Today, Google announced that its smart assistant is now bilingual. While Google Assistant could already understand multiple languages, now you can speak two languages interchangeably and Assistant will be able to follow what you're saying. Supported languages include any pairing of English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. More languages will be added in the next few months.
Google Assistant can now understand two languages at once
via Engadget http://www.engadget.com
August 30, 2018 at 12:06PM
Mattel's new robot is a pet dinosaur that won't try to eat you
via Engadget http://www.engadget.com
August 30, 2018 at 12:06PM
Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3 goes fully bezel-less with a Find X-style camera slider
Hot on the heels of Honor teasing the Magic 2 — a bezel-less flagship smartphone with a hidden sliding camera similar to the Oppo Find X — Xiaomi president Lin Bin posted the first official image of the company’s own upcoming Mi Mix 3, which is also a bezel-less flagship smartphone with a hidden sliding camera similar to the Oppo Find X (via GSMArena).
According to the post, Xiaomi is targeting an October release for the Mi Mix 3, although for now, the company has yet to offer any real details about things like specifications or price. But the truly full-screen design does make a lot of sense for the Mi Mix brand considering the previous phones that were released in the series have already been working for years to try and minimize bezels as much as possible. Borrowing the same sliding camera move as the Find X seems like the logical place for the Mi Mix 3 to go.
Assuming Xiaomi is planning on hitting that October date, chances are we’ll be hearing much more about the Mi Mix 3 soon. In the meantime, between Oppo, Honor, and now Xiaomi, it’s clear that the battle for cracking the sliding camera bezel-less phone of the future has officially kicked off.
via The Verge https://ift.tt/1jLudMg
August 30, 2018 at 12:00PM
Honor teases new bezel-free Magic 2 smartphone with sliding camera
The big update on the Magic 2 is a new “Magic Slide” feature that hides the camera underneath a slider to enable a full, bezel-free screen without a notch — similar to the sliding Oppo Find X from earlier this year. According to Honor, the new design features a nearly 100 percent screen-to-body ratio, although it has yet to show off the Magic 2 beyond a brief onstage appearance of a prototype at its IFA press conference and a teaser image (seen below), so it’s hard to tell exactly what it looks like.
A zoomed-in image from Honor’s live stream (via Android Authority) does seem to showcase an intriguing-looking device that lacks any bezels or notches, although we’ll have to wait for Honor to give us a better look to judge for sure.
The Magic 2 will also be powered off of Huawei’s new (and still unannounced) Kirin 980 processor, which is presumably the successor to the current-gen Kirin 970 chip found in phones like the P20 Pro.
According to Forbes, Honor president George Zhao confirmed in an interview that the Magic 2 is at least two months away from release, but the company wanted to unveil it early since “a competitor” had heard about the design and was planning a similar phone. Just hours after the Magic 2 was revealed, Lin Bin, the president of Xiaomi, posted a render of the company’s upcoming Mi Mix 3 flagship (via GSMArena) featuring a similar sliding camera design, so it seems that Zhao was right to be concerned.
via The Verge https://ift.tt/1jLudMg
August 30, 2018 at 12:00PM
Twitter will shield ‘legitimate’ news orgs from its political ad policy
via Engadget http://www.engadget.com
August 30, 2018 at 11:48AM
Use Alexa to Track Your Favorite Football Team and More
Football season is officially upon us. If you have an Amazon Echo device, then you can use Alexa to keep track of your favorite team, get up-to-the-minute stats about players on the field, and even keep track of your fantasy football team.
Tell Alexa Who You Like
Alexa can help you keep track of your favorite teams—provided she knows who your favorite teams actually are. She’s actually capable of tracking baseball, soccer, hockey, and football teams from 13 different leagues.
To tell her your favorites, launch the Alexa app and then tap the hamburger menu (three lines on top of each other) on the top left side of the screen. From there, tap “Settings,” and then “Sports Update.” Then you’ll use the search bar to find the teams you like to add to your personalized list within the app.
Now when you ask Alexa for your “Sports Update” she’ll include only info about your favorite teams and how they did in recent games. You can also ask her when those teams play next.
Know Your Stats
Need to settle a debate on how many touchdowns Tom Brady scored last year or how many yards Cam Newton threw in his first game? NFL Stats is an Alexa skill that can answer those questions on the fly without you needing to look away from the screen.
