Cyberpunk is the subgenre of science fiction which asks, essentially, “what if we had the technology to solve all our problems, but we also still had capitalism?”
It posits glorious highs and crippling lows, but – crucially – there’s little that seems to require the lows. Once you start suggesting reasons for people struggling in poverty, you move out of cyberpunk and in to full blown dystopian fiction. Resource constraints, overpopulation, alien invasions: these are concepts foreign to cyberpunk.
Why are people having to scrabble to survive, in a world where two separate companies have invented ways to perfectly substitute human labour at essentially zero cost? Because capitalism. There’s no reason why anyone in the world of Netrunner should have to work to survive, when bioroid labour is perfectly capable of doing it for them. But if people stop working, Haas Bioroid stops making profit from them. And if Haas Bioroid stops making profit, it doesn’t need to make bioroids. And so the poor must exist so the rich can.
Of course, the ethical dilemmas in the creation of bioroids, and Jinteki’s clones, are also fairly cyberpunk – because, again, they involve the wanton disregard for the rights of a sentient being to satisfy the profit motive.
It’s to the credit of cyberpunk as a genre, and Netrunner as a specific case of it, that it so rarely gets depressing. Because the other major plank in the ethos is people fighting back.
But for me, Hedge Fund is the most depressing card of them all. Because what it says is that nothing will change. Even given the fact that Netrunner is, essentially, End Stage Capitalism: The Card Game, Hedge Fund is a reminder is that it’s set in a world in which the most iconic way to make a quick buck, after all these years, in a world with mining on the moon and clones in the household, is still, as ever, running a fucking Hedge Fund.