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The Dystopian Future of Cyberpunk 2077

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The Dystopian Future of Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077's futurism has deep historical roots.

Arjan Terpstra

30 Aug 2020 ⋅ 4 min read

With a title like Cyberpunk 2077, you may be excused for not thinking of the history of art, architecture, literature, music and philosophy. What we think we see when we play CD Projekt Red's gloriously neon video game, is the future. But what we actually get, is a deep dive into our cultural past.

When we play as V in the game, we walk the Night City metropolis, a place of angular, towering and faceless buildings. Night City is a place ruled by megacorporations that use technology to control the population.
Doing Business
© CD Projekt Red

'Doing Business' is an official concept art image for Cyberpunk 2077.

It's up to the player to navigate this oppressive environment while they customise and upgrade their mercenary character with advanced scientific technology - cybertech.

Other in-game characters are in the same boat, mostly. They struggle. They fight in gang wars. They embrace technology as a means to salvation and get addicted to it, just as they use street fashion to express individuality. Some NPC's you meet are meek, but anti-authoritarian sentiments abound and social unrest is never far away.

Blade Runner

Now where have we seen this before? Enjoyable as Cyberpunk 2077 is, with beautiful looks to boot, it's not very original. Replace V with Roy Batty and Night City (based on Californian cities) with future Los Angeles, and you have an interactive Blade Runner.

Tweak the story a little, and you're in Ready Player One. Use a cyberdroid for a main character and it's Ghost in the Shell. Or have humans switch their digitized consciousness into new bodies - 'sleeves' - and you have Altered Carbon.
Voodoo Boys
© CD Projekt Red

'Voodoo Boys' is an official art print for Cyberpunk 2077. Made by Josan 'Deathburger' Gonzalez for CD Projekt Red.

Pandemic

If this selection of current movie, anime and TV titles proves one thing, it's that cyberpunk as a genre is very much in vogue today. Perhaps it's a sign of our pandemic-ridden times we feel drawn to future technology, but also understand the dark societal challenges that await us when things go south.

This creates a dualism we usually call dystopian futurism. In literature and film, it translates to 'dystopian science fiction', with 'cyberpunk' one of the more aesthetic expressions of a long standing literary genre.
Street Life
© CD Projekt Red

Street Life is an official concept art image for Cyberpunk 2077.

Over time, there has been a lot of that in books. From H.G Wells' War of the Worlds (1897) and William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984), to Phillip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Isaac Asimov's I, Robot (1950), Western literature has a long tradition of not taking technological progress lightly.

Twentieth century art and architecture saw the same tendencies. In Italy in 1909, the Futurists saw a new dawn in scientific progress, and emphasised (the thrill of) speed, youth, technology and violence in their art, glorifying modernity.

Dress to impress

In architecture, this translated to 'dynamic' and large buildings that were meant to impress. This style would be highly influential, inspiring movements like Russian constructivism (and thus imposing Soviet-era state architecture), brutalism and Neo-Futurist building styles.

Combine this imposing and urban building style, over-used by governments and tech companies (looking at you, Apple headquarters) with the dystopian unrest described by sci-fi writers, and you're halfway Cyberpunk 2077.

Add the addictive features of today's technology to the mix, and our deep seated unrest about it, feature some faceless evil megacorporations and spice it up with a punk aesthetic for the poor NPC's roaming Night City, and there you have it: a video game space that is as much about our current mental status as it is about the art styles of old.


A Matter of Definition
What cyberpunk is, or could entail, exactly, will always be fodder for academics. yet most will agree on the basics: Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that started as a literary movement. Writers like William Gibson (Neuromancer) and Phillip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) are probably the most well-known authors in the genre. Cyberpunk usually features advanced science and technology and is set in an urban, dystopian environment occupied by privatized police, mega-corporations and criminals. Inequality and social unrest are common themes and the 'punk' in cyberpunk manifests itself in a strong anti-authoritarian sentiment.

Cyberpunk 2077 Fine Art Print Collection

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