Warning: this article contains some spoilers for the 1992 movie Sneakers.
When you go searching on the Internet for the best cyberpunk movies you probably won’t find this movie. Released in 1992, Sneakers flew, and continues to fly, under the radar of many fans of cyberpunk. Cyberpunk 2020, the popular tabletop roleplaying game was published just one year before. 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 died (not the literary sub-genre, in my opinion) Sneakers showed just how much staying power cyberpunk would have.
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 places, basically (although not a very good one, according to a sassy bank clerk). Just as all seems well, the leader of this group, Bishop, is confronted by government agents dredging up his past in order to strong-arm him into taking on a job for them; outright blackmailing him. 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.
What is more classic than government spooks that know too much, acting as puppeteers, right?!
Of course, like most classic cyberpunk where you get a job from anybody, but especially the government, it can’t be trusted. The spooks aren’t spooks, what they’re hired to steal ends up being groundbreaking and cutting-edge tech that can break into literally any encrypted database, and 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 framework 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, the coolest hacker of any cyberpunk movie, Whistler; a blind man hacking the system with a customized deck that uses braille inputs.
And tying it all together, Bishop’s past ends up bringing in the main antagonist, an omnipresent like figure who is radicalized by the ideals Bishop once possessed… but has since shed for a less simplistic and more nuanced set of beliefs.
Although far from a perfect movie (there are some contrived occurrences in the third act that undermine the only woman of the team, which bugs 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?