When Cyberpunk 2077 was originally announced, I was understandably ecstatic. Not only am I a huge cyberpunk fan, but LGBTQ+ issues are both important to me and personally impact me. So, seeing that CD PROJEKT RED seemed to be taking the inclusion of trans and non-binary identities into consideration with their character creator was a highlight of my year. But, after getting my hands on the game, I’m sad to say that I’m a bit disappointed. There are certainly some novel changes made that put other RPGs to shame, but there aren’t enough changes in Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator to call it ground-breaking.
When the demo first arrived, Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator required players to pick between a female and a male model before getting down to the nitty-gritty. Following feedback from gamers about inclusivity, CD PROJEKT RED decided to remove sex and instead required players to pick between two body types. Along with the possibility of mixing and matching all physical characteristics, instead of having them sex-locked like other games, this really felt like a huge step in allowing trans and non-binary people to express themselves in a video game.
After getting ahold of the game, I can assuredly say that all of the above changes are mostly true. However, two-character options are body-type locked. Only the feminine body type can have breasts, and only the masculine body type can have facial hair. Similarly, some hairstyles are body-type locked though there is a significant overlap, so unless you’re looking for the differences, you probably won’t notice. The male model also requires you to have stubble despite turning the beard option off which may also prove bothersome to some people.
For most people, these options won’t pose a problem, but it’s nevertheless odd to me to remove sex from the character creator and still have features that are locked to the ideas of male and female. Not to mention that body modification is so pervasive in the world of Cyberpunk 2077. I doubt people would adhere to characteristics that are strictly masculine or feminine. And I suppose we can applaud CD PROJEKT RED for allowing both character models to wear makeup. But by no means is Cyberpunk 2077, the first to accomplish this. Mass Effect: Andromeda led the charge on that one. But I will say that the choice not to link body-type to genitalia is certainly a step in the right direction, although this is the first time I’ve ever seen genitalia in an RPG character creator.
Another prominent option in Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator is voice tone. There are only two tones: a feminine and a masculine. I have no problem with these specifically (although it would have been nice to have a more gender-neutral option as well). What I do have a problem with is that your character’s pronouns are linked to the tone of voice. This feels like an extremely odd decision when everything else about your character is a choice. I honestly can’t think of a single reason why this would be designed like this.
In regards to a gender-neutral voice option or gender-neutral pronouns, there is the possibility that CD PROJEKT RED wanted to limit the amount of dialogue they had to record. However, there are very few times during my playthrough that V was gendered. Given that I played with a masculine voice, there were a few misters and sirs but rarely did I hear he/his/him. If this was truly a problem, CD PROJEKT RED could have gone the same route as Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and only referred to the main character by name. All in all, there are easy ways around recording multiple versions of dialogue, so the lack of inclusivity when it comes to non-binary people is inexcusable, given previous changes to the character creation.
With this seemingly half-hearted attempt at inclusivity, it makes CD PROJEKT RED’s snafu regarding an advertisement featuring a trans person in-game all the more questionable. Yes, Cyberpunk 2077 is not supposed to represent an aspirational future, quite the opposite, really. But to support the use of this ad, I expected to experience quests or subtext surrounding corporations’ abuse of minorities such as trans people. There are some themes circulating around the commodification of people’s bodies and the over-sexualization by corporations, but rarely does it feel like you specifically fight against this as a whole. This subtext may yet be hidden away in a side quest somewhere, but there is minimal thematic context in the main plot regarding this sort of ad. Add on the fact that I have yet to see an actual trans NPC, and the lack of reflection on the fetishization of trans people in this world only makes this bad attempt at inclusivity all the more frustrating.
Thankfully, most of the game is played in first-person, so you don’t see your character unless you’re equipping weapons or clothes. However, I am gravely disappointed in this attempt at inclusivity. It really isn’t that hard to include non-binary and trans people in video games. And it truly feels like Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator came close to being wonderful but nevertheless missed the mark. If anything, we should use this as a source of discussion about the right way to support trans people in future video games.