Why Cyberpunk 2077 is the most important game of 2020. Remembering dystopias in the gaming industry

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Like any direction in art, dystopia has developed ambiguously, and its origins are the subject of controversy among academics and critics. It is hardly possible to point to a specific literary work or a specific author as the founder of the genre. If you look far back, even the ancient Greek comedy of Aristophanes can be cited as an example.Women in the National Assembly”, Where through the comedy of the absurd, according to the plot of which women came to power, Athenian democracy was ridiculed.

Aristophanes

What is dystopia? First you need to understand the terminology. The very word “dystopia” or “dystopia” (“bad place” in translation from Greek) was formed in contrast to the word “utopia”, which translates as “not a place”, “a place that does not exist” or “a good place” as follows from another translation option. The most striking example of utopia is “Utopia“(1516) Thomas More, where the writer created an ideal, in his opinion, model of a society living on an isolated island. With the help of such an artistic image, More criticized the current state of affairs in his native British state, contrasting the unsightly reality with a beautiful fictional civilization, where all the vices of the political structure and social injustice were eliminated. However, despite the idyll reigning on the island, humanism, the absence of wars and general respect for each other, we quickly realize that this apparent happiness comes at a high price. Local residents do not shy away from using slave labor, and the state system is exclusively authoritarian: the country is ruled by a king, trade with overseas states is monopolized by the authorities due to the ban on the use of money in Utopia, every citizen without the right to choose is obliged to engage in agriculture until a certain age, and so on. Thus, the universal brotherhood and equality of the glorious Utopia is not built on the free will of people, but on constant control over their lives. It turns out that the image of an ideal state is essentially just an illusion, a beautiful screen that covers the numerous pitfalls that make up the foundation of life in Utopia.

Thomas More

“Utopia”

In turn, dystopia, being a complete antithesis of utopia, already initially paints before us an unattractive picture of the world built on the total enslavement of people, fear, injustice or absurd cruelty. At the same time, quite often a society living according to the rules of a dystopia is not at all aware of its misfortune, as, for example, in the novel Aldous HuxleyBrave new world”, Where people, in fact, feel themselves as inhabitants of an ideal utopia, and not vice versa, and only the appearance of an outsider, an observer who is not part of the system, can generate some kind of reflection on the prevailing circumstances. It is important to note that dystopia constantly overlaps with other genres, primarily science fiction. The symbiosis of these two directions turned out to be so strong that now it is almost impossible to find a border separating them. However, one of the biggest science fiction experts, a Canadian literary critic Darko Suvin quite clearly outlined the differences between these genres, pointing out the need to find a “hegemon” – an artistic element that would significantly prevail over the rest in the context of the logic of the story. This approach greatly simplifies the study of the subject and clarifies many controversial issues.

Brave New World

Following Suvin’s theses, if the work focuses on the subject of science fiction inventions, human cognition of the surrounding space, general technical progress, and so on, then even if its content does not seem to us relevant in the context of the development of modern technologies, for example, a flight to the moon using archaic apparatus, then we will still define this work in the category of science fiction, while signs of related genres will be regarded as secondary. In the case of a dystopia, the focus of the narrative should be a review and analysis of fictional, but potentially realistic social constructions, which, in the author’s opinion, have perverse qualities leading to the systematic destruction of a person as a being with spiritual qualities.

Herbert George Wells

“Time Machine”

One of the most popular authors of early dystopias was the writer better known as science fiction – Herbert George Wells… At the mention of this name, we will most likely remember “War of the worlds“And”The invisible man“, But among his works there are also works of art that are significant for the genre of dystopia”Time Machine“And”When the sleeper wakes up“, As well as philosophical reflection” Modern Utopia “. Through the prism of a fantasy adventure novel, Wells negatively assessed the growing class struggle in his time, social inequality and uncontrolled scientific progress, leading to the degradation of human society. Dystopia reached its peak already in the 20th century, in particular thanks to the novels of George Orwell “1984“,”Fahrenheit 451Ray Bradbury, “Lord of the FliesWilliam Golding, “Utopia 14Kurt Vonnegut and “A clockwork orangeAnthony Burgess… Each work has its own view of dystopia, introducing additional elements of related genres (for example, post-apocalypse) into the narrative, forming unique circumstances that allow the author’s idea to be most vividly expressed.

