Finding Relationship Stability – in Borderlands
Two years ago, I made the decision to move to another city to study video game design. It meant leaving behind my long-time boyfriend while I delved into art and game engines and yelled at my computer for the next 48 months. For a while, there was talk over whether he would make the journey with me, but in the end, cheaper rent, his own, stable employment and the idea we would likely have to uproot to yet another part of Canada or even the US after graduating cemented the fact that we were temporarily no longer going to be a same-city couple.
Becoming long-distance shifted our partnership to a strange place mirroring the beginning of a relationship. Visits turned us from semi-functional adults to artificially well-behaved individuals, eager to please. Our world was a rosy haze of bonding hormones. We were in a limbo of first dates, and that disturbed both of us. The lack of the existence of a comfortable ordinary together became a nagging reminder of our distance.
Fortunately, there was one thing we could still do together that managed to remain typical and that was play Borderlands. Here, we found our “normal” again, running through caves and deserts, blasting the heads off our enemies. We cavorted, we competed, we encouraged each other, and we picked up a lot of guns.
There are the obvious reasons why playing video games online can imitate everyday life. There’s the chance to work on tasks as a team, the opportunity to explore and make discoveries together, to handle success and failure. In short, games allow players to experience the results of their partner’s support directly – something that is otherwise missed out on when living far apart.
But there was one other thing Borderlands let my boyfriend and I do, something we didn’t dare try face to face. It let us argue.
We were at the tail-end of a mission, having just taken out an enemy base in the middle of the desert. Hopping into a vehicle, I took the gunner seat while my boyfriend got behind the wheel. Our next duty was to report back to our quest giver.
The trouble started right off the bat. I was next to certain that our contact was an NPC we’d encountered at the gates of the compound. My boyfriend maintained that it was the person that originally directed us to the compound – who happened to be in another town across the world.
Normally, in-game navigation in Borderlands is not an issue with a compass and mission marker integrated into the game’s HUD. However, for whatever reason, the shape of the particular area we were in seemed to render it useless, sending us in circles. I kid you not when I say we drove aimlessly through the desert for the next 15 minutes as my boyfriend kept trying to head back to the village, while I argued that we needed to go back in the other direction. Hitting one dead end after another, our voices slowly began to rise through our headsets. Without thinking I finally snapped.
“We’re going the wrong way. Just pull over and check the @#$!! map!”
His retort was immediate.
“I don’t need to check the @#$!! map, I know where I’m going!”
“No you don’t! We have been out here for 20 minutes! Stop and check the directions!”
“Will you stop backseat driving?! If you didn’t keep distracting me, we would have been there by now!”
Somehow, with neither of us becoming conscious of it, Borderlands had handed us the perfect conditions to initiate what is arguably the world’s most stereotypical partnership feud. And there we were, completely oblivious to the absurdity of what we were saying as we continued to have it out in-game. As a long distance couple, we finally had the real experience we had been missing: the chance to argue about the same things that anyone else in a relationship gets to, and it was all thanks to video games.
Brooke Fargo is a recent graduate from Vancouver Film School’s Game Design program. She now plays video games with her boyfriend over a LAN connection. You can check out her website at www.brookefargo.com