The aficionados of course can not accept cyberpunk to be a “long-since dead relic of the 80s,” but “consider it to be alive and well.” Not surprisingly I completely second that. Although Bruce Sterling himself sees it to belong to the 80s’ “Movement” and calls for a new generation, and although the terms “cyberpunk”, “cyberspace” and the like have virtually no meaning within my tribe’s, the MP-community’s discourse [in said context “Gibson” again—or still—is associated with &uarrguitars and not with ↑a writer], I deem cyberpunk alive and well, too. Furthermore I think it to still be dramatically influential—and important for the understanding of contemporary popular- and cyberculture.

Having previously enjoyed only marginal popularity and been relegated to a cult status within the realm of computer geeks and social misfits, the success of The Matrix (Wachowski brothers, 1999) propelled cyberpunk into the spotlight and into the mainstream. Cyberpunk finally became a hot Hollywood subject, as film-makers rushed to release the sequels, and similar movies like Equilibrium (K. Wimmer, 2002), or Returner (T. Yamazaki, 2002), spawning a new generation of trenchcoat-and-sunglass-wearing martial arts fanatics. (↵Collins 2004)

Because of that I rewatched “Equilibrium” yesterday night. Another reason was, that the Max Payne 2 total conversion “Hall of Mirrors”
falsely reported to have gone gold in December 2005—on 22 February 2006 finally has been released. “Hall of Mirrors” is based on “Equilibrium” and “allows you to live out the journey of Cleric John Preston [Christian Bale]. Gunkata your way through sweepers and clerics to destroy the regime you once held so dear.”—I’ll come back to the subject of ‘Gun Kata’ below, and I’ll report on “Hall of Mirrors” when I’ve played it extensively enough ;-)

The movie “Equilibrium” draws on a wealth of cyberpunk and pre/proto-cyberpunk material, particularly from Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451”, George Orwell’s “1984”, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, and Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”. As usual with pop-culture artefacts like that, the entry for “Equilibrium” at Wikipedia is excellent, even dealing extensively with literary references, and the Equilibrium fansite has just everything—so there’s no use in repeating all that here. In terms of references I will only deal with the “Blade Runner” related, as they are not mentioned at Wikipedia.

Corinthian Eye

The beginning and the end of the movie literally frame it by more or less direct Blade-Runner references. Close to the end we see a close-up of Cleric John Preston’s eye reflecting the fireclouds of explosions all over the city [see above]. Compare to the Blade-Runner screencap accompanying tally’s eyes. Ignore the Zeiss-Ikon logo—that one I photoshopped in. That particular pane from Blade Runner has been dubbed “the Hades-eye”, as it reflects [pun not intended] the state of mankind’s urban habitats on Earth. The flames in Preston’s eye symbolize purgatory, as they are the visible end of explosions destroying the Prozium-factories. Prozium being the drug prescribed by the regime, suppressing emotions and enslaving humankind to the totalitarian rule.

At the beginning of “Blade Runner” text scrolls over the screen and is red to us by a voice from the off:

Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRRELL CORPORATION advanced Robot evolution into the NEXUS phase—a being virtually identical to a human—known as a Replicant.
    The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them.
    Replicants were used Off-world as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets.
    After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-world colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth—under penalty of death.
    Special police squads—BLADE RUNNER UNITS—had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant.
    This was not called execution.
    It was called retirement.

Likewise at the beginning of “Equilibrium” we are informed by a voice from the off—supported by written text and illustrative footage—about the state of the story’s universe, and we learn, what a ‘Grammaton Cleric’ is:

In the first years of the 21st century … a third World War broke out.Those of us who survived knew mankind could never survive … a fourth … that our own volatile natures could simply no longer be risked. So we have created a new arm of the law…

… the Grammaton Cleric, whose sole task it is to seek out and eradicate the true source of man’s inhumanity to man.
His ability … to feel.

In the end the Grammaton Clerics, just like like the Blade Runners, are privileged executioners backed up by the ruling system’s authorities. Both stories revolve around the basic philosophical question What is human?, and emotion is the central issue, the measurement. But in the world of “Equilibrium” it is exactly the other way round than it is in the “Blade Runner” universe. Those who have empathy are the ones to be sorted out and eradicated.

“Equilibrium” for sure is not Science Fiction, but it is cyberpunk, although it lacks some criteria. For instance neither the issue of technology’s impact on humanity, nor the issue of the fusion between human being and machine are dealt with. But “Equilibrium” is a dystopian story set within a near-future, when a totalitarian, fascist regime controls humankind, largely by means of propaganda mediated via ICTs. The omnipresent larger-than-life videoscreens on the city’s buildings and on the blimps’ sides again reference to “Blade Runner” visuals. Urban decay is found, too—outside of the city’s walls, in the “Nethers”. And then there is the emotion-suppressing drug Prozium, a piece of chemically invasive technology.

