Cyberpunk Documentary PART 3 | The Matrix, System Shock, Snow Crash, Hackers, VR & Simulation Theory

Cyberpunk Documentary PART 3 | The Matrix, System Shock, Snow Crash, Hackers, VR & Simulation Theory

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In the 90s, a war erupted over the cyberpunk movement's identity. The battlefield? Our culture. A new brand of science fiction was taking over the television sets, theater screens and bookshelves. No longer were we limited to the Golden Age-era works of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. A new wave of rebellious, less optimistic fiction emerged. These works showed us a grim visage of a dark future: metropolises flooded with toxic rain, bright neons, and an underbelly of crime and poverty, where the fabric of society is bursting at the seams.

But even this new subgenre, cyberpunk, was becoming fractured. Its identity was shifting away from individual creatives, instead being shoved front and center into the mainstream by Big Entertainment. Newer media seemed to adopt the STYLE of cyberpunk, but ignored its SUBSTANCE. The definition of cyberpunk was blurred. Academically, it was the literary movement of the 1980s that took our eyes away from the stars, and turned them down toward the dismal city streets—“High-tech, low-life” as it’s often defined. Informally, “cyberpunk” has become shorthand for any “dark future” media—whether that’s accurate or not.

Definitions ranged from being a geek who likes industrial metal music, to being an anarchist hacker; from a delusionist who thinks they are in the future, to simply carrying a Logitech scanner on your belt. Cyberpunk’s densest decade—with a non-stop stream of novels, films, video games and TV shows—also saw previously unrelated media, such as The X-Files, Billy Idol, Marvel comics, and even Batman don the cyberpunk cowl. In the ten years since the genre was founded, “The Net” had become a real thing.

We saw the rapid deployment of many online information and commerce hubs, now used daily by billions. Cyberspace now had to be explained using domain names, email addresses, and megabytes, instead of stylish technobabble. There was a shift from the fantastic and unattainable, toward the practicality of personal computers and virtual reality. The seemingly limitless possibilities of technology inspired a sort of society-wide existentialism. This movement challenged our own perception of reality.

Is our world real, or could this all be a dream or simulation created by unfathomable forces? But one thing hadn’t changed: cyberpunk was still the coolest thing around, and we got a hell of a decade of thematic entertainment, and a rapidly evolving culture that we would remember for generations to come. "…It became clearer when the machine crashed… Everything went to hell and the CPU began spewing out random bits… The image on the screen was a bitmap, a literal rendering of the contents of a particular portion of the computer's memory. When the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set—a "snow crash."

- Neal Stephenson The immediate satisfaction of films, shows and games overshadowed the literary side of cyberpunk, but written works still shined throughout the 90s. Their reach had waned over time, but continued to offer insightful, fresh looks at the future of technology and society. The next generation of cyberpunk was a lot more self-aware. Newcomers like Neal Stephenson deconstructed the tropes and cliches of the genre, while veterans like Gibson and Sterling continued to thrive. But in terms of raw numbers, nothing ever came close to the phenomenon of Neuromancer.

Nevertheless, Stephenson would help redefine our culture with his 1992 novel, Snow Crash. A masterful story that both plays to existing cyberpunk themes and mocks the traditions of the genre. The novel thrusts you into absurdity early on.

The “Deliverator”, a man named Hiro Protagonist, is on an urgent mission for the Mafia… to deliver a pizza. Yes, seriously. He crosses paths with the spunky skateboarder YT, she distracts him by hitching on to his car, causing him to crash.

YT saves his skin from Mob retaliation by offering to help with his delivery, and the two strike up an unlikely partnership. Hiro is unmatched in his hacking skills, and a bit of a sword-fighting legend in the Metaverse—the book’s virtual reality world, and what our Internet would eventually become. The Metaverse is one and a half times the size of Earth—a place where you can buy property and construct virtual metropolises. Most of the action takes place on The Street, a gigantic highway spanning the circumference of the globe, and its surrounding area is the most coveted real estate in the Metaverse.

Here, people can represent themselves with avatars of any kind, so long as they’re human-sized. And the entire thing is monetized: with purchasable real estate, microtransactions, and premium avatars. America has become divided, and the economy has inflated into ruin.

The federal government has all but ceased to exist and, instead, a stateless form of anarchistic capitalism rules everything. Money is now exchanged by the quadrillions. A notorious computer virus known as “Snow Crash” is making the rounds.

Only programmers and computer experts who understand its hidden code are afflicted by it. Through that interface, it can hospitalize them in real-life, leaving nothing but static on their VR goggles. Hiro becomes entangled with a dark conspiracy.

Someone behind this Snow Crash virus is trying to play god, and is manipulating the populace to some malevolent end. "Wait a minute, Juanita. Make up your mind. This Snow Crash thing — is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?" Juanita shrugs. "What's the difference?" "How can you say that? You're a religious person yourself." "All people have religions.

It's like we have religion receptors built into our brain cells, or something, and we'll latch onto anything that'll fill that niche for us. Now, religion used to be essentially viral—a piece of information that replicated inside the human mind, jumping from one person to the next.” “That's the way it used to be, and unfortunately, that's the way it's headed right now." The novel asserts that the human mind works like an operating system, but not written in a computer language like Assembly or C++, but in Sumerian. This means that Snow Crash only affects those fluent in this archaic language—a common point of complaint shared by some critics. Imagine if only cybersecurity experts could get their computers infected with trojans.

A crucial detail to the plot, as it adds a sense of deliberation and purpose to Snow Crash. This wasn’t a weapon of chaos, it was a tool to enact a very specific plan. Snow Crash proposed many concepts that OUR reality later reflected. The Metaverse proved to be quite similar to future online games such as Ultima Online and EverQuest, as well as virtual chat hubs like Second Life. This is common in researched science fiction.

Stephenson majored in physics and geography so he could gain access to the university's computer mainframe. Unlike William Gibson, he attempted computer realism, rather than a more poetic usage of terminology. To his credit, Stephenson’s educated guesses got a lot right about the future. “Science fiction inspires people to choose science and engineering as careers. This much is undoubtedly true, and somewhat obvious…” “Good science fiction supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. A good SF universe has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to scientists and engineers.

Examples include Isaac Asimov’s robots, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ships, and William Gibson’s cyberspace. As Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research puts it, such icons serve as hieroglyphs—simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.” – Neal Stephenson Stephenson predicted the meteoric rise of laptop computers and cell phones, which at the time were bulky and rare. Some Silicon Valley engineers even admitted that Snow Crash's “Earth” program inspired Google Earth.

