When Christ Meets Chrome: A Catholic Take on Cyberpunk 2077

The neon and chrome of Cyberpunk 2077 (CP77)after a series of delays— took the gaming world by storm. Despite its numerous flaws, it maintains a significant fan base through its combination of futurist aesthetics, adhering to the lore developed by Mike Pondsmith—who wrote the original tabletop RPG—and a bevy of thought-provoking main missions and side stories. One such mission, simply titled “Sinnerman,” sticks out in particular both for what you, the protagonist, are ultimately asked to do—help a condemned and reformed murderer emulate Christ by execution through crucifixion, as well as for the questions it raises when corporate greed meets authenticity. We will review why this character ultimately wants to do this and whether the game is mocking Christ or trying to remind people of the painful and enduring value of His death.

High Tech–Low Life: The World of CP77

In CP77, mercenaries do the dirty work of others, working the streets of Night City—a purpose-built utopia of free markets and minimal government oversight—taking whatever jobs they can; from political assassination to thievery and sabotage, or fighting in the name of NCPD–no job is too big, no fee is too big. Corporations are the new governments as the United States, a shell of its former self, was ripped apart by war, massive famine, and economic busts in an event known simply as The Collapse, 60 years prior. Corporate rats scurry from gleaming tower to gleaming tower in style while others barely scrape by in rotted out hotels and hovels. Hypersexualized ads fill every street corner (and even the sky). Cybernetic implants and body modifications are the norm, to the point where some are driven mad from being more machine than man. Night City teems with “high tech, low life,” as William Gibson put it. Enter V, our protagonist, who after a heist gone bad, finds him/herself (player’s choice) saddled with the digital consciousness and soul of legendary rockerboy rebel/terrorist Johnny Silverhand (voiced by Keanu Reeves) on a biochip named The Relic. V’s time to find a cure is running out, as the mind of Johnny Silverhand slowly consumes and takes over his, all while trying to make a quick buck. Guns, threads, and chrome do not come cheap. For a better review of the game, I suggest watching The Sphere Hunter’s video here; for a better overview of the genre I suggest watching Indigo Gaming’s videos here.

Glowing eyes? Guns in the face? Just another day for V

Amidst this high-tech grime and skeeze, we find the deeper questions asked in the mission trio of “Sinnerman,” “A Light That Never Goes Out,” and “They Won’t Go When I Go.” The story starts when you accept a job from your fixer to meet a man named Bill Jablonsky. Sounds easy enough, until you get into his truck and find out his real plan: intercept and kill his wife’s murderer, Joshua Stephenson, who is being hauled around in an armored NCPD truck. In broad daylight, no less; it is a hair-brained scheme, but Bill is a paying customer. All of this happens because Bill is operating on the mistaken notion that Joshua beat his death penalty conviction and gets to go home. Bill is wrong and we quickly find this out as he is gunned down by Joshua’s police escort. Not only is Joshua still slotted to die for the death of Bill’s wife (and others), but he has also chosen his own means of execution (as we stated above)—crucifixion—and he wants you to follow along. Even your ghost-in-the-shell companion Johnny Silverhand is curious as to how this will end.

Through exposition, we learn Joshua converted (or reverted perhaps) to Catholicism—aided by the prayers and letters of Zuleikha El-Amar, the sister of another victim; their Catholicism is heavily hinted at by the crucifixes, candles, their making the Sign of the Cross and grace prayed before a meal. Their relationship grew so close, Zuleikha goes so far as to declare: “I lost [one] brother—God gave me another.” It is this newfound fraternal love which drives her to be one of the voices of reason as she pushes back on Joshua, calling his execution suicide and attempt to place himself as the Messiah: “do you really think that is what the Lord would want from you?!” On the surface, perhaps due to the voice acting or the nature of modern culture, Joshua does come across as delusional. However, his conversion seems genuine and is part of the reason why he was released from “state-sponsored murder,” as he put it, on the electric chair—corporate greed. How so? When the media found out about his conversion, Joshua’s face was “plastered on the cover of every screamsheet,” and soon found himself with an offer from a braindance studio and a temporary reprieve.

