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"The game's setting is sort of like Steam Punk except with retro computers instead of steam which I guess needs a name. DOSpunk? CRTpunk? Pentiumpunk? So-nerdy-my-underpants-are-spontaneously-wedgieing-themselves-punk?"
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A technological aesthetic reminiscent of mid-1970s to late 1990s tech (regardless of the real time setting of the media) as codified by early microcomputers like the Altair 8800 and the IBM Personal Computer, cold war era technology, the iconic imagery of the mid to late space race, or the post-Cold War "end of history" period in the 1990s, which was characterized by fascination with virtual reality technologies (such as helmets) and 2D computer animation.

Whether it be the bold colors and geometric shapes, the tendency towards stark plainness, or the exotic-looking computers and proto-cell phones, it is clear that this is neither the Raygun Gothic of days past nor the Everything Is an iPod in the Future aesthetic that would follow, but a bridging point that contains elements of both styles.

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As the name implies, a good way to judge if this trope is present is the frequent use of cassettes, which were used in the decades named above to house magnetic tape ubiquitous in technology of the period, and later on often contained ROM chips for game consoles and occasionally add-ons for computing hardware. Other technologies to look out for are CRT displays, computer systems reminiscent of microcomputers like the Commodore 64, freestanding hi-fi systems, small LCD displays as opposed to full color screens, floppy disks, VHS, and loads of analog technologies. The Internet or some analogue may exist, but if it's used more frequently than physical media to exchange large files, chances are that the work isn't using this trope. Optical CD disks may also be present, but no DVDs.

Expect many high-end electronics to come in beige box cases. When actually using the electronics or looking into the displays, expect that Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future, there will be 2D Visuals, 3D Effects and some employment of Retraux by virtue of having said 3D consist of very simple geometry with stock textures. Odd hybrid setups echoing the experimental era of user interfaces are also common: one might find rotary dials and switchboards alongside a more modern keyboard, a joystick used in place of a mouse on an low-resolution icon-based GUI, or basic LCD readouts and indicator light displays with cryptic labels seemingly included as afterthoughts acknowledging that the user might like to know what, if anything, a device might be doing.

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This aesthetic can be considered a retro version of Cyberpunk, and is largely inspired by cyberpunk writers from the 1980s and 1990s, such as William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Roger Zelazny. It also draws inspiration from Cypherpunk, a movement promoting online anonymity and the use of advanced cryptography that originated in the late 1980s.

Compare and contrast Everything Is an iPod in the Future. Compare to Computer Equals Tape Drive, Retraux, Retro Universe, Zeerust Canon and Raygun Gothic.


Examples:

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    Advertising 

    Anime & Manga 
  • AKIRA has chunky computers without touch screens still in use in 2019. Partially justified by technology being held back by The Tokyo Fireball and subsequent conflicts. Also, no digital cameras. Ryu at one point gives Nezu a roll of film to develop.
  • The original Bubblegum Crisis is as '80s as it gets (thanks to, among other things, being a homage to Streets of Fire) even if it happens in the 2030s. One example is that the "Data Units," (portable computer information storage units with hefty amounts of data on the Killer Robot Boomers and the Hardsuit Powered Armor that are used via Brain Upload) which serve as an important MacGuffin in the backstory of two mayor characters, look like Betamax cassettes.
  • Cowboy Bebop has a very 1970s aesthetic, including computer files that look like long-playing records, which is appropriate since it is set in the '70s- the 2070s.
  • Dragon Ball, mainly in the classic manga-derived content made in the late 80s/early 90s, has become this: many of Bulma's inventions are decidedly 80s in design, and two of her more well-known inventionsnote  operate through devices that look like Casio watches. She also owns a futuristic pocket-portable capsule house... that has a CRT television inside. Flying cars exist alongside classic Porches and Beetles, and one scene pivots on Bulma's ability to build her own phone, as cellphones aren't a thing. Ultimately, this is a Zig-Zagged Trope: Technology Marches On even in-universe, so designs in Dragon Ball Super look futuristic in a more modern sense compared to tech earlier in the series.
  • Ghost in the Shell (specially the 1995 movie) is generally pretty good at avoiding anachronisms, but it too has its moments — for instance, despite most people being connected to a global communication network directly through their brains, apparently public phones are still a thing.
  • The Gundam franchise has a technological presentation that varies wildly, mostly because they are products of their time (and some like Victory justify their Schizo Tech by happening After the End), but in general it's quite a sight to see a universe in which Humongous Mecha and space colonies are standard but computers still need floppy disks (Mobile Suit Gundam Wing is a good example of this).
  • Japan Animator Expo had the "Cassette Girl" short, deliberately evoking this era.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion is a very high-tech setting, but set in an alternate future where a catastrophic asteroid impact (or so the public were told) and a number of ugly resource wars sparked by the resulting climate change significantly hampered the development of consumer electronics. It's telling that Shinji's SDAT mini-cassette player is easily his most sophisticated possession.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ron Cobb's set designs for Alien brought the Used Future depicted in the film to life, and is perhaps one of the most influential takes of this style, setting up the environment and mood of the sequels that followed and inspiring other Science Fiction media.
  • The store in Back to the Future Part II, as well as the Café 80s, are in-universe examples. The whole 2015 segment in the same movie heavily features this kind of aesthetic, but it's implied that they also have some form of advanced digital technology (though we never see it directly in the movie itself).
  • Cherry 2000 has a very 1980s view of the future. The main character is a Mega-Corp executive for a cable television station, and his swanky apartment is very cassette futuristic.
  • A Clockwork Orange uses Brutalist architecture, which features stark, blocky, and concrete shapes, to represent the future. Fashions are also very bizarre, with colorful wigs and bodysuits being fairly common. Alex plays music on a microcassette.
  • Seeing as he was abducted from Earth in the '80s, Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy has a cassette player built into his spaceship. The movie in general takes a lot of aesthetic cues from '80s scifi movies like The Ice Pirates, as well.
  • Johnny Mnemonic future fashions and aesthetics in the year 2021 are based on 1980s and early 1990s fashions (especially the bright colors and heavy makeup on characters in Ralfi's club). Fax machines and VCRs play a more crucial role in transferring information than the Internet, and the design of the Internet is based on conceptual designs of cyberspace and virtual reality, as popularized by William Gibson's Neuromancer.
  • The Matrix: While the world inside of the Matrix mostly looks contemporary to the time the film was made (late '90s, when there were both readily available landline phones and trendy flip-phone and slider cell phones), the real world is much grungier, with monitors only showing text terminals and information stored on MiniDiscs which manage to both look very exotic to American audiences at the time (the format never caught on in the US) and incredibly dated within a few years with the adoption of USB flash drives. Additionally, the way Matrix code is shown as green letters on a black screen suggests the look of '80s computers.
  • The Net (1995) caught the tail end of this aesthetic in real time, showing it giving way to the Internet. As a sign of its times, a 3½-inch floppy disk was an important plot item.
  • Prospect features advanced, space-faring technology that has a design aesthetic from the 1970s and 1980s. Most portable devices are bulky and blocky, the protagonists use paper maps and notepads, and their spaceship features analog switches, keypads, tiny monochrome monitors, and a general beige and earthtone color scheme.
  • Space Mutiny has this aesthetic, with the space ship filled with CRT televisions, rows of computer keyboards stuck to walls, and New Wave fashions. The fact that much of the film was shot in an old factory makes the space ship seem technologically very analog and mechanical.
  • Star Wars: A New Hope opens on Leia downloading the Death Star plans off a wall-sized computer and storing them on a "datacard" (floppy disc). The prequels replaced such tech with the Holographic Terminal.
  • Strange Days is set 20 Minutes into the Future, in a dystopian society that was only a few years away from the time of filming. The future aesthetic is mostly conveyed with loud, shiny clothing and punk stylings amongst the hip and degenerate crowd. Information is distributed by hand on discs, without any mention of the internet.

