The Borderlands games played a pivotal role in my recovery with a co-occurring disorder. As you can hopefully imagine, a co-occurring disorder can be as difficult as it is complex. The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that someone with anxiety is twice as likely to develop addiction of some form. I was given books on addiction, and booklets on co-occurrence specifically when I went to treatment for my schizophrenia. I still own the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous bibles. They give me guidance when I’m thinking about friends who may be losing their way.
There are three things a video game can do for you when you’ve had a co-occurring disorder like mine. Empowerment, comfort and socialization. I have a rich history with the Borderlands series, I even did a review of the first game in the Archives; just to talk more about a game for which I have an undying love. Borderlands came to me at a very powerful time, and though I wasn’t yet dealing with addiction, I was struggling with my emotions and developing bad patterns.
Then it seemed everyday everyone around me were doing copious amounts of alcohol, reefer and even cocaine, the latter I completely stayed away from when I saw how it was treating my friends. But there was one constant pillar in my best friend and I’s relationship no matter how bad it got: Borderlands co-op. When we met, we had both already played extensively with another person, so we were equally experienced hitters coming into the ring.
I fought hard for a title that remains disputed. He had a competitive spirit that was a unique kind of fun. Myself playing as Mordecai, sniping one of his kills with my rifle or Bloodwing, then seconds later apologizing when I need him to burn his Roland shield to protect me. Doing something like that energized him to want to step up, charge ahead while the shield is deployed and execute all the enemies, while all I can do is hide.
Moments like this are great fun and Borderlands delivers them in droves if you play with friends. You can play with up to four people, the game upgrades the enemies depending how many players there are, and it gets absolutely wild. The graphics are so cool and functional. The cartoonish style turns some people away from this game, but I plead with those people to give it a chance. It is an incredible FPS/RPG hybrid series. I own them all on both my consoles, and play them all on them as well.
The gameplay is fantastic. Tight shooting mechanics, interesting loot system with millions of unique creations, often funny dialogue, endearing atmosphere, there is so much to love about Borderlands. Even solo it is worth playing through with some of the multiple characters each game has, as each character has different skill trees and equipment options. I never tire of the formula.
Playing Borderlands kept us from using our substances of choice quite a bit. It also fostered trust and brotherhood, when we weren’t talking about the game we were talking about life. We were able to focus on an alternative stream of rewards. One that is better when the player isn’t heavily inebriated. Eventually our demons still caught up with us and we reformed, but in the decade plus since, Borderlands never went away.
My anxiety is persistent. It is a negative symptom of schizophrenia that is tricky to medicate. Borderlands has brought multiple releases, in turn bringing much release, with content I am still exploring in the twelve years since the original. Critical acclaim has come to all. Very well deserved in my opinion. The old ones withstand the test of time to this day. I bought the Nintendo Switch Borderlands Legendary Collection, and they even hold up excellently on the unsuspecting platform.
I know Borderlands 1 so well I can look at a quest log anytime and know the most efficient order to do the quests. I build a high level, well thought-out character who dominates the battlefield. Feelings of power bring satiation, like seeing the “Level Up!” arrive on screen right as you skillfully cap the last enemy. It also brings empowerment, in spending that level up skill point in the way that best suits your playing style; making you believe you are strong and have the ability to make good choices. And of course, the moments you shared striving for a grand victory with someone.
These are simple examples of the power video games can give us to overcome weaker versions of ourselves. Even a plot as dumb and intentionally hilarious as Borderlands can make you have introspective or philosophical thoughts. What did we expect to find in the Vault? What are the true contents supposed to represent? What does it say about capitalism to buy guns and healthcare out of the same vending machine? Does Claptrap have a soul?
Satiation gets you through your co-occurring disorder for now, empowerment gives you strength for later. The relationships we build playing can survive better than most, and aid us throughout life. There is resonance beyond the simple time we wasted looking at a toy. It is so much more than simple fun. The right game at the right time can be profound, I’m sure there are endless gamers who can attest to this sentiment. A dark time when that bright screen was powerful. I have been a gamer since I was old enough to hold the controller of our Nintendo Entertainment System, and I have always had an emotional bond with video games.
I am looking forward to the Borderlands spinoff “Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands,” releasing March 25th, and the upcoming movie from director Eli Roth, expected this year. Both hold a lot of promise. This is a time of great anxiety. It is nice to sometimes both distract yourself with fun, feel badass, and have a deep bonding experience with people that is lighthearted and driven by fun. Comment what game helped you cope with something you were going through!
Credit: Borderlands, Borderlands 2, & Borderlands the Pre-Sequel. Screenshots by me.