Cultured Gaming: An Exploration of Counter-Culture in Borderlands 2

In words that Sir Hammerlock would approve of, “Cultural commentary, ho!”
Source: Borderlands Wiki

In my free time, I’ve started getting back into playing games that I didn’t have time to play while on campus. I’m enjoying the trip and starting to notice things I didn’t pick up on in previous playthroughs.

For example, while finally finishing Borderlands 2, I noticed counter-cultures on Pandora that mirror our own. So, as an experiment, let’s explore the various lifestyles of the Pandorans and if the developers have any meaningful commentary on them.


Somehow, I think the developers actually wish they could have Tiny Tina riding Pinkie Pie.
Source: Derpibooru

Let’s start with the counter-culture that, hilariously, is least prominent, yet is most likely to polarize the target audience that reads this.

For those not in the know, Bronies are a community of male (and female) adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This group can be labeled as a counter-culture as they stand in direct defiance of our cultural ideals of masculinity and maturity by embracing an animated television made to target younger girls.

While there is very little to be seen in game, there are enough connections and references to MLP to support the claim. Most exist through the character of Gaige the Mechromancer. Her skills in game reference many characters and events in the show. Some include “Discord” (a reformed villain), “20 Percent Cooler” (a catchphrase spoken by Rainbow Dash), and “Fancy Mathematics” (part of a memorable rebuttal used by Applejack to her brother Big Macintosh).

Side note: Please note that I, unlike several others on the internet, did not preface this section with the words “not a Brony.” That’s because people should be able to talk about a kid’s TV show like adults without qualifying statements that reveal our massive insecurities.

BBWs and their admirers

Well, I do like a courteous, adventureous lady with a sexy southern drawl that can take care of herself.
Source: Borderlands Wiki

This is one of the first counter-cultures that I took notice of as I played.

BBW, for the uninitiated, is short hand for “Big Beautiful Woman” and is used to describe a woman of larger than average (read: socially prescribed as acceptable) weight who insists on retaining her confidence in and her happiness with her physical appearance despite pressure from the fashion industry and misinformation from the medical community (no, really; the health risks connected to being overweight are quite exaggerated).

There’s quite a bit of evidence that suggests that some of the people of Pandora love their ladies large. Scooter has a full-figured female on his trucker cap, a computer monitor in the Crimson Raider HQ has a wallpaper depicting a rather rotund lady in a bikini, and Ellie… well, Ellie exists.

Also note that I said “some people” rather then “some men.” Why? Well…

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Life

Moxxi wants the D… and the V… and whatever else is between your legs at the time.
Source: LucidArtDVC @ DeviantART

The BBW’s may have been my first, but this was the one that made me want to do this exploration.

As it turns out, Pandora has a very strong LGBT community. Dr. Tannis, Moxxi (who openly admits to having several lesbian affairs), and Ellie will flirt with you regardless of your gender. You can find several ECHO tapes depicting or hinting at same-sex couples. In a behind-the-scenes release, lead writer Anthony Burch revealed that he intentionally wrote Axton the Commando as bisexual.

This is surprisingly progressive for a video game. Usually when a character is designed as LGBT, it’s for titillation or as a joke. Here on Pandora, the game just says, “Yup. That’s an ECHO recording of a gay couple. Just another day.”

So Why Is All This Important?

At first, I took the presence of these counter-cultures on Pandora at face value. I read them as an attempt by the development crew at Gearbox Software to create a more diverse world for the player to explore. And that is certainly true.

But as I drew closer to the game’s climax, I was hit with a realization that felt like the hammer of Thor straight to the chest.

Handsome Jack, our main villain, makes it very clear that he hates EVERYTHING about Pandora and wants to level it to the ground in order to start over again. By extension, that would mean that Jack equally hates these subcultures I mentioned that really pose no threat to anyone.

Knowing this, Jack becomes an allegory for the hyper-conservative public; people that shun these innocent folks while refusing to understand them and their lifestyles.

The message is clear; don’t fear the strange and different. We are all human and deserve to be treated as such. It’s okay to be gay, big girls need lovin’ too, and we need to love and tolerate the #&$ out of anyone that says otherwise. How’s THAT for a statement of purpose?

And just in case you think I’m over analyzing this a bit too much, allow me to remind you of the aforementioned behind-the-scenes article where I can quote Anthony Burch as saying, “…like the bandits Ellie crushes to death, I take great pleasure in making bigots and sexists pay for their douchery.”

Bless your heart, Mr. Burch.

One thought on “Cultured Gaming: An Exploration of Counter-Culture in Borderlands 2

  1. Pingback: Why Undyne and Dr. Alphys Are The Best LGBT Couple In Gaming Today | The Awkward Agent's Archive

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