Both used satellite imagery, user-uploaded photos, and had a 3D street view. The seeds of the Metaverse were already planted by 1992. With games such as Habitat and Neverwinter Nights, you could select your own avatar and explore online worlds. Before the digital age, "Avatar" was a term used sparingly, given it’s a Sanskrit word meaning, "an incarnation of a god."

Stephenson helped popularize its use as a name for one’s digital personification on the web and in online games. The Metaverse also directly inspired many titles such as Immercenary and Second Life. Stephenson's vision of online gaming encouraged those who sought to bring it to life.

Inspired by Snow Crash, a former Microsoft engineer joined id Software to help pioneer online gaming by co-creating QuakeWorld. Its blisteringly fast deathmatches quickly paved the way for future online games. Quake conventions, tournaments and an enthusiastic community directly led to the flourishing eSports industry we enjoy today. Snow Crash’s vivid imagination of the virtual lifestyle even influenced entire online platforms.

An Xbox Live project lead made it mandatory reading for his team, and attributes about half his decisions about the platform's design directly to the book. Perhaps Stephenson's most insightful observation is about “memetics”, and how the internet can rapidly propagate flawed ideas across individuals. It doesn’t matter how factual, rational, or meaningful an idea is, its spread is only determined by its infectious and emotional appeal.

Now, the internet's free dissemination of information allows conspiracies, new religions, and widely-accepted untruths to proliferate at fiber optic speeds. “We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria.

Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep on humming all day until you spread it to someone else. Jokes. Urban legends.

Crackpot religions. Marxism. No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information.” In the decade following William Gibson’s acclaimed Sprawl trilogy, he wrote another series set in the decrepit San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge area, in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.

They are all somewhat disconnected stories, with a shared universe and timeline. The first in the series, Virtual Light, follows the story of a bike messenger who steals a pair of glasses from a rude customer, out of spite. Obliviously, her petty crime would lead to a vast conspiracy.

Now, cops, corporate henchmen, and a hitman are all in hot pursuit, to reclaim her unlikely prize. “Here. Check it out.” He put them on her. She was facing the city when he did it.

Financial district... the hills behind that… These towers blooming there, buildings bigger than anything, a stone regular grid of them, marching in from the hills… ...Then Chinese writing filled the sky. “Sammy…” She felt him grab her as she lost her balance. The Chinese writing twisted into English. SUNFLOWER CORPORATION. ...Anything she focused on, another label lit the sky, dense patches of technical words she didn't understand. They were a pair of Virtual Light glasses containing the plans for a complete transformation of the city using nanotechnology—priceless and dangerous to keep around, but it was too late to undo her mistake.

The client turns up dead. The bloodhounds were on her trail, and they would take no prisoners. VL technology is similar to augmented reality hardware like Microsoft's HoloLens.

But instead of projecting light onto transparent lenses, VL transmits images and sensations to our eyes directly—without the use of photon particles. This tech was based on a real-life hypothesis by scientist Stephen Beck. Gibson’s style and colorful characterization of the future were unparalleled.

His biting satire includes the sensationalist reality TV show, "Cops in Trouble", a porn star suspiciously similar to a contemporary pop diva, and the church's demonization of virtual reality. In classic cyberpunk style, the upper class of society maintains power and influence, while the lower class has to fight over the scraps. The story instills a deep sense of paranoia—no one can be trusted, and no one is beyond reproach. The second book in the Bridge trilogy is Idoru, a cyber-detective novel about Colin Laney, a data miner, and his investigation of a rock star who vows to marry a virtual hologram pop idol. The book gives an insight into Japan, its unique lifestyles, and the culture shock foreigners experience while visiting there. The novel explores the concept of "nodal points", fault lines among masses of data, which mark the divergence in the course of history or in the lives of individuals.

When his techniques prove to be reliable, Laney becomes a sought-after asset with his unique "nodal" approach in analyzing data and predicting future events. “What are the nodal points?” Laney looked at the bubbles on the surface of his beer. “It's like seeing things in clouds,” Laney said. “Except the things you see are really there.” She put her sake down. “Yamazaki promised me you weren't crazy.”

“It's not crazy. It's something to do with how I process low-level, broad-spectrum input. Something to do with pattern-recognition.” “And Slitscan hired you on the basis of that?” “They hired me when I demonstrated that it works. But I can't do that with the kind of data you showed me today.” Gibson has identified Laney’s methods as a metaphor for how he taps into the shifting trends of society in his own writing.

Marrying a virtual AI would have been ludicrous in 1996. But since the book’s publishing, this has indeed happened in real-life Japan, strengthening the aura of foresight already present in Gibson's writing—life imitating art. Virtual Light and Idoru's characters were woven together to form a new plot, in the final book of the trilogy. All Tomorrow’s Parties follows the netrunner from the previous book, Laney. It’s set in the broken cityscape of the Bridge area.

We see what’s left of post-millennial San Francisco, serenaded by the death throes of a once-prosperous society—with a hint of impending oblivion lingering underneath every sentence. Laney’s obsessed with preventing a significant event that may change the course of history, as predicted in a new nodal point. This book illustrates a common take on Gibson’s work: that it’s more about the texture than the plot—the dismal and beautiful world, the vivid characters and the concepts he explores. Laney reaches up and removes the bulky, old-fashioned eyephones.

Yamazaki cannot see what outputs to them, but the shifting light from the display reveals Laney’s hollowed eyes. “It’s all going to change, Yamazaki. We’re coming up on the mother of all nodal points. I can see it, now. It’s all going to change.”

“I don’t understand.” “Know what the joke is? It didn’t change when they thought it would. Millennium was a Christian holiday.

I’ve been looking at history, Yamazaki. I can see the nodal points in history. Last time we had one like this was 1911.” “What happened in 1911?” “Everything changed.” Along with the influx of cyberpunk literature, an explosion of comic books and animation was on the rise.

It ranged from rebooted, traditional comic book heroes to refreshingly new stories about futurist metropolises. Transmetropolitan follows a gonzo journalist in a trans-humanist society. After retiring into the mountains, one last job pulls him back to the crowded, dystopian city he tried to escape. Spider Jerusalem is a subversive journalist and a fearless fighter for truth, despite having more than a few screws loose. He has run-ins with punks, colorful city denizens, corrupt cops, and has a penchant for resisting authority.

Bloody, brutal, and unapologetic, the series is an unflinching look at the dregs of society. Spider has strong words for anyone, from prostitutes, to priests, to presidents. The comics chronicle the eccentric journo’s zany exploits, while he scrambles to fulfill his overdue publishing contract. Transmetropolitan is a ride through an exaggeration of the human condition, unlike anything else. It's a vivid depiction of city life through a warped and colorful lens.

