Cyberpunk 2077 Uses Sexism As Set Dressing

Cyberpunk 2077 Uses Sexism As Set Dressing

Including breasts in your game doesn’t make it ‘adult’, but it seems nobody passed on the memo to CD Projekt Red. Cyberpunk 2077 is the latest R18+ adventure to confuse sex with taboo, using it as a means to build out the game’s retro-futuristic cyberpunk world in ‘tantalising’ ways.

Sex isn’t featured too prominently in Cyberpunk 2077’s narrative, but it’s plastered everywhere else: billboards, posters and street signs. You’ll see ads for ‘Bottoms Up’, a braindance episode featuring a woman bouncing her arse in a man’s delighted face.

‘Best Braindance in Skin Flick 2077,” the poster reads.

You’ll spot multiple promos for ‘Mr. Chad’, starring a naked man’s torso caressed by faceless women. There’s ads for TV shows like ‘Watson Whore’ and ‘Milfgard’. Graffiti with large-boobed women, big lips and derogatory phrases is dotted throughout.

There’s also Chromanticure posters, sporting a female-presenting model with a prominent penis and the words “Mix It Up” emblazoned behind them. It’s been called out for being fetishistic primarily because it’s used as tasteless set dressing. These advertisements are designed to shock, and to mark out Cyberpunk 2077‘s world as unique. They’re designed to present a future where sex has become normalised, corporatised and sold back to the masses.

But there’s nothing unique or shocking about the sexualisation of female and transgender bodies. What is shocking is Cyberpunk 2077‘s commitment to making players feel uncomfortable at every turn.

cyberpunk 2077 sex sexism
Screenshot: Kotaku Australia

Cyberpunk 2077‘s world tailors every piece of advertising to the male gaze. There’s a time and place for sexual bodies, but the constant voyeurism isn’t supported by a point or any grander message. It’s tacky, a reminder of this so-called ‘new age’ cyberpunk world.

Filling the world of Cyberpunk 2077 with dildos is all well and good, but what purpose do they serve other than to remind players of Night City’s obsession with sex? As an easter egg sure, it’s funny. But when you start packing the entire world with dongs, there’s a far more aggressive, sexual message behind it — particularly when so much of the dialogue and imagery treats women so disposably.

Beyond making female players uncomfortable, it’s also embarrassing to see female bodies treated so tastelessly in the game. More often than not they’re also depicted with faces covered — hiding identities while inviting voyeurism of their bodies.

cyberpunk 2077 sex
Screenshot: Kotaku Australia

Among frequent references to male genitalia, Cyberpunk 2077 will occasionally reference ‘casual’ extreme violence against women. “You look like a fuckable cut of meat” is a particularly egregious example of what one woman is told in the early moments of Cyberpunk 2077. It’s not the only piece of dialogue that feels in incredibly poor taste. The microaggressions add up to an overarching world that appears openly hostile to female players — but the strangest part is it doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose, or have a bearing on the plot.

Cyberpunk 2077 is primarily an action-heavy title with a narrative spanning multiple eras and characters. There’s daring heists, militant tech and a city-spanning corporate conspiracy.

There’s also a cast of intriguing characters including fantastic, intelligence and well-written women. Judy Alvarez, the Braindance technician, comes to mind. As does cop Regina Jones, healer Misty, T-Bug and Evelyn Parker. They have essential, large roles to play in the narrative. None are particularly sexualised, but their agency is constantly undermined by Cyberpunk 2077‘s world.

watson whore cyberpunk 2077
Screenshot: Kotaku Australia

You could argue the world and narrative shows how women can thrive despite the hyper-corporatisation of sex and constant undermining. But Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t attempt to paint the sexualisation of women as wrong in any way. It just highlights poster after poster calling women ‘whores’, ‘babes’ and ‘milfs’. If the game’s story doesn’t subvert sexualisation through its own story, then all Cyberpunk 2077 is doing is just plain sexualisation. There’s no critical thought behind it.

The most frustrating part is Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t need this set dressing to be fun.

Taken on its own, it’s actually extremely fun and involving. Cyberpunk‘s story is a little too thin in places, but the overall gameplay, exploration and narrative is genuinely enjoyable. The sex feels tacked on and unnecessary — a poor attempt to create controversy for controversy’s sake.

Sex and sexism in a game isn’t edgy. It’s not a bold political statement. There’s clever ways to tackle the sexualisation of women and transgender bodies in society through video games. Video games can include meaningful sex, too. But Cyberpunk 2077 misses the mark by a long shot. Its understanding of what adult content is, and its reliance on the taboos behind sex, is pedestrian.

Cyberpunk 2077 needs to do better.

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