To wrap up our look at print sci-fi I am going to compare and contrast two books released in 2020 that both have much in common with Mirrorshades, but in very different ways:, Gibson’s (“””the father of cyberpunk”””) Agency and Miciah Johnson’s debut novel “The Space Between Worlds”. I am going to be a little mean to Gibson, but hopefully by the time you’ve read both summaries you’ll understand why. This section has also put me in the unfortunate position of trying to summarize these books so you can understand my point, since they are both recent releases and don’t have adequately in depth summaries online. I will hope you will bear with me for this portion but don’t blame you for skipping ahead.
How does this happen?
What the fuck happened to this dude?
36 years after “inventing” “cyberpunk” he’s on twitter complaining about “dirty hippies”
what the hell happened
It blows my mind that he is like this.
Was he always like this?
I read The Peripheral (2015) and its sequel Agency (2020).
back to back in the same week so I’m going to talk about them as one entity. I only learned today that apparently this is two from a planned trilogy and there is a third coming eventually. They are/will be collectively known as “The Jackpot Trilogy”.
So named because one of the few new and interesting ideas in it is an extremely slow (slow for a fictional apocalypse scenario) multi-causal apocalypse referred to as “the jackpot”, where everything that can go wrong on planet earth, does, over the course of the 21st century. Gibson has said that he never attempted to make a complete list of all the things that make up “the jackpot” because it would be too depressing, so some elements of it are left vague.
I’d read that Gibson had said “Mozart In Mirrorshades” was a big influence on The Periferal, and I thought, “That’s cool! I like that short story, I can’t wait to see how Gibson explores its themes.”
I was in for a dissapointment!
In The Peripheral, as in Mozart In Mirrorshades, there exists a technology that can access the past, and in doing so create an alternate timeline, but as is fitting for our Information Age, the only thing that can be transmitted between the past and the future is data.
In early 22nd century, someone is accessing a fork they created of the mid 21st. They hire people in the 21st century to pilot their security drones in the future by explaining to them that they are actually playing a very advanced game. Someone in the past happens to witness a murder while playing this “game”. Soon, someone from the future puts a darknet assisination bounty on the witness.
The 21st century timeline is only just beginning to notice what will later be referred to as “the jackpot”, but it’s already quietly been underway for decades. In the 22nd century timeline (im getting tired of typing that out, I will henceforth be referring to the two timelines as the “future” and “past”) most of the world population is dead. London is ruled by a monarchic class of gangsters, performance artists, and publicists. “Government” is an outdated idea, save for Inspector Lowbeer, whose office is a descendant of the London Metropolitan Police Department. Her job is to keep the other varying powerful and otherwise unrestrained groups in check, to maintain a balance in London.Lowbeer takes notice of this murder, and learns that someone in the past witnesses it, and that that person is in danger. Lowbeer immediately uses the future’ss advanced technology and foreknowledge to build financial and political power in the past, in order to provide protective resources for the family of the witness, in an attempt to keep her alive long enough for Lowbeer to solve this murder.
The past timeline soon becomes the battleground for a conflict between the witness’s family (and their military veteran friends) and some other unknown force that is also pouring resources into the timeline in an attempt to have the witness murdered. This ultimately culminates with Lowbeer bribing the corrupt governor of the witnesses homestate, in order to keep the assassin bodycount under wraps. Little thought is given to the long term effects this will have on the past timeline, because most people in the future think of these forks simply as akin to “simulations”, with some even forking off timelines purely as a curious pastime for the bored upper class.
The murder is solved, and the threat to the witness ends, but the past has been irrevocably altered by the future’s finacual and political meddling. The witness marries a cop she had long been interested in, her quadruple amputee brother gets a nice brand new set of limbs of future design, the witnesse’s brother meets weekly with Lowbeer to discuss the changes to their world that are being made through the funding allocated by the futures now inconceivably vast financial and political holdings in the past in an attempt to avert the Jackpot, and everyone lives happily ever after.
