A hot potato: CD Projekt Red has had a long and amusingly awkward history of accidentally antagonizing the LGBT community, but now, they'll be the first studio to introduce a major title granting players full control over gender with Cyberpunk 2077. In response to criticisms on the E3 2018 gameplay demo and its one-or-the-other approach to gender selection, CD Projekt Red decided to break gender, voice, and genitalia into three separate things, giving players control over their take on V, the protagonist.
At a recent interview with VGC, CDPR level designer Max Pairs described their goals with representation, and how they want to meet them. "In the genre of Cyberpunk as well, it asks such deep questions about what it means to be human, let alone what it means to define your gender. Having that customization match how you feel is your representation of how you feel... it's important for us and it's important to the lore of this world, too."
For starters, NPCs won't engage with your character's gender, so if your V isn't someone the developers anticipated when writing the scripts, you'll still have the freedom to play like that. "One of the things we've done to make sure the game addresses things a certain way is a lot of the time NPCs are just going to refer to you as 'V', because you won't be able to choose your name. That way it helps people know that it's their character that's being spoken to and also however you've envisioned your V, that's still your V."
"That's been our focus: your version of V is your version as the player and that's how you will be addressed in the game," he concluded. It's a small detail but a significant one, as romance can be a significant part of the story of the player chooses. That includes non-straight relationships, too.
Tragically, however, there's no getting frisky with Keanu Reeves, who plays Johnny Silverhand. "Keanu plays a crucial role in the game, but as for the option to romance him, I don't believe you can," Pairs said. I know, I'm just as disappointed as you must be.
In case you missed it, senior concept artist Marthe Jonkers explained the choices players get to make in an interview with Metro UK late last month. "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." Genitalia is based on body type, which, if you play a certain way, you might see on screen.
"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 anyway 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."
CD Projekt Red's decision is certainly a bold one, as developers usually shy away from such moves given the toxicity of some gamers. But ultimately, creating a game designed for every player to connect with should be the goal of every studio, and CD Projekt Red are doing a fine job.