Meet Fl4k, the non-binary robot

Gearbox announced the release of Borderlands 3 for September and ever since I’m a passenger on the hype train. I love the entire franchise, it’s a first person shooter looter, for its incredible story, its wit, its sarcasm, its humor, its surroundings, its characters… Basically I love it a lot. And when the four vault hunters were introduced, I called dibs on Fl4k. I knew nothing about the character, only that they seemed to be a robot and has animals with them, according to the nickname Beastmaster. The siren, soldier and not sure yet character are cool too, but I’m going to start with Fl4k.


picture credit Gearbox

Diversity in the game

It’s not really a surprise. With Borderlands 2 I was instantly drawn to Zer0, still my favourite. He’s a 4 fingered assassin, probably an alien. Nobody knows for sure. With the pre-sequel I played Claptrap, the annoying one wheeled robot. Don’t be fooled by his reputation, he’s ace. I also love Wilhelm. Sure he’s a baddy but he’s addicted to metal augmentation, which turns him into half human, half machine. Choosing a character in the original game was a lot harder. They’re all human after all. So of course for Borderlands 3 it had to be Fl4k. But what I didn’t know, Fl4k has an additional bonus. A huge bonus.

The franchise introduced Fl4k as non-binary and use the pronouns they and them. Fl4k is an AI roaming the planets (and looting and killing wherever they go) searching for themselves and their only companions are three beasts which they care dearly for. So, they aren’t just metal and unsocial, they’re also non-binary (and unsocial) like I am! Of course this is a match made in heaven, them being a hunter class is even an bonus to the bonus!

Sexual innuendos

Borderlands has a great history of not giving a shit about gender roles and sexuality. Characters such as the soldier Axton are openly bisexual. Moxxi is as well, as she discusses her girlfriends and husbands alike. Sir Hammerlock is gay, as is professor Nakayama who has a major crush on the main villain Jack (and is rejected as well). Zer0 is also rumoured to be non-binary after all, even though he’s always been assigned to the he/him pronouns. The creators of the game have spoken of Zer0 as they/them recently. The thing is, even though Zer0 sounds male, we don’t know whether he/they/she is.

With all the innuendos flying out and about, the characters sexual preferences are not an issue anywhere in the game. Janey openly flirts with vault hunter Athena but not with the other characters (spoiler, they’ll end up together, not in the game perse but in canon). It’s all treated normally, just like it should be. As long as the media represents the LGBT+ community as something to emphasise on, it’s never going to be treated as natural. But Borderlands is doing this. And so is Star Trek Discovery by the way. It’s refreshing and it is needed as well. Normalisation is one thing, representation is everything.

The critics

One may argue why they made the robot non-binary and not a human being. It’s also something some people complain about and I do get it. It would of course be nicer to have a human representation of non-binary people in the game (Zer0 isn’t human either but unassumingly he/they/she is flesh and bones). But I have to compliment the people of Gearbox. To have an AI as your non-binary character is the kind of humor you expect from the franchise. And they speak normal about it, use they/them, treat them as an equal to the other vault hunters. I think it’s great.

This is the gaming community of course. And gamers come in all shapes and sizes. Even in an open-minded franchise such as Borderlands, bigotry lives there too. Of course people (probably white males living with mammy) are complaining that the gender agenda has now shoved into their faces in the gaming world as well. Why oh why do they need to deal with this shit in there as well. Well, because you little shit, and I quote Mr Torgue, Reasons! The world isn’t all white and the world isn’t all male and the world isn’t all straight.

Representation matters

This is what Borderlands does a really good job at: representation. And that doesn’t please everyone. For the first two Borderlands games, you could choose between three males and one female character (if you count Zer0 male). The pre-sequel vault hunters were 2 women, a (male assigned) robot and a man. And with Borderlands 3 the choice is two women, a man and a non-binary robot. The baddies are twins (brother and sister) and what is new in the game is that they enemies are male and female. Before that the enemies that were giving you XP were all male and I get that because it’s easier to program and design that way. But now you have male and female enemies and it just is a whole lot more realistic that way.

Borderlands remains an absurd world of shooting looting, with crazy guns (guns on legs everyone?), absurd humor, funny dialogues, and amazing design. I would have started with Fl4k regardless of their gender. But just the fact that they are non-binary makes me love the franchise just a little bit more. Everyone is welcome in Borderlands. Well done you people at Gearbox, you are amazing and never change that.

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