Immortal Impact in Cyberpunk
I made a Tiktok the other day where I dipped into the frightening reality of Cyberpunk’s burgeoning population of functionally immortal corporate aristocracy. This got me thinking more about it, and its potential ramifications and how we might already be seeing them in the franchise on the tabletop, in the anime, and in the video game. So, let’s dive into some speculative territory about the world of Cyberpunk and what’s going down.
Rejuvenation has been mentioned in the Cyberpunk universe since at least the Cyberpunk 2020 era, but within the timeline, at that point it was still a relatively new technology and process. The implications and effects of it were completely unexamined in the nightmare capitalist hellscape that makes up the background radiation of Cyberpunk. But we know it’s a thing, because the likes of Saburo Arasaka, a WWII veteran, is lucid and active in 2020. It’s not impossible for a 104-year-old to be active, but for one to run one of the world’s largest and most powerful megacorps? My money is on early access to this process; plus his children from his third wife, Hanako and Yorinobu, both show that they started the procedure early, with both looking like 30-somethings in 2077 at ages 78 and 82, respectively.
There’s two methods of functional immortality in Cyberpunk. The most common, and the one dealt with here, is rejuvenation. The other is via Soulkiller or Soulkiller and Relic technology, and that’s a whole second post in of itself.
This is the obvious effect of this procedure being available to those with the eddies to make it happen. CEOs and their immediate families become eternal. Long term planning and thinking become viable and preferable to making quick money. And I think this is why we don’t see a 5th Corporate War between 2023 and 2077. The CEOs and higher leadership of the neocorps of RED and then megacorps again in 2077 are operating on a whole different level. With no real limits and with little in the way of ethics or morality, nepotism places their near immortal children into top positions. Somewhat ironically, these “young” corpos are anything but, and bring more years than their appearance indicates to the scene.
A huge effect of this is a very real glass ceiling for management and progression. So only the absolute cream of the crop are going to be able to, well, literally ascend to the highest levels as time moves forwards past 2077. Another is that the people using this process in the corporate ecosystem will become more reclusive and likely switch out their staff more frequently and use increasingly harsh and restrictive employment contracts the closer a “mortal” gets to them. This would in part explain why in 2077, Hanako is still a big deal to the regular people in Japantown. Managing appearances to make sure people aren’t really paying too much attention to a person’s unnatural longevity would be key.
Cultural Near Stasis
One of the things that really struck me about Cyberpunk RED, Cyberpunk Edgerunners, and Cyberpunk 2077 is how same looking and feeling they are to Cyberpunk 2020. Sure, some weapons are different, the cyberware varies, and there’s more augmented reality, but there’s not a lot different in terms of style, design, or music. Everything seems locked in pretty hard. Why? Part of it is pragmatic design. There’s only so many ways to make a flak vest or a gun. But then there’s Kerry Eurodyne and the other former members of Samurai. They were all 20-somethings in 2013 when Johnny took his first shot at assaulting Arasaka Tower. They’re all still alive and active in 2077, and looking (person dependent) on 40 to 50-somethings. All still alive and all still influencing the scene when they should be deep into retirement.
In the real world, we’re still struggling with the influence in popular culture of shows and tropes from the earliest days of movies and TV. And these still crop up frequently and we watch reboot after reboot happen as the fans of stuff get to a level where they can use their clout to reimagine things. Now imagine a world where celebrities major influencers could literally say no to aging and continue to influence culture. It wouldn’t just be the influence of old media and concepts on newly made media and concepts. It’s the same people!
I think this is part of why so little is changing culturally in Cyberpunk given the timelines and disruptions to the status quo that happen. The more successful and influential an artist, designer, or influencer gets in Cyberpunk, the more likely it is that they can afford rejuvenation treatments and continue to work. Making a mark in culture gets even more challenging under these circumstances.
Effects on the Ground
For the average person, regular rejuvenation treatments, or the ones that keep the Arasaka kids looking sharp in 2077, aren’t an option. Sure, a well equipped local ripperdoc or your local Biotechnica treatment facility can make your body match your gender or make you into a real life furry or scaley with a few sessions. But resetting your cellular clock and reducing your age or locking it in? That’s more cash money than most can afford. Plastic surgery, bioware, and cyberware are the closest normal people will get to eternal life of a sort.
A place they’ll see it is in decisions and machinations that seem like they make no sense coming from the powers that be. Obvious openings and chances ignored. And this will have two big effects. The first is a false sense of security, people will believe that because they saw an opening that a neocorp or megacorp ignored, or that something worked when it shouldn’t have, that they’re as smart as or better than those corpos. The second effect is that for many, there will probably be an increased trust in the powers that be to keep the status quo; people like reliability and predictability, and long-term planning thrives in that environment. So while people will still be distrustful of corpos (what with the Wars and all), they’ll also be paradoxically trusting in them to keep things the way they are.
Another thing this affects is consumer goods of all kinds. I think minor variations and minutiae will become more important for discerning the differences between new and old products. Legitimately new designs are a massive event, even if it’s an economy car. This likely fuels a lot of the materialism of the setting. After all, in a world where there’s often only subtle or minor changes to things, the right clothing, weapons, and chrome are all going to be key to establishing personal style, expression, and brand.
Honestly, I think there’s a lot more going on behind the doors of R. Talsorian Games than we’re getting an inkling of. There’s hints, clues, and half descriptions all over the place that show the setting is so much deeper than people give it credit for being. And further than that, there’s a lot more thought and consideration happening. This is one of those things I picked up on, then pieced together from other things happening in the games and anime. I think it speaks to the depth that the setting and game can offer past the surface treatment of edgerunning. More to follow as I dig deeper into this setting!