The Women of Borderlands

Oct 11, 2012 | Video Games


Take a look at the big image above. What do you see?

What I see is a playable female character in a video game who is:

  • not overtly sexualized,
  • in a fighting pose,
  • clothed appropriately for her class type, and showing about as much skin as the men, and
  • the focal point of the image in an ensemble cast.

This may be unprecedented, to have all this going on at the same time. Promo material for something that has an ensemble cast usually de-emphasizes the female characters in favor of bringing the males to the fore. Not so with Borderlands 2; a quick Google search reveals a range of promo material where the playable female character – Maya – is front and center and looks badass as hell.

Here’s another one:



And they don’t sexualize her, ever. I’ve been playing this game for two weeks, and the only overly sexualized female character is Moxxi – a burlesque-style bartender with giant boobs whose entire schtick is being over-the-top sexy. There are other women in the game – and there is VARIETY, the kind that I’ve been dying to see since I don’t know when.

Here’s another, of Ellie:


God, how I love Ellie. Do you want to know how many positive representations of fat women there are in video games? Answer: I don’t know, because in all my time playing them, this is the first I can remember seeing.

Ellie is awesome. She gives the player quests to do around her area. She owns her own garage, and she’s a kickass mechanic. When you first meet her, she cheerfully squishes a bandit who pissed her off in her giant car crusher.

And you know what? In a strange turn of events, she’s presented as being desirable and happy with how she looks! You find out during the game that she moved out of the main city to a bandit-infested wasteland because another character had a crush on her (her brother – they’re hillbillies – and he later confirms it) and because her mother kept bugging her about her weight and she didn’t want to slim down.

And her mother is none other than Moxxi! Yes, the sexpot with the giant tits has had two kids and must be at least forty!

Let’s go back to Moxxi. She’s been married three times, has had many, many relationships by all accounts, and flirts outrageously with everything. She was also once a member of a hillbilly clan called the Hodunks, and, when they decided to make her ‘clan-wife’ (three guesses what that means), she killed the clan leader and left with her children.

Oh yes, Moxxi is sexual on her own terms, and anyone who thinks about taking advantage of her had better be prepared to die. I would give all the money I have to play that DLC.

Here’s another one:



Meet Tiny Tina, another cheerfully psychotic character who blows up a bandit with dynamite while singing nursery rhymes when you first meet her. And she’s a thirteen year old girl as well as the world’s premier demolitions expert – and boy, does she ever talk like one… it’s fantastic, listening to her. She’s completely nuts.

I could go on. There are other bit players who are female, like Patricia Tannis, the proverbial mad scientist with Asbergers and a very warped sense of morality. There’s Lilith, the female player character from Borderlands 1, who’s back as an NPC, and who is by far one of the most powerful fighters in the game. There’s Angel, the all-knowing AI who guides the player through the main storyline.

There are others.

Gearbox Games, I love you so much. I love you for for filling a game with women who have actual personalities and treating them as more than just eye candy; for, good grief, making a game that tries to be inclusive. You didn’t have to do this, and most triple-A titles don’t. I know some people have been complaining about the changes in gameplay – and believe me, I could spend all day railing about the new menus, ugh – but I won’t.

You made me feel like this game was made for me, not for a generic 18-30 year old male, and that buys a hell of a lot of forgiveness for the small stuff. I’ll walk away from a game or a movie or a TV series that makes me feel like I’m only an afterthought, at best, as a woman. But give me something that makes me feel like I belong, and I will throw money at you forever.