Randy Pitchford: Creating LGBTQ+ understanding via games

Representation in media matters and video games are the new frontier for the push for diversifying our entertainment. Gearbox Software reinforced that as its writers crafted an expansion pack for its common Borderlands 3 video game.

The expansion featured two gay characters, and it was nominated for “outstanding video game” earlier this year by the Gay &amp Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for its annual GLAAD Media Awards. IT was also nominated for two Gayming Awards.

Borderlands 3: Guns, Love, and Tentacles was an expansion pack that came out in March 2020. The second expansion pack for the hit game featured The Marriage of Wainright and Hammerlock, which requires spot on a cult-controlled planet with the wedding of two gay characters Wainright Jakobs and Sir Hammerlock. It incorporated queer, nonbinary, and pansexual characters.

It’s portion of the action part-playing very first-particular person shooter Borderlands series that has sold more than 60 million copies and $1 billion in revenues. It’s as mainstream as a video game can get, and GLAAD praised the game for normalizing LGBTQ+ behavior and delivering a storyline that shed light on such backgrounds throughout a politically and culturally divisive moment.

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Gearbox is based in Frisco, Texas, and the state has had a history of tangling with the LGBTQ neighborhood. In 2017, Governor Greg Abbott supported a “bathroom bill” that would have prevented transgender Texans from utilizing bathrooms that matched their gender identity. Randy Pitchford, the founder of Gearbox, wrote a letter to the governor that opposed the bill, which did not pass. I spoke with Pitchford about why Gearbox promotes inclusivity in video games, how it bargains with political challenges that have an effect on its personnel, and inventive freedom for its artists. Gearbox has because been acquired by Embracer Group for up to $1.3 billion, and the firm maintains that it has inventive freedom.

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

An uncommon expansion

GamesBeat: You had this DLC with the marriage of LGBTQ characters. I wondered if you could set the stage.

Randy Pitchford: What’s fascinating about that–we very first introduced this character, Sir Hammerlock, in Borderlands 2. There was a moment when you are interacting with him at the starting of the game. You have to go speak to him about anything or ask him for assist on anything. He just says, “Yeah, one of my old boyfriends…” And that was it. We didn’t make a massive deal out of it.

I believe at the time there have been a bunch of causes why we believed that would be anything to do. The simplest one is just that Gearbox is a diverse atmosphere of creatives. There are all sorts of unique individuals from unique ethnicities and unique genders and unique orientations and identities. It’s no massive deal at Gearbox. That’s the exciting factor. Let’s just throw anything in there as if it is no massive deal. I have to give a lot of credit to–I think that was a line written by Anthony Burch in that atmosphere.

What’s fascinating is that it got noticed by a lot of individuals. We began acquiring invited to LGBT-friendly game events and other sorts of items. Some other items came from that, exactly where I began acquiring enlisted right here in Texas to assist be an advocate for LGBT individuals. It’s normally been anything that is critical to me for a lot of unique causes, but it became this cascading factor.

Then we have been performing Borderlands 3. Hammerlock is in there. He has a new companion, Wainwright Jakobs, who in the lore of the game is tied to one of the weapons companies in the Borderlands world. After the game finishes, we had some exciting in the credits exactly where we had tiny pretty much notion art comply with-ups to show–like in the films. I believe American Graffiti very first did this. They show what occurred to them years later in life. We have been utilizing these tiny pieces of art to show what was taking place with the characters just after the events of the story. One of the photos depicted Sir Hammerlock and Wainwright Jakobs, and it was a proposal. Will you marry me?

After we completed the game, when we have been pondering about what sort of campaign storylines we could do for the DLC pieces–we do these enormous campaign storylines in the DLC that we offer you. We had a bunch of stuff written on a whiteboard, and one was, “Cthulhu and Nightmare.” Another was, “Hammerlock and Wainwright’s wedding.” Because we had like 20 items on the board, we decided to start out jamming some of this stuff collectively and seeing if we could come up with anything. That’s exactly where the Cthulhu notion and the Wainwright/Hammerlock marriage got jammed collectively. We named it “Guns, Love, and Tentacles.” We made this horror story about the wedding. It was a lot of exciting to make. One of our terrific designers up at the Quebec studio very first came up with that amalgamation and began to envision that storyline.

The reaction

GamesBeat: Did you have to deal with any sort of hate or backlash about that? If so, what was the reaction like?

Pitchford: It’s genuinely fascinating when you take a stand on anything. Honestly, we didn’t do it to take a stand, even though. We did it for the reason that that was the organic progression for these characters. That takes place a lot to us in storytelling. There’s a particular point when we’re building the characters, building the scenarios, and then there’s a point exactly where they take on a life of their personal. As storytellers, what we require to do is respect exactly where these characters would lead themselves and let that come about.

