In the 19th century, French author Jules Verne implored the imagination of thousands of readers with his dozen or so tales of seemingly implausible journeys across the globe, in even more unfathomable contraptions. In one of his most acclaimed novels, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” Verne tells the story of a sea captain’s voyage with his crew aboard their 70-meter-long submarine, the Nautilus.
The future has reliably been a point of interest for people pondering their purpose, in the past or present. This fascination for things-to-come has, in fact, defined multiple genres in the entertainment industry, and those genres have, with the passage of time, transformed from far-off fiction to fact.
Submarines had existed before Verne penned the Nautilus, with evidence of their earliest creation dating all the way back to the 17th century, according to an article from the History Channel. What Verne presented for young readers, as I was when I first read an English copy of the novel, within the leather boundaries of his futuristic world was the gall to dream on a grander scale. In his encouragement, he is not alone. Jonathan Swift outwardly presented wonder that disarmed my young mind hiding a veritable wealth of truth beneath, while George Orwell and Ray Bradbury encouraged the skeptic within the mind of the young reader to question the very nature of authority.
Classics. These were classics.
But the precarious landscape of the present has brought about a new version of the future, one that is characterized by the intersectionality between the working class and rapidly advancing technology. According to Steel Series, a popular gaming company, the cyberpunk genre can arguably trace its roots back to the “New Wave science fiction movement of the 1960s and 1970s.” Considering the vast quantity of futuristic media that took over the world in the ‘70s and onwards, such a claim is difficult to substantiate. All that we do know for certain is that in the 21st century, the genre has never been more relevant.
Stories within the cyberpunk genre are generally set in futuristic dystopian societies, paying particular attention to the underbelly of civilization. Underbelly seems too harsh a word, because more often than not, those are the stories to which a reader can most easily empathize. Modern cyberpunk stories tend to make satire of the apparent and exorbitant wealth disparity in our present-day society.
Where books had once been the medium through which children would learn their favorite stories, television was quick to replace that attention. Not to say that children are no longer reading books, just that the majority prefer the alternative. In vying for public eyes and ears with intriguing stories, television has slowly gone from one way looking boxes to an unique interactive experience with the addition of video game consoles.
A 2020 video game by CD Projekt RED, named eponymously for its genre, “Cyberpunk 2077” embodies within its story many of things that make the genre so entertaining, yet scary at the same time. The game is set in the fictional Night City in the year 2077. Cars still have wheels, but humans have begun to enhance their physical capabilities with cybernetic surgeries to almost every bodily system. The world is practically run by corporations who are, in truth, killing the population with the very technology that is being advertised to them. The story of “Cyberpunk 2077” can be seen as a cautionary tale for a world where technology is advancing so quickly and in the hands of so few people. The nuance of the fictional city often feels too real, if given enough thought.
Another video game entrant, whose story’s impact and importance cannot be exaggerated in today’s society is “Fallout 4.” Although not technically classified as a cyberpunk game, the 2015 release by Bethesda presents a sort of satire of the genre. Fallout, as was the case with its predecessors, takes place in America after nuclear fallout in the year 2077 – super coincidental right. One company, Vault Tec, designed specialized vaults for citizens to shelter in during the fallout; however, their altruism was a farce, as the vaults were, in fact, designed as large-scale social experiments, and not the good kind. Although conceptually different from “Cyberpunk 2077,” “Fallout 4” still delivers the food for thought that the genre encourages.
Amidst a scare over synthetic humans, one of the games main points of contention falls on the question of what makes a person a person when compared to the former.
It all seems too fanciful. Yet, currently in the world one of the largest global debates is the equitability of AI and how it can be shared so not to be controlled by single corporations as an uneven advantage. We are closer already to an untenable future than we could possibly imagine.
Perhaps, as we continue to progress into the future, a thought should be lent to all the lessons written in fiction up until this point. Lend an ear to our Soundcloud to hear a few more thoughts on the topic.