Last week, Witcher series creators CD Projekt Red released a trailer for their upcoming game, Cyberpunk 2077. It depicts a dystopian future in which human is indistinguishable from machine, and in the trailer a young woman is shot and then apparently recruited into a type of fringe police force. Of course, the appearance of a scantily-clad woman hearkens back to last year’s Hitman: Absolution controversy, and the Internet has reacted in kind. I am no one to tell someone when they should or should not be offended, but I do think there is an important distinction between the two trailers.
The Issue of Context
Context is important when discussing issues of sexism and racism, and it’s important to recognize that the contexts presented by these two trailers is different, and this difference is a key point in discussing them.
In the Hitman: Absolution trailer, there was no context presented for the action seen on screen. It was presented as-is, a scantily-clad set of “sexy” assassins dressed in the most provocative way possible. At the time, I didn’t necessarily think that it was outright sexist, just misguided and poorly conceived. These are criticisms I can levy at the full-game now, having reviewed it.
However, there is some context to the happenings in the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer. The woman in the trailer is being shot at because she’s shown to be a killer. The mangled corpses of her victims lay at her feet, and her grotesque metallic arm attachments are front and center in the trailer and some of the attached marketing materials. Her origins are kept a mystery similarly to The Saints, but the end result isn’t that she’s killed (in fact, she seems rather indestructible), but instead she’s actually seemingly recruited into the group of officers who killed/arrested her.
This is where, of course, defending the trailer gets a bit murky. Indeed, the scantily-clad, strikingly-beautiful cyborg depicted in the trailer is problematic. There appears to be no real reason why she doesn’t have pants on, for example. However, it feels like her clothing (or lack thereof) is supposed to indicate her lack of self-awareness. The trailer makes a big show of focusing on her eyes and face, and although it is obviously in part to highlight the immaculate CG, it also demonstrates that the woman does not have complete control of her mental faculties. Is she on drugs? Is she an experiment? We’ll have to wait until the game comes out to find out.
However, the sexualization of The Saints in Hitman: Absolution seemed merely there to titillate the audience. This is compounded by the fact that they are dressed as nuns. It’s supposed to stir controversy and make people upset, and when The Saints are introduced and summarily dismissed in Hitman: Absolution proper, it is apparent that they were included for no more than their appearance and ability to shock as characters. The woman in the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer appears to be an integral part of the story, or at the very least what happens to her seems to be a key theme of the game.
CD Projekt Red has shown themselves to be a studio intent on including sexual content in its games. Both Witcher games featured pretty detailed sex scenes between characters, and it’s obvious that the studio is a fan of the female body. There’s no intellectually-honest response to any objections on these grounds, but the analysis should be kept to what’s included in the trailer, and in this case, the comparisons between Cyberpunk 2077 and Hitman: Absolution might be easy, but they aren’t necessarily accurate.
Is this another example of game industry sexism, or are people taking this too far? Make yourself heard in the comments below.