Review of Ain’t No Place for a Hero: Borderlands (by Kaitlin Tremblay)

As promised, although later than planned (because the book or booklet didn’t arrive before my little trip).

I should probably call it a booklet, because the page count is kind of low and it’s paperback, so I don’t think I can call it an actual book, but I will, just because I don’t want to try to keep this in mind while writing.

Well, first a problem with the book. Actually, this is a problem for me specifically. I sort of felt like the choir (as in “preaching to the choir”) and as such, I didn’t feel like the book was really for me. If I was less familiar with the games, I would have probably found the booklet much more enticing. As it is, it was more about confirming my existing notions about the games than learning something new.

If I try to put myself into a position of someone who hasn’t played over a thousand hours of the games covered by the book, I think the book would have either made me curious about their content (or more curious, as someone with no interest probably wouldn’t have read the book) or go back to revisit it to see and experience certain things for myself.

One of the things I didn’t get into in my article (linked above in case you missed it) is the problematic presentation of mental problems and what the game calls midgets (who were changed into tinks in the third game). This does seem weird, as the game is otherwise very inclusive.

And actually, that inclusivity is the main point of the book. The author gives many examples of this, both from the game, her personal experiences with the game and through other writers, who had shared their experiences in various places. For me, this was the biggest benefit of reading the book. As a white male in a country with a very homogenic population and a long tradition of women as equals, I sometimes forget that not everyone feels included*. And yes, Borderlands does give presentation to many, many people. Since it strives to subvert the usual stereotypical characters, it gives room to others besides the usual macho gun fetishist males (my description, not the book’s).

* (Not that I claim that we don’t have any problems with racism, sexism and especially various phobias towards sexual minorities, but in general Finland is a fairly safe place for everyone. Or at least safer than most, although admittedly homosexuality was legalized quite late by western standards and there are still some transphobic laws in the books. Throughout our history, the philosophy has been that we’ll take care of you, as long as you conform to the common norms, which is admittedly quite fucked up.)

Another thing I did enjoy was the serious approach to these ridiculous games. A friend of mine once told me “it’s just a looter-shooter” (my translation from Finnish), but it clearly isn’t “just” anything. Media always has messages embedded, whether knowingly or not. Even if you are not aware of this, you are still receiving these messages, but they might have an effect on you, which you might not want.

A couple of years ago, Lindsay Ellis did a series of video essays known as The Whole Plate in which she looks at the Transformers movies through the lense of various film theories. Hermeneutic cycle means that we form a hypothesis, test it to form a theory and then test the theory to find flaws with it in order to form a new hypothesis. This means that a theory, such as film theory, should be applicable to something that usually isn’t considered (such as the Transformers) when the theory is formed.

While the booklet doesn’t go this far, the same idea applies: We should be ready to analyze media whether it is “serious” or not. In fact, it is much more important to analyze popular media in this way than the historic favorites you mostly read about in the literature (well, what I’ve read, which is admittedly limited in this regard), because so many more people will be subjected to it. And while this book might not be based on a specific theory, it is well-researched and thoughtful.

All-in-all, I would recommend it, but I would hope others get more out of it than I did. I am the target audience, but I’m also a little bit too much of an insider, so I might not be the best to assess the usefulness of this book, but I do like the premiss quite a bit, so if you can get your hands on it, give it a go (and I know you wouldn’t have read this article this far, if you weren’t interested, so just get it).

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