    Literature 
  • Cybernetrix is set in a world where The '80s never ended, for better or for worse. Old Atari consoles are still in use, people ride around in DeLoreans, and Ghostbusters has had at least seven sequels, the most recent having a buddy-cop bromance between Ray and Slimer. The whole premise of the book involves hundreds of people trying to escape such cultural stagnation through the virtual world Cybernetrix, which is itself named after a TRON mockbuster film.
  • Donnerjack, a lesser-known novel by Roger Zelazny that was completed after his death by his companion Jane Lindskold, is centered around a virtual reality world known as Virtu. At some point, known as the Genesis Scramble, the code of Virtu crashed, and it became autonomous from humans. After this, humans decided to colonize it anew, and found that many aspects of Virtu mimic human legends and folklore, implying that virtual reality inadvertently became a bridge to the magical realms described in mythology.
  • Left Behind of all things does this semi-unintentionally — the last book in the series, Kingdom Come, was written in 2007, is mostly set in 2093, and features fax machines and DVD players as cutting edge technology, simply due to the need to keep continuity with the earlier entries.
  • Stanisław Lem's stories tend to present a mix of this aesthetic with what we can call Atom Punk. Data is kept on magnetic tape, spaceships are powered by nuclear reactors, there are robots and androids. Notably, The Invincible opens with a description of a starship's computer system activating its magnetic tape drives.
  • Jacek Dukaj's story Oko potwora (Eye of a Monster) is set in a deliberate throwback to Lem's stories. Apart from off-hand mentions to the Soviet Union, a spaceship's computer is a room-sized pile of analog electronics that requires the attention of a dedicated computer repair ship in case of damage, one of which features in the plot.
  • William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy features things as complex as human memories recorded on tape. Not to mention that three megabytes of hot RAM is apparently valuable enough to kill for.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Adventures of Slim Goodbody: Despite taking place in a futuristic 20 Minutes into the Future setting with Teleportation, data and programming in this series get stored on magnetic tape, as it was produced in the late 70s and early 80s. The tapes are plot-relevant, too, as the resident Robot Buddy B-1 needs to have tapes inserted into a drive on his chest regularly, or else his programming crashes.
  • Babylon 5 tried to avert this by hiding the bulky units of CRT screens in the set design and only showing the actual glass screen, giving the impression of being futuristic flatscreens. Sadly, the curvature of the screens are a dead giveaway to what's going on, but points for effort.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) is initially vague about how advanced Colonial digital technology was, with a backstory alluding to the Colonists downgrading their digital tech deliberately to fight the Cylons, who as artificially intelligent lifeforms were really good at hacking their computer systems. When Helo and Starbuck are stranded on Caprica and rummaging through Starbuck's old apartment, the microcassettes from A Clockwork Orange show up in Starbuck's possession; they contain recordings of her father's piano music. Later the series seems to imply that Colonial computer tech is about a couple years to a decade behind present-day Earth, but as the Galactica is an old ship from the first war, she is deliberately lower-tech compared to newer, more digitally advanced ships like the Pegasus. Various other Colonial tech (especially non-military tech) also has retro-stylings, like their art deco radios that wouldn't look out of place in a 1950s diner. The Colonists are Human Aliens, human beings from a parallel civilization who eventually turn out to be our prehistoric ancestors. Their technological progression (pre-war) doesn't strictly have to follow Earth's, but they are meant to be roughly similar to us culturally enough that we might expect only minor variations, like the microcassettes and vintage-looking radios, which might have been technological dead-ends in their own civilization's history, but probably are more resistant to Cylon electronic warfare than digital technology. At least, Colonial space travel tech does seem to have advanced by the time Galactica is set, but the civilian radios still look like early and mid-20th century AM/FM models with art deco stylings, and other episodes imply that the A Clockwork Orange-inspired microcassettes were a common storage medium for music, at least on Caprica, before the Cylon Holocaust.
  • Blake's 7. You have data crystals and microtapes, solid state computers with Billions of Buttons and esoteric talking AI's, clunky Used Future freighters and gleaming Cool Starships.
  • Despite being based on a comic strip from decades earlier, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is the most gloriously 1970's-looking piece of science fiction ever conceived.