Both Marvel and DC Comics would spin off their most famous series with a dark future setting, tapping into the circuits and sprawling cityscapes we all had on the brain. Marvel 2099 saw Ghost Rider, Spider Man, the X-Men and others face off against a corporatocratic world. North America has fallen into the hands of megacorporations such as Alchemax, who rule the dystopian police force, the “Public Eye”. Here, Ghost Rider is an entity pulled from cyberspace into an android body, in his quest to bring down the D/Monix corporation, Spider Man is transformed into a mutant superhuman through a DNA-rewriting machine, and the X-Men fight against a sinister plot to assimilate all life on Earth into techno-organic beings, and only mutants like them are resilient to this malady. At the end of the millennium, one of DC Comics’ most popular spin-offs debuted.

Batman Beyond follows Bruce Wayne in his twilight years, having long retired from his role as the Dark Knight. Fate leads him to mentor and train Terry McGinnis, a young protege, to use his high-tech Batman gear to bring back justice and peace to Neo-Gotham. Terry teams up with hacker Max Gibson and other allies, seeking to cure the criminal scourge that has festered for too long in their city. The animated series is set in the cyber-age of 2039, with cyborg eco-terrorists, dangerous psychokinetics, and the descendants of Batman's old enemies. The series illuminates the fractured life of a former caped hero, and with its fresh cyberpunk setting, was hailed as one of the most inspired comic spinoffs. MTV debuted an original, experimental series in 1991 known as Aeon Flux, created by Peter Chung.

Its unconventional style seemed to break every rule that animated series adhere to, and soon attracted a cult following. The first two seasons had no dialogue, and each episode would end in the protagonist’s untimely and gruesome death—often instigated by frivolous accidents like stepping on a nail, or spilling some coffee. Season 3 added dialogue and made it into longer, 22-minute episodes, and was reimagined as a more serialized, coherent story. In a totalitarian society with citizens both mundane and incomprehensibly strange, the series often pits Trevor Goodchild, the self-appointed leader of the society, against a Monican spy, Aeon.

At first glance, they seem to be archenemies, but their paths entwine in combat, intrigue, partnership and occasionally, lust—like the Yin and Yang of a morbidly beautiful alien world. The show proudly wears its striking art style, heavily inspired by French comics such as the work of Moebius. It’s also an incredibly fetishistic and sexually-charged portrayal of sci-fi espionage like no other. While often bewildering, Aeon Flux is an acid trip through a cyberpunk-inspired world we would never forget. Chung’s imagination knew no bounds.

From bizarre, bipedal humanoids both familiar and completely alien, to creative implementations of cybernetically enhanced limbs and body parts, either for functionality, tactical use, or for sensual deviancy. Aeon Flux is shocking, bordering on pornographic at times, but it’s also an inexplicable adventure that would push the boundaries of animated storytelling in the West to its breaking point. Despite its relatively short series run, it still holds a special place in many a fan’s heart. “That which does not kill us, makes us stranger.”

“In 1990, we saw the first really coherent attempt to demonize the computer underground, that really cooked them up as a national threat… to break their backs, and it almost worked!” “I mean it got a lot of awful publicity… ‘Punks with computers’ were very painstakingly vilified by people in positions of authority, and there was quite an extensive media campaign—you know, paint them up as a considerable threat.” Science fiction projects present-day conditions into the future to enlighten us. If you cannot dream it, you could never build it, and the world of hacking perfectly demonstrates this ebb and flow of sci-fi and reality. Cyberpunk writers dreamed of what the denizens of cyberspace would be capable of, and how the authorities, big corps, and governments would crack down on these freedoms when their power was threatened. Hence, hackers and cyberpunk were born connected. Hacking has been around longer than most people realize.

The precursors to modern hackers, known as “phreakers” (a contraction of 'phone' and 'freak'), first gained notoriety in the 1970s. The earliest phreakers were curious folks who experimented with telephones. They learned how to redirect calls and manipulate phone lines by mimicking the tones used by the phone systems.

Since long-distance calls were expensive, phreakers developed rudimentary techniques to circumvent these fees. Some went above and beyond, like illegally tapping into telecommunications systems and stealing data. This led to a crackdown on phreakers and hackers in the mid-80s. “Neidorf fell afoul of the BellSouth corporation, because some confederates / acquaintances of his had lifted some documents from a BellSouth computer, and it was put about that they had attacked the police 9-1-1 emergency dialing system.”

“And of course, this would have constituted a very serious crime and you can imagine… the police looked with great disfavor on the prospect of a hacker attack on their own private phone systems.” “But it turned out that this was essentially a scare tactic… This purported threat was a complete phantom. The 9-1-1 system was never in any actual danger. So a quite large show trial was cooked up and it went on and it just collapsed in total ignominy.”

“And represented a serious setback for the forces of cybernetic order.” Phrack is the world's longest-running hacker e-zine that got early cyberpunks connected in both their message and spirit. In its early days in the 80s, it was accessed through a bulletin board system via phone lines. A year after the e-zine debuted, cyber-denizens wrote the Hacker Manifesto, and infamous groups like the Legion of Doom began to make headlines.

The internet revolution took off in 1989, the year the World Wide Web was invented. With the first official web browser releasing a year later, the internet as we know it spread like wildfire. The middle of the decade saw the industry experience its greatest boom in computer technology. Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Google, and Hotmail were all founded within a few years of each other. In 1995, Microsoft launched Windows 95, a powerful and accessible new door to personal computing. In the five years that followed, we went from 40 million to 400 million internet users—it was a technological milestone in history.

This resonating enthusiasm for computing caught the entertainment industry's attention. We saw a shift of focus from seemingly unattainable cybernetics and hardware, like in previous media, toward a more realistic portrayal of software, hacking and virtual reality. More computer users meant new opportunities, but fresh faces meant new risks.

The concept of the Feds and hackers battling it out in cyberspace was no longer science fiction. It was quickly becoming a reality. The world was feverishly grasping for more technology. We went from cassette tapes, to CDs, to digital MP3 music in only a dozen years. Hacker culture also developed rapidly, inspiring anything from the low-level script kiddies all the way up to notorious black hats. Even amateur computer enthusiasts eagerly adopted the term “hacker”, due to its unmistakable "cool factor".

And where there is hacking, there's piracy. The 90s would see rampant anti-piracy PSAs, just like the drug PSAs from the decade before. Illegally downloading cracked software, music, movies, or TV shows from the Internet using peer-to-peer services like Napster, LimeWire, or KaZaA was quickly becoming vogue. The ability to copy digitally-pirated goods indefinitely fostered the perception that copyrighted material was “free” for everyone.

