Cyberpunk Documentary PART 1 | Neuromancer, Blade Runner, RoboCop, Akira, Shadowrun

We’ve all heard of cyberpunk But what IS cyberpunk? A casual explanation might end up in a ramble about cyborgs, laser guns, neon lights and rainy city nights But behind that facade of neon and chrome lies a cultural movement It masks a seedy underbelly of crime, corruption, corporate authoritarianism, and the dangers of rampant technological progress Skyscrapers extend as far as the eye can see, and for every brightly lit ramen shop or tech emporium offering the latest in bleeding edge gadgets, you’re just as likely to find yourself in a dingy alley surrounded by poverty and addiction The overabundance of technological wonders and indulgences punctuate the decrepit slums of the megacities and sprawling metropolises of a dystopian future — which encapsulates cyberpunk’s most fundamental definition: High tech, low life It’s easy to see why these themes are so popular: it seems like every day we take a step closer to “The Future” we saw on television : robotic arms, self-driving cars, smart homes, killer drones, and an economy driven by our unquenchable thirst for the newest, sleekest machine These themes are prevalent in all forms of art, from novels to film, from television to video games — and in this documentary series, we’ll explore the decades-long history of the genre, its origins, its many influences, and how these ideas inspired neo-futurism, both in entertainment, and many of the technologies we use today So let’s jack in to one of the most fascinating movements in recent history: Cyberpunk Cyberpunk is an offshoot of science fiction, though it explores a starkly different vision of the future than its forebears The genre embraces the punk and early hacker subcultures, bringing to light the dichotomy of a high-technology world inhabited by denizens deprived of most of these luxuries, despite the advancement of society as a whole This worldview paralleled the growing pessimism in the late 1960’s and 70’s After the moral unshackling of the Free Love era and the emergence of modern drug culture, America was torn apart politically by the tumultuous Vietnam War, a controversial presidency ending in resignation, and a festering mistrust of authority The conflict between the haves and have-nots also feeds into another major theme of cyberpunk Often depicting future dystopias where megacorporations wield more power than governments, and rule the world from lofty skyscrapers, overlooking the streets where cyberpunk heroes try to make ends meet doing illicit jobs, either for these corporations, or against them Some may be able to afford cybernetic augmentations, swapping organic body parts with machine replacements that make them stronger, faster, or more in-tune with the endless expanse of cyberspace at their fingertips But are these cybernetically-enhanced people still human? Or are they the next phase of human evolution? At what point does the line between man and machine blur? These are the questions and themes that drive cyberpunk Unlike its more optimistic science fiction predecessors, cyberpunk showed us the dark side, revealing the dangerous side effects of the drug of futurism The world was sweeping up the still-warm ashes of World War II, when mathematicians and philosophers noted the rise of cybernetic technology in modern living New inventions became more prominent in day-to-day life, and the embrace of these new mechanical marvels inspired visions of the future, and what such a life would hold for mankind This mode of thinking inspired a new wave of writers and artists, many of whom used these advancements to predict what our lives would be like in the far future One such author was the influential sci-fi icon, Philip K. Dick, who made a startling

discovery while researching his post-World War II alternate history novel, Man in the High Castle Philip read a German officer’s journal, in which the soldier complained that the screams of starving children kept him awake at night, not out of guilt, but more as a nuisance These startling revelations inspired PKD’s concept of the “android,” a machine that resembled a real person, but with one critical difference: the absence of empathy Among a myriad of inspired work, his most famous was 1968’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In it, he explored the question of what it truly means to be an authentic human being, and not an unfeeling, uncaring machine devoid of emotions and empathy In the novel’s setting, entire subcultures emerged, where citizens would prove their humanity by caring for animals, and the presence of dangerous androids would be sniffed out through rigorous empathy testing, and enforced through state-funded bounty hunters “Do Androids Dream?” also explored the concept of a shared virtual reality experience, nearly three decades before it hit the mainstream This revolutionary novel helped sow the seeds of what would become the cyberpunk genre as we know it Even though home electronics were still primitive, the concept of artificial intelligence was brewing in the zeitgeist of the 1970s One of the first films to capture this growing idea with a fearful eye was Colossus: The Forbin Project The movie follows a brilliant American computer scientist who creates an all-powerful computer program designed to solve the world’s problems: hunger, politics, war and disease The end result is a cautionary tale of what would happen if the world was given to a benevolent AI that decided human judgment was too