In my previous two essays on The Dark Future of R. Talsorian Games’ Cyberpunk tabletop roleplaying game, I covered the fall of the United States government under the rule of the Gang of Four and the Collapse, the epic Depression event that caused America and later the world to fall into chaos. Behind the scenes of these events, though, is the part of the story that is a ubiquitous trope in the Cyberpunk genre: the Mega-Corporations. No Cyberpunk story would be complete without monolithic, gargantuan corporate entities that are basically nation/states unto themselves and Cyberpunk has some of the best depictions of these entities in the genre.
For reference, I’m pulling most of this information from page 248-256 of R. Talsorian Games’ Cyberpunk Red core rulebook.
The birth of the MegaCorps starts after the Collapse of 1994, when the economy of America tanked after it was discovered the Gang of Four had been manipulating the economy of the European Union to gain a strategic advantage over the burgeoning economies of those nations. The MegaCorps began in much the same way corporations in our world did, by starting off as multinational corporate entities with branches all around the world. These companies were responsible for manufacturing commodities, food production, banking institutions, and the media.
The Mediacorps in particular hit home with more resonance now than when Cyberpunk 2020 dropped in the late 1980s. With so much of our entertainment controlled by a small number of large corporations, including news channels, radio stations, and newspapers, the Mediacorps of Cyberpunk aren’t a far-fetched notion. In the timeline of Cyberpunk, the Mediacorps were responsible for both the dumbing down of the world’s populace and for (eventually) revealing the machinations of the Gang of Four. But the key role the Mediacorps played was post-Collapse, setting up the populations of the world to accept the growing power of the MegaCorps that began to emerge.
The biggest MegaCorps of Cyberpunk are Arasaka Corp. (a Japanese conglomerate headed by Saburo Arasaka, a World War II veteran), Militech International (an American arms manufacturer and private military contracting company), Biotechnica (a conglomerate focusing on biological and technological research and development), Petrochem (a petrochemical and agricultural corporation), SovOil (a Soviet-based petrochemical and agricultural corporation), Trauma Team (large-scale ambulance and paramedic services), and NetWatch (a cybersecurity firm). These are by far the heaviest hitters in the Cyberpunk universe, with the military might and resources that would dwarf most national economies (and in some cases are the only reason a nation’s economy exists in the first place).
With such massive corporate entities that were vying for ever-larger pieces of the pie in a post-Collapse world, conflicts were inevitably going to arise. These disagreements essentially boiled down to corporations trying to acquire resources and getting into a dust-up in the process, which is where the Corporate Wars come in to play. Without sinking into too much hyperbole, the Corporate Wars (particularly the 4th Corporate War) are the reason the world of Cyberpunk is as messed up as it is.
The 1st Corporate War was a small-scale affair that only last two years from 2004 to 2006 and involved two growing MegaCorps, EBM and Orbital Air, who wanted to take over Transworld Airlines. This is the first time in the Cyberpunk timeline that MegaCorps deployed terrorist and cyberwarfare attacks against another corporation. Although there were only two major battles in the 1st Corporate War, the use of military tactics signaled to the other corporations that this kind of strategy could work for them in their battles for dominance.
Petrochem and SovOil were the main participants in the 2nd Corporate War, which began over a misunderstanding that prevented a merger between the two companies from occurring. The Pacific Rim suffered greatly as the two MegaCorps duked it out in full-scale military engagements, with SovOil completely ignoring the sanctions and admonitions of the international community. The environmental damage, particularly in the South China Sea region, was devastating, causing large-scale ecological damage that the regions never recovered from. In this way, the 2nd Corporate War was a precursor for the devastation that would follow in the wake of the 4th Corporate War.
The 3rd Corporate War was a different beast altogether since it took place entirely in the Net (the term used for the global communications World Wide Web of Cyberpunk). Cyberwarfare grew largely from this conflict, with Netrunners becoming a valuable commodity. This demand for talented cyber warriors would only increase when the time came for the 4th Corporate War to start. While there was small-scale fighting between mercenaries hired by the warring corporations, the majority of the fighting took place in the Net, causing a fair amount of disruption to global financial markets.
But all of the above leads to the 4th Corporate War, which began as a small dispute between two ocean-based megacorporations (CINO and OTEC) who wanted to take over IHAG, a corporation that specialized in underwater shipping technology but had gone belly-up. It started off fairly benign, with stock manipulations and economic attacks. As the conflict wore on, OTEC hired Militech International to provide them with security forces, logistics and armaments. In response, CINO hired Arasaka for the same reasons. Militech and Arasaka had danced around each other for years, never directly engaging each other despite their individual holdings and interests being much the same. Eventually, the dispute between CINO and OTEC became a secondary concern as Arasaka and Militech finally had a chance to duke it out and prove which one of them was the superior MegaCorp.
The 4th Corporate War really deserves its own essay, since it is the single largest conflict in the alternate timeline of Cyberpunk and the one that has the longest-lasting consequences for the setting. So, I’ll save the details for that war for another time. The MegaCorps of Cyberpunk are the big bad guys of the setting, avatars of human corruption, avarice, and sometimes stupidity. In essence, they are exaggerations of what we see in the news now, with corporate giants controlling much of the media and products we consume without giving too much thought as to the consequences. They are reflections of our world and the corruption that money and power can have when left off the leash.
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