Track Your Fantasy Team
If you’re running your fantasy team through Yahoo, then you can track your fantasy team through Alexa using Yahoo Fantasy Football. Yahoo’s Alexa skill can give you an overview of your team’s weekly match out, your player’s scores, and your team’s injury and bye status.
via Lifehacker https://lifehacker.com
August 30, 2018 at 11:45AM
California lawmakers pass bill to phase out fossil fuels by 2045
via Engadget http://www.engadget.com
August 30, 2018 at 11:36AM
Microsoft improves Office 365 device limits for subscribers
Microsoft is increasing the number of devices you can use with Office 365 Personal and Home subscriptions. Starting on October 2nd, Office 365 Personal and Home subscribers will be able to install the Office desktop apps on an unlimited number of devices. Currently, Personal users are limited to one PC or Mac and one tablet, while Home subscribers are limited to 10 devices in total across five users.
Microsoft is also improving the Office 365 Home subscription to provide six licenses instead of five, meaning a family (or group of friends) can share an account for $99 per year and each get full Office apps and 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage for six users. That’s even better value than paying $69.99 per year for an individual Office 365 Personal account. Microsoft is also integrating its Office 365 Home subscription into the existing Microsoft Family service so you can automatically share this with members of your family.
All of these changes will come into affect on October 2nd, and existing Office 365 subscribers won’t need to do anything. Microsoft has 31.4 million paying Office 365 subscribers, and these changes will likely push those numbers up further as the company continues to convince consumers and businesses to move to an Office subscription.
via The Verge https://ift.tt/1jLudMg
August 30, 2018 at 11:31AM
Why Your Brain Can't Let Go of a Grudge
We humans are masters of resentment—a characteristic that can be traced back the beginnings of recorded history. Feuds seem to be an indelible aspect of the human condition, but why should this be? We spoke to the experts to find out why we love to hold a grudge, and the importance of letting go.
Like other emotions, the capacity for hate and resentment are learned and reinforced over the course of our lives—but they’re also etched in the wiring of our DNA. When we boil feelings of resentment and the desire for revenge down to the most basic level, they’re really about an evolved mental state that’s driving us to achieve some sort of goal. Ultimately, feuds are rooted in desire, and the seeking of a particular outcome.
In the brain, it’s the behavioral activation system that gets us all roused up, specifically in the way it compels us to pursue and achieve goals. In neurological terms, it involves several brain structures, including the substantia nigra, a midbrain area involved in reward; the ventral tegmental area, a structure that produces and transmits dopamine; the ventral striatum, which is associated with reward, reinforcement, and compulsion; and the prefrontal cortex, the front part of our brain, which, among many other things, helps us to work toward a defined goal.
The physiological processes involved in the behavioral activation system are poorly understood, but it’s likely facilitated by dopamine—a neurotransmitter linked to reward, reinforcement, and positive feelings. This system is very much in play when we’re embroiled in a feud we’d like to win, or when we wish to lash out at someone who’s harmed us. Michael McCullough, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami, said grudges, and the desire for revenge or absolution, are directly related to goal-seeking and the desire to satiate a craving.
“This ancient brain system seems to produce this craving, and the sense that fulfillment is just around the corner,” said McCullough. “It’s not the seeking of pleasure or the reward itself, but rather the desire to move towards that goal It’s the sense of unease that gives the desire for revenge its compulsive quality.”
So when we’re having a feud with someone, we’re really in a perpetual state of craving or desire. It becomes important for us—sometimes to the point of obsession—to make sure the person behind our angst will change their mind, acknowledge their faults, understand the harm they’ve done to us, and/or and ultimately learn a lesson. Or in some cases, we feel the need to either verbally or physically harm the other person, in a tit-for-tat sort of way, according to McCullough.
“The really deep satisfaction comes from knowing that the person who harmed us has realized they wronged us, that they’re being punished, and they’re now going to change their ways,” said McCullough. “Those are the key set of conditions that makes revenge seem pleasurable—the sense that some kind of karmic justice is being meted out.”