flawed to retain their dominion over the planet In a terrifying turn of events where a creation outgrew its creator, Colossus learns from and fuses with another AI developed in Russia This new supercomputer then decides to take global matters into its own hands as it conquers the world in the name of the unflinching march of progress One of the most famous films to capture this technological anxiety was Westworld, the first theatrical movie by science fiction author Michael Crichton — perhaps best known for penning Jurassic Park, the highest-grossing film released worldwide at its time Unlike that movie, however, Crichton wrote and directed Westworld himself Westworld vividly imagines a near-future where theme parks are filled with lifelike androids subservient to the whims of their mortal masters These constructs are used for target practice, role-playing props, and even pursuits of pleasure It’s a grotesque look at the moral indifference shown to those who are deemed less than human Unsuspecting customers enjoy the park’s many attractions across Medieval, Roman, and Wild West settings, all without regard for the harmless androids who have safety measures put in place so that no danger can befall the humans But when a glitch that goes unnoticed disables this safeguard, all three parks become slaughterhouses The previously helpless androids become the hunters, and their abusers, the hunted In a chilling pursuit, one of the last remaining park guests runs from an android gunslinger, played by screen legend Yul Brynner (in a sort of satirical play on his role in The Magnificent Seven) He is an unforgiving and seemingly indestructible machine with just one purpose: to kill The scenes that showed the world through the Gunslinger’s electronic eyes were the very first time computer graphics were used in a movie The unstoppable cyborg archetype on display here was obviously a big inspiration for James Cameron’s science fiction thriller, The Terminator, a decade later Westworld was followed by Futureworld, a strong but less iconic sequel, and a TV show spin-off in 1980, and was rebooted again in 2016 as an acclaimed TV series Westworld was one of the earliest and most chilling visualizations of cybernetic beings, that doubtlessly had an influence on future cyberpunk works as they were developed French artist Moebius teamed up with American author Dan O’Bannon for The Long Tomorrow, a short story in a 1976 issue of Metal Hurlant (a French comic series known in the States as ‘Heavy Metal magazine’) It was a visceral exploration of a depraved future, filled with flying cars, megacities, murder and mystery The technology-glazed neo-noir realized in The Long Tomorrow consumed other writers and artists, and acted as a visual foundation for many works to come The gloomy outlook people had at the time no doubt influenced 2000 AD’s dystopian worldview of America — a toxic wasteland, punctuated by colossal Mega-Cities spanning the size of multiple states This 1977 British comic series was deeply influential, and one of its leading figures, Judge Dredd, is one of the most iconic characters ever designed The Judge himself was a brutal depiction of law enforcement, totalitarian government and a fallible court system all rolled into one: Judge, Jury and Executioner These were the early literary influences that would lay down the groundwork for cyberpunk as a self-contained genre, distinct from science fiction A small band of beatnik authors would draw from these sources to create a new wave of

futuristic narrative One that would paint worlds of technologically-augmented societies and the underdogs and antiheroes that lived there Names like Bruce Sterling, Walter Jon Williams, and William Gibson were seminal in the development of early cyberpunk literature, such as the tech-themed short stories published in Omni magazine in the early eighties, like Johnny Mnemonic and Burning Chrome These stories were some of the earliest examples of raw “cyberpunk” — tackling themes of the increasingly tightening grip of computerization on our day-to-day lives Though mostly featuring stylish technobabble and evocative imagery rather than hard science, these stories more than made up for their factual embellishments with a chilling prescience of what our future could hold These ideas were different and bizarre, and while not entirely new, had a raw edge to them Their purveyors were collectively referred to as “cyberpunks” by Gardner Dozois, a science fiction magazine editor who borrowed the term from a Bruce Bethke short story of the same name It became a brand of non-conformity and anti-establishment thinking, and that distanced it from the science fiction status quo And thus, the term “cyberpunk” was sealed into pop culture “…the purveyors of bizarre hard-edged, high-tech stuff, who have on occasion been referred to as ‘cyberpunks’…” After a death in the family, and a rough falling out of the troubled movie adaptation based on Frank Herbert’s Dune, director Ridley Scott focused his attention on work to keep his mind off of things With some convincing by its producer, after over a decade of development hell, Scott was compelled towards Philip K. Dick’s proto-cyberpunk novel, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, and got to work on a cinematic vision of the film It’s an inherently philosophical story about humanity following World War Terminus, and the remaining civilization’s dogmatic adherence to empathy as a human ideal During the film’s development, Scott purchased another, unrelated