The founder of video game news site RockPaperShotgun was quick to double-down on the accusations of racism published by the website before ultimately issuing an apology and deleting his tweets.
Last week, amidst the flurry and excitement of the annual E3 expo, RockPaperShotgun staff writer Matt Cox was able to have a chance to play the latest demo for CD Projekt Red’s highly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077. After playing the demo, Cox would proceed to publish a preview of the demo titled Cyberpunk 2077’s E3 demo has weak gunplay and unimaginative stereotypes, a preview in which Cox aired his grievances with the game’s subject matter, particularly the game’s “handling of non-white cultures”:
“I’m also increasingly concerned about Cyberpunk’s handling of non-white cultures. Last year’s Gamescom demo drew criticism for its clumsy and inauthentic presentation of a Latino character, and I’m not convinced the Voodoo Boys are a step in the right direction. At one point V, the player character, mockingly says “and who are dem” in response to Placide’s pronunciation. I asked Tomaszkiewicz if he was concerned they weren’t treating certain cultures with enough respect.
“Obviously we’re paying a lot of attention to representing different groups respectfully. You know, there’s always a risk. Of course we have it in the back of our heads that we need to be careful about this. We are contacting different consultants to learn about specific groups, and our company has a variety of people with different beliefs. As for The Animals, if you play through the game you’ll see that they’re not mostly black people, it’s mixed.”
He told me that most of the city were mixed race, but the backstory for this particular area concerned most people being immigrants from Haiti. By itself, that would be fine. But near the end of the demo, we meet a white man in a suit and tie who gives us the information we need. He also tells us the Voodoo Boys are going to turn on us the moment we’ve done their dirty work – and is immediately proved right.
The violent black thugs betrayed us, as the corporate white man said they would. If CD Projeckt are trying to subvert expectations – if the punchline is, but sometimes the thugs are really thugs – then it’s not one that lands.”
It is important to note that Mike Pondsmith, the creator of the original Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game is an African-American man. Following the publication of the RockPaperShotgun article, Pondsmith would respond to Cox and RockPaperShotgun commenters by responding to a user in a Reddit thread, under the username ‘therealmaxmike’, clarifying his reasoning behind the naming of the gangs and chastising them for their assertions that the game was being produced ‘wrong’:
“So the comment section under the Rock Paper Shotgun hit piece had some assholes (one very vocal one, in particular) repeatedly telling everyone that:
1. Mike Pondsmith was involved at some point, but he’s definitely not heavily involved anymore, because he’d never sign off on something as “racist” as a gang called “Animals”.
2. CDPR deviated from the 2020 canon horribly and inexcusably in their portrayal of the Voodoo Boys.
3. The whole thing just sets off “alarm bells” suggesting that the game is profoundly inauthentic and CDPR didn’t really get Cyberpunk.
I wish I could throw this [Author’s Note: ‘this’ refers to a video of an interview between Pondsmith and Playstation Access’ Rob Pearson] in their faces (if only to see how they’d try to argue 2+2=3), but RPS closed the comments, because they got tired of deleting posts from people telling them how full of shit they were.
– /u/Y-27632, June 13, 2019
Pondsmith responded to the user.
1. If I wasn’t heavily involved, I would be able to get more done. As it is, I barely have a life.
2. As for the Animals–the WHOLE FREAKING POINT is that they think of themselves as POWERFUL, DANGEROUS, WILD ANIMALS. You’d have thought the Lady named “Sasquatch” would have given them a clue.
3. The original Voodoo Boys were a scathing commentary on cultural appropriation. I LOVE the idea that real practicioners of Voudon moved in and took back their turf. And they even got the Creole right!
4. Who the (bleep) do YOU think you are to tell ME whether or not MY creation was done right or not?
– /u/therealmaxmike, June 15, 2019
In a different thread, Pondsmith would also decry the recent trend of people being offended on behalf of peoples of color and “telling” said peoples how to think:
Want to say this just once. I am really tired of well meaning people on internet chat boards paternalistically telling me what I, as a black person, should be offended by. You want to be my ally? Go gird up your loins and at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, have the nerve to tell your racist Uncle Bob to STFU for a change.
– /u/therealmaxmike, June 13, 2019
The preview written by Cox was quickly the target of ridicule, as fans decried the interpretation of the game’s world through a lens of social justice, with many echoing Pondsmith’s claim that the article arrived at its conclusions by ignoring the source material and identity of the writer. This backlash prompted RockPaperShotgun Founder John Walker to double down on the accusations of racism by mocking Pondsmith’s writing and insulting fans who came to Pondsmith and Cyberpunk’s defense:
I love an argument that says “This can’t be racist, because the imaginary people we made up made the decisions!” https://archive.is/vYErc/90a832f15544e785de04c7679bee06ddb1633e7f.jpg
John Walker is Interested (@botherer) June 18, 2019
Extraordinary work by the overnight twitter goblins, those who spend most their waking lives screeching about “anti-white racism”, suddenly changing their worldviews and believing it impossible that a person of colour can make a bad argument regarding racist tropes.
John Walker is Interested (@botherer) June 18, 2019
Despite his implications that those rushing to the defense of Pondsmith were white, Walker was quickly confronted by a diverse range of fans that found it ironic that a white man was telling a black man how to feel about racial dynamics:
I assume you wrote the asinine article that started all of this, Mike Pondsmith isnt imaginary, he is an African American who created this world and characters of Cyberpunk so who are you to tell him or myself what to be outraged about? I wish your click bait was imaginary 🤡 https://t.co/Uqe4laDzHe
— Parris (@vicious696) June 19, 2019
Mike Pondsmith is gonna be so upset when he finds out he’s oppressing himself.
— Justin Whang 🐙 (@JustinWhang) June 18, 2019
Sometimes I think that the true purpose of intersectionality was to provide comfortable white folk with a way to tell poor people and people of other ethnicities not to step out of line
— Ogre Paladin (@OgrePaladin) June 19, 2019
So, to defend your “that’s racist because I said so” hot take you’ve now gone and said, “black man is being racist against black people because I said so.” Cool!
Let me know how that works out for you in a few hours.
— AngryBaneling (@AngryBaneling) June 19, 2019
Gaming YouTuber YongYea also weighed in on the controversy in a video titled Rock Paper Shotgun Doubles Down on Insinuations That Cyberpunk 2077 Is Offensive:
“I’m not going to say that it isn’t impossible for a black man to make a bad argument against racist tropes, but I’m sure as hell more inclined to listen to a black man about these topics of black racism than two white guys who feel the need to be offended for others when clearly no offense was intended or given.”
Ultimately, this backlash would lead to Walker deleting his Tweets on the subject and issuing an apology to Pondsmith:
Right, let’s make this all clear.
I think Matt was right to raise his concerns based on his experience of playing the game at E3.
I accept it was a bad take for me to call out Pondsmith’s comments. I apologise to him.
— John Walker Is Interested (@botherer) June 20, 2019