Cyberpunk 2077 and Edgerunners capture the complexity of disabled life

The first game I started after returning from a recent hospitalization was Cyberpunk 2077. I’m no stranger to near-death experiences; they are practically a rite of passage for many rare disease patients. A simple infection can turn deadly, triggering another battle for your life. But with every round you survive comes new trauma – they’re pretty much two sides of the same coin. So while the mechanics of Cyberpunk 2077 are physically taxing for me, I sought comfort from CD Projekt Red’s depiction of disability upon my return from the hospital, like the longing for a friend who understands what you feel without needing you to say a word. .

Outside of an op-ed by Washington Post reporter Gene Park who wrote about Cyberpunk 2077’s impact on his fight against cancer, I haven’t seen many others mention that V is one of rare disabled video game protagonists. The fact is perhaps obscured by the presence of Keanu Reeves in rockerboy Johnny Silverhand’s consciousness, but he’s still there, literally in the back of V’s head. As the chip works to eventually supplant V’s mind V by Johnny’s, V experiences hemorrhages, seizures, and a gradual loss of senses – V even has a prescription to deal with them and Johnny’s intrusive voice.

Similar to the biochip, my rare disease, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), is the result of damaged code. Without treatment, I gradually lose control of my voluntary muscles and have medical complications. I already live with severe scoliosis and chronic pain relieved by medication. But living with my disability is not as difficult as articulating the complexities of my experience: emotionally, socially and economically. Cyberpunk 2077, for all its flaws, gave me the language I needed.

I was never shaken – really shaken – by a scene in an RPG, but it finally happened in Cyberpunk 2077, in an oilfield on the outskirts of Night City, where Johnny’s body was dumped 54 years before the events of the game. calm, Johnny and V reflect on life, death, trauma, regret, survival and second chances like two comrades who have been through hell, and I can’t help but reflect on my life with SMA as this scene unfolds. When Johnny tells V he “never thought we’d get this far,” I nod. V’s disability, personified by Johnny, also momentarily personifies SMA – not for me, but for others who might not realize that beautiful memories can be made in a wheelchair under starless skies.

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While V’s story shows the emotional complexity of living with a disability, it is prevented from displaying the social and economic complexities by the expectations of a triple-A RPG that shields V from socio-economic anxiety. Luckily, five days after its September 13 release, I was released from my hospital stay and returned home to find that David Martinez’s arc in Cyberpunk 2077’s companion Netflix anime, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners , does both. Oh, and just FYI, there are some Edgerunners plot spoilers ahead.

Like V, David isn’t disabled when you meet him, and it’s the promise of becoming a legend that draws him to his downfall. But he finds himself drowning in debt due to rent and school fees after his mother dies in an accident, leaving only his jacket and a cybernetic implant that speeds up the user’s reflexes. Running out of options, he begins using implants to steal money, and after being initiated into the legendary dream by a group of mercenaries, he begins the process of transforming himself from a scrawny 17-year-old into a muscular half cyborg. He does this because he thinks it’s necessary to climb Night City’s food chain, but it’s cybernetic technology that leads to a prescription for psychosis and, ultimately, his death.

It’s a reflection of our capitalist society and the belief that the only way to have a good life is to work harder, faster and produce more, no matter how badly that causes us. Night City is the perfect antagonist in Edgerunners. Status equals money, money equals security, security is threatened by empathy, and profit is placed above people’s well-being every time.

Cyberpunk 2077 Handicap: David from Cyberpunk Edgerunners

Real-life paramedics aren’t trying to strip uninsured patients of cybernetics like those caring for David in Edgerunner’s second episode, but corporations and healthcare systems are trying to bleed us dry. . For example: like other rare disease patients who need orphan drugs, SMA patients like me cannot afford the new treatments that stabilize disease progression. The cheapest daily oral medication, Risdiplam, costs $340,000 per year.

Still, there are lessons of hope in CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk offerings and the wider revival of interest in the cyberpunk genre. Think about the aesthetics of gender – a world that accepts body augmentation is a world where no one cares about prostheses and procedures like tracheostomies, and there’s a lot to learn from that. And the tragic stories of David and V are a refocusing of the representation of disability in gaming media, from more traditional medical settings to systemic settings.

CD Projekt Red’s representations of disability are not beyond reproach. We can’t forget that Cyberpunk 2077’s troubled development caused the Developer Crisis, a work practice that cripples employees, or the publisher’s inability to determine whether the game’s braindance sequences could cause crisis attacks. ‘epilepsy. But Cyberpunk 2077’s recent resurgence in player numbers and a planned sequel are indications they’ve earned a second chance to do better – take it from someone who’s had a slew of them.

Sharon D. Cole