Corporations began to suffer losses, and even music labels and rock bands fought back in the courts, such as the landmark “Metallica v. Napster” case in the year 2000. As years went on, the infamous “Piracy: It's a Crime” PSA would run before hundreds of movies. It used an edgy presentation to equate downloading a movie with stealing a car, encapsulating the overblown anti-hacker rhetoric of the time.

Anonymity allowed online culture to thrive. Authorities couldn't completely lock it down, and that convinced users that they were untouchable. It was the “Wired West”, and the cowboys of cyberspace loved every second. “Identity” had been forever changed by the Internet; formerly it had meant “who you really are” but now it meant “any one of a number of persistent faces that you can present to the digital universe.” - Neal Stephenson Cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling penned the Hacker Crackdown in 1992, which highlighted a number of FBI and US Secret Service raids, arrests, and operations aimed at hackers. It marked a paradigm shift, when law enforcement got deadly serious about cybercrime.

Hackers young and old heard the Feds banging at their door the country over. From harmless pranks to hacking into government servers, these cyber-trespassers would face any challenge. Whether it was for fun, for clout, or for malicious purposes, these daredevil acts now had serious consequences.

After being on the run from the FBI for years, Kevin Mitnick was arrested for hacking and telecommunications fraud. Around this time, the taunt, “My kung fu is stronger than yours”, would quickly become a hacker catchphrase. Like many former black hats, he would go on to become a cybersecurity expert after his release. Teenage hacker Sean Parker was tracked down by the FBI over cybercrimes against a Fortune 500 company. He later co-founded Napster, and helped build Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg.

The Secret Service even raided a tabletop game developer working on GURPS: Cyberpunk, seizing computers, manuscripts and disks. Steve Jackson Games eventually won the case, leading to an end of these questionable anti-hacker operations. Crazy stories like these, seemingly ripped straight from sci-fi novels, sowed the seeds that would take the entertainment industry by storm.

Outlandish cyberspace would give way to films mirroring real-life hackers on the World Wide Web. The same year Sterling’s book was published, Sneakers released, a genuine look into penetration testing, hacking and social engineering. The movie follows a ragtag group of hackers, phreakers, technicians and security experts. Their world is turned upside down when one of their jobs lands a “black box” in their laps. It turns out to be the most advanced codebreaker ever made, and its untold power is too dangerous for anyone to be entrusted with. “Anyone wanna crash a couple passenger jets?" "I said turn it off!" "TURN IT OFF!" Nothing was beyond its reach, from airliner jets to nuclear codes, and that lands the group into the crosshairs of the most dangerous people in the world.

Despite the MacGuffin's concept being more fantastic than realistic, Sneakers applies several practical hacking techniques. Phreaking is used to obscure the group’s location while calling the NSA. Common tactics like rummaging through trash for private information and using social engineering to bypass security are also demonstrated in detail. It remains one of the earlier Hollywood films to capture hacking with a level of practicality.

1995 could be dubbed “The Year of the Hacker”. Famous cybercriminals were arrested, and three big-budget hacking movies were released back-to-back. The Net, Hackers and Johnny Mnemonic. The Net is a glimpse into the technology-obsessed 1990s—when modem, PC, and computer server technology seemed boundless. It explores the personal, political and corporate dangers of the “wired world”.

This cyber-thriller shows off infectious malware that can compromise your computer by clicking a link or loading up a suspicious disk, and medical records can be falsified, leading you to believe you have a terminal illness. Even your prescriptions can be altered, making your next trip to the pharmacy your last. The film’s opening wowed audiences with (the now mundane activity of) ordering a pizza online. Sandra Bullock's character is a shut-in computer nerd, who only socializes online through chat and email.

Unconventional at the time, this is now all-too-common with computer enthusiasts. "Computers are your life, aren't they?" "Yes… Perfect hiding place." “What’s your speciality in computers?” “Beta testing, mostly. But pretty much anything.” “Just go into people’s systems, find their faults and then fix it, that’s all.” “What happens if they don’t have any faults?” “Don’t believe I’ve met one yet.”

The film helped drive the awe, fear and uncertainty of computers to a fever pitch. Whether this was all feasible in the 1990s was irrelevant. The Net was a perfect diorama of where our heads were at toward the end of the millennium. What 'Hackers' gave us is a much more bombastic look at cyber-culture. The movie aimed to bedazzle its young audience with techno music, rollerblading, and actors chewing through every scene. Superficially inspired by real-life hacking, the movie leaned heavily on technobabble and computer graphic visualizations.

It took real terminology and threw it in a blender. The story begins with a young boy being arrested for crashing over 1,500 computers, causing a dip in the stock exchange. The former child hacker, now a high schooler, immediately reboots his hacking career after his probation from computer use expires.

He hacks into a local TV station under his new moniker, “CRASH OVERRIDE”, but is blocked by a rival hacker. Some stiff competition has formed since he's been out of the game. Crash bumps into a coterie of local hackers at his new school.

As a rite of passage, one of its newer members hacks into the mainframe of an energy corporation dubbed “The Gibson”, and gets backtraced and arrested by the Feds. They realize something larger is at stake, as their hacker friends are arrested and charged for crimes they didn't commit. “Hack the planet! Hack the planet!” “Shut up and get in the car…” The hackers uncover evidence that someone is embezzling money on a massive scale, which could cost the company millions. The Plague, a cybersecurity officer by day, hacker by night, notices this emerging group of cyberthieves, and accuses them of planting a virus called “Da Vinci” (a nod to the infamous, real-life Michelangelo virus).

The Da Vinci virus has infected several oil tankers, and unless its creator's demands are met, the tankers will topple. What follows is a battle between the teenage cyberpunks versus the corpos, now teamed up with the Secret Service. They're cracking down Crash's crew, aiming to lock them up for the rest of the foreseeable future. The film helped popularize a variation of the Hacker Manifesto: "This is our world now. The world of the electron and the switch; the beauty of the baud.”

“We exist without nationality, skin color, or religious bias.” “You wage wars, murder, cheat, lie to us and try to make us believe it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals.” “Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity.”

“I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto.” “You may stop me, but you can't stop us all.” ‘Hackers’ brazenly paints corporations and federal officers as “the bad guys” and hackers as heroic, whose only crime is curiosity. It demonstrates little actual hacking, presuming its audience's disinterest in realism. We also see few consequences of cybercrime.

