5 Ways 'Borderlands 2' Is a Remorseless Addiction Machine

#2. Interconnected Characters

Ah, but it's not enough to have just one character running this gauntlet of soul-crushing addiction, compulsively organizing and hoarding items that he couldn't possibly use until his gritty resolve is completely lost in a delirious haze of multicolored arrows. There are four different characters in Borderlands 2, and each one has a litany of specialties they can choose from. Which is great: That adds some variety and replay value to an otherwise straightforward shooter. But in the first game, those characters were exclusive: If you found a gun for a sniper, but you were currently playing as a mountain of fists that exclusively punched giant robots into inexplicably bloody piles of meat, too bad. You just sold it and moved on. Now there are no longer weapon proficiencies -- everybody can use everything -- and you can swap items between characters, besides. That sounds like a much-needed feature at first glance, until you realize that every item now means something. Even if that item is irrelevant to the game you're playing now, it could be vital to the other game you're playing, or the game you might potentially start up next.

Do you see what just happened? Now you're hoarding on behalf of a theoretical person, and preparing for all of their potential (but still totally nonexistent) needs.

"For he is my progeny, my legacy, my heir; I shall name him ButtLord."

When I first saw the storage vault that allows you to swap items between characters -- even though you need to play for hours just to get to it, and I had just barely completed the quest that opens it up -- my immediate thought was "Oh shit! I have to start another character and level him up so I can trade items from this one to the new one."

Why? Why, you stupid, stupid brain?! They don't exist yet! You cannot predict the potential needs of imaginary people! But it's sitting there right now, at this very moment, mocking me: A locker full of weapons for a sniper that hasn't even been born yet. I'm saving for the college fund of a child that I do not have, that the wife and I might not even want, and who may decide he doesn't even want to be a sniper like his daddy says, but would rather hit people with swords or teleport or just fucking sing jaunty show tunes in a local dinner theater troupe.

Hey, it's a big world; anything can happen. Don't you judge my boy.

#1. The Complete Acknowledgment of Guilt

So clearly: Borderlands 2 is the end result of a long history of psychological exploitation in the media. It is all the worst elements of addiction and consumerism, twisted and presented as harmless entertainment. It is an unrelenting knife twisting in the wound of our own vices.

And you know what? It's totally fucking fantastic.

Not in spite of these things, but because of them. Borderlands 2 never tries to hide all of the clever and manipulative ways it screws with your brain. In fact, I'd argue that it's the entire point of the game: Literally every other piece of dialogue is snarkily acknowledging these tricks. In the Borderlands universe, when you die, you respawn at a save point that charges you a small fee for bringing you back from death. Every single time it happens, the fictional company in charge of the resurrection machine plays a little message thanking you for dying, and politely encouraging you to run off and make the same mistake again, or to seek vengeance on the party that just killed you. That company, by the way, is also one of the major weapons manufacturers. In one of the better snippets of writing, a calm, feminine voice gently suggests that, if you're going to seek vengeance anyway, why not buy one of their guns to do it?

I should thank you to keep your filthy social commentary out of my violence simulators, madam.

Each of the vending machines plays a set of prerecorded loops that acknowledge the fact that they're making money off of your foolish repetition -- whether that's the gun seller jovially admitting that "most of our merchandise is scavenged from the bodies of dead vault hunters" (you're a vault hunter) or the medicine machine asking you to "think of [them] the next time you're bleeding out" -- the idea that you're a stupid and predictable thing being manipulated by your absolute basest instincts is everywhere. It's hurled at you from the billboards and the radios, in the quest dialogue and even in the descriptions of the weapons themselves. Borderlands 2 isn't a shooting game; it's a vicious parody of gaming in general. It's a direct and blunt mockery of every flaw inherent in our chosen hobby. It is literally a gripping collection of addictions and vices, each of which spits right in your face and dares you to quit dosing up, because it knows you won't.

And it is just so much goddamn fun, you guys.

Look, it's really important that you think about your entertainment, and what it's trying to do or say -- especially if you're prone to manipulation by said media. There might be some very bad people doing some very bad things with your vices. But shit, it doesn't mean those vices are any less fun.

Most alcoholics started drinking because, at the start, it was a fucking party.

Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.

For more from Brockway, check out When Video Games Get Stuck in Your Head and In Defense of Video Games as Art.

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Robert Brockway

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