Beyond the hurricane-like barrage of weapons and loot, you’ll notice something different as you proceed through the open world of “Borderlands 3,” the latest installment of a sci-fi series that has sold 48 million copies.
Within this psycho, psychedelic satire of post-apocalyptic heroism and villainy, you’ll find trenchant stories of relationships, romance and sex based on the idea of inclusiveness. So on the game’s hazardous planets (many named with Greek myths in mind) where you work and play as one of four Vault Hunters, you’ll find characters who are nonbinary, pansexual, gay and heterosexual.
“Our goal is to entertain the world, so we have to have a cast of characters that are of the world,” said Danny Homan, the senior writer at developer Gearbox Software.
During a fraught time where game studios have been taken to task for lack of diversity and poor employee relations, lead narrative producer Randy Varnell said, “Gearbox itself is inclusive. We’re pretty proud that we’re open to anyone and everyone.”
As the writers approached character creation, story outlines and plot points, writer Sam Winkler said the scribes asked themselves, “How do we treat people of all backgrounds respectfully? We don’t have a checklist of inclusivity. But we’re always trying to be aware.”
The cast of personalities runs the gamut, like non-playable AI couple Balex and GenIVIV, who badger each other constantly through their nasty breakup. Another pair, Sir Hammerlock and Wainright Jakobs, are in a healthy, same-sex relationship. “Their love is a great source of strength for them, and their deep care for each other helps them to survive in a dangerous world,” Winkler said.
Here’s a deeper look at the personalities and backgrounds of some playable and nonplayable characters in “Borderlands 3.”
FL4K, The Beastmaster
Background: Giant, lurching robotic murderer-hobo. This Beastmaster is compelled to roam the galaxy hunting as an intent tracker. They have interesting drive. They’re obsessed with a personification of death that advises them to kill.
Age: Hundreds of years old.
Identifies: As nonbinary, omnisexual and omniflirtatious. The idea of making FL4K nonbinary came from a nonbinary Gearbox game developer.
Relationships: FL4K feels a lot more comfortable around animals than around humans. Dotes on three pets, Spiderant, Jabber and the lovable Skag. The pets are FL4K’s only family, and they love them equally. FL4K is drawn to Death and refers to it as a woman. They recognize that sex is a thing, but they’re still trying to figure that out.
Likes: Carrying a spiked, pink pet bowl to feed their pets. The challenge of battle. Death and more Death.
Dislikes: Anyone who would do harm to Skag, Jabber and Spiderant. Small talk. Weakness.
Moze, The Gunner
Background: Moze is from a military family and has trained with weapons since she was a kid. Moze probably snuggled a young Iron Bear (see below) in her crib. As a young adult on her last military mission, she saw her entire squad being wiped out. It affected her severely.
Identifies: As female.
Relationships: With wounds fresh from losing her squad, she trusts only Iron Bear, her 15-ton bipedal mech. Once inside Iron Bear, she treasures photos and memorabilia around her from her past. She flirts but is not ready to open up. Something’s a little off with Moze. She’s not altered by the trauma of battle, but by losing the structure of military life. She’s most comfortable in the throes of battle, during which she laughs constantly.
Likes: Iron Bear. Pragmatism. Preparing for everything. Chewing gum. She has a balled-up piece of gum for every battle she’s ever been in.
Dislikes: Hates the unknown and people who don’t know what they’re doing. Moze doesn’t like standing still and has to be doing something. When bored (when the player puts down the controller), Moze starts repeating the words from military drills.
Zane Flynt, The Operative
Background: The wealthy, white-bearded Zane with his high-tech eye patch is a “swaggering combination of James Bond and John Wayne who is an incredible criminal network,” Homan explained. Zane used to be a black ops mercenary who did odd jobs for highest bidder. Zane began his life of violence when he was a teen. He’s very much a loner despite being extroverted. To become a Vault Hunter, he left his happy retirement.
Identifies: As male, pansexual.
Relationships: Zane is married in not one, “but in a couple of planetary systems,” Winkler said. He can walk into any bar and someone would want to hug him, and someone would want to kill him. He’s got a lot of swagger.
Likes: Himself. Loves talking to his Digi-Clone, his holographic self. Full of charisma, jokes and charm, he likes spewing Irish gems like “You couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.” Enjoys using his SNTNL machine gun drone.
