Introducing Cyberskater: The Undefined Lovechild of the Y2K Era and What Cyberpunk Meant During It

Official artwork for Jet Set Radio for the SEGA Dreamcast

There’s a specific sub-genre of the existing broadness of cyberpunk that I see rarely communicated as an independent aesthetic of its own (while still paying homage to its cyberpunk roots). Born of the Y2K Era — that gave us such great cultural forms as overly glossy designs, Now That’s What I Call Music, and the Sega Dreamcast — this aesthetic seems to infuse the height of the skater culture of urban California during the ’70s and the alien ambiance that came with what our minds could conceptualize during the said era: What new technology and cultural forms could possibly await us on the dawn of this new millennium?

(A fair warning: this article does require that you know at least the basics of what defines cyberpunk to be able to fully appreciate it).

To give a few examples of what defined the appearance of the Y2K aesthetic, Leigh Alexander writes that “synthetic or metallic-looking materials, inflatable furniture, moon-boot footwear, and alien-inspired hairstyles were just a few signposts of the spirit of the age. Even popular music videos of the time had a cluster of common traits: shiny clothes, frosty hues, set-pieces that resembled airlocks or computer interfaces, and a briefly omnipresent ‘bubble pop’ sound effect — almost as if the music charts could foretell the end of the dotcom age.” [1] So with those ideas in mind, it’s basically what I referenced above: an NSYNC music video, but if you’re someone with grossly liberal taste like me, you’d find value in the production of said music videos. And if you’re someone with as much as an aesthetic bloodlust like me, you’d viciously search for the deeper meanings behind it.

“The angsty 1990s were behind us, the dotcom bubble was swelling and yet to come was the market bust and “war on terror”. Y2K — the supposed turn-of-the-century bug that would bring our infrastructure to a terrifying halt — had failed to materialize and for a brief moment there was nothing but glittering utopian futurism and faith in a new age of boundless possibility.” Leigh Alexander [1]

For many, this new aesthetic approach felt like a far-off glance into the future: our digital worlds were constructed within either the newfound optimism or pessimism regarding how it’d turn out decades from now (now being the year 2000), and it all depended on how we used the emerging Internet. Was it going to be the necessary tool for liberating ourselves from the chains of modernist capitalism, or was it going to be a new form for it to take on, giving it even more range of control over us? To come to that postmodern lens of it, I had to get through the Band-Aid of taking off my nostalgia goggles for a moment to see what cultural conditions led to this aesthetic coming into existence and having the characteristics it did, but it was all worth it to dirty my nails and get a name down for this beautiful set of artistic motifs formed from its subconscious mysticism.

Flyers and Logos by Simon Wright.

As stated earlier, the Y2K Era was broadly defined by the newfound optimism with what opportunities the future could afford us, and the mainstreaming of the Internet was the largest benefactor to this cultural and creative optimism. The other contributing factors for it were the ongoing “War on Terror” and anxiety over the dotcom bubble. With this foundation, I’ve managed to arrive at a more cynical view in which this era — while largely being defined by the nearly unexplainable emotional giddiness of it — fetishized the idea of technological progress rather than actually engage with it. The gist was that all of this progress we’d soon be making should be left in the hands of the smart, professional science people, and that we’d simply be the subjects of whatever new products come about from the dispelling of fear for future entrepreneurs.

It was this attitude that left us with the major developers of our conceptualized dreams to be the designers of the era: Ones equally drawn in by the abundant shininess of the common consensus. From here, it can be seen as obvious why the whole era could accurately be described as “glossy”, as gloss was something that gave the illusion of luster and newness, and that was an important tool in making up for the sheer lack of immediate application of new technologies at the time. You see, the glossiness served as a compensation for the waiting period we’d have to sit through until we arrived at what I call the Macro Era in 2008 (which will be given its own manifesto in the future). Ultimately, we were being given largely unimpressive leaps in technology from the decade prior, and we chose to masquerade this through the glossiness. That, or you could view it as aggrandization of technology that was largely impressive for the time: The glossiness served to sell just how brand-spanking-new our culture was. It was the beginning of the new millennium after all!

So, we’ve arrived at the conclusion about the Y2K Era stated earlier if viewed from a dialectic or lightly anti-capitalist perspective: That it seemed as a creative choice between exploring how this newfound optimism for our technological progress would either be a necessary tool to liberate ourselves from modernism’s trappings or a lost cause that’d just repeat the optimism of the ’90s in a glossier tone. Some creators took on the latter approach (and they were largely right to do so), and that single choice to portray the foolishness of our optimism — simply because an infrastructure bug we thought would happen didn’t — created, what I’d consider to be, some of the greatest works of the era. Particularly, I was enthralled at what the age-old genre of cyberpunk evolved into when transferred into this dynamic of preparing for a societal condition where the optimism from Y2K wore off quickly and capitalist realism settled in, this time with fun, new ways to keep us as proletarians.

It totally captured my mind exactly what would come about from cyberpunk enthusiasts: What styles and motifs were going to define the cyberpunk of the 2000s? What new, avant-garde forms of it were going to be seen and what art style can I steal for all of my DeviantArt portfolio? In reality, I wasn’t thinking about any of these things because I was still a kid whose entire world centered around trying to fit in a schedule that’d allow me to unlock Sonic in Super Smash Bros. Melee. But, with what media I was passively exposed do during this vulnerable moment of my life was a video game that inspired me years later to set the groundwork for what I believe to be an independent sub-genre of Y2K on its own: Jet Set Radio.

Released on June 29, 2000 for the Sega Dreamcast, Jet Set Radio makes no mishaps in its presentation; it wants you to know exactly what it is as soon as you launch it, though we never had a strong grasp on what it is. We could always define how the game impacted us just by visuals alone, but we did it in isolated gestures of visual appeal or basing it off of something unlike it to draw comparisons. “It’s, um, kinda like Tony Hawk? But it’s, like, a Tony Hawk game if it was set in the future in a cybernetic version of Tokyo? But it’s not actually Tokyo, it’s something called Tokyo-to.” Heavens knows that I’ve always struggled to define it myself, but after its period has passed culturally, I usually lump it in with any media that went for the same cyberpunk format that it went for without explaining how it differs greatly.

