CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 has been years in the making. First announced in 2012, it was finally unleashed this week, and reception from critics has been almost universally positive.
However, the game isn’t flawless. Its approach to female character writing and representation of trans individuals is far from perfect, and deserves critique. It’s unfortunate that those who decided to speak up against such issues have been met with endless amounts of online vitriol.
I was one such critic, my 4/5 review going into great detail about how the game’s writing, narrative and depiction of certain characters can be both underwhelming and problematic: “It’s handled with the subtlety of a jackhammer, with the agency of characters such as Evelyn Parker and Silverhand’s own love interest – Alt Cunningham – undermined in service of furthering their male counterparts.”
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It was a justified complaint, and one I addressed extensively in my full review. Even with such shortcomings, I praised Cyberpunk 2077 as a new benchmark for the RPG genre. Night City is a dense, ambitious world that begs to be explored, and hides so many worthwhile secrets within its neon-lit streets.
But I imagine the people sending vitriol on social media weren’t concerned with that, or even read the review at all. They latched onto a single complaint I made and believed I was trying to push an agenda, believing that the game wasn’t catering to me, a transwoman who simply wants blockbusters to be more progressive and forward thinking.
CD Projekt Red gained much notoriety during the pre-release marketing cycle for Cyberpunk 2077, criticised for an in-game poster’s transphobic imagery and crunching its development team despite multiple delays and a somewhat buggy release this week. In a way, the well has been poisoned for some time now, with reviews acting as the perfect excuse to rain upon critics who dared to view the game negatively.
The irony is, it’s one of my favourite games of the year, and is one I plan to dive into again and again with the arrival of downloadable content and expansions in the years to come. But daring to make observations you’d expect of a critic led to endless trolls invading my social media accounts, showcasing that perhaps the medium still has some growing up to do.
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Gaming culture is almost territorial, with some individuals coming to define themselves by the medium and grow defensive at anything that dares progress it beyond the status quo. The Last of Us 2 received similar treatment, with many damning the game ahead of release due to one pivotal plot moment that subverted expectations in a major way.
This led to rampant misogyny and transphobia towards the characters of Abby and Lev, demonising critics and creators alike for daring to positively reflect on the game in reviews. Reception like this feels infantile and needlessly aggressive, with hate mobs descending upon journalists covering the game purely because their opinion happens to diverge from what they believe should be true.
Cyberpunk 2077 reinforced this type of discourse, with a similar crowd of right-leaning players crawling out from the woodwork to spit bile at critics, especially women and minorities. They find a target, hone in and try to pick them apart. They claim high scores are paid for by publishers, yet come out screaming when you happen to give the next big thing a 4/5. It makes no sense, which is perhaps the most striking thing of all. I will say, it’s the loud minority stinking up this place at times like this.
It shows that this medium can’t exist alongside films and music as an art form, if toxic players scream at anything that dares try and push things forward both narratively and mechanically. This industry is growing larger everyday, and it’s about time the audience did alongside it.
Cyberpunk 2077 is out now across PS4, Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia. You can check out my full review here. But be warned, the console versions are a bit dicey right now, so perhaps wait for a major update or two.