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One of the most serious arguments Iʼve ever had with my friend J was over Borderlands. He was playing Lilith, a Siren with a bent towards elemental weapons while I was Roland, the medic and support class. We found a new sub-machine gun, Jʼs specialty, and I ran in before him and snatched it up. The ensuing argument was over which of us could make better use of the weapon: I argued that heʼd had plenty of SMG guns, and, besides, it wasnʼt even an elemental weapon, and he could stand to let me have a nice SMG in my arsenal. But no, my class was designed for shotguns and combat rifles, he argued. His class optimized SMGs. It morphed into an argument of whether I was willing to be a team player, and then a larger argument over what kind of behavior should be expected out of two people who thought of the another as ʻgood friendsʼ. Good friends let each other have nice weapons, I said. Good friends set aside themselves for the good of the team, he said. The argument ended when he hit me in the stomach. My friends and I donʼt hit each other. Thatʼs now how we are. I donʼt mind being touched, but it had been a long time since Iʼd ever provoked anyone enough to want to hit me. He socked me, and we moved on. Borderlands is my favorite shooter for this reason. The underlying idea is fine and all––a four player, first-person co-op shooter with RPG elements and a loot system fueled by thousands of guns––but itʼs the emergent meta-game of Borderlands that makes it memorable. The game on the screen is a fairly basic first-person shooter, but the game weʼre playing on the couch is more like Risk. Iʼm making alliances, negotiating loot and calling others out––thereʼs rarely enough loot to go around, and so when my “friend” swipes a fancy new gun, Iʼm without tangible reward for all my work, and suddenly I dislike my friends. I wouldnʼt play Borderlands alone. I have, and itʼs okay. The skill points and loot system make for an addictive experience, but nothing more. The reason I hang onto Borderlands is because I like what it brings out in me. My favorite past time is to sit and talk to others, but there are some parts of us we wonʼt and canʼt admit to, not until weʼre tempted with the promise of something we want, something tangible we didnʼt know existed and that we donʼt want to share. The lighter, more diplomatic parts of ourselves come out more easily in conversation while our more confrontational bits only begin to ooze under pressure. Thatʼs a kind of conversation I didnʼt expect to have with others in Borderlands, and it was stressful once I found it. However, that hasnʼt been my experience every time. Iʼve played through the entire game four or five times, each time with someone different. Playing with some friends is like playing a game of dismissive hot-potato, where we all take turns criticizing each other; other times itʼs a poor substitute for one-on-one interaction. When I played through the game with my roommate B, we were completely polite and were sure to never screw the other over. It was a distraction for us, and excuse to not talk as intimately as we could have. Borderlandsʼ ending is clever. The game baits you through a dozen hours of fetch-quests with a buildup of useful loot, promising a treasure trove of rewards at the final bossʼ demise. I remember how angry I was when the dust had settled after that last fight and realized weʼd been cheated into expecting a reward that was never there. Like a dog hunting its next slab of meat, the glowing pinata break of weapons that spilled from every dead enemy was something I searched for willingly, and when it wasnʼt there, I became angry. Itʼs almost scary how easily I relinquished myself to that hunt. It happened so quickly, as though some part of me were waiting for it.


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