Regardless of my attempts to convey my insatiable love for this game’s art-style and its chosen assets, they don’t change the core of what the game appears as to anyone who hasn’t been made familiar with the era it was born from. On the surface, it’s a game about punks who skate around the streets of a futuristic city on huge inline skates while spraying graffiti everywhere to the tunes of manic turntablism. The first thing an outsider might notice about the game is it’s used of cel-shaded visuals: A style of light rendering in which 3D objects are made to look flat and cartoony by using less shading color and resorting to a gradient or flat tints. Jet Set Radio was unique in this decision because it’s reportedly one of the first games to ever use the method to its benefit. Clearly, this experimental rendering (for the time) worked, otherwise I wouldn’t be gushing about how well it contributed to this specific image of a subset I’m trying to convey to you.

TGS screenshots of Jet Set Radio (Source: Polygon).

The game’s assets are just as important to contributing to its aesthetics as its method for rendering such aesthetics, so I’ll briefly describe them here. From interviews by the game designers, their primary focus was “on capturing the street culture they saw in Japan at the time: Hip-hop, punk, and electronic music and culture were the driving stylistic influences of the game. One of the designers even said they had the style down before ever trying to develop the gameplay.” [2] Clearly, the game’s cyberpunk spirit shows itself in the approach of the developers; they knew that laying down a firm style was gonna give the game its identity regardless of how well the mechanics could’ve been programmed. By focusing on the “lowlife” of Japan’s urbanity, they’ve committed themselves to the cyberpunk spirit, but with how they chose to paint the world of Tokyo-to, they had some insight that they were developing something soon to become reminiscent of the cultural period— something that the Y2K Era could call its lovechild.

One can surmise that the game can be classified as an example of performing “style over substance” beautifully [2], as the base mechanics of the game are rather simple: You skate around Tokyo-to and you do wicked movement while you spray over the city to claim it as your turf, all while avoiding the police in an attempt to stomp the Rokkaku (the bad guys). The story isn’t too epic either, but it’s suitable: It’s a tale of two rival radio stations, and one then attempts to conquer the world with a vinyl that summons demons — the usual. Let’s be honest, if it weren’t for the game’s exquisite unawareness of what new rendering style it was setting a precedent for, then it would’ve been a forgettable Sega IP. But, the importance placed on its presentation and visual essence during its development clearly calls for more publicized analysis and graspable terminology to define what many people adore (including me).

“That soundtrack, combined with the bright, graffiti-inflected visual style, gives the whole game the sensibility of a music video. As you skate around the stages at high speeds, marking the world as yours, it captures that sense that I had on the skating rink as a kid, the feeling that the cheesy music was playing for me. It makes you the axis around which the whole world is turning. If Jet Set Radio is a music video, you’re the star, an avatar of pop’s glorious presence in the world. And when the police start chasing you for being young and rowdy and tagging the place up, as police are wont to do, especially in cheesy music videos, you are always a little faster, a little cooler.” Julie Muncy [3]

I assume you, the reader, are already well-acquainted with Jet Set Radio because you saw the thumbnail with official artwork from the game and were drawn in. Therefore, I won’t spend too much time delving into the game’s plot and theming (and potentially spoil it), but it’s obvious that the game is a unique form of cyberpunk, and that it has the typical, anti-capitalist theming of a cyberpunk work. So, what I’ll focus on here instead is making summarized statements about the impact Jet Set Radio had on the Y2K Era, video game culture, and the eventually on defining the aesthetic movement it conglomerated with unknowingly.

Just to reiterate how much the developer team cared about capturing what they were going for, “Eric Haze, an artist who famously designed album art for the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, among others, was consulted by developers Smilebit in order to form the aesthetic.” [3] As much as we can dwell on just how important the aesthetic was to the developers, we have to talk about how important the decision was to use cel-shading as the primary rendering technique. List off how many games you know today that utilize cel-shading for their visuals. I can name multiple: Borderlands, Bastion, Hob, the Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Team Fortress 2, Call of Juarez, Crackdown, most Dragon Quest games, most Dragon Ball Z games, and some Fire Emblem games. That list contains some pretty big-name franchises and iterations, most of which became visually recognizable because of their boldness to use cel-shading that likely never would’ve been done if it weren’t for its use within Jet Set Radio. The best recent example I can cite for well-done cel-shading is Dragon Ball FighterZ, which utilizes it so well that the game looks damn-well near the show in most screenshots.

Another aesthetic trope that Jet Set Radio may have helped to pioneer was contributing to the greater design trend of large, 3D cities as sprawling game environments in a unique and redefined way. The popularization of these layouts came about because of the more powerful hardware of this period: Open-world cities were now a viable and popular option thanks to the performance of Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto. What Jet Set Radio did to make this design its own was by the incorporating it with the game’s movement mechanics of wacky and exhilarating monorail travel: It took the free and incredibly flexible movement of the Tony Hawk games and blasted it into the technological progress that’d come about from the Y2K Era.

And I couldn’t gush about Jet Set Radio and not mention the soundtrack. “There are meaningful touchstones of comparison, is what I’m saying, places where games and music can maybe and should overlap. And by incorporating the sound and styles of different strains of youth-oriented popular music, Jet Set Radio gets it right.” [3] Having a soundtrack that consists of original and licensed songs that entailed J-pop, ’90s hip-hop, funk, electronic dance, rock acid jazz, and trip-hop, one can tell they were creating a snappy yet timeless score that’d appeal to the lowlifes of the Y2K Era. And because I was a lowlife of the Y2K Era, it was a pivotal part in developing my musical tastes. It’s what finally broke me away from listening to Moving Too Fast by Artful Dodger on repeat every weekend morning.

