Cyberpunk 2077 has sparked debate over an in-game advert which uses the tagline “mix it up” paired with an image of a transgender woman.
The image was spotted in-game this week at E3 2019 and, alongside other in-game artwork, is on the wall of developer CD Projekt Red’s show floor booth.
Its combination of a sexualised model, the outline of her penis clearly visible, and quippy tagline been labelled as transphobic by some. I caught up with Cyberpunk 2077 art director Kasia Redesiuk – who designed the poster herself – at the show today for her take.
“I’m not surprised people have questions,” Redesiuk told me. “I’m currently taking care of in-game media, so branding and advertisements for the various corporations. And in this dystopian future, these megacorporations are oppressive, they’ve basically taken over and prescribe who people live. They constantly, aggressively sell everything.
“You’ll notice many advertisements – for anything, a table, chair, a roof tile – slap a random sexy person on top and say ‘hey, buy this’. This shows the sexploitation of those people, and many of our advertisements feature this sexualisation. We sexualise men, women, and people in between, all to show how terrible this is.
“With our advertisements, we want to say something. For instance, there’s an advert for a fashion shop with the Colosseum – this beautiful piece of architecture – which has been taken over and turned into a marketplace. It’s art destroyed for consumerism’s sake. We have more examples here [in Cyberpunk’s E3 2019 booth].”
Redesiuk and I are standing next to a poster which says ‘three mouths, one desire’. It’s a nod to Total Recall’s ‘I wish I had three hands’ scene, she says, but also an example of the grotesque sex movies available in Cyberpunk 2077’s world.
“So yes, we have a person with both breasts and a penis on an advertisement, done on purpose, because it’s terrible to exploit people’s bodies like this,” Redesiuk continues.
The poster in question is an advert for Chromanticore, a regular cola, one of many fictional drink brands in the game.
“We thought this would be a brand which would slap a body on the advert and think nothing of it. It’s a terrible thing to say ‘mix it up’ [the poster’s tagline]. We’re emulating what a company would say in Cyberpunk 2077.”
One reaction I’ve seen online is that the poster has been made simply to shock.
“It needs context. Some people are shocked by it, moved by it. That’s a normal response,” Redesiuk told me. “It’s showing a problem.”
Another comment I’ve is that this comes as one of the first examples of Cyberpunk 2077’s transgender characters (after earlier similar controversy) and that it wasn’t an ideal start to that conversation.
“People need representation, and representation in a good way,” Redesiuk agrees. “And in Cyberpunk 2077 we’re showing a world where many of the things which may be taboo or unusual today are completely normalised. It’s a world where you can go to a ripperdoc and change your body. It’s become normal. We have a character creator where you can mix up appearance and voice options and make the character you want to play. And, of course, through gameplay you can roleplay the character you want through your interactions with NPCs.
“It was meant to make people feel uncomfortable,” Redesiuk concludes. “Not because they’re seeing someone with breasts and a penis, but because the body is being exploited. I didn’t slap the penis there for people to laugh about it. There is a beautiful body there being used to sell soda.”