Joshua and Zuleikha

Braindances (BD) in CP77 are like a cross between VR and Being John Malkovich—you can experience every single emotion, memory, and sensation of another person, whether this be films with paid actors, simulated intercourse, or even burglaries in progress, as well as… others. I will leave the potential abuse of the technology to your imagination. All for an emotional high

Messiah Complex or True Devotion?

Joshua pursues his end goal, this attempt at penance, this potentially blasphemous imitation of Christ’s public humiliation and death in the hopes that it will demonstrate to the denizens of the net he “[bore] witness to love’s existence in a manner that all the lost souls of this wretched earth can only understand.” Why love? Joshua puts it as such: “If unconditional love exists, then so must God. It’s time the world was reminded of His divine presence.” Remember, the love of which he speaks is Zuleikha’s—her love of God, willingness to forgive, and to welcome in Joshua a brother brought him into the faith and as far as we can tell, he felt a glimpse of the same on his own. And in a world where the snuff BD of a little boy’s death is bought and sold like a comic book (yes, really; you don’t see it, thank God) then Joshua’s conclusion is not that far off the mark.

Joshua continues, growing in fervor, lamenting:

the millions jacked into their feeds like livestock, children raised with gangs in the streets. Do they know love? Or the [prostitutes] on Jig-Jig Street. Coked out corpos in their offices and the murderers who stalk the streets! I want to reach them! I will reach them!

As above, the latter line’s emphasis may be due to a voice acting choice, though it is unclear. What we can be sure of however, is his faith seems genuine, which is why the studio representative Rachel entertains V’s ride along, Joshua’s attempts at reconciliation with Zuleikha and her mother and his last meal—his faith has authenticity; said authenticity represents to Rachel and her bosses “A fat, old, gold vein for [their] studio.” The greed of a broken world knows no bounds it seems.

Rachel Offers 30 Pieces

It Is Accomplished

During his last meal, we learn Joshua chose the crucifixion story as depicted in the Gospel of Luke as it both “Speaks to [his] sensibilities” and focuses most on what Joshua is trying to convey: “Luke’s Christ is prepared for what awaits Him. I want the world to understand that—feel it…[that] Christ is merciful and continues to die for the world’s sins.” It is at this point Rachel blurts out in frustration typical spiritualist/relativist lines such as “I’m sick of all this talk of ‘transformation’” and that we (V/Joshua) “don’t understand that spirituality is personal!” The mission ends and you wait until called again to help Joshua with what is essentially his own form of the Agony in the Garden.  Though in truth Joshua calls you not out of agony but out of loneliness—Stephenson has no friends, no family and will be surrounded by cynical and uncaring strangers in his last few moments. After a set of final prayers (I chose the Our Father), there is one final twist—Joshua wants you to be the one to nail him to the cross. You can refuse every step of the way if you want.

The scene is set in red neon lighting and smoke, the music somber as V walks Joshua to his cross, with Johnny Silverhand quoting those who mocked Our Blessed Lord: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and save us!” The work begins. Every swing and every squelch of breaking flesh and bone as V hammers Joshua down is followed by verses from Luke:

The right hand—“Do you not fear God? You stand condemned under the same sentence.”

The left hand—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The feet—“We are punished justly, for we deserve what our deeds deserve. But this man has done no wrong. Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

You wait for Joshua to die. Johnny Silverhand, ever the chatterbox, stands in silent prayer himself. There is no shattering earth, no tearing of the veil. Only the red neon, smoke, and ambient music as you hoist up the cross. I must confess I cannot properly convey how this felt to watch, especially when I played it so soon after Good Friday and Easter. I cried. I didn’t want to do any of it. For brief, intense moment, the player-character connection felt real. If just the game had that effect, imagine if BDs were real and millions were plugged in and watching.

