Considered by many to be the “Father of Cyberpunk” and undoubtedly a pioneer in the subversive genre, William Gibson doesn’t often opine on video games but did take the time to offer up a hot take on the upcoming AAA title Cyberpunk 2077. According to Comicbook, Gibson was less than impressed with the two-minute trailer offered up by developers CD Projekt Red during this years E3 gaming conference. In a tweet, Gibson called the first glimpse into the world of a disaffected protagonist and his or her technoir comrades “generic,” a “skin” of popular sandbox crime franchise Grand Theft Auto.
Coming from the creators of The Witcher franchise which has garnered worldwide acclaim and a huge cultural stipend for the developers from their home nation of Poland, Cyberpunk 2077 places the player in the role of V, a totally customizable main character that will likely be able to fulfill almost any role in the tech-heavy subgenre from hacker to street samurai to megacorp enforcer. The trailer is bright, colorful, and high contrast, an aesthetic at odds with the canonical tech-noir that is the bread and butter of the cyberpunk genre that Gibson helped to create and popularize, which may present part of the problem.
In Neuromancer, protagonist Case – a burned out and depleted hacker – plods through a grimy, hopeless milieu, looking for a chance at one last score. This ambiance can be summed up by the opening line, often quoted, “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
The sky in the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer is baby blue, the buildings sun-bleached, something closer to a California coastline than an oppressive and static grey, a city where it’s always night. The personalities are colorful and there is a mercantile bustling about, a child playing with a VR headset and gun, and a main character that oozes rebellious cool and a can-do attitude. Visually and thematically, it is the antithesis of the cyberpunk canon established by Gibson, in his work at least and that which directly followed.
Therein lies the chasm. Whether one agrees with the author’s assessment is a matter of taste and personality, and the “Father of Cyberpunk” has a palette preference for the earlier iterations of the literary genre.
Gibson did not expound at any length upon his initial quip, though he did offer some one-offs to fans further down the comment chain, including likening the look to a simple mod of the GTA engine.
It seems unusual to take Gibson’s criticism too seriously even though his comments have already sparked debate on sites such as PCGamer and Eurogamer, the latter going so far as to wholeheartedly endorse the sultan of cyberpunk’s view on the matter. The Neuromancer author admittedly is not much of a gamer himself, with Pasatiempo reporting Gibson as having said the last and only game he had ever mastered was Pong. With the primitive table tennis game having been introduced nearly half a century ago, Gibson’s gaming credentials may come off as a little dusty, and his criticism may suffer in the eyes of some for it.
Other iconic contributors to the genre include the iconic Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, brought to film by Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott in 1982’s Blade Runner), Rudy Rucker (Software), Harlan Ellison (I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream), and Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash) amongst many others. Examples in film include anime titan Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s inspired The Terminator. Less well-known and more ill-fated examples include Keanu Reeves in 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic and Stephen King’s film adaptation of The Lawnmower Man.
In addition to the controversy surrounding Gibson’s comments, there is currently a growing debate amongst gamers as to whether the game should feature a first-person or a third-person point of view, according to VG 24 / 7.