Monday, 26 Feb 2024

Borderlands 3's DLC Dismisses Major Problems With Lovecraft's Work

The second of Borderlands 3’s DLC expansions–Guns, Love, and Tentacles: The Marriage of Wainwright & Hammerlock–has been released and so I figured it would be as good a time as any to jump back into Gearbox’s first-person loot shooter. The Borderlands franchise has a decent track record when it comes to DLC and it’s been a few months since I played the third mainline installment so, ya know, why not?

However, I wasn’t particularly enthused by my time with Guns, Love, and Tentacles, largely because Gearbox’s interpretation of H.P. Lovecraft’s work incorporates some of the problematic parts of the author’s worldview and then does nothing to address them.

It’s the DLC’s portrayal of black people that irks me the most, largely because of the Borderlands franchise’s style of storytelling. Borderlands games traditionally explore concepts or pieces of pop culture through sarcasm, satire, or playful homage. Gearbox takes something that already exists and adapts it to match its style of irreverent Borderlands mayhem.

When this process works, it really works. For example, Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep from Borderlands 2, which sends you on a tabletop RPG adventure that riffs on Dungeons & Dragons, is a fun DLC, both in terms of theme and gameplay. There’s also the whole Greek mythology symbolism that acts as a throughline for all four games, such as each Siren being a beautiful but dangerous woman and the planet Pandora acting as a vault, all of which contributes to the more fascinating aspects of Borderlands’ lore.

Guns, Love, and Tentacles is a Lovecraft-themed DLC, incorporating certain aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories and the Cthulhu Mythos as the backdrop to the overall narrative. Unfortunately, what makes the DLC feel more adaptive than interpretive is in how it treats Sir Hammerlock and Wainwright Jakobs, the two characters who are at the center of Guns, Love, and Tentacles. The DLC is about the two characters getting married and facing the unfortunate snag of holding the venue on a planet ruled by a cult. The cult’s leader, Eleanor, deems the couple’s love to be impure and weak and so Wainwright becomes the unwilling host of her husband’s spirit–doomed to slowly transform into her beloved unless you decide to do something to stop the process. As Hammerlock is rendered a passive bystander for pretty much the entire DLC (he helps you on your quest to save his fiance on only one occasion), all the agency falls to you.

So the story of the DLC is that a woman who’s essentially an otherworldly witch robs a gay couple of their happy day, questions their relationship, and then tries to fix the “flaw” of their love by transforming one of the men into her own husband, so as to create a supposedly more pure love. That’s already a little strange and more than a bit homophobic, but when you also consider that this DLC is Lovecraft-inspired, it becomes even more problematic.

It all boils down to this: H.P. Lovecraft was racist–and an outspoken white supremacist-level racist at that. This isn’t a case where we must separate the artist from his art either, as the man incorporated his views on people of color into his literary works. Just look at his poem “On the Creation of Niggers,” which states that the gods created man and beast and then created black people as some unexplainable in-between creature.

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