Corpo creations: How Cyberpunk 2077 explores manufactured mutants – by Steph Farnsworth


Avatars are our escape points into imaginative worlds. Their capacity to transport us into another realm allows players a certain freedom, and so it becomes a bold choice to give players a protagonist that is facing a chronic and terminal illness. But this becomes the foundation of Cyberpunk 2077’s story, as the game and players grapple with the themes of disability, transhumanism and posthumanism.

The video game was inspired by the Cyberpunk Red tabletop role-playing game. The same world and lore are used in both stories; a world that is defined by late-stage capitalism, and where corporations control the lives of their workforce to an intimate degree due to the technological advancements that have taken place. Night City has a system of constant surveillance of workers. People can augment their bodies with new technology. These ‘hardware’ implants are especially helpful to the job performance of security workers and mercenaries. The technological implants have extended the lifespan of workers. Corporations benefit from an augmentation culture that means employees can work longer hours and for more years without (literally) dying on the job. Cyberpunk 2077 embodies the “low-life and high-tech” (Sterling, XIV) theme of the genre by depicting how body transformation can grant less autonomy when it is directed by the interests of the private sector, that is ruled by the richest corporations, creating a small class of elites.

Body transformation is so prolific in Cyberpunk 2077’s central environment, Night City, that it is more common for citizens to have implants than not. There are even characters dubbed ‘cyberpsychos’, people whose augmented tech has caused a form of mental health crisis that has led to psychosis. Monks meditate on the dangers of transhumanism and relentless body augmentation, and gangs mock and target those without their own “hardware” and refer to the human body as “meat”. It is against this context that the playable character must fight to cling to their own identity.

The main character, V, goes on their own exploration of a blended transhuman and posthuman experience. In this paper, V will be referred to as “they” as the player can customise gender to create trans characters or play as a cisgender man or cisgender woman.

V works with their best friend and partner-in-crime Jackie, to steal cutting edge technology from Arasaka, Night City’s biggest corporation. It’s a job that is supposed to set both characters up for life, and usher them both into the “major leagues” and recognised as legendary mercenaries. When the job goes wrong, V ends up with Arasaka’s unknown and untested biochip in their head – a chip that has a personality engram that is gradually overwriting V’s psyche. The personality is that of Johnny Silverhand (modelled and voiced by Keanu Reeves), and V faces a ‘race against time’ (as the game lists the mission) to find a way to stop Silverhand from taking over their body. The ‘body switch’ process is not pretty. V routinely coughs blood, collapses and struggles with pain as the condition becomes more chronic and more severe. V becomes disabled as a result of this augmentation, disabled physically as they manage chronic illness, and their personality is toggled off/being hidden and dismantled. The main character transforms into a disabled mutant as soon as the biochip enters their system.

To examine V as a mutant, and the associations between disability and mutants in literary tradition, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s work on ‘monster theory’ will be instrumental. In ‘monster theory’, Cohen noted how literary tradition warned about breaching the borders of what is possible through the exploration of classical monsters. Monsters come to represent those violating the norms, often metaphors for (but not limited to): those who are working class, disabled, and sexual and romantic non-normative identities. This links heavily to fears around the chase for a posthuman society, of which Cyberpunk 2077 speculates on. Within Cohen’s broad monster theory, composed of seven theses, I argue that the particular idea of breaching the borders of the possible. Thesis V refers to a specific kind of monster: mutants. This breaching of borders always happens in relation to mutants – beings I define as those whose creation/life has been directed by ambition or capitalist pursuit, created outside of what is perceived as natural reproduction, and whose very concept differs from the normative and policed bodies that inhabit any story’s society. Mutants then, are the consequence of tinkering toward the concept of progress, whether by individuals in a laboratory or as an accidental by-product from large-scale late-capitalist pursuits. V would fall under this mutant categorisation; their mutant status was created by the biochip that was driven by capitalist goals and created by unrestrained corporations, V’s mutant status was created outside of natural reproduction and their body differs greatly to the norm. V’s existence breaches the borders of the possible as they are the only living person known to have the biochip, and the only person to host one body that is shared with another personality – albeit, for a limited time as V moves ever closer to death as the player progresses through the game. Mutants, by definition, push the boundaries of the possible and it is this endeavour that elicits strong reactions in stories generally. The desire to create mutants links heavily with disability. The idea of human experimentation of our biological structures which can create and lead to disability, and disability has been used as an argument by eugenicists to support greater bodily-intervention. Mutants and disability are then woven together, as wider politics wrestles with the biological form and the pursuit of control.

Cyberpunk 2077 provides an opportunity to explore the associations with disability and mutants, with the mechanics offering an interactive ability to navigate these identities. Philosophies of posthumanism and biopolitics will be called upon; the close connection between video games and transhumanism means “we cannot ignore the importance of video games in the study of religion and science” (Geraci). Role-playing games have been compared to religious ritual, and help create meaning by providing a liminal state where social rules are thrown out, in favour of the game’s mechanics and lore (Laycock, 233). Additionally, it was Švelch who stated “video games, however, make the player face the monsters. These creatures do become objects of the player’s actions; their rules are clearly defined and ready to be scrutinized.” (195) and added that this was the start of a “major shift” in how ideas of monsters and monstrosity are conceptualised and mapped. The videogame of Cyberpunk 2077 is an ideal artefact to challenge and examine concepts of posthuman monstrosity.  