adaptation’s title, simply because he liked the name better, and so the most iconic cyberpunk film ever made, Blade Runner, was born It’s an edgier, more materialistic interpretation of PKD’s novel, forgoing the more on-the-nose themes of piety and social obligation — and laser-focusing on the core story of a bounty hunter tracking down human-like androids — in this adaptation, known as “replicants” The infusion of 1940’s post-war imagery and motifs was palpable, in the unusually retro fashion in the film Blade Runner took the more pious protagonist of Rick Deckard and reimagined him as a rugged, jaded detective like in the noir classics: another Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade — trench coat, grim attitude and all The movie’s setting is the character in the film that speaks the loudest With a stirring soundtrack by legendary Greek composer Vangelis, and one of the most memorable openings in cinematic history Foreboding spires of metal and neon pierce the blackened skyline of future Los Angeles The whole city looks like something from a dream, or perhaps a nightmare, that hasn’t quite made its mind up yet So much of the backstory and worldbuilding is communicated visually It’s like the mile-high skyscrapers and urban infrastructure are in slow-motion destruction, with pillars of fire spouting from the tops, as if the entire city is one big, churning factory in itself Flying cars, searing neon lights, and giant electronic billboards haunt the seemingly bottomless depths of the city Always night, always damp or rainy It was a city that never slept, yet never saw the light of day Everything in Blade Runner takes on a sort of timeless feeling, with decades-old fashion, anachronistic architecture, and vehicles with advanced propulsion technology, but stylized after automobiles the 40’s and 50’s It all felt so real Painstaking detail went into the film’s visual effects, which included handcrafting an entire miniature city After a visual feast of an opening, the stage is set: in a future Earth with off-world colonies in need of an advanced and expendable workforce, cybernetic humanoids called replicants are created At first they are a perfect solution, but eventually a design flaw manifests, and the replicants develop emotions and become dangerously unstable A four-year lifespan is put into place as a safety measure to circumvent renegade replicants But in the latest outbreak, a crew of advanced Nexus-6 models are reported to have escaped the off-world colonies and come back to Earth And the only solution for this problem is to send Blade Runners, specialized hunters to “retire” these dangerous replicants The iconic Voight-Kampff testing machine is the only reliable way to differentiate a replicant from a human It’s an interesting parallel to the real-life test that computer scientist Alan Turing proposed

back in the 1950’s, designed to estimate an artificial intelligence’s capability of human-like cognizance The film’s Voight-Kampff test is sort of an anti-Turing Test, where a suspected replicant is asked highly calculated non-sequiturs in order to eventually trigger an emotional response Our very first dialogue is between a blade runner screening a new worker The testee, Leon, seems nervous and awkward The questions are abstract hypotheticals with some sort of empathetic tone “Why wouldn’t you help a struggling tortoise?”, “What are some good things that come into your mind about your mother?”, and the like Presumably, a human would brush it off, or reject the premise But for a replicant, they have to compute the solution, for which there is no logic It’s like putting a nonsense formula into a calculator, then sitting on the Equals key Spinning and spinning until Leon suddenly snaps into a murderous rage, and sets the stage for everything to come Blade Runner takes the themes that manifested in the early cyberpunk short stories and boldly runs with them The film, like the novel it was based on, asks the question: Do the androids that walk among us have hopes and fears? Dreams and desires? What differentiates man and machine, or even further, “can a machine become human”? Or are they merely programmed, soulless, constructed labour, whose presumed sentience is a glitch that needs to be corrected in the code, and nothing more? This question is echoed in the tragic character of Rachael, a replicant imprinted with false memories, with the goal of making her more human-like But when she discovers that she isn’t “real,” she undergoes a slow and heartbreaking acceptance, all the while Deckard begins to question his own humanity while trying to help Rachael find hers In another subplot, the replicant ringleader, Roy Batty, is a renegade on a quest to meet his maker, literally Upon climbing the chain of command, from an optics engineer, to a genetic designer, all the way up to Eldon Tyrell, the founder of the replicant-creating megacorporation When Batty meets both his father and his Creator in the same person, he is filled with both love and hatred For the one thing he desires: elongated life, is the one thing that Tyrell cannot grant him “You were made as well as we could make you.” “But not to last.” “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly, Roy.” Both Batty and Deckard are outsiders, rubbing shoulders with the powers that be, but their destinies are not scribed by themselves At the beginning of the film, Deckard is trying to get out of the killing business, but is drawn back into taking down replicants, despite his best efforts