If you bought any of my games the last month and read the credits, you will see a blurb to play a game called Hopepunk City which is my unreleased game I have been working on for a year during the pandemic. I came up with the name over the summer while reading about a genre of fiction called “Hopepunk” and it has absolutely nothing to do with Cyberpunk 2077 except that we share some common futuristic tropes like advanced robotics, a society obsessed with sex, artificial intelligence, and a broken postwar society struggling to get by.
The differences is in the genre. Cyberpunk is a genre dating back to the early 80’s inspired by french comic books and the “New Wave” Sci-Fi of the 60’s and 70’s. It’s exemplified by corporate capitalist power, high tech consumerism, corruption and advertising oversaturation, and of course, the internet controlling it all, with hackers controlling the internet. It is unfortunately easy to imagine a dark future like this, in fact many predictions of 80’s cyberpunk novels, are today’s reality.
From this video, “Cyberpunk” is a genre rooted in the 1980’s vision of the future. While playing Cyberpunk 2077, I noticed all the classic 80’s “Cyberpunk” tropes in this game that came out 30 years after the 1980’s genre was big. Many of which have become very outdated in those 30 years.
The biggest of which is the idolizing of rock stars. That pretty much died in the ’00s when rock as a dominant genre died. Also headed for extinction is liquid fuel of any sort (According to the game, wheat based alcohol is the fuel of the future). The game was made over the last 8 years or so when rock music and liquid fuel were already headed to the graveyard. Why include those as existing in the future?
Turns out Cyberpunk 2077 is originally based on a table top role playing game that originally came out in 1988, at the height of the Cyberpunk fiction movement. It is a video game about a vision of the future that is 32 years old.
As fun as the idea of role playing in an anachronistic future is, my favorite TV show Futurama is also a anachronistic vision of the future based on what people in the 60’s though the future would be like, I think it is time to update that vision. Enter the next “punk” vision of the future:
Hopepunk: Cyberpunk but with hope
The term “Hopepunk” was coined by author Alexandra Rowland in a Tumblr post that simply said “The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on.” “Grimdark” is a pessimistic genre, exemplified by post apocalyptic fiction and Zack Snyder movies. Cyberpunk movies, TV shows, and games are pretty much in line with the grimdark aesthetic. In an overly simplistic nut shell, hopepunk is cyberpunk with hope.
I know what you are thinking: there is hope in the cyberpunk genre. Not really. I used to read cyberpunk novels growing up, I’ve seen all the cyberpunk films. There were only two happy endings in my memory: The original happy ending from Blade Runner, that got cut in the directors cut, and the novel Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson, which was written as a satire of the genre.
Cyberpunk 2077 is the latest story of the genre, and it has 5 different endings, 4 in which you basically die (or at least your soul does), and a lone hopeful ending where you escape the city with your significant other, but you only have at most months to live. Even in that one you have done nothing to improve the lives of people in Night City, a “hopepunk” ending would have involved improving the world at least a little bit.
Rowland went on to explain hopepunk in detail in an interesting titled essay “One Atom of Justice, One Molecule of Mercy, and the Empire of Unsheathed Knives“ I love this essay, and it especially felt relevant last summer among all the drama that was going on in the US at the time.
Hopepunk is not really the opposite of “grimdark”, that would be “noblebright”. Grimdark is pessimistic storytelling where everyone loses in the end. Noblebright is your typical hero defeats villain and everybody lives happily ever after story, exemplified by most Disney movies, and that includes Star Wars and Marvel Universe movies.
Hopepunk is actually in the middle. It can start in a grimdark setting and have a hopeful outcome. Or in the case of my story, it can start hopeful, then go bad, then if you are successful, hopeful again. Other guidelines include, things can’t be nice:
Awful word, nice. A word to silence anything that discomfits you: You won’t make any progress toward those basic civil liberties you want if you can’t be nice about it.
Nice is nonthreatening. Nice is comfortable. Nice is a quiet neighborhood with white picket fences and white minivans and an overwhelmingly white demographic, where we don’t talk about things if they aren’t nice.– Alexandra Rowland
Things can’t be perfect either:
The work is never finished. The work will never be finished. There will never be a nice, comfortable utopia where we can rest on our laurels and sip strawberry daiquiris by the pool and trust that now things are Fine and we can all relax. Utopia is not a stable system. It doesn’t last. The best we can hope for is five minutes, an hour.
There’s no such thing as winning forever. Evil cannot be vanquished, only beaten back for a day or two, and then it trickles back in, like water seeping through the cracks in a dam.
Ask it of hopepunk, then: “What’s the point?”
And the answer is, of course, that the fight itself is the point.– ibid
The most quoted example of “hopepunk” is the Frodo and Sam part of Lord of the Rings, a story frought with peril that only succeeds because the protagonists never gave up. Hopepunk is not a futuristic sci-fi genre, but futuristic sci-fi stories like Children of Men and Wall-E can be good examples of Hopepunk sci-fi. Here are some more examples:
My next game is in the spirit of the hopepunk genre as I interpret it. I start out with what seems like a utopian city-state built in a post second civil war America. It is a shining beacon of hope on a devastated war torn continent.
But it cannot last. It is only a matter of time before some environmental or man made disaster comes through and kills it. It will need help from its neighboring city-states to survive. The problem is that their neighbors are not all that interested in helping out.
Your character is a refugee of one of those war torn regions who managed to swing a sponsorship to this city. You can play as a previous player character (DA/SITA or AiP) who Ariane sponsors, or you can be a new character who won a sponsorship. Your character can be male or female.
You move into a house with three women: Ariane, Rachel, and Maya. The object of the game is to get a good job and become friends with all three roommates, and if you are successful you can help negotiate a plan to keep the city-state stay alive a little longer.
Besides “hopepunk”, the utopian aspects of the game fall into another sci-fi punk genre “Solarpunk”, but I thought “Hopepunk City” sounded more interesting than “Solarpunk City”. Solarpunk is a genre dedicated to surviving global climate change by adapting sustainable living through renewable resources. It is a much more hopeful genre. It has it’s own art, aesthetics, and even a music genre I hope to pull from if I add music to my game.
I “hope” to have the game done this year. I am currently busy with setting up the store and playing Cyberpunk 2077 to work on it now, but I assume I’ll get back in the mood to work on it some more soon.