There's something about video games to me that is more emotional and borderline spiritual than things like television or movies. I think it has something to do with how video games use three senses, those being sight, touch and sound. There's a special quality to interacting in a mixture of story and stimulation that's specifically designed for you.
I was one of those people. I not only pre-ordered Cyberpunk 2077 but pre-ordered the Collector's Edition, some $270 for a game and all its accouterment. Contrary to popular belief, this wasn't because I bought into the hype of a big game, this game was the consummation of a love affair I'd had with science fiction and futurology. I remember drawing pictures of myself on hoverboards and flying cars, wanting to live in the spacefaring, swashbuckling worlds of Star Wars and Titan AE. As I got older and found more of this type of fiction, I found myself falling deeper in love with ground-level stories like Isaac Asimov's The Caves Of Steel.
There's a certain feeling that's evoked in every piece of cyberpunk fiction that I know will never leave me. It's a feeling where I can remember exactly where I was and why I was there and everything surrounding one image or one line. Tetsuo screaming for help as his self-destruction crumbles the world around him in Akira. The Major waking up alone in her bed, silhouetted by the busy skies of New Port City in Ghost In The Shell. The quiet monotony as Spike searches for food other than peppers and beef (sans beef of course) on a jalopy of a spaceship in Cowboy Bebop. JOI, in her advertisement form, telling K "you look lonely" in Blade Runner 2049. That's not even mentioning Altered Carbon, Batman Beyond, Love+Death+Robots, Megalo Box, so many other stories I cherish and love for the feelings of wonder and humanity they've given me.
I've mentioned my depression before and how video games offered a way out of those feelings, but 2020 is when I was really made aware of their impact. After moving from my adopted home of Hawaii, I spent most of my adult years bouncing from place to place, meeting people and staying just long enough in those locations to get my heart broken when I eventually and inevitably uprooted my life later. When I was stationed in Virginia, winters were spent in the sunny streets of Los Santos or the vibrant, jazzy city of New Bordeaux. I can't remember how many nights were spent watching Takeshi Kovacs or Deckard solving the biggest mysteries in the vast worlds they called home. Anything to take me out of the world I lived in.
That's why Cyberpunk has been such a struggle for me. At this point, we all know about the issues under the hood. But after completing about half the game, some side stories emerged that changed the way I viewed the game.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOR CYBERPUNK 2077 TO FOLLOW
Panam Palmer and Judy Alvarez are two characters in the vast expanse of Night City. Panam is a nomad-turned-mercenary, in Night City for work to support her clan. Judy is a video producer (of sorts) and hacker who is closely affiliated with a gang that protects the sex workers of the city. These characters have a gameplay and story objective, yes, but their stories are unified in a very unique way. Panam is desperately holding on to her nomadic ways, trying to find where she fits in a world not designed for her. Falling in love with her is falling in love with the life of a nomad, falling in love with the process of building and rebuilding a home, something that I, as a military brat who never spent more than five years in one place, can identify with. Judy's story is a bit more unique. She takes you diving in a toxic, man-made lake on the outskirts of the city. As you dive, she tells you she's looking for raw, uncut emotion, the type of thing that could make her masterpiece. You dive into an abandoned town, drowned by corporate greed and corruption, a town that's revealed as where Judy grew up. She's been a headstrong and resolute character this whole time, but her quiet sense of familiarity and longing shine through here. This was the moment I knew I would never forget this game. From watching my first best friend Jackie Welles die beside me, to falling in love with Panam to my deep friendship with Judy, I realized that Cyberpunk wasn't about Johnny Silverhand's revolution or about the human cost of innovation. It was about love, from romantic to family to friends. And that hurt.
OK WE'RE CLEAR ON SPOILERS
I've been struggling for years and as much as I would like to blame it on being a Pisces, that's not as accurate as I'd like to be. Hawaii was the closest thing I'd ever had to a home and leaving the island changed me. As I moved from Arizona to California to Oklahoma to Georgia to Virginia and back again, I realized home as I knew it was gone. I needed to rebuild a home. But try as I might, I couldn't, eventually having to admit defeat and try to start over. During the pandemic, I've spent a lot of time year...and I've noticed the calls are rarer. The texts aren't as fast. Friends I've loved for years stopped talking to me, whether by simply fading away, moving away or moving apart. I understand that most people don't have soul mates that long. I understand that people grow apart and people are together for seasons and it can be healthy to grow in our own time. But that doesn't make it hurt less. That doesn't make it less lonely. And it's especially hard now as the world is so closed off and so isolated.
I'm still working on enjoying the world I live in. It won't be easy to rewire. This isn't a quickhack, this isn't a stealth mission, this is something that means so much more. I haven't finished Cyberpunk yet. It's been tough to get through at times. It's been emotionally draining. It's made me wonder if I'm doing the right thing. But so has life. And I know what some of you are saying, that it's just a video game. But this medium means so much to me. It always has. It means as much as cinema does to my brother, as literature does to my mother. Maybe there's no special name for it, but that doesn't take away the special feeling I get in this genre or in this style of storytelling. Thank you, CD Projekt. Thank you for crafting this world. And thank you for reminding me what the meaning is.