With a lot of people unhappy with the CDPR’s presentation of Cyberpunk 2077 so far, what are some good cyberpunk games/books/movies/shows even music that doesn’t totally drop the ball on progressive politics and representation?
So my most recent Jan is “Infomacracy” by Malka Older. The other two books in that series are pretty good too. It’s about a world where a Google like company is in charge or elections and places are governed by micro democracies. Lots of good ideas and a roller blade ninja.
Literally any of the novels by Philip K. Dick, my personal favourite being “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” which was adapted into the movie Blade Runner. Blade Runner and it’s sequel Blade Runner 2049 are films I would highly recommend, especially the latter.
May I introduce you to Hard Wired Island, a tabletop RPG about people fighting to keep corporations from comoditizing the communities you live in, living under oppressive capitalism, being trans, being gay, all while living in the far future of 2020, in space?
Mechanically, I’d call it a mix of basic D&D concept with some Apocalypse World/Blades in the Dark inspiring resolution options, while offer really fast character gen. Maybe not elegant, but simple and straight forward and lets you tell some really cool stories. Most importantly, one of the main mechanics is burden, which tracks how financially fucked you are. Burden is a super cool mechanic, because it anchors characters into the economic systems that are supposed to be the focus of a lot of cyberpunk, while also making it clear it’s easier to manage if party members help each other.
It’s a wildly cool game, one of my friends worked a lot of the mechanics, I think Austin shouted it out. It’s Kickstarter just wrapped, but I think it’s only going to be a few months till print? But the preview is totally playable, aside from maybe some example characters. Check it out.
Literally the other day I was thinking this in context of Cyberpunk 2077 and how kinda awful it seems. VA11-HALL-A is a cyberpunk visual novel from a few years ago (just released on Switch this year) where you barely survive paycheck to paycheck as an LGBT bartender. It’s pretty severely anime-pandering which is sometimes good if you love G Gundam references, sometimes bad since there’s a bit of male-gaze and boob conversations. But your cast of characters becomes a kind of found family, there’s a lot of acceptance of differences and different sorts of lifestyles. And ultimately the story isn’t about how “cool” cyberpunk is, it’s pretty clearly shown to suck and there’s nothing you can do about it, but rather how best you can make of things in a crappy situation, so it ends up rather positive.
This is more in the realm of sci-fi, but The Expanse series is pretty good, and it has a lot of cyberpunk elements. In the first book, there’s a whole story about a hard-boiled detective trying to find out what happened to a spoiled rich kid who went Patty Hearst on her family. It sets up the main conflict between the OPA and the Inner Planets. It feels like Game of Thrones in space at times, which is rad.
It takes place in our solar system, and our technology for rockets had advanced, but not in a way that can cut down travel distances. So, there are characters in later books that are part of polyamorous marriages strict to a ship crew.
There’s a lot of diverse characters, like Bobbie Draper, who’s a Polynesian Martian Marine who is so buff and attractive that everyone melts around her. There’s Alex Kamal, a South Asian pilot who speaks with a Texas Drawl because the part of Mars where he grew up has Texas roots. Yes, just like Futurama. There’s a queer Russian priest woman who is married to a another woman, and they both have a daughter. There’s a space pirate who is married to her entire crew.
The only issue with the book is that the main character is this idiot paladin named Holden, who’s your typical white dude author stand it. Fortunately, around the 4th book, they realize what a pain in the ass he is, and start trying to make the crew take a more active role in the narrative.
Important note. Therss about 10 of these shits now and there are like 800 pages a piece.
The show is really good as well, and I think it does Holden better than the books TBH.
I haven’t played Shadowrun Returns or Dragonfall but I really liked Hong Kong. It has your standard cyberpunk inequality and powerlessness in the face of capitalism but focuses it at more at a community level. And by virtue of it being set in Hong Kong the only Walmart variety boring white guys you’ll get in the game are the ones you bring to the table.
How about some feel good?
An elderly man is given a robot helper by his disinterested son. The old man hates it at first, but then realizes that the robot will help him no matter what he asks… Including rusuming his master thief career.
I’d say this is pretty Cyberpunk, although light and playful.
