The World of Cyberpunk

~ a short audiovisual essay on Cyberpunk, its world and its lore.

In a world of alienated, future-shocked survivors, the ability to be “human” can no longer be taken for granted.”

~ Cyberpunk 2020 RPG guidebook

Cyberpunk (genre) ~ Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a dystopian futuristic setting that tends to focus on a “combination of low-life and high tech” featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order. Much of cyberpunk is rooted in the New Wave science fiction movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when writers like Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, John Brunner, J. G. Ballard, Philip José Farmer and Harlan Ellison examined the impact of drug culture, technology, and the sexual revolution while avoiding the utopian tendencies of earlier science fiction.

Blade Runner (1982) ~ a fallen yet vibrant world of dying drifters and isolated hunters
The Matrix (1999) ~ a dystopian world where machine and flesh have melded and become mystic
Upgrade (2018) ~ a technologically-dominated world wherein biology lay the final frontier

Cyberpunk (role-playing game) exists within its own fictional timeline, which splits from the real world in 1990. The timeline has been extended with each major edition of the game, from the first edition set in 2013 to Cyberpunk Red set in 2045.

Major events have included the collapse of the global superpowers, and the rise of Megacorporations that fight amongst themselves for dominance. Food blights have caused disastrous famines, and by the late 1990s the Middle East is a radioactive desert. Bioengineering, against a backdrop of warfare, has resulted in the rapid development of cybernetic prosthetics and direct human-machine interfaces. With the lack of government and police, casual violence is endemic. Many also suffer from “technoshock”, an inability to cope with a world of synthetic muscle tissue, organic circuits and designer drugs.

The main location for Cyberpunk is the fictional Night City, situated on the west coast of the United States between Los Angeles and San Francisco. With a population of five million people, it presents a stratified society of gang warfare, corporate rivalries and political machinations in which the players have to survive. 

Technoshock“: When technology out-strips people’s ability to comprehend or fit it into their lives. Suddenly, people freak out. They get irrational; violent. Families shatter; relationships tear apart. People feel helpless in the face of the Universe. Eventually, the whole society grinds to a halt, the victim of a mass psychosis. That’s what we now call the Collapse. There were three major responses to technoshock. The vast majority of people, their lives uprooted and changed by the advancements, sat passively waiting for their leaders to tell them what to do next. One smaller group tried to turn back the clock, founding the basis for what we call the Neo-Luddite movement. The remaining group — they decided to hit the future head on. With the old 1980’s visionary writings as their guide, they established the movement we now call Cyberpunk.

Cyberpsychosis.” Something happens when you start add-ing metal and plastic to people. They start to change. And it isn’t pretty.

A Look Into Cyberpunk Aesthetics

As cyberpunks, the players embrace body modification, cybertech and bioengineering. They live by three tenets:

  1. Style over substance.
  2. Attitude is everything.
  3. Always take it to the Edge.
  4. (Break the rules.)

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In the game Cyberpunk 2077, you play as V, a mercenary barely surviving x seeking glory on the streets of Night City. 
Cyberpunk 2077 Radio Mix

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Lost Future Full of Lost People 

The world you expected to be the future didn’t happen. We were supposed to get The Jetsons and instead we’re not sure if we’re gonna get fed.” ~ Mike Pondsmith

The future of Cyberpunk: rain-soaked, neon skyscrapers and heart-blasting techno beats, hi-tech megastructures and exploitative Superstructures. Realms of inequality and continuous immiseration, overwhelming degradation and rampant commodification across all lines of human interconnectivity – sexuality being the ultimate absorbing opiate, serviced first and foremost by the market, from every back alley and every boardroom. The economy runs on binary poles of hierarchical, state-sanctioned corruption and chaotic, id-centric crime. A life of daring, short-lived criminal misadventure presents as the most definitive, empowering, self-liberating dream on offer. Cyberpunk is a neosociety of savage extremes, where every single thing is all-or-nothing. “You either fly high or sink into quicksand…

This is, undoubtedly – the dramaticism and over-the-top insanity included – the future we are building, too. This is why we are drawn to Cyberpunk! Technological advancement is only going to accelerate; the marketization of our world’s every affair has no logical stopping point. The incessant ads, the overpowered cops and corps, the continuous concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a few… the social bonds that keep us sane and safe here on the ground, fraying faster and faster, unto some kind of oblivion we cannot yet imagine. None of it is going away anytime soon.

