Foresight always tends to get retro futuristic. This is because predicting the future, given the complexity of the modern world, is almost impossible. To get a little closer to reliable predictions, you need extensive knowledge in chemistry, physics, computer science, biology [evolution, medicine, if we talk about transhumanism of humanity], sociology and political science, which is not something common among developers. While Cyberpunk 2077 has been pushed back, we invite you to check out Adam Beld's reflections from Gamepressure on whether the future revealed by Michael Pondsmith in Cyberpunk 2020 could be real.
In fact, to reliably predict the future, you need to be Laplace's Demon [Doom Slayer nervously reaches for the cannon, but Gordon Freeman reassures him: “Relax, this is not the demon”] - and the developers know this. Some of them don't care - after all, it is better to admit the undeniable truth than to try to fight it. And so they just put forward the most daring ideas. Thus, we get alternative realities, stories of small, distant communities where life could go in a different direction. And then there are deliberate anachronisms.
And then the sacrifice of believability translates into a great atmosphere.
When time keeps pace with science fiction
Now that I've put your guard down, I can move on to the Cyberpunk of our time. I certainly don't know what the game's world will be like, as we've only seen trailers and small parts of the gameplay, but the developers have already shown that the game's timeline will be a direct sequel to the original in paperback from the 1980 and 1990 editions of Cyberpunk 2020.
Mike Pondsmith decided to start his adventure at a time that he could have expected in 1988, focusing on the culture of his era. And this is not even 2020 - the first edition of the game was about 2013. As we all know, his predictions and reality are now at odds with many things. The gap is so great that his vision can be considered outdated. There are no eurodollars, the USA has not fallen into an economic crisis, and punk rock is not what it used to be.
You could reasonably try to defend this vision by saying that the basic elements of cyberpunk are part of our world today. Do corporations rule the world? They may not be as powerful as they were in Cyberpunk 2020 or Cyberpunk 2013, but their impact on us is significant. Growing social inequality causing more tension? There is. Is there a technocracy, mass surveillance of the population, a cultural clash leading to regression, tribal and nationalist tendencies reminiscent of the gangs of the future? Mike Pondsmith pretty much predicted this 30 years ago.
But it's not that simple. The author did not need to anticipate many of these phenomena - all this was happening right before his eyes, although not so intensely. The giant cities of the future were inspired by the megacities of Japan. The development of technology can be traced back to the early 1960s. Discussion of Moore's Law spawned ideas that, over the years, were voiced as a "technological feature".
The only thing that was new was that the game told the story of humanity, lost among processors and heaps of data, best illustrated by cyber psychosis. Social transformations were also no strangers to the concept in the world of 1988, when the communism of the USSR was taking steps towards the abyss. It was obvious what moods would be in society over the next few years.
People don't want cyberpunk
Other ideas, which are an integral part of the cyberpunk style, cannot be present in our world, at least our mentality is not ready for that. Just look at how modern prosthetics can be - we seem to be inches away from thought-driven synthetic limbs. However, they remain a niche product, mainly aimed at people who have suffered accidents.
People are usually wary of this kind of thing unless they are faced with having to do it. However, in our reality, some people are subject to body modifications like piercings and tattoos. But at the same time, it is difficult to imagine that someone will change their skin to a chrome finish.
Until healthy people are willing to change their bodies, this business will not be economically viable. Prosthetics remain expensive and relatively slow to develop. "Cyborgization" was probably possible if we had more modern technology. But on the whole, these concepts are largely absent from public discourse. Is it good? It is hard to say. The point is that Pondsmith's vision is possible, but not attractive to modern society. And the author probably knew about this, judging by what he calls Cyberpunk 2013 "an RPG about a dark future." Few want to live in a dark future.
Unfortunately, people see the dark future with a pronounced technophobic attitude to reality. How many times have we heard that games are addictive, that they are the root of all evil and that they develop mental illness; that smartphones will turn us into zombies, and social media will destroy relationships. It can also hinder the development of innovative ideas. And this is not just an irrational fear of new discoveries, there are many very rational problems that arise in connection with the introduction of new technologies, especially in medicine and biology.
In order to conduct animal experiments in universities these days, the consent of the bioethical commissions is required. Without such consent, these studies are very difficult, if not impossible. I do not presume to judge what exactly these commissions are, despite the fact that their composition and ethical prerequisites are often contradictory, but ethics in modern science is as important as progress itself.
And often, decisions made on the basis of ethical norms block the development of technology for many years - and this will continue until a morally unambiguous approach is developed or until the general perception of people about it changes. If not for such restrictions, genetic engineering, cloning and research into the communication of the brain and computers would certainly be more advanced today.
Of course, this does not mean that morality has nothing to do with researching new technologies - I just want to say that cloning organs or altering the human genome, as we can see in Cyberpunk 2020, is technically possible if humanity were a little more ruthless ... As ruthless as the original author showed.
The fact is, Pondsmith's 2020 technology vision itself is outdated. For example, our cars do not fly, but become autonomous in control. However, then he could not know how some of his ideas would look ridiculous today, and this is a classic thing for futurism. Even the ideas of great people today can look silly. His vision was not wrong, but rather, in many ways, less correct than it really is. When creating his world, he tried to show it as highly social and unfair.
