Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Aesthetics of a Modern Cyberpunk

I've written quite a lot before on the blog about what a modern cyberpunk genre might look like. It would be set in medium-sized, depressed towns rather than big cities. It would involve food crime and theft of IP more than drugs. It would concern non-linear war. Rather than boostergangers, the danger would come from kids brought up on cellphones and twitter who never developed empathy. Rather than megacorporations or the State, freedom would be threatened by the new puritanism of trigger-warning and micro-aggression speech-codes. Rather than nuclear war, the fabric of State and society would be threatened by a broad spectrum of different terrorisms, from suicide bombers to serial killers to football hooligans.

All well and good, but modern cyberpunk would also need to change its aesthetic. 1980s cyberpunk was neon and skyscrapers, mirrorshades and cyberware, LEDs and hovercars. Alienation expressed through slickness, chrome, straight lines and bright lights.

All of that needs to be thrown out. Modern cyberpunk is grass verges that are overgrown because the council can't afford to have them cut. Modern cyberpunk is abandoned industrial estates with trees growing up through the car parks. Modern cyberpunk is white-elephant airports that never had passengers or planes and have now gone to seed. Modern cyberpunk is entire towns overgrown with weeds because nobody walks anywhere anymore and only the roads need to be clear. Modern cyberpunk is waste ground full of long grass, wild flowers, nettles and bees' nests, strung out between shuttered factories. It is former farms half-reclaimed by nature because GM crops take so much less space. It is banks of solar panels and wind farms with greenery flourishing in between. It is school playing fields re-wilded through disuse. Modern cyberpunk is green.









23 comments:

  1. Love this concept; I started making some notes a few months ago for a streamlined Cyberpunk-y thing. I miss playing our Cyberpool game.

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  2. Oddly enough, that screams post-apocolyptic to me. Man has consolidated in the big cites, fed by towering tanks of GM algae that becomes food, with the 0.001% on top and the rest preyed up - terrified of the landscape and what's out there in the dark.

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  3. Has anyone read William Gibson's The Peripheral? It plays out both the 'traditional' cyberpunk and the decaying modern-urban sense talked about here quite well.

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  4. While I agree with the majority of this post. There's a couple things I disagree with. There would definitely be drugs. But it would not be the combat drugs, IQ boosters, or what have you. It will be things that simulate mda, till they make them illegal. Then the Chinese pharm coms change the formula or base, and begin importing it legally again. But the worst of it would be the home grown drugs. Meth, cat, crocodile and other horrible things.
    Also while I can get behind the chrome, led world of the 80's would gone. The abandoned areas would still have bits of tech. The run down building a family lives in has leaking pipes, and is decaying at an advanced rate. But they still have the 60" led, trideo, or what have you satelite tv. Everyone, urban, rural all carry a cellphone with more computer power and apps, than a 1980's fictional cyberdeck. That's the biggest drug. The internet/web/vr/net space. That you can carry and immerse yourself in any where. Escaping reality, living in this fake reality.

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    1. Yeah, I like the idea of the internet as a drug. I mean, it is, isn't it?

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    2. "Did noisms post again? clicks refresh Did noisms post again? clicks refresh."

      I can stop any time.

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  6. "Rather than boostergangers, the danger would come from kids brought up on cellphones and twitter who never developed empathy."

    But also boostergangers, right?

    Maybe a la Robotech The New Generation, the boostergangers are now basically city headsfolk or councilpeople or the like. I'm sure they'd somehow make that about being tough on empathy crime.

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  7. Looks more like Tinker Wars.

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  9. You want a gang? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLdWbwQJWI0

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    1. Yeah, I was thinking about that story earlier today. Flash mobs which appear for reasons which the PCs have no idea about, with uncertain aims...great random encounter for a cyberpunk game.

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  10. I've always been deeply disturbed by the idea of voluntary cybernetic replacements. Prosthesis to compensate for injury or defect doesn't bother me, but intentionally, permanently replacing parts of your body for a "performance boost" is repugnant.

    Cyberpunk is about our fears of the future and how people might cope in a world under the influence of dehumanizing technology. Given that thesis, I want to propose a few ideas:

    1) Cybernetic Zombies -- The flesh has long since died and rots away, but the machine parts keep the important organs functioning. There's still a person inside, but the mind and soul have decayed worse than the body. The computer brain wars with the human half's mortality.

