With Cyberpunk 2077 claiming the coveted “most anticipated game” spot in the minds of many, now seems as good a time as any to discuss the idea of the cyberpunk genre in video games. You’ve got your Remember Me’s, your Dex’s, your Shadowruns (sounds like an unfortunate yet intriguing medical condition), and they all have a theme in common: the world ain’t great in the future.
The future is sad, the future is brooding, the future is colorless and yet somehow full of neon. It’s a bleak, dystopian realm where even the poorest of the poor can afford high tech cybernetic limbs. But their metal bits have sparks coming out of them, because poor and metaphors and SOCIETY.
In a world where human suffering is framed in a darkly beautiful, almost neo-medieval setting, it’s no surprise that cyberpunk is always seen as a pessimistic view of the future. But does it have to be? Probably. But let’s pretend. Let’s take the aesthetic of cyberpunk—the heavily contrasting lighting, the perpetual night, the focus on futuristic tech—and slap some optimism on this puppy. Here’s my pitch.
You wake up in your messy bed, get up and stumble through a sea of nondescript beer bottles towards the bathroom. Oh, you’re not an alcoholic, and nothing bad happened. You just had some friends over last night and told yourself you’d clean up in the morning. But you lied (you scamp) and now you have to live with these fond reminders of good times with your buddies.
Blinking through a hangover as you hit the lights, your silhouette comes into focus in the mirror. An interface appears and you customize your appearance and gender (male, female, neither, undecided, other, yes).
After a refreshing splash of water and a stroll over to the toilet for a hearty vomit, you’re ready for action. As if anticipating your mood, your phone rings. Picking it up, you’re greeted with several choices.
- Mercenary job board notification
- Congratulations! Your application for security chief at [tech company with blatantly ominous-sounding name] has been accepted!
- This user just winked at you on MercMatch! Start chatting now!
- Missed call from Mom
- You’ve been selected for our grand prize of [whatever a lot of money is in the future]! Open this message for more details!
Opening any of these doesn’t lock you out of any content. You can open them all. But the first one you select determines your background and a few key stats (which you can tweak manually if you’re unsatisfied). However, hitting the last one just makes you black out and wake up in a randomly selected location with all your money stolen.
From here, you’re in charge. No overarching plot. Just an impressive amount of smaller stories told as you find them. None of them are world-shaking, either. Sure, the corporation who employs you for security is probably involved in some shady malarkey, but a happy setting doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of douchebag CEOs.
Stepping outside to what you assume is morning (hard to tell for sure in the undercity), you hop in your vehicle and start making your way towards the mission of your choice. Various vendors and stores fly by your window, emphasized by aesthetically pleasing animated marquees. A message flashes on your console from a friend, asking if you’d like to get some breakfast at your favorite little diner. A quick hit of the accept button and your route adds a stop.
A quick meal together and not only do you gain some temporary stat bonuses, but now you have your first buddy, Persona-style. You’ll meet plenty, and while some will be available to join you in the field, others are just there to hang out. Advancing these relationships will give you bonuses, new missions, and you can even throw more cool parties like last night. Parties will be an actual game mechanic because this is my game and I have dreams.
Now we all love the social aspects, but let’s be honest. You’re here for the action.
Any gunplay type system will do. Fallout, Deus Ex, etc. As long as it’s snappy and responsive, you’ll have a good time. You can also go through the whole game without firing a single shot, lethal or non-lethal. Not like you have to take mercenary jobs. It’s your story, after all. But even if you do, this is a cyberpunk setting, remember? Everybody’s got cybernetics. Just hack ’em and leave ’em all floppy. No death required. Allowed, but not required.
Plus, this is where some of your buddies come in. Whether joining you in the field or as support, they’ve got your back. One can deploy a drone who gives you a full layout of wherever you happen to be. Another might be an expert sniper who takes out enemies who get too close to you (with a cooldown, of course). Then there’s your typical “let’s run in guns blazing Bad Boys-style” buddies. Can’t leave home without ’em.
But how about something less conventional? Maybe a master of disguise who can whip up a perfect guard uniform or business suit depending on the type of infiltration you’re thirsty for. It’ll be dynamic, though. Every possible mission you take on can utilize a disguise in some way. It might not even be a disguise. It could just be some decent formal wear to better fit in at a swanky sushi place. Remember, this is a happy cyberpunk setting. There are dangerous places, sure, but pretty much everyone is willing to hear you out before riddling you with glowy bullets.
The richest people in this world are still a bunch of pricks because some things are universal. But this is a setting where they aren’t in charge of everything. Sure, they have more disposable income and everyone hates them, but they’re still just part of the machine, just like you. Yeah, they got where they are through rich parents and rich friends of their rich parents, but they can’t buy power. Happy cyberpunk.
You’re just you. A rando living their day to day life in a futuristic city. You’ve got a decent income, the economy is steady, there are noodle carts and taco stands on every corner, and fashion makes no sense. No dystopia here.
Look, I just love the aesthetic of cyberpunk but I’m getting worn out on all the bleak hopelessness you see every time it’s used. It doesn’t have to make sense that it’s a happy place; not all stories have to have a lesson. Sometimes a story is just a story. With neon and guns.