Low Tech, High Life
Like steampunk and dieselpunk before it, cablepunk is a derivative of cyberpunk. Unlike cyberpunk’s emphasis on “High Tech, Low Life,” however, cablepunk intentional adopts the inverse of “Low Tech, High Life” as its foundational guide.
Aesthetically, the technology and designs associated with cablepunk necessarily come from the seventies through nineties, coinciding with Atari’s release of Pong, and onward to the introduction of Nintendo’s NES and its SNES successor, through the founding of Wired magazine and the launch of America Online, and roughly ending at that moment when polygons became preferred over sprites and the world was introduced to Wi-Fi.
While visually cablepunk highlights cables and cords, the subgenre’s overarching theme is the connectivity of all things.
Of course, each artist exploring a cablepunk aesthetic in their works will bring their own interpretation to the subgenre. Only a sufficient body of work from a sufficient number of artists will be able to set the boundaries to what cablepunk is and is not.
A Lexical History
The first known Web appearance of the word “cablepunk” was from Rob Beschizza divining “a fashionable subculture” of the future in a 2007 article in Wired.
In October 2008, as part of his desire to develop a new subgenre of science fiction based around cables and cords, Stephen Oravec registered the domain cablepunk.com. The intent at the time was to develop a book series mixing Greek mythology and science fiction in a world similar to that found in the 1999 video game Final Fantasy VIII by Squaresoft (now Square Enix). The first book in this series was to be titled Ione Cablepunk, and this project morphed into Cinderella Cablepunk in 2012.
The 2009 photographs Cablepunk #1 and Cablepunk #2 by Stephen Oravec are the first two artistic works to take the label, while the first published cablepunk work of fiction is Stephen Oravec’s Cinderella Cablepunk (2014). The titles of these works were meant to give some prominence to the word as marking a deliberate artistic style. Cablepunk Press, in turn, takes its name from Cinderella Cablepunk, the original mission of the Press being the publication of fairytale fantasy fiction in cablepunk worlds.
Also in 2009, Stephen Oravec adopted the name Cablepunk as his PlayStation Network gamer alias for the PlayStation 3. This moniker would be used sporadically as a gamer alias until being re-adopted in 2016. In 2017, this video game-centric use of the word evolved into the Ready For Adventure and Wards Save Lives live streaming series which in turn were replaced with Cablepunk TV in 2019.
In 2015, Stephen Oravec tweeted, “I realize now cablepunk was my reaction to seventh generation video game consoles and their wireless controls.”
Use of the term and growth of the subgenre were no longer limited to Stephen Oravec’s works when, in 2016, Finnish game developer Housemarque revealed they were calling the visual style of their forthcoming Nex Machina “Cablepunk,” with game director Harry Krueger explaining, “Cablepunk is basically retro-Cyberpunk.” In previewing Nex Machina for Endgaget in December 2016, Aaron Souppouris described cablepunk as “a darker take on the cyberpunk climes of Akira and Ghost in the Shell.” Nex Machina would release on June 20, 2017 as the first cablepunk video game labeled so by its creators.
In October 2018, Stephen Oravec tweeted, “Cablepunk is if you took the Nintendo Entertainment System and gave it Internet connectivity.” As Nintendo Switch Online had a month prior done just that with its inclusion of classic NES games featuring online play, and as we are temporally approaching that moment when the classic cyberpunk film Blade Runner takes place, perhaps in 2019 we are at peak nostalgia for 1982 and culturally ready to explore what cablepunk can be.
To that end, a cablepunk subreddit has been created to share works and ideas at r/cablepunk, and we hope you’ll join the community!
Updated June 6, 2019.