Instead, the movie uses MTV-style quick cuts, and TRON-like computer visuals to portray a sexy fantasy of cyberculture. Despite inaccuracies, even real-life hackers still enjoy the movie as a guilty pleasure, if a bit fuzzy on the details. As technical consultant Nicholas Jarecki put it... “For all its exaggerations, it does a decent job of showing the hacker spirit—those kids were tinkerers, experimenting, reveling in their ability to figure something out.

It's a celebration of human ingenuity.” Despite its widespread acclaim and sales, William Gibson's classic novel Neuromancer was having trouble making its way to the silver screen. It was stuck in development hell for decades, despite director interest and several pitches. Instead, Gibson's earlier work, Johnny Mnemonic, was adapted in 1995. What started as an indie art-house project exploded into a 30 million-dollar pitch to Sony Pictures, fueled by the boom of computer technology. When Gibson himself wrote the screenplay, he had to adapt the twenty-two page short story into a feature-length film—essentially inventing 80% of the plot from scratch.

Johnny Mnemonic follows the life of a data smuggler, who gave up his childhood memories years ago for a head implant. This effectively turned his brain into a portable hard drive, for discreet clients. This idea mirrors the real-life “Sneakernet”, where people transport data storage by foot. But unlike the floppy discs or CDs of the 90s, Johnny can carry a whopping 80 gigabytes in his head (over 50 times the capacity of an average hard drive in 1995). Many may think of Gibson as a “technophile,” but even he admits that was never true. He wrote his earlier works on a typewriter, and gradually switched to the Apple II, then to consumer-friendly MacBooks and iPads.

When he modernized Johnny Mnemonic for the big screen, he had to brush up his knowledge of computer technology. “I was actually able to write Neuromancer because I didn’t know anything about computers.” “I knew literally nothing. What I did was deconstruct the poetics of the language of people who were already working in the field.”

“I’d stand in the hotel bar at the Seattle science fiction convention listening to these guys who were the first computer programmers I ever saw talk about their work.” “I had no idea what they were talking about, but that was the first time that I ever heard the word ‘interface’ used as a verb. And I swooned. Wow, that’s a verb. Seriously, poetically that was wonderful.” “So I was listening to it as an English honours student.

I would take it back out, deconstruct it poetically, and build a world from those bricks.” - William Gibson The movie updates 1980s technobabble like “cyberspace” to real-world terms like “the internet”. Johnny Mnemonic shows off surfing the internet in VR, cybernetically augmented limbs, and the villain even brandishes a monomolecular wire implant, which cuts through flesh, steel and stone like a deadly laser whip. Actor Keanu Reeves portrays the titular character in his first of many roles in cyberpunk movies and games. A routine data-running job hits a snag when Johnny’s frantic and inexperienced clients ask him to download a massive 320-gigabyte package, far beyond the maximum he can safely store in his implant. Exceeding this limit will eventually kill him if not extracted quickly.

Johnny reluctantly agrees, right before his clients are brutally assassinated by the Yakuza. Going from bad to worse, what follows is a high-tension chase, as cutthroat corporations, the relentless Yakuza, street gangs, an artificial intelligence and even a cyborg preacher/assassin all want the secrets contained in Johnny’s head. Slowly dying, and unable to unload the data, Johnny is on the run. As customary, he doesn’t know what he’s carrying, but it quickly becomes apparent that if it gets into the right hands, it could change the world.

“It’s N.A.S., right?” “Yeah, the Black Shakes, like half the people on the planet.” “You don’t get this shit from amp-jobs. That’s a myth.” “So what really causes it?” “What causes it?! The WORLD causes it.” “This causes it! This causes it! This causes it! Information overload! All the electronics around you poisoning the airwaves…” “But we still have all this shit, because we can't live without it.”

The crisis of modern society is the Black Shakes pandemic, which causes extensive neurological damage and violent seizures. The street doctors claim that signal pollution is the culprit. Human bodies are getting overloaded with digital waves and they just can't take it. All-out riots and unrest break out between those most affected by this affliction, and the elites who can live their lives in luxury and health. Johnny Mnemonic is a cyberpunk story through-and-through, as penned by one of the genre’s best. It hits all the right beats: scouring cyberspace, touring us through the high-rise hotels of Beijing, and the shanty fortresses of Newark—reminiscent of the decrepit bridge city that debuted in Virtual Light.

The movie was bold and ambitious, dwarfing any project Gibson or the director had done before. In fact, all the moving parts—production companies, studios, and busywork—became overwhelming, according to reports. The movie gets lost in its wide variety of wacky ideas, and flaunts its absurdity on its sleeve.

This makes it difficult to take seriously at times, but there's still a lot to love in Johnny Mnemonic. It's old-school cyberpunk through and through, beloved by many due to its earnest visualization of Gibson's world. “Hit me.”

A live-action video game was designed as a companion piece to the movie. The game was essentially an interactive film, with clickable regions placed over live action footage. It’s a product of the “FMV” or full-motion video era, where ambitious devs tried to blur the line between cinema and games. With a completely separate cast of actors, and a tenth of the budget, the game tries to capture the suspense of being a walking hard drive in a cyberpunk world. Though the production values and writing differ significantly from the film. Sadly, the second film adaptation of Gibson's work lacked the impact or production value of the first.

It netted some great acting talent with Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe, but its slim budget, scarcity of footage and disjointed editing made for a muddled experience. New Rose Hotel feels like a movie made in the editing room. It was also based on an Omni magazine short story, but one only half the length of Johnny Mnemonic. The film is a patchwork of disconnected scenes spliced with stock footage and B-roll, with an arthouse, grungy style of editing. The story is about two American headhunters using a Shinjuku girl to lure Hiroshi, a brilliant engineer, away from his current position toward a rival corporation.

They promise this small-time call girl an early retirement for the job, and the headhunters will walk away with a cool hundred million. But in the cut-throat world of corporate warfare, things aren't always as they appear. After a slow but competent setup with a promising premise, it’s apparent that not enough footage was available to complete the movie. Blatantly re-used scenes, cheap sets, and lazy visual effects made for a science fiction thriller without the sci-fi, or the thrills.

Its limited release and dismal box office returns of about $20,000 essentially sealed the fate of future Gibson adaptations. Neuromancer would remain in development hell, and no big-budget film adaptation of his work would see the light of day for over 20 years. Japanese animated features embraced hacker culture as well.

Anime was diversifying in the 1990s, from Cowboy Bebop to Neon Genesis Evangelion, from Ghost in the Shell to Serial Experiments Lain. The latter, as the title suggests, was highly experimental. There are frequent title cards, almost like a silent film, strewn throughout the anime. Metaphorical visuals and a fractured narrative challenge viewers to decode the storyline's true nature.

