CD Projekt Red explains controversial Cyberpunk in-game ad featuring trans model

CD Projekt Red
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E3 2021 takes place June 12-15 as a re-imagined, all-virtual online event. Nintendo, Xbox, Bethesda, Square Enix, Sega, Bandai Namco, Ubisoft, Capcom, and others will deliver new video game announcements, trailers, release dates, and more.

CD Projekt Red arrived at this year’s E3 with a new trailer for Cyberpunk 2077. Along with that reveal came word of new characters, new technologies, and new images from the highly anticipated role-playing game. One image in particular caught many by surprise.

The image in question surfaced in an advertisement for Nvidia’s ray tracing technology, which gives game developers new tools for lighting their scenes. At first glance, the image looks like any other dimly lit stairwell, albeit illuminated by some newfangled tech. But when you zoom in on the advertisement in the center of the frame, something jumps out.

The female figure in one of those advertisements very clearly has a penis. The ad is for a soft drink called ChroManticore that tastes of “16 flavours you’d love to mix.” The copy encourages you to “mix it up,” an apparent reference to the trans model in the poster.

CD Projekt Red

Almost immediately, some began to wonder if the advertisement was created in good faith. CD Projekt Red has previously made jokes at the expense of the trans community. Just last year, the company was forced to apologize for what many considered to be a transphobic tweet. GOG.com, a digital storefront that is, like the studio, a wholly owned subsidiary of CD Projekt, has also been accused of making transphobic attempts at humor.

That’s likely why on social media, many people saw the in-fiction ad as just another example of CD Projekt Red going out of its way to use the queer community as a punchline and to fetishize trans people.

A close-up of the poster in question. The same ad can be found this year inside CD Projekt Red’s private meeting space at E3 in Los Angeles.
CD Projekt Red

Shortly after the image showed up on my Twitter feed, I walked into CD Projekt’s meeting space at E3 and asked the company about it. I sat down with the artist responsible for creating it, Kasia Redesiuk. She’s one of the art directors working on Cyberpunk 2077.

Redesiuk joined CD Projekt Red years ago to create concept art for Cyberpunk 2077. She would eventually go on to become the art director for both Gwent: The Witcher Card Game and Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales. Today, she’s responsible for all the in-fiction media in the environments of Cyberpunk 2077. That includes advertisements like this one, as well as branding for the game’s many megacorporations.

So I asked her: Why was a trans model used in this particular advertisement?

“Personally, for me, this person is sexy,” Redesiuk said. “I like how this person looks. 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.”

Redesiuk said that the world of Cyberpunk 2077 includes many people who are gender-nonconforming, some of whom enjoy showing off their bodies in public. They are a demographic group with significant purchasing power, and so, megacorporations use their likenesses to sell soft drinks. It’s supposed to be a play on the same sort of hypersexualized advertising that modern companies use to sell products today, just brought in line with the kind of future CD Projekt wants to portray.

“In [the year] 2077, especially with how much body modifications are available, I think people just mix and match however they want, however they feel,” Redesiuk said. “And even society is more open to different kinds of relationships.”

This is not to say that the player should see this kind of advertising as good. Redesiuk said that it was designed to feel jarring and overly aggressive, like all the other ads in the game, but not because of the femme-presenting trans model.

“Cyberpunk 2077 is a dystopian future where megacorporations dictate everything,” Redesiuk said. “They try to, and successfully, influence people’s lives. They shove products down their throats. 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.

“This is all to show that [much like in our modern world], hypersexualization in advertisements is just terrible,” Redesiuk continued. “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.”

I asked Redesiuk what she would say to those in the trans community who might be offended to see themselves portrayed this way in the game.

“I would say it was never the intention to offend anyone,” Redesiuk said. “However, with this image of an oversexualized person, we did want to show how oversexualization of people is bad. And that’s it.

“I think that sexy bodies are sexy. Full disclosure: I love female bodies. I love male bodies. I love bodies in between. This is who I am. However, I hate it when it’s used commercially. And that’s exactly what we want to show by doing this exactly, by showing how big corporations use people’s bodies against them.”

For Redesiuk, the fictional advertisement is also an effort to increase empathy for the LGBTQ community among video game consumers.

“We need it,” Redesiuk said. “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. And I would really love for the world to change and be a better place for everyone.”

Comments

Almost like something icky can be a part of world-building.

Almost like using "icky" to refer to a human being’s body because it differs from yours is something a child says

I may be interpreting them wrong, but my assumption is OP meant the ad itself not the model

I’m pretty sure they were referring to objectification not the trans person. Let’s try and maintain focus here and not attack allies.

You are most definitely correct.

Yeah I didn’t feel the need to clarify for that try-hard because what I said was so simplistic and straightforward his hypothetical ‘child’ could understand it.

They are talking about the ad, you silly goose.

Almost like you’re looking for something to be offended about so you take everything out of context and blow it up to be the biggest crime against a minority since the holocaust.

This is the biggest multi-layered woosh I’ve ever seen.

almost like this company has a shit rep with the trans community and has to earn their trust again to do nuanced shit like this

this. There would be questions, heck there would probably be scrutiny and raised eyebrows from folks in the trans community, but if not for the prior shit from CDPR it would not merit interrogation in the same way at all.