But there’s a lot more going on in the brain during a feud than just cravings; in order to have a grudge, we must ruminate (i.e. dwell on the matter), which, in addition to taking up a lot of our time, requires a lot of brain power.
To demonstrate this, neuroscientists from the University of New South Wales insulted participants who were having their brains scanned in an fMRI. During the initial burst of anger, the scientists watched as the medial prefrontal cortex (decision making, retrieving of memory) lit up like a Christmas tree. Two weeks later, the participants were brought back and asked to think about the experience and how they felt about the insults. Different parts of the brain were activated during this later stage, including the hippocampus (consolidating information and converting short-term memory to long-term memory), the insula (a small part of the brain linked to emotion and addiction), and the the cingulate cortex (various functions involving emotions). Grudges and angry thoughts, as this study points out, are neurologically complex processes.
The utility of anger
But these emotions exist for a reason. Carrying a grudge, and wanting to seek revenge, shows we’re not pushovers. And in some cases, the expression of these feelings, and acting upon them, can be a means to an end.
“Humans,” said McCullough, “have a propensity for anger, grudges, and revenge when they’re harmed.” The capacity for revenge, he said, is a built-in feature of human nature—expressions that sometimes serve to solve problems, particularly the problems that arise from living around other people. One of the more fascinating aspects of feuds and the desire for revenge, said McCullough, is its universality across human culture. Concepts of resentment, feuds, and revenge appear in approximately 95 percent of all ethnographic material on all the societies studied by anthropologists, psychologists, and behavioral scientists, according to McCullough.
Independent lines of evidence suggest other species have acquired similar habits, such as retaliatory violence, threats of retaliatory violence, and grudge-like behavior. Ravens, for example, can hold grudges lasting from days to even a month. Chimps also hold grudges. Ultimately, the purpose of these actions is to deter future harm, according to McCullough. Game theory has also shown thatthe threat of retaliation is good at creating deterrence. Holding a grudge, and then acting on that feeling, can be a successful strategy in some cases.
“In terms of what these feelings are good for,” said McCullough, “the best answer on the table is that we experience a desire for conflict or revenge when we perceive that we, or our loved ones, are undervalued, or not given the respect we deserve from an interactive party. It also shows that we’re not going to take mistreatment lightly, so it’s like we’re imposing a kind of tax on people who we feel have done us wrong.”
Disputes, feuds, and grudges are rooted in anger, with the emotion of anger serving to prepare us to fight, explains neuroscientist Doug Fields, chief of the Nervous System Development and Plasticity Section at the National Institutes of Health and author of Why We Snap. Fighting is a necessary behavior in the survival-of-the-fittest struggle in nature, he said, and it remains necessary in some dire situations in the modern world.
But feuds and grudges come at a considerable mental cost.
A 2007 study co-authored by McCullough found that people who are stewing about something produce higher levels of cortisol than usual. Too much of this stress hormone in the brain can result inanxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, memory and concentration problems, and even weight gain. In 2012, McCullough published a followup study showing that cortisol levels linked to an interpersonal conflict decrease when we make conciliatory gestures toward the person who hurt us; forgiveness can be a very powerful thing—even within the circuits of the brain.
But there’s another cost associated with rumination, and it has to do with our behavior. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that holding a grudge and dwelling on anger is particularly harmful because it increases aggression over extended periods of time—even toward people who have nothing to do with the feud or grudge. This form of aggression, according to a 2013 study, happens when “our efforts to reach a desired goal are thwarted.” In other words, when we’re frustrated.
Indeed, feuds and grudges can be very detrimental to the individual, and they can take on a compulsive quality. When we’re stewing about something, we ruminate about how we were mistreated, and we obsess about things we wish we had done or said, or what we’re going to do.
“These thoughts take up a lot of disk space,” said McCullough, “These are opportunity costs, and it means that are a billion other things you can’t be thinking about. You can’t think about the nice relationships you currently have, and you can’t think about your future in a productive way, because you’re sitting around ruminating.”
Get over it
So while carrying a grudge may seem productive or somehow useful, it actually holds us back. We need to snap out of it. The key is to recognize the futility of it all.
“It’s important to understand the neurocircuitry of anger and aggression and realize that we have these biological responses because they are sometimes necessary, but that often these circuits can misfire, especially in the modern world, an environment our brain was not designed to operate in,” said Fields. “Anger and aggression may be provoked inappropriately, and in such cases cannot help the situation, but may worsen it.”