It is seen, even though, for the reason that of that storyline, as if Gearbox was attempting to take a stand. Astonishingly, there’s nevertheless a lot of the world that thinks these sorts of tips are of a political nature, which entirely boggles my brain, that there could be something political about the nature of individual relationships. But right here we are.

Image Credit: Gearbox

You get some fascinating responses. It’s normally on the edges, you know? Our games attain lots of individuals. Because of that, if you can believe of 1,000 random individuals, envision the one % edge instances on the really like side of the equation, and then the one % edge instances on the hate or disgust side. If you envision a bell curve of how individuals respond to any provided notion, most individuals are in the middle. But then you have that one % that is the edge instances. Even if you are only reaching 1,000 individuals, there are nevertheless 10 individuals on these endpoints.

Now envision that you are reaching millions of individuals. One % is tens of thousands of individuals. Some of these individuals on the edges can be fairly engaged! They have a lot of sturdy feelings. We want sturdy feelings for the reason that that is engagement. That’s proof that we’ve reached individuals and impacted them. But sometimes–there’s a lot of individuals in the world that do not know how to manifest their sturdy feelings when they’re attempting to express them to creators. Some of that stuff gets fairly weird. We’ll see all the things from the most strange sort of really like, individuals attempting to get close to us in pretty much creepy strategies, to genuinely sort of disconcerting–what seems to be hate.

I have a tendency to parse that for what it is. It’s a deep level of engagement. The opposite of really like is not hate. It’s indifference. It’s apathy. People that are not engaged with the content do not send hate mail. They do not threaten us. They just do not care. They do not even believe about it. I take all of that as pretty much a blessing, that we’re affecting and reaching individuals. But our mission is to entertain individuals, to attempt and build joy and happiness. It’s weird that some people–I do not believe they see it that way when we make a video game for them. We have to frequently be re-evaluating our relationship.

Made in Texas

GamesBeat: Did you really feel like you got more heat for the reason that you are in Texas, provided that it is not the most liberal state?

Pitchford: You know what, Texas is a weird spot. When I very first moved out right here Ann Richards was governor. It was a blue state. I live outdoors of Dallas, and it is weird to believe about. I came from California, and I had a view of what Texas was. But living right here, it is challenging to get bluer than Dallas, frankly. If you look at the map you can see that. There are a couple of spots exactly where all the dense populations live, and they’re as blue as the metropolitan regions in California. But there’s a lot of rural Texas. On a political level, for the reason that of the way the counties are drawn and the way representation performs, exactly where it checks each population and territory, there’s a lot of energy in some populations and some folks that have really unique world views on this sort of factor.

While it hasn’t manifested in neighborly conflict, exactly where it has manifested is–it has been a political factor. Because of our interests, for the reason that of our really like of our personal talent, we’ve turn out to be a bit political right here in Texas. I got deeply involved in an work that in the end led to the defeat of what was recognized as “bathroom bills” in Texas, in the state legislature. It was strange to discover myself in a position exactly where I could do anything about that.

We had a case exactly where the chair of the committee was going to surface the bill for a vote–check out these criteria. The Republican representative in an location exactly where I’m a constituent had a background 25 years ago in game development, as portion of a firm that ported old-college arcade games. As individuals have been attempting to maneuver to assist discover strategies in to build prevalent ground and let a conversation to come about and possibly assist far better tips prevail, I located myself saying, “Holy shit, am I the guy?”

I created a relationship with this man, and it became clear that he was super affordable. All it took for him was meeting transgender individuals. Once he knew what the ideal answer was, then the challenge was how to navigate it politically. He located a way for the reason that he knew what the ideal answer was, and he had the will to do it. He located a way to make that push, pushed by the governor and the lieutenant governor swinging together–he just made it all go away. Kept it just under the surface exactly where it was going to be addressed till it didn’t matter any longer.

Of course, like all items, with a lot of these sorts of challenges, they’re on the table and everyone’s focused on it, and then when it drifts away it is just gone. It goes away for a whilst and every person forgets about it. Nobody in Texas talks about bathroom bills now. They’ve moved on to other methods.


Image Credit: Gearbox

Creative freedom

GamesBeat: Did you have discussions inside Gearbox at that time?

Pitchford: Yeah, but largely the attitude is about–everyone’s in unique areas. You do not know exactly where everybody’s at. We do not stroll about frequently screaming, “Hey, it’s okay to be you here and we’re all going to be cool with that.” That’s the case, but how do you make that clear, specially to new individuals joining up? One of the neat side effects of this sort of work is that in an indirect, but really true way, it signals what the attitude and the philosophy are like at the studio level about these sorts of challenges.