Enter Lain Iwakura, a seemingly unexceptional schoolgirl who dives into a web of cyberculture, deceit, mystery, and transhumanism. Her entire school is receiving emails that send chills down their spines. These messages are from a classmate who ended her life a week before. Who is sending them, and why did she kill herself? And what connection does Lain have to this victim? Lain becomes obsessed with The Wired—an online system similar to our Internet, which hosts your typical online chats, but also has reality-warping VR which tantalizes the characters in the show.

Students hear whispers of those who have renounced all things physical, who now exist solely as pure code, worshipped as gods of The Wired by a devoted user base. As her world begins to unravel, Lain experiences lapses in time. As she delves deeper into The Wired, her life, friends and social activities fade away. She has waking nightmares: drug-like hallucinations of blood and paranoia, haunting visions of ever-changing faces, and men in black, lurking behind corners.

Lain often hangs out at a hacker-den nightclub called Cyberia, a likely nod to Douglas Rushkoff’s book about early internet culture. At the club, an anti-Wired terrorist commits a brutal murder right in front of Lain and her friends, suggesting there's more to this online world than it appears. Some cite that Serial Experiments Lain was inspired in part by the "Eight-circuit model of consciousness" proposed by Dr. Timothy Leary—a hypothesis that compares human drives, the brain, and bodily functions to computer circuits. Leary was infamous for his controversial ideas, his love of LSD, and his connections to science fiction writers such as Gibson. The show is remarkably atmospheric, with long sequences where you hear only the hums and whines of power lines that sprawl over the city like a prison of wires, threatening to envelop its inhabitants.

Predictive for 1998, the series notes how internet-driven obsession and addiction could affect its users. It also speaks to the complete transplantation of the consciousness from the flesh to the digital world entirely, in a relatable and chilling setting. “I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.” We would also see creative works explore the idea of hacking biology, instead of circuitry. As "designer baby" studies became more prominent in the 90s, Truman Show screenwriter, Andrew Niccol, wrote and directed a profound biopunk film that explores the evolution of prejudice, genetic inequality, and the human spirit.

Biopunk is often defined as an offshoot of cyberpunk, but instead of dealing with cybernetics, it focuses on synthetic organics, biotechnology, DNA manipulation, and their effects on society. Gattaca is a 1997 film about Vincent Freeman, a natural-born man who was conceived without genetic intervention. During his birth, it's declared that he has a degenerative heart condition that would kill him in his 30s.

Near-sighted, imperfect and frail, he is an “in-valid”—unfit for higher positions in a world that now discriminates by genes. Exclusive clubs, employers and even the dating pool now discriminate on the basis of your DNA. Vincent is always playing second-fiddle to his younger brother, who had his genes perfected before birth—taller, stronger, healthier and able to achieve the things that Vincent could never hope to. His one goal is to join Gattaca Aerospace Corporation, and take part in the upcoming mission to Titan, but he’s hit his employment ceiling as a janitor.

Desperate, he becomes a "borrowed ladder", someone who buys DNA samples from a "valid"—skin, blood, urine, and hair—in order to pose as a genetically-qualified candidate. Bypassing biometric scanners, screenings, and blood tests, he is escaping his predestined social class. Vincent’s donor is a perfect specimen—a former athlete whose career was ended in a tragic accident—and is now a self-loathing paralytic, who could use the money a Gattaca employee could pay. Vincent’s routine of painstakingly cleaning his person and workspace of any traces of DNA borders on paranoia. He also plants fake samples of hair and skin, to further throw off inspectors.

But when a brutal murder occurs at his workplace, everything could come crashing down. The “Hoovers” start collecting DNA evidence from all over Gattaca, and interrogate those with a motive to kill or secrets to hide. Their nickname is word play: a combo of the notorious FBI director and the vacuum cleaner brand. Part future noir, part dystopian drama, Gattaca examines a world where eugenics is king, and merit is an afterthought.

James Hughes would later criticize Gattaca in his book Citizen Cyborg, for “fear-mongering” about legitimate health requirements for astronauts. And eleven years after Gattaca released, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 regulated testing and discrimination based on genetics, as the film had predicted would happen on paper. But as Gattaca’s opening monologue warned… “My father was right. It didn't matter how much I lied on my resume, my real C.V. was in my cells…” “Of course, it's illegal to discriminate—"genoism" it's called—but no one takes the laws seriously.”

Despite its grim and sobering themes, the film also evokes an inspirational message, “There is no gene for the human spirit.” Hacking the human body must've been on our collective minds, as it was practiced in science, shown in films, and even explored in video games. A few in particular dabbled in the unsettling solitude of space, with a dash of cyberpunk tech and biological horror—where unimaginable depravity and unethical experiments could go unrestrained. One example was BioForge, a cold and brutal science fiction story which sees your carcass pulled from space wreckage and transformed into a cybernetic monstrosity. You are just as desperate to escape this off-world prison, as you are to punish those who created you.

You'll give guards, scientists, and other inmates the beat-down, all while evading deadly experiments and security systems that permeate the facility's hallways. Passwords, hints and solutions are hidden deep within lengthy data logs and computer terminals. Some scenarios involve remote-controlled robots or gun turrets, while others have time limits, where one false step can be your last. It's a well-made, if unforgiving, adventure/horror experience. In a dark twist, your own character is in many ways the source of the terror, as faculty shriek in fear while a monster of flesh-and-steel pulverizes them mercilessly.

“You have stolen my body and my mind.” “I will know why or I will have your blood!” BioForge's focus on body horror and cybernetic decay thematically mirrors another great cyberpunk game from the year before: System Shock. “New Atlanta sector 11 building 71 G7, April 2072, 11:13PM.” “Hacker begins unauthorized entry into the Trioptimum Corporate network.”

Created by the “founders of the Immersive Sim”, Looking Glass Studios, the game offers environmental interactivity and dynamic scenarios with many ways to complete them, allowing for diverse playstyles. In the year 2072, you play a hacker who gets busted while breaking into TriOptimum's off-world Citadel Station. One of its executives makes you a deal: hack the station's central AI, SHODAN, and remove its ethical constraints. In exchange, you'll get a military-grade neural implant installed while you're under a 6-month coma. “Welcome to the throne of GOD, mortal." You awaken to learn that SHODAN reprogrammed the androids on board to be hostile, and the crew either have been murdered or have mutated into twisted husks, who now worship their newfound dark goddess.