You’ve made your point multiple times in the past that they have lost your trust, sounding like they probably won’t get it back from you ever. Is that correct?

A better question might be, "Have they started trying to earn back your trust?"

Specifically Jigabachi? CDPR probably arent even aware they exist.

I kind of think that this ad in-game should have been considered a move in the right direction, but is being assumed as being motivated by hate or disdain instead.

Everything about the ad, and the art director’s description for the reasoning behind it, fit perfectly within the context of the world they’re presenting here and in previous promotional material.

No, because the person having a penis is a punchline to both the "fictional" marketers as well as the CDPR people who deliberately came up with this specific ad to spice up the world.

fit perfectly

Yeah it "fits" with the game world…ironically and thoughtlessly. That’s like saying unexamined uncritical racist images fit with a racist fiction. The issue isn’t whether something fits, it’s whether something is stupid and harmful and bad.

The exploitation the artist discussed is a cop-out because the image conveys the same thing inside and outside the fiction. Unless the characters in game critically discuss it themselves, thereby making a useful meaning for the player, which is unlikely except possibly with a bland platitude.

Motivation is not provable and is irrelevant. "Hate" or "disdain" are worth talking about but here it’s more about thoughtlessly making something into a punchline which is or is close to trans people. Which is close to common issues of hate and disdain.

Also, other incidents precede this one, which was in the article.

The other problematic incidents are pretty different from this one. I also think that one of those cases was fairly overblown.

Worse, assuming guilt (especially for a project with several hundred people working on it) based on past actions is a logical fallacy. And in my mind is one of the primary opponents of equality.

If we just publicly assume that someone is unable to learn and change and treat them as such, it provides a disincentive to anyone else facing that kind of personal decision.

"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."

You keep using the word "thoughtless" but clearly that’s not the case.

I think the tough thing here is that we don’t have the game, we have this soundbite. We don’t know how the rainbow of gender nonconformity is represented here when it’s not in an ad. If they have more realistic people in their gameworld, this ad is brilliant. If they don’t, it’s as offensive as heck.

100% agreed. Essentially what we have is a piece of art in a context that an artist has attempted to explain – but without proof of the full extent of said context yet (though it’s on its way).

of course that’s not correct?

It was like, one or two social media posts right? From one social media shitweasel? Ya, that’s a reason to get all bent out of shape forever at CDPR. They’re going to miss a lot of awesome games that way.

To be fair, and I say this as someone involved with the trans community, this is a good first step. The nuanced and intelligent response the artist gave was the kind of thing they should have given. The problem is that many people don’t see it because of the noise generated by their previous failings but this is a good step, unfortunately the steps that needed to come before this never came so it’s lost in the noise. I’m more than willing to accept their response and just hope they do more to build on that.

The person having penis is a punchline. It’s a punchline both in the fictional dystopian marketing room, and also in the CDPR art room and CDPR knows it will be a punchline to many players. It’s like Rockstar and GTA. I don’t buy the "it’s bad because bad fictional people made it, of course! That’s our our whole point, so it’s OK!" smoke grenade.

That’s why it says MIX IT UP and the person has a penis.

The only way it can be salvaged is if characters in the game itself give full-on critical commentary of the ad. Otherwise the "fictional" meaning and context of the ad is lost in the wind and it SOLELY conveys to most players the exact meaning that the artist claims to indict.

Also, the trans image is exploited by CDPR (not fictional characters) as a brick in their DARK CRAZY CYBERPUNK WORLD. Like when other developers/filmmakers use black or brown people to "spice up" societal breakdown and crime gangs but don’t include them otherwise.

A good "first step" would be a trans character who is a normal character not a "intentionally!" distorted abused symbol.

The intended punchline is the megacorp, it’s trying to punch up but it’s a wobbly punch that hits a few faces on the way up. As for if it can be salvaged that’s the ultimate test. That’s why I said it was a good first step but there were steps they needed before they made this one that have not happened.

The artist in question (Kasia Redesiuk) seems to have a clear intent. I don’t know if they identify as queer but given their statement I suspect they do in which case they have an opportunity to shape the world (a fairly strong one at that given their rather high position in the creative process).

I’m willing to sceptically give them the benefit of the doubt until I see a more finalized product. It may clarify around the intent of the world and the message it’s trying to convey as a piece of art. I say this as a person on the LGBTQ+ spectrum everyone has a different experience. We need to judge a piece of work based on the finished product not a thin slice. It may turn out to be crap but we need to see it in its entirety because nuance is an important part of the conversation.

I would not be shocked if I was let down but I’d also be happy to be proven wrong in my scepticism. So before we attempt to dismiss people, like the person of colour Mike Pondsmith who literally created this world including these gangs and the Voodoo Boys back in Cyberpunk 2020 or the person Kasia Redesiuk who speaks to finding the spectrum of humanity beautiful in a way that if they are not part of the LGBTQ+ community they at least sound like an ally, let’s listen to what they say and see how they behave. Jumping to conclusions doesn’t help anyone and certainly doesn’t give art which could potentially serve to help normalize and further the conversation to come into existence.

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