We know that, as a consequence, it creates a unique degree of comfort and trust with individuals that may well have anything about themselves that is not specifically the center of standard. I count myself amongst them. I have a quantity of traits, from becoming sort of neuroatypical–well, not sort of, I’m really neuroatypical. I have a bunch of other unique items. I’ve under no circumstances managed to discover a way to be convinced to think in a God. Almost everyone about me does. I’ve under no circumstances tasted alcohol in my life. I’m this weirdo when I’m socializing, exactly where every person requires that for granted. I’ve under no circumstances smoked something in my life.

There’s a lot of strategies exactly where I really feel like sort of an outsider. I’ve normally cared about that. I’ve normally been the weirdo. In higher college, I was the class clown. I’ve normally been that odd man out. So I want us to normally be cautious to be a protected spot for individuals that are a tiny unique.

One thing–I do not know if it is a consequence of any distinct factor other than possibly it is more a consequence of our scale. But now we have groups and job forces and individuals that bind collectively about challenges. There’s a diversity group. There’s a especially LGBT group. There’s a diversity group for individuals of colour. I do not believe that signals a cultural shift so significantly as a scale shift at Gearbox, even though. We’re not all in the similar area collectively any longer. It tends to make sense for these sorts of structures to emerge. That’s exactly where these conversations can take spot, and then conclusions can be made–if a transform requirements to be made, they can bring that to the firm as a complete and discover that transform is welcome.

GamesBeat: It’s fascinating that to build a protected space and a great atmosphere for your individuals, you have to occasionally take some sort of political stand. If they know that you are working against the bathroom bills, that sends a clear signal about what sort of workplace you have.

Pitchford: It does. But I’ll inform you, it goes back to what I was saying ahead of about edge instances. In my expertise in the world, when I interact with true individuals, rather than the world wide web and social media, exactly where we have a tendency to only see the edge cases–most individuals, if we’re going to be truthful, do not have the time to post comments. The individuals that look like they’re performing most of the work on social media, they’re the edge instances. When I interact with true individuals in the true world, I have to go fairly far to discover an individual who desires to impose on the comfort and liberty of an individual who may well be transgender or any other LGBT identity.


Image Credit: Gearbox

Most individuals are just attempting to live their lives, and we’re cool with every person else performing their factor. I’ve under no circumstances encountered everyone at Gearbox, and we have all sorts of diverse opinions and political positions, who would recommend that you cannot use the bathroom you want to use. “Use whatever bathroom you want!” That’s the attitude in the true world. You have to get to fairly gnarly extremes to discover an individual who’ll take a stand like that when they’re in the face of an individual who would be impacted by that policy.

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We’re up in Frisco, Texas, which is a suburb north of Dallas. It’s a fairly hip, taking place spot. But there are nevertheless traces of rural Texas there. Not that we’re attempting to stomp that out by any suggests. But you can really feel a bit of a culture gap right here and there. There was an old ordinance on the books exactly where if you have a particular quantity of square footage or anything, you have to have at least two bathrooms, one for males and one for females. That was clearly attempting to say you really should make adequate bathrooms for every person. But it was accomplished at a time exactly where there wasn’t awareness. I envision this was written in the sixties or anything when you just didn’t have the awareness that transgender individuals are a factor.

Anyway, speedy forward, my wife opened a restaurant named Nerdvana, which is on the ground floor of our headquarters at Gearbox. It’s a cool spot, a video game-themed bar and restaurant. She stated, “Why do I even need gendered bathrooms? Why don’t I just have a bunch of full bathrooms where you can lock the door and it has everything you need?” Technically that violated this ordinance. She marched herself down to City Hall, had a conversation, and located herself not in a political debate, but asking, “What is this ordinance for?” “Well, if you want to change it, call the city council.” All ideal! Called the city manager, named the mayor, got the council collectively, and at the next meeting they stated, “Sure, let’s change this.” And just about every single particular person on that council votes Republican. It’s fascinating.

Local politics

GamesBeat: I wonder if you normally have to be conscious, or hyper-conscious, of these items in your location, your state, or your town. Do you really feel like that impacts your writers’ area? Does your group have to be conscious of choices they make about characters and items like that in your games?

Pitchford: When we’re attempting to entertain individuals, and we’re also attempting to be artists, it is just a consequence. You get literal artists in a area collectively, artists are going to art. Some of what art is about is difficult us or displaying us anything about ourselves. Things come into it. You really feel a lot of that in Borderlands.

