A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

A Fascination with Cyberpunk and Steampunk Gaming


Growing up I really enjoyed Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, and so on. Those were future fantasy with a dash of science fiction (more or less depending on the franchise). I don’t know when it happened, but I suddenly got fascinated with cyberpunk, and to some extent steampunk. I still am quite interested in them. Oddly, both are relatively new inventions, the terms coming about in the 1980’s (steampunk coined in response to cyberpunk apparently). Steampunk can cite works as far back as the 60’s and 70’s as part of its foundation whereas Cyberpunk seems to have been almost entirely born of the 80’s.

Cyberpunk themes are typically set around megacorporations, radical social shifts or breakdowns, and tend to be set in some sort of near future. You can see this illustrated heavily in the Shadowrun roleplaying game system as well as the Deus Ex series of games. On the Wikipedia entry it says, “Much of the genre’s atmosphere echoes film noir, and written works in the genre often use techniques from detective fiction.”

In contrast, Steampunk typically involves (as Wikipedia states) “futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc.”. The themes usually involved have to do with the “scientific romances” of 19th century authors like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others.

These two “genres” are exceptional to me. They are fantasy, they are science-y fiction-y, they are inventive and quite unique in their approaches. Let’s talk about games and movies, shall we?

If you’re interested in Cyberpunk gaming, I can easily recommend the Deus Ex series and the new Syndicate game that is coming out soon. There is the Shadowrun roleplaying game I mentioned above, but there was a Super Nintendo game and an XBox 360 multiplayer game based on the same thing. With regards to movies, Blade Runner and The Matrix hold significant elements of cyberpunk within their frames.

If you’re interested in Steampunk gaming, there’s a lovely little game called Torchlight which is amazingly rendered. Other games include Skies of Arcadia on the Dreamcast/Gamecube, Final Fantasy VI (a favorite of mine), and the upcoming BioShock Infinite (I’d say the earlier installments of BioShock are also in this category). I’m also happy to cite Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness as members of this genre. According to Wikipedia, movies like Sherlock Holmes (with Robert Downey, Jr.) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are considered to be great examples of steampunk in film. Oh, and I stumbled upon a fantastic campaign setting called DragonMech for d20 roleplaying.

Why did this come to mind for today’s writings? Well, there’s that new Syndicate game coming out. I don’t know if I’ll be getting it, but if a friend of mine does, I’ll be sitting there hoping I don’t get simulator sickness while watching. I want to know the story! Enjoy the trailer!

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Modern Japan simply was cyberpunk. The Japanese themselves knew it and delighted in it. I remember my first glimpse of Shibuya, when one of the young Tokyo journalists who had taken me there, his face drenched with the light of a thousand media-suns—all that towering, animated crawl of commercial information—said, “You see? You see? It is Blade Runner town.” And it was. It so evidently was.” – William Gibson

P.P.S. “Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like “steampunks”, perhaps…” – K.W. Jeter

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