Clearly, the soundtrack for Cyberskater would be a nothing less of the emerging prominence of hip-hop as the dominant form of popular music in America, while also keeping with the wild experimentation and blossoming of digital music reminiscent of this time. Once, this was the language of the Y2K Era, but in the form it’ll take on here, it’ll become the music of cyberpunk: This version of it. Speaking of music, I feel playing some of that Cyberskater music will ease my nerves a little bit after being a dork for multiple minutes. I want rap, but I don’t just want regular rap. I want something more: I want something that lead to the popularization of the Afrofuturist art movement and cemented the fact that not only was the Y2K Era a time for technological progress but social progress too (or as far as you can get with American liberalism).

“It’s the year, thirty… thirty. And here at the Corporate Institutional Bank of Time, we find ourselves reflecting; finding out that, in fact, we came back. We were always coming back.”

It seems as if we awoke from a train of gleeful optimism about worlds that look like graffiti and gave the impression that Sega was the icon of gaming during the Y2K Era when it comes to ingenuity and presenting just how much of a rebellious romp that cynicism towards our ephemeral, technological optimism can be. And conveniently for our musical pleasure, it’s all set to the backdrop of a dystopian future where a cyborg alter ego can rap about how much the continuance of capitalistic production models absolutely destroyed the earth and colonized their way into space where the human cancer further spreads. We’re truly living in the 31st century.

Released on October 17, 2000, Deltron 3030 is a rap opera album created by the group of the same name that’s comprised of the turntablist Kid Koala, rapper Del The Funky Homosapien, and composer Dan the Automator. The album fits the label of opera rather well and unconventionally, as the entire story of it details characterized depictions of the three group members trying to survive in the dystopian year of 3030 where all of our previous fears of the future were seemingly realized. Deltron is unique though in that it takes on an unusual but highly entertaining approach in which we perceive this future through the recounts of Del’s character, Deltron, and Deltron is what he describes himself as: A futuristic MC. His goals are laid out throughout the entire span of the album: The future is overrun by cybernetic, 31st-century posers who want to get into the now super-saturated rapping scene, but absolutely none of them have respect for it as an art. Referring to as “galactic assholes” in one track, the group’s romps through the expansive universe and New Earth are always patterns of coming into conflict with those who want to prevent Del and his installed buddies from sending this message to the past: There’s still spirits of originality making music and advocating for rap as an art even in a future annihilated by capitalism.

The cropped album art for Deltron 3030.

Clearly, Del was projecting the state of hip-hop during the production period of this album (the Y2K Era) into a fictionalized context where societal conditions are drastically changed but human behavior remained stagnate. From here, I drew (somewhat stretched) connections between Del’s critique of his contemporary culture — one where hip-hop was rapidly mainstreaming into the dominant form of popular music it is today — to the general critiques towards the societal attitudes displayed during the Y2K Era: So eager to disregard widespread hysteria to embrace a media-created future that would soon to repeatedly give us the same hysteria. Deltron 3030’s appeal largely relied on projecting the lifestyle of “lowlifes” in that era and projecting them into a vision of the future that contrasted starkly with what was mystically foretold in popular media of the Y2K Era. It was basically sending a message from the musical underground that the future, Deltron was warning about, bares a scary resemblance to the present we were living in during Y2K. It acted as a stylish anathema to the simplistic idea that new technology alone would change our behavior and bring about fundamental change. Rap only served as the vessel for demonstrating this criticism of capitalistic culture.

“I’d be at my Del shows, and people would be coming up to me like, “Deltron, Deltron!” In a frenzy or something. I don’t know how to explain it, but some people just be crazy. Thinking I’m prophesizing something literally. They’ll start asking me questions about the future like I’m some kind of guru … A lot of people listen to it like they looking for something, like I got the answers or something. I’ve tried to recognize that, too, and put that there. At the same time, I’m trying to keep it to where it’s entertainment. That’s the bottom line. If it’s not entertaining, nobody going to listen to it. I’m not trying to sit up here saying I got all the answers.” — Del The Funky Homosapien [5]

Purposefully, the album was released with the pretension that it was ahead of its time and that it was destined to become a cult classic. “ It took three, four years before it found its audience and then that audience just kept multiplying somehow.” — Kid Koala [5]. That’s a major factor I’ve neglected to mention about the Cyberskater aesthetic: It purposefully releases media with the intention that it gains only a cult following’s worth of fame. In keeping true with the underground origin of it, the media featuring this aesthetic is best presented as a trove of hidden gems despite how influential the media featuring it may have become. What this does is that it allows for a sense of underground belonging to be kept whenever one becomes attached to a piece of Cyberskater media: The feeling of underground community is crucial and I’d argue that it’s an essential component of all cyberpunk. But nowadays, after seeing how many people have popularized cyberpunk while completely missing the philosophy or diverse motivations behind its creation, I think it’s better that we explore a sub-genre of cyberpunk that’s truly remained underground and without a name.

One could look at the lyrics of songs like Virus, Positive Contact, & Upgrade (my favorite) and dismissively suggest that it’s hip-hop set to the lyrics of technobabble, which to do so would be dismissive of how much intuition this album was forged with. Deltron — the group — knew that they were making a formidable work of cyberpunk. Aside from contributing to the obviously stated Cyberskater aesthetic, Deltron 3030 was also considered to be a seminal work of the Afrofuturist movement: A cultural movement brought into prominence in the mid ’90s that stressed themes of placing black experiences or culture through the framework of science fiction and technoculture. It’s easy to see why the album (and the subsequent Deltron universe) qualifies as a huge part of progressing this movement through and beyond the Y2K Era. One of the most important premises of Deltron 3030 is emphasizing about how necessary it is to recognize hip-hop as a prestigious musical genre that’s worthy of being recognized as art in mainstream light just as much as the rock craze that came before it.

The existence of Deltron and his crew in the 31st century is what proves, within the framework of cynicism towards the unjustified optimism of the Y2K Era, that truly original rap artists are what remained as the galaxy’s last hope from a deathless mediocrity and creative liberation from a society further under central control. To reiterate once again, it proposed that technological progress alone would never be a replacement for our capitalistic problems at the core: No amount of glossiness on a clamshell iBook could solve the suffering of what living as a lowlife, as a punk, meant.