Remember this the next time you’re mired in a feud that seems illogical and unreasonable, and yet you just can’t let go. It’s your brain that’s causing those feelings, not the other person. Recognize that, accurately evaluate the situation, and try to get over it.
via Lifehacker https://lifehacker.com
August 30, 2018 at 11:30AM
What is cyberpunk?
A woman doing her makeup as the camera slowly pulls out to reveal she’s missing the bottom half of her face, a gaping cybernetic maw in its place. A cable jacked directly into a businessman’s skull, sparking and smoking as it fries his brain. An elevator the size of an apartment, crawling up the side of a high-rise towards the sky.
These are just some of the fragmented vignettes studio CD Projekt Red put on display in Cyberpunk 2077’s debut trailer earlier this year. As an introduction to Night City, it promised one of the most distinctive game settings since Rapture or City 17 — but not much of its neon-soaked imagery is original. And that’s by design.
With this game, CD Projekt Red is drawing from a long tradition, one that — unusually — is named right there in the title: cyberpunk. But what exactly does that mean, and where did it come from?
You can trace the roots of cyberpunk back through multiple generations, but the first definite milestone in its development was the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel introduced the world to Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter tracking down a gang of escaped androids trying to pass as humans.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the book was adapted, over a decade later, into Blade Runner.
The movie’s night-drenched cityscape, lit by plumes of flame from industrial towers and skyscraping video billboards, set the visual template for most cyberpunk going forward.
But that world didn’t come from Dick’s novel as much as it did The Long Tomorrow, a 1975 comic by French artist Moebius and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Moebius’ conception of a grimy future city, where tightly-crammed tower blocks form a deep chasm around its inhabitants, inspired not only director Ridley Scott, but also Katsuhiro Otomo — whose Akira manga began publication in Japan in 1982, the same year as Blade Runner’s release — and an American-Canadian novelist named William Gibson. But we’ll get back to him.
The naming of a genre
Between Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’s questions about who counts as human in an age of androids, The Long Tomorrow’s blending of film-noir tropes and science fiction, and Blade Runner’s rain-slick realization of the city of the future, all the vital ingredients were in place for cyberpunk by the early 1980s. All it needed was a name.
“Understand, when I came up with the c-word in 1980, all I was trying to do was come up with a snappy, one-word title for this story,” says Bruce Bethke, the writer who first coined “cyberpunk,” referring to an article he wrote about teenage hackers. “I was not trying to define a genre, launch a movement or do anything more than come up with a memorable one-word marketing label for this story that would — I hoped — compress the core idea down to a few syllables and — this was the important part — stick in an editor’s mind and help me sell the thing to a magazine.
“Apparently I overdid it.”
When the story published in 1983, Bethke — “unintentionally and accidentally,” in his words — tapped into something larger. The title was adopted as the name of a loose genre that was beginning to form, just in time for the arrival of what many feel has been its definitive work: Neuromancer, by William Gibson.
The 1984 novel tells the story of “console cowboy” Case, a hacker who crosses his criminal bosses and, as payback, gets his central nervous system trashed so badly he can no longer access the cyberspace “matrix.” At the start of the book, he’s offered a second chance by a mysterious new employer. Case can be fixed, but only if he agrees to help with a string of heists which take him from Japan’s Night City to the American Sprawl and eventually an orbital space station, in order to free a super-advanced AI.
The story blended crime and science fiction — but, like Blade Runner before it, what really struck a chord was the world that Gibson laid out.
Neuromancer’s vision of the future can be divided in two. Between the grubby, crime-filled meatspace and the bright glare of cyberspace. Between the people on the streets struggling to survive, and the aristocrats orbiting the planet, struggling to find ways to fill their artificially-extended lifespans. Between the aging remnants of our world – early in the book, Case buys “a fifty-year-old Vietnamese imitation of a South American copy of a Walther PPK” — and cutting-edge technology that lets people augment their bodies with new limbs, eyes, skin — as long as they can afford the bill.
