What is Cyberpunk?: In Search of a Definition

Cyberpunk 2077 guy
One version of a cyberpunk from the in-development Cyberpunk 2077 game.

You may have heard the question before; “What is Cyberpunk?” Maybe someone set you a challenge, instead; “Try to define Cyberpunk.”  It’s one of those things that divides people. It’s likely that you, or whoever is being asked, went one of two ways.

What is Cyberpunk?, Path #1

“Simple, really.  It’s where advanced technology meets the rough and ready life of city streets. It’s best summed up using the phrase, ‘High tech. Low life.'”

Cyberpunk 2077 guy

One version of a cyberpunk from the in-development Cyberpunk 2077 game.

What is Cyberpunk?, Path #2

Maybe you start by laughing at the prospect of supplying a simple answer to such as complex question.  You may even sigh, knowing that you’re going to be talking for some time. Regardless, you probably start from a historical perspective with William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.  Maybe, instead, you explain that ‘cyberpunk’ can be seen as both a genre of media and a culture in itself.

We’ve tried to take some of the pain out of finding a definition while also being acutely aware of the pitfalls in even trying to define something as contemporary and beloved as Cyberpunk. Our ‘What is Cyberpunk?’ page is a constantly-evolving definition to suit a genre that doesn’t stop moving.

We’ve tried to find out where it all began, what its creators thought of it, and what it is now.  The quotes and images are just a start – we have plans for this and we need your help.  If you’ve got your own definition you’d like to share, anecdotes of your experiences that may help explain some elusive aspects of Cyberpunk, or you know of some obscure media that many other do not, please share it with us.

So, take a look.

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Written by Zymepunk
Zymepunk was drawn into the world of cyberpunk by Deus Ex and Blade Runner and now looks both back and forwards in time for anything that may come close to those masterpieces.
1 Comment
  1. Back in the early 90’s I was looking forward to a cyberpunk world. My introduction was during high school, when a friend loaned me CYBERPUNK: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier. I loved how it showed three ‘types’ of hackers, all with their stories. With my new found passion for computers, inspired by CYBERPUNK, I wanted to be a hacker. I dropped thought of being a Music major and went with Computer Science.

    I saw a cyberpunk as someone who used technology to take advantaged of society. As a starving college student, that really appealed to me. Stumbling on SLIRP to use my school’s dial-in account to get my computer onto the internet, I thought I really had my foot in the door. I continued to mess around with hacking, pissed off quiet a few sys admins, got a few freebies, all staying in what I thought was the “grey area” of hacking. As appealing as being a starving student sounds to me now, I decided that I needed a job since hacking was not paying all the bills. I quickly found out that there is money in knowing how to code! I was no longer a low life. No longer did I need to hack to take advantage of society, they just paid me.

    Now, I think there is enough cracks in society where you can find a cyberpunk or two, but my feeling is they are doing just enough to keep them raiding in World of Warcraft. As it gets easier to code and more people are choosing a coding career, I can see cyberpunks flying all over the place when the next bubble bursts. Or so we can hope.

    As a side note: CYBERPUNK: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier was the seed to my whole reading career. There was mention of a friend being completely paranoid after reading the Illuminatus! Trilogy. That passing mention piqued my interest enough to hunt down that book. Lucky for me, a friend’s older brother had it in his book collection. That lead me to the rest of Robert Anton Wilson’s catalog, which then lead me Crowley, to Leary, to Pound. The general subject of Magick, altered states of consciousness, etc… It was a very interesting detour.


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