In that time, he wonders if he has become as cold and unempathetic as the very machines he hunts “Can I ask you a personal question?” “Sure.” “Have you ever retired a human by mistake?” “No.” “But in your position, that is a risk.” On the other hand, Batty seeks a future for himself and his friends, but is bound by an irreversible four-year lifespan He feels robbed of the greatest gift that one could have, and he struggles for a way to grasp it In this way, neither character can escape their fate, and ultimately, that’s what leads to their mutual respect at the end: they are both cogs in a great machine, of which they have no power to change Blade Runner shows off some intriguing technology The most famous example is the photo “enhancement” scene, which shows Deckard panning, zooming and moving the camera position of a photograph, AFTER it was taken Video phone calls, and the chilling realism of a future where all animals in the world are now barcoded counterfeit products, due to the apocalyptic events preceding the story Many of the cityscapes, buildings and machinery in Blade Runner were imagined by the highly respected concept artist, futurist and designer: Syd Mead His work spans decades and has either sculpted or highly influenced countless icons of futurist media Mead once called science fiction “reality ahead of schedule,” an attitude that is abundantly present in numerous films, video games, and media that bears his mark From Blade Runner to Aliens, from Star Trek to Elysium, his concept art feels lived-in, visionary, but most of all, real Though this future-noir exploration of humanity wasn’t exactly what 1982’s audiences were expecting, this box office bomb became an absolute cult classic as time went on, in no small part due to Ridley Scott’s invention of the “Director’s Cut”, specifically to address the undesirable edits to the film, due to studio intervention Blade Runner remains one of the most celebrated cinematic masterpieces of all time, and has been imitated by countless cyberpunk media to this day Two short weeks after Blade Runner hit the silver screen, another film released, which

also featured Syd Mead’s creative influence Tron wowed the world with some of the earliest computer graphics imagery ever developed for a Hollywood film Starring Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who, in a freak accident, gets sucked into his company’s mainframe He is spawned into a virtual world as a User, and computer processes and programs are represented as towers, tanks and other humans As a family-friendly Disney film, Tron was an unlikely influence on the cyberpunk genre If for no other reason than its vivid portrayal of cyberspace Brightly coloured grids set in an expansive void These visuals set the stage for what circuits, software and computer processes might look like from within, with a heavy dose of creative license, of course Tron would set the standard for the cyberspace aesthetic for generations to come William Gibson, an aspiring writer working on his debut novel, Neuromancer, cited Tron as one of his inspirations for the visualization of cyberspace in his own work, saying that the movie *was* the bleeding-edge digital aesthetic Sadly, many early cyberpunk and cyberspace films were box office flops Blade Runner and Tron — both released within 2 weeks of each other, and in a strange twist of fate, both brought in a paltry $33 million each, with expensive visual effects budgets “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” In the summer of 1982, William Gibson had finished about a third of Neuromancer, when Blade Runner hit the cinemas By the time he saw the first 20 minutes of the film, Gibson was sure that his fledgling novel was doomed, and that everyone would assume that he copied the film’s style Panicking, Gibson re-wrote the first two-thirds of the book 12 times, out of a fear that he would be permanently shamed, and yet, when Neuromancer was published in 1984, it quickly became an underground hit, spreading through pop culture like circuits on a motherboard Neuromancer follows the former hacker, Case, in a downward spiral after his body is permanently damaged, and he’s no longer able to do the one thing he was good at: jacking in to the Matrix — the cyberspace that connects all the world’s computers, citizens, hackers and corporations It’s this stark vision of the future that permanently outlined the tenets of cyberpunk Set in The Sprawl A grungy metropolitan zone that blankets half the eastern coast, filled with low-lives, organized crime, hedonism and the cybernetically augmented Case’s luck turns for the better when he meets the hauntingly beautiful Molly — a razergirl, fitted with retractable claws and augmented eyes covered by lifeless mirrored lenses She saves him from a self-destructive path and imminent danger, then presents an offer to Case, on behalf of the powerful and mysterious benefactor, Armitage They fix Case up, make him able to hack again, and give him a new lease on life… with the caveat that he takes on a very dangerous mission He reluctantly agrees, half-deciding to ditch the operation and run for his life, but he soon discovers their contingency plan: a slowly degrading poison sac inserted into his body during the surgery, that if he leaves untreated, will cripple his hacking ability and bring him back to square one, a broken man, just like before In indentured servitude, they span the globe, hiring for a big-time cyberheist, and preparing for the mission of their lives, all the while Case is