Johnny Silverhand: Further Consideration
My previous post about Cyberpunk 2077’s Johnny Silverhand elicited quite a few responses, and it made me realize that I don’t think I did a good enough job making my point. So I wanted to revisit it and maybe address some of the angles that people felt I hadn’t taken into consideration.
Firstly, I failed to mention that I have next to no knowledge of the original game (Cyberpunk 2020) other than the slight plagiarism controversy. When I approached CP77, it was with a relatively blank slate. Apparently, Johnny Silverhand has quite a rich backstory in the Cyberpunk games, but my analysis of his character is based solely on the information provided in CP77. I think this is the case for most players. The original game was never that widely produced and for younger audience members, you’re more likely to have learned that it existed at all because CD Projek Red made a video game of it.
At the time the video game was first announced, copies of Cyberpunk 2020 were rare and quite expensive. Not everyone has the money to burn on picking up a game from the 80’s to do background research on a video game. I personally don’t think it is all that reasonable to expect your audience to do extensive research on your characters before engaging with your story because you’re relying on the assumption that your audience knows to do any research in the first place.
Secondly, while this might seem like it’s the same thing, the question I set out to answer was not whether Johnny is a good character, but whether he was a well written character. As I stated above, I don’t think it’s good writing to require audiences to do a lot of legwork to fully appreciate your work. Particularly when you are adapting an IP to a new medium, you need to make sure someone can approach it blind because in most cases, they will be. I mean, look at the MCU, for example. Imagine you had to read the entire Marvel back catalogue to understand what’s going on. The movies would be unwatchable. So, if my analysis was lacking because I did not take into consideration backstory CP77 failed to provide, then I consider that a mark against the game.
Another angle I did not cover in my analysis was Johnny’s mental health and how that would impact his behaviour. It’s a valid read of Silverhand’s character to say that he probably suffers from PTSD as a result of his military service and injuries he sustained there within, and that has a big influence on his behaviour and decision-making. At the same time, the game doesn’t grapple with that beyond mentioning that he fought in the corpo wars. Mental health is not a big concern in CP77, other than some oblique references. As such, I did not get the sense that the game’s writers wanted to explore that particular facet of Johnny Silverhand. Or maybe the writers just weren’t thinking about that at all. Pretty sure everyone in Night City has less than stellar mental health…
The last thing people took issue with was my definition of misogyny. Namely, that I called Johnny Silverhand and misogynist for his treatment of sex workers and groupies, even though not all of them were women. What I’ll say is this: as someone who has experienced misogyny first hand, Johnny’s behaviour and words feels very much the same. On a more intellectual level, I define misogyny as more of a hatred of those who symbolize a rejection of masculinity. There is a high overlap in how misogyny, homophobia and transphobia is expressed and by whom.
I wanted to look at how Johnny Silverhand is presented in-game and record my impressions. Could I have been more clear about that in my original piece? Absolutely. That doesn’t change the fact that Johnny Silverhand could have been a much better character than he was. But honestly, he’s no worse than the rest of the game.