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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

'Cyberpunk 2077' and the Meaning of Its Deadly Dildos

Push past the beaded entryway of room six at the No-Tell Motel in Cyberpunk 2077, and there she is: a statuesque, blondish woman perched on the edge of an animal-print-covered bed. She’s in a cupless bra with black tape covering her nipples, and there’s a cherry-red dildo to her right.

“Bet you didn’t expect to see me here,” she says.

After the blockbuster video game’s main character, V, has sex with her, the reward lays on the bed. It’s the same dildo from before, only now transformed into a melee weapon. The dildo “may not be lethal,” according to its profile in the weapons inventory, but “it’s perfect for when someone is just asking to get fucked.”

“Sir John Phallustiff,” as the weaponized sex toy described above is called within the game, isn’t just a one-off flourish. Plenty like it can be found in this intricately designed dystopia. Stroll through the dressing room of Lizzy’s bar and you’re greeted with a spiked bronze dildo and a butt plug upright on a shelf. Peer underneath a car and you’ll see a dildo staring back at you. Dildos are everywhere in Cyberpunk 2077, as many players have discovered. But why?


A representative for the company behind the game, CD Projekt Red, claimed last week that the abundance was a bug. “We wanted Night City to be pretty open sexually,” the rep told Business Insider, but too many sex toys were showing up as random items strewn throughout the gaming world. “We're going to adjust them so that the dildos don't appear too out of place/context and distracting.” Meanwhile, a designer at the company who told me that he wished to remain anonymous an account of the “tumultuous PR” around the game said they’d put in all the dildos for two reasons: to be controversial, and also “to represent the cyberpunk future as sex-positive.”

Whatever the designers’ intent, the ubiquitous dildos in Cyberpunk 2077 send a very specific message, and it’s not sex-positive. In the game, dildos are either classed as weapons on their own terms, or as “junk” to be dismantled and reused to make more important things, like … weapons. Dildos are not depicted here as tools for sexual pleasure, but rather as the litter of a decaying world, and a makeshift means of doing violence. If anybody in this future actually does masturbate with dildos, apparently they toss them on the ground right after. Maybe that’s because in Night City, sex-toy technology has somehow failed to improve at all by 2077. While V’s body can be enhanced with newest tech (titanium bones, bioplastic blood vessels, etc.), the game’s artificial dicks are stuck in the early 2000s: standard penis replicas, nary a clitoral suction device in sight.

Game designers know that disembodied dicks are funny. That’s why the South Park video games are teeming with them; and it’s why 2016’s Genital Jousting was such an indie hit. But when it comes to science fiction, there’s likely more to it than that. In a futuristic context, dildos often serve as stand-ins for our disconnected selves, signs that we have lost our humanity. Sometimes the devices even enact violence on their users, punishing humans for replacing skin-on-skin sex with technology. The sex machine in Barbarella (1968) gives Jane Fonda’s character the best orgasm of her life, then nearly kills her. “You’ve exhausted its power. It couldn’t keep up with you … Shame on you!” its inventor yells. The orgasmatron in Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973) is a symbol of a soulless society, a world where men are impotent and women frigid. Westworld’s (2020) sex robots reside in a pleasure-filled theme park for the rich, until they rise up and destroy their human creators.

Notably, the future is never portrayed as a technological utopia world brimming with sexually fulfilled women vibrating themselves to orgasm. A world like this would be too threatening to gender roles. In fact, as I wrote in my book Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy, for more than a millennium, when dildos appeared in stories—whether told through poems, plays, or another medium—they often served to illustrate a common fear: that sex toys would replace men and topple society. In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, from around 411 BCE, women go on a sex strike to encourage their husbands to end the Peloponnesian War—and some of the women get dildos as replacements. In the 16th-century poem “The Choosing of Valentines, or The Merie Ballad of Nashe His Dildo,” Thomas Nashe tells a story of a sex worker so unsatisfied by her lover that she turns to a dildo instead. She rhapsodizes about the toy’s superiority to a penis—it always stays hard, and won’t get her pregnant. It’s in keeping with this tradition that Cyberpunk 2077 would transform dildos from masturbatory devices into weaponry, as a way of neutralizing the dildo’s threat to masculinity and turning fear of replacement into power.


Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t even the first game to make this symbolic gesture. In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, released in 2004, players could wield a dildo affixed to a chainsaw, a floppy purple dildo club, or a phallic vibrator weapon. (Some of these may double as gifts for the main character’s girlfriend.) Dead Rising 3 (2013) has a leaf blower that shoots zombie-killing purple vibrators like a T-shirt gun. Saint’s Row the Third (2011), Saint’s Row IV (2013), and the expansion pack Gat Out of Hell (2015) all provide the muscly main character with a 3-foot dildo bat for beatdowns. Unsurprisingly, it’s much more common in video games to see men bludgeoning each other with sex toys than it is to see a woman masturbating with them. The only game from a major publisher that shows the latter is the controversial Grand Theft Auto V (2013). And even there, the woman gets interrupted by her husband: “I thought I’d locked the door,” she says as she tosses the buzzing pink phallus into the corner of the room.

For decades, feminists have championed sex toys as a way for women to gain control of their own sexuality. “It was my intention to introduce electric vibrators to women, and in the process, transform the women's movement into a tidal wave of orgasmic activists who would change the world,” second-wave feminist and masturbation pioneer Betty Dodson wrote in 2010. So it’s disheartening that sex toys are rarely used for sexual pleasure in video games. What’s even worse is the fact that they are often used to commit acts of virtual violence against women in particular. Dozens of videos of Cyberpunk 2077’s quest for Sir John Phallustiff blanket YouTube, most blurring out the tame sex scene that unfolds right before V earns the dildo melee weapon. In one of the most popular of these videos, the censored consensual sex scene is followed soon after with crystal-clear video of V bashing a woman’s head with the giant dildo, blood spraying through the night air as she falls face first into the concrete.

It’s similarly unfortunate that this deformation of a sex toy’s purpose should somehow end up making a video game more socially acceptable, instead of less so. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board is far more likely to assign its “Adults Only” rating for graphic sexual content than it is for extreme violence. Indeed, the only Grand Theft Auto game to get the AO rating was San Andreas, and that was on account of its depiction of consensual sex between the main character and his girlfriend. Cyberpunk 2077’s dildo-filled world is supposed to be sex-positive, according to the people who designed it. If that’s the case, then women should be masturbating with dildos, instead of getting clobbered by them.

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