It definitely would be wrong to claim, that gamemodders are not interested in the elements of social and cultural critique as mediated by cyberpunk narratives. But their particular interest in movies like “Equilibrium” or “The Matrix” is located on a more abstract level occupied by aesthetics and dramaturgy. “Equilibrium”‘s main protagonist, Tetragrammaton Cleric First Class John Preston, his martial arts and the monk-warrior caste he stems from, are the issues which strike the modders’ heart and creativity.

Unlike the Blade Runners, the Grammaton Clerics are not abominable hangmen of the got-down-policeman type who are doomed to do the most dirty job—they have a religious component and the air of the clergyman, of a respected minister of religion, of a priest not only initiated into the mysteries of life and death, but privileged and able to deliver death themselves. The inquisitor. But not the kind of inquisitor, like Torquemada, who is dependent on subalterns, servants and mercenaries. In terms of combat every single one of them is superior to every mercenary, any number of mercenaries confronting them even. This is because the Grammaton Clerics are a mixed breed out of the menacing European ecclesiastic from the Middle Ages and the Asian pop-culture cliché of the Shaolin monk. Asian martial arts efficiency, aesthetics, and philosophy in turn are fused with the realities of contemporary, or near-future reality of close quarter battle: firearms. The Grammaton Clerics do not defeat flocks of heavily armed enemies by hand or melee-weapon Bruce-Lee style. They are armed themselves with impressive automatic pistols. The Grammaton gun in fact is a heavily modified Beretta 92. Just as a web-trivia sidenote: I deem it to be quite original, that NRA-buff and general madman MadOgre in his article “Guns of Equilibrium” rates the Grammaton gun second only to Deckard’s gun on his SciFi-guns favourite list. But the decisive thing is how those firearms are used by the Grammaton Clerics.

In terms of visual and/or interactive aesthetics every computergame and cyberpunk movie needs something special to stand out. “Terminator 2” has the T1000’s morphing ability, “The Matrix” and “Max Payne” have bullett time. “Equilibrium” has Gun Kata. Director Kurt Wimmer tells us how it came to his invention of this fictitious martial art:

Gun Kata

Hong Kong action movies brought out the idea that if a man has two hands, he can shoot two guns but that’s as far as they took it. I wondered: Have we really hit the envelope for gun-play or is there somewhere new it could go? To me, combining the gun with martial arts was a natural. No one has ever used a gun before in a Kata form but it becomes the perfect extension of the body and can be used in ways not usually seen.

Within the movie, during a training session of Grammaton Clerics, vice-council DuPont explains the hard sciences pseudo-rationale behind Gun Kata:

Through analysis of thousands of recorded gunfights, the Cleric has determined that the geometric distribution of antagonists in any gun battle is a statistically-predictable element. The Gun Kata treats the gun as a total weapon, each fluid position representing a maximum kill zone, inflicting maximum damage on the maximum number of opponents, while keeping the defender clear of the statistically-traditional trajectories of return fire. By the rote mastery of this art, your firing efficiency will rise by no less than 120%. The difference of a 63% increased lethal proficiency makes the master of the Gun Kata an adversary not to be taken lightly.

Following the idea, the probabilities of close quarter battle are inscribed into the Gun Kata’s choreography. Hence it allows to effectively hit enemies without aiming, while avoiding being hit without dodging. Wikipedia brings it nicely to the point: “In short, Gun Kata is the art of shooting where the enemy should be, while not being where the enemy should shoot.” That already is a feast for game-developers and modders alike, as it allows new dimensions of action gameplay within the shooter-genre. But there is more to it, of which the ability to heighten immersion of action gameplay is one fraction: The mediation of imagined and/or experienced moods and ambiences. The most celebrated and famous mods in MP-modding are the Kung-Fu modifications by KenY. According to Kenneth Yeung himself, who within the community quickly acquired the status of a demi-god, his goal was to bring the choreography and aesthetics of Hong-Kong Kung-Fu flics into the playable universe of Max Payne. This “kind” of Kung Fu of course is away from the reality of street and pub-brawls, it is a manifestation of fictional martial arts. Based on real martial arts, but syncreticized, creolized, fused, hybridicized—however you’d prefer—with other martial arts, dancing, acrobatics. Like Gun Kata, and like lightsaber combat of Star-Wars fame. Nick Gillard, fight choreographer for Episode I, said that he had adopted not only kendo & western fencing, but tree chopping and tennis into his “Jedi Style” as well.

Qui-Gon's expert forehand

The screencap from “Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace” shows Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) executing an almost perfect forehand tennis shot against an incoming blaster bolt.

Gamemods very often are inspired by movies. And gamemodding has a lot to do with recreation. Within MP-modding take e.g. kemical’s meanwhile classic rendition of the lobby shootout from “The Matrix”,
TheHunted’s beautiful Château from “The Matrix Reloaded”, or “Hall of Mirror”‘s recreation of the “Equilibrium” architecture. But gamemodding goes beyond recreation. It’s transposition, making things experiencable on another level. That’s exactly what “Hall of Mirrors” strives for: Making the flow-experience of “Equilibrium”‘s Gun Kata available to players via the interactive medium computergame.

More Gun Kata