    2) Robotic enhancements cause such psychological trauma that many who undergo replacement eventually succumb to "replacement psychosis". These unfortunates often become unstable, violent, and homicidal. (Nothing new so far.) This has led governments to place aggressive restrictions on cybernetic enhancements; license to acquire powered prosthetics requires years of bureaucracy and great expense. Applicants must provide evidence of genetic defect or accidental injury. Of course, it's easier and often less costly to obtain illegally.

    3) Ubiquitous GMO and lab-farming has taken its toll on the gene pool, but not in a fantastic, mutant-powers sort of way. Birth defects, belligerent cancers, and wasting diseases plague the world, especially the 99.99% who can't afford and lack privilege to access naturally grown nutrition.

    4) Can we finally lay the "cyber-" prefix to its long-deserved and much anticipated rest? Nothing says 1988 to me so much as a cyber-what-have-you. Today, it has become an appellation to refer to something computer-related by people who haven't the least clue what they're talking about. And I'm not convinced the cyber-security crowd can constitute an exception, sometimes.

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  11. Too real: depressing.
    Maybe throw in some phantastical.
    Have you read Tim Truman's Scout?

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  12. Have you see this video, it looks a lot like the cyberpuk socialmedia reality could be like: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://m.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DYJg02ivYzSs&ved=0ahUKEwiYnKuO5YLOAhWLKiYKHd1vBkgQtwIIHzAB&usg=AFQjCNFtqY1zKFFEDKW4XY-ERLZVLhR1qg&sig2=k0s6wzFGD8PxZ2BPLyP2Kg

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  13. Have you see this video, it looks a lot like the cyberpuk socialmedia reality could be like: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://m.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DYJg02ivYzSs&ved=0ahUKEwiYnKuO5YLOAhWLKiYKHd1vBkgQtwIIHzAB&usg=AFQjCNFtqY1zKFFEDKW4XY-ERLZVLhR1qg&sig2=k0s6wzFGD8PxZ2BPLyP2Kg

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  14. Some of what is proposed here sounds a bit like the Solarpunk aesthetic, which is emerging now. Other parts sound like economic postapocalyptianism inspired by the industrial decay of the American rust belt.

    None of that seems particularly punk (rejection of the status quo, under duress from the authorities) or cyber (human integration with technology in the form of drugs and prosthetics)

    My suggestion would be to look longer at where we are now and project out what the current technologies are going to produce, especially in terms of unequal social structures and wealth distribution.

    Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and their ilk are developing massive processing power. Server farms are installed in racks and racks of computer banks that get stored safely inside of old cold war nuclear bunkers. Wearable technologies and performance enhancing drugs are taking the human animal to new levels of ability.

    These things, projected outward, lead pretty clearly to the development of superintelligent omnipresent and omniscient A.I. systems. Systems housed in the thickest of vaults, controlled by the richest and most powerful human elites.

    Their technological enclaves will look something like The Institute from Fallout 4. Small, completely isolated and outrageously defended city-states of supertechnology. The vast swath of the rest of humanity making due with their castoffs and last-generation gear.

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    1. The elites will be popping clean pills like nonaddictive Oxyies for pain suppression, Adderall for enhanced cognition, clean Amphetamines for increased speed. Protected by small flying drones and infantry androids. All while being constantly plugged into a superintelligent omni-Brain A.I. system via their Google Glasses and bluetooth headsets. Recording everything everywhere constantly for the A.I. to see.

      The rest of humanity cobbling together lower quality technology from landfills, pirating bandwith to communicate through internet backdoors, and cooking dirty drugs in basement labs.

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  15. What you're describing sounds like post-modern cyberpunk, if there is such a thing.

    There's a post on Medium I read just the other day in the wake of the recent coup in Turkey that might be relevant to this thinking: https://medium.com/@thegrugq/cyberpower-crushes-coup-b247f3cca780#.o6tq2x3en

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  16. "Rather than megacorporations or the State, freedom would be threatened by the new puritanism of trigger-warning and micro-aggression speech-codes"
    That's rather hyperbolic, don't you think? A very loud minority of assholes on the internet isn't really a threat.

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    1. Right now people can lose their jobs/careers due to misinterpretations or exaggerations of what they have written on the internet, or even just said off-hand, and the psychology of the mob is alive and well on twitter and Facebook. In a grim cyberpunk future, I think that could be very readily weaponised. Think what imaginative alt-right trolls or hard core transgender activists might be able to do in 10 or 20 years' time with the help of AIs, viruses and social media.

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    2. Or, put it another way: imagine how scared you would be to speak your mind if there were "bots" trawling through social media searching for people voicing the wrong opinions so their reputations could be publicly destroyed.

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    3. That is an utterly terrifying way of putting it. Point.

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