The Cyberpunk game series originated in the late 1980s, and it owes its existence largely to the popularity of books by William Gibson and Philip K. Dick as well as the film Blade Runner, which was based on one of the latter’s novels. Since then, the pen-and-paper games in this series have been refined and updated several times, and they have reached their culmination in the epic computer game Cyberpunk 2077, which fans had been anticipating for some time before its actual release.
But for today’s article we are interested in an earlier game in this series, Cyberpunk 2020. That is because it takes place in 2020 — our present day.
By and large, it’s a run-of-the-mill pen-and-paper role-playing game: People gather at a table or in a chat room, generate characters with certain skills and characteristics, and then under the guidance of a master proceed through a certain story. It takes place in a rather gloomy but incredibly stylish world where corporations hold great power, street violence is rampant, and people have modified themselves using cybernetics.
But we are interested in Cyberpunk 2020 primarily because one of the available character classes, Netrunner, is essentially a hacker who solves game problems using programs. That is, the character is a 2020 hacker as the authors of the late 80s and early 90s saw the role. Coming to the end of 2020, we wanted to compare the retrofuturistic hacker’s arsenal with real-world, present-day tools.
A few words about the world of Cyberpunk 2020
Netrunners operate not in the physical world, but in virtual reality. Do you recall those jumbles of geometric shapes that the filmmakers of that period loved to use to portray digital universes? That’s what the creators of the game had in mind, too. The plot explains it as follows: Algorithms transform the topography of real information systems into a kind of futuristic landscape.
When a hacker connects to the Net through a special “cyberdeck” device (or simply “deck”), their consciousness leaves the physical world and is embodied in the virtual one. Most professional Netrunners use an implanted interface to connect (it is possible to interact without such a device, using electrodes that stick to the head, but that doesn’t work as well).
In this reality, the computer systems of governments, corporations, and other organizations are represented in the form of Data Fortresses (Dataforts for short), with code gates and appropriately thick “data walls.” Generally speaking, Netrunners try to penetrate the fortresses to learn their secrets, steal files, open computer-controlled doors in the real world, eavesdrop on conversations, and so on. Of course, the programs and experts defend the Dataforts.
At the same time, extremely harsh laws — in effect practically all over the world — forbid illegal access to information and penetration of these information systems. Government organizations may use any means to take out the attackers. Corporate security services are not much nicer, and they have the right to arrest a hacker. He faces imprisonment in extremely harsh conditions at best, or at worst, memory erasure. Because the Netrunner is physically connected to the computer, defenders can even try to physically fry his brain.
The Netrunner’s arsenal
Depending on his hardware, a Netrunner can take a limited set of programs with him, so players who exercise forethought are rewarded.Continue reading