“The Gernsback Continuum”: Reloaded

First off, want to say a shy hello to everyone hitting up this blog via The RPG Bloggers Network! I’ve been reading off that site for a couple months now, and I’m hoping I can continue adding to the quality of your community!

I’ve decided this would be a good time to re-post something I posted in the GamerDNA Tabletop forums a while back. It’s a topic my mind keeps wandering back to, and I felt like I had to share it here on my new blog home in hopes of maybe getting some more feedback on it.  Part of this came to mind when I was working on an NWoD Cyberpunk homebrew, and the recent release of Requiem: New Wave has only resparked some of my interest.


I was reading “The Gernsback Continuum” by William Gibson. It’s a great short story that can be found in his anthology “Burning Chrome”, a long with the original Johnny Mnemonic short story and some other cool works of short fiction.

The concept of it was interesting: A photographer of the 80’s is working on a project photographing relics of the old “Raygun” style pulp and art-deco of the 30’s-50’s, and begins to actually slip into a different reality where all the fantastic air-ships, slick architecture and air cars that they envisioned were true.

The concept brought up in the story are that these realms exist alongside us almost like Ghosts, but not of the people of the past, but of the cultural “ideas” of what the “future” was supposed to be.

It made me sit back and think about things like the Steampunk genre, or the crazy “after the bomb” movies that predicted the 90’s to be the end of mankind.

bladerunnerThe “Gibson” Continuum, and others.
At the time that I recently read this (have read it several times, but only now it had a profound effect on me) I was considering writing up some generic Cyberpunk rules for the GORE system. I admired the work of people trying to bring us the “Retro Clone” RPG systems, and for some reason I’ve always wanted to see a Cyberpunk system using the Percentile-based systems inspired by RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu (closest I’ve seen is GURPS Cthulhupunk, not quite what I was looking for).

Also, after having just finished up my own homebrew of generic Cyberpunk rules using the NWoD rules system, I figured it would’ve been nice to re-work them for an Open Sourced, freely accessible RPG system.

Anyways, as I sat back wondering what would I change, or set up, for such a project using a system inspired by the old rules, it came to me: The cyberpunk future that didn’t happen.

Too many of the latest editions of classic Cyberpunk RPG’s, like Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 3.0, are drastically different and many feel like they lost a lot of their edge in trying to “upgrade” their tech to seem more sci-fi. They have good reason: Reading through Cyberpunk 2020, holy god. The entire “Net Running” rules were written and designed back in a day when we didn’t have the mainstream internet, MMO’s and the like, It was a day of BBS’s and major networks like AOL, Compuserve and the like. Where time “online” was charged by the hours, and all was done over the phones.

The “futuristic” hackers of Gibson’s world seems archaic in today’s practice; they’re lugging around “cyberdecks” clunkier than our modern laptops, “phreaking” phone lines to dial out to strange computer boards in a wired “grid” of phone lines and computer addresses are based off geographical locations. Aside from that, elements of the Cold War seem to have surpassed the likes of what we all came to witness, and everything from nuclear bombs, World War III and the continued success of a Soviet Space program seem to be ripe in Cyberpunk lit.

If everything we saw in the movie Bladerunner was to come true, we’re supposed to be mining in Off-World colonies, driving flying cars and building six generations of Nexus Replicants in the next 11 years.

So as I write this, I’ve begun brainstorming ideas for playing “Yesterday’s Cyberpunk Future of Tomorrow”. Even if it doesn’t have much of an audience, I think it’ll be fun to look back and sift through the entire genre, looking at all the books, movies, games and even music that inspired or was inspired by the concept, and brewing together ideas for a world that could’ve been, at one point, the “world that could’ve been.


What’s in your continuum? What was the awesome thing of the future that never happened? Or better yet, what things ended up turning out better and more trendy than believed? It cracks me up when I’m reading about Pocket Secretary’s and “mini-cd” players that are popular in 2050, when right now in 2009 we have phones that can play an entire Beatle’s discography and surf the web and play video back.

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