As I head out to find the mysterious Ellie, I pass a tower. Ever the curious explorer, I wander up to it. It is locked. It’s on a cliff, so I walk to the edge to look at the view, which is usually pretty cool. This one is boring, a large sandy stretch. What is interesting, however, is that a laser turns on in the tower and it tells me “Warning, this is not a safe zone,” while a red bar flashes on my screen. Interesting.
I know that it’s really just their replacement for a blocking volume, and that if I keep going I will fall to my death, but it’s interesting because it adds a bit of nuance to the game that’s distinct from most – where there would be some silly reason why I shouldn’t fall to my death, or I just wouldn’t be able to walk off the edge. I like the inclusion of artifacts like this one because they make the world of Pandora more realistic.
And now as I’m typing, a voice announces, “Caravan coming through! Keep away unless you want a lead milkshake!” I guess I should start pausing when I type. But I’ll go kill these guys. After all, it’s MY milkshake that brings all the boys to the yard, cuz they’re like, it’s better than yours.
Yes, I said it.
As it turns out, the milkshake that brings all the boys, bandits, and even girls to the yard is Ellie’s. Ellie seems to own and run this part of Pandora. She’s badass, no nonsense, and one of the few examples of a large character… well, let’s be honest, Ellie is fat. But Ellie is neither disgusting nor lazy (at least no more so than any other character in Borderlands, and a lot of them are pretty dirty), and she owns a garage the size of a small fortress.
She also appears – according to an audio log just inside the garage gates – to be Moxxie’s daughter. Moxxie is annoying, and even after only one audio log, I feel like Ellie made a good choice in not living anywhere near her (especially after the snarky comment about “taking care of herself”).
Ellie’s introduction has her crush a bandit to death after he says he should have “killed your fat ass,” and then puts up her name on the screen, with the caption “Likes: cuddling, murder.” I love Ellie already and I kind of wish Borderlands had a romance option, because who doesn’t love someone whose likes are “cuddling” and “murder”? Also, she’s Scooter’s sister. And she thinks I’m cute!
A friend of mine, Todd Harper (currently a visiting lecturer at University of Baltimore), wrote a post about Ellie in September. In his words, “the issue of fat characters in video games is pretty fraught. Most of the ones that exist are really just awful, pandering to the worst of stereotypes without a hint of consideration, awareness, or empathy.” He refers to a piece by Aaron Gotzon that talks about how Ellie is a great character because she isn’t any of those things. Todd talks more about later missions in his post, and also talks about fan reception, which is where things get problematic – but that’s a discussion for another day (or to take place on his blog). For now, more on Ellie!
Ellie is one of very few positive examples of heavy characters in videogames being anything other than slobby and lazy and horrible. Ellie is none of these. She’s smart, despite the stereotypical “white trash” drawl, she’s successful in a place that doesn’t cater to easy success, she’s independent (rejecting both her mom and brother’s attempts to keep her in Sanctuary – she’s made a reputation for herself in the harsh badlands of Pandora), and she’s confident and FUN. And all that makes her sexy – her attitude makes you want to like her, and her belief in her own sexuality makes the player agree with her (even if she’s not their type).
So once she’s built the car I need, Ellie sends me out to fetch hood ornaments. The hood ornaments are all her – and she loves them (Todd’s post contains a clip of this mission’s completion, which is worth listening to). She says they’re “hawt!” and talks about how her mom used to tell her to lose weight, but she’s sexier with it than without it. As Todd says, “But generally speaking, I really enjoyed it because as Gotzon says, this is an act of quite literal reclamation. In the ultimate fuck you to her detractors, Ellie has them killed, and then surrounds herself with these tokens of scorn which are 50% self-indulgent interior decorating and 50% visible warning.” Ellie may be my new hero. Seriously.
Ellie is an example of diversity (despite her whiteness) in an industry that – as we know – is so sorely lacking in it. Ellie is not the typical skinny, large-bosomed, metal-bikini-clad creature that populates so many fantasy videogames. She’s the opposite of her mother – Moxxie – who IS that big-bosomed (okay, Ellie has big bosoms, too, but they’re different because of the rest of her, attitude included) sex-pot. Ellie isn’t a sex-pot – she’s sexual, but she’s sexual the way real people are sexual, and she’s in charge of her own sexuality and is utterly unapologetic about it. She’s not the “typical” female game character, and she doesn’t care. Her existence tells me that the developers understand that there’s more to a game than just shooting and stereotypical eye-candy. She’s a big girl, and she has no shame whatsoever about it, and that’s heartwarmingly fantastic in so very many ways.
Ellie is hands-down one of my favorite characters in a game, ever. Sure, she isn’t exactly what I’d call a “deep” character, but she has a lot more depth and dimension than most of the other characters on Pandora, including the player. At this point in the game, Ellie has made the game for me – made me like one of the characters, genuinely like one of them – when I was starting to get tired of it (post-Firehawk mission).
And that’s really why Ellie is so fantastic – she’s unexpected and FUN, an oasis in the midst of a lot of crazy enemy-NPCs who have little personality and less purpose other than to get in my way. Ellie makes me want to talk to her, want to do missions for her, if only to see what she says. And also to see if the game will let me flirt with her.
But most of all I love Ellie because now the game has shine to it again, has that sense of wacked-out fun that made Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome a fantastic movie, in spite of how horrible it really was. I’m loving Ellie, and once again have that excited feeling to keep playing Borderlands that I had back in the beginning of the first game.