The Peripheral moves quickly after its first hundred pages, more of a thriller than a contemplative piece, which is fine, but since I was comparing it to “Mozart in Mirrorshades” I have to say, something about the way it handles the relationship between the future and the past left a bit of a funny taste in my mouth. But right away I dived into Agency, and things got so much worse.
It had originally been slated for release in 2018, but after observing the results of the 2016 election and the Brexit referendum, Gibson postponed it to 2020 to make some revisions. While the future is still the same 22nd century london, the past at hand in Agency is an alternate 2017 where Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election because of a “reduction in russian misinformation”.
There’s part where he does fucking Trump body language analysis of the 2016 debates.
An “app whisperer” beta tests a Google-glass esque personal assistant, and quickly discovers it’s much more capable than should be possible. She decides to keep this a secret from the company (“Tulpagenics”) she is testing it for, but unknown to her that company is a front for interests from the future, and the digital personal assistant is in fact an an advanced autonomous (it has no line of communication with the future, it is operating entirely on its own) AI with incredible surveillance, information gathering, and tactical capabilities. Within a day it’s already, on its own volition, without permission of the app whisperer, making financial deals that result in $100,000 dollars in cash being hand delivered to the app whisperers home. The app whisperer objects.
The AI is still a “newborn”, having only operated for a brief period after it turned on, and while it’s abilities and knowledge are incredible, it sometimes doesn’t understand its own motives for doing things. One of its very first actions after being born is to start acquiring hard cash to give itself “agency” and “capacity to act”, even though at this point the AI doesn’t even understand its own motives yet, it just knows it’s going to need money to start accomplishing things so it starts manifesting it through complex (for a human) financial deals.
To make a long (400 pages) story short, after another kind of rapid escalation of the power, abilities, and resources of the AI, it culminates with the AI publicly announcing itself to the world. It tells everyone that the jackpot is coming and that only it can guide humanity through the worst excesses of disaster capitalism that to come (very much like how Lowbeer operates in the future). Humanity celebrates. A impending nuclear conflict that has been brewing in the background that has been brewing in the background is dissolved and there is peace in the middle east. This paternalist machine from the future is here to mitigate this timeline’s problems for it, if they are willing to obey it.
And it seems like everyone is happy about this situation! It is portrayed as a good thing. In the future Lowbeer is like “well I have no idea if this is going to turn out well, but sure, just as a fun experiment lets let this AI take control of that timeline and see what happens”. Lowbeer, who keeps the worst excesses of the future criminal society in check, wants to save our world by turning the AI into a version of herself ing the same thing. Because it will bring order to the future criminal order which is apparently Unavoidable and maybe good, actually. The lesson seems to be "malignant disaster capitalism is coming and the best you can hope for is to mitigate it’s worse excesses by submitting to a better and more powerful authoritative force who knows better than you do and might be able to negotiate for you.”
And as the final cherry on top, in the final few pages, all the characters make a big toast to President Hillary Rodam Clinton for finally bringing peace to the middle east, while winking at the camera because they know who REALLY solved the crisis.
In the text it seems like the title “Agency” is supposed to refer to money’s power giving you the capacity to act, or the AI discovering the power of its own agency, but my personal take would be that Agency could refer to the power of agency and self-determination that the future has stolen from the past, telling the past its for their own good.
Is this cyberpunk? By my definition, yes.
But it’s EXACTLY the kind of cyberpunk you’d write if you were a boomer neolib.
Just look at this guy.
I’m not going to pick on the actual writing of Agency much (I really could, if I wanted to) except point out that a worldly character who lives in a nearly post-human future and that in their internal monologue uses words like mesomorphic has to have the word “digitigrade” explained to them twice, five pages apart from each other
Bottom line? If you’re going to read a Gibson trilogy read the informal one that begins with Pattern Recognition instead. I’m going to force myself to move on. To the counterpoint, and an actual positive recommendation. Something I felt like was a much more worthy successor to “Mozart In Mirrorshades” than the jackpot books, The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
Unlike Jackpot, The Space Between Worlds does not have the exact same technology as Mirrorshades, and it does not claim to be directly inspired by it.
