You may have noticed from our new video series that our PR Manager Don Parsons isn’t very good at shooters. Killed in Ghost Recon, massacred in Tribes Ascend, Don obviously needs help. Thankfully, Don’s wife is an ace Borderlands player, and she has some contacts over at Gearbox. They’ve elected to add a new mode to the game, an easy mode, just for beginners like Don.
They’re calling it, for lack of a better term, “Men Mode.”
Because, let’s be honest: men aren’t very good at shooters. They’re not real gamers. Farmville and SimPets don’t count.
There are few terms in the English language worse than this: “for lack of a better term.” When you hear or read that, you know that the person is about to say something dumb or offensive. What is going through the person’s mind? “I can’t for the love of God think of a single thing appropriate to say.” Or maybe they’re thinking, “Well, I know a bunch of people are going to be offended by this, but, screw them. I don’t care.” There are probably a lot of people who think like this. But you should know better if you work in professional public relations.
And yet, here it was. Lead Designer John Hemingway of Borderlands 2, as he attempts to describe the easy mode (which, by the way, already had an actual name), describes the easy mode skill tree thus: “for lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree.” There isn’t a better term? You really had to go the “my girlfriend sucks at gaming and needs help” route? I feel bad for you, man. Rookie mode. N00b mode. Aim assist mode. I can think of dozens without having to reach to something that would offend a subset of Gearbox customers.
So my question is: is this guy stupid or sexist? Does he think girlfriend mode is a perfectly acceptable term for something designed for people who need help? If I’m playing with my dad, my grad school roommate, or my oldest friend (who plays Madden and nothing else), are they going to want to play something called “girlfriend mode”? The answer is no, which is why the actual skill tree is called “Best Friends Forever.”
This was a gaffe. You could blame it on a temporary brain fart. But let’s be honest: people in professional PR have talking points that have been approved by management. What this guy said to the reporter had been signed off on ahead of time for someone else. And in his role as lead designer, Hemingway was speaking for Gearbox. Does the design team refer to this as girlfriend mode all the time? You’re damn straight that they do. This is the company that brought Duke Nukem back to the world in horribly ugly fashion. That game pretty much said everything you need to know about Gearbox and women’s rights.
I don’t think that this comment says much about the industry at large. In the grand scheme of things, this was one stupid remark from one person who probably feels pretty bad about himself today. But let’s not forget that this is one of the leaders of a very well-known developer. And also, let’s not forget that in a free society, one where everyone is entitled to think what they want to think, that these topics can and should be discussed. People say dumb things, and they are entitled to do so. But we’re also free to advance thought and debate by pointing them out.