Posthuman disability; V becomes a mutant

Explorations of the posthuman are common within works of biopunk. Bio-manipulations that challenge normative societies have fascinated audiences for generations, ever since Frankenstein gave birth to his creature. We have witnessed mutant turtles, cloned dinosaurs, and Godzilla crashing its way through various countries. In the shape of humanity, we have had Avengers show us the posthuman mutant, such as Captain America and his super soldier serum, and Spider-Man, a boy wonder due to a bite from a radioactive spider. Games too have looked at mutations, but where Cyberpunk 2077 differs is by focusing on a disabled protagonist while offering an array of cybernetic customisation options. Mutants have moved from depictions of strong monsters to perfected humans/humanoids. The world of Cyberpunk 2077 explores this through companies like Biotechnica that conduct experiments tinkering with biology and biodiversity, and the corporation of Arasaka that is fixated on defeating mortality. V becomes a mutant as their body undergoes immense change to house a new host, even at the expense of the original. V is a mutant that is disconnected and faces diaspora from their own body. Even if they find a way to remove the chip, they are forever facing biological change, as their body shifts into a state of being without them.

There are many stories examining mutants, but few stories follow the process of becoming a mutant as Cyberpunk 2077 does. The focus of most mutant adventures revolves around how the fully formed mutants operate as posthuman agents in society. V is in the process of transformation, ushering in a new examination of the state of being. V is at the point of becoming, under this proposed mutant argument, V is at the point of transforming into a new state of being. Monster theory often examines the representation bought forward by the monstrous as disrupting boundaries, but what about those who are between states of being? V is a mutant as soon as they take the biochip, but a mutant in flux shifting between identities.

The posthuman hints at a state of transition – while it indicates a stage after humanity as we know it, the gains are often depicted as so creeping that it may be difficult to distinguish when exactly when we will arrive at that state of posthuman being. Not only are the gains aimed to be built upon gradually (but no less philosophically radical), but the idea underpinning posthuman theory is that every step will be of benefit to humanity. It was Nick Bostrom’s essay ‘Why I Want to Be Posthuman When I Grow Up’ that laid out a posthuman manifesto.

“By any reasonable criteria, your life improves as you take these initial steps towards becoming posthuman.” (Bostrom, 5)

But Bostrom’s fundamental posthuman assertion risks a miscalculation. There are legitimate ethical questions about how we define the improvement of life; there have long been arguments from certain corners of the disability community about attempts to erase identities rather than offer greater accessibility, concerns particularly associated with the deaf community, for instance (Praderio). Bostrom’s strand of posthumanism – presented as a universal truth and ideal – fails to consider the different strands of feminist, critical race and disability studies. Cyberpunk 2077 takes a conflicting approach to the posthuman: on their way to become an entirely new being, a new type of human that is advanced and can represent the destruction of death; V is left managing incredible pain and dying themselves. This is not an improvement for V, who spends nearly all the game trying to retake control of their body and stop the process of becoming posthuman.

The history of mutants and associations with disability

Body transformation is common to speculative fiction. There is, of course, the symbol of the werewolf, a common presence in stories across the centuries. Often a metaphor for mental illness and sometimes a metaphor for physical disability, the werewolf is a culturally feared and desired figure in literature. Even in the Harry Potter series, the werewolves were stated as representing the horror of the AIDS crisis (Rowling, qtd in Baillie), as werewolves were shrouded in stigma in this universe. Perhaps understandably so, when werewolves sought to maim and murder, something that did not relate to the struggle for liberation that queer, Black and disabled AIDS activists led in the 1980s and 1990s.

Cohen highlighted the significance of the original werewolf story during his detailed vision of ‘monster theory’. The original werewolf story dates to Ancient Greece, and the myth is that Lyacon, ruler of Arcadia, served Zeus (or Jupiter) the flesh of the god’s child. Other stories state that Lyacon brought about the death of Arcas, or even Lyacon’s own children and served them to Zeus. However, what has stayed the test of time is the punishment meted out to Lyacon: he was turned into a werewolf for openly defying the gods and challenging their wisdom. The werewolf figure becomes a rare representation of a mutation in motion, and one that is linked heavily to disability by assuming a non-normative body, and one that is in direct opposition to society’s ideals and systems, a body that makes the werewolf feared and hunted. As the story states, “he turns into a wolf, and yet retains some traces of his former shape…” (Ovid, qtd in Cohen, 13) . V and the werewolf share a common strand: an uncontrollable transition of being, and the origin of the werewolf takes a markedly grim turn as: “The fable concludes when Lyacon can no longer speak, only signify.” (Cohen, 13) 

V’s journey shares many similarities with the werewolf. V’s posthumanism transformation is a punishment from a higher power (not a god, but a corporation).After the biochip is contained within V’s skull, numerous characters remark that they can see the shadow of Johnny in V. Johnny’s ex-partner, Rogue, grabs V’s head and looks into their eyes and remarks that “bastard” is really in V’s head. V contains the glimmer of a monster behind their eyes. The process of transformation V experiences sees Johnny gain greater control, and late in the game, even his voice breaks through V’s as he begins to (inadvertently) seize control over the merc’s body. What is unique in the game’s approach is that there are no metaphors for disability in V’s story, but a literal exploration of managing deteriorating health.

