So, about a week ago, CD Projekt Red Released their newest open world video game, Cyberpunk 2077. Now, I want to be clear up front, today I am not producing a full review of Cyberpunk as a video game. The game was made under terrible crunch conditions, and its development is surrounded by a lot of unpleasant issues, and I don’t intend to cover it as an overall video game.
That being said, Access-Ability is a show all about accessibility and representation in the video game industry, and I feel like the accessibility and representation issues present in Cyberpunk are notable enough that I should put some time into discussing them. I’m not here to discuss the game as a whole, just to let folks know what issues there are in the game, which may prevent them from being able to comfortably play the game.
So, today on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about Cyberpunk 2077. We’re going to talk about some of the barriers to accessibility found currently in the game, some changes that have already been made to try and make the game more accessible, and exactly what the situation is with transgender representation within the game.
So, let’s start off by talking about disability accessibility in Cyberpunk 2077. While there are a lot of aspects of Cyberpunk 2077 that are inaccessible to disabled players, the one that caught the most attention and headlines around the launch of the game is how the game at launch handled photosensitivity triggers.
Liana Ruppert, who reviewed Cyberpunk 2077 for Game Informer, is a gamer with photosensitive epilepsy, who during the review period for the game experienced a seizure, triggered by a particularly intense section of full screen flashing that exists as a mandatory part of completing the game’s story mode.
Ruppert made it clear that while Cyberpunk 2077 features flashing and glitching effects throughout, of particular note was a scene where a headset is placed on the player, to bring them into a dreamstate, known as braindance. The full screen would flash alternating red and white frequently, something very much known to be a common photosensitivity tigger.
Now, Cyberpunk 2077 at launch did contain a warning about possible epilepsy triggers in the game, but the warning was hidden away in the game’s EULA agreement, a long scrolling wall of text that jokes at its beginning that nobody actually reads them. The game featured no prominent warning about epilepsy triggers, and no specific warning about the braindance sequences being particularly intense.
In the days since launch, CD Projekt Red has updated the game on PC to now include a more prominent warning about photosensitivity triggers, as well as altering the braindance sequence to now simply fade into bright white light rather than rapidly flashing red and white. However, photosensitive players should still be cautious playing the game, as it still contains frequent visual glitching effects across the screen, camera flashes going off at unexpected moments, and other full screen flashes that, while not as egregious, are still likely to be possible triggers. Even the new altered braindance sequence may still cause issues, as it makes the screen intensely bright white, which is sometimes a trigger for photosensitivity, albeit a less dramatic one.
The worst offending moment in the game has been made less of an issue, but players with epilepsy should still be cautious. The game does not feature any settings to tone down overall effects intensity.
So, with that out of the way, let’s talk about some of the less discussed aspects of accessibility in Cyberpunk 2077.
One of the more egregious issues faced by disabled players trying to play Cyberpunk 2077 is the game’s weird issues around lack of key rebinding support. While the game does feature SOME level of key rebinding, several key actions in game, such as the interact button, are locked, and cannot be changed without going into system files and messing around. On PC you NEED to press the spacebar to start the game, and need to press the ESC key to leave the limited keybinding menu, which makes even getting to the rebinding menu and rebinding the limited options available difficult for some players.
The fact that Cyberpunk’s key rebinding is limited and selective has caused issues for a lot of disabled players, who simply can’t swap buttons around in a way that is accessible for them.
Additionally, Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t feature any support for turning held buttons into button toggles. For players with muscle weakness in their hands and fingers, holding down a button for a long period of time can be difficult, and offering players the option to press the button once to start an action and a second time to stop can really help with accessibility.
For any players who struggle with motion sickness in first person games, Cyberpunk doesn’t feature the ability to turn off head bob, which may cause issues with motion sickness. On the other hand, the game does allow you to alter the field of view, motion blur, and level of lens flare, which may help mitigate motion sickness.
Next, let’s get onto the issue of text size. For blind or partially sighted players, Cyberpunk 2077 does not do a good job overall of making itself accessible. Cyberpunk features a couple of different options for subtitles, offering subtitles for cutscene dialogue, dialogue spoken by characters while you’re in gameplay (known as overheard subtitles), and an option to display both.
Now, the game doesn’t do a terrible job with cutscene subtitles. Subtitles always show the speaker name, and do have options for different text sizes, as well as opacity of background behind the subtitles to make them easier to read. The same cannot be said for overheard subtitles.
Overheard subtitles appear above characters heads in gameplay, and their size cannot be changed. Their default size is frankly tiny, and will be difficult for many blind or partially sighted players to make out easily. These are often used to provide important information, which makes their inability to be customised an issue.