Artwork from the music video for “City Rising From the Ashes.”

Deltron 3030 had cemented itself as staple to define the form of hip-hop in the Y2K Era. It helped popularize a liberating cultural movement in the form of Afrofuturism, it defined the musical expression of Y2K’s cyberpunk, and it presents a vital critique to understanding what it was like to live in that moment. It could’ve just stood alone as a testament that hip-hop and its culture was much more than what outsiders perceived it as. However, 13 years later, a sequel was released bearing the title of Event 2. The odd part about the continuation is that it was released with seemingly no buildup to it: I myself could hardly remember its announcement, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to discover that it was a thing. And it was only today did I finally discover that the album was in production since 2006 when Del mentioned that four songs were already written in an IGN interview.

My first impressions of the album was that it wasn’t gonna live up to the legendary status of the original, and how could it? It was disconnected to the original time period that made the first such a great commentary piece. Another question I asked myself was why did they make a second iteration? Did the first one not get its point across well enough: Was there a huge void left by the first album that required a second epic to fully convey its point?

“‘When we did a first Deltron record a long time ago, it was a futuristic romp,’ he says. ‘It took a long time to do this record, and a lot of it was Del was not feeling it, like he didn’t have the right concept, and it had to do with the fact that the people who enjoyed the first record enjoyed the message part of the record.’ — Dan the Automator [4]

I was pleasantly surprised at how it kept up the original spirit of the album, even having absurd skits about hovering sandwiches and customers who only order beet salads and pork buns from nutritional science that can recreate the texture of strawberries from the 15th century. Later, there was a two-part skit titled Lawnchair Quarterback in which two people, who sound an awful lot like the Baby Boomers of our decade, ranted about the ungrateful youth of the 31st century who don’t see how easy they have it with time travel: It used to take an hour to teleport just thirty minutes back into the past! Despite how much fun it was to listen to, it still didn’t have the nostalgia the original had for me (obviously) and I was waiting for the defining feature that’d take the place of that nostalgia, justifying continuing the story of Deltron.

But then it hit me when the final track played, it was a somber yet slightly energetic ending that featured Jamie Cullum singing a prickly refrain that wanted to be generic but couldn’t with the full context of the album. The simple words of “do you remember” hit me hard, and it made me realize that this album exists to reinforce something: The idea that we’re never immune from the unjustified optimism of Y2K. As long as we continue to live under capitalist society, we’ll still be vulnerable to becoming too comfortable in cultural movements that can only offer and tack on instead of deconstruct and recompose. More importantly, it may have been a message about remembering the original message of the first album: That this sense of critique against unjustified optimism about the future and excitement for technological progress will always come back if you continue to fall into it. It’ll always come back. We’ll always come back … We were always coming back.

“Mail received! Mail received! Mail received! Mail received!” God, shut up; I get it already! You really can’t just skate around this sprawling desert of misshapen and colorfully abandoned structures without someone nagging at you to check to see how you accept quests. I could’ve sworn that this file was locked somewhere behind the deepest remnants of my mind, back in the same place where I stored the visual components of the video game tie-ins for the Simpsons Movie, but that might’ve been my brain conflating every perception of cel-shading.

Now that I’ve had my fun trying to get the gamepad to work, welcome to the vast, sprawling, and somehow isolated world of Zineth: A student-made game created by the independent development team Arcane Kids (whom you might know from other great titles like the Sonic Dreams Collection). To those unfamiliar with it, this game looked like it came out around the same time as the other two pieces of media described before, but this gem of freeware was made public relatively recently. Only seven years ago in 2012 did this title land up on the shores of websites like Game Jolt and the official website of Arcane Kids. Since then, it’s remained as an obscurity even long after it was featured on the first installation of the video series Three Free Games Fridays by Daniel Hardcastle on his channel NerdCubed.

Official artwork for the game.

The game’s strongest selling point is, besides from its aesthetic direction, the focus on determinable monorail movement. If you gain up enough speed from skating at ground level, you can hop onto any wall and grind along it, and you actually gain speed from doing this: So much speed that you can launch yourself if you detach from a long-enough wall. Aside from how ridiculously fun that sounds, you have the last primary game mechanic: The ability to manipulate time. Two buttons are mapped to the ability to either reverse or forward time, and I assume they were implemented to preserve the game’s core pleasure of building momentum and maintaining it to create a visual package of zooming around a desert of what a I think a cybernetic pueblo village would look like. Clearly, the game was unique in its presentation, but was it setting a precedent?

In the game’s world, you play as a lookalike to a reject of the Mother series (who I’ll refer to as Keith Jetstream for the remainder of this segment) who traverses the world with their magnetically attached mechanical suit (with fully customizable coloring) which can grind along almost any vertical surface and skate along almost any horizontal one. All of this sheer coolness is tied together by a simple and completely optional story: You are a magazine deliverer who inhabits a dystopian future consumed by the industry of mobile gaming. Your job (which you’re constantly pestered about) requires you to deliver “zines” to the common addicts and show them what reality is like. [7]

From further glancing, it’s clear to see that Zineth drew its inspiration strongly from Jet Set Radio and more broadly from the period of cyberpunk aesthetics during the Y2K Era. If any other game besides Jet Set Radio had an inspirational impact on the game, it’d probably be Rez: What I’d consider to be the epitome of Y2K-themed abstraction. There’s an identifiable and earnest attempt to grasp at the fond feelings the developers had for the aesthetic they were introduced to, and that manifested in the game’s presentation from beginning to end: The wildly abstracted form of billboard environments, the geometric tendencies leaning towards a Sleigh painting, the appealingly obnoxious focus on naive obsession with mobile gaming, and the hint of a hint of the same vintage that makes old Half-Life mods appealing. It feels as if that ’70s skater culture was projected so far into the future by this game that it ceased to be visually recognizable: No punk music blaring through the speakers and any cultural forms of urbanite lifestyle is abstracted. Instead, what we have is a soundtrack of glitch-hop, but we still have the original spirit of what that culture meant, which was preserving the rush of living as a lowlife while still embracing oneself for the technological mess of a future ahead of us.