being contacted and manipulated by an artificial intelligence with its own agenda Gibson’s grisly vision of the future would establish many tropes and themes often replicated by cyberpunk media Things such as decking, street samurai, cyberspace, and Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics (also known as ICE) all owe their origins to Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy, composed of the books Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive Neuromancer became the first science fiction “triple crown” winner, scoring both Nebula and Hugo awards as the year’s best novel, and incidentally, earned the Philip K. Dick Award as the best paperback original It would eventually go on to sell more than 6.5 million copies worldwide Part neo-noir, part heist story, Neuromancer crystalized how a cyberpunk setting looks, feels and reads for decades to come With ultraslick lingo, breathtaking imagery, and a classy stream of consciousness, it was a peek into our dark and high-tech future, through a hyper-stylized lens “People do forget that there was no state-of-the-art in personal computing when I wrote Neuromancer, and that’s why I was using a typewriter.” “Neuromancer and the first Macintosh were released in the same year, and someone told me recently, in the same MONTH That’s difficult for young people to imagine, I know.” The mid 1980’s saw a virtual explosion of cyberpunk media across all spectrums of entertainment

From Japanese animation to tabletop games, from film to television Case in point: Cyberpunk, the tabletop role-playing game by Mike Pondsmith – which was directly inspired by Hardwired, the futuristic corporate warfare novel by Walter Jon Williams Cyberpunk and its second edition, Cyberpunk 2020 frolicked with the “rule of cool”, and even had style over substance as one of the core guidelines in creating a character The game puts players in the bloodied shoes of hackers, mercenaries and company men all struggling for money and power in the seedy playground of Night City And though the game didn’t pick up as big of an audience as best-sellers like Dungeons & Dragons, it settled comfortably as an underdog RPG, and further expanded on the collective cyberpunk lore The popular card game Netrunner would later spawn out of Cyberpunk 2020’s fertile setting as well A year later, another pen and paper game hit the shelves Shadowrun blended urban fantasy – with the rise of elves, dwarves, and other fantasy denizens — into a futuristic, dystopian world where megacorporations reign supreme At its core, Shadowrun took familiar fantasy role-playing like Dungeons & Dragons and merged it with William Gibson’s Neuromancer — cyberpunk with a dash of Tolkien Megacorporations, exploitation and inequality are all themes that drive Shadowrun’s world But in this alternate history, magic and metahuman races emerge mysteriously into our modern society, creating new kinds of prejudice, conflict and dangers overnight Shadowrun’s hybrid of fantasy and dark futurism made so many wild scenarios possible: a dragon’s the CEO of a German megacorporation You can walk the streets and see cyborg samurai, mages, trolls, elves and orcs alike Shamans can summon spirits to battle their enemies, while deckers hack their way through the Matrix and riggers remotely control drones and slice electronic security systems Such a rich, vibrant world of neon-soaked slums, old-school superstitions and new-school transhumanism, all backed up by a colorful vocabulary: like calling eachother chummers, people drink the ever-popular soykaf, and of course, have dealings with the notorious mercenaries known as shadowrunners There’s just something addictive about the wholesale augmentation of limbs, bones and nerves with flashy cyberware You could spec out your character with massive claws, conceal shotguns embedded in your forearms, or implant datajacks to communicate with electronics directly through your mind The meshing of flesh, circuit and steel, all in one As you might surmise, Shadowrun owes a massive debt to not only to Blade Runner, but especially to Gibson’s work on the Sprawl series Many of its most popular ideas were lifted wholecloth: the virtual cyberspace known as the matrix, street samurai, razergirls, the nuyen currency, and plenty of other references all exist in Shadowrun Gibson has spoken about FASA Corporation’s zealous borrowing from his source material, but other than a dismissing eye and a complete denouncement of Shadowrun, he hasn’t gone further than that, once saying “I’ve never earned a nickel, but I wouldn’t sue them It’s a fair cop I’m sure there are people who could sue me, if they were so inclined…” Shadowrun may have steered cyberpunk toward urban fantasy, rather than the attempted hard science fiction of its predecessors, but it was one of the most popular tabletop RPGs of all time, and acted as a major “gateway drug” to cyberpunk in the 80’s and 90’s As time went on, the genre was gaining momentum Other films began to adapt many cyberpunk themes while maintaining proven plot structures — popcorn films with a cyberpunk twist As computers began to proliferate into the consumer industry, Hollywood eventually caught on, and got to work with new down-to-earth sci-fi concepts One of the earliest and most popular movies to tackle computer and hacker culture was the summer blockbuster “Boy Hacks World” movie, WarGames Where a young Matthew Broderick accidentally hacks into a military artificial intelligence, and starts playing what he thinks is just a strategy game, but in reality is threatening the world with real thermonuclear war Another sleeper hit was Trancers, where a detective from the 23rd century goes back to the 1980’s to stop a hypnotic death cult bent on ruining the world It nails all the hallmarks: hi-tech gadgets, skid row, noir references and even a punk rocker sidekick A cult classic that launched several sequels, Trancers is a fun flick, but not a particularly deep analysis of the human condition More action movies started to take notice of these themes Heavily inspired by the works of Harlan Ellison, The Terminator hit movie theatres with a shotgun

