Neuromancer: 25 years later

Videogames and the wildly popular arcade scene played an important role in the formation of the cyberpunk ethos as well, helping Gibson formulate what would become his most powerful trope of all: cyberspace. The word “cyberspace” was first used by Gibson in his short story Burning Chrome in 1982, but came to full prominence in Neuromancer:

"The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games," said the voice-over, "in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks… Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data.  Like city lights, receding..."

To Gibson’s visionary imagination, videogames were the gateway to cyberspace and the ultimate integration of mind and media. In an interview with Larry McCaffrey of the Mississippi Review, this is how he described the origin of cyberspace:

“[I got the idea from] watching kids in video arcades. I was walking down Granville Street, Vancouver's version of The Strip. Video games weren't something I'd done much, and I'd have been embarrassed to actually go into these arcades because everyone was so much younger than I was, but when I looked into one, I could see in the physical intensity of their postures how rapt these kids were. It was like one of those closed systems out of a Pynchon novel: you had this feedback loop, with photons coming off the screen into the kids' eyes, the neurons moving through their bodies, electrons moving through the computer. And these kids clearly believed in the space these games projected. Everyone who works with computers seems to develop an intuitive faith that there's some kind of actual space behind the screen--when the words or images wrap around the screen you naturally wonder, "Where did they go?" Well, they go around the back to some place you can't see.”

Gibson swapped videogames’ rudimentary joysticks and buttons for a hardwired link connecting mind to data, and replaced their simplistic 2D graphics with 3D virtual reality and sim-stim, or sensory data projected directly from one person to another.  At heart, his “console cowboys” were gamers, though the stakes were much higher. A wrong step in the matrix could kill you. Ironically enough, Gibson didn’t even own a computer when he wrote Neuromancer - he typed the whole thing on a regular old clunky manual typewriter. He further credits his lack of computer ownership with unburdening his imagination from the realm of what was strictly possible, and admits to being underwhelmed with real computers when he did finally get a hold of one. Gibson describes his disappointment in the following interview, from the 1990 documentary Cyberpunk.

As videogames and personal computing saturated popular culture, cyberpunk’s notions of neural implants and jacking into the matrix proved irresistible. Neuromancer turned cyberpunk from a fringe concept to a full-fledged cultural force. Even if the mainstream didn’t know exactly what cyberpunk was, it was always there, seething under the surface with sinister prognostications about the direction we were headed. As the 80s wore on, Gibson followed Neuromancer with Count Zero (1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988). which became known collectively as the Sprawl trilogy (named after the Boston-Atlanta megalopolis that figures in all three books).

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  • 0over0 - August 19, 2009 3:54 p.m.

    Thanks for having this article--excellent!
  • TheWebSwinger - August 18, 2009 7 p.m.

    The Neuromancer film will star Hayden Christensen? Now that promises to be quality.
  • GamesRadarJoeMcNeilly - August 18, 2009 3:28 p.m.

    More cyberpunk-is-now video of BigDog:
  • GamesRadarJoeMcNeilly - August 18, 2009 2:54 p.m.

    Thanks for all the great comments, I really enjoyed researching and writing this article. If you couldn't tell, I'm a huge fan of cyberpunk. I still cherish my Cyberpunk RPG, still in the original box with the original dice that I bought back in 1988. I wish I'd had more time to explore the sociological and philosophical aspects of our current technological scenario... know any book publishers who are interested in a Complete History of Cyberpunk?
  • HardlyBirdman - August 17, 2009 3:54 p.m.

    Another ballot cast for 'Best Researched GR Article' The topic is a little existential in comparison to the usual "this is what's going on in games now" vibe of GR, but I'm more than okay with that. I would be supremely happy to see more articles like this about bigger issues related to games. Great read; thank you!
  • rxb - August 17, 2009 11:40 a.m.

    Good article, felt like Ive be educated a bit. Will defo read the book at some time. I cant wait till next time I jack into cyberspace to play gears of wars too.
  • rebelx18 - August 17, 2009 1:01 a.m.

    i almost never comment but dam that was beautiful really bravo an utterly brilliant article i enjoyed the metropolis and Blade runner refrences XD
  • cosmolu - August 16, 2009 1:17 a.m.

    Absolutely brilliant article, guys! This is why this is always my first stop on the interwebs. Please keep the awesomeness coming!
  • noswar26 - August 15, 2009 7:04 p.m.

    Holy shit that article was deep. reCAPTCHA: kate fragments
  • Elessar - August 15, 2009 4:31 p.m.

    Best artice ever produced here, please, please PLEASE produce more similarly 'high-brow' articles in the future.
  • mbalexa - August 15, 2009 4:26 p.m.

    creeplytuna, as others have said, this is a GREAT book, it is one of my all time favorites. William Gibson is credited with coining the term "cyberspace" and for anyone that has not read Neuromancer, it is a must. The rest of his collection should not be overlooked either. GREAT ARTICLE!
  • awackslash - August 15, 2009 3:28 p.m.

    I agree with derigible...but seriously, @loonyman978 (and others with same view) how can you not understand this article? It's merely pointing out that while not as drastic as any of the cyberpunk universes, we're on the right track for creating such a downer society.
  • Doctalen - August 15, 2009 7:50 a.m.

    Such an eye opener. For the time till I fall asleep I am going to be paranoid but then forgot and become one with cyberspace again.
  • RickyV300 - August 15, 2009 4:46 a.m.

  • mman36 - August 15, 2009 4:18 a.m.

    This is easily the best article on the entire site! I immediately had to go look for change to buy Neuromancer, and I was flipping out at the video about the implants. MOAR! reCAPTCHA- Odetto dong
  • Derigible - August 15, 2009 3:49 a.m.

    Great article, why are you all so surprised that something like this is on GR. The guys are very capable of writing stuff without boobs. But I, am not. Boobs
  • CreeplyTuna - August 15, 2009 2:33 a.m.

    anyone know if this book is really good? cuz i can only read books that don't suck ass. always end up like 20 pages in and get bored.
  • uz_mike222 - August 15, 2009 1:40 a.m.

    @doomdoomdoom Dude, go read a book series that has 900pgs per book, and i dont mean Harry Potter or Lord of The Rings. but it was a good article, once im done with the book series im reading, ill probably go take a look at it.
  • sniper430 - August 14, 2009 11:26 p.m.

    ahhhh double post i shall forever be commissioned to shame! I apologize :P
  • sniper430 - August 14, 2009 11:25 p.m.

    GR, this is why i haven't abandoned you for N4G A~freaking~mazing article, keep it up please!