How CDPR’s ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ Relates to Disability

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by Sherry Toh |

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(Photo by Hawken Miller)

The video game “Cyberpunk 2077” has become one of my go-to coping mechanisms.

I know that’s an odd statement to hear from someone writing on a platform dedicated to disability advocacy, considering the backlash that video game developer CD Projekt Red has received due partly to leadership mandating overtime (also known as “crunch”), a buggy launch on PC and consoles impeding accessibility, and the game’s flashing lights being a potential trigger for seizures.

Please allow me to explain.

First-person and third-person role-playing games (RPGs) typically aren’t accessible for me. Because I lack the strength to use a keyboard or controller, I rely on my mouse and the onscreen keyboard function. That method of input isn’t recognized by most RPGs, as game cameras typically get controlled by cursor movement, which is problematic because I must use the cursor to navigate the onscreen keyboard. Finding ways to hit keys for different functions in these games, like the WASD keys for movement, is a headache.

There are exceptions to this rule, but “Cyberpunk 2077” unfortunately isn’t one of them. To play, I had to buy a gaming mouse for its added remappable buttons and convert my iPhone into an extra keyboard using the Unified Remote app.

Figuring out how to make “Cyberpunk 2077” accessible reminded me a lot of the stairs in the game that you must descend to arrive at the clinic owned by Viktor Vektor. (He’s a “ripperdoc,” which is an everyday doctor with the ability to install advanced tech in human bodies, such as pain inhibitors.) You need the physical ability or the right technology to overcome the barrier, and if you do, you’ll be cared for by someone you may consider a friend. If you can’t, you’ll never know if you missed out on a good experience.

Despite everything, I truly believe “Cyberpunk 2077” is a good experience. Not only are its stealth, hacking, and combat gameplay mechanics fun, but, ironically, its narrative beautifully communicates the complexities of living with a disability. 

The story revolves around the protagonist, V, and legendary rockerboy Johnny Silverhand. Thanks to a botched heist and the experimental biochip hosting Johnny’s psyche, V and Johnny are stuck in a difficult coexistence in V’s body. If they don’t find a solution, V’s psyche eventually will be overwritten by Johnny’s. The chip causes migraines, seizures, bleeding, and the loss of V’s senses. Medication addresses V’s symptoms and slows the override’s progression, but only for so long. V is, in no uncertain terms, dying.

But lest we think Johnny wants V dead and replaced by him, Dr. Viktor gives us this line with V’s diagnosis: “It’s not willful on his part. It’s automatic. Inevitable.”

That struck me. The game launched in December, the same month that chronic neuropathy spread from my scalp to my face. I felt like my body was betraying me, like V’s was betraying theirs. I was angry at my scoliosis, begging doctors for help, like V was angry at Johnny and begging Viktor for his help. But mostly, like V, I feared death nipping at my heels.

“Cyberpunk 2077” helped me process those feelings. It also reminded me, through V’s and Johnny’s growing bond, that I could feel more than only anger toward my body and SMA. I could feel gratitude, for example, for the lessons I’ve been taught throughout our difficult coexistence. Hope, too, that I can somehow keep living.

Everyone who worked on “Cyberpunk 2077” should be proud. The story’s ability to speak the language of disabled lives is amazing, alongside its artfully crafted characters, sizable number of entertaining side quests, and the scale of Night City.

It’s my sincere hope that the CD Projekt Red team learns from their mistakes. It seems like they have. Developers were compensated with bonuses after the studio scrapped the system requiring their games to achieve high review scores. Crunch avoidance was stuck on the studio’s list of priorities. The sections of the game that could trigger seizures were made safer thanks to the consultation of Game Informer associate editor Liana Ruppert, who has epilepsy herself and warned players of the issue. As for the game’s bugs, fixes and a road map for future improvement should ensure a smoother experience for all players.

However, there is still a long road ahead, not just for CD Projekt Red, but the gaming industry as a whole. Their mistakes are symptomatic of larger trends. Crunch is prevalent and a lot of games aren’t accessible for many. It’s going to take a lot of work to replace the metaphorical stairs with something better so that everyone can receive the care and entertainment they deserve.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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