I have started to notice parkour in media with cyberpunk themes more and more often. William Gibson, although not calling it by name, references parkour in Spook Country. The new edition of Shadowrun includes parkour as a specialty for the Athletics skill. Sam Patel wrote a book called Data Runner which features a protagonist who is a parkour practitioner against a cyberpunk backdrop. Mirror’s Edge is a cyberpunk influenced video game where you play Faith, a Runner aka traceur. Assassin’s Creed, which features cyberpunk themes and some visuals, has parkour as a primary mechanic for movement in the game. Watch Dogs, the recent hacker vigilante game, features parkour style circumvention of obstacles. Tron Evolution, the official Tron video game, is essentially a parkour platformer set in the Grid. District 13, District 13: Ultimatum, and Brick Mansions (the American remake) are the definitive parkour movies and although not visually very cyberpunk, share many of the themes associated with the genre.
So why has parkour become so prevalent in the cyberpunk community? Philosophically, parkour and cyberpunk have a similar mindset. Parkour fits well with the idea of urban couriers, which is a prevalent theme in most of the media I mentioned above. Urban couriers in turn fit well into the criminal landscape of the cyberpunk city and the necessity to transfer information securely in a world of increasingly insecure and interconnected digital world often requires a trusted human; the impartial courier who has local knowledge that’s not easily learned.
The punk movement as a whole has an anti-materialistic bent and DIY frame of mind. This results in an attraction to minimalist philosophies. In parkour this materializes in that all you really need to practice the sport is access to the outdoors. Even the strength and conditioning aspects often focus on bodyweight training instead of visiting the gym or buying expensive weight equipment. Another important aspect of punk is practicality. According to David Belle, the founder, training in parkour was not a game but something vital which enabled him to survive and to protect the people he cared about. In other words, parkour is utilitarian.
Parkour is non-competive unlike most of the monetized sports, which is why the large-scale parkour competitions hosted by the likes of MTV have largely been unsuccessful. One competes against oneself and others are around to help teach and encourage rather than to defeat.
To insert the cyber aspects of the parkour movement, the movement communicates mostly through the Internet, and in fact was largely enabled by the existence of sites like YouTube where they can share their newest videos, show off progress, and upload tutorial videos. In a more abstract sense the cyber of cyberpunk often refers to technology as a whole, rather than computers and cybernetic implants. One of the results of technology in cities is the creation of urban space that is made up of barriers. Parkour then fuses the ideal of freedom with overcoming these physical barriers in Meatspace in a similar way to how hackers overcome virtual barriers in cyberspace.
Parkour fits well into the “High Tech, Low Life,” definition of cyberpunk. The tech comes from the digital aspects of the community and the focus on changing the perspective of the urban space. The low life comes from the minimalist, anti-corporate, and subversive ideology. Parkour has become the cyberpunk sport.
And now a robot doing parkour, because of course Nike with its corporate agenda would like to use parkour to sell its shoes.