Cyberpunk 2077 and Knee-Jerkism

For CD Projekt Red fans, E3 2018 should have been a slam dunk. After three long years of waiting and wondering, gamers finally got a look at the world of Cyberpunk 2077. Initially, it was exciting. As interviews were conducted and more gameplay details were revealed, many fans’ excitement quickly transformed into anger. Cyberpunk 2077, as it turned out, was not going to be the game they were expecting.

Ever since the release of The Witcher 3, CD Projekt Red has enjoyed something akin to celebrity status in the gaming community. They’re looked upon as a beacon of quality and consumer-friendly business. They still are. The outrage surrounding Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t the result of loot boxes, microtransactions or some other shady business practice. It’s not even due to some piece of controversial content announced for the game. Nope, the terrible and outrageous crime committed by CD Projekt Red that’s got so many gamers up in arms and calling for boycotts is the developer’s decision to make Cyberpunk 2077 a first-person perspective game with some shooter elements. That’s it.

Emotional reactions like this have been a part gaming for a very long time, and for a long time, that was okay. Many gamers are very passionate about their hobby; it would be strange for us not to get emotionally invested in our favorite series, characters and even developers. However, over the past couple of years we seem to have grown all too willing to judge both games and their makers before they’ve even had a chance to make their case. If it isn’t already a problem, it soon will be.

These sorts of instant reactions have a tendency to skew to the conversation surrounding the game in question. In the case of Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red had to spend much of E3 defending a valid design decision rather than tell us more about its gameplay and world. They explained it well, saying that they wanted players to feel like they’re a part of Cyberpunk 2077’s world; they wanted it to feel personal, and they decided that the first-person perspective would be the best way to achieve that feeling. Once this very reasonable explanation was given, we should have been able to move on to learning more about other aspects of the game. This is still the same CD Projekt Red that made the Witcher games; they still know exactly what they’re doing, and it certainly sounds like they did not design Cyberpunk 2077 this way on a whim. One would think their track record would earn them the benefit of the doubt, but opinions built upon knee-jerk reactions don’t allow for that.

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Having an opinion, even one that’s nothing more than an instant reaction, is not the problem. The problem is allowing oneself to act upon it without it through and without having all the necessary information. Doing so leads to situations just like this. All we know about Cyberpunk 2077 is what its world looks like, that it’s still made to be a deep RPG experience and that it will play out primarily from a first-person perspective. We don’t know anything about it story, its characters or how its RPG systems actually work. We haven’t even seen any gameplay yet. There should be no basis for expectations beyond the fact that CD Projekt Red is a top-tier developer of role-playing games. Yet, many of us have decided that it’s appropriate to throw a tantrum online because Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t following the Witcher as closely as we’d like. Doing this doesn’t help anyone; it doesn’t help CD Projekt Red make the good games they want to make and especially doesn’t help gamers. In fact, one could say that it hurts us most of all.

We live in an age where information travels instantly. Nothing said online is ever forgotten and it always carries consequences. Declaring one’s anger about a design decision on Twitter might feel good, but one must remember that gamers and the target developer aren’t the only ones reading such comments. Publishers and other developers see these reactions too, and that influences their decisions. If everybody flies off the handle because CD Projekt Red decided to do things just a little differently, then other developers will feel less confident about trying new things. What’s more, major publishers will be that much less willing to bankroll ambitious new projects for fear of lost sales.

Triple-A games are already in danger of all becoming the same hodgepodge of standard game mechanics; losing our minds over things like camera perspectives is just going to make the problem even worse. If gamers as a whole don’t learn to take a breath and build their opinions upon a clear picture of what a game actually is, then there very well may come a day when we’ll never see ambitious titles like The Witcher or Cyberpunk 2077 again. Making them will just be seen as more trouble than it’s worth.