Borderlands’ violence borders on overkill

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I have played my fair share of violent video games.  I’m not proud of it, nor am I ashamed of it, it is just an accepted truth when you play as many games as I do.  In fact it is so common that I don’t tend to notice it any more.  A head blown off here, a torso torn apart there, it’s just the way it is for the most part, and I derive close to zero pleasure from watching some clever animator’s handy work in drawing a contorted and bloody torso.  I go to games for the stories, character development, clever mechanics.  The violence, well that is sometimes just a nice little wrapper, that entices nor offends.  It just is.

That is until Borderlands.

I have been playing Borderlands for just over 10 hours now and still am not entirely sure why.  I don’t find the role playing elements particularly gripping, the loot is uninspired, and the story, i think, is somewhere in the background noodling away.  The game looks great from a technical standpoint but is incredibly dull from an artistic one.  In short I’m not really that gripped by the game.  And so here I am debating whether I’m going to persist with it, but also unsure as to why I’ve come this far.  Or at least I’m in denial as to why.  The truth is Borderlands hits at something primal inside of me that I didn’t know, or at least hadn’t noticed, existed.  Video game violence is something I’ve denied (with caveats) is an issue for years.  I’ve defended video games from the siege laid upon them by lobby groups and the mainstream media who claim that video game violence is the bane of our modern existence.  And yet here I am with the stark realisation that, the only reason I persist with Borderlands is an inner thirst for violence.  Borderlands is no more or less violent than other games in its genre, but violent is all it is, really.  “It’s just a bit of fun” I said.

And I maintain that video game violence is okay, providing it’s in service of, or at least, accompanying some greater narrative or mechanical draw.  The problem with Borderlands, at least personally, is that there is nothing outside of  the sheer act of inflicting harm on (virtual) others keeping my interested.  I think about the key mechanics driving me forward, the collection of better and faster ways to dispose of my enemies.  Without the distractions of story or character attachment, the guns and the violence, are the only real reason to persist.  Call of Duty is violent, yes, but I come to those for cheesy storylines of mateship and Government conspiracies.  With Borderlands everything is built in service of making you the best possible killer.  Bigger, faster and more powerful guns are the only aim.  And with that I’m forced to admit that, yes, I am only playing Borderlands because of the pleasure I’ve derived from killing people.  I play because I’m in the habit of finding better ways to kill.  .  And that’s not a great thing to admit.

If you’ve seen the film The Hurt Locker (and minor spoilers here for those that haven’t) you would’ve been surprised at Sergeant First Class William James’ (played by Jeremy Renner) decision to leave his family and return to the battlefield, seemingly at odds with his traumatic experiences throughout the film.  But the film brilliantly sets out a character, and empathy for that character, that it is infinitely clear that he knows nothing else, that is driven by the adrenaline that comes with the combat scenario.  He obviously finds some personal growth from war, as humans we always strive to be better at what we do. Rightly or wrongly, he doesn’t continue because he wants to, he continues because he has to.   I’m not familiar with war, but I am familiar with being a creature of habit.  And I’ve come to the realisation that I’m not playing Borderlands because I want to, I’m playing Borderlands because my human nature is telling me I have to.  Its an inner-bloodlust that is keeping me playing, and while it would never translate into the real world, it is making me feel incredibly uneasy about who I am as a person.  To some people Borderlands is just light entertainment, to me its a window into my own psyche that I’m not entirely comfortable having open.  And so with that I’m making the decision to stop, rightly or wrongly.

Have you ever played a game you thought was a bit ‘too much’ in its treatment of violence?  Tell us in the comments!

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8 Comments

  1. I think games like Dead Space are way more violent (You get an awesome Ripper weapon that is literally just a spinning saw blade that tears enemy limbs off) as an example. But yeah, Borderlands doesn’t have a particularly gripping story or character growth to offset that. Borderlands 2 was a lot better IMO, but still poor writing.

    1. It’s a strange one, because I am in no way an opponent of videogame violence (and I hope it didn’t come off that way). But violence is a central part of Borderlands and without any context all you’re really doing is getting better at shooting people. That appeals to people, absolutely, but it was what I realised about myself playing it that was the disturbing part.

      The Dead Space games didn’t elicit the same reaction from me because, while yes it was violent, that wasn’t my main motivation.

  2. Killer Is Dead is the closest game that came to this for me. The combat and gore was the only compelling thing for more because nothing else connected for me, which is rare for a Suda 51 game for me. The problem is there’s no real need to master the combat or any real challenge, so it’s just amazingly artistic scenes of death.

    1. And it all felt weird out of context? I’m a fan of Suda’s work generally and find his treatment of violence in some ways an artistic parody. But it seems what you’re saying is that without the framing of some of his other games it just felt gratuitous. Is that accurate?

      Again im not anti violence, Borderlands just made me acutely aware that all I was enjoying was the simple act of being a better and faster killer, particularly in absence of any other compelling hooks

      1. There was no parody or pastiche or subtext. It’s just a bunch of sword and guns until a boss battle

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