A short essay on marketing, flavor text, and Poe’s Law
Cyberpunk 2077 is no stranger to controversy when it comes to its behavior towards trans people. Faith was all but lost when their official twitter replied with a transphobic meme.
They said sorry, and there’s a rumor that whoever tweeted this was fired, who knows though. The point I want to make is highlighted by this nearly year-old tweet. In order for this joke to be funny, you have to believe that misgendering is funny when it’s been shown that doing so leads to higher suicide rates. This types of jokes come at the expense of trans concerns and always from an outsider pov.
Many found new love for the name when Keanu Reeves appeared by surprise announcing he’s in the game. Known for the Matrix, a movie that has strong trans themes and was made by two trans siblings. And as much credibility Keanu can bring, Cyberpunk 2077 has a huge problem: Poe’s Law
It’s an internet adage that says without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the parodied view.
This week at E3 when they showed off more of the game, a lot of people saw a new problem. Namely, this fictional soda ad:
On it you have a femme model with a penis showing, which caused many to ask why. And the art director was quick to defend saying, “their beautiful body is used — for corporate reasons.” as reported by Polygon. Not only am I concerned that irony has died in the year 2077, but here’s where Poe’s law kicks in.
The art director went on to say: “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. […] 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.
While that’s all well as good, it has the same problem that “did you assume my gender” jokes have if not something worse and worthless. 2077’s critique of “soda companies sell to trans people” is not criticizing rainbow capitalism. It’s hardly even critiquing capitalism. It’s largely saying “isn’t it edgy to be trans, mix it up, buy two of our sodas and combine them.”
Let’s look at Watch Dogs Legion, another do crime ‘n hack shit game coming out around the same time. In the top image, their flavor text images show something that is clearly pro-nationalism, and if you ‘misread’ or even agree with these ads the whole plot is there to correct you. It’s a game about subverting the police state, something they make known from the first seconds of the trailer.
Cyberpunk 2077 (shown again as the second image above) instead uses this background space to have two meaningless ads and then this one. And here’s the point I don’t think I can emphasize enough. If you “misread” 2077’s ‘critique of capitalism’ you end up with ‘soda companies are selling transgenderism, aren’t they out of control?!” That’s a problem, one the developer CD Projekt Red could have easily avoided instead of trying to play a double negative about hypersexuality.
But instead, their defense is: There are many examples of hypersexualized women, hypersexualized men, and hypersexualized people in between. […] You fight against corporations. That [advertisement] is what you’re fighting against.”
In 2077, the “we’re not sexist, we objectify everyone” defense is still around?