fives…of innocence. Nostalgia, I thought, would go a long way in curing my most recent quarter-life crisis.  Having to kill things in order to re-experience those feelings was to militarize the lily.

Trying to find a gun-free online co-op game felt like trying to find blood-free Salvation Army clothing that also lacked the smell of death. But, for hours we forewent zombie apocalypses, crime syndicates and contemporary warfare, searching for a thrift-store shirt that wouldn’t weigh on our collective conscience. Mario and his friends did not live on the PS store. His kart had been commandeered mid-commute by a maniac waving a gun in the middle of the street. Every member of the “non-shooter co-op games” lists online seemed to be directed at preschoolers or placed there by an editor who assumed no one would ever read the article. Nothing jumped of the page, and when they did, closer inspection revealed guns lurking in the background. I am used to unforgiving searches; academia too often leaves you staring at a search engine for hours, hoping to stumble on the perfect citation to complete a paper or presentation. Yet this was draining my stamina.

“Found one! How about, Portal 2?” I exclaimed after an hour-long buildup

“Played it already. But yeah, that would’ve been perfect.” Alex kindly dismissed the piece of pyrite I had just presented him.

“How about Rayman: Origins?” Alex chimed in a half an hour later.

“Sounds good.” Mostly, it sounded like a reprise from laboring through the doldrums of online gaming reviews and amazon.com comment threads.


“Couldn’t your friend just come over and play the game?” Ranjit from the ‘Toronto’, Playstation call centre asked sincerely.

“No, Ranjit. He lives in New York. Asking him to travel for 8 hours to play a video game seems unreasonable.” I hoped that my frustration would translate over the phone and get a sense of urgency out of him. I was annoyed. Maybe it was Alex’s disbelief when I explained my post-download discovery that Rayman only supported local, and not online, co-op play. Maybe it was the 15 minutes spent with Ranjit, trying to explain that my PS network handle was purposefully misspelled. “I am aware that unbriddledtruth is traditionally spelled with only 2 d’s.” Mostly, I was dreading having to spend more time trying to find a suitable game. At best, our non-shooter resolution would result in a Pyrrhic victory and hours of not enjoying Little Big Planet.  Ranjit’s declaration that “I cannot guarantee a refund, but your request has been submitted and you will receive an answer in 2-4 weeks” seemed less foreboding at this point than the proposition of virtual gunplay.

“Suppose we did a fantasy-oriented shooter game? At least that way the violence would be make-believe?” I murmured. I felt a bit like a kid pulling the blankets over my head thinking that if I couldn’t see the monster, the monster couldn’t see me.

“Yeah, we might as well. It was my sloppy research that made us buy a game without online co-op play. One purchase won’t make or break the art-in-videogames movement, ” Alex apologized, or at least that’s what his  “Fine. AAA can win this battle,” declaration seemed to translate to.

And just like that we were on Rodeo Drive. Any world we could imagine, any fantasy we wanted to live was available for some shekels of silver and a commitment to virtual homicide. This time around, finding a game wasn’t the problem, selecting from the embarrassment of riches was. I felt ill equipped. Alex rambled on in a foreign language about graphics, gameplay, glitches and realism for each game suggested. I smiled and nodded, preferring to engross myself in the titles and bizarre worlds being hard-sold. Quickly, we came to a happy medium.

Borderlands?” he questioned, as the words seemingly danced with enthusiasm on my screen.

“Bordelands!” I affirmed, this time welcoming a diatribe from Alex on the blood-pact we had just made.


One thought on “On the Borderlands: My Descent into the World of Shooters

  1. Borderlands is a great game. Gearbox did an amazing job of combining first person shooter action with RPG elements such as experience, skill trees, and a focus on loot. Above all else, Borderlands stands above the crowd because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. You aren’t killing terrorists intent on bombing the U.S., there’s no extended cutscenes about a contrived mythology, there’s no “bigger purpose” that is watered down so as to not offend any players. Sure, there’s a hastily-thrown together back story, but as you run around a desert wasteland shotgunning “Badass suicide midgets” in the face, the mission statement of the game is clear: play with your friends, shoot some shit, have fun.

    Nice pick.

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