Your only mission is to undo the atrocities you inadvertently released, and escape this technological house of horror. System Shock is an action adventure game that takes immersion to intimidating new levels. You can dodge, lean, crouch and attack in a complex and daunting control scheme. You’re able to manipulate tons of objects and equipment, and even tweak your laser weapon's power settings.

System Shock's hacking sequences let you soar around in 3D cyberspace, hacking nodes and avoiding ICE to break into security systems. This was one of the most immersive attempts to date, at simulating a decker flying through cyberspace. The game also featured VR support long before virtual reality headsets were common.

Though primitive by today’s standards, it was a peek into the potential that this tech could one day offer. The antagonist, SHODAN, is chilling and memorable. She has the distorted, glitchy voice of a corrupted AI. Spine-tingling sound design made for an ominous setting, painstakingly created by RPG veterans and sound engineers, many of whom also performed together in the alternative rock band, Tribe.

System Shock paved the way for some of the most interactive and immersive video game experiences, like Thief, Deus Ex and BioShock. The game is also fondly remembered for introducing one of the most memorable and haunting villains in gaming history. “L-l-look at you, hacker.”

“A p-p-pathetic creature of meat and bone, panting and sweating as you r-run through my corridors-s.” “H-h-how can you challenge a perfect, immortal machine?” System Shock 2 was an improvement in almost every respect. The sequel used the engine developed for Thief: The Dark Project. Five years of technological progress brought fully 3d-modeled graphics, better gun handling and improved stealth gameplay. System Shock 2 is more graphic and terrifying than the original.

The story is set 42 years after the first game, aboard the Von Braun, the most advanced faster-than-light spacecraft ever made, during its maiden voyage into deep space. But when you wake from cryosleep, you find the once pristine, cutting-edge ship in tatters. The crew is mostly dead, missing or worse: turned into disturbing hybrids of human, mutant and machine. You’ll shudder as you hear them talking amongst themselves, lurking around corners, and sneaking up on you when you least expect it.

“Must be right under my nose…” “Come out. Come. Out.” “COME OUT.” Working with the remaining crew via radio, you'll navigate dangerous corridors, threatened by a corrupted artificial intelligence, and the grotesque abominations that have infected the ship, known only as “The Many”.

Haunted by audio logs left behind by deceased crew members, radio transmissions and unnerving telepathic voices, this creates a threatening and uneasy atmosphere. You're also hearing whispers of the return of an old, familiar enemy: the corrupted AI known as SHODAN. After the tutorial, you can emulate your career path, such as off-world mining, military training, and life choices. These provide stat bonuses for your character. This sequel borrows more traditional RPG mechanics like progression and skill points.

Completing objectives grants you cybernetic modules which you can allocate toward guns, hacking, psionics and other paths. Three character classes are now available. Shooting is inaccurate unless you improve your gun handling. Weapons need maintenance, can be modified, and some items have a skill requisite.

Hacking has been replaced with a simple strategy minigame with stat bonuses, instead of the 3D cyberspace of the first game. It allows you to bypass security cameras, turrets, and robots, and you can unlock containers and keypads to get extra loot or open up new pathways aboard the Von Braun. The System Shock series lovingly embraces cyberpunk tropes: ICE Picks bypass security systems, you can augment yourself with cybernetic implants, and a rogue artificial intelligence is a threat that looms over everything. Psionics have a slow start, but become formidable later on.

They use psi points to channel mental energy by using an amplifier. You can temporarily enhance skills, burn or freeze enemies, lift objects using telekinesis, or even hack the minds of opponents. System Shock 2 continues the series' legacy of engrossing sound design. “They've cut off the central elevator. What's going on?!” “Last night I had the strangest dream…I was in my room by myself…” “But all of a sudden, there was not just me there, but a hundred me’s...a thousand

mes…” “The strange thing was it felt good. I felt like I was part of something, like I belong.” “I hope I have the same dream tonight…” One of the pioneers of pre-recorded audio logs you can listen to while playing, these expand on the story and setting, and the events preceding your awakening from cryo. Atmospheric audio loops and music bring the world to life. The unmistakable hum and whirr of machinery and engines made the environments feel real. Ramin Djawadi, best known for Game of Thrones, co-composed the ambient, electronica and drum 'n' bass which makes for intense and engaging sequences.

System Shock 2 is widely regarded as one of the most immersive and chilling experiences PC gaming has to offer. In spite of disappointing launch sales, the game has become a cult classic, influencing numerous franchises due to its unique design and player freedom. “With only a few short years of evolution, they've been able to conquer this starship—mankind's mightiest creation.” “Where were we after 40 years of evolution?” “What swamp are we swimming around in, single-celled, mindless?” “What if SHODAN’s creations are superior to us?” “What will they become in a million years, in 10 million years?” “What's clear is that SHODAN shouldn't be allowed to play God.”

“She's far too good at it.” Cyberpunk has a long musical history, often hearing its themes echoed in electronic, metal, industrial and new wave genres. The movement owes a lot of its look, sound, energy and feel to the punk rock and heavy metal scenes: black leather, metal piercings, wild hairstyles, and a middle finger firmly extended toward authority. Perhaps nothing better encapsulated the classic cyberpunk aesthetic than the world-renowned Heavy Metal magazine.

Its famous covers guest-starred cyborgs, punks walking the ruined city streets, circuits and cybernetics. Both beautiful and corrupted, inspirational and even a bit pornographic. The sci-fi visuals in Heavy Metal were like the pretty street worker of cyberpunk, contrasting its glamorous neon and chrome with its seedy underbelly.

Future authors such as Gibson absorbed this fertile imagery while sculpting their intricate stories, characters, and rich histories. As synthesizers became more prevalent, musicians experimented with new themes, styles and sounds, imagining our future worlds in audial form. Cyberpunk's musical heart is heard in earlier films which espoused its themes. Brooding, synthetic soundscapes permeated the bleak, urban vistas of Blade Runner, Escape from New York, and The Terminator, whose style was emulated and imitated for years. Even metal legends, Iron Maiden, opened their 1986 tour shows with Blade Runner’s end credits music, a tribute to the film which inspired their album, Somewhere in Time. German electronic quartet, Kraftwerk, were synthesizer pioneers of the 1970s.

They famously imitated robots on stage, and their lyrics evoked humanity's growing dependence on technology. Simple yet dreamy rhythms and retro-futuristic fashion made for an experience that is still popular today. Inspired by Kraftwerk and the synth sounds of the Moog, Gary Numan evolved from punk rock to become a trailblazer in New Wave electronic music. Most known for his upbeat synth-pop hit, ‘Cars’, that high energy sound obscured a darker voice underneath. The same year as his biggest hit, he performed, “Are Friends Electric?”, which journeyed us through the morbid experience of android prostitutes.

