The Galactic Food Chain

I’ve been playing a game recently called Borderlands 2. If you aren’t a gamer, or don’t know what I’m talking about when I say things like FPS, RPG, or MMO, then just know that, for the first paragraph, I’m talking about a really cool video game and infer what you can. Or use Google, if you really care.

So anyway, BL2 is a unique blend of FPS and RPG. The gameplay and combat is very much FPS, you run around, you shoot bad guys, they die faster if you shoot them in the head, etc. However, there are also many RPG elements running around. You level up, and unlock new skills and abilities as you do so, enemies also level up, and come in different varieties. You pick a class, and, to some extent, can customize your character. It’s quest based, meaning you get various missions to do, and there is no end to side missions in this game. There are a LOT of guns, all with their own stats and some with special abilities (I currently have a sniper rifle that has a chance to set people on fire and a Shotgun that doesn’t reload. Instead, you chuck it at an opponent, it explodes, and respawns in your hand.) and of course, boss battles. Anyway, basically, this game is freaking awesome.

That’s not the point of today’s writing though. This isn’t a review of the game, or in fact, that much about the game at all. I wanted to preface it with that because there is one thing that I love about Borderlands 2 way more than all of that. It has an environment. It’s set on an alien world and it has an environment! Let me explain. I’m a bit of a naturalist. I like nature, I like exploring food chains and predator-prey relationships especially. It’s just cool to me that you can have an system, like, say, the African Savannah, and you can just look at all the different wildlife and tell who eats who. Call me a nerd, but there’s just something inherently sexy about predator-prey relationships. I think this stems from our love of duality. Look at any superhero. They all have arch-nemesis’s. For Batman, it’s the Joker, for Superman, it’s Lex Luther, for Aquaman, the BP Oil Spill (zing!) and on and on. This isn’t limited to superheroes though. In most shows or movies about high school, there’s always a bully, trying to thwart our hero, with dinosaurs, kids are enamored with the epic struggle between T-Rex and Triceratops. Heck, in our religion, isn’t God’s arch-nemesis the Devil? Anyhow, I digress. Borderlands 2 has what comes close to a working ecosystem (in the scale of a video game anyway) except a little more extreme. For whatever reason, there are no herbivores on the planet of Pandora (where the game takes place) but I’ll give it leeway for that. Pandora doesn’t seem like a planet where herbivores would really survive anyhow (I think the spider-ants in the game might be omnivores, not sure about that though)

From previews of the game, I had kind of guessed this would be the case, but the realization that Pandora has a very well done system of creatures was only impressed on me today. A few hours in, after slogging through the icy regions of Pandora, destroying bandit camps and battling Bullymongs (four armed, ape-like predators with bad tempers who like to live in groups and throw ice) you are told to go infiltrate a bandit camp out in a more desert-like region. This is really where the game opens up a bit more and you have a larger area to explore and more things to do. I was driving into this region when I happened upon a pack of Skaggs (wolf or Hyena like pack hunting predators) who immediately attacked me. I finished them off fairly quickly, and started to drive off when I heard the screech of a Rakk (a flying, snake-like predator) fairly close. Sighing, I got out out my shotgun and prepared to dispose of the creature, but then I noticed it wasn’t attacking me. It was circling a pack of Skaggs who looked up at it, snarling and snapping. Curious to see how the game’s AI would handle such a confrontation, I waited around. The Rakk made a few unsuccessful passes at the Skaggs, probably trying to weaken one enough to kill it, but the skaggs kept it at bay. Finally, the Rakk decided it wasn’t going to get anywhere and left. Interactions like these are all over Borderlands, just at random, and they, in many ways, mimic how the various creatures of earth go about their business. But with more shooting and killing.

If I love ecosystems and predator-prey relationships,which I do, I have a huge interest in fictitious ones. I love seeing game-makers, authors, and tv/moviemakers create worlds and interactions between fantastical creatures. I love Skyrim’s rather extensive collection of creatures. Sabre-Cats, Mammoths, and of course, at the top of the food chain, the game’s famous dragons. But, aside from the dragons, many of the creatures in Skyrim are earth ones. Mamomths were a real thing, so were Sabre-Cats. Deer, wolves, bears, and many of the other creatures in Skyrim are earth ones. Skaggs, Varkids, Bullymongs and Rakks are infinitely more interesting, simply by being new and alien. It’s interesting to imagine a world like theirs existing. What other fantastic creatures might exist in this world? And how many other worlds with other alpha predators and populous prey are there in all kinds of fiction? I do wonder…