What does “cyberpunk” actually mean in Cyberpunk 2077?

Izaak
(Image Credit: CD Projekt Red)
(Image Credit: CD Projekt Red)

With the impending release of Cyberpunk 2077, a lot of players are hoping to figure out what exactly “cyberpunk” even means.

Cyberpunk is a genre of science fiction that imagines a future where technology has advanced but society has either stagnated or regressed. Important works of cyberpunk fiction stretch across mediums, including books, comics, manga, movies, and games.

Cyberpunk fiction and how it relates to Cyberpunk 2077

Anyone interested in learning more about the genre should look into the many well made films and games that take up the setting.

For movies, films like Blade Runner (1982), The Matrix (1999), Akira (1988), and Ghost in the Shell (1995) all imagine a future where technology has advanced to some crucial tipping point, while society has failed to adapt.

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However, the cyberpunk genre has been just as important for gaming as well, and games like Deus Ex (2000) and its remake, Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011), Shadowrun: Dragonfall (2014), System Shock 2 (1999), and even Final Fantasy VII (1997) have all contributed to cyberpunk gaming.

By looking at all these examples, it becomes easier to understand the genre of cyberpunk a bit more clearly.

The cyberpunk genre often makes a statement about contemporary society by projecting the worst aspects of the modern world and exaggerating them to their extremes. These extremes are then projected onto a futuristic world where technology allows people to indulge in their worst possible goals.

For example, Final Fantasy VII imagines a future where technology has allowed a corporation the ability to harvest the planet in order to produce energy, and players take on the role of an eco-terrorist named Cloud, who tries to stop them.

Similarly, Deus Ex has players take on the role of an agent for the UNATCO organization, a global police force for the UN, who later defects after discovering that the organization is part of a conspiracy to control the world.

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How cyberpunk stories relate to modern society

By taking contemporary worries, such as the threat of ecological disaster or fears of global hegemony, and placing them into a future where those threats are exaggerated, it allows cyberpunk stories to reflect back on modern society.

Another trend common to cyberpunk fiction is the growing dominance of corporations. Most cyberpunk stories imagine a future where corporate entities are allowed to grow in power to the point where they rival or even dwarf governments.

In the Shadowrun universe for example, governments are almost totally powerless, and the world is organized into corporate burroughs which exploit workers for profit, and anarchic neighborhoods which have to fend for themselves.

While it’s not likely that modern governments will collapse in such a fashion (fingers crossed), it’s easy to see how the game’s setting is a critique of corporate power.

These critiques often draw on real life examples. For those who live outside of the very wealthy countries, corporate dominance over a country’s wealth and natural resources is already a tragic reality.

It’s well known that many Latin American countries had their governments overthrown in order to benefit U.S. corporations, and the Swiss company Nestle, has a history of buying the rights to natural resources and withholding them from local populations in Africa.

This connection to the modern world, and the harsh critique of dangerous corporate practices, serves as a throughline for the cyberpunk genre as a whole.

What to look out for in Cyberpunk 2077

For players eager to understand Cyberpunk 2077 as something more than just another RPG, be sure to look for the elements of its genre within the game. Key features to keep an eye out for in Cyberpunk 2077 include:

  • Unchecked corporate power
  • Using advanced technology to exploit people or resources
  • Widespread poverty
  • The mega-wealthy can’t relate to the poor
  • Rebellious anarchists who want to destroy “the system”

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There’s no way around it, Cyberpunk 2077 envisions a bleak future. However, this isn’t so much a defeatist statement meant to encourage players to accept their current situation. Instead, it’s meant to serve as a warning and a call to action.

Anyone who can see parallels within the genre and their own lives should consider what action they can take to prevent this kind of future from happening.

Enjoy Cyberpunk 2077, and enjoy learning more about one of the best contemporary genres around.