VA11-HALL-A is fucked up in a lot of ways, (cw: pedophilia) primarily the robotic sex worker who looks like a child (the robot is a DFC model. DFC is 4Chan slang for Delicious Flat Chest).
Novel Not New has a good, relatively in-depth episode.
VA11-HALL-A lost me when I was forced to sit through some shitty dude’s monologue in the first hour, so I dropped the game. But if that’s what’s in the rest of the game? y i k e s
I forced myself through VA11-HALL-A because I found Jill relatable but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone because of what’s been mentioned above.
Oh my god, seeing the poster for this movie just caused me some emotional whiplash as I remembered HOW GOOD of a movie it is. I cannot recommend it enough.
I’d like to throw out there the Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells. Aside from the setting being a society that is spacefaring and an aesthetic that lacks much neon, it’s about as cyberpunk as I think you can get. And it is, I think, decidedly progressive, if not leftist. There are five standalone-ish novellas that make a complete series, and a novel is scheduled for release next year.
CW: use of it pronouns, both in the book and in this post (since I feel i should err on the side of what the character chooses in fiction).
I’m godawful at synopsizing books, so I’m just gonna quote the first one’s kindle description:
"“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth."
What’s really special about them that that doesn’t quite capture is just how deeply fascinating and sympathetic the (decidedly not-a-human) main character is. Murderbot is deeply, deeply socially anxious and just wants to spend all its time watching its favorite soap operas. It still finds itself becoming attached to and caring for humans and AIs around it, despite being both that anxiety and its complete exasperation of them – and crucially, this isn’t treated by the story as contradictory, but as all being equally valid parts of Murderbot’s personhood.
I both can and can’t go on and on; there’s so much I want to gush about, which makes it impossible to be concise, which means I just rewrite sentences without ever conveying anything.
I’ll just leave with, there aren’t very many works in any medium, let alone subgenre, that I feel I can recommend without reservation, and this series is one of them.
If you’re looking for something contemporary, Years and Years just wrapped up on the BBC here in the UK and it has some light, tastefully done cyberpunk elements.
The narrative of the show is an all-encompassing arc that weaves the personal and political, with each episode incorporating a time jump. In the pilot, Brexit has happened, Trump has won a second term, an incendiary populist figure is rising in Britain, China has built an artificial island doubling as a military base, and there is a growing refugee crisis. But by the sixth and final episode the timeline has advanced by 15 years, so a lot happens in those episodes.
Within that there is a narrative about a middle-class family from Manchester, whose own stories and problems range from trivial to larger than life and almost all of which have a satisfying arc. The young Bethany’s obsession with cyber-enhancements and downloading her brain to the cloud is definitely the most fascinating.
The show paints a scary vision of the future, and in that sense it can sometimes feel like a super long, more dramatic episode of Black Mirror. But there is definitely hope to found here, even if it does come with a content warning.
The show was created and written by Russell T Davies, it’s six episodes and they’ve confirmed there will be no season 2.
Highly recommended, if you’re cool with British accents.
Ah yeah I was gonna bring up Dragonfall and Hong Kong! Dragonfall does an even better job of engaging with this idea:
“cyberpunk inequality and powerlessness in the face of capitalism but focuses it at more at a community level”
Through the Kreuzbasar, and the relationship your Runner can end up developing towards it. There’s also the whole idea of the Flux State itself, and how it functions - or doesn’t - while constantly under siege from both capitalist nation states and the megacorporations themselves.
Truly one of my all-time favourite games.
My friends and I played HK for our book club and we have Dragonfall coming up on the roster. I’ve owned both the games for ages and have just procrastinated about playing them. I’m just glad I’m finally finding the motivation now.
I’m not sure how “progressive” it is, but Invisible Inc. is cyberpunk as fuck. Taking down them corporations as best we can even though in the end… they always win. It’s turned based stealth and there is a small story but the real game is a roguelike in endless mode. I feel like they kinda fuck up by having one of your first characters be almost OP. It’s like well I guess I’ll always pick her cause she can find the cameras without even having to look through a closed door.
I don’t know if anyone on here has heard of a movie called… The Matrix?