Cats In Games: Cyberpunk 2077

I’ve been playing Cyberpunk 2077 lately, as readers of this blog may have guessed by some of the references, and it is everything the hype said it would be: A dystopian story set in a grim, hyper-corporatized, ultra-capitalist future in which the masses worship the gods of consumption, virtually everything that humans come in contact with is synthetic, and nature is a forgotten dream that may or may not exist beyond the seemingly-infinite concrete and chrome of human sprawl.

It’s Bladerunner writ large and interactive, a retrofuturistic nightmare in which people voluntarily have their own eyes plucked out to replace them with brain-interfaced digital lenses and biomechanical grotesqueness is the societal norm. A future in which a person’s life amounts to the price their internal organs can fetch on the black market and the only civil liberties that exist do so by the forbearance of megacorporations.

Even if you’re not a gamer, unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of the game. It is, after all, one of the most highly-anticipated pieces of consumable media in modern history, and familiar actors have lent their voices and likenesses to the production.

One of the most depressing aspects of 2017’s Bladerunner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott classic, is the utter disconnect from anything natural.

Future Los Angeles is so choked with smog that the city exists in a perpetual twilight gloom. Animals have been purged from the Earth, and humanity has turned to farming insect larvae for protein in processed foods. Vegetation is so rare that the sight of a single sprout near the dusty carcass of an old oak tree fascinates Ryan Gosling’s antagonist character, K.

Drawing heavily on Bladerunner — as well as the seminal 1988 Japanese film Akira, William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element (1997), and even the 1979 action thriller Warriors (which is itself based on Xenophon’s Anabasis from 370 BC) — Cyberpunk 2077 is about violence, hedonism and human greed.

There is no room for the beauty of animals or nature in a future like this.

That’s why it’s surprising to find cats stalking the dim alleys of Cyberpunk 2077’s Night City.

Keanu and the cat.
Keanu Reeves’ character, Johnny Silverhand, is quite enamored with Nibbles the Cat.
Nibbles the Cat.
A Sphinx cat in Cyberpunk 2077.

The player’s character, V, can stop and pet stray cats he encounters throughout the game.

There’s even a hidden opportunity to adopt your own stray and take it back to your apartment in the game. Johnny Silverhand, the wise-ass character played by Keanu Reeves, is particularly fond of Nibbles the stray, who can be found amid piles of trash in the hallway outside V’s apartment.

Nibbles “doesn’t really do much besides lay around and take up space,” Screenrant notes. “Basically exactly what a cat does in real life. What an immersive experience.”

In another scene, V is conducting recon on a corporate target with Takemura, a Japanese ally, when a cat slinks by and lays down about 20 feet away.

Takemura says the cat is the first animal he’s seen in Night City, “except for the cockroaches, of course.” Then he wonders if the cat is a bakeneko, a Japanese spirit.

Night City is a technological achievement so impressive that it takes many hours just to get your head wrapped around how big and detailed it is. It’s easily the largest virtual city ever created, but it’s not just about sprawl — the city is truly vertical, from hidden subterranean depths and accessible street-level locales to highways, apartments and offices that claw at the sky, their peaks towering over ubiquitous flying car traffic.

The game is a form of entertainment, but it’s also a warning: This could be our future. Some would say it’s even likely to be our future.

Most of us are disconnected from nature. We’ve forgotten the stars and the night sky, which have been blotted out by smog and light pollution. We have wiped out more than two thirds of all the wildlife on the Earth and innumerable species teeter on the edge of extinction, including almost every example of iconic megafauna, from tigers and jaguars to orangutans, chimpanzees and elephants.

The interregnum caused by the global pandemic has reminded us that we share this planet with billions of other minds, with animals cautiously poking their heads out at the edges of civilization, wondering where all the humans have gone.

It’s fun to play in a dystopian future, but I don’t want to live in it.

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7 thoughts on “Cats In Games: Cyberpunk 2077”

  1. What do you mean “the future”? Sounds just like home to me.

    This is why I, a ’60s hippy, didn’t want to live into the 21st century. We warned you that this is where we would end if we didn’t change THEN, and we were laughed to scorn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interestingly, female gamers changed the course of gaming history with Pac Man, which was the first video game played by as many women as men. That game proved that randomization was necessary, and that gamers quickly lose interest in games where the enemies are scripted and predictable, which led to the development of Ms. Pac Man, a much better game in which the ghosts didn’t follow any perceivable pattern. There’s a Netflix documentary (Game Over, I think it was called) that goes into detail about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually, they did a study back in the 1980s (?) that showed that women will drive more exploratory routes to and from work and home, if they have time.
        Men tend to stick to the same route.

        Wonder if this has anything to do with it?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Not sure, but it sounds plausible. What they found was that Pac Man was a huge hit in arcades when it came out…for a few weeks. Then people realized the ghosts always moved in the same patterns, with just a few pattern sets, and revenue from each Pac Man machine would drop off dramatically once players got used to those patterns.

        So a bunch of students at MIT came up with these chips that they installed in Pac Man machines to randomize the enemies. Pac Man’s creators got wind of it and threatened the students, then hired them to work on Ms Pac Man. Smart move, because the students were onto something, and their innovation became a staple of game programming.

        This was before my time, so I was surprised to see many clips of female gamers at arcades when Pac Man came out, saying they were attracted to the game because Pac Man was so cute and the game had puzzle elements rather than the typical “shoot this, shoot that” of most other games. Previously the most popular game was Space Invaders.

        Have you ever seen the series Halt and Catch Fire? It’s about a handful of innovators in the personal computing industry starting in 1980 or 1981, IIRC, and a major focus is on the two female leads — Kerry Bishe and Mackenzie Davis — who founded their own game company. The show is a fictionalized account of real events in the computer industry in those early days, and I can’t say enough good things about the writing and acting.

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    1. I hope we do push out from this planet. Have you seen The Expanse? It’s a show about humanity colonizing the moon, Mars and the asteroid belt, and how society and politics change drastically as humans become a spacefaring civilization.

      Unfortunately the federal government has been underfunding NASA for decades, so we are lucky that we have people like Elon Musk, who is much more interested in getting to Mars and beyond than he is in enriching himself and living the high life.

      Like

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