blast While not a cyberpunk film per se, there is a lot of strong thematic imagery woven into the movie It depicts an apocalyptic future where the dregs of mankind struggle to overthrow the cyborg stranglehold of the world In response to the growing strength of the resistance, a “terminator” — a robotic soldier disguised in human flesh — is sent back in time with one mission: to eliminate the mother of the future savior of mankind Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most iconic role as an unstoppable cybernetic killing machine would be seared into our memory for decades, with the help of fantastic special effects, and a tight-knit sci-fi slasher flick premise The movie has been solidified in pop culture as having the most famous of cyborg designs, an intimidating steel skeleton with glowing red eyes And in turn, it has inspired many future depictions of cybernetic body augmentation Video games were far behind what movies could do narratively in the 1980’s, but the attempt at adapting Blade Runner to an interactive format was met with dismal reaction, likely due to technical limitations Another complication was that the publisher wasn’t able to get the rights to the book or the movie, instead having to jump through an odd legal loophole and license the movie’s soundtrack In what is the most literal interpretation of a story possible, it essentially boils down to a basic runner game where you have to hunt down so-called “replidroids”, dodging cars and crowds before gunning them down Between runs, you navigate the city in a maze-like world, where you locate potential suspects as blips on your map, which you can land your spinner down to, with the intent to pursue Simple and repetitive Even so, the Blade Runner game had some potential, especially had it been on more powerful hardware and offered more variety in terms of action gameplay or storyline But despite the recognizable brand name, it made only a minor blip in the industry at the time, a forgotten game releasing at the tail-end of the video game crash As cyberpunk further steeped into pop culture, so did we experience the short-lived but beloved “mascot” of cyberspace American actor, Matt Frewer, starred in a BBC-made TV movie, Max Headroom: 20 Minutes Into the Future, where he played a cocky, star journalist named Edison Carter The relentless Carter nearly exposes a conspiracy involving “blipverts,” TV ads that can kill The powerful media executives behind the plot manage to trigger a traffic barrier to kill Carter as he tries to escape the building Panicking after the attempted murder of a celebrity reporter, the media corporations’ computer genius proposes a plan: preserve the mind of the severely wounded Carter, and convert him into a computer generated character Thus, they hope to cover up his supposed murder Through a bunch of greedy mishaps, the AI lands in the hands of a couple of scavengers, who decide to broadcast it on a whim The AI quickly develops a wisecracking personality, and names itself “Max Headroom,” after the warning label on the object that nearly killed its human host Ironically, its original and unpredictable show soars in the ratings, and proves to be a formidable competitor to the media execs who tried to have Carter killed Watching this movie over three decades later, there is a chilling prescience to it Max regularly checks his viewer count in real time, and reacts to his audience like he was a livestreamer on Twitch or YouTube Max quickly became a cultural icon of the 1980’s, and has appeared in numerous commercials, cameos and even an infamous television broadcast hijacking Rapper Eminem would later parody Max Headroom in his music video for ‘Rap God’, now sitting at over a billion views “Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma-Max What I wanna know is, why are the only funny lines on this show, the ones behind me?” Films like RoboCop, set in the desolate hellscape of Detroit, embrace many themes of cyberpunk, such as transhumanism and class struggle Despite the title sounding like a bog-standard action movie, RoboCop was set in a satirical near-future setting, where society’s moral fibre has broken down Soaked in a comical cynicism brought to life by director Paul Verhoeven, the story follows Alex Murphy, a straight-laced cop whose life is destroyed by a sadistic crime lord, only to be involuntarily revived as a cyborg as a last-ditch experiment Now a husk of a man, living in a cybernetic armored shell, the movie is actually a tragic tale of Murphy’s loss of humanity, as he devolves further into an unthinking justice-dealing machine Haunted by fragments of memories of his former life and family, his torment is crystallized in one horrible moment “I can feel them… but I can’t remember them.” RoboCop, like many future Verhoeven movies, features a deeper movie underneath the shallow

