Are you writing a cyberpunk novel and need help with world-building? We’ve included 10 cyberpunk world-building ideas for you below.
1. Build a melting pot of cultures
Demonstrate the way in which rapid progress has helped to break down traditional geographical borders within your cyberpunk world. Megacities will bring many different types of people together, giving you a lot of freedom and creativity to explore these dynamics.
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Blend various cultures and languages, creating a diverse melting pot where traditions from different regions collide and intertwine, shaping the unique urban culture of your world. For example, food could take on interesting aspects from various cuisines such as a fusion between two iconic dishes from two different countries or cultures, even in a way today we might see as a little bit gross!
2. Corporate overlords
Cyberpunk worlds often play with ideas of unequal balances of power, providing a kind of dystopian element within the narrative alongside the regular tropes. Instead of using a government as the overarching and suppressive power, why not think about a world where powerful megacorporations have more influence than governments?
Using this idea could then help you to shape the world your characters interact with day-to-day. For example, think about advertising. In a cyberpunk world adverts would likely be loud and situated almost everywhere, especially creating a contrast to some of the grimier surroundings. It could even be that these ads target specific people by name or use their details to shame or encourage them into purchases that they might not normally make.
3. Make a megacity
Megacities are common themes within the cyberpunk genre and this gives you the freedom to be able to play about with this concept. For example, you could create a sprawling megacity with towering skyscrapers, multi-tiered levels, and a stark divide between the wealthy elites living in the upper levels and the impoverished masses struggling to survive in the lower levels.
The contrast between opulent luxury and squalid poverty could then become a central theme in your story, and allow you to describe two different ways of life.
4. Go for classic neon noir
Embrace the classic cyberpunk visual style with a combination of neon lights, rain-soaked streets, and gritty alleyways. The juxtaposition of vibrant colors against a dark and gritty backdrop can set the tone for your world.
This contrast between vibrancy and shadow can also help you to foreshadow and signpost events to your reader, allowing you to use the backdrop of your story to give the reader subtle clues as to what might happen. For example, your reader would be sure to notice a brightly lit building amongst the gloom and grime of the city’s underbelly and wonder what links it might have to the affluent members of society.
5. The effects of energy
Cyberpunk worlds are often set in the future but appear to use traditional energy sources. This could lead you to create a world facing an energy crisis, where power sources have been exhausted and corporations control the remaining energy reserves, leading to power blackouts and scarcity-driven conflicts.
You could also show how the consequences of unchecked technological advancement on the environment. Pollution, climate change, and urban decay can be integral parts of your world, emphasizing the cost of progress.
6. AI entities
Cyberpunk worlds also give you the ability to explore the ethical and societal dilemmas surrounding artificial intelligence. AI beings and programs with human-level intelligence or beyond in a cyberpunk world can be both a source of hope and a potential threat to humanity, and this gives you lots of scope to play around with how AI will interact with your setting.
For example, you could imagine hidden communities where rogue AI have gained self-awareness and formed their own societies. They might then have conflicting agendas and could become allies or enemies to humans.
Technology is a given in a cyberpunk scenario, but how you choose to use it, and how the people in your world react to it are completely different and up to your own creativity. Some ideas could include merging technology with religion, or cults that have formed around advanced technology, with charismatic leaders promising salvation through merging with machines or ascending to a digital afterlife.
Or, you could look at the level of engagement people have with the technology, for example, a society grappling with an addiction to virtual reality and immersive simulations. People are losing touch with reality as they become obsessed with their digital alter egos. Or, in a twist on the genre, envision a world where a counterculture movement rejects advanced technology in favor of analog and vintage technology, creating a unique blend of old and new.
8. How are the hackers?
Cyberpunk worlds often have some form of dissent or revolt, and a great way to explore this is through hackers. These could either be working for the good of the people, for example, as a group of cyber-”terrorists” who use their technological prowess to destabilize the powers that govern society, disrupt communications, and expose vulnerabilities in the digital infrastructure that oppresses the people.
Or, they could be using their skills to their own nefarious ends, such as a subculture of biohackers who use genetic manipulation and biotechnology to enhance themselves beyond cybernetic, or a world in which data and emotions are power, and can end up being stolen and leveraged by hackers without the consent of the person who owns them.
9. Government and surveillance
Governments can also take on dark and insidious forms in cyberpunk fiction, as well as in the ways they control their people. For example, you could create a totalitarian government that uses advanced surveillance technology, drones, and AI-controlled law enforcement to maintain control. Citizens are constantly monitored, and dissent is ruthlessly suppressed.
You can also think of ways in which people could rebel against the powers that be based upon how they are being controlled. A creative example could be to turn the invasive surveillance of citizens into a form of performance art. Citizens actively participate in creating surveillance footage as a form of rebellion against the loss of privacy.
10. Become the architect of your story
Because cyberpunk fiction often takes place in sprawling cities, this allows you to use the particular buildings in your world to help to tell your story. Winding alleyways between massive steel skyscrapers can help build a sense of suspense and excitement for your reader.
Not only that, but these worlds are often sites of massive ongoing construction, with space being at a premium as buildings are torn down mercilessly to make way for ones that might better suit the needs of the people, or an elite few.