The Demons of Pandora

Borderlands 2, when you really think about it, is a sober tail of a group of people haunted by their past.

Written by Steven Sukkau / Published on October 29, 2012

Borderland 2’s key setting, Pandora, is a hellish wasteland haunted by demons. And you might be one of them.

It seems everyone, women, men and children, are either crazy, homicidal or both. It’s a homeworld without rules or laws save the self-serving mining corporation, Hyperion, personified in the jerky jerk, Handsome Jack.

President of the Hyperion corporation, Jack maintains the installations and employees around Pandora. But don’t be fooled, he treats enemies and friends the same, either mutating them against their will or killing them outright.

In the middle of a seemingly normal PSA about experimenting to uncover new cures and uses for iridium, Jack interrupts his uncharacteristically calm demeanor with a fit of laughter, “Seriously? Why do you make me read this crap? This is hilarious. They know we’re going to mutate the hell out of them, why lie?”

It’s during one of these forced mutation experiments that a demon is born for Tiny Tina.

When we first meet Tina in the game, we’re confronted with the unhinged, bloodthirsty and unnervingly sexual lunatic. The player later learns from an audio log that Tina is forced to watch as her parents are killed, even as she escapes unscathed. Uncharacteristically sane, the only time we hear Tiny Tina’s voice sound like anything resembling normal, she sounds like a frightened little girl.

Are we… interrupting something?

Even the crazed wasteland bandits were once factory workers, abandoned and left to for dead when their company went off world.

Digging into the backstory of almost every character, a pattern begins to emerge: trauma from the past has helped shape them into the emotional and mentally unstable wrecks they are now. No one is born a bandit.

A standout quest is the story of Face McShooty. A man stands alone, babbling and screaming nonsense at the edge of a bandit settlement. He has one request: shoot me in the face. Not in the arm, not in the leg, or the stomach. Put a bullet in the brainpan. I oblige, careful to hit square between his eyes. The jittering jig is stilled. He is finally quiet and still, but dead.  His past may have been the worst of them all.

With the overwhelming number of trauma cases on Pandora, it’s hard to believe anyone can come out the other side of such tragedy. It becomes tempting to believe I am slave to my circumstances. Maybe I am sane because I’ve never been tortured to breaking point. Maybe my unseen murderous rage is kept in check until I witness atrocity.

Now this is a guy who knows he’s in a videogame.

Maya never had a chance. A Siren raised by a cult, Maya was trained in her magical phase-locking powers and used by the monks of Athenas to keep the local population in line. Forced to kill innocent victims, Maya saw herself becoming a monster at the hands of men looking to increase their power.

Both Maya and Tina underwent trauma during their childhoods, events that can disrupt their developing brains and leads to lifelong patterns of distress and dysfunction. The past, it seems, is never far behind.

We’re all haunted by the past. And without help, Tina let her personal demons take the lead. While the trauma Maya received as a child should have turned her into an addled maniac like Tiny Tina instead of turning to making bombs and nursing revenge fantasies, Maya flees to Pandora lured by rumors of Sirens and a desire to understand her curse. Maya is taken in by the former vault hunters. Between the firm but good-natured leadership of Roland and the motherly, yet rough around the edges, touch of fellow siren Lilith, the player finds a home that the monastery on Athenas could never be. It’s here Maya learns of her potential for good. The crimson lance fight for the people rather than oppress them. Likewise, Lilith is seen as a mentor, demonstrating the inborn powers of a siren to deal out justice rather than for personal gain.

I can’t help but admire Maya. Despite living with the same personal demons as the bandits and madmen wandering the wastes, she chooses to search out a better life, and finds herself caught up in a much greater fight – one that extends beyond her own circumstances.

Everyone has a sad story. No one is born a bandit. And without help it’s very easy to let our circumstances dictate our lives, tormented by trauma. But Maya made a choice to seek out answers. And that choice led her down a better path than her wounds would’ve suggested.

Looking back on when I first started the game with Maya, I realize how monumental a decision it was to come to Pandora. There were no guarantees she’d learn anything about being a siren. But the fact that she sat on that train and the fact that she is there points to the fragile hope she carries. She can’t “fix” herself, but she does believe things could get better, despite her personal demons telling her otherwise.

About the Author:

Steven Sukkau is a reporter at his local newspaper and believes the print medium will never truly die. When he's not uncovering the human stories around town he's writing about videogames. You can follow him on twitter @stevensukkau.