Borderlands 2's so-called "Girlfriend Mode": Gearbox slams "sensationalist" sexism claims

"A personal anecdote has been twisted and dogpiled on by sensationalists. Fun!"

I'm working on a feature for later this week, a feature about how much Gearbox has matured since the bad old days of babe-slapping in Duke Nukem Forever. It'll touch on Borderlands 2 character Ellie, described by Log as a "formidable and shrewd woman who couldn't give an [expletive deleted] what you think of her size", along with other heartening indications that the developer doesn't look on the fairer sex as brain-dead assemblages of boxart-friendly assets.

Regrettably, lead designer John Hemingway has just rained on his own parade. Speaking to Eurogamer, Hemingway revealed a new skill tree for Borderlands 2 DLC class the Mechromancer, a pig-tailed punk girl who specialises in robotics. That skill tree is called Best Friends Forever, and it's designed to make things easier for people who can't aim for toffee - one of the early unlocks gives missed shots a chance of ricocheting towards the target.


Nothing all that controversial there, right? Right. Except Hemingway casually refers to the tree as "girlfriend mode". Oops.

"The design team was looking at the concept art and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we've ever had," he said. "I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree.

"This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters. Can we make a skill tree that actually allows them to understand the game and to play the game? That's what our attempt with the Best Friends Forever skill tree is."

"Can't aim? That's not a problem."

One of the Mechromancer's other skill trees (there are three in total) may serve as a counterpoint, upping the challenge for skilled players. Wonder if they'll shorthand this one as "Boyfriend Mode"?

Gearbox headman Randy Pitchford has already spoken out against the inevitable cries of sexism. "Borderlands 2 does NOT have a girlfriend mode," he Tweeted. "Anyone that says otherwise is misinformed or trying to stir up something that isn't there."

He added: "It's not a thing. Just sensationalism. There's a TBD skill for a future DLC char that is helpful for noob coop buddies. That's a good idea!

"I'm sure Hemmingway is getting noogied now, but not his fault. A personal anecdote has been twisted and dogpiled on by sensationalists. Fun!"

The official Gearbox Twitter followed up with: "Gaming is divided by skill, not gender. Our goal with Mechromancer is for co-op partners of any skill to have fun together."

What's your mileage? For more on Borderlands 2, pick up a copy of the quite, quite marvellous issue 89.