“Metropolis”

Blade Runner

I did not lag behind literature and cinema. The legendary “MetropolisFritz Lang… This silent picture, filmed in Germany just a few years before the Nazis came to power, not only formed stunning visual images of the totalitarian society of the future, but also anticipated almost all the eminent literary works mentioned above. Subsequently, it was “Metropolis” that will become the main source of inspiration for subsequent films of the genre, such as “Blade RunnerRidley Scott, and an animated masterpiece Katsuhiro OtomoAkira“. It is also worth noting a large number of high-quality adaptations of current dystopias, which were taken by the leading directors of their time: Stanley Kubrick, Francois Truffaut, Terry Gilliam other.

As one of the most sought after genres of its time, dystopia quickly made its way into the gaming industry. The very nature of video games already disposed to a successful symbiosis with dystopia, and primarily because, unlike films, games allow not only to create scenes pre-scripted by the script, but also directly place the player in fantasy worlds, making him a participant in developing events, and in some cases allowing and influencing them. It is the interaction of the player with the virtual space of the dystopia and the characters inhabiting it that helps to better understand the structure of one or another ideological structure.

The player is given the opportunity to experience the nature of life in a dystopian society on his own skin and draw conclusions based on personal experience and observations. Unlike literature, the game interpretation of the genre is not so dependent on the position of the author, since if the player is given a choice, then he can take the side of not only freedom fighters, but also the evil system, acting in the interests of “Big brother“.

Papers, Please

So, in the game Papers, Please from an independent game designer Lucas Pope we find ourselves in the role of a customs officer in a totalitarian state, and the fate of people who want to cross the border depends on our actions. The player is put in a difficult position – he is just a cog in a huge bureaucratic machine, and his main life task is to provide for his family and the treatment of his son. Sooner or later, the player has to make deals with his conscience and act extremely cruelly. It is not every day that spies or terrorists try to break through the border. More often than not, we cynically separate families and drive refugees simply because of non-compliance with paper formalities, such as typos in the spelling of surnames in passports. For each violation and mistake in office, the player is issued a fine, the salary is reduced, which is already not enough to support his relatives. Thus, Papers, Please plunges into the abyss of bureaucratic hell, motivating to the point of insanity to double-check documents, look for the slightest clue, so as not to miss the “wrong” person and thereby please the bosses. The moral aspect of what is happening is deliberately not revealed, as if prompting the player to think and independently search for an answer to the question of what is good and what is bad.

Beholder

A similar scheme is used in a project from Russian developers Warm Lamp Games entitled Beholder (Caretaker), where the main character named Karl is spying on the residents of an apartment building, identifying those objectionable to the government. As in Papers, Please, we are forced to balance between conscience and everyday survival in a totalitarian regime. The further along the plot, the more responsibility for the development of the event falls on the player. Karl can refuse service, join the opposition, becoming a double agent, or continue to work for the state. The dystopian genre naturally provokes questions of moral choice and, as we will see later, it is in the games of this direction that the gameplay mechanics are most clearly expressed, which is responsible for the player’s influence on the world around him and the course of the narrative.

Deus Ex

A significant place in the genre of dystopia was taken by the series Deus Ex, the first part of which was released in 2000. Project Warren Spector had an invaluable impact on the industry, primarily due to an innovative approach to freedom of choice within the framework of the conditional reality of the game. In the course of the action, the player is able to choose not only where to direct the plot, but also how it will be done.

