I have a list on Twitter that just has amusing accounts in it. Most of those accounts are ones I don’t actually follow. I want them around to look at them when I have the time and inclination to do so, but I don’t want their tweets clogging up my general feed for everyday use. There’s one exception: Peter Molydeux.
Peter Molydeux is a fake personality modeled after Peter Molyneux. I won’t go into the whole tale of how this fake personality came about, but it has its own Wikipedia article and can otherwise be searched online easily. What comes out of this fake account are some pretty outrageous and thought-provoking ideas for games, none of it fitting standard molds.
Anyway, for the first time in several weeks, I was sifting through my amusing accounts list and came across a Peter Molydeux tweet from two days ago, which led to this:
The answer to this, for me, was obvious: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, the final DLC for Borderlands 2. It’s quite possibly the best DLC I’ve played for any game. I would argue it’s also the best expansion I have played for any game. I can’t recall any other time I’ve cried at an FPS. The reason this one hits so hard is that what appears to be a riff on Dungeons & Dragons is actually a story about the character with the saddest backstory coping with loss.
(Major Borderlands 2 spoilers after the break.)
Let’s talk about Tiny Tina
She’s the only kid we ever see on Pandora, a pre-teen demolitionist with attitude and a lot of eccentric quirks. She’s one of the most popular characters in the game, as far as I can tell. To be so popular in a game with so many good supporting characters is an impressive feat.
You don’t get a lot of detail on her backstory throughout the game, though. You learn when you first meet her that she and Roland (a major NPC) have some kind of history and are quite close. Whether you find out more about her backstory or not is heavily dependent on how much exploration you do.
The rest of the info you can get about her is delivered via audio logs in the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve. It’s a late game area, a Hyperion facility where experiments involving slag and wildlife are performed. Through the audio logs, you learn that experiments were performed on people, too. One of the audio logs involves a man telling Tina to use the dynamite he gave her to escape. So it’s implied that their family was held at the preserve with who-knows-what being done to them… and Tina was the only one to escape.
It can be presumed that Roland found her after that and became a surrogate father to her. The particulars of her escape undoubtedly led to her obsession with things exploding. It’s an awful mix, but one that turned her into the weird girl we all know and love.
Well, 2/3 of the way through the game, Jack murders Roland. It’s a pretty amazing cutscene setup and one of the biggest (perhaps the biggest) shocks the narrative delivers. Tiny Tina isn’t around for this and we never see her reaction to it happening. Until the Assault on Dragon Keep DLC, that is.
Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
The DLC deserves praise for a lot of reasons: it’s a very well thought out rendition of D&D as an FPS adventure; the encounter and level designs are fantastic; they address the phenomenon of nerd gatekeepers in a way that makes it clear that anyone trying to keep someone else out of gaming is a total dick. Bunkers & Badasses as a legal ripoff reference to Dungeons & Dragons is pretty great, too.
But the premiere reason, the thing that brought me to tears, is that simmering throughout the DLC and coming to full boil at the end is Tiny Tina trying to cope with Roland’s death. At the beginning, she doesn’t want to start the game until Roland gets there. The others are like, “Uh… he’s… he’s not… coming.” So Tina makes him into an NPC that she seemingly plans to turn over to him when he arrives.
His character, the white knight, pops up here and there. You can tell that Tina’s treatment of Roland’s in-game character is worrying the others more and more. At the end of the campaign, they finally push her to acknowledge that he’s not coming back. When she does, it’s a tearful confession: she knows, but wants to honor his memory through the game they’re playing and the story she’s using it to tell. Satisfied that Tina’s not in complete denial, everyone plays along and the rest of the story plays out as Tina wants it to. They let the girl have her closure through gaming.
So many of us escape from our woes into books or games or some other media, and what Tiny Tina does in the Bunkers & Badasses expansion is use the game not just as an escape but as a platform for handling her grief. She uses it and her fellow players as a bridge to acceptance of his death.
As someone who has always found solace in gaming, I find that it feels completely natural and even beautiful. I’m not the only person I know who had leaky eyes during the last cutscene of the DLC.
It has a bit of extra special meaning for me, perhaps, because I was introduced to D&D by my parents. My first memory is of rolling Mom’s dice for her at one of the many D&D sessions Dad ran at our house when I was just a tyke. My dad also died before Borderlands 2 came out. It’s the nerdy connections to him that make me miss him the most. I had a hard time not breaking down in tears while the intro rolled for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was the first Star Wars movie I’d seen for the first time without him. (It’ll probably happen again when I see Rogue One.)
Anyway, the underlying theme of Tiny Tina dealing with Roland’s death is the main reason that I consider the Bunkers & Badasses DLC to be an expansion, rather than “just” DLC. The literal meaning of DLC is downloadable content. It technically applies to any additional content one can download for a game. However, most DLC takes the form of little addons. Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, though it takes the form of a side story, ties directly into the main storyline and in many ways feels like the real ending of the game. It’s certainly a better resolution than the base game gives.
I think it’s great that we have FPS games with enough narrative to elicit tears, though I’d like to see more. I’m sure Peter Molydeux would, too. The Borderlands games are basically RPGs with FPS combat systems, which seem to be slowly becoming more common. That’s probably my favorite kind of FPS. So please, world, more of those would be nice.