V’s “former shape” will remain during the transformation process; the question lingers over mind and who assumes control of that body. There is an ongoing power struggle throughout the game. At first, Johnny appears happy to try to steal a new body, but as he realises the horror of the process, he decides to help V in the quest to stop the process. The ‘RPG’ elements of the game explore this battle for autonomy. Both characters are playable at points, and V/the player is presented with multiple opportunities to either take a drug that will speed up the ‘exchange’ of body, or to slow it down.

The player enters into conflict with their own avatars, who have different ideals as V and Johnny will experience far different outcomes from the biochip overwriting V’s psyche. Game studies scholar Waggoner asserted that we form identities through narrative construction (23) but the player occupies one first-person point of view while regularly switching between characters creating a friction in the gameplay experience.

Suddenly, V is treated with curiosity from ripperdocs; people touch and grab V to look into their eyes to see Johnny without their consent (not dissimilar to when strangers may command control of a wheelchair) and will talk about V for the medical and technological marvel taking place in their body without any concern for how they are. V, then, is stripped of any humanity.

In one of the periods where Johnny has control, he decides to leave a mark of his stay that V will always remember by branding the merc with a tattoo. There are two designs that the player can choose from. It is up to the player to define Johnny’s personality – that has no other customisation options and is separate to the player’s experience as V – or perhaps interpret the scene as showing influence or control from V even while Johnny has “the keys to the car”. There can be bitterness between the two characters, but there are moments of solidarity, such as a tattoo stating that V loves Johnny. But almost regardless of the peace they make with each other, the implications of this technology and connection have wider warnings, as Cohen described:

“The monster of prohibition exists to demarcate the bonds that hold together that system of relations we call culture, to call horrid attention to the borders that cannot – must not – be crossed.” (Cohen, 13)

Cohen’s monster theory examined how classical monsters were linked to disability and disrupting normative expectations, behaviours and values. There is a fear and fascination in works dealing with mutants and bodily transformations; that this new road will lead to chaos and ruin. This fear is nothing new, as science fiction often reflects real world fears. Since the 1960s, there have been worries that science has gone too far and warnings about the infamous phrase “test tube babies” (Garber), cloning practices have had blanket bans in the United States even for miniscule research that would benefit science, and stem cell research has faced numerous hurdles from opposition campaigners. There have been fears, some based in reality, and many based in hysteria, that scientific experimentation with the concept of life will result in everything from new diseases, deformities/disfigurements and despair for those who might be on the receiving end of these practises, when strict ethical frameworks mean that risks with new procedures and new science is extremely low – as can be seen by the COVID-19 vaccines. But the fears remain that breaching ‘natural life’ will result in bodies that are not normative. It has even been argued that the response of ‘repugnance’ to concepts such as cloning, is evidence enough that tampering with life is an ethical-ill that should be avoided (Kass). These debates, and the emotions behind them have often been reflected in literature and media. Frankenstein’s creature was not depicted as a white abled human like his creator and the society around him (and therefore normative to this homogeneous 19th century British culture) but was described as being overly large and his skin and eyes were depicted in racist terms (Weiner, Stevens and Rogers, 13) as a way to imply that the creature was not, in fact, quite human. Historically there have been two types of mutants: those who represent the late capitalist strive for posthuman ‘perfection’ and those that warn about the dangers of genetic and reproductive tampering and try to depict a mutant as being disabled, non-white, or otherwise non-normative as a failure of science and a punishment of nature. V inhabits both categories. V is the transhuman and posthuman chase for greater cognitive and biological control. They represent the possibilities of technology and particularly biotechnology being able to transcend death. But humanity’s gain, in the eyes of Arasaka and other corporations, is V’s loss and they continue to lose control of their body and become more unwell as they begin to transition away from their own body with little say in the matter. Just like werewolves, who are neither fully wolf nor human but are perpetually suspended in motion, V is trapped in limbo between different states of being. While werewolves are used as representations for disability due to their lack of control, monstrosity, vulnerabilities, and social alienation; V becomes literally disabled due to the biochip’s transformative process. They explore the world as a disabled person, and they become a disabled mutant, often depending on the support of allies and friends, as the late capitalist system refuses to care for V. The only medical support they can access throughout most of the game is the help of a friendly – and unrealistically unconcerned with fees – ripperdoc that operates out of a backstreet store.

