Communicating Love: Dialogue Icons, Control and Diminishing Social Complexity in Cyberpunk 2077

Amy Brierley – University of Adelaide

Platform: Journal of Media and Communication

Volume 9.2, ANZCA Special Issue (2022): pp.37 – 54


Romance is communicated in an unusual way in digital gaming. The systemisation of one of the most complex and nebulous social engagements, that of romantic love and relationships, often leads to stilted encounters and the prioritisation of sexual interactions. For AAA RPGs, dialogue acts as the primary arbiter of romantic relationships. But dialogue prompts often do not fully convey what will be said by the characters. To compensate for this communication shorthand, some developers have decided to include “dialogue icons”. This is any picture, symbol or image representation that occurs next to a dialogue option. These icons are supplementary tools to aid communication and imply tone where it may have been vague. Dialogue icons have become more common in the RPG genre in recent years, but how they can affect a player’s experience of a game has been critically overlooked in the scholarship. Through a close textual reading of CD Projekt Red’s 2020 game Cyberpunk 2077, I analyse the impacts of these dialogue icons. Drawing on work from Domsch (2017), Rusch (2009) and Shaw (2014), I look at how these dialogue icons serve as a tool of clarity for players, and how this drastically alters the tone and control of in-game romantic subplots. I evaluate the effectiveness and power of this ludic communication, as well as the impact on the narrative and player experience. Ultimately, I find that while dialogue icons do give players the ability to curate their experience by clarifying if an encounter will be romantic in nature, they ultimately diminish the game’s ability to represent social complexity and all but eradicate the possibility of unplanned queer in-game encounters. Communicating romance is not an altogether simple task for developers, and it is worth thinking about how these tools impact play.


Digital Games, Communication, Dialogue Icons, Romance, Sexuality, Cyberpunk 2077

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