Hi there! As soon as once more Eurogamer is marking Pleasure Month – on this, its fiftieth anniversary yr – with per week of options celebrating the intersection of queer tradition and gaming. This morning, Dr Lloyd (Meadhbh) Houston points a battlecry, of kinds, to make cyberpunk queer (once more).
I might like to start this piece with a popping out of kinds. “What higher time to return out than Pleasure Month?” I hear you say. “There is not any judgement right here.” “It is a place of affection and assist!” However, I concern there is no such thing as a delight to be taken on this admission. For you see, pricey reader, I’m somebody who unironically fairly loved Cyberpunk 2077. I definitely did not assume it was the Second Coming / pizza-that’s-also-ice-cream-that-gives-you-orgasms-while-doing-your-taxes epochal expertise that it was hyped to be, however, nor did I feel it was completely execrable. It was schlocky and enjoyable and a surprisingly correct reflection of the tone (and jank) of its table-top RPG supply materials.
However, after I evaluate my expertise of enjoying Cyberpunk 2077 to my experiences of enjoying Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk Pink (the table-top RPGs that present the world-building and mechanical underpinnings for CD Projekt Pink’s adaptation) it did miss the mark in a single space somewhat important space: queerness. However the somewhat attractive Judy – ‘female’ V underwater romance sequence, and the nuanced characterization given to Claire, a trans girl with an advanced previous who serves because the Afterlife’s charismatic bar-tender and oversees the sport’s avenue racing circuit, queerness felt like one thing of an afterthought within the recreation.
I am removed from alone in feeling this, and a few unbelievable items have been written taking the sport to process for this that I strongly advise you to take a look at, however they’ve tended to give attention to the way in which that queer characters and queer identification are dealt with within the recreation. On this piece I need to go after one thing slightly totally different, although. Within the spirit of Pleasure month, and the liberationary, transgressive, and transformative traditions it honours, I need to discover how Cyberpunk as a style, and gaming as a medium, might facilitate a queer interrogation of the character of identification itself.
On the coronary heart of social, cultural, and political life as it’s lived within the modern West is the inexhaustibly vexed notion of identification. The character, properties, and origins of the self is a philosophical chestnut as outdated as Plato. At its greatest, the idea of identification, or, extra notably, the classes by way of which it’s structured and made legible to others, can provide a beneficial rallying-point for shared understanding, neighborhood solidarity, and co-ordinated political motion. At its worst, nonetheless, identification can turn into a strait-jacket, used to restrict or exclude those that want to reside or love exterior the boundaries of the dominant tradition.
Nevertheless, whereas Pleasure undoubtedly partakes of the optimistic imaginative and prescient of ‘identification’ outlined above, and is the higher for it, queerness, because it has been theorized in tutorial settings, and, much more importantly, because it has been defiantly manifested within the lives and activism of generations of queer individuals, tends to place itself in opposition to the grain of this type of identitarian considering.
In a single notably influential formulation, the literary scholar and historian of sexuality David Halperin asserts that ‘Queer is by definition no matter is at odds with the traditional, the professional, the dominant. There may be nothing specifically to which it essentially refers. It’s an identification with out an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity however a positionality vis-à-vis the normative … [Queer] describes a horizon of risk whose exact extent and heterogeneous scope can’t in precept be delimited prematurely.’
In distinction to essentialist fashions of identification, which declare that an individual’s character is fastened, secure, and decided by some pre-existing essence (usually conceived by way of notionally ‘pure’ class reminiscent of race or intercourse), this mode of queerness queries such classes, destabilizing the bottom upon which they relaxation.
It does so not as a result of queerness is a ‘alternative’ that would, below ample duress, be reversed (Spoiler Alert: it isn’t), or as a result of queerness is a ‘pose’ that’s much less genuine than its extra ‘pure’ counterparts, however as a result of, as Oscar Wilde put it, and queerness seeks to show, ‘being pure’ is itself ‘merely a pose’, and doubtless the ‘most irritating’ (and harmful) pose there’s.
