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Photo Credit: CD Projekt Red

No good endings: Cyberpunk 2077 highlights human struggle under oppressive capitalism. (Op-Ed)

In Night City, Cyberpunk 2077’s futuristic neon-bathed metropolis, it’s borderline impossible to distinguish between right and wrong. The obscenely rich hold all the wealth while the common residents can barely scrape up enough Eddies (money) for rent. The stars in the sky are eclipsed by projected, holographic advertisements for soda, synthetic meat, television shows, and other products. The water is toxic, most species of animals are extinct, and violence is found around every corner. The people are angry at Corpos (the rich, corporate elite), and are on the cusp of a bloody revolution.

Projekt CD Red envisioned a future that is all too close to becoming a reality. We are flooded with advertisements on a daily basis. In fact, the average American sees 4,000 to 10,000 ads a day. The climate crisis and war are destroying our planet, rent is unaffordable, and most companies do not pay their employees a living wage. With inventions like the Neuralink, self-driving vehicles, and AI becoming more commonplace, we are well on our way to living in the world of Cyberpunk 2077, just without the unique fashion and cybernetic augments.

As you explore Night City with your personal nosey engram, the deceased Johnny Silverhand (portrayed by Keanu Reeves), a punk rock terrorist who fought against the capitalist regime, humanity’s struggle is quite evident. Technological advancements led to some amazing prosthetics and advanced medical treatments, but they also led to higher levels of mass violence, the programming of women’s brains for prostitution and sexual exploitation, and the killing of the human soul itself.

Arasaka, the main corporation that seeks complete control over humanity for profit, developed a technology that was able to steal a human soul, or rather the data from a human personality, and upload it onto a living, breathing biochip, thus leaving the victim in limbo between life and death. Johnny Silverhand is simultaneously alive and dead, real and false, and forced into the player’s brain. The intended outcome? The biochip would effectively kill the host and the human soul could be reborn into a new body. Arasaka seeks immortality for the rich, and human farms for the poor.

As you, V, get to know Johnny and all his flaws and radical ideals, sharing one body, one thing becomes blatantly clear: capitalism only leads to total oppression. There is a supreme lack of empathy in the world. You cannot trust anyone, no matter how promising they seem. Death is so standard that it is joked about, and no one sheds a tear for innocent victims of violence. Was it right that Johnny planted bombs in Arasaka Tower and detonated them? No. Yes, his reasoning is perfectly sane. This is a people’s war, and the Corpo elite who control every aspect of human life and suffering deserve to pay for what they have done.

The line between right and wrong becomes increasingly blurred throughout the campaign, including the large DLC Phantom Liberty. No matter how much you try to make the right decision and do the right thing, the unintended consequences often outweigh any impact you thought you made. It’s a bleak existence in which no one truly wins, save for the Corpos.

While most players may express disdain and sadness that each of the seven possible endings is less than ideal, some more devastating and depressing than others, Cyberpunk 2077 stays true to form. You don’t get to pat yourself on the back at the end of the game for being a hero; you are forced to reckon with the cold, hard truth that you cannot save anyone, not even yourself, under the confines of a society expressly built against you.

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