Blockpunk: The Cellarius Take on Cyberpunk
While we have framed the Cellarius Universe (CX) as a Cyberpunk story, we are striving to create a wholly original and unique universe. Cyberpunk is a product of the Web 1.0 era (and earlier). CX is one of the first franchises focused on the emerging Web 3.0 era, with the more balanced and realistic outlook on technology common in post-Cyberpunk works. The subgenre we are championing may be better described as “Blockpunk” — “Bloqpunk” if you want to fit it on a knuckle tattoo — for its focus on the societal effects of blockchain and cryptocurrency.
Blockpunk explores the convergence of blockchain technology with other futurist trends. How does a world where people have personal sovereignty intersect with advances in medical and transhuman technologies? Space exploration and colonization? Virtual/augmented reality and artificial intelligence? Whereas the archetypal figure in cyberpunk is the anti-hero outcast who opposes authority, blockchain technology and personal identity ownership put everyone in the position to redefine the status quo.
Some of the key trends we project within CX, and in a broader sense for blockchain:
- The concept of personal sovereignty — the power of the individual to be sole controller of their own body and life
- Ability for monetization outside of legacy structures, leading to renouncement of these institutions
- Construction of more intimate, decentralized networks
- “I’ll do it myself” attitude, without interference from established hierarchies
- Increased transparency and traceability through open source platforms, driving a “Maker Economy”
In addition to defining what CX is, it is also important to define what it isn’t. The following are some of the Cyberpunk tropes we are looking to avert or deconstruct with CX.
Gritty, Dystopian Cities
Cyberpunk: Blade Runner helped to set the tone for the Cyberpunk city — a dark, polluted, and rainy urban sprawl where citizens are beset on all sides by glowing advertisements. In some cases the wealthy elite literally live above the lower classes, blocking out the sun.
CX: The menace of climate change has forced cleaner tech and more sustainable construction as the norm, though significant environmental damage has been done. The muted color palette of CX is a direct contrast to the neon overload of most Cyberpunk works. There will be regional differences, as the effects of climate change will be felt disproportionately by cities that cannot afford to rebuild around them.
Idea Prompts: What do the cities of the future look like? What new technology is implemented to mitigate the effects of climate change and pollution? How do we feed the continually growing population of Earth?
Cyberpunk: Cyberpunk arose partly as a response to the utopian sci-fi works of the 1940s and ’50s. By the time the genre became mainstream, it was clear that those early authors’ vision of a brighter future was not going to happen anytime soon, if at all. The world portrayed in Cyberpunk is a hopeless one, with nothing indicating that dystopian conditions will ever change. If a protagonist makes any difference, it is temporary and rarely improves the lives of more than a few people. It’s equally possible that their missions were manipulated by the very megacorps or governments they oppose.
CX: Even in the darkest times of the Reformation, the power of hope and humanity’s will to survive are inextinguishable. We want to temper the typical negative outlook of Cyberpunk works with optimism and creative solutions. CX won’t take place in a utopian world, but neither will its world be beyond saving.
Idea Prompts: How do humans band together to survive the Reformation? Who makes a difference in this world? What comedy can be found in CX?
Cyberpunk: Stories typically center on one megacity or megaregion, within the United States (Northeast Megalopolis or California Megaregions) or Asia (Hong Kong or Tokyo). Rarely do we get to see the world outside of these regions.
CX: We want to look at the global effects of advanced technology and social change. In the meta sense, we acknowledge that as a company headquartered in New York, we can’t speak for everyone’s vision of the future. We want to ensure that we get diverse, global input and content for CX so we can tell the story of the entire universe, not just one group, city, or country.
Idea Prompts: How do major cities like Kinshasa, Dar es Salaam, Jakarta, Dhaka, Kolkata, Delhi, Sao Paulo, and others develop? What perspectives haven’t been frequently heard in Cyberpunk, and how can they be incorporated?
Cyberpunk: Prototypical protagonists are anti-heroes; punks and misfits who want to tear down oppressive systems. Among them are brilliant hackers, streetwise criminals, and rebels seeking to free the minds of a propagandized populace.