Breaking/making the rules
Neuromancer marked out the boundaries of the genre, boundaries which were explored and cemented by the books that followed. Pat Cadigan’s Mindplayers and Synners focused on the psychological implications of brain modification technology. Rudy Rucker’s Ware series followed Neuromancer’s thread of self-aware AI through to its logical conclusion, showing how the resulting mechanical lifeforms evolve through successive generations. Bruce Sterling’s work, like Islands in the Net, was especially interested in the hacker subculture.
Sterling was something of a figurehead in the cyberpunk scene, earning the nickname ‘Chairman Bruce.’ He edited 1986’s Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology, a deliberately definitive collection of short stories that included work by Gibson, Cadigan and Rucker. In the preface to that book, Sterling wrote:
“Certain central themes spring up repeatedly in cyberpunk. The theme of body invasion: prosthetic limbs, implanted circuitry, cosmetic surgery, genetic alteration. The even more powerful theme of mind invasion: brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, neurochemistry – techniques radically redefining the nature of humanity, the nature of the self.”
Cyberpunk meshes these advanced technologies with more down-to-earth concerns like drugs, dive bars and desperation that turn people to crime. The ruling powers of cyberpunk worlds are almost always immense corporations who control access to technology. The protagonists tend to be outsiders — criminals and noir-style antiheroes — who exist on the margins of society. There’s an oft-quoted maxim by Sterling that sums it up nicely: “Lowlife and high-tech.”
In 1988, cyberpunk made its first move to the tabletop with the release of Cyberpunk, a pen-and-paper roleplaying game written by Mike Pondsmith. It shares more than a name with Cyberpunk 2077 – CD Projekt Red’s video game is a direct adaptation, moving away from a group of people sitting around a table to a first-person, open world, single-player experience but keeping its world, character classes and the input of its creator.
Pondsmith tells Polygon how he personally defines cyberpunk as a genre: “Street-level life crushed under overwhelming political and social forces, but which uses a combination of found/scavenged/repurposed technology to fight back and achieve personal freedom.”
Pondsmith hadn’t actually read the likes of Gibson and Sterling when he wrote the first iteration of Cyberpunk, he says, but he started to incorporate their ideas into the RPG’s second edition, known as Cyberpunk 2020.
The once-molten form of cyberpunk was beginning to cool into something more solid. And for a genre where one of the key tenets is — to quote the rulebook of Cyberpunk 2020 — “break the rules,” that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The cyberpunk crash
“What happened to cyberpunk fiction was what happens to every successful new thing in any branch of pop culture,” says Bruce Bethke. “It went from being something unexpected, fresh and original to being a trendy fashion statement, to being the flavor of the month, to being a repeatable commercial formula, to being a hoary trope.”
The motifs of Gibson’s Neuromancer turned into a kind of checklist. Stories of alienated loners in mirrored shades doing drugs and hacking computers quickly became the norm. So much so that in the early ‘90s, some of the most prominent cyberpunk books were those which pushed the formula to satirical extremes.
The opening chapter of Neal Stephenson’s book Snow Crash introduces the improbably-named Hiro Protagonist, a ‘Deliverator’ armed with twin samurai swords, driving a car with “enough potential energy packed into its batteries to fire a pound of bacon into the Asteroid Belt” — before revealing that he’s actually a pizza delivery boy.
In his 1995 novel Headcrash, Bethke even skewered the genre he’d helped christen, writing: “They’re total wankers and losers who indulge in Messianic fantasies about someday getting even with the world through almost-magical computer skills, but whose actual use of the Net amounts to dialing up the scatophilia forum and downloading a few disgusting pictures. You know, cyberpunks.”
It looked like cyberpunk might have run its course — as early as 1993, a Wired magazine headline proclaimed “Cyberpunk R.I.P.” — but what followed, as the millennium raced to its conclusion, made for possibly the genre’s biggest moment in the spotlight. Its influence leaked outward, and the genre mutated in a dozen different directions as it entered the mainstream.
A large part of this came via Japan, as Akira inspired a wave of cyberpunk-infused manga and anime, including Battle Angel Alita, Serial Experiments Lain, Cowboy Bebop and, perhaps most famously, Ghost in the Shell, which in turn inspired the Wachowskis to make The Matrix. Meanwhile in games, Deus Ex laid the foundations that CD Projekt Red seems to be building on with Cyberpunk 2077. And Hideo Kojima, who had created the cyberpunk game Snatcher a decade earlier, took elements like cybernetics and artificial intelligence and applied them to the hugely successful spy game Metal Gear Solid.