You also cannot customise the size of menu text, which also defaults to a frankly tiny size, which is an issue given how much the game expects you to read text in menus.
The game’s UI is also slightly transparent, with no options to change its opacity or size, making it tough for many blind or partially sighted players to see.
If you are a PC player and rely on Microsoft’s screen magnifier to read on screen text, you’re out of luck, as in Cyberpunk 2077 the mouse is invisibly stuck to the centre of the screen, meaning you will be unable to move the screen magnifier to other parts of the screen.
Additionally, in dialogue, sometimes the player will be required to respond to dialogue choices on a short time limit. You cannot turn the time limit off for these dialogue choices, so if you are a slow reader, or struggle with reaction speeds, this may be a barrier of play for you.
However, with this all said, Cyberpunk 2077 does contain a few accessibility features which may be helpful to players, as well as an albeit small Accessibility specific options menu. So, let’s dig into what Cyberpunk does provide in terms of accessible options.
So, let’s start with Cyberpunk’s dedicated accessibility menu. Here, players can find settings for aim assist and snap to target, which can make targeting enemies easier for players with coordination disabilities. You can also turn off weapon sway, to again make combat in game easier to navigate successfully.
Cyberpunk 2077 does feature a selection of visual modes designed to make the game playable by players with common types of color blindness, which is an appreciated addition.
You can also change the balance of Cyberpunk 2077’s audio, which allows players to lower the volume of sounds that are not as important to them, and instead turn the volume up on the cues and dialogue they do need to focus on.
Additionally, Cyberpunk features visual cues for most audio cues as default, which should help deaf and hard of hearing players not miss out on important gameplay information.
Lastly, I want to talk a little bit about Cyberpunk 2077, and exactly what transgender content is present in the game. For today’s video, I’m going to avoid discussions of the company’s poor choices on social media around the trans community, and simply let people know what content to expect in the game itself.
So, as a trans woman, I’ve been a bit cautious of Cyberpunk 2077 in the run up to release, in part because of the company’s uncomfortable content on social media. So, now the game itself is out, what trans content can players expect to see in the full game?
When you first boot up Cyberpunk 2077, the game’s character creator does allow for a limited ability to create transgender characters, at least in theory. You can create a feminine presenting character with a penis, or a masculine presenting character with a vagina, but that’s about when things start to fall apart.
In Cyberpunk 2077, your pronouns are tied to your character’s choice of voice. If you have a deep voice, you are going to be referred to with he/him pronouns, and if you have a higher pitched voice, you are going to be referred to with she/her pronouns. There are no options for non binary pronouns, and the choice to tie your vocal tone to your pronouns seems weirdly unnecessary.
The game’s view of what makes a trans person a trans person seems oddly focused on genitals, and not much else, an attitude that leads into the next area of the game’s trans representation.
The primary way in which trans people are represented in Cyberpunk 2077 is in the form of advertisements for an energy drink called Chromanticure. These posters, which were shown off in screenshots long before the release of the game, feature an overly sexualised trans woman, with a very visible veiny penis bulging through her clothes, drinking the advertised energy drink, with a tacky tagline about mixing things up. In a vacuum, before the game’s release, it felt gross and fetishistic, and now the game has released, my opinion has not much changed.
Cyberpunk 2077 does feature a single trans NPC, optionally encountered, who seems to be represented in a tasteful way. I will avoid spoilers here, but a character who drives a truck with a trans flag on the back is a trans woman, and the game doesn’t make a huge deal about it. It’s very casually mentioned, and she’s largely treated respectfully.
However, that one NPC isn’t enough for me, personally, to feel less unsettled by the fetishistic posters in game. If this was a world where trans characters were commonly visible, that did leg work to make trans people feel normalised and part of the world, then perhaps the sexualised posters might have felt less out of place, but for now it really feels like the studio caught flack for fetishistic depictions of trans characters, and put one NPC in to try and offset things.
So, let’s get to summarising my thoughts on Cyberpunk, from an accessibility and trans representation perspective. Put simply, Cyberpunk fails to hit a lot of basic accessibility standards that most video games today hit. A lack of fully rebindable keys, transparent Ui that can’t be altered, and tiny unchangeable menu text are issues that no game in 2020 should really be launching with as issues.
The trans content in Cyberpunk 2077 certainly could have been worse, but also nothing present in the game really makes me think the developers understood the complains about the energy drink posters, or makes me any less grossed out by the attitudes of the company’s social media managers towards the trans community.
Overall, Cyberpunk is a game with a lot of issues that players need to be aware of prior to playing. If you were planning on playing, I hope this video helped you to be aware of potential issues that might impact your ability to have a good time playing.