Sneakers features all the classic cyberpunk elements
When you go searching on the Internet for the best cyberpunk movies, you probably won’t find this movie on the list. That’s a serious disservice to this star-studded ode to cypherpunk.
Released in 1992, Sneakers flew (and continues to fly) under the radar cyberpunk fans. Cyberpunk 2020, the popular tabletop roleplaying game was published just one year prior to the movie’s release. Snow Crash, often regarded by fans as the point in which cyberpunk literature officially “died”, dropped the very same year as Sneakers.
So just as the movement was “dying,” Sneakers showed just how much staying power cyberpunk would continue have, albeit manifested in sleeper hits.
Sneakers is a movie in which a gang of various misfits are paid to test the security systems of their employers. They make a living breaking into banks and other businesses as security consultants. According to a sassy bank clerk, it’s not that great of a living.
Everything seems great when Bishop, the group’s leader, is confronted by government agents dredging up his past in order to strong-arm him into taking on a job. So he goes to his group with two choices: do their job… or he goes to jail. He knows he can’t do it alone.
It’s a tale as old as time: classic government spooks knowing too much and acting as puppeteers via outright blackmail.
Never trust a government spook or a corporate fixer
True cyberpunks know that no job can be trusted. This is especially true when the client is the government. The CIA spooks aren’t real spooks, and what they’re hired to steal winds up being groundbreaking, cutting-edge technology that can break any encryption. The team is put in mortal danger.
In Hamish Cameron’s recent cyberpunk tabletop game, The Sprawl, the rules actually mechanize these double dealings from employers. That’s how intrinsic this type of narrative is to classic cyberpunk.
Sneakers presents a viable framework from which to generate your own jobs to give to players in a tabletop game. It might even be the only movie reference that has a team of people with skill sets similar to what you can do in cyberpunk games like Cyberpunk 2020; everyone working toward a common goal without their own goings-on as more than B plot.
You’ve got betrayal, technology with massive implications for the future of the world (somewhat a hallmark in CP 2020 adventures in retrospect), the shady pasts of all the characters bringing them together as a group, and the coolest hacker of any cyberpunk movie: Whistler, a blind man hacking the system with a customized braille-cyberdeck.
And tying it all together, Bishop’s past ends up bringing in the main antagonist, an omnipresent figure radicalized by the ideals Bishop once possessed but has since shed for a less simplistic and more nuanced set of beliefs.
They should make a tabletop game out of Sneakers
Although far from a perfect movie (there are some contrived occurrences in the third act that undermine the only woman of the team, which bug me a lot), if you’re ever looking to run any kind of cyberpunk tabletop game, you could do far worse than to watch this gem of a flick.
In some ways, it’s the most faithful adaption of a first wave cyberpunk novel we are likely to see. Sneakers is an enjoyable and relevant cyberpunk movie, as well as maybe the only easily adapted movie to a tabletop game framework; making it useful, too.
What do you think? What other movies might lend itself to helpful frameworks for tabletop games, if any?