Creator explains why Cyberpunk is ‘inherently political’

Pondsmith argues it’s important entertainment mediums ask big questions

Cyberpunk’s original creator has argued that it’s necessary for entertainment mediums to ask important questions of their audience.

Mike Pondsmith – who is assisting with Cyberpunk 2077 – told VGC that the world featured in the CD Projekt Red game, which he first created in pen and paper form in 1988, is “inherently” political.

Technology and body modification, which are featured heavily in the game, are relevant topics for a modern audience, Pondsmith argued, and the world must figure out how to use the technology responsibly.

“Somebody asked me a while back if Cyberpunk was political and I said inherently it’s always political,” he said.

“It’s not politics in terms of right or left, or even conservative versus liberal… everything is political. Human beings are political. First we got food, then we got prostitution, then we got politics. And we might have gotten politics before prostitution, but I’m not sure.

“Basically, it’s all political but a big part of what Cyberpunk talks about is the disparities of power and how technology readdresses that,” he added.

“I’ll give you an example: when I started my paper game business in the 80s, we had to go and get stuff printed and we had to go to specific areas to have films made. It cost us a lot of money and the people doing it set our timetables, how much we paid… we had very little control.

“Within two years my art director, who was also an engineer, had redesigned personal scanners to be better than the ones we used to go to and we could now do all of that stuff in-house. Benjamin Franklin once said the printing press belongs to those who own one. Well, I owned one.”

Technology is a great leveller of power, Pondsmith argued, which in itself allowed him to create “heavily political” creations such as the Cyberpunk pen-and-paper RPG.

“Technology has created levellers,” he said. “YouTube is a leveller in many ways, because I don’t have to go to some network to get a TV show made. Flash was a leveller: I didn’t have to go somewhere and get a toy license to get an animation made. Suddenly I can do radical, interesting and heavily political things because technology is my enabler.”

“Right now we have corporations that follow us everywhere. It’s important for us to think where we’re going with this capability.”

The writer and designer argued that it’s important for Cyberpunk 2077 to pose questions around technology and how the real world should use it.

“I tell people that Cyberpunk is a warning not, ‘hey, this is going to be great,’” he said. “We are getting technologies now that are outstanding, things that I thought would be way out of our reach before 2020.

“For example, we have a group of people who are going to be featured in our next edition and they have cyberware hooked up. They’ve got cyber arms and legs and they look like characters from Cyberpunk. We have that capability.

“So if we have that, what are we going to do with it? How are we going to make the world work? How are we going to make sure that the right people use that technology responsibly? Do we really want corporations structuring how our lives work?

“Right now we have corporations that follow us everywhere. It’s important for us to think where we’re going with this capability.”