Figurative Magnifiers and Maguffins


bladerunner 2Cyberpunk is a genre that relies on a lot of details to communicate a world at once strange and eerily familiar–a world that we know is right behind the corner given the prevalence of technology in our lives.  This is deliberate and forces the reader to ask some damning questions: how much humanity do we retain if we let the machines dictate how we live because of our own choices to let them do the hard work for us?

Bladerunner 1Malmart 2090 is no different in this regard.  If you’re familiar with my previous building guides, you know I like to develop a lot of tables–seriously, a lot of tables.  I’ve used this technique for Malmart not only as a way to help me price items that do have ad copy, but also to give the reader the tools to create thousands upon thousands of objects to fill their game world to overflowing.

bladerunner 7Just look at the screen captures from Blade Runner I’ve included here and you’ll see insane levels of detail.  Visually you take this all in and your brain tells you everything you need to know.  But, guess what?  You can’t get away with that in storytelling.  Nope. Nada.  Ain’t going to happen.  You know why?  Because everyone’s seen this damn movie already and if you don’t add details that makes it stand apart while adhering to the genre, you’re dead in the water and nobody’s going to be impressed or remember a damn thing.

Harsh, isn’t it?

Judge Dredd (1995)
Judge Dredd (1995), just to change it up a bit

Well, that’s cyberpunk.  It’s unforgiving and humanity’s been reduced to an insignificant mass while being the biggest thing in history at the same time.  This dialectic needs (dare I say wants) resolution.  Do we just shrug it off and join the nameless ranks; or, like our devices, do we rise above and become one of the few destined to change the course of history?

The overwhelming amount of detail is crucial to capturing the feel of the genre in ways that might not stand out right off.  Why do you think William Gibson spent so much time in Neuromancer detailing how brutal and shitty street life was?  There’s a reason the opening line describes a sky the color of a

Adam and Eve reference
Adam and Eve reference

television tuned to a dead station.  That visual tells you everything you need to know about how bleak the world is and the grotesqueness of the sky back when cosmic background radiation filled our TVs with slushy images of neutral colors and a roaring hiss.

Ever stop to ask yourself why so many of the signs in the city streets are in Japanese in what’s supposed to be Chinatown with a hodge-podge street language cobbled together from a dozen or so others for a film that came out in the early 80s?  No?  Well, if you didn’t, you’re not thinking this out.  It has everything to do with what the Internet means today and what not having a global network did to how artists depicted the future before the advent of the World Wide Web that allows you to access this blog from any point on the globe with a connection to the global village.

And then there’s this little gem:

Bladerunner 3

Why is there fire and an entire cityscape reflected in Harrison Ford’s eye?  Because the eyes, being the windows to the soul show how much humanity has consumed itself just to find an ounce of solace in this monstrosity its created.  The soulessness of the bleak urban landscape is constantly in search of something to consume.  It burns with desire and a deep search for meaning that isn’t there anymore because it’s been replaced with material goods to the point of crowding out every aspect of nature.

There’s no balance.

Authentic synthetic snake license number
Authentic synthetic snake license number

To replace it, there’s replicants out the ass in this film: people, animals, toys that think they’re alive, ads selling dead dreams in the guise of a better tomorrow.  All of them rendered as empty shells of the things they represent.  Platonic forms desecrated until the illusion of safety is reflected in the mirror.  That’s what’s in his eye and throughout the film, and thus the lingering question of whether Deckard is human or not.  Even his name is a twisting of Descartes and hearkens back to the brain-in-a-vat problem.

Everything is magnified to excess in cyberpunk.  It’s too big to take in at once.  That’s why the level of detail is so friggin’ high.  You want to know how to solve this dilemma?  Examine the finest of details, that’s why the eye is so important in that one, brief scene at the beginning of the film.  It, and the Voight-Kampff machine zero in on that one feature above all others while we, as viewers try to take in the entire aesthetic.

bladerunner 4
Running through sex to kill desire?

Authenticity, then, is captured in the minutiae.  It’s these little details that let people find ways to stand out and be different.  For this reason, the snake scale becomes enormously important.  It at once authenticates the world and shows how bereft and full of debauchery (or “sin,” if you prefer) the world is.  Hence the Adam and Eve reference with the snake.  The garden was the balanced world where urban and rural landscape meshed and escape was possible, which is why at the end of the flim, what do you see, Deckard and Rachel fleeing the terror of the cyberpunk world for the unknown of a “lost” paradise in green wilderness.

So, while the overwhelming number of choices in Malmart might seem excessive, they give you the ability to replicate the feel of the dystopian world of the genre.  And that’s why some of the tables generate more choices than you’ll ever need, like well in excess of 100,000 electronic devices.  Because everything’s a plot device and the biggest change can be contained in the smallest item.  Just like the snake scale’s serial number.


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