Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Tale of Two Videos

CD Projekt RED recently released their teaser trailer for the upcoming computer game Cyberpunk 2077, and unfortunately ignited a firestorm with it. The video, and my thoughts regarding it (along with the reason for the cryptic post title) are below the jump.

So, let's talk about this trailer. This is a teaser, which means its purpose is not to show the game; it's to get people talking about the game. However, it doesn't accomplish that well, by failing to actually explain anything about the game; all we see is a very artsy video, slow-motion bullets, shattering against the face of an attractive young woman, a revelation that she has apparently committed mass murder using non-obvious cybernetic arms with included blades, eventually panning out to her apparent execution, and a single shot of her apparently having joined the forces who were shooting at her. It's gotten people talking, but mostly about the trailer and its overtly sexualised violence rather than the game.

Now, there is supporting material, which explains that in this setting, cybernetic implants result in a gradual loss of empathy; apparently this woman suffered a psychotic break, and had to be subdued by a specially-equipped and specially-trained force of police, which is not above recruiting those it has had to subdue.

And now for the second video. Watching the trailer above, you'll have noticed the music, which is a good choice for the setting; driving urgency, depersonalised vocals, and a hypnotic chant of "personal responsibility" to drive home the point the developers were trying to make.

This is the official music video for that song, Bullets, by Archive:

This video, I contend, does a better job of showing the setting and the story. There's a pervasive feeling of alienation, and of datedness; in 2013, cyberpunk almost always feels dated. The defining work of cyberpunk is William Gibson's Neuromancer; that novel has many dated elements, all of which contribute to its strength as a setting. From the opening sentence referring to a grey sky as "the colour of a television, tuned to a dead channel" (which now means a bright blue, with the words "No Input" or similar in the corner of the screen) to the frankly chilling moment in which a bank of payphones each ring, one by one, as the protagonist walks past them, the setting feels old and lived-in, a plausible present that is clearly not the present in which we live, or a plausible near-future which is not easily derived from our present. Then we have our young woman - but this time, not overtly sexualised. She's surprised by a doppelganger of herself, the doppelganger having a clearly confrontational attitude; she looks down and sees her hands dripping with oil. As the insistent lyrics re-enter, a naked man emerges from a bag that is too small to contain him; it becomes clear that we cannot trust what this woman sees, it can be argued that humans are becoming commodified; the video portrays a dystopic setting, and a psychotic break, without the heavy-handed and oversexualised imagery of the trailer.

I'm not encouraged by the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer. It tells me almost nothing about the game; but it tells me a lot about the development company producing it, and its culture; and little of that is good.

1 comment:

  1. I still have no idea what's going on in that music video. I'll take your word for it.


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