The problem with “girlfriend mode”, according to a girlfriend

If you took a short interstellar vacation from the planet yesterday and missed it, Monday’s Big Controversial Thing was a comment from Gearbox’s John Hemingway, who described the Borderlands 2 Mechromancer’s “Best Friends Forever” skill tree as a “girlfriend mode”.

In an interview with Eurogamer, Hemingway said that, “The design team was looking at the concept art and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we’ve ever had. I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree.”

The idea is to provide an instantly accessible, user-friendly gameplay experience for those people out there who might just be getting started with this gaming thing, or otherwise intimidated by the complex mechanics of a first-person shooter. That’s not a problem.

But “for lack of a better term”? That’s the problem, and for a number of reasons – most obviously that “easy mode” works just fine already, and doesn’t make questionable hypotheses about the player.

There’s an unambiguous implication that “girlfriends” are rubbish at games. Lots of people are rubbish at games, of course, but it’s not just “girlfriends” (and, by extension, women) – and, conversely, there are lots of girlfriends / women who aren’t rubbish at games. While the assumption that many gamers have significant others with whom they’d like to play games is a good one, the exclusively straight male-oriented subtext is not.

Statistically, of course, straight males do make up the majority of the gamer demographic, but “girlfriends” are also not the only minority percentage on the chart. What about a “gay mode”, or a “black mode”, or maybe a “Jew mode”? Most definitely not, so why is something as blatantly sexist as a “girlfriend mode” met with such resolutely bland indifference from so many gamers?

Because, let’s be totally clear about this, it is sexist. There’s a prevailing perception among people that sexism is a bitter, twisted bogeyman that lurks in the darkest and dankest alleys of public discourse, waiting for an opportunity to jump out and make inflammatory statements about sandwiches and driving ability (or whatever), but the reality is that it’s already so deeply entrenched in our culture that even the most casual language reveals it.

I’ve no doubt that Hemingway intended no offence whatsoever. I daresay it didn’t even occur to him, but that’s part of the problem. When women are consistently marginalised or ignored entirely, it’s like people – even women themselves – don’t realise it anymore. On its own, a “girlfriend mode” is just a thoughtless goof, but it also contributes to a much bigger issue.

Recently, the gaming industry has been subject to some serious criticism on the matter of sexism, and it’s important to recognise how even the most seemingly innocuous comments can reinforce those attitudes.

Gamers include men and women, straight and gay people, blacks and whites, and everybody in between. I’m sure no male gamer reading this ever liked being attached to the stereotype of a terminally single virgin living in mom’s basement – as a female gamer and a male gamer’s girlfriend, I’d love to actually, you know, exist at all.

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  • Lexx

    Dear Mr Hunt.
    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be to remove your God damned blinkers, and pay attention. Since you seem to be having a little difficulty doing that, I am going to do the stand up thing, and point you in the right direction.
    1. This IS indeed a gaming site, and should the article have been written about sexism in in any other context, I would whole heartedly agree with you. But here is the catch…. now pay attention… have a look at paragraph 5, line 1, …… atta boy.
    2. You never seem to mention whether or not you agree or disagree with these views, I have noticed, you just seem to want to troll, and state your obvious dissatisfaction at the fact that you are finding views (that clearly dont appear to be your own) on a gaming site…. even though its an article that is clearly about games.
    3. Get some cheese to go with your whining. You seem to be the only person to ever reply with these views, and its getting old… have you not noticed that the articles have not stopped? Probably because they ARE relevant, and your quips are not….. even our name is a lame old joke…
    4. This article is about YOU!… and all the other tactless, sexist biggots out there.

    Hopefully this message will not self destruct in 5 seconds…

  • Glordit


  • Vulcha

    As a guy whose girlfriend likes but sucks at gaming, and as a guy who wants his girlfriend to game with him more, I support the notion of an incredi-easy, developmental game mode for single or co-op play. I don’t think that “girlfriend-mode” is the best name though. Because the same could go for a father who wants to play games with his technologically-uncoordinated child.

    So why not call it “Beginner Support Mode” or something? Make it accessible, make it inviting. Because we want more people to play games. We want it to be social, so that we finally put to death that “virgin living in the basement” stereotype that still lingers, even now.

