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Merry Cyber Monday, everyone! May all your planets be hacked

69 / yes please / The Gibson

A very merry Cyber Monday to you, reader dear, from all of us here at RPS! I hope you and your loved ones are together as you celebrate 90s cyberspace, cyberculture, cyberpunk, hackers, kewl d00dz, and netizens. Perhaps you've visited your subnet neighbours to sing Front Line Assembly carols and share mulled Jolt Cola. Maybe you're gathered round an overclocked Pentium 3 to warm your datagloves and roast Doritos. Whatever you're doing, please put on your mirrorshades to enjoy some of our cyberwords from across the years.

A few years back, Sin Vega jacked into cyberpunk vampire game Bloodnet.

It's a rare game that would excite a traditional RPG fan as well as a genre cynic like me - an unforgiving, non-linear, party-based adventure with turn-based combat and minimal handholding, set in a world devoid of goddamn elves. Instead, it's set in the kind of future that only the early 1990s could conjure up.

Much as our understanding of Christmas is rooted heavily in Dickens and Victorian England, to me the spirit of Cyber Monday is in the 90s. So here's Alex Wiltshire looking at the making of Hypnospace Outlaw's 90s Internet in The Mechanic.

Hypnospace Outlaw is a game about surfing a fictional 1999 internet, a web of GeoCities-like pages made by a community of weirdo artists, rock stars, scammers, edgy teens, pastors, hackers and spiritualists. It's funny, bizarre, poignant, and sometimes dumb, just like the early internet that it spoofs.

And if you like that, you'll enjoy Alice Bee's look at some great ASCII art in video game guides.

I used to sit up reading these in the 90s and 00s, a little goblin who wasn't yet good enough to complete these games without help. You reached out to me, guides writers, and you never even knew it. And the true marker of the dedication of these artisans can be seen in one thing: the ASCII art of game titles they put in at the top of their work. A true craft that has died out but deserves to be seen and celebrated.

Rocketing into the future of cyberspace, Karen Gillan wrote about System Shock and Shodan, the girl who wanted to be god.

She's not just a machine that disobeys us. She's a machine that wants to be us – a creator. This resonates back to the original technofear work, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. Its point wasn't just that technology is dangerous – but man shouldn't create life, shouldn't play God. We should know our limits. Shodan extrapolates from that base point: in begetting the intelligence of Shodan, we played God. Then, by breeding her own creatures, our creation attempts to do exactly the same thing. In one of the more memorable quotes, found in Prefontaine's notepad in the belly of the Many on the way to being devoured by Shodan's out-of-control children who've gone from goo to a complicated (if murderous) species in forty years: "We shouldn't let Shodan play God. It's clear that she's too good at it". She really is, and that's the warning of Shock. She's not just a machine that's out of control, but a machine that's out of control in exactly the same way we were – hubristically playing God while dripping in overweening arrogance.

And Alex Wiltshire's chat with Zach Barth about hacking game Exapunks namechecks the quintessential Cyber Monday film: Hackers.

Exapunks' starting point was Barth's high school dream. He'd seen Hackers and he wanted to be one. "I thought it was the coolest thing ever." As someone who was into computers, hacking seemed to present a cool way to do stuff on them.

Not to boost my own webring, but my adventures in reading readme files are key to my own enjoyment of cyberspace.

In 1996, it would not have been easy to find a Doomy death metal pal online. You couldn't Google "death metal" and easily find websites, forums, and chat rooms devoted to it. They existed, but the Internet was a lot smaller and search engines barely even worked. Why not throw out a message in a bottle? Or tie one to a puke rocket.

And absolutely I have enjoyed revisiting old Winamp skins in the Winamp Skin Museum.

Winamp skins always remind me of an era of weird and colourful website designs and Half-Life skins following the same few Photoshop tutorials, all trying to fake lighting and material properties in low-tech ways. Skins like FrameAmp which pretend to be futuristic devices, with LCD screens, brushed metal, and drop shadows - when the future would soon turn out to be just a slab of dark glass. Grungy, rusty metal with loose wiring like in The Rusty One. An era of fake wood and curves like retro-futuristic hi-fis. Airbrushed techno-organic horror like Doomed. So many skins emulating Apple's Aqua style with gel buttons and brushed steel, like Tiger Brushed. And so many people slapped a picture over the skin and were perfectly happy with that, because it was a picture they liked.

A screenshot of several Winamp skins: the Pope, a kitten in a field, and an alien smoking weed.

Do visit the Malware Museum too.

If you need something to play with your collective tonight, I did have some cyberpunky game recommendations after Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed again. I still stand by these, especially Dog Of Dracula 2-a game which deserves to be a Cyber Monday classic, played every year after dinner with the collective.

We were a hero, once, but by the year 2000 everyone in Neuvo Tokyo is forced by the megacorps to live jacked into the cyberbahn and we're just a washed-up animal groomer with a soy sauce habit. Dog Of Dracula revels in trashy cyberpunk cliché, like a mother bird chewing up clumsy 90s stories and references then regurgitating them into our mouths as beautiful jokes. It's such a joyous and funny lampooning which shows a clear love for everything it's sending up. And it's so funny.

Don't forget that for Cyber Monday 2018, those corporate worms coughed up some creds to commission some cyber-articles for the celebrations. Topics covered include the best hacking games, the worst hacking minigames, and horny cybervisual novel Hardcoded.

And what to watch with the family during dinner? It's maybe a little vintage for some, but put this bad boy on loop.

About the Author
Alice O'Connor avatar

Alice O'Connor

Associate Editor

Alice is likely in the sea.

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