V’s disability being associated with ‘mutanthood’ rather than personhood is supported by Kristeva’s theory of abject horror. The concept of abject horror is triggered by the threatened breakdown between the self and other. While this is commonly associated with images designed to elicit disgust – evacuating bowels, vomit, and open wounds – a much less visceral but creeping abject horror is depicted within Cyberpunk 2077. V is not faced with a decaying corpse but with the personality of an ageing ‘rockerboy’, a corpse nonetheless for all intents and purposes, but one that represents V’s death by Silverhand’s life. For Johnny to survive, V must die and vice versa.

The trauma of this experience, and trauma is a cornerstone of abject horror, marks V throughout the game. V responds initially with anger and hatred of Johnny, and upon seeing him, reaches for the medication that will slow Johnny’s takeover and relieve V of the symptoms plaguing their body. Johnny’s presence is not just a reminder of V’s mortality but also of the fragility of the human body. Throughout the game, V weakens as their condition deteriorates and Johnny comes to life. Johnny is the reason for V’s poor health, but at times he also acts as carer in a society where healthcare is dependent upon how much income a person has and whether their good health is in the interest of the corporations they work for or are of interest to. At the end of significant missions, V will cough to a debilitating degree, their technology will malfunction impairing their vision, they may vomit, and they stumble as they try to regain control of a body that is slipping out of their autonomy. The player can attempt to control the direction of V’s stumbles, but the character will fail at this endeavour and eventually collapse.

In the analysis of role-playing games Roine stated:“For genuine agency to emerge, the digital environment must be meaningfully responsive to user input.” (73). But agency is revoked at times as the game deliberately interrupts the player, prohibits them walking or advancing to an area as V vomits and occasionally collapses. Once the player passes the ‘point of no return’ – the final stage of any role-playing game that locks a player into the final mission and means they cannot complete any further side – V’s condition deteriorates to a critical state.

For the final mission the player, as V, has several choices: keep control and shut Johnny out either by working with the ‘corpos’ or working with V’s new Nomadic friends, let Johnny take control and he can work with his ex-girlfriend Rogue to take on Arasaka and get the answers they need from the creators of the biochip, or take on the mission solo. To be able to complete the mission alone, the player will need to have achieved level fifty to be able to even to unlock this path. It is a particularly tough mission and any death results in the end of the game, with V’s loved ones leaving various goodbye messages to mourn the passing of their friend. This means that, to have a realistic chance of success, the player must upgrade V’s body with numerous implants to give the protagonist more strength and better dexterity. By making V become even more of a mutant, it limits the impact of V’s fragile hold on their humanity as the technology of the biochip consumes their personality. And yet, V is still disabled, and still dying. V’s foray into the posthuman plains have left them with the ability to kill better, but they are still dying. This does not fit with Bostrom’s utopian vision of the posthuman; V’s pain is something which would aim to be alleviated under his posthuman future, and yet V has a chronically painful condition made possible precisely because of the posthuman direction Night City has taken.

Disabled mutants in late capitalism

There is, however, one more choice for V that will eliminate the need for a final mission. V can decide to end their own life. This ‘solution’ is not presented as the ideal path for the player. All of the messages the player receives through V’s voicemail upon their death are of regret, anger and disappointment and there is a sense of real and irrevocable pain that has been left from V’s decision not to seek support at this juncture. V’s mutant status may be the only thing that matters to the corporations, but their friends are concerned only for their wellbeing and how to support them with their difficult prognosis. The disability left by the posthuman ‘upgrade’ however, can leave V feeling so disconnected from the world around they may feel that the best choice is to end their own life, rather than fight Arasaka and risk the lives of anyone else. This is not a story of disability being too overwhelming that ‘anyone would choose to die’ as problematic tropes often persist in telling (Armstrong), but of the despair that disabled people can face when the entire societal structure around them is designed to make their lives more difficult, and so difficult that in certain situations disabled people may feel that they cannot continue to live. In the UK, cuts to disability social security support, and a change in the way disabled people must claim benefits has led to the United Nations to state that the kingdom is guilty of violating the UN’s own disability convention and that the breaches are “grave” and “systematic” (Pring). Furthermore, in 2019 it was revealed that in the six years prior, more than 17,000 disabled people had died while waiting for social security to be paid to them (Bulman). For the UK, one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, to be condemned in such a manner by a global body, and for the number of deaths that have been linked to a failing system, shows that some disabled people may feel that they have few solutions/. Indeed, it was found in 2020 that 69 disabled people died by suicide, their despair linked to a failing benefits system. An official watchdog also warned that the true figure could be higher (Butler). While the United Kingdom’s record is particularly poor, these issues are repeated in numerous countries. For example, it was found that disabled people were left behind in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic for a myriad of factors, including complicated bureaucracy in accessing social security payments (Burden, Simms, Kline and Ruiz). Cyberpunk 2077 reflects the very real irony of living in a highly technological society that may showcase high priced mobility aids but has a lack of ramps in the world, that may have billion-dollar corporations, but people struggle to afford access to healthcare that could save their lives or support their independence. For all the posthuman upgrades, V can feel an incredible lack of quality of life – something that posthuman theorists, such as Bostrom, assume will be improved under a posthuman future.

