Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop RPG creator Mike Pondsmith has taken issue with some of the criticism that has been laid out at Cyberpunk 2077 following behind-closed-doors gameplay walkthroughs held at E3 2019.
In particular, there’s been questions raised by several outlets including ourselves about how CD Projekt Red are handling representation of different races in the game. Take, for example, the Voodoo Boys gang, which in the table top RPG are predominantly white guys are now black Haitians with thick accents as they speak predominantly Haitian Creole living in the Pacifica slums. Of particular note, when subtitled, their lines are written out so that “they” becomes “dey”, with V the protagonist (a white American male in the demo) mimicking a Haitian character at one point by pointedly asking “and who are dey?”
Similarly, a rival gang, the Animals, were also predominantly black and shown being gunned down in their masses, but CD Projekt Red’s quest director Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz told Rock Paper Shotgun that more nuance would be lent to the gang through the game.
This has, understandably, sparked a bit of controversy online, and in a comment on Reddit, Mike Pondsmith has responded:
1) If I wasn’t heavily involved, I would be able to get more done. As it is, I barely have a life. 2) As for the Animals–the WHOLE FREAKING POINT is that they think of themselves as POWERFUL, DANGEROUS, WILD ANIMALS. You’d have thought the Lady named “Sasquatch” would have given them a clue. 3) The original Voodoo Boys were a scathing commentary on cultural appropriation. I LOVE the idea that real practicioners of Voudon moved in and took back their turf. And they even got the Creole right! 4) Who the (bleep) do YOU think you are to tell ME whether or not MY creation was done right or not?
And so here’s the problem: without the context of the full game and with only a handful of assurances from CD Projekt Red to go on, it’s difficult to gauge how well the game handles race. Certainly, what was in this demo seems to have leant itself very easily to an interpretation that there’s little depth and nuance to gangs leaning heavily of stereotypes, not helped by an ability for your character to use an accent as a racial epithet. However, the fact that Pondsmith, himself an African American, is involved with Cyberpunk 2077’s creation does give us an outside voice on the game’s creation and also gives confidence that CDPR are being informed by the lore and intent of the universe that he created.
Cyberpunk 2077 had a major presence at E3 this year, featuring in Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference, and with a “breathtaking” reveal of Keanu Reeves’ role in the game. Cyberpunk 2077 will be out for PS4, Xbox One and PC on 16th April 2020.
If you’re outraged by other peoples opinions on video games probably shouldn’t read this either. Honestly, don’t read it, you will have a heart attack.