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Become a Cyberpunk Artist in 'Zen and the Art of Transhumanism'

Who knew that building cybernetic upgrades was a lot like making pottery?

by Janine Hawkins
Dec 19 2016, 2:19pm

I have no patience for science-fiction worlds where art has seemingly bowed out of existence to make way for the most sterile and stereotypical images of science. Cold metal and buttons, fluorescent lights and sleek displays, jumpsuits and wholly unadorned living spaces. 

It's totally absurd to think that unlocking more knowledge would make things like creative expression in its countless forms fade into obsolescence, especially when you take into consideration just how often science and art can blur together. It's so easy to think of the two concepts as polar opposites, but when you think of the impressive array of technical tools and materials we create and use for the sake of making better art—everything from laser cutters to Photoshop to 3D printers, resin casting and even game code—it's infuriatingly ignorant to think any of that will just stop when we advance to some arbitrary point of futuristic enlightenment.

Yes, I have some very strong feelings on this subject.

But even when sci-fi embraces things like fashion and, decor and in doing so nods to the idea that art is happening somewhere, it's still not usually central. With games in particular, the future is apparently a most excellent place to pick up a gun or mess with robots or run from some kind of bubbling, turgid horror.  You're seldom asked to take up the mantle of someone who creates, which is what really makes Zen and the Art of Transhumanism stand out.

The premise is simple but clever. Using a database of designs with specific functions, you take requests from clients wishing to improve some flaw in themselves and craft modules to solve their problems. Instead of fiddling with wires and circuits to do this (or solving a tired hacking mini-game) you instead sit down at a lathe (you'd be forgiven for seeing it as a pottery wheel, though) with a block of material, a set of specialized tools, several design templates, and of course some super chill tunes. While actively spinning the lathe (a constant tap-tap-tap on the spacebar if you're using keyboard controls) you then ease your tools of choice into the side of material and shape it into the module required, then when it's done install it into your (hopefully) happy customer.

Because of the nature of your work, you shape these people just as directly as your tools shape the blank modules spinning on the lathe. The game gives you a little room to interpret what might actually be considered an improvement for them or a solution to the trouble in their lives, and chances to hear about effects both good and bad. There's definitely a little room to expand in this department, but it still does a good job of making your choices feel like they carry some consequence considering how short the game itself actually is.

Zen and the Art of Transhumanism for Windows is free on itch.io.

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