Borderlands 3, the newest game in the 10-year series, is a bit of a time capsule. The original Borderlands was released in 2009 during a golden age of narrative heavy first-person shooters. The biggest selling points were a cooperative design for four players, a ridiculous number of procedurally generated weapons and a dark but deeply stupid sense of humor. And developer Gearbox has maintained that style and tone for years, against the rise of endless massive multiplayer shooters such as Destiny and Fortnite.
Borderlands 3 will be released next month, and based on my recent preview of the game, it offers more and stranger options than its predecessors. The original, fairly simple archetypes of the video game have evolved into extensive classes, such as the robotic "Beastmaster" FL4K that can evoke companions, but can also become invisible and charm enemies. The game offers a billion gun variations compared to Borderlands " only 17.75 million, and they feature exotic new features such as secondary fire modes and armed hamburgers. Despite all this, the two hours in which I played Borderlands 3 felt familiarly familiar – from the hectic gun to the self-conscious jokes.
There is one big change Borderlands 3, though: the world has been invaded by murder streamers.
Borderlands is set in a fictional galaxy that is run by ruthless companies and is filled with people and animals that will almost always attack you when you see it. The last major episode, that of 2012 Borderlands 2, pitted players against a slimy executive that is known as Handsome Jack. But our cultural reference points have since shifted and the universe has shifted to match them. Now the villains are essentially a few malicious Twitch streamers. This seems exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. But since Borderlands has always been ridiculous, it also sounds perfect.
"In 2012, the idea of what we have as a modern streamer or YouTube star, it was still kind of budding, and it didn't have the power it has today," says Sam Winkler, co-lead writer of Borderlands 3. "There is still this fixation with the monolithic business man that you just want to insult for 30 hours until you shoot him in the face."
In 2019 there is a renewed fear about the influence of social media, and Borderlands 3 & # 39; s Villains, known as the Calypso Twins, are the personification of those fears. They exploit the hyper-violent real-life equivalent of a popular streaming channel on the Pandora prison planet, and they have gathered a cult of bandits known as the Children of the Vault who want to challenge the companies. They also want & # 39; the most popular murder streamers in the Galaxy & # 39; – which, co-lead writer Danny Hogan confirms, means that murder streaming is in fact a fully-fledged industry.
"I think what we were so curious about was just this general idea that power relations in the media have shifted in such an interesting way, and that someone can reach a level of influence so quickly that they may not know what to do, & # 39; Says Hogan. Borderlands 2 ended with corporations who withdrew from Pandora and apparently left a power vacuum filled by entertainers. “If you take that one step further in a world like Borderlands, please, if you are bad and you have that level of influence – what could you do with it? "
Dystopias where true ultra-violence becomes entertainment (or as Hogan puts it, & # 39; good content & # 39;) have been around for much longer than Twitch and YouTube, and the same goes for celebrity leaders. But Hogan and Winkler also talk about specifically modern dynamics – such as the parasocial relationships that fans build with their favorite streamers, the tension between streamers and old media partners and the reinforcing power of social media.
"We didn't want to parody specific streamers or YouTubers or caricature," says Winkler. "But each of these people with 10, 20 million followers – if one day they woke up in a bad mood and said: & # 39; That guy should die & # 39 ;, 99.99 percent of those followers will be like : & # 39; Whoa, kind of an exaggeration, dude! & # 39; And some of them show up at that person, and that's powerful and dangerous in the real world, let alone your entire audience billions of psychopaths. "
Winkler describes the anatomy of a real-life intimidation campaign – a very real danger for many streamers and other internet users. Sites such as YouTube have been blamed for pushing lonely, dissatisfied viewers to extremist ideology. Borderlands 3 seems to explore this dynamic in its typically exaggerated way. Hogan describes the twin's message as "everyone has told you that you are terrible, but I love you, and I think you have value – and I'm going to help you become a cooler, better, more murderous version of yourself." "
The writers say, however, that they did not think about online radicalization and do not talk about the game in relation to real intimidation or threats of violence. They describe it as a general exploration of how internet fame can go wrong. Borderlands 3 is explicitly a game in front of streamers. (Even if the publishers have burned some goodwill by intimidating one of them with private investigators.) The game includes a Twitch extension that allows viewers to communicate with players, and the writers think the Borderlands style of humor translates well into video. So parodying streaming culture seems to be an obvious extension of that principle, regardless of greater cultural dynamics.
But the storyline still seems interesting because it reflects new and different political fears, even if it is indirect or unintended – the way Borderlands Games have been playing for years on the worst elements of capitalism with a cynical, aloof and somewhat absurdist tone. Borderlands 3, according to the writers, it is canonical about how populist demagogues exploit social media, resentment and fandom to fill the cultural gaps left by powerful companies. There is also a gun that kills hamburgers.
Borderlands 3 will be released on September 13 for Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.