Joshua Hangs from the Cross

The Secular World Reacts to Faith

So, how did others take to “Sinnerman?” Most of the reviews found were Reddit posts and YouTube walkthroughs however three sources provided some insight: Pauli Tassi, Senior Contributor at ForbesTyler Chancey, writer for TechRaptor and lastly Indy Goodwin from Feminist Fatale Overall, the secular reaction seemed to be about the same: shock. Whether it was Paul Tassi describing it as “extremely surreal” and “from an entirely different game,” which developed Joshua as “a fairly empathetic character” in so short a time or Tyler Chancey pointing out how well CD Projekt Red illustrated the game’s reality of corporate greed wherein “Even well-meaning selflessness can be packaged by companies for mass market appeal;” certainly hearkens back to that old Hollywood line about “Selling Catholic theology to Protestants.” Indy Goodwin flat out said, despite not being religious, that he “can tell when things may be going too far.” Maybe this just shows how powerful His death truly is: even the irreligious can tell something is off—or maybe they needed a reminder, as Joshua felt, of His death.

Final Analysis: Blasphemy or Devotion?

The final question, is this: was CD Projekt Red mocking Christ, or showing reverence and need for Him? In short: I don’t know. While Joshua Stephenson is not Christ and certainly no saint, from what little the game tells us, he had a genuine conversion in prison. His penances are unknown to us, though it is implied he had a devotion to St. Augustine, patron of many a former sinner. If V chooses to let Joshua lead prayers, he recites Augustine’s Prayer to the Holy Spirit:

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

His prayer is genuine, and he follows through despite his fear. This and other Catholic influences are weaved through the game: an ofrenda for your dead friend Jackie Welles, a priest turned fixer named Padre Sebastian Ibarra, lore which states the Polish broke from the Catholic Church in response to Vatican III. Rosaries and crucifixes can be found all over the place. The game even acknowledges the growing syncretism of Santa Muerte among the Valentinos, the Hispanic gang of Night City. That’s a lot of homework for simple mockery. We must acknowledge here that Joshua is not the only Catholic to be crucified: St. Peter, St. Andrew and St. Simon are only a few amongst the nameless others who have died for and as Christ died.

Does it help Joshua’s death is marred by corporate greed? No, especially when we account for the misuse of the St. Dismas Prayer and Our Blessed Lord’s words. Then again, the idea that millions everywhere feeling the genuine pain of a man hoping to wake them from their collective nightmare makes one wonder if that’s the point—that the visceral, visual reminders of what corruption and degeneracy cost are needed. We saw a similar reaction to Mel Gibson’s The Passion: people either loved it and flocked to the faith or felt it a “snuff film,” like Roger Egbert.

In the end, I cannot decide. I do know, as stated above, words cannot fully describe what I felt. And maybe that is the mark of a good story—it keeps you thinking. It sticks with you.

Good job, CD Projekt Red.

Written by David Van Vranken. David works as a QA/QC inspector for a general contractor out of Houston, Texas. He also formerly served in the Army Reserves. David has previously published at Entropy Mag and Every Day Fiction. Enjoy the article and want to buy David a coffee? Click here.

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nick Mercier
Nick Mercier
3 years ago

I have never played this game, but this got me thinking about how as the wheels of time roll forward, people’s virtues and penance seem to change or morph. I have more than once read a saints story (as a trad catholic) and still thought, “man, that penance was so weird for our modern tastes” didn’t JPII wear a hair shirt? Some of those dark age saints evoke some weird mix of repulsion and aww. It seems to be part of our catholic mythos. Interesting this game got you thinking in a similar vein.

mary lynch
mary lynch
3 years ago

This is very interesting and thought provoking journalism. I’ve read several pieces that David Van Vranken has written and it is clear that he is very passionate about the topics he chooses to write about, and he immerses himself into the subject. There are no shortcuts in his work.