Further systematic failures have been emphasised by biopolitics and disability theorists, Mitchell and Snyder who traced the history of how disability has been managed under different power structures, as transitioning “…from a scapegoated and incarcerated form of difference within liberal eugenics to a limited form of inclusionism within late liberal capitalism” (37). Mitchell and Snyder further argued that a defining element of late-stage capitalism was that of “incapacitated bodies” that they see as increasingly the norm, due to the exploitative nature of work, struggling healthcare systems and how “for-profit healthcare corporations recognize them as rich veins of data for ailments largely social in their making …” They note that there has been a shift into buying over the counter remedies for common symptoms: colds, back pain, headaches and so forth, but that these treatments do nothing to target the root cause of these issues brought on by neoliberalism.
“Under neoliberalism the body is targeted as inherently lacking, and the pharmaceutical and medical industries promise not to remove but mask social symptoms as individualized adjustments to states of universally beleaguered embodiment” (Mitchell and Snyder, 40).

The associations of disabled people as mutants continues when we examine ‘cyberpsychos’ within the world of Cyberpunk 2077. Cyberpsychos have had extreme mental health breakdowns, are paranoid, delusional and willing to violently defend themselves from perceived threats. Cyberpsychos are not well understood by the characters in the game; little is known about them, except that their mental breakdowns appear to be triggered by cybernetic implants or upgrades to their biological bodies. The associations with mutants and disability works in several ways: humans with ‘upgrades’ are often viewed in the world as a mutated human according to science fiction tradition, but they are also mutants by operating on the fringes of society, outside of normative systems. Cyberpsychos are often situated in abandoned buildings, or on the outskirts of ‘The Badlands’, at the edge of Night City where few people live. When they are forced to interact with communities, they represent discord and the catastrophic effects of consumerism due to the violent bloodshed that ensues. There are two options that the player has when dealing with the cyberpsychos: take them out by nonlethal means so that a helpful ‘fixer’ can get them mental health treatment, or murder them. This choice is reflective of the brutal corporate world of the game; if people cannot work or conform to society, they often face elimination from mercs or security organisations such as MaxTac. Regina is a rare fixer that wants to change the system that is led by corporations slowly grinding people down. Regina is a lone voice; the easiest choice in the game is to kill the cyberpsychos rather than make the effort to find the right shop to buy the non-lethal gun modification. It is therefore quicker for the player to murder the cyberpsychos rather than take them down without causing substantial harm. Video games offer potentially unique expressive and persuasive powers through ‘procedural rhetoric’ (Bogost, ix), as all elements (visual, dialogue, ludo-mechanics) combine to encourage players to resist the ableist and easiest path, and work to support the characters who have had terrible reactions to cyber-implants, winning the praise of Regina and earning extra money.

In a world of upgrades, cyberpsychos are mutants among mutants; experiencing reactions nobody expected and living in a posthuman world filled with delusions and terror nobody else can see. Just as V is experiencing their own mutant existence due to the biochip, the cyberpsychos are similar creations by corporations, but facing a different yet equally fraught struggle with limited options available to become healthy or integrate back into the society of Night City.

As bodies are ground down due to late-capitalist demands, there becomes a greater reliance on aids. The developments in biotechnology have immensely helped improve the lives of disabled people by increasing accessibility. But Mitchell and Snyder argue that there has been a fetishisation of these bodies, and that, as developments usher in an age of hyper-technology, this means that there is a new categorisation of disabled people: “the able-disabled” (57). Paralympic athlete, Oscar Pistorious, was examined for how his body was treated throughout his career, and during the criminal proceedings against the athlete after he shot and killed his partner, Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorious had been a decorated professional sprinter and competed at many tournaments with the aid of prosthetic legs.

“…Pistorious was commonly pictured as embodying the hypercapacity of a field-and-track machine, a postorgasmic cyborg biology enabled to surpass the limits of even the most athletically capacitated among us (two-legged variety).” (Mitchell and Snyder, 56)

The fetishism of disabled bodies, that require technology to thrive, was evidenced through the press attention of Pistorious. It is a pattern that continued in 2020, as the UK’s Channel 4 launched a “Super.Human” marketing campaign to promote the Paralympics. Mitchell and Snyder further identify how this fixation with disabled bodies and the concept of overcoming biological limitation has seeped into our fictional media.

