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Cyberpunk 2077 dictionary and timeline - the Cyberpunk universe explained

Cyberpunk 2077 dictionary and timeline - the Cyberpunk universe explained
(Image credit: R. Talsorian Games)

The Dark Future of Cyberpunk 2077 isn't a nice place to be. In fact, it's a minefield the uninitiated aren't likely to survive. Cyberpsychosis can turn your mild-mannered neighbour into a killing machine. Your thoughts could be stolen via hacking. Megacorporations own almost everything, including you. Basically? It's bad news. The key to avoiding a dirt nap is knowing your enemy. That's where the Cyberpunk Red: Jumpstart Kit comes in. It's a tabletop prequel to the video game that gives us our best look yet at the dangerous world of Cyberpunk. 

To get you up to speed, we've gathered all the key info and Cyberpunk 2077 lore you need to know in this primer. That includes a dictionary of common terms you're sure to encounter in the game itself, not to mention a timeline to give you a sense of what's happening in the Cyberpunk universe. There's plenty to draw from; the series has been going since the 1980s, has a new edition on shelves (Cyberpunk Red), and is arguably one of the best tabletop RPGs around.

Strap in - we've got a lot to cover.

Cyberpunk 2077 dictionary

Cyberpunk 2077 dictionary

(Image credit: CD Projekt)
  • Aerodyne/'Ay-Vee':  A flying car - the kind you'd see in Blade Runner, basically.
  • Arasaka: A Japanese megacorporation that specialises in manufacturing, security, and a whole load of shady nonsense on the side. Their role in the devastating Fourth Corporate War saw them ostracised from America a few decades before 2077, but now they're reasserting control in Night City.
  • Booster: A violent gang-member who's stuffed full of cyberware and augmentations.
  • Booster gang: A group of Boosters who band together to survive the dangers of modern city living. You'll want to avoid them at all costs - they're territorial and often ruthless.
  • Braindance: The ability to replay memories or events - augmented reality on steroids, in other words.
  • Chip: A data recording device - normally slivers of colored plastic. Which leads us to...
  • Chippin' In: Buying your first cyberware. Congrats! You're now connected to the machine-world. Also, "Chippin' In" is a popular in-universe song by Samurai, Johnny Silverhand's band.
  • CHOOH2: An advanced kind of alcohol used to run most vehicles before 2077. I'd assume it isn't drinkable as a result (you'd probably have more than a hangover to worry about if you tried).
  • Chromer: Fans of chromatic rock, a kind of heavy metal "characterized by heavy electronics, simple rhythms, and violent lyrics". Samurai, Johnny Silverhand's band, is a chromatic rock group.
  • The Collapse: After a devastating stock market crash in 1994, America fell to pieces. One in four people became homeless, illness ran rampant, and everything was generally miserable. This leads to the dystopian state of affairs seen in Cyberpunk 2077.
  • Combat Zone: Near-lawless portions of a city where gangs run rampant and danger is a fact of life. Finding yourself stuck here would be bad, bad news.
  • Corporate War: After the rise of Megacorps in the 1990s, they quickly cottoned on to the fact that no-one could challenge them - so they stopped playing nice. The likes of Arasaka and Militech started dealing with business disputes via blackmail, extortion, military strikes, and outright warfare if necessary. There have been four Corporate Wars thus far, and the last was by far the most devastating.
  • Cyberware: Augmentations that physically or mentally improve your performance.Think bionic eyes or limbs.
  • Cyberpsychosis: A dissociative disorder. It affects those who've cybernetically augmented themselves enough to lose their sense of self, resulting in a disregard for 'normal' humans (not to mention a dangerous superiority complex). It's treatable, but getting them into a doctor's chair is the tricky bit - how do you control a walking weapon with no self-preservation and a murderous streak?
  • Cybersquads: Government-sanctioned law enforcement that hunts down those suffering from cyberpsychosis. They're notorious for being unpleasant, heavy-handed, and very heavily armed. If they can't take you alive, they won't hesitate to kill you.

