Cyberpunk creator Mike Pondsmith says 'everything is political,' including his game

(Image credit: CD Projekt)

Cyberpunk is a deeply political sub-genre of science fiction, and it's no surprise that Cyberpunk 2077 will be too. Mike Pondsmith, the creator of the pencil-and-paper RPG on which CD Projekt's next big thing is based (who's also working with the studio on 2077) said in an interview with VGC that "everything is political," and that the setting is a cautionary tale about the confluence of technology, power, and responsibility.

"I tell people that Cyberpunk is a warning, not, 'Hey, this is going to be great.' We are getting technologies now that are outstanding, things that I thought would be way out of our reach before 2020," Pondsmith said.

"So if we have that, what are we going to do with it? How are we going to make the world work? How are we going to make sure that the right people use that technology responsibly? Do we really want corporations structuring how our lives work? Right now we have corporations that follow us everywhere. It’s important for us to think where we’re going with this capability."

Cyberpunk is "inherently political," Pondsmith said, but not in the commonly-considered sense of left and right, or conservative and liberal. "Everything is political. Human beings are political. First we got food, then we got prostitution, then we got politics. And we might have gotten politics before prostitution, but I’m not sure," he said. "Basically, it’s all political but a big part of what Cyberpunk talks about is the disparities of power and how technology readdresses that."

As an example, he cited the creation of his RPG company R. Talsorian Games in the pre-digital 1980s, when products had to be photographed and filmed and printed by professionals, at significant expense and on someone else's schedule. But advances in technology enabled Talsorian to bring much of that production process in-house just a couple of years later.

"Technology has created levelers. YouTube is a leveler in many ways, because I don’t have to go to some network to get a TV show made. Flash was a leveler: I didn’t have to go somewhere and get a toy license to get an animation made," Pondsmith said. "Suddenly I can do radical, interesting and heavily political things because technology is my enabler."

Pondsmith now views Cyberpunk as similar to the Star Wars trilogy (the first one, I would hope) or "the different generations of Star Trek." He was referring to the game world's capacity for new, original stories, but his description of its evolution also illustrates its built-in political elements.

"2013 was about a world that was recovering and learning to use new technology. 2020 was a world in which corporations were supreme and abused that power tremendously. The new book we’re doing at Talsorian, Cyberpunk Red, is about how people recover from that screw-up, take the wheel for themselves and redirect where they’re going to go," he said. (The original Cyberpunk RPG was set in 2013, while the sequel took place in 2020.)

"A lot of 2077 is about that push between people who want to gain power from the corporations and their groups, and the people who have had a taste of their own freedom and are not going to go along with this. So right now Talsorian is running the Empire Strikes Back, while 2077 is essentially Return of the Jedi or beyond even."

Cyberpunk 2077 comes out on April 16, 2020. Here's the full rundown on everything we know about it.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.