“The X-Men have significant – even severe – incapacities but also harbour extrahuman compensatory abilities. Compensation narratives – or, rather, schemes of stigma-destroying superpower overcompensation – rule formulas of neoliberal explanatory systems. Such systems enshrine the body is different yet enabled enough to ask nothing of their crumbling, obstruction-ridden infrastructures, continually neutralized as environments made for most, but not by any means all, bodies.” (Mitchell and Snyder, 59)

Night City depends upon worker-machines. They are no longer employees but tools of corporations. To some extent, V depends on the advanced biotechnology of Night City to be able to thrive. Without upgrading V’s body, the player has little chance of completing the boxing competition quests which take place against far superior opponents. V and Johnny may call upon upgrades to have a better chance of taking on Arasaka without any help from friends; and the odds of success are greatly reduced without improving V’s body. The difference, however, to characters littered in the X-Men, is that while the upgrades can help V in combat, they cannot eliminate or otherwise neutralise V’s disability. The upgrades enhance their latent biological performance capabilities, but they do not disrupt the disabled identity V has. The main character is still experiencing illness, chronic pain and a looming death that technology cannot reverse. To some extent, Cyberpunk 2077 acts as a counter to the trope of the superhero genre that disability can be cured, or otherwise form a basis of some latent super-power.

Games have often been vehicles for exploring posthuman themes. Geraci conducted extensive work on theorising about the posthuman identity in video games and how the mechanics of gaming can explore the essence of life and death.

“In games, however, we always come back to life, and thanks to what we learn in the process, we come back better than before.” (Geraci 736)

This is not always strictly the case in Cyberpunk 2077 which subverts conventional game mechanics. There is a ‘permadeath’ feature in the final mission if V and Johnny decide to do the mission alone (but also together) and without the help of any of the various allies V has accumulated along the way. The mission, titled ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’, sees V break into Arasaka HQ. If V dies, then it is game over for the player and the game cuts to the credits and the final voice messages V receives after their friends learn of the character’s demise. In a game where multiple people subvert death – and not all by choice – where souls are stored and encrypted, and personality engrams are put into new hosts, it seems that immortality is the inevitable theme. And yet, V’s flirtation with danger and death contrasts greatly with this posthuman pursuit, as they and the player battle against the real threat of in-game permadeath that can take place in the final mission.

Death studies and necropolitics in games have been considered by Bo Ruberg, who stated that “permanent living [in games] represents a particularly potent trope for expressing both hopes and concerns about contemporary queer life in the face of an uncertain future” (161). Like queerness, disability enters into the realm of non-normative bodies and so within Cyberpunk 2077, the player must struggle on through V’s debilitating illness until entering the final stages (represented by one final mission).

Geraci looked at the 2008 video game Immortality that allowed players to cheat death. The game’s developer, Rohrer wanted to challenge the entire concept of immortality and the imaginings in popular culture that it can be a desirable state that represents progress.

“We generally assume that immortality is good, just as we assume that death is bad. Of course, universal immortality (all six billion of us) would be physically impractical. But what about individual immortality? What about for you? If you could become immortal, would you?” (Rohrer, qtd. in Geraci 745)

These were the questions Rohrer asked when approaching the game’s conceptual creation. However, in the game, where the player can become immortal, the player does have the option to kill their character as the game becomes more tedious, less mysterious and more monotonous due to the repetitive nature of eternal life. Rohrer presented the idea that infinite progress regarding biological life was not ultimately desirable.

Humanism has long been criticised for pathologising and medicalising the body, but as shown, Bostrom’s vision of posthumanism places emphasis on improving health and expanding life – an ideal that puts an abled body as the central goal. However, posthumanism has expanded and there are those who believe disability studies and posthumanism sit closely together due to shattering normative expectations (Goodley, Lawthom and Runswick). In Johnny’s case, the cost of cheating death comes at the expense of taking over someone else’s body – someone who becomes a friend – and being in debt to a corporation that he despises due to his anti-capitalist inclinations. Johnny vows to help V and to stop the process of V’s destruction. He too does not feel that immortality is ultimately worth it, instead choosing to accept and embrace his own demise, or potentially worse: an eternity in cyberspace disconnected from any sense of identity. Eschatological themes pervade the game and haunt Johnny and V. It is enough for Johnny to see V’s identity destabilised by the forced ‘mutanthood’ they undergo, and the lack of control and support V has over the resulting disabilities.

Duality is explored by a literal ‘double’ – Johnny and V used as contrasts to each other’s identity, and to explore each of their relationships to morality, and the potential ending of that mortality, as Johnny can survive with V’s death. Wasson highlighted how Otto Rank and Sigmund Freud identified how this doubling technique was applied specifically to look at the mortality-immortality paradigm.   

“…while a double might enable the fantasy of immortality for the self, that fantasy is simultaneously undermined by the very fact of a split between the self and its double.” (Wasson, 74)

When it is revealed what the biochip contains, Johnny’s resurrection can be a moment of euphoria for the posthuman idea: a man brought back from death from decades prior. But the illusion is shattered almost immediately, as ripperdoc Vik reveals that V is dying due to the biochip that has given Johnny life. V is a mutant due to the biochip, separated from the community around them (one that is already dabbling in posthuman ideas), representing both the destruction of death and destruction through death. Two persons wrestling over one posthuman body – a body for V that is breaking down and becoming less stable, and a body for Johnny that will bring stability and allow him to live. Johnny, in this form, is a spectral figure, but V is the mutant with a body that transcends the limits of humanity, and yet one that is viewed as broken and in need of care over the remaining weeks that V has left. V shuns the care of Misty and Vik in favour of finding answers and trying to reclaim their body, by reversing the posthuman ‘upgrades’. The goal for the player is to ensure that V is no longer a mutant.