    The best way to make gaming accessible is to make it culturally and sexually ambiguous. Not through “cuteness” through lame attempts at trying to get particular classes of people to identify with the game by appealing to stereotypes.

  • TehBrad

    Yeah, basically the same thing I said in the previous thread about this. Did they really have to call it Girlfriend mode?

    Easy-mode or Support-mode… anything would be better and definitely not focus it at a group/gender/race etc.

    But I guess they are getting a lot of attention with this. Intentional publicity troll or just a meat-head saying whatever?

  • Vulcha

    Intentional attention-seeking trolling. Nothing is ever unintentional or accidental when it comes to game marketing.

  • Vulcha

    Prove it. Prove that it is “sad” and “pathetic” to use a gaming forum to push feminist opinions ABOUT GAMING. I dare you. I want empirical proof… evidence. Because without evidence, your statement cannot be true.

  • Nicholas

    Back in the day, we referred to this as “Granny Mode”

  • I hate to appear as the “look the other way” -troll, but uhm… Opinion piece gets opinion response – seems appropriate.
    I will take women’s liberation seriously when Olympic (and other sports) events are mixed-sex and nothing else.
    I’m getting really sick of women demanding equality with one closed fist, and right on the other side of their bodies demand separation and special treatment with an open cupped hand.

  • Tarryn van der Byl

    So, basically, until Olympic sports are mixed-gender, it’s okay for women to be stoned to death in Afghanistan for the crime of being raped?

    Sure, that’s an extreme example, but it’s absolutely absurd to ignore sexism entirely on the basis of something as stupid and socioculturally inconsequential as a sporting event.

  • Hairyback

    I still don’t see the problem- sorry. I know some girls that would love a girlfriend mode.
    And terminally single virgin living in mom’s basement mode would be LOL.

  • Ebrahim Ally

    If I took games seriously, they wouldn’t be fun anymore. People need to lighten up.

    I do understand Ms van der Byl’s drive to highlight greater discriminatory issues in the real world. I do, however, believe that games should be an avenue to forget the real world and just blow off steam.

    If I enjoy shooting people in the face and running over pedestrians in stolen cars in the gaming world, doesn’t mean I want to do that in reality for example…

  • Jose

    I find nothing wrong with this. Yes there are girls that are really good at games, some that are better than I am (hardcore gamer) but the majority of ladies out there are just plain useless at games.

    This is not because they’re female but merely because they lack practice and will continue to lack this practice because they’re afraid to try. A ‘girlfriend mode’ is perfect for this problem and the name does therefore suit the problem.

    You won’t get a Jew, Black or Gay mode because male gamers that fall within those demographics do not necessarily have the ‘fear to try’ problem in gaming that many girls do have. The lines that separate gamers from non-gamers by religion, race or sexual preference are a lot more blurred compared to the very distinct lines that separate gamers and non-gamers by gender.

    Sometimes the ‘Very Easy’ difficulty is still not enough for newcomers to this hobby. Women are arguably the most likely group that judge anything by first impression and once they lose their patience with something it’s highly unlikely that they’ll give it a second chance. A ‘hold your hand and teach you the ropes mode’ is perfect for them.

    My only question to the gaming industry as a whole is “Why did it take so long to come up with something like this ?”

  • warr10r

    Mike, its obvious that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • VindicatoR

    I find this funny, the people who this is aimed at won’t even care what it’s called and the people who’ll never actually use it themselves are complaining about the naming of said “easy mode”.

    Being the elitist that I am, I generally make “fun” of people playing a game on normal(girlfriend mode anyway). But ok, that’s just me seeking a challenge. 😛

  • Kurike

    wow, overkill response is overkill, hit a nerve did we?

    what Willem is saying is that the women that aren’t getting stoned in Afghanistan demand equality, but the next breath they are the first ones to accept the seat a man gives them on the bus when it’s full?

    some may say it’s just the man being polite, but in actual fact if the man did not do that, all the women would be “WTF, how dare he not treat us like different than he would a man!!”

    P.S. i do not condone the actions of a backwards country killing women for being rape, i am only using my experience of living in a few First world countries why women from said country have voiced these conflicting demands.

  • Mike Hunt

    Dear Lexx.

