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Cyberpunk dead?


Persisting, somehow
Validated User
My CP2020 campaign is still going strong after a few years, though admittedly I've heavily altered the setting, the tech, and some parts of the system. We're having fun. I can't speak for the industry, though -- just the tastes of my group.


Morticutor UK

A long way away.
Validated User
There was a Yahoogroup dedicated to a new edition and a new world based on current projections. Members were expected to contribute to I left, but it should be around somewhere. Unfortunately I can't even remember the name and a quick search hasn't shown anything.

Personally I for one would pay good money to see a revised and modernised setting. I think it's just as relevant.

And as a wierd side tangent, does anyone know if Cybergoths have anything to do with the cyberpunk evolution? A lot of the ones I know don't seem to know much beyond which day it is, so I never bothered asking, but I am curious...

Dr Rotwang!

Totally wears this tie.
I like my cyberpubk to be rife with 80's pop culture influences, mostly because I like to forget the 90's.

Daddy Warpig

Registered User
Validated User
What is a dead genre?

Before I talk about why Cyberpunk is dead, let me define what I think a dead genre is. Writing and reading a genre, when it is alive, require a belief in the genre, in its reality or plausibility. When people read "golden age" science fiction in the 1930's, the future it represented was thought to be real, realistic, or at least believable. Rocket ships were big and powered by massive mainframes- personal computers were nowhere to be seen.

Rayguns, invaders from Mars, splashy starships- all were thought to be plausible, possible. But, one day, we just stopped believing, because they weren't real; were, in fact, impossible and false. A genre dies when its possibilities- its plausibilities- are proven false.

These deaths have a certain "wave" effect, in that the futures posited by science fiction say less about the future than they do about the present from which the science fiction emerged. "Star Trek" was one future of the 1960's, "Sylent Green" another. Mad Max (and the various predecessors and imitators) was the future of the 1970's (and 1980's). Cyberpunk was the future of the 1980's. All of these are dead genres.

Buck Rogers science fiction, also known as "pulp" science fiction, is dead. No one believes in the futures- or presents- it portrayed. There is no life on Mars. Flying saucers will not invade. And Buck Rogers style rayguns do not- can not- exist.

Now, we have "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" coming out. It is arguably a pulp sci-fi movie (see the ornithopters, see the robots, see the title). This movie is not proof that pulp is alive.

It is part of post modernism to revive old genres, play around with the genres conventions, and reimagine it in terms that postmodernists love. The Dark Knight Returns and the Watchmen are both examples of this, in comics. "Sky Captain" isn't a pulp sci-fi movie- it's a postmodernist reimagination of pulp sci-fi. Pulp is dead.

However, this doesn't stop us from enjoying it. We roleplayers often play games whose premises are totally false, but we buy them because they are genre conventions. Cinematic games (which strive to recreate the unrealism of "Die Hard" and other such movies) are the best example- we can enjoy the trappings of a dead genre. However, even such dead genres have to mix in modern sensibilities (racism and sexism are usually absent from medieval fantasy, right?)

Cyberpunk is dead because so much of its assumptions are absolutely wrong.

For example, "flying through cyberspace." Cyberspace doesn't exist. It never will, not in the way that Cyberpunk envisioned. As imagined by Gibson and Sterling, cyberspace was a place, a "consensual hallucination," that was piped into people's brains and they moved through it. Cyberspace was, in Cyberpunk, a dungeon crawl. See Shadowrun, 1st. ed. See Cyberpunk (black box).

But "the Net" doesn't work that way. When you browse a website, you don't go "to" the library of congress "through" cyberspace- your computer brings it to you. Cyberspace isn't a dungeoncrawl- it's a massive database or pool of information, poorly organized and haphazardly indexed. Your computer is a prosthetic limb which allows you to tap into this morass of information and find- sometimes- what you need. Cyberpunk uses the wrong metaphor for networked computers.

The future of "the Net' will be much like the present, only moreso. Instead of a desktop or laptop computer, your PC will be small, even tiny. PDA sized, or smaller. Wireless access, cell based or "wi-fi" based, will become de riguer and nearly omnipresent. Your computer will be with you always. "The Net" will always be but a thought away. Better indexing and organizing will make it easier to access that pool of information, even while exponentially more information will become available. None of this will require cyberware or datajacks.

I could go on, but this post is already too long. Too much of Cyberpunk is simply too wrong. The environmental apocalysm, capitalistic futilism, and political nihilism doom cyberpunk. What it imagines is simply incorrect, and will be proven so. Most have moved beyond the genre's assumptions and views.

Like "Sky Captain", we can play in cyberpunk worlds, but that is a place where what is wrong is accepted as right, during play, for the sake of genre. Even a dead genre.
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Cartoon Poet
RPGnet Member
Validated User
apieros - good post, and you get a Careful Argument Point for defining your terms at the beginning. :D

But now a question:

What do we call stories similar to those in the old movements, but updated to modern concerns and predictions about the future? I'm talking about thematic content, more than the future setting itself. Not doing a postmodern pastiche, but reinterpreting some of the core themes.

I'm thinking of, say...the movie Strange Days, from 1995. There's a lot in it that says "cyberpunk" to me. Set in a very dark cynical "near future." Urban and environmental decay. A corrupt establishment and crime-choked streets. Life is cheap, society is fragmenting. New and old subcultures growing between the cracks (and playing loud music). A new technological development that blurs the line between man and machine, twisted in ways that its inventors may not have intended. Ordinary people trying to make it in a tough world, fighting hard to win small victories.