Bostrom argued that “…it is crucial that no one solution be imposed on everyone from above, but the individuals get to consult their own consciences as to what is right for themselves and their families” (Bostrom qtd. in Häggström, 52) He argued that governments should not curtail any freedoms with biotechnological experimentation as individuals are likely to have such extreme and different opinions on the possibilities that they present. However, V has little autonomy in the world of Cyberpunk 2077 – not due to the all-powerful state, but due to the unlimited power of corporations over citizens. V’s mutant status is an experiment by The Arasaka Corporation, and while V was an unintended victim, that technology was always designed for the purpose of bringing back the dead by implantation of a biochip into a living person’s body. This is reflective of the limited individual freedom in Night City. The desire for implants comes both from social pressure (monks who had no ‘hardware’ were kidnapped and forced to undergo cybernetic implantations, for example), and pressure from corporations to have upgraded bodies at their disposal/employment. It was not the state that imposed this. In Night City, there is little concept of a state. The United States of America underwent a fragmentation, and corporations stepped up to assume power. Night City has a strictly controlled border, the police force was privatised, and the leading candidate for mayor is undergoing his own transformation as his implants have been hacked and his memories and identity are slowly being rewritten by elusive corporate stakeholders and even potentially artificial intelligence. Bostrom’s assertion for free choice in body autonomy is an understandable stance, but it positions the state as a potential barrier for that liberty. The reality for Night City is not a super state but a super corporate state. The greatest barrier to bodily liberation is not an overarching state, but a state that has been asset stripped by the wealthy who have privatised democracy so that political influence goes to the highest bidder.

Theorists Wasson and Alder highlighted how biotechnology can operate across systems as much as individuals. The true horror of Cyberpunk 2077 is not V’s disability or associated mutant status; it is the reason why V ends up experiencing a lack of body autonomy: the result of corporate greed, and the lack of care and support in the aftermath of obtaining the biochip. This horror is compounded by Johnny being forced to become a ‘body snatcher’ due to the process triggered by the biochip. V’s mutant existence is painful and without agency.

The unbridled technology of Night City wreaks havoc on V’s body, undergoing a mutant transformation that leaves them vulnerable, on the outskirts of society, a body that is experimented on time and again with little success. In one of the endings of the game, V can choose to go with Arasaka’s employees to a testing facility to see if there is anything that can save V’s body. V undergoes weeks of experiments, and the player must sit through over ten minutes of repetitive tasks with a rubik’s cube and the same interactions that suggest V’s regret at their/the player’s choice to go with Arasaka. It is a decision that has left them isolated from their loved ones. V is prodded and probed, but finally it is revealed that the damage to V’s body is irreversible and that their own body will continue to reject them, leading to a painful death. Unlike at the start of mutant stories such as Frankenstein, Jurassic Park/World or even the android arc in Dragon Ball Z, V’s transformation does not begin in a laboratory, but in the back of a Delamain taxi (a car driven by artificial intelligence). Yet, it is the laboratory of Arasaka where the main character hears the final dreaded news: that all hope is gone, and their mutant transformation has led to severe and irreversible disability that will result in further deterioration and death. The experiment has failed and being a mutant has led not just to V’s marginalisation from society in terms of healthcare and support, but real and stark confinement as they are now trapped in a laboratory in space disconnected from friends – some of whom have already left messages to say goodbye as they are leaving Night City and V behind.

V and Jackie’s attempts to fight back against the “corpos” results in death for Jackie, and almost certain death for V. The game demonstrates how both dreamers are punished for trying to make it to “the big leagues”.

There is another layer to this as the biochip is an Arasaka product; the company is a reference to the classic 1980s cyberpunk genre fixation with the progress of Japanese economy and technology. The US state has failed, and corporations have stepped in to take power, the biggest of which is a Japanese company that is enduring a power struggle over its ideology and how to operate most effectively in a Western economy. The implication of this is that the game links V’s mutant status as being specifically caused by a Japanese creator that has creeping insidious influence over a territory associated with the United States of America. However, corporations, not foreign influence, dominate Night City, to the point that workers of corporations are called “corpocunts.” Arasaka may be the biggest player in the city, but all companies in the game exploit workers, are involved in crime and surveillance of citizens and are enacting a turf war to try to take total control of the city. The game shares its roots in traditional monster stories of exposing classism, and the idea of workers as animated monsters; controlled by a capitalist machine that takes on a life of its own (McNally, 143) Ultimately, it is V and Jackie’s attempts to battle against the rich that leads to their tragic situations. Cohen goes on to elaborate that “To step outside this official geography is to risk attack by monstrous border patrol or (worse) to become monstrous oneself.” (12) V can endure border patrol by the interest that Arasaka can take in V’s transformation and the experiments the player may endure during one specific ending. V has also become monstrous, but specifically a mutant monster. Those who break the fundamental boundaries of society are all monsters, but mutants are a specific kind of monster, a bioengineered creation envisioning a radical technologized future. The chip marks V as unique due to the sophisticated technology, but also forces V to undergo a transformation that they have little control of, and it results in pain and loss of autonomy in decision making, much like the werewolf figures in literature and mythology.