Hollywood veneer The crime lord who “kills” Murphy is an unconventional, spectacled villain named Clarence Boddicker, a smart guy, rather than your typical thug boss Boddicker is secretly working with one of the executives at the megacorporation, OCP — the designer of police tech such as the menacing ED-209 robot, and RoboCop himself This parallels the arms dealers who profit from both sides of a war RoboCop cleverly criticized the unchecked and growing crime presence in urban America, as well as the increasingly militarized police force, all while showing that heroes do still exist OCP’s indifference after watching one of their directors get shot into a million pieces at a ED-209 product demonstration, bordered on the ridiculous — it was like selling a driverless tank as a replacement for a beat cop! RoboCop was met with huge success, and launched a comic series, multiple sequels, a TV show, eventually a reboot movie and even a crowdfunded statue in its adopted setting of Detroit The film remains today an icon of cinema, and a true-to-form cyberpunk story, as told from the so-called authority, rather than from the underdog’s perspective “Thank you for your cooperation.” The movie’s success also launched various iterations of video games for the arcade and consoles It didn’t try to do anything deep or thought-provoking, instead serving as a visceral, beat-em-up/shoot-em-up hybrid Like Double Dragon meets Contra, with a robotic kickass hero The game enjoyed modest success and would be followed by sequels as the movie franchise continued The Running Man follows a similar suit This 1987 Stephen King adaptation features another dystopian future, with megacorporations reigning supreme After a grisly prison breakout, the escapees find themselves in a desperate fight for survival, with only one last chance at freedom: to win the death gauntlet known as the Running Man It’s brilliant satire of the gluttonous game show media, pro wrestling and boxing promoters, as well as the public’s growing desensitization toward violence Not to mention predating the reality show craze that would seize the attention of audiences for decades The movie directly inspired the hit competition TV series, American Gladiators, which a producer purportedly got the show greenlit, using clips from Running Man, explaining, “we’re doing exactly this — except the murdering part.” On the other side of the world, Japan took to the Blade Runner aesthetic, and the 80’s and 90’s were chock full of classic anime with strong cyberpunk themes Bubblegum Crisis was a stark depiction of wealth inequality, with megacorporations treating the world like its their own personal chess board, and powerful cyborgs being used for both good and evil deeds Despite its questionable name and deceivingly bright aesthetic, the show and its spin-offs explored the bureaucratic shielding of corruption and the potential dangers of unchecked capitalism The 1988 anime film, Akira, embraced cyberpunk to a T. It follows a biker vigilante and his friend who are caught up in a clandestine plot — when an accident lands one of them with horrific psychic powers There are a ton of cyberpunk tropes here: uber-stylized motorcycles, laboratory experiments gone wrong, and the rise of Neo-Tokyo from the ashes of a cataclysmic event — paralleling the cities lost during World War Terminus in Blade Runner Akira is set against a city rebuilt, one that is being torn apart by terrorism, anti-authority protests and corruption Through high-octane action and an ever-deepening plot, Akira managed to wow audiences around the world with gorgeous animation and brutal body horror Its unforgettable imagery would kickstart many other cyberpunk anime series, and is considered one of the greatest animated sci-fi works of all time With the rise in technology, video games would become sophisticated enough to properly wrestle 0:39:26.470,1193:02:47.295 with the themes of cyberpunk Most notably, Snatcher, a gritty, futuristic detective game, designed by Hideo Kojima, now famous for his smash hit series, Metal Gear, first releasing a year earlier Snatcher is set in a tumultuous future, where there is an imminent menace of cyborgs who “snatch” the body and roles of humans and hide among the populace They may perfectly resemble people on the outside, but are robotic with superior strength and high-tech weaponry underneath You play a gumshoe/bounty hunter who must piece together evidence at grisly murder scenes, to track down suspected Snatchers

It’s been said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” If that’s true, then by that logic, Kojima is the greatest artist in the world Snatcher’s protagonist was traced from Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard, and even the department calls the cyborg bounty hunters, “runners” One bounty hunter, Random Hajile is a carbon copy of pop musician Sting’s character in the 1984 adaptation of DUNE — and entire shots were traced from Blade Runner and its concept art Despite treading dangerously close to plagiarism at times, Snatcher was one of the first and most engaging simulators of cyberpunk noir we’ve experienced to date A surprisingly modern take on the adventure game formula, the game was presented from a cinematic and graphical point of view, often taking a first person perspective view of the city, its inhabitants and the sometimes macabre visuals in front of you The cyberpunk setting and presentation carry the gameplay, which is familiar to pre-point-and-click adventures, with various commands like talk, look, and basic item usage — as do many games