But you're right, it's not 80s cyberpunk. No Reagan-era American or Japanese corporations taking over the world, no 80s synth-pop music or hairstyles, no massive ecological collapse, no cyberspace. Instead we have the LAPD, 90s music and hairstyles, smog and a fractured (if not splintering) society, and cellphones. And we've still got the urban decay, street violence, and cybertechnology.

But it's not stuck in the 80s, Strange Days is definitely a story out of 90s. But it has many thematic and visual aspects of the older cyberpunk works from the 80s. So it's...what? 90s cyberpunk? What do I call this kind of story?

Same question, for if I come up with a 21st-century riff on the themes. I could easily create a cyberpunk-like world by extrapolating off of modern concerns and predictions about climate change, corporate globalization, police states, terrorism, religious extremism, the World Wide Web, artificial intelligence, reality TV...but I could also create a space opera world, or a post apocalypse world, or even a dystopia from the same foundation.


Staff member
RPGnet Member
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apieros said:
I could go on, but this post is already too long. Too much of Cyberpunk is simply too wrong. The environmental apocalysm, capitalistic futilism, and political nihilism doom cyberpunk. What it imagines is simply incorrect, and will be proven so. Most have moved beyond the genre's assumptions and views.

Well, the traditional cyberpunk, yes. How, however, does one classify the newer 'cyberpunk' settings that have similar themes in some ways, but ditch a lot of the 80s cyberpunk ideas in terms of specifics? Or, to another example, hard science fiction, perhaps the genre most forced into morphing with the times.
I this there a transition, from 80s heavy metal style to a more believable style. Just look at the writings from gibson, and how with every new book, there was less cyberware and more realism. His latest work even takes place in the present.


Registered User
Validated User
I'm not sure that I agree with you, Apeiros, that a genre is dead when we no longer find it believable. I think a genre's life or death is more connected to whether it is able to speak to a modern audience with its ideas. Although certain things about the cyberpunk genre are different from how they were envisioned, you'd have to be a pretty narrow thinker not to see that there are still lots of ideas there that have great currency with our lives. Technology developing more rapidly than man's ability to grasp its possible ramifications? Check. Environment in the toilet? Check. Computers increasingly encroaching on every corner of human life? Check. Global megacorporations weilding incredible power and influence over the lives of ordinary citizens who never elected them to office? Check and check.

What postmodern "reimaginings" like Dark Knight or Watchmen do is take genre characters and infuse them with new meaning, or remind us perhaps of what they've meant all along. They make them relevant again. So we see Batman as an aging iconoclast rebelling against a fascist Superman. "Golden Age" heroes in the Watchmen examined for their motivations, their humanity under the hood (and sometimes, their fetishes), and ultimately what role they might have played in the world.

I think Cyberpunk has still got some juice in it, and a campaign could be made to be as vital as the genre ever was. What you've got to do is find an idea that you can "hook" the world on that is relevant to you, today. For me, I'm working on a campaign where instead of being corporate saboteurs, the characters are more activists fighting against The Man. Maybe that seems old fashioned to many, but I think it's a theme that will play well among my group of friends, knowing their political affiliations. I think there are any number of possible entries on the world of Night City. Find yours...



GAIA subsystem
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I think no genre can really, truly, die. A book, once written, can be read and therefore inspire others to tell similar tales... for decades, centuries and even millenia to come. The same goes for other media... such as movies. Sure, genres warp into new shapes, new genres over the years. But there will always be people who enjoy reading, and even writing their own, Greek Tragedies, for example.

I recently read Gibson's Neuromancer. While corny and outdated in places, it was still a fun read. And it did set me thinking of how my 'gritty near future sci-fi' setting might look. Because of the fact that cyberpunk is outdated, I could see plenty of oportunities to take it in new directions. Besides, it was fun to delve into a weird 80s vision of the future.

Besides, almost ALL sci-fi is inherently outdated. The only exceptions for this are either Sci-Fi settings completely unconnected to our world (Star Wars for example) or those which take place so far in the future that whatever happens now doesn't really matter anymore (Dune, Warhammer 40K).
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It walks! It talks!
Cyberpunk is not dead.

Yes, many of the primary texts (i.e. Neuromancer) are 'dead' under apieros' excellent definition.

But a new book could easily be alive and Cyberpunk at the same time. Cyberpunk is bigger than William Gibson's 80s novels.

Gibson's own 90s Bridge trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow's Parties) discards many of the it-became-obvious-less-realistic tropes of cyberpunk (such as a 'shared hallucination' Matrix) and uses the genre to address technological & sociological concerns of the era in which is was written. It fees vastly more 'possible' than Gibson's previous work & thus 'alive' by the definition.

Set a Cyberpunk game in the setting of the 'Sprawl' trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive) -- like much of the RPG settings, esp. CP 2020 -- and you risk being stuck in the 80s.

Aside: Actually having re-read the Sprawl Trilogy recently, I have to say that to me the books are far more timeless than the settings we're used to in RPGs based on it.

Set a Cyberpunk RPG in the setting of the Bridge trilogy and your're already much more up to date on a future extrapolated from now.

The Matrix (I'll reserve my positive comments for the first movie only) is a cyberpunk movie -- if a heavily 'branded' one -- and shows the genre is alive in a way that many of the texts that initiated the genre now aren't. Its strong anti-authoritarian themes, a technological nightmare made of our own short-sightedness and even the destriction of the environment mark it as cyberpunk, even if not the cyberpunk of the early 80s.
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