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The cyberpunk revolution begins with video games

Take the ID@Xbox showcase for example. Of the 20 games on display, at least half are set in sci-fi worlds or feature dystopian themes (or both), including Tacoma, Tokyo 42, Tower 57, Songbringer and Aven Colony. However, two titles in particular encapsulate the raw, gritty future that’s a staple of the cyberpunk genre: Ruiner by Polish studio Reikon and >observer_ by Bloober Team.

Ruiner is basically Hotline Miami in a 3D, Ghost in the Shell-style world. It’s the year 2091; corrupt corporations and government officials rule a cold, technologically advanced society. In the introductory tutorial, the screen glitches out at odd intervals as instructions flood the environment, instructing players to “Kill Boss” while they run down metal hallways filled with hostile security forces. It’s heart-pounding, rapid-fire gameplay in a distinctly cyberpunk setting, with incredibly satisfying shooting mechanics.

Meanwhile, >observer_ takes a more psychological approach to the sci-fi genre, throwing players in a horrific world where corporations control everything and advanced technology is reserved only for the elite. Ordinary citizens live in squalor, while government agents patrol the streets, able to hack people’s minds as they see fit. This is full-on dystopian cyberpunk.

The Indie Megabooth also showcased a disproportionate amount of sci-fi. Six of the 12 games feature cosmic or cyberpunk-inspired settings, including _transfer, a dark, text-based adventure where players type commands into a program as they attempt to figure out why the world is ending, and Rogue Process, a sci-fi platformer about a hacker on the hunt for corporate secrets.

The video game industry’s renewed push for cyberpunk is not only exciting — it makes sense. The past few years of mainstream gaming have been dominated by fantasy franchises including Skyrim, Diablo, Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Dragon Age and The Witcher, and it’s about time the pendulum swung in the other, more futuristic direction. Recent big-name games like Halo Wars 2, Horizon Zero Dawn and the coming release of Mass Effect: Andromeda signal the beginning of this new sci-fi, cyberpunk cycle.

Plus, the world’s eyes are on the video game industry as virtual reality hardware enters the homes of everyday consumers worldwide. For decades, VR has represented “the future” of video games — and the vision of a technologically advanced society in general — and, suddenly, it’s here. The future is now. It isn’t surprising that developers across the globe are thinking about “the future” within games themselves, inspired by the virtual environments now at our fingertips.

Advances in technology feed the video game creation process just as innovative games fuel the production of new hardware. The shift toward a more gritty, cyberpunk trend in the video game industry makes perfect sense given the current political, social and technological climate in the world today. These themes of corporate cruelty and tense class disparities reflect conversations happening in cities and towns everywhere, every day. Cyberpunk is a reflection of society’s deepest fears and its greatest hopes for the future; in a time of rapid technological advancement and political upheaval, people — including game developers — are looking for the best way forward while imagining the dire consequences of choosing the wrong path.

Cyberpunk is back, baby.

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