Cyberpunk is a glossy anticipation of a future we fear and yet cannot avert ourselves from.

So let’s roll some fucking characters in it and take this shit to The Edge!!

The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.
~ Antonio Gramsci

“You are looking for justice? In Night City?!”

The world of cyberpunk is one of an accelerationist hellscape that never revolved. That is — there was no revolution against the worst excesses of capitalism gone berserk. Either because there was no collective will for one — the population’s social bonds were too far gone, never to be repaired again. Or, because technology prevented it. Robocops. Perfect, real-time information but only for the wealthy. Overwhelming firepower and force, but only for the ends of the ruling class. Cyberpunk is a world fractured and rebuilt continuously – but still along the same lines as always: every surplus going to exacerbate inequality, towards weaponry and opiates and humanity-destroying, ‘soul-killing’ degradations. Everywhere you look there are unjust power imbalances, zero-sum battles for life and death, every man, woman and child a hunter or a hunted.

In this world, it thus makes sense that breaking the law, transcending aged norms, hunting the rich and powerful ~ {and inevitably corrupting yourself somewhere along the way..} ~ is the only real sense of liberation left for the individual.

Cyberpunk 2077 Breathtaking Mix

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Not a Society, a Business

Night City – {much like all of modern America} – is not as much a community as it is a *business.* Society has transformed into a marketplace, where everything is a transaction and everyone has their price – most especially Life and Death themselves. Cultural and socioeconomic conditions tend to take the shape of their world’s most dominant force. In the realm of Cyberpunk, that is the Megacorporations; the nodes through which every ruling class generation wields their power – their force is like that of a pantheon of Gods – their will in Night City is like that of the Unmoved Mover, dictating all within orbit, relentlessly dissolving any other future outside of their reign. Where people are mortal, corporations can live forever – where people act irrationally, out of kindness or self-destructiveness, corporations only ever act in their own best interest – where people may do something for a neighbor without expectation of a return, a corporation only moves on the motive of profit.

In Night City – in a cyberpunk future – mere existence is expensive and degrading, and your continuity within it is, by default, undeserved. Megacorps make for tyrannical and vengeful Gods; the only language they speak is violence. Operating under the tenets of the late-capitalist system’s compulsion for infinite growth in a finite world, the core incentive they lay down within the community, from the top down, from every exec to every lowlife: the only way to make your life better is to make your neighbor’s worse.

Big 5 Employers in Night City – 2077
It’s that time of the year again we present our list of the biggest and best corps to work for in Night City! Who offers paid vacation? Who pays for employees’ Trauma Team insurance policies? Who provides discounts for daycare and child bodyguard services? Have a look at our rankings below!
1. Arasaka – Coming in again this year in our #1 spot the Japanese zaibatsu juggernaut. Employees can expect to be fit with the latest in cyberware technology with a loyalty obligation of only 20 years!
2. Militech – The American arms giant provides its employees with up to 50% discounts on all Militech weapons. With a deal that good, you’d be able to put a Mk. 31 Heavy Machine Gun under the Christmas tree for everyone in the family!
3. Biotechnica – Our 2077 bronze medal goes to Biotechnica who offers up to six (yes, six!) paid vacation days a year!
4. Kang Tao – China‘s largest tech and arms manufacturer treats its employees to a Gold Membership with Trauma Team .[sic] Never spend a single minute of your 50-year loyalty pledge worrying about paying for health coverage!
5. Night Corp – While this hometown product can’t compete with the biggest international players in terms of budget or ambition, they certainly know how to spoil their staff. Night Corp snuck into our Big 5 after a recent announcement to reduce the mandatory workweek to just 80 hours! They are a must-apply for all you family-focused folks out there.