One of the best contemporary examples of retro futurism is Ridley Scott's Alien. Claustrophobic corridors, strange mechanisms, interiors reminiscent of cluttered Soviet submarines, monochrome screens with text-based interfaces. All of this helped create the film's stifling atmosphere, but also seemed quite real in the context of future space travel.
However, today the vision presented here seems completely outdated, which did not stop Alien Isolation from retaining this strange atmosphere of the original painting.
There is another important detail in cyberpunk that sits on top of the very core and core - the setting. On the visual side, cyberpunk often plays with kitsch, referring to the festive vision of the future of the 80s and 90s.
Bright lights clash with smoky interiors of dubious nightclubs. This setting can cause cognitive dissonance in us, as in the audience. There is no trace of the minimalism that is so popular in modern science fiction and in our everyday life; not a trace of the subtle sense of alienation found in Blade Runner, not the joyous glitter of colors from punk Borderlands or Rage 2. Instead, the audience gets a mixture of it all, which seems somewhat unlike the real world.
And yes, the style is outdated. But it's as outdated as the Gothic cathedrals - nobody builds them these days, right? And if they did it, it is not clear why it is needed. But this does not prevent us from admiring such architecture and love it. It's the same here. Cyberpunk 2077 is, in a sense, nostalgia for an era when the Internet barely worked and corporations did not rule the world. This is a style update that is deprecated.
Those years weren't just about kitsch and VHS movies about muscle guys; they are also an important part of pop culture, especially in American comics. Released in 1986, Alan Moore's Wathcmen or Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns showed that there is a strong demand for darker, coarser, serious pieces inspired by Cold War noir and paranoia. This was the beginning of the so-called "dark era of comic book superheroes."
I mentioned Batman for a reason. The Dark Knight had his own cyberpunk incarnation. In the late 90s, there was the cartoon "Batman of the Future" telling the story of a teenager Terry McGinnis. He accidentally meets old Bruce Wayne, who has given up heroism due to heart disease. Thus, the boy becomes the new Batman in the city of the future. The idea turned out to be so good that it turned into a comic strip spanning several episodes, and the characters were recognized as canon.
As a result, even Marvel based on this released their comic series dedicated to Spider-Man from 2099.
And authors like Miller and Moore, who realized the nihilism of cyberpunk, have captured the minds of thousands of readers with their works - they have created outstanding works that investigated the psyche of characters and solved complex problems of an unprecedented level. Echoes of this period continue to appear in pop culture to this day, and neo-noir is still one of the most influential genres in this area of contemporary art.
Some authors have understood darkness a little differently. It was more grotesque. Some of the monsters of that era are ridiculous today. Artists like Rob Lifeld Lee or Todd McFarlane endowed 90s comics with a distinct visual style that is now almost impossible to look at: absurd musculature, ridiculously large guns, thorns, blood, fire, skulls and ridiculously beautiful characters were everywhere [funny that both men and women in these works were equally amenable to objectification].
The plot of such comics was usually only a pretext for chaos and pseudo-philosophical reflections on the dark side of humanity. A good illustration of this is Maximum Carnage, a crossover between Spider-Man and Symbionts, which tells the story of how Cletus Kasidy became a butcher.
Future in Cyberpunk 2020 has managed to strike the right balance between mature, realistic themes and sheer exaggeration. On the one hand, he was not afraid to touch on serious topics, he did it wisely and with the right feeling: the problem of social inequality, the loss of personality amid the confusion of technologies and conflicting ideologies, or the uncertainty associated with life in a dynamically changing world.
On the other hand, the game's motto is: "style and coolness are everything." This means that all of these moral issues are hidden under a thick, colorful cover. This means that everything has to be big, extreme and exaggerated. Cities? Forget about ordinary boring houses, let's make them huge! Corporations? Gray morality? Nooo, make them demonic, evil to the bone! Violence? On every corner, but not the usual firefights - let's create total chaos, explosive bullets, giant knives in hand, nuclear weapons!
You might say this is egregious, but isn't that what video games are supposed to do? Well ok, maybe I exaggerated.
While I believe Cyberpunk 2077 will refresh the styling, it is also quite clear that the game will not abandon all the elements that seemingly do not fit together. In the end, it was these elements that largely contributed to creating the distinctive cyberpunk atmosphere that has helped him survive to this day. Only this mixture of anachronisms and deliberate simplistic romanticism will allow us to feel the California breeze while riding a bike in Night City.
It is the only ingredient that gives Silverhand's music strength and power, combined with Keanu's face and Dennis Lixen's voice, such power and charm. And finally, this is the only way to give the player the opportunity to challenge the hated megacorporations and fight for freedom. And all this while we sit in the safe, air-conditioned office of a corporation, enjoying a package of benefits and a salary that allows us to live modestly but comfortably.
The Topic of Article: Cyberpunk 2077 Retro Futurism - Can Cyberpunk Be Real?.