Creating science fiction comes with the unique challenge of dreaming up some kind of awesome, future technology and making it the norm for people native to the fictional society. Sometimes, creators get it right, like the video-call system in 2001: A Space Odyssey that later became reality with Skype and FaceTime. Others, like Back to the Future, left us waiting for pink hoverboards that were supposed to be available by 2015.
Thanks for nothing, Mattel.
CD Projekt Red faces this same conundrum in coming up with the dystopian future setting of their upcoming title, Cyberpunk 2077. Set 59 years in the future, you play a mercenary in a world almost completely overtaken by technology. People get cybernetic enhancements to make themselves look better and advertisements fill up every inch of the city. It’s up to you to carve out a little hole in this world.
Before we dive in, we have to say the game looks incredible. Check out this recently released footage.
From the looks of things, the developers appear to be very grounded in their approach to portraying technological advancements, keeping in accordance with Marshall McLuhan and his Tetrad of Media Effects theory.
The man himself, Marshall McLuhan.
Marshall McLuhan was fairly advanced for his time and was regarded as one of the fathers of media psychology. He’s was well regarded (posthumously, of course, as is the case with most scientists that’re ahead of their time) for laying the groundwork for achieving an understanding of how people perceive and take in all forms of media — meaning art, technology, and speech.
Today, we call it the internet. We use it to pretend to do work, watch videos of funny cats, and occasionally engage in fruitless arguments that will never change either party’s mind.
McLuhan’s Tetrad of Media Effects states that all technological advancements must serve four purposes to make a lasting impact on society. It must enhance something, make something obsolete, call back to something familiar, and have the potential to become something new when pushed to its limits.
His famous example was the FM radio, which meets all four criteria:
- It amplifies news and music through sound,
- It reduces the need for print media,
- It brings spoken word back to the forefront in how people transfer stories, and,
- Eventually, it could be enhanced with a visual component (aka television).
By following these rules, you can make educated guesses at where new technologies might emerge and which need they may grow to fill. In fact, he famously hypothesized that all forms of media would one day grow to an extreme, at which point, this new medium would be so fast and so large that everyone in the world could instantaneously communicate with one another. This single, new media form would encompass most other forms of communication. He called it “the global village” and was ostracized from the scientific community for his crackpot speculations.
But that would never… oh…
With McLuhan’s theory in mind, we can see how the developers at CD Projekt Red are applying it perfectly to the world of Cyberpunk. Not everything is crazy and outrageous, but rather plays on something that currently exists and amplifies it to a realistic degree.
Cybernetic enhancements are now a thing because they replace the previously squishy and less desirable parts of being human. Taxi cabs still exist because people still need to get from one place to another. And, of course, billboards cover everything when there are no rules about not plastered flashy ads across the sides of buildings.