Allow Us to (Try to) Explain What the Hell Happened With Cyberpunk 2077
When you're becoming more known for your apologies than your product, there's a problem.
Have you ever watched a calamity unfold on so many levels that you had absolutely no clue where to start unpacking it?
I suppose there’s the most recent news, with developer CD Projekt Red apologizing for the incredibly buggy game, promising patches, and offering refunds to those who are still unhappy:
— Cyberpunk 2077 (@CyberpunkGame) December 14, 2020
Assuming you’re able to get a refund, depending on where you got your game from.
Honestly, every time I thought about writing something in regards to the mystifying development of 2020’s latest meme factory, something else would be added to the story. It’s reached a point where I have no idea if the game is even good, and I’m not sure anyone else can tell at this point either, because everyone’s talking about glitches, game crashes, crunch time, transphobia, lack of accessibility, racism, and just … it’s a lot.
I mean, the technical issues only scratch the surface, and yet …
I knew Cyberpunk 2077 was going to be glitchy but I did not expect my entire game to be covered with tiny trees pic.twitter.com/YGpHYUTUTS
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) December 10, 2020
— SnøKaRød (@SnoKaRod) December 12, 2020
— Legolas (@Legolas) December 9, 2020
— NiceFriki (@nicefriki) December 11, 2020
And let’s not forget the NSFW bug that has characters’ penises hanging out of their pants.
But I’m going to try to make sense of how Cyberpunk 2077 went from being one of the most anticipated games to kick off the decade to that game folks will now and forever point to for their “how NOT to launch a video game” presentations.
- Crunch Time
In case you don’t know, crunch time is the term used to explain when a studio overworks its team in an attempt to get the product out at a certain date. This is a big issue in the gaming industry that’s been discussed a number of times since it’s, unfortunately, a common practice. Stories about developers being worn down over crunch time have circulated for a while, so much so that when word broke out about Supergiant Games (Hades) NOT engaging in crunch, everyone was shocked.
We shouldn’t be surprised that there’s a studio that actually takes care of its workers, but let’s be real: The game industry isn’t the only one that puts employees on hamster wheels without filling the water bottle.
Yes, there are plenty of gamers who don’t give a shit as long as the game is playable, but many others have commented on the practice to the point of calling out The Last of Us II for winning big at The Game Awards while delevoper Naughty Dog overworked its staff. To many, rewarding a product that was created by mistreating employees sets a terrible standard. You can say that consumer pressure makes studios feel like they don’t have a choice, but sometimes you’ve got to put on your grown-up pants and choose the wellbeing of your employees over that commenter who says they’ll drop their preorder if they don’t get the game by an exact date.
Then again, it’s not like CD Projekt Red was doing themselves any favors by announcing release dates for Cyberpunk, over and over again, and reassuring people that the date was set in stone this time. (It wasn’t.) That made them look like poor planners and liars. In fact, they were liars because they said they would not make crunch time mandatory on more than one occasion, and then did just that.
What is truly damning about this is that the end product is a shoddy, inexcusable mess … on last-gen consoles. This, of course, led to quite a bit of elitism in the gaming community. The game apparently works fine if you played it on PC … as if PS4 and Xbox One users don’t have the right to an, at least, playable game. Why even offer the game on those consoles if it’s not going to function at all? Then again, according to that refund tweet, the developers didn’t even showcase the game on base last-gen consoles before release to begin with?
Now, you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned PS5 and the Xbox Series X. Well, that’s because the game is not available on those consoles yet … kinda. You can technically play the PS4 and Xbox One versions on them, but as far as getting an actual PS5 and Xbox Series X copy? That’ll be in 2021 … at some point.
Let me just say that, as a gamer, I am used to a studio setting a date and changing it. I don’t have a problem with CD Projekt Red doing that, but I do have a problem with them constantly pinky swearing that the date was legit and forcing developers into this dreadful crunch time practice to make this deadline when the game clearly wasn’t ready. Just throw a TBD on there and let developers take their time instead of overworking them, ESPECIALLY in a year like 2020. In fact, you can argue that the game wasn’t ready BECAUSE they pushed developers into rushing, putting them in a stressful environment that harmed their productivity.
- Epileptic Seizures (and just seizure warnings in general)
Before I dive into this, I will say that the developers did work to fix this, and there is now a seizure warning right when you boot up the game, on the store page, and patches have been released to fix components of the game that can trigger a seizure.
