Different technologies are being developed to disrupt the natural order in man’s quest for more experiences, fun, and a long life. Man has always wanted to experience the world simultaneously from both a real-world and a virtual perspective, from low-tech to high-tech activities. In other words, in real life, people want to be people and also be human in the virtual world without taking into account the complex issues of social inequality and the political dominance of the less privileged. Different forms or genres of cyberpunk, one of man’s most recent inventions based on the fictitious representation of life activities for entertainment purposes through the creative industries, speak to these issues.
In this piece, our analyst examines the attitude of cyberpunk forms towards technology, capitalism, and class, shedding light on their portrayal and implications. Additionally, the emerging concept of the metaverse is explored as a case study to understand its potential impact on access and class inequality.
Steampunk is a subgenre of cyberpunk that draws inspiration from the Victorian era and steam-powered technology. It blends advanced machinery with retro-futuristic aesthetics, often featuring brass, gears, and steam-powered contraptions. Steampunk worlds explore alternate histories and a society with steam power and clockwork mechanisms.
Biopunk, also known as Ribopunk, focuses on the intersection of biotechnology, genetics, and cyberpunk themes, exploring the ethical and social implications of manipulating living organisms. Postcyberpunk emerged as a reaction to traditional cyberpunk tropes, presenting a more optimistic view of the future. Postcyberpunk stories often feature diverse characters, explore themes of transhumanism, and question the nature of identity and reality.
From these forms, it is clear that cyberpunk worlds feature massive, towering structures, neon and dystopian cityscapes, augmentation and body modification, hacking and cybercrime, virtual reality and cyberspace, dystopian societies and corporations, street culture and subcultures, and noir and film noir influences. These often depict oppressive societies ruled by powerful corporations or authoritarian governments, with subcultures challenging dominant power structures.
Cyberpunk narratives offer a complex and ambivalent view of technology, showcasing its potential for human advancement and connectivity. However, they also highlight the dangers of unchecked technological progress, such as surveillance and privacy erosion. Cyberpunk raises ethical questions about the impact of technology on individuality and humanity. As noted previously, capitalism is a recurring theme in cyberpunk, with mega-corporations replacing governments as centres of power, exploiting technology, and controlling resources. Cyberpunk narratives highlight the division between the wealthy elite and the impoverished underclass, highlighting exploitation, social stratification, and the erosion of democracy under unregulated capitalism.
Rebellion and resistance against corporate dominance are common tropes in cyberpunk narratives. The genre questions the fairness of a society where social standing and opportunities are determined by wealth and access to technology. This is the case with the metaverse, an emerging concept that represents a shared virtual reality space where individuals interact and experience a computer-generated environment. While the metaverse promises new possibilities for social interactions, the economy, and property ownership, it also raises concerns about access and class inequality. Not everyone can afford the high-end systems and virtual reality lenses required to fully engage with the metaverse. Limited internet access further exacerbates class disparities, limiting participation to the middle and upper classes. The metaverse thus becomes a reflection of the existing socioeconomic divisions.
Having cyberpunk is not necessarily a bad idea. However, considering how its various forms or genres could reinforce current social discrimination, division, and the rich’s continued control over the economic system, one could come to the conclusion that it benefits the few rather than the majority, especially in democracies where the socio-economic and fundamental human rights of the poor are not sufficiently protected.