How many of the above examples are ‘true’ cyberpunk, however, is debatable. They certainly share some of the genre’s technological aesthetic (think of Keanu pulling a thick cable from his spine) and dress sense (all those mirrored sunglasses), but they don’t all share the same thematic concerns.
Depending on who you listen to, cyberpunk became a case of — to borrow another of the mantras from 2020’s rulebook — “style over substance.” It’s a criticism that Gibson himself echoed back in June, when he tweeted, “The trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 strikes me as GTA skinned-over with a generic 80s retro-future, but hey, that’s just me.”
Style and substance
Ultimately, though, cyberpunk has survived beyond its ‘80s roots because its appeal runs deeper than the surface layer of leather, chrome and neon. There is a clear focus on style, but it’s born out of an understanding that the way people present themselves can tell you just as much about the culture they exist in as an expository info-dump.
“The great thing about cyberpunk is that it is recognizably our world, only in the future,” says Lukas Litzsinger, the game designer responsible for the 2012 revival of cyberpunk card game Netrunner.
Cyberpunk authors like Gibson and Neal Stephenson predicted how technology would develop, and occasionally helped shape it — their books helped popularize terms like “cyberspace, “virus” and “avatar,” and Stephenson’s conception of the “Metaverse” has been claimed as an influence on everything from Google Earth to Xbox Live — but this isn’t the most important thing about cyberpunk’s vision of the future.
“It is a setting that is focused on the human experience, and how far we can push the limits of both technology and ourselves,” says Litzsinger.
The writers who laid the foundation of cyberpunk looked at the accelerating pace of change in the late 20th century, and understood that technology would forever be an inseparable part of the human experience. This is still what makes the genre stand apart from other branches of sci-fi: the way it considers the social impact of technology on everyday life.
In Neuromancer, having a health-monitoring implant is just another reason you might get mugged if you step into the wrong part of town. In Netrunner, body augmentation is something a corporation can force on its employees to improve performance.
“For myself, the most interesting cyberpunk focuses on what it means to be human in a world that wishes to convert you into a corporate asset,” says Ashley Yawns, writer at nerd-culture site Timber Owls. Yawns was a prominent voice in the Twitter discussions following Cyberpunk 2077’s E3 reveal, weighing up the game’s politics and in particular its presentation of body augmentation, a key component of cyberpunk.
An inherently political genre
“Body modification is a great avenue for empowering stories for groups routinely denied bodily autonomy: disabled people, trans people, women as a whole, etc.,” says Yawns. “The problem is that utopianism clashes with the impoverished lives cyberpunk depicts, immediately raising the question of who can afford these freedoms.
“Enabling bodily autonomy, alteration and restored function is a great thing but as things stand, access for the majority means debt or servitude to malicious corporate monopolies,” says Yawns. “Anyone who’s experienced tech industry practices of planned obsolescence and covert data collection on their phone can imagine what these companies might do given access your cybernetic limbs, let alone your whole nervous system.
“Liberating tech is often made into a yoke by its social context.”
That last part is the biomechanically-enhanced heart of cyberpunk. William Gibson has often summed it up in interviews: “the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Cyberpunk worlds are about the gap between those who have access to their futuristic technologies and those who don’t — a gap that’s often expressed literally, in the verticality of its mega-cities.
Even as the future that writers like Gibson predicted starts to look increasingly out of date technologically speaking, it’s this core message which keeps the genre relevant.
“I personally think that any cyberpunk work worthy of the name needs to show that dehumanizing, unequal relationship of power and politics as part of its makeup,” says Pondsmith. “You don’t raise hell in a future where things are a Star Trekkian Utopia — you raise hell when all the forces in power are arrayed against you personally, and you have to fight back.”
This is an element of Pondsmith’s game that CD Projekt Red seems to be adapting faithfully. “Cyberpunk 2077 is about a world where a vanishingly small number of ultra-rich individuals at the top of intractable corporate power structures reign over a disintegrating world where the vast majority of the population lives in an endless cycle of poverty and violence,” quest designer Patrick Mills recently told Official Xbox Magazine. “How different that is from our world depends a lot on your perspective, I suppose.”