Booted up Cyberpunk 2077 to see a seizure warning come up at the start of the game that wasn’t there before. Really amazing to see how @DirtyEffinHippy helped make meaningful change happen for the safety of players. 👏 pic.twitter.com/ItNwuLOxla
— Elise Favis (@elisefavis) December 10, 2020
They also put a big warning box on the GOG store page! pic.twitter.com/319O6bKEfW
— Shatro | Tim (@ShatroFTW) December 10, 2020
That being said, it did take someone writing about their experience with the game to reach this point. Game Informer’s Liana Ruppert did a writeup three days before the game’s release. In it, they talked about elements of the game that could trigger seizures (which is what happened to Ruppert as they played). While I certainly don’t think CD Projekt Red did it on purpose, I’m surprised at the lack of any kind of warning at the start of the game since there are so many flashing lights throughout (especially since a major game mechanic, braindancing, was apparently rife with potential seizure triggers).
Much like the console debate, this led to some people telling gamers to just … not play video games, instead of commenting on the fact that:
- If you read Ruppert’s PSA, this went far beyond a couple of flashing lights. These were medical triggers that were extremely dangerous.
- You need to warn people what they’re in for, right at the start, so they can be prepared, and seizure warnings because of flashing lights is not an unheard of concept.
- Anyone can have a seizure, not just epileptics, so Ruppert’s PSA benefitted all of us.
- Ruppert wasn’t attacking the studio; they were simply warning other gamers so they wouldn’t be hurt while playing.
Honestly, we’re lucky this wasn’t something that was discovered on launch day with several gamers suffering all at once. There’s nothing wrong with having accessibility conversations to encourage studios to do better.
Full disclosure: This is the longest section because it’s been going on since well before the game’s launch.
First, some reading material, because there are a LOT of pieces about this that go into great detail about this and speak more personally than I can:
- Check out this piece from Doublejump with contributions from their LGBTQ+ staff and community. (This is the piece I used as a timeline of transphobic events with CD Projekt Red.)
- This piece from a trans perspective by Stacey Henley for Polygon.
- This piece from another trans perspective by Bella Blondeau for The Gamer.
From what I can gather from these essays, the problem isn’t just art in the game or game customization; it’s the studio’s response to honest critique from the audience they’re trying to represent. It’s not just a lack of empathy; it’s an outright dismissive tone when these issues have been brought to CD Projekt Red’s attention. It’s very telling that they were so quick to listen about the seizure warnings yet failed to be more inclusive on an issue they’ve been aware of for, at least, 2 years.
According to what I’ve read up on, the issue starts with CD Projekt Red itself. They’ve made insensitive remarks toward the trans community that range from jokes about assuming gender to poorly using trans hashtags in an attempt to comment about PC gaming. The tweets have been deleted, of course, but the “apologies” have not.
Sorry to all those offended by one of the responses sent out from our account earlier. Harming anyone was never our intention.
— Cyberpunk 2077 (@CyberpunkGame) August 21, 2018
Yesterday, we posted a tweet containing a trending hashtag as a pun. The tweet was neither intended as a malicious attack, nor as a comment to the ongoing social debate.
GOG should focus only on games. We acknowledge that and we commit to it.
— GOG.COM (@GOGcom) October 23, 2018
Just for future reference, a hashtag a marginalized community creates in response to being attacked by a whole-ass government administration is not the place for you to stroll in and joke about PC gaming. (Note: the original tweets are screencapped in the Doublejump piece.)
This is before getting to the Mix It Up art, which I, admittedly, thought was the start of this. It’s not, and it’d almost be easier to digest if it were just some in-game art that a studio didn’t realize was a bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, it’d still be frustrating as hell, but the fact that the studio itself did some out-of-line things on social media BEFORE we got to this point is … not good. This does not instill good faith in the community you’re trying to represent when you have several bad exchanges with them then release an ad for … well, I’ll just share the quote from the artist who created the image, Kasia Redesiuk, via a conversation with Polygon’s Charlie Hall:
“Personally, for me, this person is sexy. I like how this person looks. However, this model is used — their beautiful body is used — for corporate reasons. They are displayed there just as a thing, and that’s the terrible part of it.”
“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.”
I get the messaging they’re trying to attempt. The problem is that, as far as anyone can tell now that the game is out, there’s very little trans representation besides ads like this, some trans flags, and maybe some NPCs (but that’s unclear). If you want to create this narrative where this fetishization is seen as bad, why is it the only window we get on the trans community? Why is their only representation one that is not only negative but one that we, the player, are supposed to read as negative? Where is the positive representation? Where’s the thing that says, “Here’s the trans representation you should be embracing” to balance it out with?
Now, as someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community who isn’t trans, I know that what matters are the feelings of the community being represented and not my own, because I take the time to listen (even if I agree that this is a bad look on the studio’s part). But that’s not something everyone in this community does, and it CERTAINLY isn’t something folks outside of our queer space do, either. You have to do a bit of hand-holding on things like this. Otherwise, you might get, oh, I dunno, a cisgender person who likes to model, does a cosplay, and enters a contest held by the studio.
