As a cancer patient, ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ frees me from my mental prison:
I was diagnosed with cancer in early June. For some reason, I haven’t been able to stop playing CD Projekt Red’s “Cyberpunk 2077” ever since, a story about how you must navigate or defy a deadly disease.
The incurable disease faced by V, the game’s protagonist, is almost certain to erase their soul. Their personality, memories and cognitive functions are transcribed by artificial intelligence Johnny Silverhand, a rocker and branded terrorist brought to virtual life by Keanu Reeves. They can only deny or accept their fate; either grasp some way to sever their connection when Silverhand takes over, or leave this world on his own terms.
But V is not a real person. They’re just characters from a video game, and I, as a player, choose their fate – not the game’s script and code, and certainly not Keanu Reeves.
Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, my man V (you can choose the gender of the main character) roams the streets of the night city of “Cyberpunk 2077”, carefree and blissful, willfully ignoring – by my choice – his death sentence.
It wasn’t always so easy to be carefree in Night City. The game’s infamous December 2020 release redefined the term “cyberpunk” as “an unfinished, buggy, and unplayable video game”. As I wrote in my last review of the game in 2021, “Cyberpunk 2077” overwhelmed players with phone calls and notifications of new activities, with the resulting information overload destroying any sense of spatial immersion and hampering the game’s pace. an otherwise engaging narrative arc.
This older, more unpleasant version of “Cyberpunk 2077” reminds me of my current situation. My phone is constantly buzzing with worried texts and calls from friends, family, ex-girlfriends, former co-workers, and long-lost acquaintances. Everyone talks about the myriad challenges of cancer, but one of the least discussed is the emotional burden placed on the patient as they navigate, comfort, and lean under the overwhelming grief projected by their loved ones.
I appreciate and often need the support and concern of my family and friends, but there is a lingering feeling that none of this would need to be said if it weren’t for my cancer. Words meant to comfort me often just remind me that I’m fighting for my life.
Five months ago, developer CD Projekt Red released its 1.5 update, which brought with it a number of stability fixes, new features, and most importantly for me, the ability to ignore those annoying in-game texts and phone calls. The promise of a more streamlined experience after the 1.5 patch, coupled with my excitement for Netflix’s September anime series “Cyberpunk Edgerunners,” invited me back to the experience.
In the days leading up to my first chemotherapy session, my mind was clouded with anxiety. But now I’ve learned to accept my phone going silent and leaving the screen face down while I play “Cyberpunk 2077” for hours a day, a sort of 1.5 patch on my own life.
Today, I face the relentlessly exhausting reality of battling cancer, a battle that consumes every hour, if not every minute, of my day. As a cancer patient, I feel pulled in so many directions that I am almost out of control of my life: doctors are constantly filling my schedule with appointments, check-ups and check-ups; a home care nurse who visits me twice a week; my family asking for updates and dealing with their own trauma since my diagnosis; and hundreds of friends offering to help while feeling and (let’s face it) helpless.
But in “Cyberpunk 2077” I can ignore my character’s death sentence. As with other open world games, there is no “Game Over” screen to ignore the main campaign. I can play as I please, ignore the corruption trying to kill my character from within, while remaining immune to any fallout from that decision.
Narrative critics rightly criticize “Cyberpunk 2077” for failing to create any strong motivation for its protagonists to engage in anything other than saving their own lives. Why does V help the police stop the gang when they need to save themselves instead? What is the point of all this money being collected? Why buy a new car when every day could be their last?
Why put off responding to a loved one’s desperate and pleading message as if tomorrow were promised?
As I asked myself this question, I began to appreciate V’s indifference to saving his life. With nothing more at stake than existence, my V lives each day stubbornly, refusing to deal with the fact that it may be their last – a daydream of chasing more and more dreams. It’s this context that helps me, perhaps even a dying man, appreciate “Cyberpunk 2077” more than any other open-world game when it comes to achieving my specific power fantasy.
In real life, ignoring my diagnosis is not a luxury I can afford. My cancer is aggressive and I will fight back aggressively in the next few months. I am praying that I can get rid of it by the end of 2022. I am only at the beginning of the nightmare; it will be some time before I wake up to some semblance of normal life.
Even after dozens of hours of playing “Cyberpunk 2077” since my diagnosis and several drafts of this essay, I’m not much closer to understanding my sudden fascination with the title given my current situation. I should be fired up with this game. It is an aggressive reminder of a terminal illness.
Still, this game compels me in a way it never has before—and in a way no other game in 2022 has been able to. This compulsion extends beyond my gaming time: I bought the Secret Lab “Cyberpunk 2077” gaming chair, the “Cyberpunk 2077” Apple Music soundtrack, the “Cyberpunk 2077” art book and comics, and two Dark Horse “Cyberpunk 2077” action figures. I never felt caught up in the nine year marketing hype cycle for this game. Yet here I am, a few years after release, spending money on the brand as an uncritical fan.
Text alert sounds:
Even my text alert sounds and ringtones are ripped straight from “Cyberpunk 2077”. Creating them for the iPhone was a first for me: It meant learning to use GarageBand to satisfy this strange and all-encompassing desire to live in the world of “Cyberpunk 2077”.
Maybe it’s really all the little tweaks CD Projekt Red made to the game for its 1.5 update, which include: Cars that react to real-time events and have suspension, giving them a sense of real weight in this virtual world; side quests that offer so many rewarding short stories that allow me to experience an electronic cyberpunk version of One Thousand and One Nights; an overhauled skill system that makes character development more meaningful; and deeper interactions through friendships that can be ignored but are there if I need them.
Perhaps it’s the way that “Cyberpunk 2077,” whether on purpose or not, leans on genre tropes to effortlessly echo famous 80s and 90s boy-arts such as the seminal anime “Akira” or “Fight Club ” by David Fincher. After all, V is basically the protagonist of “Fight Club” who is aware of his Tyler Durden (but now played by Keanu Reeves rather than Brad Pitt).
Here’s a confession:
I often fall asleep watching old Steve Jobs presentations when he announces industry-changing products like the iPod, iPhone, iPad, or iCloud. He is an experienced businessman in that many people believed in his belief that these technologies would change the world. In retrospect, it’s easy to see how much this change helped and hurt, but the innocence of that early belief soothes and lulls me.
“Cyberpunk 2077” is often criticized for not really offering any real vision of the future, but I now understand that it was never intended to represent any future. “CyberpunkS 2077” is the future as seen from our past. Back then, we still believed that flying cars were a possibility.
Perhaps as a 40-year-old man, I take solace in how modern technology repackages a catalog of old and outdated counterculture, all from my youth, from a time in my life when I truly felt immortal and ageless, when tomorrow was guaranteed. – although it was also just a dream.
None of this is to say that I’m belatedly calling out CD Projekt Red for how the company mishandled the launch of this game. The most egregious are the attempts to deceive consumers and journalists, holding back nearly unplayable PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game until release. I still stand by what I wrote last year: CD Projekt Red’s game marketing and final release made them the most notorious liars. The studio promised a “dream game,” an experience that would fulfill so many fantasies for so many people. That’s not what they released.
I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy wrapping myself around CD Projekt Red’s chaotic, youthful electric dream. It fulfills the highest promise of the video game medium, the powerful fantasy of overcoming challenges and achieving some kind of emotional, tactile fulfillment, all without serious consequences. “Cyberpunk 2077” is helping me create the most precious memories I can of this horrible moment in my life.
“Cyberpunk 2077” isn’t a dream game, but it’s an experience that still feels like some kind of dream to me, even if I can’t quite understand or explain it. To me, it’s everything a video game should be.