Cyberpunk 2077. Corporate Capitalism & Our Bodies.
Updated: Feb 24
Let's get the first obvious point out of the way. Cyberpunk 2077 was released on the 10th of December 2020, so this review is well past its sell-by date. But what can I say? I'm a slow gamer. I'm not that good and pretty busy, so things take a while. For those who don't know, Cyberpunk is a role-playing video game developed and published by CDprojekt. The game is set in the open world of Night City, a metropolis obsessed with power, glamour and body modification. You play as V, a mercenary outlaw, trying to find a one of a kind implant that is key to immortality.
The famous economist Adam Smith once described merchants and manufacturers as 'The Masters of Mankind' as they can manipulate state policy to serve their own interests. In Night City, we see precisely this. It is a world of extreme corporate capitalism, where big business is in control and dictates the laws of both country and state. There is a government, and people vote, but everybody knows that the government has no real power. Big Business, or Megacorps as they are known in the game, have amassed such political and military influence that they can operate in an extrajudicial manner with no congressional oversight. We see this through the Megacorp's ability to destabilise both their own and other countries' economies, get away with dumping toxic waste into natural habitats, murdering individuals and inventing reasons for foreign invasion.
As you roam around Night City listening to deep house, in your junkyard build 'Rattler' which looks like an old school Golf GTI, you're constantly subjected to the manipulation of news channels. They fabricate stories of terrorism to justify the foreign invasions, fail to report the impact these Mega Corps are having on the environment, whilst ignoring the corruption of the police. Ultimately, the media acts as an auxiliary arm to the Mega Corps and helps undermine the system's ability to work as a functioning democracy.
So yes, the world that the game developers at CD Projekt have created impressed me. The dark dystopian future that it dropped me in felt anchored in our day to day reality whilst feeling like a real warning to where we could be heading. The visuals of the city are equally as impressive. The vicious streets pulsate with dangerous energy. Everything is somehow neon, dismantled and on the edge of collapsing. It feels like you've arrived in the aftermath of a rave, where only the true headfucks are hanging about. Giant billboards hangover collapsing shanty towns, whilst mega glass buildings are guarded by armed security specialists who make Storm Troopers look ill-equipped and passive.
So let's talk about the main Character V. Sadly, V isn't a revolutionary whose aim is to bring down society. He is, in fact, a Nomad mercenary who will work for whoever in a bid to earn some cash. Thankfully, due to V's Nomad status, this means you usually work for rebellious underground crews, bursting into glass ceiling corporations, stealing software, and taking down the CEOs. So in some sense, you could describe V as an anarchist guerilla fighter who deliberately contributes to the chaos of Night City as a revolutionary act against the order the MegaCorps are trying to create. However, for me, the most interesting part of V is how he acts as a vehicle for the game to comment the unhealthy relationship between technology, marketing companies and our bodies.
In our world, those in the marketing industry like to argue that marketing exists so the consumer can rationally choose to enhance their lifestyle. However, every time Apple releases a new phone, they don't create an information-based advert based on their new phone's technical information. Instead, you see a curated movie with a model manipulating your perception of what is needed for a happy and supposedly well-balanced lifestyle. Organisations such as Apple try to make you believe that you need the latest gadget to keep up. They portray a world that is constantly evolving and improving. If you don't keep up with the pace, you will fall away and get lost in the void. Therefore you need this product. In Cyberpunk 2077, we witness what the next step to this is. V is a consumer. The latest phone chip exists inside his head. He spends his well-earned cash on modifying his body to make him stronger, faster and more durable. He is continually putting his body on the line to physically upgrade himself and help him survive. This is the next stage of extreme consumerism. For him, these upgrades are a matter of life and death.
Ultimately that's what this game is about. We follow V in a fight for survival. In a world where mega-corporations can do whatever they like, everyone's obsessed with their own individuality, and consumer gadgets have figured out a way to not only implement themselves in our minds but physically take over our bodies as well. If the actual narrative stalls and the character arc doesn't entirely develop as strongly as it could. It's the world that CDprojekt has created, which carries the game. Night City manages to provide an in-depth look at what the terrifying future might hold if we don't challenge the influence that mega-corporations and oligarchs have on our democracy whilst re-addressing our own relationship with technology and consumer gadgets.