Author Topic: Augment-less: The Next Stage of Cyberpunk?  (Read 88 times)

RusVal

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Augment-less: The Next Stage of Cyberpunk?
« on: March 22, 2017, 04:24:20 AM »
So I'm mulling over the new Utopian goals in the upcoming Stellaris expansion, thinking about all the story possibilities, when a weird thought occurred to me:  In new media that can be considered in the "Cyberpunk" category, or at the very least heavily influenced by said genre, have you noticed a distinct lack of actual cybernetic implants?  And before you jump in with examples, I would like to clarify "new media" as stuff without direct connection to a previous franchise.  The Robocop remake, the Deus Ex prequels, etc. have certain expectations to meet.  What I mean is stuff that is fairly recent that can be considered "new IP".

For clarification, the stuff I'm thinking about include:

- Neill Blomkamp movies (Elysium and Chappie in particular)
- Titanfall 1 & 2
and plenty others that I'm sure someone will bring up.

In addition, now that I think about it, there's also franchises that have "changed" into the cyberpunk genre, without "needing" to add those elements:
- XCOM 2 (after all DLC in particular)
- Call of Duty: A&IW(will dive deeper into this in a bit)

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that Cybernetic augmentations, implants and replacements, are going away completely.  On the contrary, with the large number of remakes and sequels to classic Cyberpunk franchises, it's safe to say that they will be around for a good long time.  There's even Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, with it's "modern" take on cybernetics.  However, what I'm suggesting is that there seems to be an interesting evolution of the genre, one that is remarkably lacking in limb replacement.

Think about this for a minute: In those examples I gave up above, what is usually the source for increased physical capabilities?

Exo-suits.

Sure, some of them require a surgical connection to a nervous system to function, but usually that's the extent.  People still have their flesh and bones (or in CoD: Advanced Warfare's case, a rather meh arm replacement), they just help them a bit with a robot shell.  Even Deus Ex, the quintessential Cyberpunk staple, introduced the extensive usage of exo-suits in their most recent game as a sort of counter-culture to the previous one.

And what about this: What element is most common in all those examples above?

Robots.  Mostly with droids, but sometimes with one struggling with human level self-awareness.

Probably the best example of this shift comes from a game that usually isn't used in the same sentence: XCOM.

Now I know what you're thinkin', "ooooh RusVal's talking XCOM, what a surprise", but hear me out.

In EU, the aliens had a clear example of cybernetics in the Floaters, which one character even calls out about.  Similarly, even the aliens that could be considered "robots" (Cyberdisk, Sectopod, and so on) are implied to have some form of biological element to their processers, possibly even being a silicon based lifeform (I think I spelled that right).
In EW, they introduce MECs, which require the implicit chopping off of human limbs to function.  And they include the alien version of it, with the Mectoid.  They even go out of their way to change Shen's (the said character's) line about it.

Then comes XCOM 2, a game so heavily Cyberpunk it hurts.  And yet... Okay, a chip in the brain in the ADVENT grunts, a chip for civilians... the Archangel is definitely a cyborg, but it's to an extent where its hard to tell were the bio ends and the metal begins.  The Berserker has shed their armor, and seem to be running on injection ports.  The robots are definitely robots now, with no implication that there's anything organic inside them (and at one point they even say that Sectopods don't actually have a pilot, despite what the troops had thought).  And over in XCOM, MECs have been replaced by SPARKs, a completely robotic unit with an advanced AI, one of which is the very much self-aware (yet *ahem* reformed) Julian.  And for the squishy meat-bags, a nice new set of EXO-suits for them to wear!

So I hope y'all get what I'm trying to get at, in that it seems that Cyberpunk seems to be going in an interesting "Post-Post" direction.  Any ideas why that might be, and what do you think about it?

SilvercatMoonpaw

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Re: Augment-less: The Next Stage of Cyberpunk?
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2017, 04:35:17 AM »
Technology has evolved, so the genre is changing to keep up with the science marching on.  People a couple decades ago didn't realize you'd be able to put on a sleeve to get your cyber-hand needs, or that computers would advance to the point at which you can already feel like they control part of your life.  Modern-day authors and audiences do know about that stuff, so the former writes it in so the latter gets that "Hey, I know this!" vibe.

Morgenstern

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Re: Augment-less: The Next Stage of Cyberpunk?
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2017, 12:59:38 PM »
  That's been the direction in Farthest Star for a while - nobody wants to have limbs hacked off if they can gain the same benefits without doing so. And nobody really wants invasive hardware in their head if the interface can be made good enough you don't need it. And inductive nerve-reading sleeve/gloves can realistically do everything a jacked nerve port does for reading your output.

  Added fun that more and more we're seeing the concept of drones expand to where you may not want the meat-bodies anywhere near the pointed end of the spear to begin with. But most of all, real world experience has taught us you don't want to turn people into weapons... without being able to easily disarm them when your done and have to integrate them back into peacetime society. Which makes potentially irreversible alterations like limb replacement a very iffy premise to begin with.

  A lot of the original cyberpunk was based on terrifying levels of desperation. Extreme socio-economic gradients. The notion you'd expose your brain to fatal electric shocks just to go a little faster in a hack is CRAZY. Only complete nut jobs on the edge of civilization would ever consider that. Your mega-cred counterparts on the corporate side of the fence are every bit as fast and their rigs are about 50,000 times less likely to pass something lethal on to the sys-op's noggin. Same with the cyber'd-up soldier archetypes. You had to have a day job in the deepest pits of Hell to need that much advantage at that high of a personal cost.
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MilitiaJim

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Re: Augment-less: The Next Stage of Cyberpunk?
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2017, 07:04:19 PM »
X-Com: EW was completely up front about a MEC suit costing the agent their meat arms and legs.

