Video games are seldom the first medium you think of when it comes to good representation of LGBT+ identities. Things have been getting better in recent years, of course, with games like Hades, Mass Effect, and Cyberpunk 2077 prominently featuring queer characters. Those games are fantastic, but I would like to highlight an unsung hero of sorts when it comes to queer representation: the Borderlands series.
Borderlands is a series of looter-shooters (and a couple of choice-based story games for good measure) set in a space-western galaxy filled to the brim with bandits, monsters, and mysterious technology left behind by the extinct alien race known as the Eridians. It’s known for its massive loot pool, endlessly fun gameplay, and over-the-top humor. My personal favorite part of the series, however, is its fantastic character writing. Despite existing in an absolutely bonkers universe, every character feels like a fully realized human, including the LGBT+ characters.
I think loads of writers get bogged down in trying to figure out how exactly to balance their characters’ queerness with the rest of their identity. This is a really tough balance to strike, and missing the mark can result in hammed-up caricatures of LGBT+ people or queerness so understated that you can hardly tell it’s there in the first place. Borderlands, however, nails it every time. Every LGBT+ character is, well, a person. They’re not defined by their queerness, but they’re not shy about it either. Take Athena, for example, a player character from Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. She’s a badass bounty hunter with a fleshed-out backstory and complex inner world. She also gets a little flustered when she talks to her crush, a flirtatious mechanic named Janey Springs. Their relationship is expanded upon in Tales from the Borderlands, and they are absolutely adorable.
I also really appreciate the sheer wealth of queer characters in Borderlands. There are so many of them, all completely unique from one another. There’s Sir Hammerlock, a gay hunter and fine gentleman. There’s Maya, a bookish asexual gunslinger with a socially awkward streak. There’s Axton, the spitting image of a man’s man, appearing to be a stereotypical player character in any FPS, but his favorite things are “guns and women…and sometimes dudes.” There’s FL4K, a nonbinary robot who fights alongside their adorable pet skag Mr. Chew. I could go on! This cast is full of loving and respectful depictions of queerness, and it warms my heart. As a queer woman, Borderlands 2 was one of the first games I ever played that didn’t make me feel like an alien for liking women. This series means the world to me, in part due to its representation of LGBT+ people, and everyone attempting to write queer characters should be taking notes.