Borderlands 2 lead designer John Hemingway appears to have stepped in it. In an interview with Eurogamer, he revealed that the game's fifth class, the Mechromancer, will feature a skill tree designed specifically for newbies. Among other things, this tree includes a Close Enough skill that ups the odds that missed shots will ricochet into your enemies. Sounds like a great idea, except Hemingway refered to the tree as "for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree." He then went onto reference "girlfriend mode" numerous times, according to Eurogamer.
Cue predictable outrage.
Gearbox President Randy Pitchford is doing damage control on Twitter, claiming that girlfriend mode was a "personal anecdote." Surely, it was a poor choice of words; calling the tree "noob mode" would have avoided any controversy. But it's also worth pointing out that the Mechromancer is a female character, and more importantly, that she bears no resemblance to a busty Lara Croft squeezed into tiny booty shorts. Hemingway hardly seems like a misogynist.
What seems to be lost in all the hubbub is that a gender-neutral-unskilled-player skill tree sounds like a really good idea. Games are increasingly offering cooperative multiplayer modes, but difficulty settings don't account for players with mismatched skills. Heck, the original Borderlands can be a frustrating experience even when similarly skilled players play with characters that differ by more than a few levels. I'm all for something that balances the playing field a little for cooperative games, just as long as it steers clear of adversarial multiplayer.
Perhaps I need sensitivity training, but the outrage over girlfriend mode seems overblown. Then again, I've never been particularly offended when my girlfriend refers to taking out the garbage as a boyfriend job.