Something that came up recently with the introduction of the Mechromancer in Borderlands 2 is the idea of “Girlfriend Mode” in video games. The original thought being that the “Best Friends Forever” talent tree included abilities for players who were not familiar with first person shooters. Now obviously there are many problems with calling this “Girlfriend Mode” which have been discussed other places. The other part of this that David and I remember when it first happened were some gamers complaining that the abilities made it easier for someone to play. Considering them almost cheating and not playing the true game.
The more interesting thing that David and I found was that the abilities people were complaining about seemed to have similar abilities in the other talent trees. The other thing that this made us think of are other games where there seems to be a similar method being able to help a player or create an easier mode.
Borderlands 2 Abilities
The main ability that seemed to be the source of many of the complaints in the “Best Friends Forever” talent tree is the “Close Enough” ability.
“Your bullets that hit walls or other objects have a chance to ricochet off toward a nearby enemy. Ricocheted bullets deal reduced damage.”
Seeing it I can appreciate why people think this makes things easier. Even if you do not aim accurately you still have a chance to hit the enemy. When maxed out you have a 50% chance for the bullet to ricochet and deal 90% of your weapon damage. So no matter where you aim you can hit things being the idea.
At the same time before the Mechromancer was introduced the Siren already had a similar ability “Chain Reaction”.
“While you have an enemy Phaselocked all of your bullets that hit enemies have a chance to ricochet and hit another nearby enemy.”
While not quite the same there are usually enough enemies that you will hit someone and then that could ricochet and hit someone else. Phaselock is also an ability that can be activated a lot of times without that much waiting time between uses. Meaning you could have it activated enough that it would assist with killing enemies pretty well even if you are not firing too accurately.
At the same time Borderlands is not a game that you play that is based in reality where you just have a gun and your wits. The special abilities of each of the players create a very different play style where you may not need to be accurate. The Gunzerker’s ability is based in the idea that you shoot as many bullets as possibly as quickly as possibly. The accuracy does not really matter, you are just spraying a mass of bullets into the crowd. You cannot even look down the scope of your weapon while gunzerking, you just need to fire.
In the first Borderlands I remember playing the Soldier class because with the turret it was like having a second person on the field, making it easier to kill the enemies. This is the same with the Commando who uses a turret as well. What is easier than having a turret that distracts enemies and helps you kill them?
The final issue is that just as with all the talent trees the abilities are synchronous with each other. Even when you choose one talent tree, they make abilities in the other talent trees that function perfectly with the abilities in the other trees. This is the same with the Mechromancer; the “Ordered Chaos” tree has the ability “Anarchy”:
“Killing an enemy or fully emptying your gun’s Magazine while in combat grants you a stack of ‘Anarchy’. For every stack of Anarchy you have, you gain bonus Gun Damage, but your Accuracy is decreased. Prematurely reloading your gun removes all stacks of Anarchy. Anarchy stacks are quickly lost while in “Fight For Your Life”.”
The fact that the more Anarchy you have the higher your damage, but the less accurate you are means that it combined with “Close Enough” creates a perfect pairing. You increase your damage, decrease your accuracy, and then even when your chance of hitting is low you have a chance to ricochet. It is a perfect storm (of bullets) creating an amazing ability. At the same time “Anarchy” is not the easiest ability to use, making it an amazing ability combination that takes a lot of thought to take advantage of. And lots of ignoring the “reload” messages.
This really brings home the fact that while the designer may have called it “Girlfriend Mode”, it really does not change that many of the dynamics of the game. I personally am not a big player of shooters, but the talents and abilities in Borderlands make it a different way to play. The whole “Best Friends Forever” tree is about survivability and helping other players, which each class has a similar tree, even without the specific ability. The whole argument of Mechromancer having an easier mode for new players seemed flawed – any beginner choosing one of these trees built around survivability would have an “easier time” playing.
What is even more interesting is that there are other games who seemed to have done similar things.
An Assist Mode
I am calling this an assist mode because it is not like Borderlands where there is a class or ability that makes the game easier. This is a way for two people to play together, but through characteristics of the game or an ability for a second player to assist the game. The two that David and I experienced this with were Donkey Kong Country Returns and Super Mario Galaxy.
In Donkey Kong Country Returns, when you play as two players there is a great ability to have Donkey Kong carry Diddy Kong on his back. This is especially nice during tricky jump or climb sequences. This way, the more experienced player can help a less experienced player through a tricky section and at the same time they both get to enjoy playing the game. The player being carried can even shoot from the back of Donkey Kong. Now this could seem like making the game easier, but as someone who has played many a two-player game, one of the hardest things is having two players going through a jumping puzzle at the same time. David and I have both at times been pulled off the edge of a platform because one of us failed a jump and the screen pulled us off. It can be incredibly frustrating.
In Super Mario Galaxy there is a really interesting addition where you can have a 2nd player join in. They don’t get to join in as another character, they are just a star on the screen that gets to shoot at enemies and can even hold enemies still. This is truly an assist mode: it gives someone the idea that they are accomplishing something which is helping the other player get through the level. This I could see going a couple of ways – it could be a couple who wants to play together, and if someone is not that into games they could still participate in a small way while the other person plays (couples mode?); or, it could be used as a way to help a less experienced player or someone who might get frustrated easily get past some more difficult sections (younger sibling mode?).
Why Does This Matter?
In the end I personally don’t think it matters that they have created these modes. It does not change how I play the game or my experience of the game. With the addition of the assist mode it actually gives options to open up video games to other people.
The place where I can see this being important is actually in a comment by the designer of Borderlands, who commented about thinking of wanting to play the game with his wife and wanting to give her a simpler tree to work with that would be easier for her to connect to. My question is: how is that a bad thing? Video games have often been sited as a passion that can tear relationships a part. Is it so horrible for people to want to find ways to share their passion and have their loved ones join them in something that they love?
Playing video games has been a great way for David and I to work together on something we both love to do, even if it isn’t something in the “real” world. Check out some of our other posts about Co-Op gaming: