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Gameplanet: It’s a question in two parts: “girlfriend mode” – that term, and I know it was one that was never intended to be used, but you hit me. What’s your take, what happened as you see it?
Pitchford: Discrimination sucks. It’s evil, and it needs to die, and I don’t care if it’s gender discrimination, or age discrimination, or discrimination about sexual orientation – it’s all wrong, and we all know that.
I think it’s fair if we imagine that the creators of something we care about might be people that discriminate, it’s natural for rage to happen, right? I think if we’re going to move forward as a species, we really need to have that instinct to call bullshit on people that are dicks.
I like that part of this. Any time we can do anything that helps us have that discussion and improve our species by getting better at that, it’s good for all of us.
Having said that, I wasn’t there when Jonathan Hemingway was talking to the journalist about his design for the mechromancer, which I’ll explain:
The Mechromancer is a character that will come out after Borderlands 2 launches, it’s an additional character, a class that has a particular playstyle that has different skill trees, each with a particular playstyle. He [Hemingway] has thought about this design and he’s thinking about the use cases, and he’s imagining a world where Borderlands 2 is already out, and what kind of person would pick this up, and how would they play it?
So he's imagining use cases, and one use case is a player of Borderlands 2 who has got really good at the game and who wants to use an additional character who can leverage his or her skill. This player really wants something that’s going to be challenging, and give that player some advantages because that player is skilled.
The other use case Jonathan imagined was a player who has a friend, and the friend maybe isn’t great at games at all, or maybe doesn’t even play games, but they really want to have a shared experience. The gamer friend wants to invite the non-gamer friend in, and would love to use this new character class as a vehicle for that, so the Mechromancer has this other skill tree that could help a noobish kind of player who isn’t very good at all to be useful.
So a specific skill that he’s describing when he was outlining this tree, which he calls “Best Friends Forever”, what this tree does is if you miss, you shoot the ground or you shoot the wall, there’s a chance that your shots will reflect and hit the target. If you put five points into the skill, you’ll have a 50 percent chance of your shot reflecting and hitting the enemy, but it’s not a cheat, because all your shots do 50 percent less damage.
So it’s a trade-off, and it means that a player who isn’t very good, who might have a hard time learning how to aim, can still have a good time feeling the reward for pulling the trigger, and can feel the feedback that happens from an FPS. That can be useful, and maybe with that encouragement, they get better at aiming, like all of us did when we played first-person shooters for the first time. Once you get good enough, it all feels natural and you can go from there.
So Jonathan was explaining this, and the design is brilliant. For example, I have grandparents, and they’ve never quite understood what I do, because they grew up in a world before videogames existed, and never really got into them. I’ve wanted them to understand and “get it”. So when I think about my grandfather, he can’t play an FPS to save his life! But it’d be cool if maybe we can play splitscreen together, and maybe as I’m helping him to learn how to look out into the world instead of looking into the ground, he can still feel useful pulling the trigger and getting some rewards. He can overcome the battle, and earn experience because he contributed to the fight, and he’s levelling up, and maybe in 10 minutes because he’s not giving up, because the game isn’t beating him over the head and he’s getting some positive feedback, maybe he’ll learn how to aim better and get more comfortable.
Now, because my grandfather might not be good at FPS games, is that an indictment against all grandfathers?
Pitchford: I think there’s probably some seventy-year-old dude out there that’s fricken amazing, maybe kicks my ass at it! The reality is, if you think about the design of the skill, it has nothing to do with gender, or age, or race, or any other way that we might imagine discrimination. It’s just about skill in a game, and that’s one of the beauties of our industry, one of the beauties of our medium.
Gameplanet: The controversy is around the term “girlfriend mode”, which is an incorrect term, isn’t it?
Pitchford: It is, there is no mode. But that’s actually not what the controversy is about, it’s not about that. Here’s what it’s about : there’s a bunch of journalists there. All of them understood the intent and communicated that intent to their readers. One of the journalists decided, because he had this quote, to pick a headline and cage it in such a way that he knew exactly what his readers were going to imagine.
Pitchford: That’s where it gets dishonest. “If I put it this way, my readers are going to think, ‘Ah! This guy’s a dick!’” And think about the guy himself. I know Jonathan personally, and if you want anyone to be a champion of universality and inclusiveness, you want Jonathan Hemingway! He’s actually designing this to help non-skilled people, and the most-skilled people all to have fun together in the same way. That’s the kind of guy we actually want on the team of inclusiveness and non-discrimination – and this other dude decided that, “because I’ve got some words here that I can put in quotes, and put other words around it to create an impression, I can get people to read my site, and I can get other people to click on my site,” even at the expense of Jonathan.
But the thing is, it doesn’t really matter. As I said at the beginning, a part of me really [thinks the discussion is healthy], as someone who hates discrimination and thinks it’s evil – I like the lens – but it’s impossible for me not to stand up for Jonathan who’s one of the good guys, one of the good guys.
Gameplanet: So you describe it as a journalist who has isolated a quote and spun it out. There does seem to be a lot of controversy going around.
Pitchford: To be fair though, you say controversy, but if we all want a big tall glass of perspective, there’s probably going to be between five to six million people playing Borderlands 2 within its reasonable window, and maybe a fraction of a percent had any wind of this as a controversy.
Gameplanet: Of course.
Pitchford: So those of us who are consuming videogame news every day, or creating it every day – and I’m in this world too – it seems like a big deal to us. It would’ve been crazy if it had shown up on CNN, or something, but that’s never going to happen! He could’ve actually meant it – and killed a baby in front of everyone – and it still probably wouldn’t have ended up on CNN!