Wasson and Alder examined the specific process of transformation, and its relation to the struggle against mortality. They stated that Frankenstein, as a genetically engineered creature, became a “symbol of overreaching science, of the desire to transcend the boundary between life and death; he stands for the hope of science, technology and human endeavour can find answers to mortality.” (5)

There were answers found to mortality as the biochip allows one person to transcend death, but it comes with the price of life. A small gain in knowledge, and a violation of body liberation. The posthuman endeavours in Cyberpunk 2077 are arguably failures. V marks a new posthuman era for the potential of technology but is unlikely to be the avatar of a new class as posthumanists in this world. A diminishing lifespan is contrary to the ultimate posthuman goals. 

Wasson and Alder conclude that as humans undergo transformations and become “biologized” that “the ideological hold of liberal humanism over the foundations of identity is destabilized, leading critics to question humanity’s ultimate future.” (14)

This instability is encapsulated by V’s fight for life as their own body begins to reject V and integrates with Johnny’s engram. While there are questions about the potential for the technology – particularly when it is revealed that Saburo Arasaka used the same technology to transcend death – time and again V is told throughout the game that nothing can be done to reverse the degradation and that they will die. The choice that V has in the end is about how to spend that remaining time. V’s mutant identity is inextricable from their disability, and nor is it the first time this story has been told: Frankenstein’s creature was seen as a violation of physical norms and Jekyll’s transformation was heavily linked to his deteriorating mental health. Disability is often seen as punishment in literature; punishment for violating the laws of nature, but the punishment of all mutants is the marginalisation from society, lack of support and lack of hope for their own future, even though their existence may be a symbol of hope for scientists and the promise of technological process.


While the posthuman is associated with a utopian idea of progress and bodily freedom, Cyberpunk 2077 differs in that it explores such themes through the lens of disability. Few games allow a playable character to be disabled – Mass Effect’s Joker is a rare exception and only playable for a few minutes, for example. But as V becomes a posthuman mutant, marvelled for breaking scientific limits, they experience debilitating disability without appropriate care or support by either the state or corporation responsible for the technology limiting V’s life.

Cyberpunk 2077 tightens the association between disability and being a mutant. Traditionally, disabled people have been seen as aberrations of life, even called monstrous under Roman Law (Asma, 41) – and that language has been brought back in recent decades with fears over cloning, meat grown in labs and stem cell research. Mutants are yet more beings that defy physical norms that are strictly policed in an ableist society. V epitomises that prevalent warning in science fiction of the relentless pursuit of progress and glory, as V is consequently left facing a terminal illness.

As Gerarci noted, transhumanism and posthumanism in games can be explored in a myriad of ways, but these do not always give a positive view of the endeavours of those philosophies. Cyberpunk 2077 was critical in the idea of rigid conformity to posthuman ideals: of showing the despair of the monks forcibly implanted, and of V’s plight after having little understanding of the ramifications of the biochip when the main character first inserts it into their head. This is an action the player has no say in, despite the game taking a role-playing format. Ultimately, the player’s main decision is how to spend the last of V’s remaining time: whether it is to die alone, or with friends, or to give control of their body permanently to Johnny and complete the resurrection.

Throughout, V experiences multiple episodes of passing out due to pain, coughing blood and glitches with their implants. This causes friends to rally around V, as they are all the character has. Society has shunned V; there is no cure, and every professional says there is little hope, and they must manage their existence with minimal intervention. Perhaps V’s monstrous transformation, in line with the lore of Cohen, is not in the transition from human to posthuman, but from abled to disabled.

A mutant by the presence of the biochip and for the biotechnological progress it represents to the world of Cyberpunk 2077, but someone who breaks the expected norms in an ableist world – a world where workers are allowed five days of holiday a year. V operates and functions in a society that does not know how to support or deal with sickness. The mutant always disrupts the ideas of normative bodies, and few achieve this more than disabled characters in stories or in video games, where the main character is often talismanic; a can-do hero that overcomes all odds for a final glorious end or a dramatic and heroic death. V is not granted any of these things. Their body will go on, regardless, but it is a question of who controls it. And even when V fights, it is not for a glorious death in almost every instance, but to be told that they are expected to die months in the future. And if V does get death, it is not one of a hero but one that leaves behind a legacy of devastation, anger and regret as their friends struggle to comprehend the loss due to suicide, even though they could never really understand the scale of V’s struggle – but they came closer than even qualified or trained professionals. V is a disabled mutant, two labels that are bound together.


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