If you don’t see the connection between an electric sheep, an android and Harrison Ford, then probably you are a far cry from a cyberpunk buff.
As dear old planetary romances and space operas invaded by extraterrestrials and spacecraft are replaced by the digital realm, a new subgenre of cyberpunk is popping up. The IT sphere closely relates to the genre in that the plot often unfolds around the clash between hackers, AI and mega-corporations. These scenes are often set in the near future, where cyberpunk universes are visualized in post-industrial dystopias depicting a society on the cusp of violent cultural or social transformation.
Gardner Dozois defined cyberpunk as the “high tech / low life.” The phrase intends to verbalize the atmosphere of a highly advanced technological society that is extremely low in morality and spirituality. In the world of victorious conformism, where an individual is just a cog inside of a digital machine, we live among two extremes. Perverted luxury goes hand in hand with absolute lack of rights, the desperate poverty of urban slums, the lawlessness of mega-corporations, law enforcement agencies and mafia clans.
The troubled times of the 20th century paved the way for the genre. The habitual society undergoes not just a dramatic transformation but almost crumbles before our eyes. The world is trying to cope with the consequences of the First World War, violently erasing the old patterns regarding everything new and advanced. Electricity in homes starts becoming commonplace, trams and cars rapidly replace horse-drawn carriages and people, crazed by such radical changes, are boldly trying to be equal to the flow of technological innovations.
Notorious tragedies regularly test blurred glimmers of hope for better world order. The explosion of a transatlantic airship and the crash of the Titanic cause a wary attitude towards technological progress and a vague feeling of great social upheavals.
So, in 1927, the tension accumulated finds its outlet in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis, a fantasy about the future, where a large monopoly, owned by Johann Fenderson, controls Metropolis. Three parts divide the city of the future: upper, machine and lower. Citizens of the upper live in paradise, and on the remaining two levels, workers live out a miserable existence, guarded by machines and their soulless appendages called overseers.
Even though the film impressed the audience and critics, many considered it Lang's views against capitalism and not a premonition of technological progress.
In 1948, an American scientist, Norbert Wiener, published his momentous Cybernetics. The book’s core assumption is that the interaction processes between living organisms and machines are the same. It includes the possibility of building a machine that can perform a task and control entire groups of more primitive systems or even people.
A ‘cybernetic’ boom in the 60s provoked interest in bionics and biomechanics. The science-fiction boom conceived cyborgs imitating machines by implanting themselves with specific body parts and androids designed with a human image.
The cyberpunk representative who does not fit into its chronological framework is science fiction writer Phillip Kindred Dick. His 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electro Sheep? illustrated the most striking first appearance of androids in science fiction literature.
The novel pictures a post-apocalyptic future world, where people are forced to breathe contaminated dust, and having pets is a prerequisite for being a decent person. This is the only way to prove that you are not an immoral type, incapable of empathy, or not an android. However, in this world, pets cost a fortune. Those who cannot afford pets are left with artificial animals.
The main character Rick Deckard keeps an electric sheep and dreams of having one made of flesh and blood. To make his sheep real, he works as a bounty hunter, or one that tracks down and eliminates the runaway androids. At one point, he realizes he cannot help but empathize with them. But no matter what he feels or what common sense tells him, he does not deviate from his goal.
This is one classic science fiction work that explores the ethical issues of creating artificial people. Based on the novel, the 1982 film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, appeared on the screen with Harrison Ford starring as Rick.
The term "cyberpunk" was coined by the American writer Bruce Bethke, who in November 1983 published the story with the same title in the journal Amazing Science Fiction Stories. Bethke dubbed the story’s character a cyberpunk for two reasons: 1) he was a hacker, and 2) he wore a punk hairstyle. So, no deep subtext there yet
In the mid-80s, it became clearer that something big was about to happen. A new world was emerging that could compete with the ‘real’ one. Still, it was a great question where all this would lead humanity. Here, the concept of cyberpunk is gradually taking on a philosophical form as an attempt to digest the computer revolution.