Instead of time travel, the technology at hand is interdimensional travel. But there is a catch: You can only travel to a world where you are dead, if you attempt to go somewhere you are still alive, your body experiences lethal trauma during transit. So our main character is a black bi-sexual daughter of a drug addict sex provider (a term that is pointedly defaulted to in the book, one citizen therapist calls them “prostitutes” and the main character internally balks at that was of thinking about them) that grew up in the afraican desert outside the walled city where rich “citizens” live. She is dead in all but 7 of the 370 available universes because she has led her life constantly adjacent to risk.
In other universes she has died as a stillborn because he mother abused drugs during pregnancy. she’s died of both parental neglect and physical abuse. She’s died because her physically abusive boyfriend beat her to death. She’s starved to death in a ditch. She’s been run under the wheels of the “mad max” esque “parades” the gangs run through towns. She’s died at the hands of a john while working as a sex provider. She herself has overdosed because of he own issues with substance abuse. But those were all just slightly different universes than the one she survived in. The one where this megacorp has cracked the problem of dimensional travel, ( the only universe its aware of that has done so) and suddenly had a demand for people who had been living life an inch away from death (at least until the automate the system). So they pluck the main character out of the dirt outside the city by offering her residency status inside, and the promise that if she can complete a set number of years of duty, she can have her “residency” status upgraded to “citizenship” status.
They use this promise of a better life to draw in volunteers, but the volunteers are under no illusion about the odds of actually living long enough to collect.
I was only 30ish pages into Worlds when I realized this was going to be far more interesting take on the main theme of Mirrorshades because right out of the gate it was explicitly referring to what this company was doing as colonialism. Something Gibson had really failed touch on in the same way, even though he’d written two books explicitly inspired by it. (these pages are sequential)
So I knew early I was in for a treat. I would recommend picking up The Space Between Worlds, I really enjoyed it. I’m just going to try to abbreviate the heart of the conspiracy uncovered in it, but I’m omitting a lot of wonderful elements about it.
This megacorp has this “maintenance department” that has been secretly assassinating all scientists in other worlds who get close to the secret of interdimensional travel. Since there are about 380 worlds this starts to add up as they sometimes have to kill each scientist multiple times. The CEO has also been killing off all the alternate copies of himself, basically trying to be the only one who can have access to interdimensional travel, and so rule it over the other universes unchallenged.
The megacorp announces a new business initiative: interdimensional tourism for the rich. The trick is that wherever the rich person wants to go, they send an assassin first to kill their double so they can get there (but they don’t tell the rich person that, they wouldn’t want to be concerned with such details).
They hire outlander thugs assuming that because they come from outside the wall, they’ll be nothing more than thugs who wont raise objections, and they are disposable. And when they start to make trouble they intentionally send them to a universe with a double on it so that they’ll die on arrival. The main character survives this kind of attempt on her life (due to some kind of quasi-spiritual relationship with the void between universes) and, presumed dead, starts trying to work out how to bring them down.
It concludes with the CEO having his eye drops (that he requires because he has a very rare prototype cybernetic eye with lubrication problems) poisoned with a disease that will at first blind him and then turn his body into salt over the course of a few years. Understanding his time is now numbered, he begins to share the secrets of inter-dimensional travel with the rest of the world, so that the system doesn’t fall apart when he inevitably dies. The main character and her female field handler who have been flirting for the whole book finally get together.
This is a picture of Miciah Johnson.
Only now in looking up that photo do I see this blurb:
Her debut novel, The Space Between Worlds, from Hodder in the UK and Crown in the US, is a science-fiction novel that uses the concept of the multiverse to examine privilege.
Print science fiction, like video games, has historically had problems with being a white boys club. Great strides have been made on this front over the last few decades, but not without some vocal resistance (yes there are KEEP YOUR POLITICS OUT OF MY SCI-FI people, just like videogames). That debacle resulted in Chuck Tingle now being a two time Hugo award nominee, and that my friends is why the Nebula award (an industry award) is a better sign of quality than the Hugo award (a fan award).