Dislikes: Those without a sense of humor. Very transactional, he suspects people who aren’t getting something upfront out of a job. He hates the homogeneous worship culture promoted by the Calypso Twins because they want to round up everyone into an all-obeying cult.
Amara, The Siren
Background: Amara’s a Siren with unabashed confidence who grew up the abysmal slums of the planet Partali. On Partali, she became a young crime-fighter who quickly became a local hero. Growing up with chip on shoulder and her six-armed Phasetrance ability, she once showed off by punching holes in a concrete truck. The first time she fought a bully, people started celebrating. She realized, “This is how I can get fame!” She’s torn between seeking justice and broadening her personal legend.
Age: Late 20s.
Identifies: As female.
Relationships: Has loyalties to other Sirens and greets them with “Hello, Siren-sister!” She was married at one point, but chasing fame was her real love. A question the writers toyed with during the creation of Amara was, “What does she give up in order to be famous?” She is keeping her romantic options open.
Likes: People who want her autograph. Defending the poor and underserved. Confrontation and punching things. Her pragmatic attitude is embodied in the sentences: “Let’s just do this thing. What are we waiting around for?”
Dislikes: People who don’t want her autograph. People who say no to her. Has no time for politics or nation-building.
Background: Not long ago, Lorelei the purple-outfitted soldier was a barista and reveled in her cushy life. She put the good life aside in order to halt invasions.
Identifies: As nonbinary and is seriously considering transitioning. She’s voiced by trans actor Ciarán Strange.
Lorelei wanted to explore all that goes into the transition to become male but had to put that off because of violence that surrounded her. Slowly, she reveals her story. In a world, Winkler said, where you can “walk into a booth and change your head and things about you and have access to (such) tech on a daily basis, she realizes transitioning is more than changing your physical body. It’s an emotional journey during which you need your friends around you.”
Relationships: She has a deep flirtation with a fan favorite character (The writers won’t say who, but perhaps it’s the lovable sidekick nerd robot Claptrap).
Likes: Caffeine. Keeping people who are depending on her alive. Flirting. “In times of stress, you flirt,” Winkler said. Loves her motorcycle.
Dislikes: You, if you don’t get her coffee.
Tyreen and Troy, the Calypso Twins (Non-Playable Primary Antagonists)
Background: The idea behind this devious pair was borne of the Greek mythical character Calypso, the singing nymph who kept Odysseus on an island for seven years, hoping he would marry her. Tyreen and Troy were born as conjoined twins, and Troy took powers from Tyreen. Now separated, they are never quite one whole. So Tyreen resents Troy even while she leeches powers derived from cultists and transfers powers to Troy to keep him alive. They’re wildly famous as streamers and crazed with power.
Feeling that ruling her world is her birthright, Tyreen is more like the courageous, ruthless, somewhat mad Daenerys Targaryen in "Game of Thrones.” And Troy like the scheming, hyper-intelligent Tyrion Lannister. The writers used the two to play with the ideas of what constitutes family and the positive and negative aspects of influencers in our culture. In a parody of social media culture, Tyreen commands, “Don’t forget to like, follow and obey.”
Age: Early 20s.
Identifies: As male (Troy) and female (Tyreen) heterosexuals.
Relationships: Because they fear spoiling the story, the writers will say only that the twins have romantic relationships during the game. Tyreen and Troy recognize that sex is a weapon. Tryeen is “frustrated because she can’t get laid properly,” Winkler said.
Likes: Leading millions of minions on a wild-goose chase to a fabled heaven. Being loud, proud liars. Tyreen loves the limelight. She interrupts constantly and has an entertainer’s sense of needing to be the center of attention. The clever Troy likes working behind the scenes, helping to make the rules of the cults. He loves his working with his camera and streaming content.
Dislikes: Both don’t like others finding out that they’re hypocrites. While they proclaim the wonders of the many bandit gangs publicly, they’re disgusted by some of them privately. They don’t like pressure because the pressure on the Calypso Twins “to escalate and entertain is incredible,” Homan said.
Harold Goldberg has written for the New York Times, Playboy, Vanity Fair and elsewhere. He’s the founder of the New York Video Game Critics Circle and New York Game Awards. Follow him on Twitter @haroldgoldberg.
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