CD Projekt Red and Cyberpunk 2077 appear to have a transphobia problem

CD Projekt Red (CDPR), the Polish software house responsible for the recent release of Cyberpunk 2077, have been facing a backlash from the LGBTQ+ community for their transphobic marketing since at least as far back as August 2018. As Cyberpunk 2077 neared eventual release after many delays, this pushback only grew – so why now are both the mainstream media and influencers ignoring the problem?

Years before release, Cyberpunk 2077 marketed itself as being aligned with the gay community. Several gaming sites touted that the game would offer same-sex (or nonbinary) characters, weddings, and even body choices as a plus. But from the very beginning, the transgender community threw up the red flag on some of the choices the company was making, and what their responses to criticism had been as a result.

Fast forward to 2020, and the game has met both widespread acclaim, as well as been the brunt of jokes for the games technical foibles, but nary a word has been said in the mainstream media about a game that some in the LGBTQ+ community consider "An act of Violence" against their community.

Indeed, one doesn't have to look far even outside the mainstream to find how far CDPR's marketing dollars (or the hope of cashing in on the hype surrounding the game) have penetrated: Popular YouTube channels such as Kurzgesagt, Kyle Hill, and The Escapist, all of which have been featured on Boing Boing in the past, make no mention of this years-long controversy whatsoever.

However, sites focused on the LGBTQ+ community, as well as some of the less mainstream gaming media (where CDPR marketing dollars are less likely to reach) have taken the time to write up detailed articles outlining the scope of transphobia both at the publisher, and within the game itself.

From CBR:

Cyberpunk 2077's transphobia becomes apparent as soon as players enter the character creation menu. The game sports an incredibly detailed and intuitive character creator, where players can manipulate and control various aspects of their characters' appearance — including the shapes and sizes of their genitals. Players can even, if they choose, forego the option to include genitals at all. In and of itself, this isn't necessarily problematic or transphobic, especially because genitals don't seem to affect gender options.

At first, many trans players were happy with the idea that gender would not be determined by the character's genitals. However, that possible excitement turned to disbelief when gamers realized their character's gender and pronouns are not determined by genitals, but rather by voice. Only deep-voiced characters can be identified as male, while higher-pitched characters are identified as female, which purports the harmful idea that people's genders can be identified by certain traits.

In a truly trans-friendly game, gender would be determined by the player's independent choice, separate from any other qualities.

And from Them:

The feature also tacitly validates "clocking" trans people by surveilling their voices or external characteristics, which often precedes acts of violence against the community. That aspect of Cyberpunk 2077 is particularly troubling in a year during which 40 transgender people have been killed in an ongoing homicide epidemic.

But that's not where the game's controversial choices end. In Night City, some femme-presenting characters appear with transparent penises that are enlarged beyond conventional proportions, leading to criticisms that the game fetishizes and objectifies trans bodies. The situation is aggravated by there being no apparent LGBTQ+ visibility elsewhere in Cyberpunk 2077, even despite a recent push for greater trans and nonbinary representation in mainstream gaming.

The most glaring issues, however, are with the games developer. CDPR has defended these decisions, as well as the decision to use apparently transphobic in-game ads and marketing in an interview with Polygon:

"This is all to show that [much like in our modern world] hypersexualization in advertisements is just terrible," Redesiuk continued. "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."

However, given the reactions by the very communities CDPR purports to support, it would not be a stretch to say that CDPR itself is behaving as a corporation using "hypersexualization in advertisements" to market the game itself. This irony has not gone unnoticed:

Lastly, interested individuals have taken the time to track down and catalogue the full timeline of CDPRs transphobic comments and responses, and to step up where mainstream sites and influencers have chosen not to:

If it's designed to be a terrible and distasteful advert working at the expense of trans women – something CDPR themselves tells us we should be fighting against – you can't then decouple it from the criticism to use frivolously for laughs or promotional material. Promoting someone taking that imagery, further accenting and highlighting the parts we're supposed to take issue with, all while laughing about it, renders that original intent meaningless. Put bluntly; when you're flying people out to take part in a video shoot for your promo and they're walking around with a fake neon penis representing the thing you claim to hate, how can we take any notion of nuance around trans people, issues and bodies seriously within both CDPR and Cyberpunk 2077?

You can read Kyuugi's full analysis on ResetEra's forums.

Thanks to Boing Boing BBS member Tamsin_Bailey for bringing this issue to my attention in the first place.

Image: Akash Murnal