The article none of you have been waiting for.
The thing is, the first two games were kind of highly political. They were anti-corporation and anti-colonization. Corporations had completely messed up Pandora and left a bunch of people there to fend for themselves. You are basically a conquistador running into villages and killing everyone there for money and weapons. The third one… It seems to have lost something.
The game is no longer anti-corporation. Sure, Maliwan is the one of the bad guys, but we now have Atlas and Jacobs under control of people who we befriend during the story. So, corporations are not bad after all? The main bad guys, on the other hand, are influencers. Yes. Influencers. Something you could mock in side missions, but not really something interesting enough to build the whole story on.
But we get back on track in the DLCs. At least mostly.
In Moxxi’s Heist of the Handsome Jackpot we see the inevitable return of Handsome Jack. The thing is that by now the character of Jack was much more topical than in 2012. Why? Because he is based on Trump. Now, I don’t know if Trump was actually the basis for the character directly, but at least through cultural osmosis. Trump has been an inspirtion for numerous movie businessmen since the 80s, so it’s hard to get past him.
But that’s not actually the interesting part. The casino has been locked up with the people inside for seven years. One of the effects of this is what we see everywhere in the galaxy: People start to go crazy. There are bandit clans with psychos all over the place. Some have built their own little abodes (with mailboxes for some reason), but then there’s another group: Some have just went on with their lives as usual. Due to the nature of the game, we don’t get to see a lot of civilians, but what little we do see, they have just continued gambling. Money doesn’t really have much use, but people are still trying to get it.
If you put it this way to people, they will see this is a metaphor for the real world, which is understandable. You can look at recent US elections for example and see similarities between these groups of people. However, the way the game handles anarchy is problematic. While the game has a history of being anti-corporate, it is also pro-establishment in the sense that these people fall into these competing gangs instead of cooperation. The assumption here is that you need an authority to keep people in line. Whether or not this is true in real life, it is an indicated point of view on the subject. (Not that in this world there even is a government as we understand it. At least we haven’t seen one.)
Finally, when Moxxi takes over the casino, she wipes out all debt, which apparently means that everything is okay now. You can take this as a political statement as well. Are people more vulnerable to this kind of behavior because of bad finances? Probably. Many people do turn to crime because of poor financial situation. It’s kind of weird actually. Desperate people in the US have been stealing baby food. In Finland during the early 90s depression, upper middle class women would steal expensive food to maintain an illusion of financial wellbeing. Is money the root of all evil? According to the Bible, no. It’s the greed, not the money in itself.
Moving on to the Guns, Love and Tentacles: The Marriage of Wainwright & Hammerlock we have the sexual politics, but this is nothing new. Borderlands has been very good on this subject at least since the second game. This is just a more open take on gay marriage. But I guess the new thing here is the ethics of science. The main bad guys are a pair of scientists, who have taken their craft a bit too far.
I can’t claim to be a scientist (these days), but I sort of live on the fringes. And yes, ethics is a big deal. Climate scientists are often depressed, because they understand what’s happening with the climate, but they are also part of a losing fight to actually do something about it. In game, the two scientists do understand the risks involved (at least to an extent), but they push forward anyhow. However, at some point they are no longer working for the betterment of humankind, but instead just for their own selfish purposes.
Yes, science can be beneficial for all of us, but at the same time it can be weaponized and I’m not even talking about actual weapons (which is of course one aspect of this), but when science is done for political purposes, it can be used to complicate and obfuscate things. Even the decision to finance only specific kinds of research can be devastating.
But that’s probably the least interesting from political point of view. How about Bounty of Blood? Gehenna is actually a valley near Jerusalem. In the Bible it’s considered cursed, because the local kings would sacrifice children there. I don’t know whether the team knew of this when choosing the name, but it does seem appropriate (even if there are no children involved). It is a cursed place.
Well, this goes back to the first two games in the series. We have a planet devastated by a corporation. For some reason they avoid it for a long time, but the corporation in question is Jacobs. Not that its specifically hard to identify from the setting and its wooden buildings. While the Jacobs family does have a reputation on Eden-6 for taking care of the locals, this does not seem to extend to those outside of their own planet. This is largely how it works in real life as well. We don’t think much about people in Bangladesh or wherever most of our junk is produced these days.
They brought a bunch of people to Gehenna, mined the planet and left behind both the people and a bunch of (basically) radioactive matter. Corporations don’t care of what is known as externalities, meaning costs (monetary or otherwise) that someone else pays. This happens all the time. Pollution is an easy example, but even things like education are part of this. It’s not the corporations that pay for those precious degrees or even teaching people basic skills like reading and writing. Well, they do pay their part of the taxes (some of the time), but mostly that’s a cost they have been able to push to the society at large.
And finally, we have the Psycho Krieg and the Fantastic Fustercluck. This was kind of needed. While the series has been very understanding of human differences, it hasn’t been very good on the mental health issues. It has definitely taken steps to discuss the subject (especially with Tannis), but mostly we only see those psychos charging at us. In reality, mental patients are very unlikely to be violent. In fact, they are in a much bigger risk of been victims of violence.
I’m not an expert on this, but the key here is that often mental issues are a complicated issue and even though there might be genetic component, stress and trauma are often involved. Again, this has been discussed in the previous games as well, but at least some of these psychos on Pandora (and probably elsewhere as well) are a product of Hyperion scientific testing.
So, again with the corporations, but then again, how about all those people killing themselves in factories? How about all the people stressing themselves into, because corporations want to save on medical costs? Maybe these real life corporations aren’t pushing people into insanity on purpose, but they don’t care too much if it happens as a side effect of what they are doing. Again with the externalities.
Arms Race? You could come up with something, but I’m not going to say anything about corporations pushing people into competing with each other.