As a cancer patient, “Cyberpunk 2077” frees me from my mental prison


I was diagnosed with cancer in early June. For some reason, since then, I haven’t been able to stop playing CD Projekt Red’s “Cyberpunk 2077”, a story about how to navigate or fight a terminal illness.

The terminal illness facing V, the game’s protagonist, is the almost certain erasure of their soul. Their personalities, memories and cognitive functions are overwritten by an artificial intelligence, Johnny Silverhand, a branded rocker and terrorist brought to virtual life by Keanu Reeves. They can only deny or accept their fate; either somehow grab to break their connection as Silverhand takes over, or leave this world on their terms.

But V is not a real person. I’m just a video game character and I, as a player, choose their fate, not the script and code of the game, and certainly not Keanu Reeves. Since my cancer diagnosis, my male V (you can choose the protagonist’s gender) has wandered the streets of “Cyberpunk 2077” Night City, carefree and blissful, deliberately ignorant – by my choice – of his death sentence.

It wasn’t always that easy to be carefree in Night City. The infamous release of the game in December 2020 redefined the term “cyberpunk” to mean “unfinished, buggy and unplayable video game”. As I wrote in my final review of the game in 2021, “Cyberpunk 2077” used to storm the player with phone calls and notifications about new activities, resulting in information overload that destroyed any sense of space immersion and strangled the pace of the story arc game. otherwise compelling.

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This older and more unpleasant version of “Cyberpunk 2077” reminds me of my current situation. My phone is constantly filled with worried messages and phone calls from friends, family, ex-girlfriends, former colleagues and long-lost acquaintances. Everyone talks about the myriad challenges of cancer, but one of the least discussed is the emotional burden on the patient as he navigates, calms down, and leans under the overwhelming pain projected by his 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 needs to be said were it not for my cancer. Words meant to calm 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 stabilization fixes, new features, and most importantly to me, the ability to ignore those annoying game messages and phone calls. . The promise of a streamlined experience after patch 1.5, coupled with my excitement for Netflix’s “Cyberpunk Edgerunners” anime series in September, invited me to return to the experience. In the days leading up to my first chemotherapy session, my mind was a mess full of anxiety. But now I’ve learned to agree to turn the phone off to silent mode and keep the screen facing down while playing “Cyberpunk 2077” for hours a day, a kind of 1.5 patch on my own life.

Today I face the inexorably grueling reality of the fight against cancer, a fight that consumes every hour, if not every minute of my day. As a cancer patient, I feel drawn in so many directions that I have almost no control over my life: doctors constantly fill my schedule with appointments, check-ups and follow-ups; a home nurse who visits me twice a week; my family asking for updates and struggling with their own trauma since my diagnosis; and hundreds of friends who offer to help while they feel and (let’s face it) helpless.

But in “Cyberpunk 2077,” I can ignore my character’s death sentence. As in other open world games, there is no “Game Over” screen to ignore the main campaign. I can play however I want, ignoring the corruption that tries to kill my character from within, remaining immune to any fallout from that decision.

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Criticisms of the narrative correctly blame “Cyberpunk 2077” for failing to establish a strong motivation for its protagonist to engage in nothing but save his life. Why is V helping the police stop gang activity when they need to save themselves? What’s the point of collecting all this money? Why buy a new car when every day could be your last?

Why delay replying to a loved one’s desperate and pleading message as if tomorrow were promised?

It was when I asked myself this question that I learned to appreciate V’s contempt for saving his life. With nothing but existence at stake, my V lives every day stubbornly refusing to commit to the fact that he might be their latest – a daydream daydream of chasing more and more dreams. It is this context that helps me, perhaps even a dying man, to appreciate “Cyberpunk 2077” more than any other open world game when it comes to fulfilling my specific power fantasy.

In real life, ignoring my diagnosis is not a luxury I can afford. My cancer is aggressive and I will be fighting aggressively over the next few months. Please get rid of it by the end of 2022. I’m only at the beginning of the nightmare; it will take some time before I can wake up with a semblance of normal life.

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Even after dozens of hours spent playing “Cyberpunk 2077” since my diagnosis and several drafts of this essay, I’m not much closer to understanding my sudden fascination with this title given my current situation. I should be stimulated by this game. It is an aggressive reminder of a terminal illness.

Yet this game forces me in ways never seen before, and in ways that no other game has been able to do in 2022. This compulsion extends beyond my playing time: I bought the Secret Lab “Cyberpunk 2077” gaming chair. , the “Cyberpunk 2077” soundtrack on Apple Music, the artbook and comics “Cyberpunk 2077” and two “Cyberpunk 2077” action figures from Dark Horse. I have never felt involved in the nine-year marketing hype cycle for this game. Yet here I am, just a few years after release, spending money on the brand as an uncritical fan.

My text alert sounds and ringtones are also ripped straight from “Cyberpunk 2077”. Creating them for the iPhone was a first for me: it meant learning to use GarageBand just to satisfy this strange and all-encompassing desire to live in the world of “Cyberpunk 2077”.

Maybe it’s really all the small improvements CD Projekt Red has made to the game for its 1.5 update, which include: cars that react to events in real time and are equipped with suspension, giving them a sense of real weight in this virtual world; side missions that offer many rewarding tales, making me experience an electronic cyberpunk version of “The Thousand and One Nights”; a reworked skill system that makes character evolution more meaningful; and deeper interactions through friendships, which may be ignored but are there if I need them.

Maybe it’s the way “Cyberpunk 2077”, intentionally or unintentionally, leans on the tropes of the genre, so easily echoing the famous childhood artworks of the 80s and 90s like the groundbreaking anime “Akira” or “Fight Club” by David Fincher. After all, V is essentially the star of “Fight Club” who is aware of his Tyler Durden (now played by Keanu Reeves rather than Brad Pitt, however).

Here’s a confession: I often fall asleep to old Steve Jobs presentations, as he announces industry-changing products like iPod, iPhone, iPad or iCloud. He is a skilled marketer, as many people believed in his belief that these technologies would change the world. It’s easy to see in hindsight just how much that change came to both help and hurt, but the innocence of that primitive faith comforts me and puts me to sleep.

“Cyberpunk 2077” is often criticized for not offering a true vision of the future, but now I understand that it was never meant to represent any kind of future. “Cyberpunk 2077” is the future as our past has seen it. It was then that we still believed flying cars were a possibility.

Perhaps I, as a 40-year-old man, take comfort in the way modern technology is repackaging a catalog of old and outdated counterculture, all from my youth, a period of my life when I felt truly immortal and ageless, when the tomorrow seemed guaranteed – even if that too was just a dream.

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None of this means I’m giving CD Projekt Red a belated pass on how the company mishandled the launch of this game. Most striking are attempts to deceive consumers and journalists by holding onto the near-unplayable PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game until after release. I still confirm what I wrote last year: CD Projekt Red’s marketing of the game and the final version transformed them from industry darlings to more 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.

But in 2022, I’d be a liar if I said I wouldn’t like to wrap myself in CD Projekt Red’s messy, youthful electric dream. Fulfill the latest promise of the videogame medium, the fantasy of power to overcome challenges and achieve a sort of emotional and tangential fulfillment, all without serious consequences. “Cyberpunk 2077” is helping me create the most precious memories I can from this terrible moment in my life.

“Cyberpunk 2077” is not a dream game, but it is an experience that still feels like a kind of dream, even if I can’t fully understand or explain it. For me, this is everything a video game should ever be.

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