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Cyberpunk [game]

Entry updated 18 January 2021. Tagged: Game.

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Role Playing Game (1988). R Talsorian Games (RTG). Designed by Michael Pondsmith.

The original version of Cyberpunk is a quintessential eighties game. Both Cyberpunk 2013 (1988 RTG) designed by Michael Pondsmith and its more popular successor Cyberpunk 2020 (1990 RTG) designed by Michael Pondsmith, set seven years after the first edition, are highly evocative of both 1980s popular culture and such early Cyberpunk novels as William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984) and Walter Jon Williams's Hardwired (1986). The game emphasizes style over substance, with rules that discourage frequent combat and stress the dehumanizing effects of cybernetic modification. One interesting aspect of the design is the use of "lifepaths" to supply a complete life story for new characters, including both romantic involvements and criminal histories. Available roles for these characters focus on rebellion against the authority of the world wide megacorporations, by means ranging from playing subversive music to hacking into Cyberspace.

A series of adventures beginning with Firestorm: Stormfront (1997 RTG) designed by Anthony Savile described the collapse of the original setting in the mid-2020s during an apocalyptic inter-corporate war. Cyberpunk V3.0 (2006 RTG) designed by Michael Pondsmith is set in the 2030s, in a world dominated by splinter cultures surviving in the ruins of the old order. All digitally and much physically stored data has been corrupted in the war, creating a world cut off from its own past. The primary influences on Cyberpunk V3.0's tone and Technologies are such post-cyberpunk works as Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age (1995) rather than the classic Mirrorshades era stories that inspired the first two editions. Cyberpunk V3.0 received mixed responses from players, perhaps partly due to its attempt to introduce new design concepts derived from Videogames, such as the use of "meta characters" to represent entire corporations.

Cybergeneration (1993 RTG; rev vt Cybergeneration Revolution 2, 1995) designed by Michael Pondsmith is set in 2027, in an alternate version of the Cyberpunk continuity, where the megacorporations are in complete control and the accidental release of a weaponized Nanotechnological virus has created a generation of teenagers with exotic powers. The game fuses cyberpunk with such other influences as Anime and The X-Men. Netrunner (1996 Wizards of the Coast) designed by Richard Garfield is a well regarded Collectible Card Game set in the milieu's version of cyberspace; it is unusual in having completely different cards for the two players (the intruding Netrunner and the defending Corporation). An atmospheric online game called Webrunner (1996 Web), in which players had to break through seven "gates" defended by puzzles, was used to promote the release of the Card Game; this work may have helped inspire the first Alternate Reality Games.

Cyberpunk's fortunes ebbed in the early twenty-first century, but the game world's profile received a major boost with the 2013 announcement of an ambitious Computer Role Playing Game adaptation named Cyberpunk 2077 (2020). To accompany the videogame, a fourth edition of the role-playing game was released under the title Cyberpunk Red (2020 RTG), set in 2045. With design now in the hands of the younger generation of James Hutt and Cody Pondsmith, Michael Pondsmith's son, Cyberpunk Red streamlined the rule-set, integrated hacking more closely with the physical action, and served as a bridge between the lore of Cyberpunk 2020 and the plot of the videogame Cyberpunk 2077.

Michael Pondsmith had seen Cyberpunk 3.0 as a way to advance the themes of Cyberpunk into new transhumanist (see Posthuman) territory, but the generally negative response suggested that most fans were not interested in diverging far from their beloved source material. As a result, Cyberpunk Red retconned many of the story advances of Cyberpunk 3:0 out of existence (making them an "alternate timeline"). Cyberpunk was becoming fossilized as 1980s cosplay, and Cyberpunk Red catered to that vision of an eternal corporations-and-katanas Dystopia.

In 2020, the year most associated with his cyberpunk world, Michael Pondsmith published a blog entry addressing the real-world protests against racist and brutal policing in America. Pondsmith, who is African-American, wrote: "Remember; the Cyberpunk future is a warning; not an aspiration. Whether we hear the warning is up to you."

Related works: Hardwired (1989 RTG) is a supplement for Cyberpunk 2013, designed by Walter Jon Williams to represent the world of his eponymous novel. Similarly, When Gravity Fails (1992 RTG) designed by David Ackerman, William Moss, Chris Williams, Chris Hockabout depicts George Alec Effinger's city of Budayeen for Cyberpunk 2020. Starblade Battalion (1996 RTG) is a sourcebook for the anime-inspired Role Playing Game Mekton Zeta (1995) (see Mekton), set in another alternative future of the original Cyberpunk game. In the late twenty-second century, humans are colonizing the stars with the aid of the giant piloted Robots which are a central focus of Mekton; the characters are rebels opposing both the interstellar megacorporations and the pro ecology dictatorship which rules the Earth. Cyberpunk the CCG (2003 Social Games) designed by Peter Wacks is another Collectible Card Game set in the original milieu; in this game players send mixed teams of Cyberpunk style characters on predefined missions. The Ravengers (1995) and Holo Men (1996), both by Stephen Billias, are novels set in the Cyberpunk 2020 world. [NT/JN]


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