in the genre But learning the specifics, guessing at the many story twists, and enjoying the quaint details Konami put into the game is still captivating, decades on Snatcher hits all the right beats: high-tech cyborgs, low-lives and punks abound, and a neo-noir aesthetic, though it does so in a heightened way and is tonally inconsistent Sometimes coming off as incredibly cartoony, despite other scenes of legitimate horror and thematic depth Nevertheless, it remains one of the shining early examples of cyberpunk interactive media — and has been remade with better visuals multiple times for various platforms, namely the Sega CD and Sega Saturn “One of the things that the so-called cyberpunk writers have done, either consciously or unconsciously, is to look around the world outside, look at the fine arts as well, and import whatever they could use into the literary ghetto of science fiction.” In the late 80’s, William Gibson’s Neuromancer was advocated for other media adaptations, primarily by a renegade psychologist Timothy Leary, a friend of Gibson, who had purchased the rights to a video game, and even helped shop a movie pitch to Hollywood for years The book also got a gorgeous, yet sadly incomplete graphic novel adaptation, and Interplay picked up the video game interpretation Brian Fargo led the development, known for making Wasteland, which heavily inspired the Fallout series, years later “Neuromancer: The Game” was an early point and click adventure, in the style of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island The game has a charming look to it But it doesn’t quite capture the desolate and cynical cyberpunk “feel” the novel purported However, underneath the primitive presentation, is a fascinating exploration into the Sprawl The writing is a combination of situations and dialogue explicitly written by Interplay, but also contains quotes plucked directly from the novel The most interesting situations are probably the optional scenarios you can get stuck in, like in the very first scene You are at a diner after a pricey meal You can either withdraw money from the bank and pay the bill, or you can dine and dash, and get arrested and tried for your crimes It’s these peeks behind the linear storyline that make the game most engaging Neuromancer comes into its own during its brief cyberspace sequences, where Case navigates the matrix, represented by surreal, geometric forms Though short-lived and obtuse, it inspired the imagination, and this cyberspace frontier would be even further explored by future video games such as the Shadowrun series More and more, the 1980’s were filled with cyberpunk spreading out across a number of different mediums, and more importantly, it was beginning to become a distinct genre independent of its science fiction origins The genre as a whole came to a head in June, 1989 Essays written by various literary critics, scientists, and scholars were presented at a conference hosted by the Universities of Leeds and California, Riverside It was at this symposium that academics, media experts, and fiction writers debated the central points of cyberpunk and the future of fiction The question of where cyberpunk came from, what it is, and where it was going were points that were hotly contested “I really don’t think of myself as a predictive, extrapolative science fiction writer.” “I think I think of myself as almost as a surrealist I think that what I’m what I’m doing, is taking a sort of hallucinatory, very impressionistic take on contemporary reality, and presenting it as science fiction.” “Science fiction is my excuse for what I do, rather than what I do

It’s a flag of convenience.” The term “cyberpunk” itself seemed to provoke an emotional response from many of the participants For example, although none would deny the importance of writers such as Gibson, Sterling, and Williams, many “hard” science fiction writers criticized the genre for relying too heavily on style over substance, claiming their works didn’t use enough researched extrapolation That is to say, educated guesses about the future, rather than stylized fantasy In response, the genre’s proponents assigned their creation an identity that separated it from both science fiction and mainstream fiction It had its own literary canon, as well as criteria for determining what was and wasn’t considered part of the genre That meant that cyberpunk was free to exhibit whatever literary styles it wanted to, because it was much more than simply being a facet of science fiction It was its own thing, and while it shared much of the same foundation as the house of Asimov, Herbert, Dick, and Clarke, it was not beholden to the same principles as the genres that preceded it were The 80’s may have given cyberpunk its birth, but it would be the 1990’s that would further augment it, and shape it into something both recognizable and even fashionable There was a veritable boom of movies, TV shows and video games on the horizon, and not only obscure media or cult classics, some of the most successful blockbusters ever made! The end of the decade wasn’t the end of the genre, it was only the beginning Thanks for watching this introduction to cyberpunk, it’s been a long time coming, and we’re incredibly happy with the final product A shout out to Shalashaskka for his help in writing and researching this project, and my deepest appreciation goes out to my Patrons for helping make this level of production possible! Stay tuned for parts 2, 3 and 4 of this series, and thank you for watching!