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A Beginner's Essential Guide to Cyberpunk: The 4 Core Elements

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

When you hear the word ‘Cyberpunk’ what is the first thing that comes to mind? Blade Runner? Neon Tokyo? Electronic music? Well yes, these are some of the most notable aspects of Cyberpunk, but they are not what define the genre.

Trying to define what Cyberpunk is, is almost like trying to mix oil and water. It’s impossible! But there are four core elements of the genre, that will help you understand Cyberpunk as a whole and that is what we will be exploring today.

So, let’s dive in!

Punk is an expression and a lifestyle. It is typically associated with aggressive rock music, where artists incorporate political and social issues into their lyrics. Punk rock was very popular in the late 1970s and grew to become a subculture of its own. Embodying the anti-social themes, young teenagers began expressing youthful rebellion through different styles of clothing and accessories. Such as: leather jackets, studs and t-shirts with offensive typography.

Punk characters within the cyberpunk genre, tend to embody the same attitudes as the musical counterpart. They are outsiders, anti-heroes or criminals. They question authority and actively undermine the power of establishments or corporations that they don’t like.

K from Blade Runner 2049 is a perfect example of this. He is an outsider within the Los Angeles Police Department [LAPD] because he is a replicant (robots that are designed to resemble humans). During the course of the movie, he begins to undermine his authoritative figures and actively seek to find out for himself what he believes is true.

So one tip of advice for all the newcomers: If you ever find yourself living in a Cyberpunk alternative universe, don’t get on the bad side of these type of characters. Because they will hurt you… or kill you. But asides from that you can do whatever the fuck you want!

Ah, the most exciting aspect of Cyberpunk (in my opinion), is the technology! In this oppressive world, technology is at its peak and continues to grow more and more advanced. We have gained scientific achievements in fields such as artificial intelligence, bionics and cybernetics. Which allows humans to interact with computer-based technology like never before!

Bionic hands that spilt, helping the user hack efficiently

In cyberpunk media you will generally see that people will have some form of augmentation attached to their body. This is to enhance or improve functions that they deem weak. Or to increase their physical strength to help them achieve their goals faster.

To be honest, everyone would have their own reason to have augmentations. For example: if I could, I would get a bionic eye so I can see far distances without my glasses, because it’s seriously a damn pain to clean them! What about you?

Artificial Intelligence [AI] is the ability of a computer program or a machine to think and learn. In Cyberpunk media you’ll see a lot of characters that appear human but are actually not. They are called Androids.

Ava an android in Ex Machina

Even though Androids are smarter and more intelligent than humans, they are used mostly for labour and pleasure. However, there are some cases where the android would start to think that they are ‘real’ or independent. This usually causes chaos and havoc, due to the fact that androids are meant to obey orders.

Ex Machina explores this in a very interesting way, as Ava an android created by a wealthy firm CEO, is put through many trails to test her capability and consciousness. But what he didn't realise was that she was more self aware and ambiguous than he had imagined.

Typically, they either get replaced or hunted down and destroyed. Which is sad really… android lives matter too you know.

One thing I love about Cyberpunk is how it tackles or casts a spotlight on issues that happen within our society. Issues like: capitalism and economic divide show how badly this can affect the lives of the poor.

Cyberpunk media usually portray discrimination and prejudice between different groups. Rich and poor, augmented and non-augmented, and more. For example, in Deux Ex Mankind Divided, those who have augmentations are treated with cruelty by the police and are called "clanks". Which is a discriminative slur that is used against augmented people.

Augmented citizen getting beaten by the police

Another example is in the Blade Runner series, replicants are hunted down or created to serve under humanity. There is a social divide between the subjects and the creators.

Discriminating slur used against K a replicant Blade Runner

Mega-corporations are what control the world of cyberpunk. They are depicted as manipulative, oppressive and abuse their power and status, in order to defy the law. Possessing their own military, they establish fear and control within their society. They have control over numerous markets and are monopolistic, which means they are the only suppliers of certain products and resources like emergency services (police and health care).

In the Blade Runner 2049, Wallace Corporation which was founded by Niander Wallace, helped pioneer genetically modified foods and synthetic farming. This helped stop the famine that threatened life on planet Earth and ended the global crisis. Niander was seen as a saviour by the world which allowed him to expand his company across Earth and into the Off-World colonies (human settlements outside of Earth).

He later brought Tyrell Corporations, the manufacturer of the original Nexus replicants and made advancements in replicant technology. Designing them to be more submissive than the previous models. He successful reintroduced the new replicas to the world and profited massively of it.

A dream of mine is to reintroduce Cyberpunk to the world and by doing that I want to teach and help others learn more about the genre that I love. So if there are any topics that you would like me to discuss more in depth, don't hesitate to let me know via Instagram or Twitter (I will leave my social links at the end of this post).

But it doesn't stop there, do you want more Cyberpunk content?

Click the photo below, to check out my interview with two of the most influential content creator within the Cyberpunk 2077 community. We discuss their thoughts on the upcoming game and that exciting moment that happened at E3!

And lastly I recently created a piece that discusses how social media affected my self esteem and influenced how I wanted others to see me. This is a topic that I am extremely passionate about because I have experienced first hand how society can make you feel worthless or unwanted. Maybe some of you have felt like this too, those are the people I would love to connect with. Below is the art piece I created to portray how I felt. I wrote a blog piece discussing the piece as a whole and examining some of the elements.

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