“I really like that era of gaming [the period Jet Set Radio was released in], and I think a lot of the team felt the same way,” Knipfing said. “Sega was trying some crazy things and really going all out. To me, both of those games have very distinct feels to them, which I think is something we tried to create in Zineth.” [6]

“When it came to the actual presentation of the game, we took a lot from things we view as having an emphasis on surprise, while having a perceivable lack of concern for justifying decisions, and a bunch of random internet ‘zines.” The game’s skating component is essentially the group’s interpretation of free running and skiing: “I was more concerned with the feelings of freedom and momentum than emulating the more technical act of performing the maneuvers,” says Honor. “Also, kids at our school would run with their hands in their pockets at breakneck paces, so we would like to dedicate this game as a biographical look into their lust for speed.” [7]

Let’s say I was analyzing this as if I was a media critic in 2012: I’d say that this game was merely an artsy project that had an understandable and superficial message tacked onto it that was criticizing the emerging business model of mobile games. If I were to overthink it, I’d suggest that the game’s distribution model itself was an act of criticism towards an unsettling future of gaming where fans would be continually nickel-and-dime’d out of their money by big publishers high on their investors. That might’ve been totally true back then, but only relatively recently has this game been calling my name ever since I played it back when I discovered it on Game Jolt. There was something about everything regarding it that kept making me tick. Little did I know, these ticks were my brain ticking down to the timebomb that was my suppressed love for the Y2K Era. For the longest time, Zineth was screaming “analyze me; analyze me!” to me, and I never knew why that was for seven years.

But I get it now: This game was practically ripping my totally real skateboard out of my hands, telling me that skaters nowadays don’t do that and they instead listen to Crush 40 guiltily and argue on message boards about how to expand the space on their iPod (This is what kids do now, right?) Arcane Kids were threatening to keep me stuck permanently within the blinding nostalgia of the Y2K Era until I got my ass hauling to reopen the remnants of a time before we thought that overly glossy designs aged poorly. You don’t know me, dear reader, but I’ve attempted before to outline and define the aesthetic of various other works of my childhood before: I’ve attempted once to outline and define the aesthetic of SpongeBob SquarePants but critics kept disagreeing with me on equating conch houses to the show’s Polynesian influences. This is the first time where I feel as if Zineth was teaching me a lesson in the midst of its references painfully stuck in 2012. For God’s sake, it even had Twitter integration.

“ To fall prey to the game’s virtual cell phone, despite its clever appeal, makes the player feel as if they’re missing out on Zineth’s larger world.” [6] Perhaps I’m overthinking this, but what was originally an attempt to superficially criticize the broad attitudes of 2012 may be reflective of similar attitudes we had during Y2K. The idea of new technology was far more inviting to us than what we could actually develop from it. It seemed as if there was insatiable longing for newer and newer tech: Tech so new that it was impossible to make it such. Cultural lag became less of a measurable unit from an exterior perspective and something you actually had to dig your nails into to highlight. It may have seemed progressive and anti-establishment to be onboard with such things, but they were truly capitalistic in the embracing of infeasible growth as an end-goal with no end. Technological progress wasn’t a substitute for actual social change, and the Internet has embraced a current culture mostly defined by the fallout of the idea that the internet — once largely intergrated into our society — could liberate us without any of the difficult revolutionary work and all.

What could technological progress actually do, anyways? It feels as if the goals just get bigger and bigger while the world simultaneously feels its getting smaller and smaller. “Get to work!”; “Deliver the zines!”; “Catco Canyon: Run stop in the zone!”; “Deliver the zines!”; “Deliver the zines!”; “Get to the moon!”

“Ready, set, go!” Released in 2002 as the definitive marble-rolling game, Marble Blast Gold came in as Y2K’s multi-platform series of action-packed rolling. Out of all the media I’ve covered so far, this one has to hold the fondest place in my heart because it’s what I distracted myself the most with at work: It came preinstalled on some Apple computers, you see.

Screenshot from Marble Blast Gold.

Now, if we can view the marble as not just a marble, and view the lazy skybox as indicative of a failing reality, then we can… What? Wh- why is this here? Please ignore this and skip to the next segment of this article. Forget you ever saw this, please.

And that’s the last zine I had to deliver for today: The architecture isn’t settling in with me any further, so I suggest it’s our time to wrap up. All of what I presented you earlier was to settle you in and form a familiar frame of reference as to what Cyberskater is. I wanted to do that in order to give this concept some ground to stand on, as so far, I’ve never seen anyone else attempt to dissect and identify it in the way I have. Even rarer, I’ve never seen anyone tie the postmodern lens that I apply to the Y2K Era and how it influenced the motifs of all the aforementioned media. Enough with the chitchat, let’s get some fresh beats.

Jet Set Radio was the pioneer piece here; it defined the philosophical, cultural, and aesthetic basis of Cyberskater as a sub-genre of cyberpunk specifically designed and molded in the cultural climate of the Y2K Era. The game’s visual design and creative choices were done to create a sense that whatever experience the player was taking on was the one of the societal outcasts. Despite all of the technological progress made before one, the core theme of cyberpunk had to be upheld and you had to be, well, punk. But what defined punk in the Y2K Era was far different than how it was defined in the days of the earliest cyberpunk writers. Far starters, Jet Set Radio had the unknown responsibility of representing the culture of a digitized world subsumed by the idea that we our current social models were invincible: No integer overflow error could bring it down, and technology only looked like it was progressing us into liberation.

Ignoring the fact that this Fukuyaman idea of the end of history resulting in widespread liberal democracy was shattered by a certain plane flying into a certain tower, the attitude for the time was still one of unjustified optimism. And cyberpunk writers knew natively that any phenomenon of widespread optimism as a result of conquering something, that posed no threat to us, was an indicator that we were more willing masses to be subjugated to the ambiguous positivity of progress. In the Y2K Era, it was about technological progress: Something we could only see as an inherently good thing without recognizing how exactly new technologies were going to be used or, more importantly, who was going to use them. Jet Set Radio caught glimpse of this and embraced a form of positive retrogression as an act of rebellion towards authorized progress.

