Cyberpunk 2077 publicly received one of its biggest shows of support on Reddit recently when Cyberpunk 2020 creator Mike Pondsmith defended the game from critics upset over perceived issues with racism. Cyberpunk 2077 remains one of the most important releases in the next two years, with developer CD Projekt Red attempting to follow up what many believe to be one of the greatest RPG titles ever made in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Cyberpunk 2077 follows the story of a world that's begun to decay in the wake of technological advancements being seized by corporations for their own gain. The player character traverses the world carving out their own legacy and attempting to fight back the oppression being enacted on people in their day-to-day lives. Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person action-RPG with heavy sci-fi leanings, and is tagged to feature many of the design elements that have made CD Projekt Red famous up to this point, including incredibly detailed world-building, engrossing narrative, and an emphasis on player choice mattering.
Unfortunately, Cyberpunk 2077 has also been associated with problematic representations of minority groups, with fans upset over the treatment of a gang of Haitian criminals in particular, noting that their group being referred to as the "Animals" is an offensive, harmful, and lazy stereotype of culture. Mike Pondsmith, the creator of the tabletop franchise that spawned Cyberpunk 2077, recently went to bat for CD Projekt Red's representation of culture, however. In a scathing reply in a Reddit thread about his recent video interview, Pondsmith had this to say on his involvement and approval of what's happening in Cyberpunk 2077:
"1) If I wasn't heavily involved, I would be able to get more done. As it is, I barely have a life. 2) As for the Animals--the WHOLE FREAKING POINT is that they think of themselves as POWERFUL, DANGEROUS, WILD ANIMALS. You'd have thought the Lady named "Sasquatch" would have given them a clue. 3) The original Voodoo Boys were a scathing commentary on cultural appropriation. I LOVE the idea that real practicioners of Voudon moved in and took back their turf. And they even got the Creole right! 4) Who the (bleep) do YOU think you are to tell ME whether or not MY creation was done right or not?"
Clearly, Pondsmith has a different opinion of what's happening in the game than many of Cyberpunk 2077's biggest critics. In particular, getting insight from the person who created the gangs that are being displayed in CD Projekt Red's version of the story is helpful. According to Pondsmith, the Voodoo Boys changes are something that he loves, noting that CD Projekt Red even made sure to get Haitian Creole right before including them in the game. Pondsmith also notes that the Animals aren't referred to as such in a derogatory way, but rather because they see themselves as animals—going so far as to note that Sasquatch, one of the leaders available in the hands-off demo of Cyberpunk 2077 at E3 2019, should've been a dead giveaway.
Obviously, even the creator of a series can't quell the controversy surrounding it with a wave of their hand, regardless of how well-informed and intelligent their reasoning may be. Perception is everything, and fans who feel that names like the Animals or Voodoo Boys are problematic still have a right to feel that way. Hopefully, however, Pondsmith going on record about his interpretation of Cyberpunk 2077 will at least aid some fans in feeling better about the direction of CD Projekt Red's upcoming title, which is sure to be one of the biggest releases of 2020 no matter how controversial it feels by the time we get there.