Saturday, October 27, 2012

Literary Pandora

Borderlands 2 fans have been quick to point out the video-game Easter eggs spread throughout Pandora. So far, we have MinecraftDark Souls, and Bioshock. Also, we have a subtle reference to Donkey Kong in the name of a bullymong found in Eridium Blight, Donkey Mong. I'm sure there are more, but what I'm wondering is, has anyone noticed any of the literary references in the game? Take the jump to read about a few that I have found.

Shortly after reaching level 43, I found a powerful Jakobs sniper rifle called Tumtum Buffalo. It's stats were accompanied by an odd red-text description.

If you can't quite make it out, it says:

Bison Bison had had had had had
Bison Bison Bison shi shi shi

I thought that was a rather odd sentence. It was so odd, I thought, it had to refer to something. So, I did what any smartass would do, I Googled it, and came up with two excellent hits. The Borderlands 2 Wiki has an overview of the weapon, and Wikipedia has an excellent article that explains the reference. I won't go into  too much detail --- because you can get that from the article --- but the red text refers to a sentence written by linguist William J. Rapaport in 1972. The sentence goes:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

It seems like nonsense, but, according to the article, it is a perfectly acceptable, grammatically correct English-language sentence. I'm fascinated by linguistics and etymology, so this reference was a big deal to me. I think the sentence illustrates both the powerful logic of language and the utter arbitrariness of meaning that we place on it. Borderlands 2 is like that. In its own context, the game makes sense, but outside of that, it is completely ridiculous.

Vladof is one of the many fictional weapons manufacturers in Borderlands 2, and its sniper rifles often have interesting names. Take the one in the picture below, for example.

Strack Droog is the name. I also found one called Gromky Horrorshow. Those words Droog and Horrorshow are direct references to Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, in which Burgess employed a language he called Nadsat. It's a blend of Russian and English that is used by the protagonist Alex and his mates (his Droogs). It's a fantastic book, if a bit didactic, that, amongst other things, shows how our world, thoughts, and actions can be influenced, limited, and controlled by the language we use.

The enemies on Pandora can be quite talkative during combat. Their shoutouts are designed to mock and intimidate the player, but really, they are often hilarious. The Goliath says things like, "Welcome to Die" or, "Put your skull into your tumtum". The muscle-bound Bruiser will call out with, "I'm gonna kill you" or "There's no way out, Merc" (or something like that). And the Nomad will say, "You should be running" or, "Drop your gear, I'll let you go". Those are great, but last night a few other "shoutouts" really grabbed my attention.
I undertook a sidemission in Frostburn Canyon for Incinerator Clayton. I was already 7 to 8 levels above the enemies in the area, so they were easy to dispatch. They all had their typical death thores, but one Goliath, just before he died, said, "Oh, I am slain". I immediately recognized that as Shakespearean, but I had to look up the allusion to pinpoint it. It is spoken by Polonius in Act III, scene iv after being stabbed by Hamlet through an arras in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. It's a tragic, sad, unfortunate death because Polonius is nothing more than a harmless, well-meaning, obsequious busy-body who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Goliath is a big, dumb, but tough enemy. Perhaps he, too, is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The final reference I'd like to point out is more significant than the others. I found it while performing another one of Incinerator Clayton's tasks. I had to take Matchstick to Captain Flynt's ship in the Southern Shelf. The main access point to the pathway that leads to the freighter is blocked by a makeshift gate, and it raises when the player steps within a certain distance of it. Before I approached the gate, I stood up on a high snowdrift so that I could snipe the few enemies that were visible on either side of it. I could hear, but not see, at least two Psychos immediately behind it. After I sniped the other enemies, one of the psychos began to speak. I sat, and listened intently as he recited Hamlet's soliloquy from Act I, scene ii. It's a musing on suicide and the meaninglessness of life. It begins with, "O that this too too sullied flesh would melt...". It includes an allusion to the Hyperion of Greek mythology and these pertinent lines:

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on't, ah, fie, 'tis an unweeded garden
That grows to seed. Things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.

That's a perfect description of Pandora and all that it has to offer its inhabitants. I wonder if it could also be applied to the player?

UPDATE: While Playing through the Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty DLC I encountered a few more literary references.

One of the missions requires the player to kill a gigantic bullymong called Grendel who, appropriately enough, lives in an underground den. This is an obvious allusion to the the Old English epic poem Beowulf. It's a poem I have read many times. Woody Allen may not have liked it, but I enjoyed immensely.

I heard another Maniac quote Hamlet. He quoted the "What a piece of work is man..." speech from Act 2, Scene 2. Specifically, he spoke the line "...what is this quintessence of dust?". Appropriate, considering the areas in this DLC are mostly desert.

Also appropriate is the line "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" from T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland. That poem portrayed a bleak desert of alienation, disconnectedness, and fragmentation where once there was abundance, happiness, and hope. According to the story, Oasis and the surrounding areas in Pirate's Booty were awash with water, foliage, and hope. But now, it's a sad, sandy desert of hopelessness.

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