In a recent interview, development studio CD Projekt Red stated that making “a video game that’s really inclusive” is one of the major development goals for the highly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077.
At Gamescom 2019, UK-based news outlet Metro had an opportunity to sit down and speak with Cyberpunk 2077 Senior Concept Artist Marthe Jonkers. Through the course of the interview, Metro discussed numerous topics, ranging from Jonkers and her team’s involvement in the project to the similar visual themes found in prominent cyberpunk works such as Blade Runner and Judge Dredd. At one point in the interview, Metro inquires as to Jonkers’ approach to the “portrayal of gender and trans issues.” (Related: Cyberpunk 2077 Coming to Google Stadia)
GC: Traditional science fiction tends to be strangely sexless and yet we see in the real world that that’s the first thing people think of when new technology emerges. But CD Project keep get themselves in trouble with the portrayal of gender and trans issues. Have you changed your approach to how you deal with those sorts of things in the last year or so?
MJ: You know, we really want to make a video game that’s really inclusive.
Jonkers elaborated on this goal, detailing how character creation relies less on “male” and “female” options and instead allows players to customize various aspects and details of their person. (Related: CD Projekt Red Working to Implement Transgender and Non-Binary Character Options in Cyberpunk 2077)
GC: I’ve spoken to a number of your devs now and it’s obvious to me they’re trying to do the right thing, but it’s such a difficult subject.
MJ: Of course, if you tackle certain subjects then you will expect people to have an opinion about it and we respect that. And it’s good that people give us feedback. And our character creation menu, for instance, compared to the last demo we now give you so many more options. For instance, you don’t choose your gender anymore. You don’t choose, ‘I want to be a female or male character’ you now choose a body type. Because we want you to feel free to create any character you want. So you choose your body type and we have two voices, one that’s male sounding, one is female sounding. You can mix and match. You can just connect them any way you want. And then we have a lot of extra skin tones and tattoos and hairstyles. So we really want to give people the freedom to make their own character and play the way they want to play.
Jonkers also states that CD Projekt Red “really wanna make a game that everybody is comfortable playing” whilst simultaneously attempting to “tackle difficult issues.” To this end, Jonkers indicates that they will be giving players information, but will encourage players to interpret the situation and deal with it as they see fit, rather than pushing a specific agenda upon the player. (Related: Cyberpunk 2020 Creator Mike Pondsmith Responds to Cyberpunk 2077 Transgender Controversy)
GC: Are the sexual and self-identity issues something you tackle directly through missions and story or are they more just implied by the character creation tools?
MJ: We do tackle a lot of… complicated subjects, I’d say. Because we wanted to create a very believable cyberpunk world. Cyberpunk 2020 was also a world that had a very dark side and we are also showing this in Cyberpunk 2077, but we paint a picture and we let the player interpret it. We leave it up to the player to see what they think of the situations and how they would handle it. So we’re trying to create a sort of realistic world, we’re trying not to shy away from cyberpunk themes. But at the same time we’re giving the freedom to the player to approach the situations how they want to.
While a focus on ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ is a common thread among media with strong social justice-based political leanings and messages, Cyberpunk 2077 appears to be taking a different approach to the issue. A running theme amongst cyberpunk fiction is the struggle to grasp with the concept of humanity, and how that is defined in a world of readily available and accessible body modifications. Swapping arms for weapons, human body parts for cybernetic replicas, or even full sets of genitalia are less about the sense of identity imbued by the parts and more about the practical applications and the lifestyle/survival changes resulting from said upgrades. As much of the conflict in cyberpunk comes from battles between different classes, such as those in the slums and the technocratic elites who rule above them (as seen, for example, in Alita: Battle Angel), it is hard to imagine that Cyberpunk 2077 will put a large focus on social justice issues when it releases next April.