Cyberpunk 2077 was one of last year’s biggest, and most controversial, game releases. Set almost 60 years in the future, Night City is a world dominated by technology, including interpretations of VR and AR technology that go far beyond current applications.
Warning: The following article will discuss lore and gameplay mechanics from Cyberpunk 2077, along with minor spoilers for a mini-game that takes place in one of the side quests involving River and very minor spoilers for one objective of a main story mission that comes early in the game. There are no spoilers for the main story’s narrative or plot. It will discuss how Night City depicts VR and AR technology, both in terms of gameplay and the world’s lore.
Based off a roleplaying game from the 1980s, Cyberpunk 2077’s vision of the future isn’t exactly one that extrapolates off our world today, Instead, the game imagines an alternate timeline inspired by the ideas and predictions of the 1980s and the original Cyberpunk RPG that released in 1988. So while everything does look futuristic, it’s a kind of retro-futurism dripping in 80s aesthetic. There’s no social media here, and everyone still calls each other on mobile phones.
That’s not to say that modern influences aren’t present — in many ways, Cyberpunk 2077 merges a vision of the future from the 1980s with snippets of modern life and its technology. In particular, developers CD Projekt Red have taken the concepts and current state of VR and AR in 2020 and extrapolated that out into their interpretation of what that technology might look like in 60 years’ time.
In some ways, these depictions are limited in scope — it’s hard, if not impossible, to accurately predict what the future of VR and AR will look like in 50 years’ time. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to look at how the game imagines we might use virtual and augmented reality in ways that go beyond our current scope and capabilities.
Braindances and VR in Night City
The most extreme version of this is Cyberpunk’s ‘braindance’ technology, frequently shortened to BD. A BD is an immersive form of virtual reality which involves the user ‘jacking in’ (connecting the cyberware in one’s body to a piece of external technology) to a BD headset. It will flash a series of lights into the user’s eyes, putting them into a coma-like state, where they will relive a sequence recorded from someone else’s thoughts and memories.
Cyberpunk 2077 mainly uses BDs as a way for V to gain information or advance the narrative, relieving important key moments through BDs that then allow V to more towards his next objective with more information. However, in a lore sense, BDs are used mainly for entertainment purposes. According to the Cyberpunk wiki, companies sell BDs that feature extreme or dream scenarios, which involve someone first seeking out and particpating in those experiences in real life so that they can be recorded and sold as a BD.
There’s a large entertainment market for BDs, including those of erotic and pornographic nature. And of course, it’s not always black and white — in a world where people’s experiences and memories can be recorded and resold, there’s always going to be grey areas. One main story mission early in the game requires you to obtain a illegal BD containting questionable content from a shady dealer in the city’s red light district.
Cyberware and AR Gaming
When it comes to AR, Cyberpunk 2077 depicts technology that leans a little closer to what we have now in real life. Google Glass or Magic Leap-like AR overlays are a part of every day life, allowing people to take AR phone calls, run diagnostics for their cyberware and much more. The game’s UI is fully immersive, as it could simply be considered part of an AR overlay being used by V at all times.
However, the big difference is that the AR overlays run through cyberware upgrades that are applied directly to the user’s eyes — there’s no headsets involved at all. The upgrades can be installed by a ripper doctor (or ripperdoc, for short) who can add any number of modifications to your body, for a price.
However, the game does also feature it’s own interpretation of the future of AR gaming. In a side mission with River, V is invited to play an augmented reality video game using a AR headset and a toy gun. The game is a competitive 4-player AR shooter called Trouble in Heywood, and you can watch a full playthrough of the mini game in the video embedded above.
As you can see in the video, the AR headset modifies the color and visuals of the world around V, while also putting him and the other players into police outfits. The two kids playing with V and River are even scaled up in height to match the adults.
Split into two teams, the players then have to walk around their environment and shoot pop-up targets that appear behind objects or scattered across buildings. The AR game is cut short before it ends properly, but the gist is that the team with the highest score wins. Unlike the braindance, this AR game is a much more simplistic (or perhaps realistic) depiction of where AR technology could end up in 50 years time.
With a world as big as Night City, these examples are probably only just scratching the surface of VR and AR representations in the game.
Let us know what you thought about Cyberpunk 2077’s depiction of AR/VR in the comments below.