What better example of the corruptive power of such a system and its governing network of corps than the arc of the Internet thus far? Initially the ultimate platform for potential international solidarity and democratic, liberatory force, what has it really become other than a voluntary panopticon where we users submit to be endlessly surveilled, inhumanely desensitized, politically radicalized and laced with advertisements targeting our most dire unconscious fears and vulnerabilities… An infinitely malleable audiovisual medium of knowledge exchange has become just another mind-numbing opiate we suddenly can’t live without, like religion, but one with an addicting screen constantly playing a fresh menu of unchecked violence and impossible sex, all for the price of all your time and attention. Like moths to flame, for the sake of fast, transient pleasures – humanity imprisons its own mind within these digital realms.

The Undoing: Fall of the First Net
Chapter I: The Apocalypse
His name was Rache Bartmoss. Everyone knows WHO destroyed the first Net. The real question is WHY. NetWatch branded his a criminal and outlaw. The media called him a madman. Is either label correct? You be the judge. Below is a previously unpublished letter which Bartmoss put out just before the release of R.A.B.I.D.S. Why has this document only now just emerged? Well… Someone out there did not want you, my dear readers, to ever lay eyes on it. All the more reason to take a deep dive into information available to us.
Maria Jimenez

“The first Net was supposed to save us. It would serve as a platform for those without a voice. It would offer unlimited knowledge to those who hungered for it. It would bring a fractured humanity closer together than ever before in our history. But these hopes were hollow. False.

The Net spread its tendrils around the globe faster than anyone could have predicted. Before anyone could ever consider the full range of consequences. This “information superhighway” turned out to be our path straight to hell. We were robbed of our privacy, deprived of our free will, stripped of our dignity. It was supposed to save us, but now even the Net itself cannot be saved. It was molded by the corps, with sharp eyes, spikes and traps at every corner. Think of the Net as a stream of water that flows gently into our minds… before freezing, swelling, and destroying us from the inside out. But remember this about ice – as hard as it may be, it’s surprisingly brittle. One well-placed strike and it shatters into a million tiny pieces. Watch out today and you’ll see what I mean.
When I imagine what the Net was like before Bartmoss, I see thousands of potential threats. And thousands of opportunities…

Most saliently {familiarly to Americans}, the Megacorporations buy the lion’s share of not only land and self-serving political policies, but entire police forces, entire governments – entire armies of hyper-militarized cyber-jacked, cyber-psychotic supersoldiers. And then – in ‘Corporate Wars’ Vol. 1-4 – they wage war against one another for further consolidations along the lines of their own power x wealth concentration, if not for the sake of their current ruling exec’s singularly petty prides or revenges against their ruling class mates. Night City is more war zone than society, just as the rest of America remains a corporation and not a country. Forget about democracy and constituencies and stakeholders and ‘the common good’ – “Protect and Serve” becomes “Obey and Survive.” A citizen of Night City is just as likely to be shot by the cop they call as they are to be aided by them; and then, when the Trauma Team’s airship touches down to save their life, if they happen to live, they are liable to bankrupt them with the bill.

In the world of Cyberpunk, everything has its price, most especially Life and Death.

America After The War
THE TURBULENT YEARS OF 20242035
At the end of the Fourth Corporate War, in order to establish relative order under the federal governmentPresident Elizabeth Kress imposed martial law on NUS member states and nationalized the domestic arms-manufacturing giant Militech. Preoccupied with their own internal issues, most of Europe and Japan paid little attention to developments in North America.
Back in the 1990scorporations had already begun aggressively purchasing huge swathes of arable land from farmers. Those who were left with no choice but to sell eventually found each other and organized into larger groups, or “clans,” to improve their odds of survival. Looking for reliable work opportunities meant staying on the move and often specializing transport contracts. Yet once the war settled down, their convoys became the single reliable, safe method of interstate shipping. In other words, this time of crisis and adaptation played a major role in the emergence of the so-called “nomad” social class.
Meanwhile, in the 2040sNetWatch created an immense firewall, dubbed the Blackwall, to partition a safe part of the Net for human use and curb the threat of rogue artificial intelligences in cyberspace. At the organization’s discretion, humanity was forced to sacrifice its access to inestimably valuable resources and knowledge for the sake of Net security.
Corporate Wars: The Musical
Cyberpunk 2077 {Robutt} Mix

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Saving Yourself

Cyberpunk isn’t about saving humanity, it’s about saving yourself.”

