Borderlands 2 recalls the awfulness of older siblings and puberty.


One of the key charms of Borderlands was its ability to visualize everything that was happening onscreen, from the satisfying blip of evaporating health points that appeared with every bullet strike to the colorful beacons of light that marked dropped loot after a firefight. The Borderlands 2 demo at this year’s E3 demonstrates another kind of visualization: the irritated disgust of being smothered in noxious fluids. 

The demo is set in Opportunity CIty a consumerist utopia that is run by a greasy and sarcastic salesman who’s installed statues of himself everywhere. The co-op mission has players escorting a giant hovering robot around Opportunity City as it destroys these statues in order to break his propagandized hold on the city. As you move from statue to statue new waves of enemies come charging out from all corners to try and save their salesman head honcho. 

The gunplay is not a simple matter of launching projectiles at players but involves all sorts of secondary ammo effects. Enemies have flaming bullets that can catch players on fire and there’s a foul machine-gun that sprayed an ooze of toxic-green machine gun bullets and left enemies mired in a miasmic cloud of stink. 

Why are these kinds of visualizations of consequence to action so satisfying? It immediately reminded me of my own childhood where, as subject to regular physical domination at the hands of my older brother, I was smothered in the various noxious gasses and emissions his pubescent body produced. 

I hated these daily dosings with furious intensity, but shooting out my own clouds of green, hazy toxicity in Borderlands 2 gave me the same thrill of seeing others suffer my own toxic emissions. Seeing the horrified reaction of the enemies is a kind of juvenile slapstick born from the strange fluid fascinations that, for me at least, recall the mysteries our bodies begin to produce as we transform from angelic babes into pimply, belching monsters of puberty.