Nominally staying at the interface between role-playing game and first-person shooter, Deus Ex tried to go beyond the boundaries of the standard approach to building gameplay, pushing to search and rewarding non-trivial solutions to certain problems. It was Deus Ex that became the first project of the immersive sim direction (immersive simulator) – this term was invented by Spector personally, trying to describe the essence of his brainchild as accurately as possible.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex represents a technogenic version of the future, where despite the stunning technological progress and the widespread use of nanoimplants, chaos reigns, the government is unable to stop the spread of the Gray Death epidemic, an economic catastrophe is imminent and social inequality has reached a peak. All this provokes the widespread emergence of terrorist organizations, in connection with which the UN forms its response in the form of the UNATCO anti-terrorist unit, whose special agent is the protagonist. In the course of the plot, it turns out that behind the scenes of world politics, powerful secret societies are operating, planning to seize power. The ending of the game depends entirely on the choice of the player, to which the name of the game “Deux Ex” is also referred to, which is an abbreviation for the established expression deus ex machina (literally “god from the car”), used in Greek theater, when at the very end on a special crane on the stage the character descended and, like a supreme being, resolved the outcome of the entire play. None of the three endings of Deus Ex can be called happy – each is pessimistic in its own way. The player can subjugate the planet to the invisible power of the secret Illuminati community, or become an ideal dictatorial machine, turning society into a totalitarian utopia, or avoid enslavement by destroying the global communication network in order to throw humanity back in development for many centuries.

It is important to note that in terms of the variety of game genres, dystopias have a clear bias towards first-person projects, which is most likely due to the success of the first Deus Ex and the fashion for “immersive simulators”, which are now often and erroneously associated with almost any game from in the first person, where there is no obvious emphasis on shooting, locations are conducive to exploration, and the plot can change a little bit under the influence of the player. The developers’ craving for such a narrative angle is understandable and understandable – the view “from the eyes” of the hero helps the player to be closer to the action, but on the other hand, on the contrary, removes him from the personality of the character invisible to the camera, emphasizing his neutrality in relation to the surrounding world, as if hinting what exactly the player is the most intelligent contemplator, able to see the flaws of the dystopian system and, possibly, somehow influence it.

Binary Domain

Beyond Deus Ex and its prequels Human revolution and Mankind divided, the number of man-made dystopias can also include projects such as Binary Domain, Detroit: Become Human, Remember me and Crackdown… First of all, they are united by a futuristic environment, where high technologies have become so deeply embedded in the life of society that they begin to radically change ideas about the nature of a person as a whole, subsequently threatening his existence. Sometimes such a threat materializes in the form of a direct conflict between people and the product of technological progress (most often – robots), as in Binary Domain and Detroit, or slowly and imperceptibly destroys traditional human civilization – as in Deus Ex. The universal fear of the future became especially relevant in the 20th century, when one World War followed another, and scientific progress got out of control, contributing to the emergence of new deadly weapons and frightening experimental technologies.

The advent of the 21st century and the information age has further fueled social paranoia. Widespread access to unverified data on the Internet can give rise to mass hysteria and all kinds of conspiracy theories in a short time, while the state can use this for propaganda purposes, effectively manipulating free information flows. More and more world-class specialists, such as the late Stephen Hawking and the superstar of modern science Elon Musk, are talking about the possible danger associated with the extremely rapid development of artificial intelligence, which theoretically can completely replace humans, not only in workplaces where monotonous, “thoughtless” work prevails. but also in the service industry and even in more intellectually advanced fields. Machines and high technologies will gradually penetrate into the human body in the form of artificial organs, body parts, embedded chips and, quite possibly, devices designed to modernize the human body – to make it stronger physically and even mentally. The problem of defining boundaries, where a person ceases to be a person in the traditional sense of the word, but turns into a kind of high-tech hybrid, is becoming especially acute now and gives rise to a new round of dystopian moods. The romance of the 19th century, representing the glorious future of man conquering the space of sky, space and time, was replaced by the depressing prospects of being nothing more than a biological complement to a much more perfect organism.