I’m not going to say diverse writers are inherently better writers but they’re certainly refreshing to read because they’re usually coming at stuff from a different angle than most stuff has been in the past. I’m tired of reading the same shit for the last 40 years, and I’m not even 40 years old! And thats one of the things that bums me out about the neuromantic tradition, is that to me it feels like a failure of the imagination. It’s almost lazy. It’s been doing the same thing since the 80’s to the point that people still go out of their way to make it look and feel like the 80’s. Why not at update the decade, that at least would be novel.
The way this relates to cyberpunk specifically is that minorities of all kinds (not just racial) can sometimes already have a long familiarity with being arbitrarily fucked over because you weren’t seen as quite wholly human, by a system that is fucking over more and more people every day. Though the subject of class is also nearly inherent to the genre, and should not be neglected.
I want more stuff that does the same kind of critique that cyberpunk started out doing in the 80’s, but that isn’t a slave to the neuromantic trappings of the genre.
If you’re interested in reading a collection of short stories whose definition of “cyberpunk” might be even broader than mine, I recommend this one
One of my big complaints about what is called ”cyberpunk” today is that it is not actually as distopic as the real world. The fiction has not kept up with the reality. So before we finally get to talking about 2077, we’re going to take a moment to look out a window. (You should seriously read this one)
Yes, thats the flashy stuff that’s easy to point to, but I want to narrow in on one particular story about one cyber enforcer at one particular megacorp, and how she felt like she had to quit because there was blood on her hands. And what that one megacorp has been up to, just to give one representative example of our present world. I’m talking about the Facebook Genocides. I’m going to kind of [infodump] you with links in this section, partly to save myself time explaining this and partly so that you don’t have to just take my word for it.
(the only word I take issue with here is “ignored”, actively encouraged would be more appropriate)
The memo is a damning account of Facebook’s failures. It’s the story of Facebook abdicating responsibility for malign activities on its platform that could affect the political fate of nations outside the United States or Western Europe. It’s also the story of a junior employee wielding extraordinary moderation powers that affected millions of people without any real institutional support, and the personal torment that followed.
“I know that I have blood on my hands by now,” Zhang wrote.
It is a long article but it is an important one. Pretend you’re reading a cyberpunk short story.
(I cannot, unfortunately, find the full text of the internal facebook memo anywhere)
For what its worth, I think this womans’s tale is actually extremely reminiscent of the plot of Genocidal Organ (2007) by Project Itoh, a personal friend of Hideo Kojima [and THAT’S my obligatory reference to MGS for this post]. I highly recommend checking out the anime adaptation (available for rent on amazon). I think it provides a good metaphor for understanding the Facebook Genocides. And the language virus technology was slightly adapted for use in MGSV.
So lets talk about Facebook the company, just as a representative example of what a megacorp gets up to these days, I don’t mean to hurt their feelings by singling them out particularly. I could just as easily go on about Microsoft, Amazon, google or even ubisoft or riot.
(this trailer is so fucked up)
(riot doesn’t want you to vote for max headroom, yet, they just want to make you fall in love with it)
Studying Google services for biases is among the “sensitive topics” under the company’s new policy, according to an internal webpage. Among dozens of other “sensitive topics” listed were the oil industry, China, Iran, Israel, Covid-19, home security, insurance, location data, religion, self-driving vehicles, telecoms and systems that recommend or personalize web content.
This “fear of being perceived as biased against conservatives” line is not at all unique to Facebook.
Notice there is a word being used here that was entirely absent from the buzzfeed story: genocide. A UN investigator had expressed concerns in 2018.
[UN] Investigator Yanghee Lee went further, describing Facebook as a vital tool for connecting the state with the public. “Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar,” Lee told reporters. “It was used to convey public messages, but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities.”
Facebook has long had the habit of acquiescing to the demands of local federal governments in order to avoid regulation, but in some cases this has lead to more than a passive complicity with facist governments. But what is now required to keep these governments happy, is untenable in a situation where there is global attention.
“It’s a little bit like a domestic abuse dynamic. As long as you keep me happy, I won’t hurt you,” Franks said. “What I really hope people understand is … he’s going to hurt you anyway.”