Yes, contradictingly combining the daily experiences of Tokyo’s lowlifes with a vast, ambiguous embrace of the future was the key to setting an example of how counterculture rarely changes its personality, but adapts with what technology is thrown to it as if it were a stray dog looking for scraps. As a result of this positioning, Jet Set Radio’s group of misfits function as a sorta buffer between the counterculture we’re familiar with today and the mainstream culture of the future. It’s a very odd concept, but one that I think integrally defines Cyberskater and what sets it apart from other forms of cyberpunk. And it makes sense, Jet Set Radio was born in the Y2K Era: the period that acted ultimately as a buffer itself between the frontier ages of the internet in the early ’90s and the post-internet society of the late 2010s. We were leaping, er, skating across generations here. [1]

While Jet Set Radio had a rather colorfully appealing view of a dismal future, the musical component of its idea was defined in a grander, starker sense by the album that preceded it, and (I think) better defined the stories of forlorn hope within the period: The stories that told us we weren’t entirely doomed to a future of media defined by a reality of capitalist fallout. Deltron 3030 was pivotal as a masterclass work of underground preaching that demonstrated how innovators lived dangerous lives that involved a persistent attitude to keep reinventing oneself in response to increased digitization of society through a strong center that proposed a simple idea: “No mistakes black, it’s our music we must take back,” and “A heart for this art: Not artificial.”

The theme never proposed that hip-hop must be returned back to a state of “glory days” in the late 20th century, but instead proposes that a true idea of progress would be to reclaim hip-hop from whatever capitalistic chains it was bound to in efforts to make itself seem legitimate to whiter music genres. It belonged in a museum because not because it was the popular musical form of the time the album was released, but rather it was just as valid (if not more) as a form of expressing ideas and warnings. Deltron 3030 functioned as a warning as much as it did a message of hope, but the warnings it did give off were surprisingly familiar. I mean, we didn’t have rap battles that ended in heads getting the juice squeezed outta them, but the problems we face in the 21st century bare a human resemblance to those described in the 31st century. It’s almost as if technological progress wasn’t a safety net to prevent us from falling back into the same capitalistic behaviors that reflected our attitudes towards music then, now, and later.

Deltron, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala are just as big lowlifes as were those living within urban Tokyo. Only this time, this underground completely embraced the technological reality of the future: Abandoning all traditional forms of societal rebellion that were demonstrated in an evolved manner in Jet Set Radio. Everything changed while still remaining the same, and it appeared flipped on its head: The society was one regressing back to the same attitude towards music distribution and appreciation that was held by the 21st generation, and the thousand-year span of continued mediocrity was never broken by rapid advancement in technology. An album like Del’s could no way in hell function successfully if it were, ugh, mainstream. And what I mean by it is that there’d be no chance Del’s themes would be caught onto if presented to popular culture at the album’s time. At worse, the explicitly anti-corporate themes of a track like Virus [4] could be misconstrued and repurposed towards the popularized growth of rap reflecting a capitalistic character.

Life in the 31st century is about what had to change in the lifestyles of traditional punks: Classic graffiti and advanced rollerblading could only last for so long until it’s positive signals of regressive activism were swept away by a cancerous growth of technological progress, and punks either had to abandon their ways fully, and that meant conforming to the idea that we’ll liberate ourselves just by steadily progressing under capitalism. Upgraded brain-matter did little to alter the core foundation of lowlife liberation: The funk was simply kept alive through more and more distorted idioms. Despite how destroyed any sense of original or enjoyable media is within the hypothetical 31st century, Deltron and his crew were examples that, in no matter what dystopian context, there’ll always be the presence of those who never benefited from the utopian ideals it was founded on. It’s always nice to be sent messages from both sides of the generational gap as to how fucked we are.

Oh no, the faux comfort of the Y2K Era has been shattered and replaced with the growing hopeless attitudes of a post-internet society! Man, we were really optimistic back then, huh? Who knew we’d end up embracing a new perspective of a “rotting corpse” allegory in which late-capitalism is simply seen as a rotting corpse suffering from a bad case of deathless death. As flawed as that view is, we’re only here to elaborate on it, and elaborate we shall. If there’s one thing I can admit being a fan of, it’s reviving aesthetic movements of the past in a new, adorably bastardized form. We have the well-defined vaporwave, but then we also have indie projects that can almost be swept under your rug until they start hissing intensely under it, driving you mad until you answer your boss’ calls.

In truth, Zineth could’ve just been a love-letter to any idiot who was a genuine fan of whatever artistic approach that Jet Set Radio or Deltron 3030 had, but there’s always hidden intents of fornication behind any love-letter, and Zineth is no exception. I can gloat about how many inspirations the Arcane Kids took to create the work of art that is Zineth, but listing isn’t the important element here, it’s about getting the message out as far as possible: A message that your phones don’t even have GPS, so that should be enough motivation to take our wake-up calls seriously. There simply can’t be no reasons beyond nostalgic appreciation for a work that creates such a unique, isolated sense of hauntology, and those reasons will never be given to you by the developers because I don’t know how to even contact the Arcane Kids: I can’t find their business email.