~ Mike Pondsmith
The Mox
[…]It’s one of those stories that is either very simple or very complicated, depending on who you ask. For Janice, it was a mix of both: “The Mox came to exist because it had to. We didn’t have a soul in our corner, no one to make sure street justice was on our side. So we took matters into our own hands.”
The Mox is composed of the people who, if any of them disappeared from the streets tomorrow, you might never even notice: sex workers, ennyless artists, aimless rebels, and restless souls who weren’t dealt a fair hand. Today, the Mox is thriving, as demonstrated by the booming biz of Lizzie’s Bar. Lizzie’s is renown[sic] for being arguably the best braindance club in Night City. Corporate suits, gangoons, pop stars, and locals alike all gather at Lizzie’s to kick back, have a drink, and dip into the most beautifully scrolled and tuned BDs you’ve ever experienced. Most customers, however, are oblivious to the fact that the club is gang owned and operated, that the Mox are in charge, watching after their own. Just like the Lizzie of legend once did.
Know the story? “Lizzied used to work here back when it was just a typical dive with a stripper pole,” Janice proudly explained. “She took care of the girls, made sure eddies were falling into the pockets… and their teeth weren’t falling to the curb. Like this one time, this fucker (Editor’s note: referring to a Tyger Claws gang member) was having too much “fun” with one of the girls, and Lizzie just couldn’t stomach it anymore. Story is she deprived the worm of his little Tyger balls so quick and nasty it took them two days to clean up all the blood and puke splatter. ‘Course, the Claws found out fast and they flatlined her in a flash. But everyone that she had impacted in some way, they were still around. They came together, fought back and– (pause) Well… you already know the rest.”

When the community is torn and the individual is immiserated, when deteriorated material conditions one is born into coerce a steady lurch to The Edge and beyond it out of simple survival – when everyone around you is a stranger – the only way out is to fight. And do it together. With gun, blade and tooth, out of sheer lonely desperation, from the thrill of the hunt, to challenge power for the sake of grasping some of it for you and yours – the aspiring cyberpunk must find someone worth dying for, someone you can name as a friend; reforging social bonds in the midst of the flames seems to be the most reliable avenue to saving oneself. In truth, Johnny Silverhand’s revolutionary campaign of defiance against the Megacorps is just the beginning. Even in this dystopia, the same old stories are still germane — fighting for what is beautiful and True, for love and companionship, is the only way to live and have it mean anything.

The characters of Cyberpunk 2077 ~
Victor ~ carving out your own niche
Mama Welles ~ kind-hearted elder, a caretaker
Judy ~ escaping a toxic world
Panam ~ creating a found family
Saul ~ stern, Wild West leadership
Mitch ~ BBQ, races, and raids
Kerry ~ never stop rocking
River ~ gold-hearted law enforcement, and an outsider to the hierarchy because of it
Goro Takemura ~ “To make the right decisions with imperfect knowledge… that is how you become the world’s most powerful man.”
the Peralez’s ~ right-hearted politicians in control by higher forces
Misty ~ maintaining spirituality and an appreciation of the unknown amidst all the cyber-techno advancements

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^ art by huntang

Cyberpunk Red

~ https://rtalsoriangames.com/cyberpunk/

The 4th Corporate War’s over and the big dogs have retreated to their corners to lick their wounds. That leaves everyone else to fend for themselves in a shattered world.

And that’s just fine. ‘cause you’ve got interface plugs in your wrists, metal in your limbs, and chips in your skull. You’re wired in, loaded with chrome, and ready to take it to the Edge.

CPRedJumpstartKitBoxMockup1.jpg

There’s a world full of opportunities out there. Maybe this time you can do more than save yourself. Maybe.

Cyberpunk RED is the latest edition of the classic roleplaying game of the Dark Future, featuring updated mechanics and new lore set in 2045, midway between the events of Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk 2077.

The Cyberpunk RED Jumpstart Kit debuted GenCon 2019. The core rulebook for Cyberpunk RED hit the streets in November 2020.

Look for physical copies in your friendly local gaming store or our webstore.

Check out digital copies at DriveThruRPG.

Cyberpunk 2077 Radio 24/7 by NightmareOwl (Electro/Cyberpunk/Midtempo)

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Blade Runner art
Akira (1988) ~ “There must be a future we can choose for ourselves…”

~ Never fade away. ~