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.
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.
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.”