Zineth is certainly the most optimistic out of the three medias here, but it’s also the most innocuous and superficial in its theming, which gives me the idea that it’s serving more as a gentle nudge towards something than an attempt to set a precedent in the way that Jet Set Radio did. The cancerous reliance on the vague optimism of technological progress isn’t depicted as flamboyantly as it is in Jet Set Radio, nor is it depicted as cynically as it is in Deltron 3030. Rather, it’s just treated as a method to assign a preconceived motive to a world so vast and tempting that whatever plot there is designs itself in such a way that it can be easily avoided in the name of enjoying a timeless experience. Some timeless experience we got: One where we could manipulate time itself, almost as a signal that we still had the ability to act as exterior influences and recognize what change is actually change.

r/PhonesAreBad would have a field day with Zineth if it were released today, but a blanket statement of “technology distracts us from the enjoyment of the raw material” isn’t at all what Zineth was aiming for: It was aiming for the moon, and it it’s our job to rewind Keith when they didn’t build up enough momentum. On the deepest, definable level I can reach with my analysis of the game, I viewed it as a form of abstracted hauntology that sought to remind us that we can repeat the same attitudes and subsequent falls of the Y2K Era today. Unjustified optimism and ease into accepting a false sense of progress weren’t exclusive to Y2K, but we only regard these things in the past because we’re distracted too much by the glossiness of capitalistic progress in the first place to become nuanced. I mean, as I’m writing this, I’m attempting to rank up in that Pokemon rip-off programed into Keith’s phone [6].

We will not be discussing Marble Blast Gold any further.

Now we arrive at the part of the essay/article/digital file that’s completely indigestible and filled with so much philosophical jargon that it makes Deleuze wish he had a Sega Dreamcast. But if you’ve made this far, then I assume you’ve applied yourself with all of the analysis prior and can handle the speeds we’re gonna be reaching on our decked-out blades. Now come and join me as we explore the technicality of the digital file that was written before this was ever conceptualized.

Cyberskater is a sub-genre of cyberpunk that’s about detailing what attitudes punks take on in dystopian societies that act as mere preludes or intercessors between the oppression of our current and the oppression of our future. Take for instance the two parallel generations here that’re being tied together: The first one being the current capitalist world we’re familiar with and have been familiar with in it’s putrid form. All the commodities and familiar technology is present there and we’ve developed our own consumer-based cultures around it. The underground of these cultures is firmly implanted as certain subsets of punks: Each being a different set of countercultures that’re ostracized in their own, unique ways. To throw out a painful example: Kids who’d listen to their favorite golden age hip-hop artists (Mos Def) while trying to develop an interest in skating because it was the “cool” thing to do. It was the feeling that we’re comfortable with the technology that we had at hand and the counterculture we developed would last as long as that mainstream existed. The one I’m talking about was present just before the .com bubble burst.

On the other hand, we have the daunting idea of a completely new formation of society that we like to depict in fiction so often: New technology that keeps progressing in a cancerous fashion to the point where we reach a point where the perceivable consequences of our overproduction are made apparent, and that’s nothing anybody wants to think about because of how impractical it may be in the immediate. Why would you when you could enjoy what capitalism’s currently presenting you? Chug those Slurpees while you balance how much time you have for listening to the new NSYNC album or taking care of your Tamagotchi! This new future promises so many great things that’ll ensure longevity of livelihood and entertainment for humanity, but how will our societal fundamentals change in this future? Here we see a dichotomy between the comfortable space of current capitalism and the daunting possibility of what capitalism will become in the future. In this “Cyberskater” aesthetic, these two generations connect to each other. It’s in media, with this specific type of presentation, where we see the existing counter culture of current capitalism connect with the daunting possibilities of what a cybernetic capitalism has to offer us.

In reality, capitalism at its fundamental level will never change despite how technology may vastly differ from one generation to another. A capitalism that was promised to be better in a future with flying cars is still the same capitalism that made promises, only now it impeded any attempts to communally make said promises a reality before the market granted they were so.

As for a continuation of behaviors that demonstrate a cultural transition between a modern capitalism to a futuristic capitalism, we can see it in a game like the aforementioned Jet Set Radio. The actions being performed by the game’s characters are reminiscent of activity we’re familiar with under our current society: Rollerblading and spraying graffiti (unless I’m late to the party and I’ve exceeded the qualifications for cultural lag). But the conflicting thing, from the cybernetic future, is that these modern-ish punks skate around a futurist city using enhanced technology. This creates an appeal of contrasting elements where familiar forms of societal rebellion are matched with unfamiliar technology. The game perfectly captures the concept that the Cyberskater aesthetic uses to appeal to those who desire to encapsulate a world in which the daunting cybernetic future connects, and intertwines itself, with the familiar capitalist culture: Effectively taking the countercultures of the present and projecting them into the future.

“Jet Set Radio Sure Loved Its Graffiti”

I’m going to go out on a stretch here and say that the Cyberskater aesthetic, with all its motifs of viewing the lowlifes of society as natural rebels by being technologically cynical and resourceful, really appeals to those who seek to bridge the gap between generations that they happened to be born into. It speaks to them subconsciously that they get to experience lives that embody this desire to bridge gaps between seemingly isolated worlds, and thus feel like their actions have more impact on changing the future. Maybe if they can rebel through their traditional methods effectively enough, they can finally bring capitalism to its knees before it enters a dystopian state where the technology it uses is different, but its fundamental model of oppression is the same concept.

I feel like hauntology is at play here too, but only in a very minimal sense where the individuals inhabiting such a bridged world would start to gain an opportunity where they can become more aware of how their past is starting to haunt their future. Particularly in all the underground organizations they function within: Such as those that do such archaic counter-consumer things as spray graffiti in a world that’s about to embrace teleportation. It may be throwing pebbles at a locomotive, but it’s the courage more than the effectiveness that does the appealing. Overall, I wouldn’t be second guessed to say that graffiti will still be an important part of the punks of the 31st century as it’s an important part of the punks of today.

These underground organizations want to keep burning the fondness they have for the rebellious activities, that they’re used to under their current society, while still keeping them alive when capitalist society embraces a new coat of gloss that only extends how efficiently it can centrally organize individuals. It’s a desire to maintain underground coolness while still being edgy when it comes to what new things slowly creep their way through contemporary society that now functions as a bridge between two different iterations of capitalism. All those who favor the “Cyberskater” aesthetic (most of whom are doing it subconsciously) carry this metaphorical torch with them to preserve some aspect of the environment they came from while still preparing to embrace an uncertain future. To rephrase: It’s keeping a sense of cultural dignity dear while still embracing the conflicting elements of developing oneself to survive in whatever the future holds; it requires a certain amount of faith that the old methods aren’t invalidated too harshly.

