I don't think most PCs [in most games] are nihilists and criminals. Most PCs cooperate with a group of people to save the world from evil. The fantasy genre context for nihilism is completely different to the cyberpunk context.Thinking about this, I realised that nihilistic criminals tended to be type of characters my group and I always made up for our CP 2020 campaigns, because we were teenage boys, but the game itself can be played in a moral way - and that this is very consistent with the genre.
Bruce Sterling's introductory essay to William Gibson's short-story collection Burning Chrome is a vital read for anybody who wants to understand cyberpunk as a genre. (In fact Burning Chrome, far more so than Neuromancer, is I think Gibson's true masterpiece. None of the stories dip in quality below excellent; all of them paint a compelling vision of the future.) As I've written several times, the key point that Sterling makes is that Gibson's stories - in contrast to sci-fi's general obsession with the square-jawed two-fisted heroic technocratic Ralph 124C 41+ type - concern themselves with the underbelly of society, the Victims of the New. His characters are those who have been crushed, eaten, chewed up, swallowed, and then spat out again by a society which has no place for them and does not care. This in my opinion is an almost Dickensian mode of fiction writing and highly moral: it says "These are the victims of this bleak future, here is their story, and here is how they win (or lose with defiance)."
CP 2020 can be all about that too. Ideas for Robin Hood style campaigns, off the top of my head:
- A group of 'nomads' (Roma/Sinti or Travellers in Europe, Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, tribal communities in Asia) are turfed off their land by the government or a corporation - how do they fight back?
- The PCs are crusading investigative reporters uncovering dastardly exploitation of land or labour/war crimes/criminal activity/political corruption
- The PCs are an ambulance crew/vice squad in the roughest part of a major city, trying to do some little good
- The PCs are a group of vigilantes attempting to restore order in their neighbourhood in the face of police apathy