    I think it is apparent that I disagree with her views, as she’s using a relatively small thing (calling easy mode “girlfriend mode” *chuckle*), and blowing it up into something completely bigger and irrelevant to gaming (see her Afghanistan post above).

    It’s been a pleasure.

  • Tarryn van der Byl

    He specifically said “women’s liberation”, which includes every aspect of women’s rights and the abuse of those. I put that into perspective for him.

    As for accepting seats, I think it’s a bit much to claim that women are offended if men don’t offer their seats to them. As somebody who has travelled extensively around London on buses, I’ve stood plenty of times. I don’t expect to be treated differently, and I’d say that applies to the majority of women.

  • Mike Hunt

    Yes, the problem is that it’s a feminist opinion, because that’s all you ever write about.

    One would expect to come to a gaming site, and see gaming news, not your random feminist view of the day. If you want to voice your feminist opinion I would gladly set up a domain for you to rant all you want, but that would mean accepting help from a man, something you obviously would take huge offense to.

    Keep politics out of gaming. It’s not a platform for anyone, including yourself, to push their views onto others.

  • Kurike

    gotta love the 3 reply limit on these comments haha i want a comment train dammit!! lol

    anyways, then Tarryn, you are the exception and i raise my Hansa to you, cause i for one have been given a verbal bashing for not standing and for not holding the door (which i do anyways due to my moral upbringing, but the one time i didn’t….Oh BOY!)as apparently most woman don’t know how to do that.

  • Tarryn van der Byl

    “Yes, the problem is that it’s a feminist opinion, because that’s all you ever write about.”

    I write around 5-6 articles per day, as well as two additional features or editorials each week. In the last 8 weeks or so, I’ve written two editorials on the subject of sexism in the gaming industry, both of which were relevant to ongoing events at the time (and written about extensively on gaming sites elsewhere too).

    “If you want to voice your feminist opinion I would gladly set up a domain for you to rant all you want, but that would mean accepting help from a man, something you obviously would take huge offense to.”

    It would mean accepting help from a troll who wants me to shut up with my feminist opinions on a site he frequents. That’s the offensive part. If you don’t like my articles, just don’t read them. It really is that simple.

    “Keep politics out of gaming. It’s not a platform for anyone, including yourself, to push their views onto others.”

    Pushing views? I’m posting my opinion. That’s what I’m paid to do.

  • St3baS

    hahaha I didnt read the whole article but the first comment I saw was this and I just have to entirely agree with you. My gf isn’t a gamer and when I told her a new game was coming out with “Girlfriend Mode” she laughed and said “well at least I can join in on the game now”.

  • Mike Hunt

    Yet, this is your 2nd article on the same subject.

  • Johan du Preez

    Plainly put there is overwhelmingly more woman that suck at games than men hence the generalization.

    I recommend pulling the carrot of of your a$$ and stop being so petty….

  • Mike Hunt

    Had this been called “Boyfriend Mode” it would hardly have warranted any attention (let alone 2 articles), and everyone would’ve had a nice laugh about it, and moved on with their lives.

    So, I’m going to jump on the sexist bandwagon as well now, and state that I am OFFENDED that women have the right to be offended by silly statements related to their gender, and men are not.

    I kindly request all of humanity, not to have any new ideas, or have an form of communication with each other, or make jokes about one another, as it might result in more people getting offended, and we can’t have that.

  • Farhaz

    I usually just browse through the comments and never give my 2cents because I don’t want to share my email address, but this is worth the risk. This guy just said exactly what I was thinking. Someone give this guy a Bells! +1000000

  • Feminists

    There are no feminists when the lifeboats are lowered…

  • Othello

    Wow this is so funny! Will actually make me buy the game because can clearly see the developers have a sense of humor.

    People need to chill out and see the joke for what it is…a joke…geesh!

    I actually think this is quite a good marketing strategy. I think the stereotypical “gamer” has changed. It is now young adult males, mostly, who have girlfriends or are married not just the guys who live in their parents basement.

    This is aimed at those setups. Like I’m thinking: “Hmmm it would be nice if my wife would play a game with me then I spend time with her and get to play games…what wait this has a girlfriend mode and is a cooperative game…hmmmm…”
    Also lowers the barrier for entry for the wife/girlfriend if they see this mode and think well it is made for me so maybe I can give this a go.