One can see examples of this aesthetic’s spirit manifest in familiar locales that embrace new additions that add and take away elements respectfully. It’s the reason why your friends are complaining about that awful new Patreon logo, or to a deeper extent, why we consider skater and 2000’s emo culture to be archaic phases that never got the chance to immortalize themselves in the lives of those who embraced them. They’re just relics that hopeless few cling onto now, but at the time they existed, they were cultures born out of a need to conserve that sense of dignity with current consumer culture under society while still embracing new technology. The iPod, CD players, the Gameboy, and all these other dated technologies were the transitional cultures of their time. Now they’ve lost their transitional elements to history and all that remains is a relic that warns us of nothing else but that we’ll repeat the process of carrying our torches once again.

N2O: Nitrous Oxide ad in SPIN Magazine (1998)

The future is always a dream to us, but when that dream starts connecting with our current reality, we become very desperate to conserve all that we perceive such a dream will takeaway from us. That dream isn’t our own: That dream is the product of unjustified optimism towards a vague idea of progress that serves as an ulterior distraction towards tackling systemic issues head-on. That’s why I think I have such a strong sense of cultural hauntology over this very specific aesthetic style; using past cultural forms to imagine a future that never will be for myself is better than adapting with the times to effectively become part of the progress I’ve lived most of my life being deconstructive towards. Ironically, I use traditional methods of rebellion towards capitalistic progress to avoid having to drop them in favor of the new forms of rebellion that’ll be taken on by whatever technological progress is made. I’ll go back to replaying Zineth for the 31st time: It’s better than changing my praxis.

So, I gotta give a shout-out to all those cyberskaters out there who’re keeping the skater culture of the ’70s alive, even when the uncertainty of a capitalist future threatens to make skateboards another archaic reminder in the face of a new revolutionary advancement: One that separates the old and new worlds ever so further. Truly, those skater punks were the bridges between generations glossier than the last, and those cyberskater punks will be also be the bridges between generations: Ones appearing to reach the limit of how glossy we can make our designs.

“So, what’s the point of this article? Isn’t what you spent all that effort trying to define just part of the broader visual style of cyberpunk, and is just one of its many variations?” you might ask. And that’s precisely why I wrote this article: 1) So I have somewhere to shove my philosophical explanation of the Y2K Era, and 2) So I can contribute to this idea that subgenres can drastically change according to the aesthetic period they’re caught in. For Cyberskater, it’s a manifestation of what cyberpunk became in the Y2K Era, and it meant enough for me nostalgically for me to justify writing a lengthy article about how it should be dignified along any other variation of cyberpunk that’s already recognized.

You could take after all that I’ve written and adopt the “Cyberskater” name yourself, or you can do the smart thing and just call it Y2K Cyberpunk. There were many other examples I could’ve included (Initial D, early Source games, etc.) and tripled the length of this article, but I wanted it to be digestible and a foundation with the goal of entertaining the idea of getting people into the nit and gritty of what unique and deserving forms that larger aesthetic movements can take on. Cyberskater is very specific, so specific in fact that it may have been a huge waste of time attempting to define it when it’s just the ephemeral form that cyberpunk media took on in the Y2K Era.

But as revival efforts for the Y2K aesthetic become more and more popular nowadays, I thought I’d put my hat in the ring to see what I could dissect from the inner mechanisms of my mind, and I didn’t like the fact I had to act old for it. What I did like though is that it finally brought peace to the thoughts in the back of my mind that the youth of today were always part of a more intuitive culture that was on the cusp of a bordering culture between glossy capitalist hell and glossier capitalist hell. I’ve made my amends with the false promise of technological progress liberating ourselves a long time ago, and it seems like the Internet has done nothing but become a breeding ground for new brands of fascism, so that’s a good start for the post-internet age.

Regardless, I leave you a message from the future: One where Clamshell iBooks make a comeback, and it’s not good at all.

Artwork found on the inside of the album case for Deltron 3030: Event 2.

[1] Alexander, Leigh. “The Y2K Aesthetic: Who Knew the Look of the Year 2000 Would Endure?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 May 2016, www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/19/year-2000-y2k-millennium-design-aesthetic.

[2] “Jet Set Radio : Style as Substance.” SiOWfa15 Science in Our World Certainty and Controversy, IST 446: Game Design and Development, 30 Mar. 2016, sites.psu.edu/ist446/2016/03/30/jet-set-radio-style-as-substance/.

[3] Muncy, Julie. “What Today’s Video Games Could Learn from ‘Jet Set Radio’.” Vice, Vice, 13 Apr. 2015, www.vice.com/en_us/article/qbxdm7/jet-set-radio-shows-us-15-years-later-that-video-games-have-an-influence-problem-553.

[4] Chun, Kimberly. “For Hip-Hop Supergroup Deltron 3030, the Future Is Now.” SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, 6 Nov. 2014, www.sfgate.com/music/article/For-hip-hop-supergroup-Deltron-3030-the-future-5874413.php.

[5] “Deltron 3030: An Oral History.” Red Bull Music Academy Daily, 12 Aug. 2014, daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2014/08/deltron-3030-oral-history.

[6] McWhertor, Michael. “Zineth: A Colorful Celebration of Speed, Motion, Twitter and Cell Phone Obsession.” Polygon, Polygon, 15 Mar. 2013, www.polygon.com/2013/3/15/4095366/zineth-igf-a-colorful-celebration-of-speed-movement-twitter.

[7] “‘Zines, Screens, and All In-Betweens.” Unity, unity3d.com/showcase/case-stories/arcanekids-zineth.

Comic artist, metamodern philosopher, anti-schooling advocate, Cajun, color fanatic, & freelance astrologist. I write about your virtues and their aesthetics.

Comic artist, metamodern philosopher, anti-schooling advocate, Cajun, color fanatic, & freelance astrologist. I write about your virtues and their aesthetics.