Yes, this is a thing that happened.
No, the cosplayer wasn’t doing it in the vein of the studio’s misguided attempt at a trans-positive message, because “you’re fighting against it,” as quoted from the piece I linked by Stacey Henley:
If you’re thinking perhaps the model was well-meaning, attempting to create a trans-positive cosplay, trying to further highlight queer commodification CDPR spoke of originally, or just a misguided ally who got it wrong this time around, I have bad (yet predictable) news for you. Yugoro Forge, the cosplayer in question, tweeted that her costumes are “beyond politics,” and when pushed on the fact her Cyberpunk 2077 costume dehumanized trans people who are already subject to violence so frequently, she replied, “many cis men and women face acts of harassment and violence on a daily basis as well.”
As a creator, it is imperative to listen to the group you’re trying to portray. Furthermore, when it comes to representation and just the treatment of marginalized people in general, the trans community is one that’s been hit pretty hard, even within the queer community itself.
But wait, I say, as I look at the growing word count on this piece. There’s more!
Let’s talk about character customization.
Because yes, while genitalia is optional and not tied to gender, your tone of voice is. In the piece I linked by Bella Blondeau, the author delves into why the voice mechanics hit a major issue the trans community faces on a regular basis.
For many of us, it doesn’t matter what we’re wearing, what our name is, what our driver’s license says – our voice is often the biggest hurdle we have to overcome for people to recognize us as who we are.
It came out, this past week, that Cyberpunk 2077 will tie your character’s pronouns to your chosen voice – with no option for they/them genders, on top of that. That means if you pick a “feminine” voice, congrats, you’re stuck with being a girl! Until more comes out about the game, it seems that it doesn’t matter how you look, how you dress, how you name your character. If you sound a certain way, that’s the gender you are.
Henley had similar sentiments in their piece:
Defenders of Cyberpunk 2077 may point to its character creator— one of the most heavily showcased features in pre-release — which doesn’t tie gender to genitalia. It’s true that this means the game provides the opportunity to create a transgender protagonist. However, gender in the game is still tied to voice, meaning if you want to be referred to as a woman, you need to select the voice actor with a typically feminine voice. For me — and in my experience, many other trans people — voice is far more important than genitalia. No one sees what’s in my pants, but everyone hears my voice.
So yeah. Two years’ worth of trans community feedback, and the customization (one of the game’s biggest selling points) has your voice define your gender.
For this, I return to Henley’s piece, which states:
As well as criticism for its depiction of trans folk, Cyberpunk 2077 has also come under fire for its use of racist imagery. The game includes the Voodoo Boys, who in the original board game were a white gang who dressed in Haitian gear as a commentary on cultural appropriation, but in Cyberpunk 2077 are actual Black Haitians and racial stereotypes. The Asian gang, Tyger Claws, are a strange amalgamation of various East Asian cultures, all armed with swords despite the high-tech advancements of their world.
The Tyger Claws, specifically, are spoken about in this Kotaku piece by Sisi Jiang. I’m just … going to let them summarize here:
The trailer’s first shot of the Tyger Claws was drenched in red, a color I associate more closely with Chinese visual culture. The promo image for the gang began with an English logo that was partially composed of suspect katakana letters, and basically written in a “chopsticks font” that is heavily associated with western caricatures of Chinese people. Although the music in the background reminded me of Chinese operatic ballads, with its distinct vibrato, none of my Chinese or Japanese friends could confirm the origin of the music. It was ethnically ambiguous, and I didn’t understand why a lovely ballad was playing over a video about a murderous gang. I spotted a bonsai tree, and one of the characters was wielding a katana. The cultural markers were all over the place. Turns out, the gang is Japanese.
I think I’m out of words.
Ok, I’m not, but I just … I know that the cyberpunk genre is steeped in Asian culture, and I’ve seen a couple of takes that rebuff any criticism of racism because the genre just be like that, but for a game that’s supposed to be this huge, open world, customizable achievement … why are we falling back on these poorly researched, stereotypical depictions? This could’ve been a chance to do something truly amazing and diverse, but as it stands, we got … this.
Time for the home stretch.
What I find sort of fascinating about all of this is that Cyberpunk 2077 is truly a game that has something for everyone to be frustrated about. Even those who were telling people not to buy the game if they had issues with *checks notes* the transphobia, the racist stereotypes, the lack of accessibility, and crunch time are dealing with game-breaking glitches that the studio is scrambling to patch. It’s unreal to see something crash so spectacularly. Would things have been better if they just waited? If they actually listened to feedback?
Well … yeah, but that’s not the timeline we live in right now.
So that concludes everything that happened with Cyberpunk 2077 … I think?
(image: CD Projekt)
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