So how does Cyberpunk slot in to all this?
As various individuals have famous throughout the years, Cyberpunk is a style that resonates strongly with these conceptual components of queerness. Whereas the primary wave of Cyberpunk fiction didn’t all the time do a stellar job by way of queer illustration, staging scenes of same-sex intimacy for the titillation of a presumed cis-hetero male readership, or fetishizing trans individuals as emblems of body-modification tradition run rampant, the questions it raised about consciousness and embodiment possessed a palpable queer cost.
In one of the crucial placing sequences in William Gibson’s endlessly influential 1984 debut novel Neuromancer, the terminally alienated hacker-protagonist, Case, jacks-in to the sensorium of mirror-shaded avenue samurai, Molly Tens of millions, as a part of a heist on a company information stronghold. Immersed in Molly’s ‘SimStim’ feed (and thus experiencing her sensory information, physiological responses, and embodied impacts in real-time), Case is overcome with a vertiginous sense of reference to Molly; the primary stirrings of an empathy that may finally impel him to assist a rogue AI to pursue the event of its diffuse, networked consciousness.
As a non-binary trans particular person, encountering this sequence for the primary time stopped me lifeless in my tracks. The ‘gender emotions’ (trans Spidey-sense for when normative paradigms of intercourse and gender are being transgressed, or trans expertise is being evoked) have been sturdy with this one. Past providing a novel method to method staging and narrating a heist, it has all the time struck me as a sequence haunted by a type of spectral gender euphoria: a dream of experiencing, right away, as if by magic, one other mode of embodiment which may match higher, and even simply in a different way, from one’s personal; one other instantiation of consciousness and the flesh it each permeates and emerges from because it makes itself legible to the world.
Whereas Case’s want to transcend ‘meatspace’ – Gibson’s time period for fleshly embodiment and the mundane, non-virtual world that accompanies it – has been rightly critiqued for endorsing a rationalist fantasy of the self-sufficient masculine mind overcoming the constraints and distractions of the (historically female coded) physique, moments reminiscent of these complicate that dynamic. As an alternative of sponsoring a masculinist imaginative and prescient of consciousness surpassing the perceived limitations of corporeality by way of technological mastery, passages reminiscent of this recommend the methods during which such know-how might render the ‘self’ extra porous, complicating, somewhat than erasing its ties to the physique.
(In what looks like a suitably Cyberpunk endorsement, I had this instinct apparently confirmed for me on Twitter when Gibson himself liked and retweeted some thoughts I shared on the topic. So, if nothing else, I can mainly die joyful, crushed below this clanging name-drop…)
As this instance suggests, central to Cyberpunk’s problem to the kinds of monolithic, restrictive, and exclusionary mannequin of identification outlined above is, after all, the determine of the Cyborg.
The Cyborg, as conceived most influentially by queer feminist thinker Donna Haraway, constitutes a stark, and deeply queer, rebuff to essentialism and the slender politics of identification with which it’s sure up. For Haraway, the Cyborg – a fusion of animal and machine, such because the protagonist of Alice Bradley Sheldon’s The Lady Who Was Plugged In, otherwise you studying this in your smartphone – eschews all myths of ‘essence’ or ‘naturalness’. It’s deeply impatient of narratives of misplaced innocence and maintains a completely disenchanted consciousness of its personal standing as a social and technological assemble. Straddling the blurred boundaries between ‘animal’ and ‘human’, ‘human’ and ‘machine’, and ‘bodily’ and ‘non-physical’, in Haraway’s evocative phrase, the ‘Cyborg wouldn’t acknowledge the Backyard of Eden; it isn’t product of mud and doesn’t dream of returning to mud.’ To those that would level at it and say ‘you might be unnatural’, the Cyborg replies ‘so what?’ and proceeds to reconfigure the color of its fibre-optic undercut whereas hot-swapping its genitals to raised go well with the vibe.