Cyberpunk 2077 dictionary

The Cyberpunk universe isn't exactly a nice place to be (Image credit: CD Projekt Red)
  • The Face: Slang for the 'Interface'. This is a virtual reality system that allows the human mind to interact with and understand raw data.
  • Fixers: Slightly dodgy underworld types who are information brokers, smugglers, and fences in Cyberpunk's dark future.
  • Fourth Corporate War: An earth-shattering conflict that almost brought humanity to the brink. Fought between Arasaka and Militech, both sides battled in the streets with impunity and crippled nations in the process. It ended when a Militech strike team (including Johnny Silverhand, the character played by Keanu Reeves) stormed Arasaka's HQ in Night City. A 'pocket nuke' went off shortly afterward, leveling the building and annihilating most of the city center. Both sides blamed the other, and Arasaka was ejected from America as a result. In 2077, Arasaka has somehow returned.
  • Lawmen: Cyberpunk's take on Mad Max - these are officers of the law and badass road warriors who patrol cities or highways, doing their best to keep the peace.
  • Medias: Well-known stars, journalists, influencers, and news anchors who are fighting for the truth no matter the cost.
  • Militech: As you may have guessed from the name, Militech is a powerful megacorp that works in weapons manufacturing and security. In fact, they're the largest weapons manufacturer in the world. Their conflict with Arasaka led to the Fourth Corporate War, after which they were nationalised by what remained of the US government. They're still a force to be reckoned with by the time of Cyberpunk 2077, so you can expect to see their agents across Night City.
  • The Net: A far more advanced version of our internet (it is the year 2077, after all). Although you can use it as we would via terminals with a 2D screen and keyboard, experts plug in to experience the Net in three dimensions.
  • Netrun: This is Cyberpunk's version of hacking - to interface with a cyberspace system and mess about with its programs. This allows you to respond much faster than traditional inputs. Before Cyberpunk Red upended things, the term 'Netrunning' also meant using the Net in 3D.
  • Netrunner: The Cyberpunk universe's take on hackers. These technological wizards are tooled up with augmentations that allow them to plug into computers and experience its programs in three dimensions.
  • Night City: Your home in Cyberpunk 2077 and almost every iteration of the Cyberpunk universe. This is a dystopian metropolis on the US west coast (California, more specifically), and its centre is built on top of the real-world town of Morro Bay. It was designed in the 1990s to be a haven from crime, but mobs and megacorps put paid to that idea. It has a few distinct sections; the peaceful inner core of skyscrapers and business, a ring of slums and destitution around the middle, and outer suburbs where the rich live with white picket fences and their heads in the sand.
  • Nomads: Dispossessed road warriors who have few prospects and no home beyond the tarmac. Having been stripped of their livelihoods, they tend to roam from place to place in large groups - it's all very Mad Max: Fury Road.
  • Posergang: A group with a specific style (e.g. greasers from the 1950s or 80s punks).

Cyberpunk 2077 dictionary

Welcome to the Net (Image credit: CD Projekt)
  • Rockerboys: These individuals use rock and roll to fight authority, be it through inspiring performances or manipulation of public opinion. It's kinda like Robin Hood, except with more sick beats.
  • Ripperdoc: A backstreet surgeon who installs illegal cyberware, probably off the books. Remember Dr. Nick from The Simpsons? You get the idea.
  • Ronin: Freelance mercenaries, assassins, and muscle for hire. They aren't trusted all that much by normal people.
  • Samurai: This one has two meanings. It either refers to Johnny Silverhand's popular chrome rock band or a corporate mercenary who's charged with protecting the business' interests (be it defending corporate property or attacking someone else's).
  • Solo: Guns for hire that'll provide some much needed muscle in a dangerous world. They're your traditional 'warrior' class.

Cyberpunk timeline

Because the franchise has been around in one form or another since the 1980s, a Cyberpunk 2077 timeline is almost essential to unpick the story so far. There's almost 40 years of lore to absorb, after all. To bring you up to speed as quickly and easily as possible, we've pulled together an abridged version of Cyberpunk's rich background right here.

But before we dive into the Cyberpunk 2077 timeline, it's worth pointing out that this isn't supposed to be a possible 'version' of our future. Instead, it takes place in an alternate reality - Cyberpunk history diverges from our own in a few nasty ways. The Cyberpunk Red TRPG gives us a good overview of how (and when) things went wrong, so we've listed the most important events below.

1990-1993

  • The US government is taken over in a secret coup by 'The Gang of Four', a collection of agencies like the NSA.
  • This leads to the First Central American Conflict where the US invades countries south of the border. They justify it as a war on drugs and communism, but really it's just imperialistic ambition. A lot of US soldiers come home dismembered and in very bad shape, resulting in a demand for cyberware.
  • The US creates and spreads 'designer' plagues worldwide. They specifically target coca and opium plants, leading to the collapse of governments in Chile and beyond.
  • War breaks out between the US and drug barons in the central Americas.
  • Colombian drug lords detonate a small nuke in New York as retaliation for the US' actions. Thousands are killed.

1994

Cyberpunk timeline

(Image credit: R. Talsorian Games)
  • The metropolis that will become Night City (the setting of Cyberpunk 2077) is founded. It's intended to be a paradise free of crime and corruption. Ironically, its founder is murdered by the mob at some point between now and 2005. They take over the area, turning it into a hotbed of everything it was built to oppose.
  • The US is caught fiddling with the stock market. This leads to the World Stock Market Crash of ‘94.

1996

  • The Collapse. The US falls apart due to losses from the World Stock Market Crash. One in four Americans become homeless, martial law is established, gangs pop up with alarming regularity, and the first roving Nomads (families who lost their homes and livelihoods) appear. This leaves the board clear for megacorporations to rise up.

1997-2000

  • The 'Mideast Meltdown'. A limited thermonuclear exchange devastates a huge chunk of the Middle East. Oil supplies fall by half.
  • In the US, droughts and earthquakes damage what's left of the nation. Worse still, the Wasting Plague ravages much of America and Europe.
  • The Crystal Palace space station is established - a whole ton of people have presumably decided to run away from Earth because everything there sucks. 

