Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cyberpunk 2020 Hindsight Is... 2077?

Kotaku reveals that among CD Projekt Red's necessary adaptations in translating the well-beloved pen-and-paper game "Cyberpunk 2020" into a new mature multithread RPG was the change of its name to "Cyberpunk 2077" -- since Netizens of 2012 cannot plausibly pretend the atmospherics of Gibson's Sprawl or Scott's L.A. are remotely in the offing and cyberpunks don't seem quite ready to give up the ruggedly individualistic cyberspatial dream and embrace the punk noir beat meat male aesthetic in the mode of retro-futural nostalgia.

I am well pleased to be amused at the bemusement this should provoke in the futurologically-minded fandoms that routinely confuse science fiction with science, of course, as always. But I would point out that my view has always been that great science fiction (like Gibson's and Scott's), like great literature and art more generally, is a poetic responsiveness and coping with the present.

And so, it is important to grasp that it is the specificity of the failure of literary cyberpunk as a prophetic canon or modality of systematic foresight, on the one hand, and the movement of our own present from the present of the 80s out of which that literary cyberpunk mostly emerged and to which it was originally responsive, that accounts for the need to change the title and project its "Future" forward more decades still.

My amusement, then, is solely at expense of the futurological misconstrual of cyberpunk (which was never prophetic nor policy-making, but a critique of a present past), and it should hardly be taken as a denigration of the ongoing accomplishment and poetic force of the genre that has inspired the game. -- h/t Eric, again.


Barkeron said...

Gibson's topoi, let's see: large-scale disenfranchisement through corporatocracy ascending from de facto to de jure status, an America that went has-been and new tech (IT or otherwise) as just the latest tools to implement human malice.

The big names of old may have got the details wrong, but the greater picture feels eerily prescient.

Dale Carrico said...

I think Gibson got the 80s FAR more right than he did our 2010s, and I think it does something of a disservice to the force of his critique in its moment to try to cram it instead into the contours of "predictive" scenario sketching. Watch a non-cyberpunk film like Beineix's equally 80s-iconic Diva and observe the precise parallels to get some sense of what I mean about its moment. Now, manufactured consent to corporate-military plutocracy in the form of technofetishistic consumer spectacle has, after all, been the broad-brushstrokes order of the day since the consolidation of the postwar Washington consensus, and it doesn't seem to me a particularly prescient or notable accomplishment to paint that picture -- I think Gibson was doing something much more interesting, something indicated in the thematic/figurative connection between the sprawl tales and stories like "The Gernsback Continuum." I would say the aspirational immaterialism of the disdain of meat bodies coupled to the noir/punk rebel without a clue iconicity of his "bad boys" seems more specific to the genre and its moment, not to mention quite superannuated, to our eyes here and now, and also more pathetic than prophetic.

jollyspaniard said...

I played Cyberpunk 2020 back when it first came out. I recall thinking that it was very implausible at the time.

Our GM sucked, the missions we went on didn't pay enough. The low point was when we just performed some fancy mission involving all kinds of shooting and fancy cyberpunk stuff. To make our getaway we ran a few blocks and had to take the bus (couldn't afford vehicles or cabs). I had to loan some of my team members bus fare. That kind of ruined the illusion.