Crucially, although, the Cyborg can also be below no illusions concerning the place it occupies throughout the exploitative networks of globalist corporatocracy and surveillance capitalism that facilitate its trans-human existence. As an alternative, the Cyborg knowingly leverages these restricted assets within the furtherance of provisional, fluid, and non-exclusionary modes of solidarity and neighborhood. Eschewing the illusory ‘wholeness’ or ‘innocence’ of an identification uncontaminated by oppression and inequality, Haraway’s Cyborg works with what it has to construct a extra equal and inclusive future during which ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ are evolving collaborative practices, somewhat than static end-points.
Unsurprisingly, few areas of human cultural exercise are as carefully enmeshed with the determine of the Cyborg as gaming. Each time we decide up a controller, don a VR headset, or manipulate a digital avatar, we’re functioning as a type of Cyborg life. As such, my pitch to you, pricey reader, is that we, as players, and notably queer players, are ideally positioned to inhabit the area of plurality, fluidity, and disillusioned vigilance Haraway envisages because the antithesis of essentialist identification, and, what’s extra, that Cyberpunk video games can and needs to be providing us that have.
In making this assertion, I’m calling for a transfer by way of and past ‘illustration’ – the presence in media of members of marginalized teams who can function spokes-people and role-models for these teams – to a extra summary, structural, however, maybe, extra conceptually thoroughgoing engagement with queerness.
In a media surroundings during which the lives, experiences, and aspirations of queer individuals proceed to be grossly misrepresented, usually for revenue and to serve strategic political ends, I’m by no means going to complain about higher illustration, particularly the place it leads to queer writers, builders, and performers being given the chance to make a residing doing what they love. To be completely, unequivocally clear, LGBTQIA+ individuals want and deserve higher illustration in and from the gaming business. Proper now. This second.
However, as I’ve tried to argue right here, in its interactivity, its networked connectivity, and its inherently trans-human dimensions, gaming additionally offers us with a probably liberating alternative to ask extra daring and, above all, queerer questions on identification. What does it imply to think about subjectivity away from rationalist, bourgeois, or neo-liberal individualism? What may it seem like and really feel wish to inhabit an identification with out an essence? How may a recreation’s mechanics be structured in order to allow us to assume, act, and play, not as an omnicompetent, iconoclastic bad-ass, ‘transcending’ the constraints of ‘meatspace’, however as a fluid, weak collective, enmeshed with a wide range of our bodies in advanced and evolving methods?
Options just like the network-building and character-swapping on the coronary heart of Watchdogs Legion, or plot buildings just like the battle for survival and gender-affirming assets that drive the fluid solid of trans characters in a TTRPG like BLOOD & hormones, provide potential avenues that future Cyberpunk video games may pursue additional in answering these questions, (whilst they oblige us to confront the paradoxical methods during which a triple-A recreation like Watchdogs Legion harvests participant information for company ends.)
In Music of Myself, Walt Whitman, who, although he lived virtually a century earlier than the emergence of Cyberpunk, knew a factor or two about ‘our bodies electrical’, affords a well-known celebration of inconsistency and multiplicity: “Do I contradict myself?/Very effectively then I contradict myself/(I’m giant, I comprise multitudes)”. As an individual whose felt gender, gender expression, and sexual preferences can shift a number of instances within the area of a day, the concept that I’m by no means extra ‘authentically’ queer than when I’m contradicting myself is bracing and empowering.
On the identical time, as we more and more come to inhabit and surpass the corporatized, disaster capitalist nightmare envisaged by so many foundational cyberpunk texts, the crucial to be below no illusions concerning the place gaming as an business occupies inside buildings of socio-economic domination, neo-colonialism, and the exploitation of pure assets appears central to the spirit of protest and resistance that has animate Pleasure from its begin.
My dream, this Pleasure Month, is to choose up a Cyberpunk recreation simply as contradictory, giant, and multitudinous as I’m, and to emerge from it feeling affirmed, galvanized, and, dare I say it, pleased with the fluid, politically-engaged identification I share with so a lot of you, my fellow Cyborgs.