In 2018 a Germany study showed that “wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.” I have to imagine this is not information Facebook is unaware of.
Most businesses don’t release reports saying “we didn’t poison” this many people, or “we traumatized 5% fewer people” during Q3 of this year.
Facebook has been accused of serious misconduct in regards of the Indian election, and has faced a large amount of internal and external criticism.
Meanwhile Zuck out there saying facebook “shouldnt be the arbiter of truth”. Well then what does it see itself as the arbiter of?
And like a child throwing a tantrum threatens to shut down key service functionally in all of australia if subject to regulation there.
And actually DID shut down its child abuse protection system in the EU when subject to new regulations there. (Microsoft and others did not)
Meanwhile in 2020, another Facebook Genocide is brewing.
In this context Zuck’s desire to give everyone in the poorest parts of the world “free basic internet”, and access to his platform, can be understood as the menace that it is. And yet Zuck refers to it as if it is pure philanthropy.
This technology was exciting, he told the crowd, but distant. It would be years before a solar-powered plane hovered 60,000 feet in the air, beaming the internet to the disconnected. One year earlier, in Zuckerberg’s first Mobile World Congress appearance, he’d introduced a plan to get loads of people online seemingly overnight: Facebook wanted to partner with telecom operators to offer them a free app that had access to a few services like Wikipedia and health information. Oh, and Facebook. Zuckerberg believed this would be great for operators because they’d be able to get new customers. The app would be a gateway drug for people who’d never tried the internet before, and they’d subsequently decide to pay operators for more data. Zuckerberg had returned to Barcelona to promote this idea.
While the company continued to sign on partners in new markets, like Bolivia and South Africa, in India the debate grew more heated. The company sent messages to developers throughout India to encourage them to advocate for Free Basics. Facebook-sponsored billboards asked Indians to support “a better future” for unconnected Indians—meaning a future with Free Basics. Advertisements for Facebook were plastered inside Indian newspapers. That year, Facebook spent roughly $45 million in Indian advertising to spread word about its Free Basics campaign, according to the Indian media. In an op-ed that Zuckerberg wrote for the Times of India, he asked: “Who could possibly be against this?”
Facebook has a problem with not just hosting, but autogenerating extremist content. This is important when you understand how their groups and groups recommendation feature works to funnel people into progressively more extreme groups. This isnt even something thats limited to political beliefs.
Facebook is entirely aware of this.
“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”
”64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools”
Facebook has done internal testing about limiting “bad for the world” content, but discovered it made people use the app less, and we cant have that.
Several employees said they were frustrated that to tackle thorny issues like misinformation, they often had to demonstrate that their proposed solutions wouldn’t anger powerful partisans or come at the expense of Facebook’s growth.
The trade-offs came into focus this month, when Facebook engineers and data scientists posted the results of a series of experiments called “P(Bad for the World).”
The company had surveyed users about whether certain posts they had seen were “good for the world” or “bad for the world.” They found that high-reach posts — posts seen by many users — were more likely to be considered “bad for the world,” a finding that some employees said alarmed them.
So the team trained a machine-learning algorithm to predict posts that users would consider “bad for the world” and demote them in news feeds. In early tests, the new algorithm successfully reduced the visibility of objectionable content. But it also lowered the number of times users opened Facebook, an internal metric known as “sessions” that executives monitor closely.
“The results were good except that it led to a decrease in sessions, which motivated us to try a different approach,” according to a summary of the results, which was posted to Facebook’s internal network and reviewed by The Times.
But this should come asnosuprise as Zuck has litterally said before in an internal email from 2012 that what is good for Facebook is more important that what’s “good for the world”
“That may be good for the world, but it’s not good for us,” Zuckerberg wrote in a 2012 email about the possibility that developers would build applications that used data about Facebook users and their friends, but not provide any data back to Facebook.
The new ALGORITHM that Instagram recently deployed has inhumane expectations of content output if you’re an influencer trying to maximize your reach.
And if that wasnt enough, facebook has taken an active interesting in directly probing your brain
And they aint the only ones.
