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Cyberpunk Is Now

Our upcoming game Exploit: Zero Day deals with a number of themes, but one overriding direction is that of cyberpunk.

Cyberpunk was born in the 1980s in America. This is true both of the fiction genre and of the real-life phenomenon. The word "cyberpunk" evokes thoughts of cyborg implants, immersive virtual reality, and neo-noir data heists. It started as a sci-fi projection of 1980s technology and trends, but in the 2010s we've arrived into a fully-fledged cyberpunk world. And many of us haven't even noticed.

The word cyberpunk has two parts, both essential to understanding it. "Cyber" is from cybernetics, the study of feedback systems. We mostly hear about cybernetics in the context of robotics, but it's a discipline that deals with any self-governing system. When beings adapt to their environment, the mind affects the body affecting the mind, or overgrown suburban trees knock out power to a megalopolis, that's cybernetics at work. This is Hofstadter's strange loop made concrete.

"Punk" comes from the punk subculture, which is (was?) anti-establishment, anti-boundaries, anti-conformity, deliberately subversive, and pro-individuality. To be punk is to intentionally shock, but not in a way that reinforces societal norms. It is to be a loner, a reject, and to find camaraderie with those who feel the same way.

Cyberpunk, then, deals with a world that is irrevocably interconnected and the people who try to tear it down. It's an impossible struggle, because the system adapts, but through the littlest actions a small group of people can shift the world. In a cyberpunk world, everyone is connected through the internet, the relationship between flesh and tech is fluid, and the elites depend on the disorganized rabble to reinforce their oligarchy.

In December 2010, a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire to protest intractable corruption; through social media, this event sparked a feedback loop of protests, revolution, and government crackdowns now known as the Arab Spring. In 2012-13, Edward Snowden used his government job to steal secret data and give it to journalists, then fled to sanctuary in Russia in the face of semi-official threats against his life by the US government. In December 2013, a monolithic internet store with almost nine square kilometers of territory announced that it was reshaping laws so that it could deliver goods via flying robots similar to those the US uses to assassinate targets in Pakistan.

I carry a computer in my pocket with computing power comparable to the original Cray supercomputer. A few weeks ago I used it to send photos of a Russian palace to over 700 people with a single touch of my finger in a coffeeshop. My glasses darken in response to sunlight. My father's eyes have synthetic lenses. An Olympic runner with two prosthetic legs is currently on trial for killing his wife, claiming he thought she was an intruder. His nickname is "Blade Runner."

Our world is one where the 85 richest people own the same wealth as half of the rest of the population but 70% of the world's population subscribe to mobile phone service. Facebook has more active users each month than India has people. A security bug that affected 17% of the Internet's secure trusted servers was fixed with 25 lines of code.

We live in a world where a PhD student in Germany can slip up with some open source code and threaten the life of a freedom fighter in the Middle East. A world where more people have cell phone service than have running water in their homes. A world where driverless cars have gone a million kilometers without causing a crash but over a million people die each year in automobile accidents.

Exploit: Zero Day will let you explore our cyberpunk world. Through security intrusion, social engineering, and cipher breaking, you'll be able to strike out and change vast, faceless systems through your cleverness and individuality. What starts as a simple insurance scam on a monolithic corporation will quickly grow to be much more.

The cyberpunk world is now, and it is in our hands to shape it.

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