2020 was one of the most tumultuous years in recent memory, but at least, in a few weeks time, the most anticipated game of the year, Cyberpunk 2077, will come out. The game has garnered praise and criticism in the past, but one of those criticisms is about how the game deals with different cultures, especially Asian people and Asian culture, which is inextricably linked with the cyberpunk genre.
The origins of the cyberpunk genre
The origins of the cyberpunk genre involve the Western anxieties of the East. Techno-Orientalism is the use of Asian aesthetics in cyberpunk, futuristic and dystopian contexts. There is a long and deep Euro-American tradition of using Asian symbolism such as neon signs with Japanese and Chinese letters to express these feelings about what the future holds, including globalization and the threat of a takeover by the East.
Dylan Yeats, the author of War is at Home: Techno-Orientalist Militarism on the Home Front, told me that he believed there were two types of Techno-Orientalism, the European “imperialist” strain and the “American” colonial strain.
The first dates back to World War II, when powers like the UK, France and the Netherlands contemplated the end of their global empires, while simultaneously seeing the expansion of imperialism in countries like Japan. . They feared that they would be overwhelmed by their influence, both technological and political, turning the situation around and transforming the previously colonized into colonizers.
As for the latter, the lineage of the “American” settlers bears on the promise of land and democracy to transform culture and the world. As America developed on the earth in order to accumulate wealth, Asian immigrants ended up being targeted as cheap labor without caring about their basic rights. These immigrants sacrificed everything they had in their home country in order to seek a better life in America, and so they were willing to work for meager wages.
Chinese immigrants, in particular, were exploited to build technologies like railways in the 19th century. As a result, they were treated as a disadvantaged class and targeted as symbols of the fear surrounding the displacement of jobs: low wages, dirty living conditions and greed.
“I think this context is very important. Because for me, cyberpunk as a literary movement, genre, and style emerges from this deeper story, ”Yeats explained. “The impact of WWII cannot be overstated. I think many Americans today don’t realize how scary the Japanese were, or how scary it was that the Americans had developed atomic weapons threatening the globe to defeat them.
The aspect that the cyberpunk genre is correct is that technological advancement does not necessarily lead to a better quality of life, as long as transnational capitalism continues to exploit and redistribute resources unevenly in society. The antagonist of the genre is usually a multinational corporation, which is why many of the villains in cyberpunk stories aren’t lone actors or criminal masterminds, but a massive corporation that wants to dominate all they can. If there is one individual standing in the way, it is usually the CEO of the large faceless corporation. But then again, the company is too big to fail and another CEO can always be nominated by its shareholders.
However, themes of class and social inequality “are often caught in the fixation on another racialized foreigner, whose sudden capitalist domination is both strange and extra-terrifying,” said Takeo Rivera, assistant professor of English at Boston University.
Rivera noted that the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit, Michigan was the result of concern that Japan’s then booming economy meant the country would soon take control of American industries such as the automobile and real estate. Chin, a Chinese, was murdered by two disgruntled white auto workers who assumed he was Japanese. He added: “Techno-Eastern fears are as easily mapped on Japanese people as Japanese cars: reproducible en masse, intrusive and overwhelming to the more ‘human’ white man.
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By browsing the different trailers for Cyberpunk 2077As part of Night City, the Asians you see or meet are always “strangers” or “the other,” resting outside of a typical “norm” for white men. Yeats said Night City reminded him Blade runner, in that there is a real sense of a multicultural future. Such stereotypical asian decorative elements like neon signage with asian lettering could signal the anxieties of a globalized future where certain identities have taken precedence over others. But at the same time, they could just be there for purely aesthetic reasons, as is commonly seen in modern city neighborhoods like Chinatown or Little Tokyo.