Cyberpunk 2077 studio CD Projekt Red has responded to criticism of an ad in the game that features a possibly transgender model promoting a fictional drink "with 16 flavors you'd love to mix," under the words "Mix it up." The image was widely—but not universally—criticized as being transphobic. "It reeks of fetishism," one commenter said in a ResetEra thread.
Even if it were meant as a criticism of advertising, some felt CD Projekt was simply trying to be 'edgy' at the expense of trans people, whatever the in-world justification.
If Cyberpunk 2077 treated girls’ dicks as just another facet of life, it would be fine. This ad shows that CDPR thinks trans people are weird, shocking, and fundamentally sexual. How do you “get” the joke? By looking at the model’s bulging erection. It’s a trope.June 12, 2019
In response to this reaction, the artist who created it, Kasia Redesiuk, told Polygon at E3 this week that her intent was in fact to reflect the dystopian state of a world in the grip of omnipresent, all-powerful corporations.
"Personally, for me, this person is sexy. I like how this person looks," Redesiuk said. "However, this model is used—their beautiful body is used—for corporate reasons. They are displayed there just as a thing, and that’s the terrible part of it."
Gender-nonconforming people are far more visible in 2077 than they are today, Redesiuk explained, and they have money—and so they're a prime demographic for this kind of targeted advertising. The power of corporations in the game world means that everything about that marketing is more overt and aggressive.
"They create those very aggressive advertisements that use, and abuse, a lot of people’s needs and instincts. So, hypersexualization is apparent everywhere, and in our ads there are many examples of hypersexualized women, hypersexualized men, and hypersexualized people in between," Redesiuk said.
"It was a conscious choice on our end to show that in this world—a world where you are a cyberpunk, a person fighting against corporations. That [advertisement] is what you’re fighting against."
Despite the controversy, she hopes that the ad will ultimately help foster empathy for the LGBTQ community among the overall videogame audience. "I honestly think we need it because we need more acceptance in the world, and we need to also show how the goodness of people is sometimes used against them," she said. "And I would really love for the world to change and be a better place for everyone."
But Ana Valens, who writes about trans issues for publications including Daily Dot, expressed doubt that CD Projekt will actually provide position transgender representation in Cyberpunk 2077.
"Cyberpunk is a complicated speculative fiction genre. Good commentary about trans experiences with gender can only come from a team actively embracing trans perspectives and commentary on gender, whether by working with trans people in sensitivity readings or outright letting them lead in writing and art creation," she told us. "If anything, Redesiuk’s comments prove she — and her colleagues — aren’t familiar with trans cyberpunk literature on gender experiences in the late capitalist future."
The challenge CD Projekt faces when taking on subjects like this is compounded by its history: The studio make a joke about assuming gender on Twitter last year and then apologized "to all those offended," and then a few months later co-opted the #WontBeErased hashtag to promote its GOG storefront. The social media manager responsible for the last tweet was subsequently fired.