In terms of classic jokers (the ones who aren’t among Batman’s archenemies), a favorite has long been the characters who put up brave, happy faces in order to hide their inner cowardice. Yes, they love nothing more than to make light of a situation, making fun of anyone within their sphere of influences, which can include themselves, and throwing jokes around like beads at Mardi Gras. When in reality, their own realities are melancholy and, for the sake of the viewer, revealed to be more sympathetic than not. Such is where we come to the one and only Claptrap (aka CL4P-TP) jokey-est joker with a mechanical heart of gold in the Borderlands universe.
I first met Claptrap in Borderlands 2, but his history spans the series. He’s the first character the vault hunters meet in the first game, and he later serves as both comedic relief and mission notifier. The boxy, little talking unicyle with but one nemesis (stairs!) became nothing less than an “interplanetary ninja assassin” in Borderland’s DLC, where he could just as easily ensnare foes from the shadows as release any number of snide, side-eyed remarks upon the world. In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Claptrap received upgrades that made him into a force to be reckoned with. Not only was he given the ability to engage in combat, verbally undoubtedly, but also physically, but he could also…climb stairs! Talk about being unstoppable!
In Borderlands 2, I couldn’t get enough of Claptrap’s shenanigans. True to the original game, Claptrap was the first character my Borderlands 2 hunter, Zer0, met, and he served as a general guide, one with a larger-than-life attitude that definitely kept me laughing and entertained. For a little while, he was something of a “companion” who helped my character along the way. If there was one thing that Claptrap was never without, it was a good jab or wry comment that he quite willingly flung in my direction. Or anyone’s direction, for that matter.
Because Claptrap seemed so glib about his life and surroundings, taking on a mission involving his very unsuccessful birthday party, caught me somewhat off-guard. While there are plenty of charlatans in games who are happy with keep the wool over players eyes, revealing Claptrap’s humanity in such a poignant manner – watching him slowly deflate as it become clearer and clearer that no one will be attending his grand pizza-ridden birthday bash – felt relatable and elevated Claptrap’s own character. Of course he rebounded back to his cheeky self after, but a small transformation was evident, nonetheless.
Characters in games identified as silly, goofy, or tricky can often be rather one-note, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These folks infuse necessary humor and levity into a game’s fabric, which can be welcome…or not. (Comedy is hard.) But when a typical “joker” is elevated to something more human, more real, and more emotional, it can make all the difference within a game’s world. While Borderlands is a world imbued with humor (sometimes dark) that might be defined through Claptrap’s irreverence. He may be a traditionally silly character on the surface, but much like Borderlands’ world of Pandora, there’s more to him that meets the eye.
Or, his eye…since he only has the one. To match his one wheel. Which he can…or could…or might be able use to climb stairs!