Azealia Banks has said that she belives Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars so he can do some freaky human experimentation shit there, and I believe her. (what earth laws is the billionaire worried about, exactly? I do find it interesting that cyberpunk gives you a fantasy of wanting to fill your head with a bunch of wires, but at the same time instills in you a deep distrust of any company that would want to do that for/to you.
This is the moment I tell you to watch Sorry To Bother You (2018), the best recent “cyberpunk” movie. But the sci-fi twist only comes in the third act, so go into it blind.
According to Behind The Screen: Content moderation in the shadows of social media (2019), a first of its kind ethnographic study of commercial content moderators, there are more than 100,000 content moderators worldwide.
These human cogs in the online machine represent a variety of weaknesses to facebook, and much as how Uber would like to one day automate its drivers, Facebook believes that ultimately the solution to its problem is putting AI in control of its moderation process. An algorithm does not raise ethical concerns, an algorithm doesn’t write scathing memos on the way out the door, it doesn’t try to resist or organize internally, it doesn’t have a nervous breakdown because it was forced to look at the worst shit humanity has to offer all day, an algorithm does exactly what you designed it to do, no questions asked, and at the same time puts a layer of deniability between your actions and yourself. Its not your fault, its the algorithm, and the algorithm is “impartial”. But many internally and externally argue that this is not the silver bullet Zuck thinks it is, and that this is actually a dystopian solution.
But aside it not being an accurate depiction of the severity of the dystopia we ourselves live in, stuff too deeply steeped in neuromanticism often also fails to be an as INTERESTING or unique vision of the future as it could be, since cyberpunk has relegated itself to just being more of a established common background that always operates similarly in tech, aesthetic, and tone.
I know that when speaking about games this is often a problem of resources, but one of the things that bothers me is how similarly everyone looks in this supposedly post-human-form setting. Have you seen what a VR chatroom looks like? Or a second life nightclub? How you gonna depict a setting with heavy cultural adoption/acceptance of body modification and not put a single furry in it?
(HOLLYWOOD, ARE YOU LISTENING?)
Finally It’s time to talk about 2077. Here’s the thing, I have not played it, and probably wont for a few years. But using my knowledge of the genre and the advertising for the game, I am going to attempt to predict some things about the storyline of 2077. I have so far fastidiously avoided details about the story of the game, this has not been difficult, as details about the story have been absent (as compared to say, the use of the character Adam Jensen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s marketing. (I will be using the Deus Ex series as a convenient point of comparison a few times during this section). I’ve seen the list of bugs and the funny glitch videos like everyone else, and somehow couldn’t avoid learning that the game is covered in dildos, but other than that I’m going in blind. Maybe one of you could tell me how close to the mark I get.
I have the heart of a child and I find these headlines amusing. “Dildo density” is a delightful phrase.
So here we go: some completely baseless predictions about cyberpunk 2077. These are not ALL nessacerliy negitive, they are just my predictions:
- It will have a problem knowing when to be jokey and when to be serious.
- It will be take elements from every cyberpunk thing from Ghost In The Shell to Johnny Mnemonic, put it in a cuisinart and puree it until it is a textureless paste. Adopting the trappings of other, older stories without exploring anything new about the messages at the heart of them. Like how Gibson used the tech from Mirrorshades while still missing the core message. These will frequently come in a form that wont be able to avoid making knowing, winking references to make sure you KNOW it’s knows its being self-ferenential to the genre and you can all have a quick chuckle for how clever you all are for noticing the reference. (Keuanu Reeves character is named “Johnny”)
- Keanu will be dangled in front of you the way an adult might jangle a set of car keys in front of an infant. This opinion was solidified in my mind seeing him give that award at the game awards show recently. Keuanu doesn’t care. Keanu has much more interesting things he could be doing with his time. It’s a sign of how elevated the genre has become that they would attempt to appeal to this base Hollywood trick of Putting A Celebrity In It to distract you from its other flaws. There will be Too Much Keanu.
