While other families did wholesome things this Thanksgiving, like go outside and freeze various body parts to excruciating numbness (it’s a two part process), the three of us snuggled up to our computers and played Borderlands 2. It started out with husband and I playing. Daughter wandered in and watched for a while, then asked if she could play. Husband and I attempted to have an adult discussion about whether or not she should. It went something like this:
Him: Do you think it’s too mature?
Me: We bought her Lollipop Chainsaw for Christmas last year.
Him: Okay, let’s see if it’s on sale.
Ever played a Borderlands game? If the answer is yes, you already know how much fun we had, family dynamics aside. If the answer is no, I have another question for you: Why not? Seriously, it is the most fun I’ve had gaming in a long, long time.
Briefly, Borderlands 2 is a first person shooter that incorporates elements of role play. As you quest around the planet Pandora you kill stuff and loot stuff. Leveling means upping a certain skill and Badass points give you buffs. The guns…. The guns. I could write a whole article on the guns. They’re all awesome and at fifteen levels in I haven’t decided if the stats on them are purposely random of if there is a system to it all. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised by either.
The graphics rock. Instead of the usual pseudo-cinematic style, the scenery in Borderlands has a comic book style, black outlines and sketchy colouring that allow the world to warp and change in unexpected ways. The vulgar and slapstick comedy throughout gives the whole game the feel of a Saturday morning cartoon that really should air after midnight. Though, it’s probably not a far cry from what the kids (and forty-six year old husbands) are watching on Saturday morning. (I just sounded really old there, didn’t I?)
One of the best elements of the game is the cooperative play. You can solo your way through, but playing with up to three friends (or three random strangers, if that’s your kink) is a lot more fun.
Daughter downloaded her copy that evening and began to play. We were level 7 and so she needed to catch up to us if she wanted to co-op. The next morning, husband roused her sometime before midday so she could continue catching up. She wanted breakfast before she started gaming. We accused her of being weak. Still, we are her parents, so we allowed her to eat. She caught up to us by lunchtime and then wanted to take a break to eat again. Kids these days. Then it was time to play together.
Here are our characters:
Husband=Gaige the Mechromancer. Since this picture was taken she has acquired a new ‘skin’. She is now rocking a bunny hat and some weird mask with a sewed up mouth. It’s sort of disturbing.
Daughter=Maya the Siren. Maya always has the biggest guns. Always. She was the first to collect and equip a rocket launcher and uses it with child-like abandon.
Me=Axton the Commando. I thought he was good looking. I also thought I’d see him more often. He’s actually pretty good with his, er, guns. He loves his sniper rifle and we both extract a lot of joy out of perfect head shots. He also has a lot of fun with his sentient shotgun and assault rifles.
Yes, I am the big guy with the little gun. As a friend kindly observed, Axton does not feel the need to compensate. Still, my family thinks it’s hilarious.
Daughter: It looks like you’re holding a little water gun.
Husband: It’s Nerf or nothing.
Me: *dangerous silence*
To set up our co-op in Borderlands 2 we needed to configure a voice chat, which meant digging out an old headset for daughter’s computer. No problem. We have a few spares. This is where I should note that our daughter has the same set up we do: a laptop for surfing and a PC for gaming. My PC is in a corner of Husband’s man cave. Hers is in her room. We did discuss yelling through the wall at each other in order to coordinate co-operative play, then decided voice chat would be better.
It took us a while to coordinate voice chat. After testing her mic over and over, we figured out the problem, though. Her mute button was on. Then my mic wasn’t working. Turns out my mute button was on, too. I’d say the issues were not related, but we are, er, related.
(There is another story that could go here, something about me being convinced my new headset was broken for two days until I discovered the mute button.)
Those of you who have children will get the next bit: my daughter is twelve. Through voice chat she sounds six…which is really cute until you realise she’s listening to the same suggestive banter you are. We’ve had the talk, she gets it. She still giggles about it all, though. A lot. Which made me giggle, which made Husband laugh. So, the first half hour of the game was a lot of snickering, giggling and laughing as we wondered if we were the worst parents in the world. Then we got down to killing stuff.
Surprisingly, she didn’t suck at this part. Daughter and I have co-oped before. We play Halo: Reach on the Xbox. She is the sort of player who runs into the midst of everything and lets off a grenade. If she lives, it’s a success. If she dies, it’s my job to revive her. She employed much the same method of play in Borderlands, much to the dismay of Husband. At least there is no friendly fire in Borderlands…unless someone blows up a nearby gas tank, which a certain someone did just after reviving me. (We look for opportunities to do this now. I think the score is even at the moment.)
One of the ways to get around in Borderlands is dialing up a vehicle and driving through the landscape. I let Daughter drive ours. Ten minutes of belly busting laughter later, we finally caught up to Husband. We’d only rolled our vehicle sixteen times and driven off three cliffs. As parents, we have decided she is not getting her license until she is thirty. And, no, she is not allowed to use the defense that I plugged the only exit to an exploding building in Halo with one of my vehicles. That was a parking issue, not a driving issue.
At this point, the fact we were using voice chat barely mattered. We were yelling through the wall, particularly when laughter flooded the channel so that no one could make themselves heard. Also when instructions were IMPORTANT, like:
“Do NOT go around that corner/through that door/past that marker/into that room/one step away from where you are now.”
Which was usually followed by:
“Goddammit she aggro’d the whole room/zone/planet.”
Playing with your children can be frustrating for a couple of reasons. One is having to watch your language and worrying about what she’s hearing in the game. Another is moderating your reaction to her doing stupid stuff. She wants to know what is in every room, she wants to try on every outfit in the customization machine, she wants to use ALL her golden keys NOW, she wants to spend all her money on the daily deal weapons and she really, really, really needs to be the first one into every room.
Oh, and you can count on her to be looting and/or consulting her inventory when the BIG BOSS is sitting on your arse.
Speaking of looting, she has all the good guns. And she is constantly out of ammo. So, I guess she’s shooting something. Actually, she’s getting better at the whole co-op thing and it’s probably due to two things. The first would be us yelling through the wall. Husband and I had a giggle about how much we sound like parents on occasion. “Stay with the group.” “We’re playing the game together, aren’t we?” “Don’t go near the exploding tanks.” “Of course you’re going to die if you run into the middle of the room.” Okay, the last two are probably outside the usual run of parenting advice. Though, anyone should be cautioned about standing near explosives.
The second would be the fact that success breeds success. As we move through the quests and collect bigger and better rewards, she becomes more focused. She’s also a proper part of the team. We’ve coordinated a couple of actions now and she’s really come through. As parents, we have convinced ourselves this is teaching her cooperative and management skills. Mmhm.
We had a lot of fun playing together over the holidays. We did get around to cooking a turkey and it was only about two hours late to the table. In fact, dinner was late every night as that last quest stretched from the promised ten minutes to half an hour. Apparently our parenting style also includes teaching our daughter about flexible deadlines.
We do have one hard and fast rule, though: no gaming on week days. It’s kind of a relief, actually. I have a house to clean and a book to write.
Going to leave you with the theme song to Borderlands 2: “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy. It pops up about halfway through the title sequence and really encapsulates the flavour of the game—which, I will say again, is FUN. Regardless of who I play with, it’s one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever played.