Cyberpunk 2077’s Judy Alvarez has script tattooed on her left arm that reads, “There was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt.” While the game takes us to Night City almost 60 years from now, these lines are undeniably from Pyramid Song, the lead single from Radiohead’s 2001 album, Amnesiac. This is the first hint as to what makes Judy Alvarez’ story a bonafide masterpiece in contemporary game narratives – it takes inspiration from art that came before and makes it soar.
First of all, I understand all of the flak that Cyberpunk got at launch for a variety of different reasons. I’m not trying to undo any of that or even refer to it – I’m simply discussing the character of Judy Alvarez and her associated quests in isolation, mostly because that’s the best way to understand why her questline is so quietly brilliant in the first place. I love Takemura and Panam as well, but Judy stands head and inked shoulders above the rest of the companions in Cyberpunk simply because once you put her story – in particular, her last quest – in context, it becomes as sublime as it is sad, as wonderful as it is wistful.
Judy’s aesthetic screams punk, so her status as a braindance editor makes her far more emblematic of Cyberpunk as both a game and concept than V. This much is pretty obvious from the moment you meet her, although Judy isn’t so much a product of Night City as she is a person who has adapted to it far better than others. This comes from her multifaceted upbringing – she learned of life’s cruelty after losing her parents at a young age and became hardened as a necessary response to that, but her grandparents ensured she never lost her capacity for tenderness. She was the girl who snuck into churches at night while simultaneously being the girl who hid someone’s doll purely as an excuse to help them find it.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Cyberpunk 2077’s quest-naming methodology, every single mission takes its title from a famous song. Before you even begin to examine the content of her quests, Judy’s emotional complexity is brilliantly echoed by the sheer diversity of her mission titles – she’s got everything from the screeching metal riffs of Slipknot to the swooning R&B of Lauryn Hill. My personal favourite after Pyramid Song is The Space In Between, a quest named after a track from industrial band How To Destroy Angels – I reckon this is most in line with Judy’s character throughout the game, although her inner Lauryn Hill absolutely comes out if you pursue a romance with her. Consider Ex-Factor, the quest where Judy tells you about her ex-girlfriend, Maiko. Now, look at the corresponding lyrics:
“Tell me who I have to be / To get some reciprocity /See, no one loves you more than me / And no one ever will”
Obviously, this is representative of Judy’s feelings, although I reckon the parts of her referenced by her industrial/metal background definitely bleed through later on when she decides to burn Maiko’s clothes purely because they’re expensive – Judy Alvarez said “fuck capitalism.”
Pyramid Song is the true reason I loved Judy’s questline, though. I have a Radiohead tattoo as well, so I can absolutely see why somebody would consider them sufficiently important to justify getting inked. Judy specifically refers to music while explaining the artistic merit of braindances in Pyramid Song, after she takes V diving in the ruins of Laguna Bend: “Think paintings, songs, they’re meant to produce emotion responses.”
I’d already started to see the similarities at this point, but it wasn’t until Judy said this, planted the tech to get the BD running, and went on to reveal an entire underwater town that I was like, “Yeah, this is all intentional.” I’ve already discussed how integral the music associated with Judy is to her character, but the entire underwater sequence in Pyramid Song is the greatest homage to music I’ve ever seen in a video game. Check out the video for Pyramid Song below.
The video is strikingly similar to the playable sequence in Cyberpunk’s Pyramid Song, right? Exploring an underwater city, torn away from the outside world, swimming in complete, uninterrupted bliss. It’s a particularly powerful moment in Cyberpunk, where you’ve just played an entire game in the oppressive metropolis of Night City. The underwater haven of Laguna Bend is a world away from that, preserved in time beneath a would-be reservoir ditched by the corpos.
Then you consider Pyramid Song by Radiohead, in which the timeless city is far more eternal than the likes of Shelley’s Ozymandias, left looming large over roving sands to decay into nothingness with no one around. As Thom Yorke keens in the Amnesiac single:
“I jumped in the river and what did I see? / Black-eyed angels swam with me / A moon full of stars and astral cars / All the things I used to see / All my lovers were there with me / All my past and futures / And we all went to heaven in a little row boat / There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt”
There it is, that last line in the stanza: “There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt.” If you remember what I mentioned earlier, that’s what Judy’s got tattooed on her arm. If we consider the context of that with everything before it – jumping in the river, swimming alongside angels whose eyes you can’t see, experiencing the juxtaposition of untamed nature and inconceivable tech, with your lover, past, and futures all present in one singular, weird moment, it makes sense to feel as if you’re fearlessly and doubtlessly rowing your way to a little slice of heaven, slowly but surely against the will of the no-longer-existing world you came from. The quest is perfectly designed to capture that exact sequence, ethereal as it may sound, and succeeds in doing so.
It’s worth looking at some of Judy’s other tattoos as well. She’s also got, “Underwater where thoughts can breathe easily” on her arm, which is a line from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Parallel Universe. I think this further compounds the idea of this lake being totally separate from the rest of the world in 2077 – it’s no surprise that after being in a parallel universe where thoughts can breathe easier that your connection to Judy has the chance to move from platonic to romantic. Given the thematic nature of water as this ethereal otherworld here, it’s also worth noting that Judy has a quest named after Jenjer’s Pisces.
I also love Judy’s spiderweb tattoo because Parallel Universe has a line that goes, “You could die but you’re never dead, spiderweb,” which is brilliant because of how absolutely ridiculous it is. We all have one of those tattoos.
I think the best way to wrap this up is to look at how Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke once described Pyramid Song. “The chords I’m playing involve lots of black notes,” Yorke explained. “You think you’re being really clever playing them but they’re really simple.”
I think that’s the magic of Judy’s storyline. It’s embellished in some fascinating ways with the technological prowess of braindances and the huge underwater set piece mentioned above, but ultimately, it’s all pretty simple to understand. I don’t think anyone ever chose a dialogue option with Judy Alvarez that culminated in a result they weren’t expecting. This whole storyline allows you to get to know Judy perfectly well, which testifies to how excellent the overarching themes of the narrative are.
“Was gonna leave Night City in the dust, for good,” Judy says at the end of Pyramid Song – provided you choose to romance her. “Even started packing. But now I think… I think I gotta stay.” It’s funny how, even in a shithole like Night City in 2077, some things have a curious way of perpetuating themselves, but for the better. I think that’s what Pyramid Song is about, both in Radiohead and in Cyberpunk 2077 – achieving that zen state where “There’s nothing to fear and nothing to doubt,” and being able to finally revel in it after great adversity.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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