A video game with a multitude of problematic themes and mechanics has recently been released which has once and for all cemented my already unfavorable opinion on so-called ‘open world role-playing games’. Cyberpunk 2077 was launched on PC and gaming consoles this week, which generated tumultuous excitement and praise across all the major social media platforms. This unavoidable hubbub came from the majority of the gaming community who were applauding the title for its ‘beautiful graphics’ and ‘combat mechanics’ et cetera. However, there were also a small group of (decent) people who were quick to point out the darker and more problematic elements of this immersive video game. Some have highlighted the transphobic nature of the character-creation process, in which a player can choose to play as a female character with a penis. Now, I should not need to go into the issues this raises, but for those of you who are new to my section on The Spectator website, I will reluctantly elaborate. As a trans women myself, the thought that a cisgender person could pick up this game and use my hard-fought identity as a costume is as insulting as it is misjudged. At the mere press of a button, a male-bodied character can be given a vagina, along with female vocal cords. It belittles the struggle that self-ID trans women like me have gone through to obtain for ourselves the identity of womanhood. It also encourages the ignorant presumption that in order to be ‘real’ trans women/men, we need to surgically change our bodies, and that simply saying that I’m a woman and calling the police on anyone who misgenders me isn’t a valid way to live my life, which is bullshit.Nobody should be able to pick up a game and play a character of the opposite gender without actually suffering from gender dysphoria — self-diagnosed or otherwise.In the same way, a character can also be given a Tā moko tattoo — a sacred symbol of the Maori people. These tattoos hold great symbolic value and must be earned. The casual nature in which a player is able to slap this ancient tribal marking onto the skin of their in-game character is nothing short of sacrilegious. The very least the game developer CD Projekt could have done would have been to educate themselves on the ritualistic practices of Tohunga-tā-moko and animate the application of the body art on the character-creation screen accordingly. Sheer laziness.Nevertheless, however disrespectful the above examples may be, they are simply the icing on the top of a very problematic cake indeed. The title is the giveaway. Yes, as you may have already realized, this game allows anyone who chooses to play it to appropriate Cyberpunk culture. Regardless of whether or not they’ve read the sacred texts of Mike Pondsmith. Any boomer or normie can pick up a controller and adopt the lifestyle of a Cyberpunk individual. The Cyberpunk people are a proud race — to reduce their history and lived experiences to an entertainment vehicle for white MAGA Gamergate nerds is utterly shameful.
And here lies the real problem at the heart of all these ‘role-play’ video games. They allow a person from any background to immerse themselves in a world where there are no real consequences for bad behavior. Most RPG NPCs ignore a character’s micro-aggressions, misgenderings, learned racial biases, along with cisgender-normative assumptions based on societally-endorsed misogynistic and/or transphobic preconceptions. They offer a sanctuary for those who refuse to educate themselves. They provide a safe space for problematic individuals to ignore the teachings of social justice activists like myself who, in the real world, only wish to enthusiastically encourage wrongthinkers to conform to our standards of decency. A few years back, a friend of mine once unwittingly purchased a copy of Fable III and allowed me to have a go. To my horror, my character was able to walk straight up to a villager and assign a pronoun to them without first asking them of their preferred choice. There were no in-game consequences to this and nothing within the dialogue options that would give my character the chance to apologize either. Children play these games! Unless we begin to apply strict rules to these fantasy open-world video games, it will give the next generation completely the wrong idea as to the ways in which society needs to change.Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the worst games I’ve seen screenshots of but never actually played, to date. I am incredibly glad that I have never owned a console or gaming PC, because who knows what kind of insufferable nerd I may have turned out to be!