Cyberpunk as a genre of science fiction novels and cinema tends to emphasise a high tech near future film noir setting, featuring postmodernist tech-savvy characters inhabiting a post-industrial nihilistic dystopia dominated by information technology and cybernetics, ruled over by megacorporations rather than dictators, and featuring social breakdown and shadowy operatives.
The genre could probably be said to begin with Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner, itself an adaptation of Philip K. Dick 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
But it was truly defined by William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, which with its short, short, biting Chandleresque prose and Japanese techno-fetishism set the tone and atmosphere for much of cyberpunk since. Gibson’s reference to cyberspace as a “consensual hallucination”; part prophecy of the modern day internet (for which the word has been appropriated), part something totally different, an actual immersive environment of the virtual reality sort
As with post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk proved a popular roleplaying genre. Cyberpunk 2020, written by Mike Pondsmith and published by R. Talsorian Games , came out in 1988, with a second edition in 1990.
But it was the contemporary Shadowrun that first appeared in 1989, published by FASA, that was to prove by far the more successful. With it’s highly imaginative cross-over between classic Urban Fantasy (chiefly, D&D humanoid races) and traditional Cyberpunk, detailed worldbuilding, and beautiful artwork, it became one of the most popular role-playing game systems invented. the Fifth Edition appearing in 2013
But perhaps the ultimate visual development would be Japanese director Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 anime classic Ghost in the Shell (recently remade as a live action movie starring Scarlett Johansson), the characterisation and tone of which being somewhat different to detective-noir Blade Runner and Neuromancer, with the protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi being an enhanced cyborg working for a government security agency.
The Wachowskis’ 1999 Matrix together with its sequels was to be the swan song for the cyberpunk movement. While this complex movie featured the fast moving storyline, grungy sets, cool-looking characters wearing mirrorshades and shiny black, virtual reality, AI, and even Keannu Reeves (who starred in the Box Office flop Johnny Mnenomic, a horrible retelling of Gibson’s short story Neuromancer prequel of that name), it was less noir and more non-cyberpunk philosophical-metaphysical.
But even if cyberpunk was very much an 80s and 90s phenomenon, its emphasise on low life characters using high tech solutions under the shadow of ominous megacorporations remains an influential source of science fiction ideas.