Directly inspired by Philip K. Dick’s fiction—especially his seminal work, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”—three years before it would be adapted to the big screen as Blade Runner. Over the decades, Numan and his musical disciples would evolve this sound into darker, more experimental tones. Nine Inch Nails clutched at the aching, angsty heart of 1990s youth, with their rage-filled, animalistic vocals mixed with computer-bred melodies. Its creator, Trent Reznor, harnessed his background in synthesizers and jazz music, but added mechanical noise and sinister lyrics with his debut album, Pretty Hate Machine. Industrial rock and electronica often embraced nihilism, sounding like the primal drives itching at the back of every person’s head, set against the squealing cogs of the great machine of civilization.

Head Like a Hole’s striking music video shows a mechanical head with gears, rotors and circuits. A man struggles while hanging, entwined by wires, while Reznor screams about the worship of the almighty dollar, and our masochistic urge to accumulate it. Industrial music was quickly becoming the anthem of a mechanized generation. The horror and angst of a biomechanical freak was captured in the music of Japanese composer Chu Ishikawa for the Tetsuo movies: relentless percussion, synthetic melodies and a guttural feel. The 80s saw industrial metal bands with music and lyrics that echoed the cyberpunk ethos. Bands like Ministry and Fear Factory proudly waved the banner of anti-authoritarianism and the fear of dehumanization through technology.

Ministry was especially aggressive in warning about the new world order they saw forming in modern governments, and their message even directly inspired films like ‘Hardware’, which featured the grinding, chainsaw-like vocals of their hit, “Stigmata.” Likewise, Fear Factory’s work carried strong themes of “man versus machine”, with songs about police states, the blistered rage of the working man, and a soulless world of people, all disconnected from one another. Meanwhile, Front Line Assembly and Nine Inch Nails brought industrial beats and mind-warping synths that sounded like a melodic factory line. Some of their earlier music videos looked like trailers of cyberpunk movies that never made it to cinemas. Front Line Assembly’s music speaks of machines, cybernetics, and resistance against a despotic authority, while Nine Inch Nails’ lyrics were debaucherous, shocking, but incredibly human—touching on the uncomfortable topics and bestial urges that drive us all. It was the textbook definition of cybernetics in musical form: man interfacing with machines.

These artists produced the soundtrack of a wayward populace, looking for answers in a rapidly transforming world. Industrial music videos often portray vile and uncomfortable visuals from the depths of human depravity, such as the Holocaust, a common inspiration to much of cyberpunk fiction. Big beat maestros, The Prodigy, brought the fearless punk attitude to the loud drum loops and basslines of dance music. Their chaotic, high-strung sound of the future would find its way into many cyberpunk-themed works, from Hackers to The Matrix.

Later in the decade, electronic duo Daft Punk drenched their act in the colorful style of androids, technology and robotics. They popularized the trend of wearing signature helmets instead of showing their faces. Their lavish costumes and stage performances were heavily inspired by TRON, classic sci-fi films, and Syd Mead’s concept artwork. ♫ Television rules the nation… Around the world, the world, the world, the world... ♫ Their patented style featured electronically-distorted vocals often combined with samples of vintage music. Nearly every song was a foot-tapping earworm, and openly explored themes like robots, our obsession with technology, and what it means to be a human being.

♫ Human, human, human, after all ♫ Even newcomers to cyberpunk culture adopted it as their own. Punk rock legend, Billy Idol, did a deep dive into internet culture and the sci-fi literature of the 80s. To capture the spirit of the movement, he talked with experts on cyberculture, Usenet groups, and some of the oldest online communities. Neuromancer, movies like The Lawnmower Man, and the computer age heavily inspired 1993's Cyberpunk, Billy's experimental comeback album.

Considered one of the very first digital multimedia albums, Cyberpunk had a floppy disk with art, lyrics, and other material, and his personal email address inside. The song, "Shock to the System" was released as a single and as a music video, which portrayed Billy transforming into a grotesque cyborg, set against urban unrest and a despotic police force, encapsulating the rebellious and angsty heart of the 90s. Though in the eyes of many critics, Idol "mainstreamed" cyberpunk, claiming he latched on to this cultural phenomenon cynically, rather than through love and understanding.

Whether you were tuned into it or not, the cyberpunk movement infected our airwaves. You heard it on your radio, you saw it on your television, and you cheered for it at concerts. Cyberpunk’s vision of the future was beginning to resemble reality. ♫ I laugh tomorrow gone. ♫ ♫ For how long? ♫ ♫ Tomorrow people...

♫ “The girl with the gloves and the goggles and her hair being blown back beautifully by the experience she was having under the goggles… VR was like the future that never happened. Like the flying car, or the jet pack. Still, I think we will all be living on one side of some very singular stuff one day.”

- William Gibson Entertainment and media would herald virtual reality as the way we would interface with computers in the future. Clunky hardware like keyboards and mice seemed like a stepping stone on the path to launching headfirst into cyberspace, just as we had witnessed in the media of the 1980s, such as TRON, Brainstorm, and even The Twilight Zone. As computer graphics technology marched steadily into the millennium, the desire to go beyond flat screens into lifelike, 3D worlds by way of virtual reality, was growing at a break-neck pace. As the looming threat of the Dot-com bubble grew ever-closer to bursting, millions were invested in hardware and software companies by those itching to get a slice of that future-tech pie. Huge gains were made with real-life VR tech in the late 80s and 90s. Using this technology in first-person experiences and flight sims showed great promise, but it was limited to tech demos with few practical applications.

VPL's Data Glove, EyePhones, and Data Suit were the first VR products available to consumers, but they didn’t catch on with the masses. Unfortunately, the tech just wasn’t there yet. None were more disappointed by this than video game giant Nintendo, who jumped on to the VR bandwagon with the Virtual Boy project in 1995. This was their second attempt at breaking the two-dimensional barrier of gaming. Their first attempt was in 1987 with the Famicom 3D System, which used alternating images and active shutter glasses to imitate depth to the human eye.

There was a lot of potential with the Virtual Boy's promise of "3D gaming", but too much was sacrificed on the road to a compact, all-in-one console with dual-screen goggles. Red monochrome graphics, neck and eye strain, no motion tracking, and poor game implementation made this pseudo-VR headset defunct within a year of release. We didn’t know as much about simulator sickness back then, and the HD screens and refresh rates needed to trick our eyes

2021-11-18 21:45

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