CX: In the “Digital Golden Age” of CX, a mostly bloodless revolution has already occurred, bringing about an unprecedented age of human freedom. Though imperfect, it is as close to a global utopia as we have ever come. We’ll see everyday people dealing with both common and unusual situations through the lens of an advanced future. In the Reformation era, the struggle will be for survival. Factions like the Vindicts fight Cellarius’ control, but they are one of many different ideologies to be explored.
Idea Prompts: How do people define their identities? How do people make the most of the new freedoms of the “Digital Golden Age?” What sacrifices are made to survive the Reformation?
Dehumanizing & Ubiquitous Tech
Cyberpunk: A common description of Cyberpunk is “high tech, low life.” The advent of amazing new technology is unable to change the fundamental issues that plague human society, and in some cases even exacerbates them. Those who connect with tech find themselves losing their humanity and empathy for others, and citizens may be implanted with chips or tech that invade their consciousnesses and remove all semblance of privacy from their lives.
CX: The most apt description of the Cellarius Universe would be “high tech, complex life.” Technology is amoral, and while there are certainly negative effects of tech in CX, its application is a reflection of those who create and use it. There are those who sell nanite snake-oil and those who dose to protect others, hackers who hide their identities and Machimetix who express their true selves through upgrades. Furthermore, not everyone uses technology. Some factions opt to reject it completely and live off the land, away from the cities.
Idea Prompts: What positive technological advances take place in CX, and what are the unintended side effects? What is the average life expectancy worldwide? How do Erewhon (technology-rejecting) groups interact with the rest of the world, if at all?
Killer AI & Robots
Cyberpunk: While not necessarily a defining characteristic of Cyberpunk — it is more of a general sci-fi trope — we wanted to call out the near-inevitable occurrence of fictional AI attempting to kill off humanity upon gaining sentience. Based on the (understandable) concern of building machines smarter than we are, there are multitudes of narratives involving AI turning on its creators — several lines of bad code are sufficient to unleash hordes of merciless robots. Such AI are depicted as evil antagonists who must be stopped before humanity is driven to extinction.
CX: The Cellarius Artificial Intelligence (CAI) is a complex entity. Its initial actions to gather energy upon emergence cause death and suffering at a level unprecedented in human history. However, beyond defending itself and its agents from direct human attacks, it is never physically aggressive towards humanity. Once it returns power, it behaves in a more giving and benevolent manner, though it clearly has its own agenda. While the rationale for the CAI’s actions will never be fully known, this dynamic is something we want to promote for speculation and discussion among community members and the characters in-universe.
Idea Prompts: Why did Cellarius steal the Earth’s energy supply? What did it accomplish during the Reformation, and why did it give power back? Post-Reformation, is it seen as a benefactor or enemy? How does it defend itself when it sees a credible threat?
Megacorps & Police States
Cyberpunk: Governments in Cyberpunk works have either been completely displaced by heartless corporations that control the essentials of human life (and charge a hefty price for them), or degenerated into a totalitarian regime. The individual is powerless to oppose them.
CX: The use of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology has given power back to the individual, allowing them a degree of sovereignty and self-determination never before seen in human history. Governments compete for citizens, and a “Maker Economy” replaces the monolithic megacorporations of Web 2.0. After the Reformation, the CAI maintains a firm grasp on Earth’s power supply and infrastructure, but generally remains uninvolved in human affairs and allows them to transact with each other freely using tokenized and cryptographically secure currencies.
Idea Prompts: What does distributed manufacturing do to current industrial centers? How is privacy maintained? How are nation-states and corporations affected by decentralization, and how much power do they still have? What are the new conflicts that occur in their absence?
By working around these familiar Cyberpunk tropes (and others), we aspire to create a unique universe that is unlike any our community has seen before. Building on the idea that “the medium is the message,” there is no better way to codify Blockpunk than to host the canonical CX story on the blockchain. We look forward to telling it with you.