Cyberpunk 2077 seemed to have everything going for it--flashy gameplay, sexy and slick graphics, and an engaging story line. It was hyped to the point it felt like a crime to not own the game. Many aspects have been disappointing since the game's debut, running from the simple (textures glitching) to the extreme (bugs that break quest lines and block advancement into the game further). But perhaps the most disheartening factor of all: one cannot have a relationship with Johnny Silverhand, the character created in the likeness of the incredibly breathtaking Keanu Reeves.
The game is not without romance. The rating is Mature, after all, which includes such meticulous character creation like changing breast and penis size, as well as a portion of the lower female anatomy. Most gamers were saddened that there wasn't very much content relating to relationships. Sure, there are JoyToys in Night City one can party with, and there are characters to romance, but they feel rather lackluster (and at times, hilarious with the awkward animations). Though it was never stated in any press releases, a majority of people assumed they could romance Johnny Silverhand.
It wasn't meant to be. The player has zero romantic interactions with Silverhand. A modder on the Nexus (the hub in which gaming mods are housed) decided to create the Johnny Silverhand experience. It was a simple skin replacer: Johnny Silverhand's model and textures were placed over a JoyToy's. The model would still speak with a JoyToy's voice and Silverhand's clothes would remain intact, as a clothesless Silverhand model does not exist in the game's files. Still, it was the closest one could get to being with Keanu Reeves. Er, Johnny Silverhand.
CD Projekt Red heard of the mod and demanded the deletion of it, and so it was removed from the Nexus. CD Projekt Red cited the reason of disrespect for the removal request, referencing their own TOS. It was never revealed if Keanu Reeves had stipulated that his model not be used in any way whatsoever in his contract with the development company, or if this is all CD Projeckt Red's doing. Either way, the mod had to go.
While it's commendable to protect a celebrity's reputation, where does one draw the line between fantasy and reality? Sure, Johnny Silverhand looks exactly like Keanu Reeves (as that was the intent), but it isn't actually Keanu Reeves. What about the real life face models of characters in other games? The voice actors? Are they not worthy of respect too? There are hundreds of mods that make characters naked, more sexual, and capable of having sex with player characters.
Julia Voth was the face model of Jill Valentine from quite a few of Capcom's Resident Evil games. Capcom has never requested for people to respect Voth. However, Voth is obviously not Jill Valentine. No one has approached Voth for permission to mod topless armor for Jill into their game. The answer would be no, of course, but it is a bit ridiculous of CD Projekt Red to say one should ask for permission before creating such a mod. People create with or without consent, especially when it comes to sexual content.
The mod created to sleep with Johnny Silverhand is viewed as harmless fun, a fantasy to live out virtually through the player character. Is it harmless though? It comes down to perspective, but the perspective in this case has already been decided by CD Projekt Red--it's harmful to the actor and their brand. The question yet remains: is it actually Keanu Reeves in the game or Johnny Silverhand?
It's foolish to think people will never mod their games to include the content they want, whether it's sexual in nature or not. Why do some studios look the other way when modders create 'questionable' content? Do they not care for their voice actors and face models? Of course they care. What it comes down to is, people wanted to create an experience with Johnny Silverhand, not Keanu Reeves. The fact that Silverhand resembled Reeves was an added bonus for some. Just like people enjoy making Jill Valentine look sexy in her armor--they're not picturing Julia Voth while they do it, because Voth isn't Jill.
I'm not advocating for or against the modding issue. People will always do what they want regardless how a studio or anyone else feels. In a perfect world no one would go against the TOS of a game, but this isn't a perfect world. The waters become muddy when the line between reality and virtual reality are called into question. Is it Johnny Silverhand or Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077? Is the mod disrespecting the character or actor or both? What about the other characters in the game? Is it disrespectful to make mods for all the characters or just Johnny Silverhand because he was designed to look like the real-life celebrity, Keanu Reeves?
Ultimately, CD Projeckt Red is missing the point entirely. A lot of people love and adore Keanu Reeves and they didn't mean disrespect at all. It's not about whether it's right or wrong to want to have a virtual experience with a character that doesn't exist (yet looks exactly like the actor who gave him life), but it’s a matter of where does fantasy end and where does reality begin and vice versa?
Perhaps CD Projeckt Red could have avoided the issue altogether if they had simply not used Reeves good looks to make Johnny Silverhand. Will more controversy follow if other studios use real actors looks for characters in their games?
Only time will tell.