Getting a new (and decent) science-fiction game is probably a once in a half decade experience. There’s a lot of waiting around for scifi fans, especially when fantasy games still tend to dominate the market. Recently, there has been an upswing in scifi content, including when it comes to gaming. The science fiction game everyone is now anticipating is Cyberpunk 2077 – but it is already facing major issues.
Sciifi will always be my favourite genre. It’s just cool. Even though the stories are completely implausible a lot of the time, it can still feel so real. It’s easy to just get swept up in and believe we will somehow manage to actually see our consciousness stored in components so we can switch bodies, or we could really get to whirl a lightsaber around. It won’t happen, but that still isn’t enough to crush all hope. Scifi makes audiences dream.
Cyberpunk in particular is one of the most loved and interesting sub-genres of science-fiction. It’s known outwardly for its gritty environment which are contrasted with towering cities bursting with neon lights. Such settings can make anyone remotely predisposed to brooding feel as though they are right at home. It’s just a guess but I’m pretty sure Jess Mariano’s novel probably had some cyberpunk themes (which is why he’s a better catch than Logan, sorry Gilmore Girls fans). Cyberpunk is the genre where so often working class people are at the bottom of a pile and capitalism has found new and more maniacal ways to exploit working class people. There are examinations of sex work and disabilities. There are often corrupt cop stories or plots where we follow a down and out protagonist trying to break through the oppression, frustration and utter disenfranchisement that takes root in this setting. It’s our lives. It’s just got flashing lights and cool tech.
But this is why Cyberpunk 2077 is already going down like a led balloon among some fans – because the team behind it don’t seem to really understand what they’re supposed to be creating. Let’s start off with the supreme arrogance to claim the name ‘Cyberpunk’ at all. That would be like Ian McEwan releasing a novel called ‘Science Fiction 2019’ as though it was supposed to redefine the genre and be the go-to book for audiences. It really doesn’t work, and it is supremely ironic when the developers actually seem to hate cyberpunk and their audience.
The developers’ first stroll into hot water was when they implied that body modification makes characters less pure, and that was something they wanted to feature in their game. This is just laughable for anyone vaguely familiar with science fiction at all, never mind just cyberpunk. Body modification is often used and explored with sensitivity. It’s often simply a futuristic way to look at accessibility. Prosthetics, for instance, in reality are body modifications. If you’ve ever needed a steel plate to reinforce your bones that’s a modification. Skin grafts are modifications to the body. Hell, transplants are. We already have a culture of modifying the body and that’s good. Science fiction is simply a way to look at other ways to do this. It shouldn’t be a moral judgement because that is ableist and makes no sense. If you’re especially referring to women as less pure for modifying their bodies then this is misogyny and it just comes off like a creepy team of men whose only way to control women and get them ‘pure’ enough is through crappy character writing done with the maturity of a pre-teen who thinks adding swear words to a piece of writing is cutting edge.
Cyberpunk 2077 screwed up worse still when the official Twitter account made a “did you just assume my gender?” ‘joke’ and then issued a non-apology apology when called out. There are some scifi fans and creators who just should not be able to claim any real love or respect for the genre. There’s a strong and loud group of people within scifi who will argue (as though their lives depend upon it) about the different intricacies of the various species in Star Wars and get very annoyed if lore isn’t followed – but then reject actual science and gender diversity in real life. This isn’t just about scifi being a safe space – although it absolutely should be – but such scornful fans don’t even really like scifi. They can’t. Not if they don’t respect the nuances in the stories which are supposed to explore themes of classism, sexism and ableism. They are the basic foundations of cyberpunk. True, the stories aren’t always done well at all but that’s because mediocre men keep creeping in this space that they have zero claim to – a bit like how David Cage used civil rights and Black Lives Matter to try and make Detroit pretty but actually just ripped off these important movements because he never really understood their power.
It’s okay though. It’ll be worth the wait for the next decent scifi game. Perhaps in the meantime, developers will learn the point of speculative fiction has always been to punch up but it extravagant ways. Maybe marketing teams too will learn that it’s not the best idea to either insult the audience – or show a complete lack of respect of the history of the genre their brand is trying to lead in.