2001-2002

  • The NET, Cyberpunk's take on the internet, is established.
  • The 'Food Crash' of 2001 destroys Canandian and Russian crops. US farms are left mysteriously untouched. Biological warfare? Probably.

2003

(Image credit: R. Talsorian Games)
  • The Second Central American Conflict kicks off with the US invading Venezuela and beyond. It's a complete disaster - many US soldiers are abandoned, left to find their own way home.
  • The Gang of Four is exposed by intrepid reporters. Democracy returns to America, albeit under the watchful eye of megacorporations.

2004-2007

  • With little to stop the megacorporations from exerting their will as and when they see fit, the First and Second Corporate Wars kick off (mostly over resources or in an attempt to scupper competition). Onlookers are shocked by the level of violence on display.

2008-2010

  • An Orbital War breaks out between the US and Europe over weapons installations… until those living in space get fed up and drop an enormous rock on Colorado Springs in America. Having been well and truly cowed, a truce is reached.
  • Megacorporations destroy the mobs ruling Night City, giving them near-full control.
  • Network 54 now owns 62% of media output in the US. We're getting close to a full-on dystopia by this point.
  • Human cloning becomes viable, but the bodies have no soul. They're used as spare body parts for the rich.

2013

Cyberpunk timeline

(Image credit: R. Talsorian Games)
  • This is when the original pen-and-paper Cyberpunk TRPG takes place.
  • The digital Soulkiller virus is developed by Alt Cunningham. It allows you to make a copy of someone's mind when they connect to the NET. That'll be important later.
  • A Johnny Silverhand concert results in riots across Night City (you may recognise the name; Johnny's played by Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077). Rioters kill 18 people and wound 51. This was all a cover for Johnny's rescue attempt of his girlfriend, Alt Cunningham - a megacorp called Arasaka had kidnapped her after the invention of the Soulkiller virus. They create a more dangerous version that kills the victim once their mind's been copied, and this is then used on Alt (however, her digital self survives within the NET). These events form the mini-adventure 'Never Fade Away' in the original TRPG.
  • The first artificial intelligence is created.

2016

  • The Third Corporate War begins when cyberterrorists attack the network of megacorporations. Billions in revenue are lost.

2020

Cyberpunk timeline

(Image credit: R. Talsorian Games)
  • The second edition of the Cyberpunk TRPG - known as Cyberpunk 2020 - is set in this year.
  • A corporate hover vehicle crashes just outside Night City, unleashing a nanotech illness known as the Carbon Plague. If you hadn't guessed yet, these corporations are very bad news.
  • Night City is a 'Free State' by this point - it exists outside of the United States' authority.

2022

  • The devastating Fourth Corporate War occurs, fought by rival megacorporations Arasaka and Militech.
  • Those living in space become tired of Earth's constant bickering, so they drop a load of lunar rocks across the planet as a way of signalling their independence. Countless people die. This new nation becomes known as the Highriders.

2023

  • Breakdown of international trade due to the war and Highrider attacks. Many megacorps go bust.
  • The Night City Massacre. Johnny Silverhand and a Militech strike team bust into the Arasaka HQ in an attempt to destroy their database. A tactical nuke is set off by parties unknown, and this obliterates the strike team along with millions within Night City. Arasaka is banished from the US and Militech is brought to heel by the US government as a direct result.
  • This leads to the Time of the Red - so named because particulates from the Night City Massacre and Highrider attacks cause a blood-red sky for years to come. 

2025-2030

  • The NET collapses. However, some rogue AIs occasionally slip into what's left of the system to join a haven for artificial intelligence, known as Ghost World.
  • The US is in the grips of a full dictatorship by this stage, controlled by what's left of the government. They proclaim Night City as lost and leave it to rot.

2035-2045

Cyberpunk timeline

(Image credit: R Talsorian)
  • The newest Cyberpunk TRPG, Cyberpunk Red, takes place during this period.
  • Night City is rebuilt by a combination of corporations and determined citizens.
  • Johnny Silverhand's body is supposedly found and put into cold storage by an ardent fan.

2046-2076

  • Not much is known about this chunk of time, but it seems like the NET is reestablished and Night City returns to some semblance of normality. Intriguingly, Arasaka also makes a comeback within Night City despite being banished after the Fourth Corporate War.

2077

  • Unsurprisingly, this is when Cyberpunk 2077 is set. A digital version of Johnny Silverhand haunts the player character, and the Soulkiller virus is rearing its ugly head once again. Looks like it's time for us to get to work.

And there you have it - you're all up to date on the Cyberpunk timeline. For more details about the world of Cyberpunk, don't forget to check out our guide to the Cyberpunk 2077 map. In the meantime, take a look at who you'll be interacting with in our feature on the Cyberpunk 2077 cast and characters.

As a staff writer for our Hardware team, Benjamin looks after many of the buying guides, board game features, deals, and tech reviews you’ll see on GamesRadar+.