Mirror’s Edge

In addition to catastrophes associated with the onset of the technogenic era, one of the most dangerous enemies of man is the man himself, and the lion’s share of dystopias tells exactly about social structures that work on the principle of dividing people into categories and subcategories, use technologies of mass “zombification”, erase the boundaries of morality and morality. The most eloquent example of such a “social dystopia” we find in the novel “1984” by Robert Orwell, which became a kind of guide to the world of ideal totalitarianism – it was from there that the common phrase “Big brother is watching you“. The main feature of this type of dystopia is the prevailing social factor. Following the worldview of the authors of these works, people do not have to invent a computer mind or unleash an atomic war in order for society to finally lose its human appearance. Weaknesses and vices such as greed, lust for power, lies, fear and cowardice will naturally lead to a model of civilization, when the bulk of the population will be deprived of all rights and freedoms, and control will be exercised “from above” by a narrow circle of the ruling elite. In the gaming industry, we can observe various types of social dystopias around which the plot unfolds. The most illustrative examples are the Russian author’s project Mor. Utopia, series BioShock, Beyond Good & Evil, Mirror’s Edge, Half-life 2, upcoming blockbuster Cyberpunk 2077, as well as the already mentioned Papers, Please and Beholder.

Social anxiety in today’s times is only gaining strength and in many ways exceeds the fear of future technologies. The riots in the USA in 2020, provoked by the death of George Floyd during his arrest by police, are not only manifestations of racial conflicts, but deeper socio-economic and political problems, primarily confrontation between state power and civic consciousness. It is no coincidence that one of the main demands of the protesters was the partial, and in some cases even complete disbandment of the police. Американцы, хорошенько напуганные за время «холодной войны» образами тоталитарного общества, особенно остро реагируют на поведение полиции, военных и прочих структур, способных применить силу против населения, следуя приказам сверху.

Half Life 2

Результат абсолютной узурпации власти хорошо показан в Half-Life 2 на примере города Сити 17, который живет по законам полицейского государства. Над городом возвышается огромная башня – Цитадель, улицы патрулируют вооруженные солдаты, постоянно проходят обыски и задержания потенциальных бунтовщиков. На больших экранах без перерывов транслируются обращения к гражданам Временного Администратора Земли доктора Уоллеса Брина. В своих речах он, помимо прочего, призывает людей не волноваться по поводу контроля за рождаемостью и выживании вида, рассказывает о бессмертии и пагубном влиянии на человека инстинкта к размножению. И хотя по сюжету игры тоталитаризм на самом деле насаждается со стороны инопланетной империи под названием Альянс, сама атмосфера и устройство Сити 17, очевидно, навеяны реальными историческими примерами, в частности, коммунистическим режимом СССР, Китая, а также нацистской Германией. Совершенно неудивительно, что Сити 17 напоминает город из Восточной Европы, мастерски воплощенный в игре болгарским художником-дизайнером Виктором Антоновым. Тема контроля за рождаемостью явно списана с идеологии Третьего Рейха и демографической политики Китая «одна семья – один ребёнок», проводившейся с 1979 по 2015 годы.

BioShock

Обратную ситуацию мы можем наблюдать в первой части BioShock, частично основанной на постулатах социал-дарвинизма американской писательницы Айн Рэнд и её романе «Атлант расправил плечи». Если в Half-Life 2 антиутопия строится на жёстком контроле государства над народом, то роскошный подводный мегаполис Восторг из BioShock, построенный мультимиллионером Эндрю Райаном, изначально задумывался как рай для индивидуализма, где каждый человек мог бы свободно выражаться в мыслях, делах и творчестве без ограничений со стороны власти. Однако, свободная конкуренция привела к другой крайности, когда человек, отказавшись от каких-либо норм, правил, законов и прочего, превратился в дикого зверя, любой ценой стремящегося откусить как можно больший кусок пирога. Без ярко выраженной управляющей системы Восторг превратился в зловонную клоаку, заполненную хаосом анархии и насилия.

