Recently I had the chance to go hands-on with Borderlands 3 fourth and final Vault Hunter; FL4K. According to Gearbox, FL4K is “a wandering robot who always brings one of their three loyal pets into battle to buff stats and attack enemies. Their action skills let them send forth dive-bombing Rakk, teleport Gamma Burst-irradiated pets through rifts, and even Fade Away to temporarily become invisible while moving faster and regenerating health.”
FL4K is also an emergent AI who has recently become self-aware and is on a journey of self-discovery. In the Cosplay Guide for FL4K, it also mentions that “they feel a connection with the primal wisdom of animals” but that “the social constructs of humans are strange to them.”
I noticed while playing that in FL4K’s skill trees, they are referred to as ‘they,’ ‘them’ and ‘their’ and wondered if this was intentional on Gearbox’s behalf. Even before hands-on time with FL4K had been given, the Borderlands community had speculated that FL4K might identify as non-binary, due to the Cosplay Guide.
The Cosplay Guide shows the pins that FL4K wears and one of them features binary text with the ‘no symbol’ in the colours of the non-binary pride flag.
As FL4K is an AI it can be argued that Gearbox’s references to them using non-binary language could be because they are a robot and not human. However, the inclusion of the pin and non-binary pride flag colours says otherwise.
So too do Lorien Meggersee (Associate Animations and Cinematics Producer) and Matthew Higgins (Level Designer). I asked them if the references were a conscious decision as a way to make FL4K a non-binary character.
“Definitely” was the response from Higgins. Meggersee said, “Yeah, FL4K is an AI. So, technically non-binary, but also yeah.” Higgins also suggested that FL4K’s programming may also be a non-binary system, so they both identify as non-binary and are literally non-binary.
Despite being an AI, FL4K appears to be gendered as male. Their voice and overall aesthetic are definitely male, however, referring to them as he or him isn’t correct.
When I started playing, I was incorrectly referring to FL4K as him simply due to their voice and physicality. This speaks to my own preconceptions and assumptions, which is unfortunate. Thankfully, I quickly recognised my error and corrected myself.
FL4K being non-binary isn’t something that Borderlands 3 is forcing on players. It’s an element of the character that simply is. It doesn’t change anything about the way FL4K plays or works, nor does it change their story.
FL4K being non-binary is a good example of games being inclusive. Non-binary players will be able to see something of themselves in the game, a small feature of a character and for them, it may be incredibly important. For players who aren’t non-binary, it won’t change anything.
It’s a win-win.
Borderlands 3 will be available for PC, PS4 and Xbox One on September 13.