    Anyway my 2 cents

  • Pew

    Taking into consideration the style, story and characterisation of Borderlands how can you possibly take offense to girlfriend mode? Borderlands is meant to be a laid back and humourous game so you should expect related statements to have the same tongue-in-cheek aspect to them.

    As an adult male, if i ever had to take up something stereotypically associated with women such as knitting and they provided boyfriend classes for beginners I would laugh and take it for what it is and joke about it myself. Even if I was an expert at knitting I would still laugh because it’s understandable and light-hearted and meant to endear men to knit. Did it ever cross your mind that perhaps the whole reason he called it girlfriend mode was to make it known that there’s a built in mechanism to help beginners, to get guys to get their girlfriends to play and to let girls know that they’ve actually put in some consideration for them and want to provide a mechanism to help them feel comfortable should they need it?

    I assume not. People see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear and if you’ve already got a grudge against the world because of female gamers getting the short end of the stick then an innocent statement like ‘My girlfriend loves gaming’ would even be ripped a part and ‘hidden’ and ‘sexist’ drivel would be brought up. The same kinda thing applies racism, religion, etc.

    The fact remains, most gamers are male and a much much much smaller percentage are female. The same applies to the whole IT industry. In fact the same applies to pretty much all technological and scientific industries. That’s just how the world currently is and if you have a problem with that go and encourage more ladies to get involved instead of raging at a guy who is literally just making a statement which is based on actual facts and statistics. Or better yet, become an excpetional gamer and prove him wrong. Focus on the positive and not the negative.

    Far more males play games regularly than females. Of the males that play games and have girlfriends, girlfriends play games as well but not as often or as competitively in contrast to the guys themselves who play more often and more competitively. The end result is the vast majority of girlfriends aren’t that good at games.

    My girlfriend loves gaming and even though she’s very new to it she’s improving very quickly. She’s not very good yet but enjoys every minute of it regardless and a girlfriend mode is something she would make the most of and appreciate for what it is.

    Random fact, I will probably level up the girlfriend skills myself even though I’m a solid FPS’er.

  • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

    So what has happened is that game developers accepted the fact that most men date women who do not play games. They then proceeded to think how they could brain storm an idea on how to get this demographic to play too. They came up with this idea. It is a good idea, because there will be people who can now play the game who would have had to sit on the side lines and watch their friend or boyfriend play…

    Then feminism came rushing in and latched itself onto one word “Girlfriend” (Which by the way isn’t what it is actually called. It is officially called “Best Friends Forever” IIRC).

    This really comes down to one thing. The people who will be using this mode won’t care what you call it since they don’t care about games that much and now they get to share in the joy with a partner or friend.

    Believe me we men get generalizations like this thrown at us all the time and to be honest we just laugh it off, because we have accepted that it might be a generalization that has some ground. (Just like this one.) We then shrug it off whether or not it applies to us and move on with our lives.

    Now what you should be doing is kicking ass at Borderlands 2 and reaching the top of the rankings and then shove it in their faces! That would be funny. This isn’t funny and I agree with it not having a place on a gaming website. I just want to know about games. Look at all these words I was forced to type now… Sigh

  • The Rich

    You, good sir, win over 9000 internets on this fine day! Bravo! Could not have said it better myself, plus I had a really good lol especially at that last sentence. So much win.

  • The Rich

    ROFL! I just lold indefinitely. Thank you, Mr Hunt, for making my day.

  • Tarryn van der Byl

    “Then feminism came rushing in and latched itself onto one word “Girlfriend” (Which by the way isn’t what it is actually called. It is officially called “Best Friends Forever” IIRC).”

    So you didn’t even read the first paragraph of my article? I didn’t bother reading the rest of your comment.

  • Jose

    Take it easy guys, it could be that time of the month for some folks. Which is why we’re witnessing this storm in a teacup.

    Oops! sorry that may have been sexist.

  • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

    DODGED! Nice! You win at internet commenting!

  • Sweet, I’m being flagged as a nawty individual.

  • Here’s an excellent example of a mature, well thought out “opinion piece”. It may be an opinion, but its researched, factual and also topical.Therefore offering insight, without being overly emotional about it.

