The look and sound of video game characters have come a long way from the stumpy eight-bit design of Mario revealed in 1985 with Super Mario Bros. Now, you can customize your character’s eye and hair color, height, gender, body size, and more, making it easier to feel fully immersed in the gaming experience without the need for a VR setup. If the game developers of CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 have their way, gamers will soon be able to design a transgender or nonbinary character, an option that has never been available before.
Changes on the Horizon
Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person role-playing game set in the sci-fi dystopian realm of Night City. Players assume the role of a mercenary named V, who uses melee combat and ranged weapons to advance through three distinct game classes: NetRunner (hacking), Techie (machinery), and Solo (combat).
Besides customizing V’s physical appearance, the player also decides on the character’s style of dress, which impacts non-playable character interactions and sexual and romantic relationships. With the fervent desire for more inclusion in various forms of entertainment, it’s good to see a game developer make an honest and in-depth attempt to give players more agency regarding how their character looks, going well-beyond the binary choice of male or female.
That said, as of this writing, CD Projekt Red only wants to include transgender and nonbinary options in the character creation menu, it’s not outright confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt. If the developers have their way, you’ll be able to choose a male voice for a female-presenting character and vice versa. While this is undoubtedly a fantastic move for the Poland-based game developer, they haven’t always had the best relationship with the transgender community.
A Public Relations History Mired in Controversy
In 2018, CD Projekt Red showed its whole social media ass when it tweeted, “Did you just assume their gender?” in response to a fan who wanted to see more Cyberpunk 2077 content from the “guys.” The tweet was deleted, and the company apologized for its insensitivity. But the social media blunders don’t stop there.
That same year, Good Old Games, CD Projekt Red’s digital games storefront, incited social media ire when it appropriated the pro-transgender Twitter hashtag #WontBeErased for product marketing. The tweet was later deleted and chalked up as a bad pun. Even when the game designer tries to do right by including the transgender community in its properties, it still never hits the mark the way it intends, as was demonstrated in a Cyberpunk 2077 in-game ad.
What Was Shown vs. What Was Seen
During this year’s E3, a massive video game trade event, CD Projekt Red offered a new trailer for Cyberpunk 2077. In it, an in-game ad displayed a female-presenting model who, unmistakably, has a penis and the slogan, “Mix it up.” While the ad didn’t spark the same fiasco as past social media missteps, it did put the company on the receiving end of a healthy dose of internet side-eye.
During an interview with Polygon, the game’s art director, Kasia Redesiuk, had this to say in regards to clarifying the ad’s intentions: “Cyberpunk 2077 is a dystopian future where megacorporations dictate everything. They try to, and successfully, influence people’s lives. They shove products down their throats. They create those very aggressive advertisements that use, and abuse, a lot of people’s needs and instincts. So, hypersexualization is apparent everywhere and in our ads, there are many examples of hypersexualized women, hypersexualized men, and hypersexualized people in between.
“This is all to show that [much like in our modern world], hypersexualization in advertisements is just terrible. It was a conscious choice on our end to show that in this world – a world where you are a cyberpunk, a person fighting against corporations. That [advertisement] is what you’re fighting against.”
While CD Projekt Red has stuck its foot in its mouth more than it’s stuck the landing when it comes to transgender and nonbinary inclusion, the designer deserves, at the least, lukewarm applause. When a company makes a genuine effort to step in the right direction, a few stumbles are to be expected. Here’s hoping the company (satisfactorily) includes nonbinary and transgender character customization in Cyberpunk 2077 when it releases in 2020.