The movement’s founders were Americans Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. Sterling's early novel The Faux Guy (1980), whose hero is a product of biotechnology and shows hints of the future genre. Subsequently, Sterling became the movement's main ideologist, becoming the author of program manifestos and theoretical articles published in his fanzine Cheap Truth.
However, the real cyberpunk birthday as a literary phenomenon is the release of William Gibson's novel Neuromancer (1984), which won several prestigious science fiction awards (Hugo -1985, Nebula -1984, Philip Dick Award -1985) and became the object of a real cult.
Gibson's work brought an entire genre out of dark, damp garages into the light of commercial and reader success. Bruce Sterling, Michael Swanwick, Rudy Rucker and Pat Cadigan stood on par with famous science fiction writers of the past.
As it often goes with something high-quality, new and unusual, cyberpunk won the audience's favor and wriggled its way into the masses in literature, cinema, music, computer and even board games.
Since there were few published pieces similar to Gibson's iconic novel, the film adaptation of Neuromancer received a tangible budget and cast Keanu Reeves as icing on the cake. Though critics didn't like it, the film reached a wider audience.
Cyberpunk peaked in 1999 with the release of The Matrix. The film about artificial reality seemed to bring together everything done before. Recognizable green symbols from Ghost in the Shell and Reeves playing the lead encouraged its success. The genre was really on a roll.
After the 2000s, the popularity of the genre subsided. Many attribute this to the fact that the genre has ceased to be science fiction but turned into modern realism. And if in the last century the words code, hacker and alternative reality were something open for the Men of Letters, now it was just a part of our usual vocabulary.
The veil of mystery that disappeared shattered the genre as an independent philosophy but did not affect its visual appeal. Actually, “fake worlds” created in cyberpunk style are a great way to speculate on computer games users enjoy. As for the true adherents of the genre, there was nothing special to please them ... until recently.
In 2020, the long-awaited release of Cyberpunk 2077 took place, developed and published by the Polish studio CD Projekt, known to the gaming community for the landmark The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
Paying credit to trends in the gaming field, the player is given more and more freedom of action. Developers place him in a huge sandbox with the right surroundings, where he can decide what to do, what quests to complete, what reputation to earn and where the gameplay will lead him. The sandbox, of course, is Night City, much like the real California, with six available toys (read locations) placed there.
The setting’s detailing is very chic, including the pretentious city center with neon skyscrapers where anarchists dropped a nuclear bomb several decades ago and the outskirts of the city with a many abandoned buildings. The detailing also covers the Biotech farm and local nomads from the Aldecaldo clan, whose representatives are damaging, even to the Night City inhabitants, not to mention tourists passing by.
In the game, players act as V, a simple guy (maybe female as well) striving for glory in the criminal capital of the country. The backstory you choose determines the hero's journey. The backstory could be a former employee of a large corporation, a chav from the streets or a nomad from the wasteland who arrives at a bustling Night City. The developers call V a “frank and straightforward” character. When he (or she) has a question, he simply asks it; when he has an opinion, he voices it, regardless of the consequences. Beyond that, V's personality, from backstory to character traits, is determined by the player. It's a real role-playing game.
Besides, in V’s head (yours, actually), for at least 25 hours, an average time to complete the main line, there is the digital ghost of Johnny Silverhand, a former rock star of the Samurai band. The plot twists around Johnny’s emergence in V’s head. His transcendental form is pegged dramatically within the main storyline. Johnny will often act as the narrator and comment on V's actions. Played by Keanu Reeves, he is one of the most important characters in the game and has the second-highest amount of dialogue. Reeves had to spend a total of 15 days in the recording studio.
To warm an intellectual gamer’s heart, the game can be completed without any homicidal offense. To do this, you need to upgrade your stealth skills, use non-lethal weapons and augmentations and make peacemaking story decisions.
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