The Beatles famously wrote ‘I don’t care too much for money, cause money can’t buy me love’. But what if it could? What if technology could synthesize that feeling? Cypher acknowledges this in the Matrix. As I look back on that original movie I find myself sympathizing with him more and more. You wake up in a world no one could prepare you for with untold suffering and struggle or you could live in a beautiful fantasy. Which do you choose? And honestly, who’s to say what’s real or, perhaps the better question, who’s to say what’s real enough?
Cyberpunk 2077 is a dystopia. No one would want to live there. It’s actually partly why I chose the ‘Nomad’ life path (an option to select your character’s background) on my first playthrough. My instinct would be to just check out if given the option. I’d want to live outside of that system, make my own rules, decide my own destiny. Unfortunately Night City, the game’s principle location, is a black hole of money and lust for power and it just sucks you in no matter what you want to do. Which is exactly my point here.
In our most recent episode of the podcast we talked about corporate greed and it’s deep and abiding impact on the game world. The tendrils of the corporations run deep, even to the point where a corporation can functionally own your body, your memories, your soul.
There are characters in the game called dolls who essentially have a split psyche. One side is who you might say they ‘truly are’. The part of themselves where they have independent agency and are impelled by their own impulses. The other half is governed by an algorithm designed to please clients when they’re ‘on the job’. This kind of ‘use’ of people is designed, in much the way sci fi does, to make you first nod along because it ‘makes sense’ that technology could get there and then pause to consider what that means for us.
This is one of the questions posed by the worldbuilding in Cyberpunk 2077. The plot essentially takes you on a tour through the world and you see much of the lore as you traverse it. Johnny Silverhand’s ‘immortality’ poses this same question. In many ways his soul lives on and his will can be exercised in part by you as V but the disconcerting questions always remain at the core of good sci fi. What is it that makes me human? When you peel back enough layers what remains?
Enmeshed in all this questioning is the profiteering corpos. As I alluded to in the podcast they have found a way to monetize human brokeness and hunger. They’re seeking a way to take yet more from the searching human soul and in so doing make a tidy profit. It starts with cybernetic modification of the body but before long even your mind, memories and experiences become exportable commodities. At what point do we call it day and sell shares of our souls?
It seems a twist of bitter irony that the same band that wrote money can’t buy you love also asserted that though ‘the best things in life are free, you can give them to the birds and bees, I want the money. It’s what I want.’