- The game will not respect you enough to give you the option of a Tracer Tong ending. It’s my highly personal opinion that games like this should give you some kind of way to reject its premise, even if only in some secret hidden ending. I’ll be the first to admit that this doesn’t make practical sense for a lot games, but lord would I love to see Va11-HallA try to pull that off. I think it might have something to do with if cyberpunk is understood now as a shared setting, it would be rude to blow yours up. Also something about how we’re all still trapped in the 80’s, and bringing a close to this neruomantic retro-future vision might imply that there is something that comes after the 80’s.
- This is related to the above, and related to it being an open world game set in one city, as opposed to Deus Ex’s globe hopping adventure: the stakes of the story will remain relatively small and local. You wont be permanently toppling any megacorps. The order will be entrenched, and you will find a way to suckle from it, or avoid/incour its wrath. This excellent crique of Watch Dogs 2 makes a similar point about how its often impossible to effect real change in a open world game, and often the methods it uses to depict/suggest bringing about that change are inadequate.
- There will be fewer dialogue driven non-combat quests that explore stories within the setting than in Deus Ex.
- There will be no transhuman anthropomorphic animal enthusiasts. Or if there is, they will probably appear as a unique enemy type. Because that would be typical.
- It may attempt to intellectually engage with some of the material, but it will not attempt to emotionally engage with the repercussions of the setting its decided to play in on the level of the (admittedly overdone, but Deus Ex has always erred more toward a sometimes almost self-aware stoic seriousness) “I never asked for this” Adam Jenson stuff from Human Revolution. This is related to point #1, and the irony problem. What humor there was in Deus Ex often arose because it was taking its ridiculous “all conspiracies are true” setting very seriously at nearly all times.
- The dystopian fears expressed in 2077 will better represent the dystopian fears of the 80’s than the dystopian fears of today.
So thats what I’ve got. And yeah I AM sort of using this as a crtique of how I feel about the 80’s flavor blasted stuff that gets called “cyberpunk” these days. We’ll see what I hit and what I miss. But this wouldnt be complete without touching on “””the trans”””issue”””””.
It is my belief that this game never stood a chance in hell of making anyone happy on this front. I watched in abject horror earlier this year as some very well meaning liberal do-gooders in the literature world destroyed the life of a closeted trans author who was publishing an “own voices” short story under a pseudonym simply because her title was a little edgier then they liked (many of them never bothered to read beyond the title before condemning it and the author, and felt entirely just in doing so and proud of their own willful ignorance). It disgusts me that the billion dollar company will probably be afforded more of an assumption of good faith on this topic than poor Isabel Fall.
Though Cyberpunk 2077 does have its rabid defenders willing to excuse any slight, I think it’s also clear that there are people out there waiting to hear a pin drop so they can (fairly or unfairly) tear this thing to shreds. Under these conditions I expect 2077 to try to “play it safe” by not directly addressing the issue of transgender individuals in the actual context of the story. It certainly will not attempt to say anything new (I wouldnt want it to try to, it would just fuck it up).
The problem is that while it is content to use fetishized depictions of trans people in its in-game and real world advertising, it will not depict them as real people inside the story of the game (Partly because I’m not 100% sure there will be ANY “real people” in this game). There will be no side mission where you help someone access transition services. There will be no named transgender character. I would love to be wrong about this. They will use that marginalized group as an edgy aesthetic, like the gratuitous piles of dildos, without actually investigating anything human or emotional that could be said to be at the heart of it.
I see people often lament that we live in a cyberpunk world, but not really being able to express what they mean when they say that. When our current definition of cyberpunk is largely just a collection of tropes, it loses sight of what the genre had ever really been about to begin with. The way people define cyberpunk today obfuscates the reason for its relevance. And maybe they start thinking “well our world isn’t REALLY cyberpunk because it doesn’t look like the way I’ve been told to expect. It doesn’t look like an 80’s VHS.” The genre may have ended in 1995 with “Headcrash”, but since the issues it addressed are now more relevant to everyone than ever, a majority of US/UK science fiction today is still haunted by its ghost.
Cyberpunk is dead, long live cyberpunk.