“The way we played it — the way my teenage friends and I read ourselves into the world — was as small-time operators, always. The corporations were behemoths, the system so massively corrupt and powerful that no one could win against it. You fought to survive around the edges of it, living off the scraps. “High stakes, low impact” — that was our house rule. Because punks don’t save the world. Ever. They just try to live another day.” — Jason Sheehan @ NPR
That little bit from a review of the new CP 2077 computer game drew my attention because it both mirrors how we also played the Cyberpunk RPG back in the day and because it captures so well what I’ve noticed in the current crop of cyberpunk releases. So many of them seem to hew strongly towards the cyber and the glitz and the machine gun prophecy, while steadfastly avoiding the punk and any deeper implications or explorations. More than one of the games I’ve read even begins with their premise as “you are elite mercenaries, plying your trade for the endless corporate wars.” CP 2077, at least as as Jason’s review describes it, also seems to push towards that side of things.
But the essential bit to our old Cyberpunk campaigns was always being on the edge of being quashed. And of the perils and impact of living within a complete corporatocracy. As we got older, ideas of the dehuminising aspect of it all got incorporated into our games, a subtext to the more foreground and obvious reduction of one’s humanity through cybernetics or braindance. Along with the questions that comes from being under that constant state of duress: what is considered winning to us, what does family or friendship mean, to what levels are you willing to go, is there an escape of sorts, and so on. That was the vital bit that made our cyberpunk games cyberpunk and therefore different from our other games.
Here we weren’t the mighty adventuring party, or the team of elite spies, or the superhero group, or the gritty commando unit, or mecha pilots, or slinging around in a space opera. (And to note, we played those games too and loved them!) In Cyberpunk, we were local, caught in the cogs, and eking out what we could, step by small step. And rather than just grabbing the neon and the cyber for the aesthetics, that to me remains the essence of what a good cyberpunk game should embrace.