    Something the editors & writers need to begin thinking seriously about if their intention is to publish more opinion pieces. Otherwise, you’re only going to lose your audience.

  • Fridgevr

    Well obviously Cod is better than BF. 🙂

  • Mike Hunt

    And lose face

  • Mike Hunt


    PS. Are you sure you’re a guy?

  • These sorts of self-important posts really make my eyeballs bleed. FYI, whilst you may think you’ve written a dickens, everyone else just thinks you’re a… duck.

    Incorrect spelling intended.

  • Mike Hunt

    Well said.

  • This has escalated quite a bit more than I expected it too. You have a good point, Tarryn, so good in fact that for the last 10 minutes I can’t think of something relatively neutral to say here without immediately thinking of a way you can capsize it on me. The world is full of knife fights like this. Everyone has their own opinions, just don’t start a nuclear war.

  • Tarryn van der Byl

    “Here’s an excellent example of an opinion I agree with because it doesn’t challenge my prejudices in any way whatsoever.”


    But let’s play this game:

    Also, “overly emotional”? Please point out the relevant “overly emotional” parts of my article (which would, I know, mean actually reading it this time). Or, oh, maybe it’s because I’m female, so everything I say *must* necessarily be overly emotional. Sexist much?

  • grim

    A sincere question; how is Colin’s article any more factual than Tarryn’s? Or topical, for that matter? Seems to me one could easily argue that Colin simply latched onto the interpretations of those events that suited his argument; his recollection of the Tomb Raider debacle certainly doesn’t take into account the varied responses, many of which raised different arguments. And using quotes by Orwell and Franklin is not a cheap tactic, not at all.

    Is it perhaps an excellent example for you because you agree with his sentiment? I’m won’t make that assumption, but we’re all certainly guilty of using confirmation bias at one point or another. Are you sure you’re not guilty in this instance?

  • I’m going to put this up here grim so you have an opportunity to reply, should you want to.

    And… go.

    I see you’ve dropped the theatrics & drama. Personally I prefer this voice. It’s more direct, less flowery.


    Linking to an opinion piece on gaming site, in the context to what is being discussed here, was the logical thing to do. Unless you prefer comparing apples to oranges?

    And the implication wasn’t that you-are-a-duck.


  • grim

    I agree, I was being completely theatrical, but that was the point. Since no one seemed to have been capable of debating the topic without resorting to tired tropes or laziness, I didn’t feel the need to act respectful.

    I wasn’t calling you out for linking to the piece, rather my intention was to point out that there is a significant difference between the ‘taking offense’ debate, and the ‘discrimination’ debate. I’m happy to drop the drama, and perfectly capable of engaging in a civil discussion.

    I hear oranges are healthier anyway 😉

  • Mike Hunt

    but are you sure you’re a guy?

  • JohanduPreez

    I agree now thats a much more unbiased article than this drivle, this is also a gaming site not Heat Magazine ….

    Are you even aware that gamescom is on by any chance or are you not interested on writing whats actually happening in the gaming industry ?

    There is no room on a gaming website for this kind of drivle unless you and your feminist friends want to hang out alone on Mygaming bitching at each other.

    Rember the domographic you are writing to is gamers and unfortunatly for you males are the majority by far especially in south africa. If you want to chase away your core audience then keep this up.

  • I’m afraid your entire article is written with an emotional, slightly exasperated tone. Numerous use of italics, quotes, very clipped sentences etc. I get the feeling that you are angry and not measured or subjective at all. which makes taking in what you have to say, difficult. Not because I’m prejudiced.

    And the point of using the IGN article was to show that an opinion piece doesn’t need to be structured as a rant, not because of it’s wondrous content (grim).

  • I LOVE THAT. And that is so freeken weird. I just posted that on FB. Grim, do you know anyone who works at prezence?

  • UltimateNinjaPandaDudeGuy

    lol Good to know I am increasing on my internets! I just can’t believe she used the black and jew card here… Wow! I love how people like her have to just force politics and this BS into every damn thing in life and just spoil the little fun I get to have out of work… Life is going to be hard for her! xD

The problem with “girlfriend mode”, according to a girlfriend

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