Sex, Cyberpunk 2077, and Ghost In The Shell. If that’s not an enticing title, I don’t know what is.
CD Projekt Red’s upcoming title, Cyberpunk 2077 is highly anticipated, especially after dropping some bombshells like Keanu Reeves playing the notorious Cyberpunk character, Johnny Silverhand.
But like most things in this world, Cyberpunk 2077 is not free from controversy. After E3 2019, the pot was given quite a stir, and a conversation regarding sex and gender portrayals in-game arose. So 58 years in the future, when we’ve all used technology to augment our bodies with fantastic capabilities, do the concepts of sex and gender begin to disappear?
In The Nude
Ghost In The Shell (1995) depicts a very high tech, augmented future, much like the world to be portrayed in Cyberpunk. To briefly summarize, Ghost In The Shell centers around Motoko Kusanagi who is effectively a law enforcement officer. While the plot primarily centers around her own sense of identity, the film isn’t afraid to explore topics like sexuality along the way.
Kusanagi is highly augmented with technology, and it’s made pretty clear early on in the film that pretty much the only part of her not enhanced or replaced by technology, is her mind, and even that’s not without its upgrades either. Perhaps…describing the one part of her still being human as her ‘consciousness’ is more accurate.
To further my point, I would point you towards the opening sequence of the Ghost In The Shell film:
Clearly, Kusanagi wields some very powerful technology into her body, but besides being a fantastic showcase of science fiction, we’re talking about sex, of which, Kusanagi’s portrayal in this scene has plenty to talk about. Above is the English dub of the film. And, in the English dub, the original Japanese line is changed a little bit, and it’s apparent in the subtitled version. The relevant example here is when Batou asks Kusanagi “What’s with all the noise in your brain today?” In the dub, Kusanagi replies “Must be a loose wire.” Yet, in the translation used in the subtitled version of Ghost In The Shell, Kusanagi replies “It’s that time of the month.” With such a comment like that one might think that clearly, Kusanagi is a woman, considering she just joked about a female anatomical event. Yet that notion is shattered just a few short seconds after that line. Kusanagi, without hesitation or any sort of second thought stands up and removes her clothes, and a “nude” body is shown. Yet, there’s nothing really nude about the body shown. Kusanagi’s body is depicted with no sexual organs, and while there are secondary sex characteristics depicted, it’s later shown that those are for… aesthetic purposes only. Examining promotional material for the film, as well as original manga covers, Kusanagi is quite sexualized, yet in the film, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, Kusanagi is depicted physically as a woman, her voice is clearly a woman’s, and the mannerisms of the characters around her depict her as a woman as well. For example, after a chase sequence, Kusanagi is once again in the nude to use her invisibility technology, her law enforcement partner Batou comes up to her in the aftermath of the chase sequence and gives her a coat to cover herself back up with. Throughout the film, there are many more instances of Batou being polite to Kusanagi such as that. Yet, Kusanagi isn’t exactly one for modesty. More to Kusanagi being a woman, I’ve been referring to her as ‘her’ throughout this article. But the question has to be asked, is she actually a woman? Is she even human?
While the human question would take a more in-depth analysis outside of the scope of this piece, the first question can kind of be answered.
As aforementioned, Ghost In The Shell depicts a similar technological landscape to Cyberpunk. In these worlds, bodies become less and less organic, and more and more synthetic. As we exist today, all of our bodies are unique. Yet, in the highly synthetic worlds of Cyberpunk and Ghost In The Shell, bodies and appearances are manufactured. It’s even explicitly stated in Ghost In The Shell that many others have Kusanagi’s body and even facial features. That her body and appearance aren’t unique but are manufactured instead. So why does Kusanagi allow herself to be treated as a woman? My answer is: it’s what her consciousness believes she is.
Mental, Not Physical
When technology reaches a point of being able to completely replace and/or augment bodies; gender, gender roles, and sexuality as we know those concepts today, will be completely flipped on its head. A body depicting a woman might not actually belong to someone who wishes to identify or be treated as a woman. A body depicting a man may not belong to someone who wishes to identify and be treated as a man.
Gender, gender roles, and sexuality will be almost completely reliant on the mentality of the people interacting with each other at the time, and what they wish to be treated as. Referring back to Ghost In The Shell, Kusanagi certainly has no problems with the characters treating her as a woman, but she doesn’t care about her physical appearance. Who she actually is, is entirely reserved and projected through her consciousness. Examining her partner, Batou, he seems to have adopted a similar perspective as Kusanagi but has the mentality of a man, as his consciousness reserves himself and projects himself as a man. I’d wager that if Kusanagi and Batou were to switch bodies, they would still be themselves, and their relationship wouldn’t change.
So when it comes to a scene in Cyberpunk where your character is gawking at a nude woman in a bathtub, it is because your character’s consciousness reserves and projects itself as a man towards what it perceives to be as a woman. When it comes to who has the features of a woman save for the silhouette of a male sexual organ, as is the case with the now infamous and controversial in-game advertisement in Cyberpunk 2077, it’s almost a commentary on the head-flip that such a synthetic future brings to the concepts of gender, gender roles, and sexuality.
Thank you for reading, if you’d like to read some more anime analysis, check out my article on Your Name here. To stay in tune with all of the Cyberpunk 2077 news, keep it here at Culture of Gaming.