In a time when developers and publishers are insisting, against all evidence, that their games have no political message, it’s a stark contrast to see Mills saying: “Cyberpunk is an inherently political genre and it’s an inherently political franchise.”
A brighter dark future
Litzsinger agrees: “To me, cyberpunk does feel inherently political in that its protagonists almost always operate on the fringes of the law, whether because of criminal activity or the inability for the law to keep up with technology. It can challenge us to think about the difference between something that is legal and something that is moral, and you will find a common thread of rebellion against ‘the system’ in a lot of cyberpunk narratives.”
Litzsinger’s Netrunner — which is ending later this year — is one of the most politically aware incarnations of cyberpunk ever to exist. That might be surprising, given it’s a card game, but the theming and flavor text of Netrunner’s thousand-plus cards have given it plenty of room to flesh out its setting and worldview.
Whereas many cyberpunk works have stuck to the narrow focus on U.S., Japan and China that was established in Neuromancer, the world of Netrunner has covered ... well, the entire world. It’s made Ecuador the global centre of commerce, and has dedicated entire ‘cycles’ of card packs to exploring India and Sub-Saharan Africa. Its roster of playable characters has retained a 50:50 balance between male and female, as well as including non-binary and transgender characters, and put Asian people in lead roles rather than just being an invisible part of the world, as in many western cyberpunk stories.
Representation is one area where Cyberpunk 2077 has run into a bit of controversy. The game’s debut trailer featured just one Indian character, in the stereotypical role of taxi driver. The Twitter account of Dear Esther developer The Chinese Room accused the game’s marketing of presenting women in a sexist manner, and CD Projekt Red recently tweeted a transphobic joke from its own Twitter account.
With nearly an hour to show us its world, a recently-released gameplay demo fares a little better, especially as the player can choose V’s gender and race — but it’s far from perfect. The majority of characters players meet are white, with the exception of black crime boss Dexter DeShawn and sweary Latino sidekick Jackie Welles, the latter having received criticism for stereotypical dialogue that drops random nuggets of Spanish into English sentences. And, in light CD Projekt Red’s long-debated attitude to female nudity, opening with a quest that involves an unconscious naked woman also invites questions.
Broadly, though, CD Projekt Red seems keen to stick to Pondsmith’s original vision, which addressed everything from gentrification to corporate security forces. The developer’s frame-by-frame, trailer-breakdown blogs show it’s thinking about topics like overexposure to advertising, gun laws and unevenly distributed technological wealth as part of its world building.
The real world, amplified
Cyberpunk, and science fiction in general, can take ideas from the grey of modern life and turn up the contrast. The for-profit medicine system becomes 2077’s Trauma Team, a vital part of the gameplay demo’s first quest — equal parts paramedic and paramilitary, ready to kill in order to save the lives of paying customers.
That’s far from subtle, but these exaggerated futures can provide a helpful filter for examining our current political situation. Head to the cyberpunk subreddit and, as well as a wealth of fanart, you’ll find people sharing the latest incursions of cyberpunk into our reality, whether it’s police in AR headsets or a woman charging her bionic arm on the train.
Amazon and Walmart tracking their employee’s movements and conversations to “determine performance of employees,” dead celebrities being resurrected as holograms or CGI constructions, the rise of using crowdfunding platforms to fund life-saving surgeries ... all of these things have precedents in cyberpunk.
With the genre currently enjoying another pop cultural boom — in recent years, we’ve had a sequel to Blade Runner and a live-action remake of Ghost in the Shell; Altered Carbon on Netflix; and Observer, EXAPunks and new instalments of Deus Ex on computers and consoles — Cyberpunk 2077 looks likely to stand apart precisely because it isn’t shying away from these political ideas.
As Pondsmith puts it: “Cyberpunk is all about inequity and the threat of a future in which opportunity is unfairly distributed. It’s about how the forces of big money and big government conspire to keep everyday citizens under control, and how those same citizens use unorthodox means to defeat that agenda.
“Hell yes, it’s political — now more than ever.”
via The Verge https://ift.tt/1jLudMg
August 30, 2018 at 11:24AM