Okay, quick disclaimer: I'm haven't seen all the Talking Simulator videos yet because I don't have the free time, so I may say things that are addressed in ones I haven't seen.
Graham wrote:The genre that shares a namesake, cyberpunk, is exemplified by its aesthetic, but also by its narratives that often deal with dystopias, transhumanism, or the pervasion of technology creeping into our human lives (as broad examples).
Steampunk is an aesthetic, inspired by applying modern technology to a Victorian era... it is a science-fiction setting. But what are steampunk stories saying?
I would argue that I have never seen/read a story that I could point to as "a steampunk narrative", because it is simply an aesthetic (and one that I think is kinda rad, if often overdone) that is applied to general sci-fi narratives.
That is fine, and does not make steampunk bad or wrong, but I argue that is all it is.
This, along with what Cam and Alex have said, really made my Soul hurt, partially because it's completely understandable but mostly because it's almost exactly opposite to what Steampunk is all about.
Simply put, Steampunk can be thought of as a combination of Cyberpunk and Romantisism.
It's very focused on Aesthetics because our aesthetic choices show what we, as a culture, consider important.
Steam and Clockwork are used because they look cool, but also because they are symbols of Craftsmanship and Artistry – when one thinks of a Steam Engine or piece of Clockwork in real life, one cannot avoid the association of being “lovingly restored”.
The Steampunk aesthetic is one which technology isn't 'hidden' or made as slimline as possible, but is celebrated and made visible - ever notice how often the clockwork is exposed rather than encased? Similarly, the clothing and architecture is made explicitly ornate or stylised because it implies the value they have to the creator/owner.
So rather than 'Style Over Substance' the point is that 'Substance Deserves Style' – that the Artefacts, Mechanisms and Structures we create should be beautiful because they should be valued for what they are, not just the function they perform.
The language of the genre serves the same effect: Having an Aether-Powered Airship is implicitly more compelling than having an Electric Blimp, even if they're ultimately the same thing.
You can see the same principles active in the Subculture – Authentic materials are better than substitutes, a device that in some manner functions is better than one that is simply decorative, and whilst off-the-shelf accoutrements are acceptable ones made (or at least modified) by the wearer are infinitely more preferable.
Thematically, the overwhelmingly common element is the interplay between culture, spirituality and technological advancement, specifically which elements of each which should be discarded, and which should be preserved.
Rather than being antagonistic a'la Cyberpunk, the interaction is presented in a more mutualistic fashion – individuals who promote one at the expense of another are nigh-universally the villains of the narrative.
The style of the typical setting presents this by using the trappings of a culture/period that faced those questions via industrialisation and imperialism, and again in the idealised nature of that setting.
Complaining that the setting is historically inaccurate or bringing up the evils of imperialism (“War Bad!”) will only get you weird looks because their absence is entirely deliberate.
Progressive Gender Roles are also a ubiquitous element – Female protagonists are the norm, rather than the exception.
By presenting Gender Equality and 'strong' women alongside gender-specific behaviour and sexualised fashion (for both genders) what results is the idea that Strength of Character comes from things like being Determined, Courageous and/or Accepting Personal Responsibility rather than being Masculine or Feminine.
Shocking, I know.
TLDR: Whilst the extent a given element is presented is dependent on the Author/Enthusiast, the unifying message is that “We Can And Should Choose The World We Live In”.
Other genres present ideas and concepts for consideration, with SciFi in particular inspiring innovation and development in our technology, but the idea that we can influence our Culture rather than being carried along with it is much rarer.
That Steampunk is so often used just because it's popular and “It's sticking Gears on everything” is disappointing on every level.
@Cam – I'm a bit confused with what you said about Bioshock Infinite, namely that 'You help the Vox and it's the wrong decision, Vox/Daisy is just as bad as the comstock' and so on.
The thing is, you don't
help the Vox.
You don't free Chen, nor do you deliver them the weapon/machinery that had been confiscated: you travel to a reality where they already have Weapons
and are in armed Revolt, or in other words a reality where the Vox has been more aggressive from the start.
This is highlighted when Booker 'remembers' that his alternate self burned down the Hall of Heroes, contrasting that overtly destructive act with the benevolent subtext of you rescuing Chen Lin and gathering equipment (the fact that they are weapons is a mitigator but the behavioural implication remains).
This grants Elizabeth's line that Daisy isn't any better than Comstock greater impact: Better or Worse have little meaning when what is evaluated isn't what the individual does, but rather the entire range of actions that person could
perform. Likewise, we are presented with the Vox as both Allies and Enemies, as the hope of an oppressed people and as the new oppressors.
It's the same as with the Luteces; If you can see all the doors, you can't walk through them anymore.
Wait... That isn't Normal?