Mindless. Shooting. (Borderlands 2)


I am really good at planning attack runs in video games. Like, really good. Given a virtual environment, a set amount of resources, and an end goal, I can plan the exact path needed, taking into account the hostiles in the area, the difficultly of the terrain, and where I need to be and thinking about each step of the way. Go here. Then there. Get it done.

In real life, no joke, I often get lost while driving. I’m not kidding. It’s super embarrassing, but I am known to get lost on my way to places just off my normal route. I have, on multiple occasions, gotten miles away from where I was supposed to be and had to call someone for help. Navigating complex routes, and especially highway systems, ones I drive on nearly everyday, is just not something I’m good at, generally.

The problem, I think, has to do with why I like Borderlands 2 so much. Both my weirdly savant military mind and hopeless driver part of me are both linked to mindlessness. When I drive, some part of my mind gets bored and I tune out, getting distracted from the task at hand. Yet, in video games, and this goes triple for those with loot loops, I enjoy this escapism. I am, I have found, very addicted to such cycles. It makes me really happy to kill a bunch of virtual creatures and find more powerful weapons, inexplicably, in their corpses. Maybe too happy.

See, ’cause part of me really doesn’t like this. As someone who is against people owning guns and is nearly always for peaceful solutions to conflicts, I feel like I should be at odds with games like the Borderlands series. I should find it abhorrent. It should be a really disgusting display of the overly misogynistic, this-gun-is-a-penis militaristic fetishism I often fight against in so many other settings. But, well, I like it. I really do.

I guess I should explain too that I’ve finished Borderlands 2 twice now. Once when I bought it used for the Xbox 360 months again and again a couple days ago after I picked it up when it went free for PSN Plus members. Both times, and I’m not exaggerating when I write this, I’ve started and finished the game in just a few days. Less than a week at most, tops.


There something very terrifying in that admission.


I know from a past of investing hundreds of hours each in World of Warcraft, Diablo 2, and the Torchlight series that I like these types of games. A lot. The ones where I can play for hours on end leveling-up my characters from seemingly endless waves of enemies through moving from one area to another has great appeal to me. Be it magic, swords, or just a whole helluva lot of guns, I get very addicted to killing virtual people and creatures. I’m happy to slip into a digitally-induced murder mind coma.

Which makes it hard for me to write critically about the game. I mean, I should have lots to discuss about its world and people. There are obviously things to note. Even beyond the often juvenile entertainment of big boobs and huge guns, there is this deeply entangled war capitalism. One of buying guns to then buy bullets to murder more for fun. At the center of the mechanics in the game is even the premise that life on the world of Pandora does not matter all too. Not even your own.

If there is any one thing in Borderlands 2 of major emphasis, I guess, it is that. People die. You will die, in fact. And you will live again.

The *Shock family of games can dress the death mechanic in quantum locking and bio-signatures, but Borderlands 2, more than its prequel, takes this to the capitalistic extreme. You pay some fraction of your currently held money to be resurrected. Because you will, at some point, die. And then you will live again to fight on. “Rise,” as one of the NewU stations barks at the player.

With just that technology, one where with enough money you could never truly die, it would change the universe. If, in being transported great distanced, you were recreated in a new place, what would be cost and price of life? Would it really matter if you were reduced to bits along the electrical lines? If ammo could be produced from vending machines and guns materialized on demand, how much would war change?

That is, perhaps, some justification for me liking the Borderlands games more than others. I can see, in part, the trajectory of what would happen to a universe with such technology. A Star Trek without its moral code. Where goods can be created on demand and people moved in a wink of the eye. Let capitalism rampage across a universe of planets and such an outcome could easily occur. If all that was needed to survive, to maintain some semblance of self, was to be the most badass around, then it makes perfect sense for so many to take up their guns and battle it out. The situation would inflict a fierce Darwinism on their souls as they fought, died, were raised, and fought again.

Of course, the game doesn’t spend much time on such ideas. Even if I can imagine the far-reaching implications of resurrection technology and what instant supply-on-demand would do  a culture, how it would, of course, boil down to quid pro quo relationships among groups, the game isn’t as interested in addressing such potentials for long moment. It might poke at them, to laugh in the face of a universe gone mad with greed, but it is, in the end, about the shooting. The guns. The bullets. And the ending of some lives for the individualistic betterment of yourself.

Maybe I should just go back to the murder dream instead of these moments of moral dread and philosophical fancy. Just return to the happy place where none of it really matters and virtual people are mowed done for a couple hours at a time. All to get an item. Or kill some people. Or get items from their corpses. Or just to shoot something else. Some variation of all that, planning which way to move next and how to successfully execute the most efficient usage of time in a video game before getting lost the next day on the drive to the dentist.