Cyberpunk 2077 has dicks. Cyberpunk 2077 has vagina (singular). Already, you might be getting the impression that these things were not created equal. It’s a strange imbalance, especially given the way other characters in the game end up perceiving you regardless of your choice. On this week’s episode of Splitscreen, we bring on a special guest, Kotaku editor-at-large Riley MacLeod, to discuss Cyberpunk 2077's character creator and much, much more.
We (alongside Ashley Parrish and Mike Fahey, of course) begin the episode by evaluating the character creator from every possible angle in a new segment that Ash named “That’s A Good-Looking Penis,” because she has now become so powerful that she can’t be stopped. Then, because we recorded the episode earlier this week, when only Riley and I had copies of Cyberpunk, we move into a Q&A segment about our time with the game, answering questions about the game’s worldbuilding and whether or not we’ve encountered any quests as good as The Witcher 3's “Bloody Baron.” In our final segment, we talk about how cyberpunk games like Cyberpunk and Watch Dogs Legion fail to paint believable pictures of the dystopian future because our own dystopian present keeps outpacing them, leading to in-game concerns and threats that feel naïve no matter how much games do (or do not) try to engage with the real issues of the day.
Get the MP3 here, and check out an excerpt below.
Ash: My question to Riley and Nathan is: Are they good-looking penises? It was talked about a lot, the fact that you would get to customize your genitalia in Cyberpunk 2077, and I wanted to know what that was like.
Riley: There are several genital options in the character creator. There’s two penises, if I recall correctly: A circumcised one and an uncircumcised one. There’s some size options. And there’s one vagina, which is terrifically undetailed. I’m really irritated by the single vagina option. It just feels like a missed opportunity.
Nathan: It also feels like a statement of, if not intent, then at least where priorities lay for CD Projekt. Where other developers sometimes at least pretend they care about non-male fanbases, for Cyberpunk, CD Projekt was just kinda like “Eh, let’s just put this absence of a thing here.” Like, it’s not even really a vagina. It’s just an absence of a dick.
Ash: So you have a number—maybe not a great number, but a number—of customization options for a penis, but you have only the option to have or not have a vagina?
Nathan: Yes. It’s a binary state.
Riley: I was really disappointed there weren’t size sliders like there are for the penis. As a trans man who’s been on hormones for nearly two decades now, different things become different sizes, and things happen and what have you. So I expected a little bit more opportunity there than I got. It’s disappointing to me, but I’m also not surprised. That was a digression about my genitals, in case anybody was curious.
Fahey: There’s two penis options and one vagina option, and it is upsetting that those are the only options. There are millions of penises and vaginas all around the world, wherever you look.
Ash: Are these real fleshy constructs, or is there the option for artificial genitals? In my choice of having only one vagina, I can’t have it be, like, a neon blue metallic chrome vagina?
Ash: Can you vajazzle it?
Riley: You have pubic hair options, which is fun. There’s clean-shaven, there’s kinda messy. I think there are some shapes.
Nathan: A little heart is one of the options I remember.
Fahey: My thought here is, there could be a lot more options. There could be a scar option. We have circumcised and uncircumcised—what about “Oops, half-circumcised,” like the Crunch Berry flavor? How many options do we want? Do we want scars? Do we want freckles? Do we want to change the size of labia? Do we want an inflation sizer?
Riley: That’s what I’m saying: If they’re gonna go for it in that way, I want to have all the available options. Also, at least from what I’ve seen in about 40 hours with the game, you don’t really see it anyway.
Nathan: The one time that I’ve really ever seen any of that is when the game glitches and my character’s pants briefly disappear in the menu screen. There was also a time I looked in the mirror, and half of my character’s outfit was mysteriously gone.
Riley: My character’s hair always falls off when I’m looking into the mirror. Sometimes he’s just bald, which I thought was the game ragging on me for being bald, but I think it’s just a glitch.
Nathan: With the character creator stuff in mind, I did want to kind of connect some ideas. Riley, you were talking about who your character is, sobriety, and stuff like that earlier. So I guess I’m wondering how your ability to make a character who looks a certain way and sounds a certain way allows you to embody who you want to be in a game like this?
Ash: Or maybe limits you because of a lack of options or focus on certain options?
Riley: Yeah so, your character can kind of look however you’d like, though it’s sort of rigidly contained by what we traditionally would think of as male and female body types. Then you can have one of your various genital options, and the pronouns characters call you are dictated by your voice. So there’s only male and female—or he and she.
Nathan: And to be clear, there are just two voices. There are not multiple voices for male and female. It’s just one or the other.
Riley: So on one hand, it’s really neat. Like I said in my writeup, my character has a traditionally male body and goes by “he,” but has a vagina, which is really cool to me. I’m walking around as a trans guy. I never wrote this article, but for a while I was trying to make characters look like trans men, like in Mass Effect and stuff, to see if I could do it. It was always a little weird. It mostly came out looking not quite right. And of course to me, that raised all kinds of questions about what trans men look like and why I’m messing with these sliders—what do I think they look like?
So in this way, there’s something really super cool to me about “He is trans. There he is, just like me.” He looks like me—well, except he has hair and is probably taller and has cyber arms and whatever.
Nathan: Wait Riley, I thought you had cyber arms. I thought that was one of the reasons we hired you.
Riley: I would like them.
So, in that way, as I wrote, it doesn’t really come up—except in some of the sex scenes. In those scenes, I appear to be, as far as I can tell, using a penis to have sex with people or something. And there are all kinds of ways I could be using a strap-on, but that’s not made clear in any way in the scenes.
Nathan: I’m playing a character who’s a cis woman, and I also did a sex scene with another woman, and it was very much like watching a man and a woman have sex. Like you’re saying, there could be a strap-on involved or something, but it’s kinda weird.
Riley: That was my experience too, and I assumed it was for the purposes of only making one animation—which I respect as a choice. But yeah, it’s pretty surface level. I feel complicated about it. It’s rad that my character can just be a trans guy. That rules. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter that much, and it feels like it’s more a byproduct of what the game wants to let you do with bodies. It’s not an inclusive decision, which also I could take or leave, I guess, to an extent.
But also that raises for me the question of “What do I want from games, in terms of representation?” I always feel weird when I say this, but I don’t need that, you know? I’m not grateful to CD Projekt Red for giving me that option, because I see a trans body every day. I had this funny moment where, because I’ve been playing the game so much, when I shut my eyes, I can see it. I can see its interface. I was taking a shower, and you can shower in the game. So in real life, I put my hands on the wall like what your character does when they’re showering in the game, and I looked down, and I had this cool moment where I was like “Huh, my body right now looks like the body I have in the game.”
I was thinking about how transness in the game functions as another exercise in exploring body modification and transhumanism and stuff like that. To me, I don’t see my own medical transition as having something to do with the future of technology or whatever. But it made me think about how my body can look like this body in the game, and how on one hand the game is sort of saying these things about science and tech with my body, and on the other hand something I always think about a lot is, to people who aren’t me, my being trans and the way my body looks is weird. I primarily date cis men, and like, to cis men, hooking up with a man with a vagina is a surprise.
But to me, I’m so used to it. I sometimes forget that cis men have penises, because to me it’s just, “This is how my body looks. This is genitals attached to a body.” So it’s cool that it can be normal in that way in the game, but it also sort of frames that body as something you could only have in the future because it’s abnormal in a way that it’s really not.
For all that and more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. Also if you feel so inclined, leave a review, and you can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or suggest a topic. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtra, Fahey is @UncleFahey, and Nathan is @Vahn16. See you next week!