Cyberpunk 2077

Социальная версия антиутопии с примесью техногенных элементов также ожидает нас в грядущем долгострое от польской студии CD Projekt RED Cyberpunk 2077, идеи которого берут своё начало в настольной игре Cyberpunk 2020, созданной Майклом Пондсмитом… Оригинальная концепция сюжета развивалась в альтернативной временной реальности, где в связи с затяжным экономическим кризисом, традиционные национальные сверхдержавы больше не могли удерживать власть в своих руках, а им на смену пришли мегакорпорации, конкурирующие между собой за доминирование на рынке, в то время как окружающий мир рассыпался на мелкие осколки. Конечно, дожив до злосчастного 2020 года, мы можем констатировать, что современная цивилизация ещё не скатилась до состояния Киберпанка, однако некоторые тенденции кажутся пугающе схожими, например, возрастающая роль крупных компании в жизни людей. Так, руководители Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple в конце июля предстали перед конгрессом США для обсуждения всевозможных злободневных вопросов, в числе которых были: противодействие кибератакам, свобода слова в интернете, цензура политического контента, развитие искусственного интеллекта, работа алгоритмов поисковых систем и манипуляции пользовательскими запросами. Ещё совсем недавно всё это бы прозвучало как предсказания писателей с богатой фантазией, но сейчас подобные обсуждения кажутся чем-то обыденным, почти незаметным и даже неважным. Возможно, мы сами не поймем как начнём жить внутри абсолютно нового мира.

Fallout

Завершает нашу своеобразную классификацию постапокалиптическая антиутопия. В её основе лежит уже разрушенный мир, низведенный практически до первобытного состояния. Некая глобальная катастрофа, чаще всего атомная война, как бы даёт человеку шанс начать жизнь с чистого листа, однако на деле история возвращается к знакомой циклической структуре и общество возрождается через кровь, войну, рабство и бесконечные страдания. Если говорить об источниках этого направления, то как ни странно самым красноречивым образчиком постапокалипсиса можно назвать аллегорический роман «Повелитель мух» Уильяма Голдинга… Несмотря на то, что в сюжете отсутствует катастрофа общемирового масштаба, на примере группы детей, выброшенных на необитаемый остров, автор предельно точно описывает концепцию человеческой цивилизации, в мгновение ока отброшенной на тысячелетия назад.

The last of us

Наиболее ярким примером постъядерной антиутопии в игровой индустрии является серия Fallout, но к ней можно легко присовокупить проекты, где «конец света» был вызван иными причинами: Metro 2033, Wasteland, The last of us, Days Gone, Horizon: Zero Dawn и многие другие. Постапокалипсис пронизан особенным чувством пессимизма, так как ставит приговор человеку как существу слабому, неспособному учиться на собственных ошибках, а только множащему вокруг себя хаос и смерть. В качестве исключения можно назвать недавний опус Хидео Кодзимы Death Stranding о похождениях курьера из будущего, в котором мы находим явные проблески романтического взгляда на заявленную тему, где человечество пытается в некоем роде эволюционировать и стать лучше. Тем не менее, подавляющее чисто произведений жанра рисует крайне печальную картину. Неудивительно, что даже в играх, где, казалось бы, главную опасность представляют зомби или зараженные вирусом мутанты, все равно на первое место выходит именно человеческая глупость и жестокость, как мы могли видеть в The Last of Us Part II и многих других проектах со схожим сюжетом.

К большому сожалению, жанр антиутопии, некогда казавшийся фантастикой, в нынешнее время становится всё более актуальным в реальной жизни. Мир меняется и становится пугающе похож на картины будущего, описанные писателями, запечатленные режиссёрами и написанные геймдизайнерами. Подводя промежуточные итоги, отметим, что Cyberpunk 2077 отнюдь не случайно является важнейшей и самой ожидаемой игрой этого года, а может, даже целого поколения. Речь не только о прекрасном художественном воплощении идей авторов. Мы понимаем и ощущаем, насколько злободневным предстает виртуальный мир, созданный стараниям CD Projekt RED, мы хотим на собственном опыте убедиться, насколько тяжело принимать неудобные решения, от которых зависит дальнейшее развитие событий. Антиутопия Cyberpunk 2077 становится интерактивным полигоном, где игроки, примерив на себя образ вымышленного персонажа, смогут увидеть и почувствовать, насколько хрупкой является современная цивилизация, её шаткие устои, мнимые моральные ценности, показное благосостояние и насколько далеко может завести человечество его невежество и страсть к разрушению.

Read also: The Future Is Here: Cyberpunk 2077 Review

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