Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Science Fiction Rambling

So yesterday I watched .Hack//Quantum.

I liked it , but after further reflection I have to say that I think it's .Hack//Sign lite. To me .Hack//Sign is an underrated classic in post-cyberpunk philosophy.

Yeah that's what this post is going be about but let's get some house keeping out of the way.

A few thoughts on Quantum

It's not bad. In fact it's rather good. The animation is nice and I like the story. While I'm about to go into the headiness of Sign, I'll be the first to admit that not unlike Ghost in the Shell it does sometimes put the story on hold to gaze at it's navel. While Sign does have some action the action isn't the point. Here, in Quantum, the visceral action is definitely the point or at least part of it. The general plots of both are almost identical but they are handled very differently. Sign is about the philosophical ramifications of the the story's problem.  Quantum is about how the protagonists attempt to solve the story's problem.  Not bad, just different.

Some words on post-cyberpunk's foils

So post WWII America saw a general prosperity fueled by scientific and industrial progress. Sci-fi writers took that and ran with it.

We're going to get the flying car!

Some of these pieces of literature are idealistic. Technology is tool to make peoples lives better and it will.

Phillip K. Dick the father...ish of Cyberpunk.
Yeah nobody really calls Phillip K. Dick cyberpunk.  It was really too early and the computer was still in it's infancy in his day. But he is the Iggy Pop of the genre. A lot of his stories have the view that technology is only as good as how it's used and because people suck it will be abused. A mainstay in cyberpunk.

Furthermore I'm hesitant to say Dick isn't cyberpunk because almost is every major, Hollywood produced film in the genre is an adaptation of his work including, "the cyberpunk movie".

Just to make it clear, William Gibson the more traditional father of cyberpunk, and man who invented the word cyberspace said this in regards to Blade Runner. 

BLADERUNNER came out while I was still writing Neuromancer. I was about a third of the way into the manuscript. When I saw (the first twenty minutes of) BLADERUNNER, I figured my unfinished first novel was sunk, done for. Everyone would assume I’d copped my visual texture from this astonishingly fine-looking film.

and while I'm at it.

Yeah if it's a dark gritty dystopian future in a movie chances are Dick wrote it.

Cyberpunk itself
Well I more or less said it before. The grand thesis of the genre is, "Yes we are living in times when technologies are rapidly changing and are also changing the way we live.  But that does necessarily mean those changes are good."

There are several barriers to a an idealic technological utopia.

  • Technology costs money. Not everybody who could benefit from it can afford it. More over this inequality causes inequity and further problems with society. 
  • Often the mass production of technology requires massive resources some of which are nonrenewable, and resource wars are a reality.
  • Furthermore, the highly industrialized processes required to mass produce technology often leave really bad byproducts. 
  • New technologies produced by a few companies might make the public overly reliant on those companies, eventually leading to them gaining and abusing power. 
  • To that end a society dependent on factory labor may have complex management and labor conflicts.
  • An increase in technology may make a population overly complacent and lazy, even possibly becoming an opiate of the masses.
All of that said Cyberpunk is often a product of it's times, the 80's and 90's,  it's political messages and technology tied to them, becoming zeerust. While Japan had a serious amount of technological achievement, by the mid '90s it became clear it was going through a period of economic stagnation.  Rather than being a force corporate power the internet in many ways became a democratizing tool of the people. While there is still a digital divide, miniaturization and other advances seriously decreased the cost of consumer technology.  And nobody likes the idea of someone seeing them in their underoos while talking on the phone.

For a long time post-cyberpunk would just be called modern cyberpunk. But there are a lot of differences. For a better essay on this read "Notes Towards a Post Cyber-Punk Manifesto" by Lawrence Person. Cyberpunk has a very nihilistic view of technology. Yet many of the people reading and writing Post cyberpunk grew up in an age where, yes technology made their lives better.

I get computer withdrawl after an hour because I run through my head all the things I can't do without them. No movies, no YouTube, no news, no Facebook, no video games, no Skype and  I'll have to retype everything I write. 

A computer infused world is no longer speculative-fiction, it is the reality of modern society.  Rather than trying to predict where the world will go, post cyber-punk postulates the ratifications of where it's gone.

Now on to the philosophy of .Hack//Sign

.Hack//Sign is an excellent case study on interpersonal relationships in a world where identity is often a fabrication, and interactions through a digital existence can have consequences in the real world.   Even now I am writing using a pseudonym and when I use that pseudonym I exhibit a slightly different set of personality traits than I do through my RL interactions.

This is not uncommon, in fact it may be the new normal. One of the underlying principles of our current use of the internet is general anonymity. (It's no secret that if someone really wants to know who you are it's not that hard.)

Because through the internet I largely interact with a group of people I probably will not in RL I am free to create a new me. Furthermore because these interactions are every bit as real as physical ones who's to say that this fabricated me is not as real as the RL one. I am both The Cyphered Wolf and Greg Miles, yet they are both subtly different from one another. Greg Miles is relatively mild mannered. Yet the Cyphered Wolf is rather quick to anger.

But enough of my postulations.

Sign deals in the characters dualities. Bear is a fatherly old man in the game because he feels he failed as a father in real life. Subaru is leader of a squadron of knights in the game, because she feels so powerless in her real life. Crim is a rather laid back adventurer because in real life he has to deal with the stresses of running a large company.

All of these characters know and interact with each other primarily through the game. In fact the series almost never takes the audience outside of it, only hinting at their real life identities.

This comes to a head with the big reveal at the end.

The protagonist portrayed as a teenage boy for the entire series, is in actuality a girl.  And it works because in MMORPGS it happens all the time. You go in realizing that you know nothing about your friends in real life interacting based on what you know and experience in game. Heck that is the internet in general. On forums and comment sections, you respond to the words people write and very seldom go on more than that. Think about it, an entire world interacting and making decisions based on digital impressions. 

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