We’re sort of flatland when it comes to how we method the inventive method at Gearbox. Talent has a lot of autonomy for what ever it is they’re working on. Sometimes we do get in difficulty a bit. Also, we can get items incorrect. We are just human beings. There have been items that have come up that, even inside Gearbox, it’ll build a discussion and an argument about it.

I bear in mind when we got, for example–there was a time you possibly bear in mind when 3D Realms lastly threw their hands up and shut their doors and laid off their personnel. Take-Two sued them. Those guys named me and stated, “Can you bail us out? You have a great relationship with Take-Two. You started your career with Duke Nukem.” We ended up in the deal exactly where they gave us the franchise and I paid down their debt and got them out of their issues.

One of the stipulations on that was we had to ship Duke Nukem Forever. Here’s a game that we didn’t create. We didn’t have any inventive interest in it. But we’re now the producers of it. I bear in mind that there was a create I was playing and there was this genuinely uncomfortable moment for me–I worked on Duke Nukem back in 1996. I’m not going to get into the moment. But it was a challenging believed for me. On the one hand, I wouldn’t do this. On the other hand, these artists are performing what they’re going to do, so I guess I really should defend them.

I felt so significantly empathy for these guys, who’d worked on this project for actually 15 years and then got laid off. They got a second opportunity, so I’m going to let them do what they want to do. But that takes place occasionally in the area. We’ll have debates. We’ll challenge each and every other. But we respect each and every other’s artistic license, so to speak. It’s not normally clear exactly where the ideal answer is.


Image Credit: Gearbox

Related to this, it says anything about Gearbox that may well clarify or speak to this. We have a couple of values that we’ve declared and that we repeat. It’s pretty much a religion at Gearbox. One worth we’ve declared is happiness. It’s not merely about the happiness of the prospects we’re attempting to entertain. It’s also about the happiness of all of us in the method.

Every when in a whilst we believe about these values and re-evaluate them. There was a moment not also extended ago exactly where we believed, possibly we really should transform the worth of happiness to the word “harmony.” We in the end didn’t go that way, for the reason that we realized that harmony may well cut down our willingness to challenge each and every other as artists. Our willingness to challenge each and every other in our inventive and technical efforts. That conflict is not synonymous with harmony. But that conflict that can come about in the inventive method is required, I believe, to get anything that has what I like to contact “the real shit” in it.

Some items that have raised the most eyebrows may well be the closest stuff we’ve accomplished to have that true shit. I want us to do more true shit, you know? I want we’d do more. That’s what art is for.

Staying involved

GamesBeat: On projects like this DLC, do you your self have to make a ruling on items occasionally?

Pitchford: There are occasions, yeah.

GamesBeat: Are you in there with the writers discussing this?

Pitchford: Yeah. I’m in the area. And I’m in the area for a lot of it. There’s a lot of individuals that, for the reason that I founded the firm and I handle the factor, they believe that suggests particular items. But I’m a coder and a game designer and a storyteller. I’ve under no circumstances been a suit. Most of my work at Gearbox is about more of a chief inventive officer part these days. So yeah, I’m in there. There are occasions when it is a hard one. It’s a coin flip. I have to make the contact. It’s not normally quick and it is not normally comfy.

I had this stand I took on Borderlands 3. You’ve heard me curse a lot in this conversation. I have no dilemma with utilizing these words. But there’s anything about the Borderlands games, specially in North America, exactly where a lot of parents are comfy with children even as young as 13 playing the games. Or in some instances even younger. Even even though it is an M-rated game. And the cause is they do not necessarily have a dilemma with simulated gun violence if the targets do not genuinely have constituents. They’re not individuals we have to be concerned about in the true world. In Borderlands you shoot aliens and green blood pops out. The art style is cartoonish. It’s a silly game, so a lot of parents are comfy with it…except for the language.

Some individuals, specially in North America, have a enormous issue–you say a word like “shit” or “fuck” and you are going to hell. So I stated, “Let’s take a stand on this. Let’s see if we can do this.” We do not require to use these words. We can entertain individuals with out them. We pretty much got via it. We pretty much got via it. And then there was one time. There was an ad-lib in the booth with Ice-T, who played a character, this AI. There’s one line, and it was just so funny. “It’s a big fucking dinosaur!” It was an innocent way to use the word. But the way he delivered it and the way it felt in the moment it happened–I guess I’ll have to do the PG-13 factor, exactly where we get one “fuck.” I had to make the ruling on that. I sort of broke my personal rule.

The entertainment worth was so great, and it was 3-quarters of the way via the game. If there was a parent in the area they may well be a tiny shocked by that. But then they may well appreciate the decision and laugh it off. Who knows?

Originally appeared on: TheSpuzz