The team at CD Projekt Red came to E3 this year with an enormous demo for its next game, Cyberpunk 2077. Coming in at 50 minutes in length, the demo was as much a showcase of the game’s feature set as it was a statement about CD Projekt Red’s capabilities as a studio. But, as impressive as that demo was, there was still one portion of it that elicited giggles from the crowd.
Early in the demo, the presenter revealed a mockup of the character creation system. It showed generic male and female avatars standing on a blue background. Both of them were completely nude, but their genitals were covered with pixelated white boxes of digital noise. Some in the crowd giggled. For some of them, I’m sure it was because they were uncomfortable with or perhaps prudish about nudity. Just as many likely giggled at the absurdity of censoring the human form in a video game.
Adding those white boxes to the menu system at E3 was a tactical decision by the team at CD Projekt Red, game director Adam Badowski told Polygon. In the final version of the game, that digital noise will likely be removed. But for its big reveal, CD Projekt didn’t want to be accused of using nudity for shock value, or to have its time with the international press sidetracked by conversations about male or female nudity in video games.
The team also wanted to keep the reaction in the room to a giggle, rather than outright laughter.
“We covered these parts for one reason,” said Badowski. “Because during the presentation, we don’t want people to focus on and think about these things and laugh. It’s normal! Nudity makes it more believable; that’s why we want to have it. There’s nothing special in it.”
Badowski said that in the final game, his team intends to have full nudity, not for shock value but because it supports one of the most important themes in the cyberpunk genre: transhumanism, the belief that humanity can transcend its current mental and physical form with the help of technology. Throughout Cyberpunk 2077, players will have to grapple with what it means for them personally to become transhuman, and one of the pieces of imagery the team plans to use is nudity.
There was one scene in particular from the E3 demo that Badowski pointed to as an example. It opened with a simple quest to retrieve a kidnapped woman, but turned into a bizarre and gruesome tableau. The kidnappers weren’t holding her for ransom; they were planning to chop her up for spare parts, harvesting the high-tech implants throughout her body for sale on the black market.
After players gun down the enemies in the compound, they find the kidnapped woman and another NPC lying naked in a bathtub filled with ice. With her eyes rolled back in her head and her body glistening with water, the player must carry her in their arms out into the light to the waiting paramedics.
“Nudity is important for us because of one reason,” Badowski said. “This is cyberpunk, so people augment their body. So the body is no longer sacrum [sacred]; it’s profanum [profane]. Because people modify everything, they are losing their connection to the body, to the meat. And that’s why we need to use the nudity in many situations.
“You see that there are bodies in the tub, and you need to take care of this woman. But at the same time she is augmented,” he continued, searching for the right words. “She is not clean. Maybe she is augmented too much. Maybe the humanity level is pretty low in her, so it’s an interesting topic. It’s one of the key themes in cyberpunk. The very first scenes in the original Ghost in the Shell anime show exactly the same aspect. Because where is sacrum and where is profanum in a world when you can simply modify yourself to such limits that it makes you a different kind of person? It’s one of the most important themes in cyberpunk, as a genre.”