Remotely piloted whatevers are a very long way from being better than a person there.  They're getting quite close to good enough, minus the part where they are still pretty vulnerable to their communication link being severed.  And more systems need to be hardened against EMPs, especially as EMP generators get smaller and smaller.  (The US Army is going back to spending notable amounts of time with a map and a compass so that when the GPS constellation goes down, the dudes on the ground aren't SOL.  The Navy too, with sextants.)

There will always be nut jobs willing to risk their lives for that last dash of performance.  They will be rare enough to be PCs.


These days I have come to think we will bypass the Chrome Age and go straight to bioware:  Cloned and tweaked body modifications.  I'm looking forward to getting nearly all my joint groups overhauled, though I suspect a whole new meat robot for my ghost to pilot might be easier.  (If you can shift the ghost.)
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Gatac

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Re: Augment-less: The Next Stage of Cyberpunk?
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2017, 09:35:13 PM »
Actually, what I think is really going away is the "freak" aspect of artificial body parts. When real-life prosthetics were crude and ungainly, they seemed to hit people right in the Uncanny Valley; it is this kind of gut reaction that fueled much of the body horror of those early stories about cyberlimbs. They're different, and they do things "real" body parts don't do, and their users are outcasts and undesirables. You cannot imagine a story about a character with cybernetic augmentations whose deal isn't, somehow, that they have augmentations. If there were characters like billionaires with sleeker hardware, that was still in there to subvert the original assertion of cyberware as crude and dangerous.

But as real-life prosthetics advance, and our tolerance for people who are different increases (stochastically, at least), and people discover they don't want to hide their artificial limbs but instead show them off and turn them into art (shout out to Aimee Mullins), cyberware fades into the background because it becomes more normal. Sure, we might bypass a functional need for mechanical prostheses if we can learn to clone-grow a new arm (though I imagine the attachment to the nervous system would still involve some electronic magic), but if on the other hand we can build an electropolymer-based robot arm that runs on blood sugar and provides useful strength, agility and sensation to the user, I can totally see people going "Eh, meat is boring, I'm going chrome".

That's no longer monstrous, that's identity by choice, a truer expression of self, and one day it will just be Not A Big Deal. And I think sci-fi will adapt to this and increasingly treat some degree of augmentation/body replacement as so normal that they don't even have to say it's normal. So, in that sense, yes, the whirring, menacing cyberlimbs of the 80s mindscape are going bye-bye, and I'm looking forward to that.

Morgenstern

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Re: Augment-less: The Next Stage of Cyberpunk?
« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2017, 08:56:57 AM »
  When trying to set up a Talent offering a head start for 'has some body-replacement cyberware' in the Farthest Star Setting I finally settled on 'Remade'. Much as you suggest, this is a character that was either forced by circumstance or willingly swapped some meat for state of the art cybernetics. And probably fully embraces a slightly non-fleshy aesthetic. At this point there's lots of examples in popular culture of the character that has some nice tech permanently buried in a cyberarm that's otherwise pretty close to human-norm. And while most of the nations/cultures are slightly anti-cyber, it's more because of questions of human weaponization than it being hideous to look at.

  I'm sure, as you suggest there's be a phase in the process where it's hip, cool, and totally in with the early adopter crowd, and like many fashions probably comes in and out fo style several times between it's introduction and my planned campaign start date.

  Folding in some tech from other starfaring races has raised a lot more serious questions about identity and human-ness than the occasional cyberlimb raises ;). Total body replacement with alien biomachinery over 12m long or permanently transplanting the entire skull and spinal column into a clone-grown organic warbeast? Yeah. That scares people.
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Re: Augment-less: The Next Stage of Cyberpunk?
« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2017, 04:49:27 PM »
But as real-life prosthetics advance, and our tolerance for people who are different increases (stochastically, at least), and people discover they don't want to hide their artificial limbs but instead show them off and turn them into art (shout out to Aimee Mullins), cyberware fades into the background because it becomes more normal. Sure, we might bypass a functional need for mechanical prostheses if we can learn to clone-grow a new arm (though I imagine the attachment to the nervous system would still involve some electronic magic), but if on the other hand we can build an electropolymer-based robot arm that runs on blood sugar and provides useful strength, agility and sensation to the user, I can totally see people going "Eh, meat is boring, I'm going chrome".
Micro-surgery advancements are astonishingly good, allowing surgeons to attach nerves to nerves these days. One of the sticking points is that nerves tend to degrade fairly easily and there regeneration is slow-to-nonexistent, but if they ever overcome that problem (through genetic modification, for example) then you'll see limb regrowth much faster.

Personally, I would anticipate something like Spiderman's Lizard or animal hybrids before you get into bio-mechanics.

Having said that, I'm also looking at the I-Phone and the move to make electronic devices integral to the human experience, and I think you'll also see something like implanted electronics along the lines of the eye-devices you see in Black Mirror, or chip implants that function much like I-watches. The key is that if we go in the bio-mechanic direction, it will be integrated so as to be almost invisible, or blended into what already exists (e.g. a visible but stylish tattoo).

In keeping with what's already been said, I suspect the genre shift is a reflection of this changing paradigm.
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