  • In Caprica, taking place several decades before Battlestar Galactica (2003), the effect resembles Schizo Tech, as the Colonial computer technology shown to exist before the war with the Cylons is clearly much more advanced than our own, or the tech that the Colonists apparently fell back on when they built ships like Galactica with no computer networks on board to make them more resistant to Cylon hacking. The people of planet Caprica (and presumably the other 11 colonies) have USB drives, flat touchscreens, fully immersive virtual reality and holotechnology, and artificially intelligent robot butlers that resemble iPods, but still make use of late 90s/early 2000s "flip phones" and even older rotary-style phones. This was probably more for stylistic reasons, as Caprica contains elements of Cyberpunk and The Future Is Noir that incorporate other retro aesthetics (Fedoras, cigarettes, etc).
  • The sci-fi elements of Danger 5's second season lean hard into this, sometimes with a little bit of a disco Crystal Spires and Togas vibe, in contrast to the first season's '60s Raygun Gothic. Notably, Pierre is constantly handing out cassette tapes with "the perfect song" for the moment.
  • Maniac (2018) is set in an alternative timeline 2018. The timeframe appears to have branched off from reality in the early 1980s, and technology is both more crude and more powerful at the same time. There are sanitation robots picking up street litter, VR pornography, and an AI capable of scanning and manipulating humans brains. On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be an internet, and computers look like Commodore 64s, with small monochromatic displays and old 5 & 1/4" floppy drives.
  • Max Headroom: Set 20 Minutes into the Future of the 1980s, the future is filled with CRT television sets, cassette tapes and bulky desktop computers. Some primitive form of the internet does exist and is treated as a magical system of tubes. Computer graphics are about the same as they were in the 1980s. Renegades make pirate television broadcasts rather than convene online.
  • In the Red Dwarf: Back to Earth miniseries, Kryten explains that the human race flirted with DVDs but reverted to VHS cassettes, because unlike a small thin disc, a big boxy cassette is virtually impossible to misplace or damage.
    • Possibly a shout-out to the series two episode "Better Than Life", in which the crew are shown to use triangular cassette tapes for recording material.
    • Micro Cassette are also used to store one's entire memory. Just don't drop it into your tea...
    • In The Promised Land movie, Holly's backup disk is a four foot tall floppy disk.
  • Severance (2022): The central setting, the Lumon offices seems to run exclusively on CD-RO Ms and bulky, convex computer monitors with trackballs instead of mouses.
  • Space: 1999 shows computer tech didn't really change from what was available in The '70s, massive and requiring tape drives and specialist training to use the keyboard, even with a permanent base on the moon and manned deep-space probes that had reached other planets in the galaxy.
  • Space: Above and Beyond also had lots of CRT screens (not disguised) as well as CDs and other mid-nineties tech.
  • Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! is full of this due to its Two Decades Behind aesthetic, with examples including Cinco's commercials for impractical innovations such as the "Video Cube Playback System" (a large, cube-shaped storage medium for home video that actually has to be plugged into a VHS cassette to work) and the "Innernette" (a simulation of the Internet, all on one CD!). The recurring Uncle Muscles Hour sketches (hosted by a character played by "Weird Al" Yankovic) similarly feel like a warped version of a cable access variety show from the 80's, and the spin-off Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule goes even further with this look.

    Music 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The miniatures game 7TV from Crooked Dice is designed to recreate the action scenes from 1970s British sci-fi and espionage television series. The aesthetic absolutely follows, with supercomputers with faux wood paneling, big clunky robots, and a far future primarily distinguished by funky colorful jumpsuits.
  • Modempunk is a simple role-playing game made by the 1d4Chan community about a dystopian alternate history 1980s where the 1990s internet boon came a decade early, owning a computer without a license makes you an outlaw by the police-state, and most kids are cool, savvy hackers. Players are encouraged to make clever uses of commonly available electronics from the 1980s, altered for hacking and "phreaking" by the characters. The game was inspired by the 1995 movie Hackers.
  • Myriad Song is designed with this aesthetic as a tribute to the classics. In-universe it's stated that the Syndics only worked with analog electronics, no digital.
  • The role-playing game Retrostar urges you to invoke this as it guides you into making your own 1960s-through-late-1970s sci-fi TV show (with sample mini-settings homaging shows like the original Battlestar Galactica and The Six-Million-Dollar-Man) and then play as the show's cast.
  • Early editions of Shadowrun, being heavily based on the Sprawl Trilogy, have this aesthetic and technology level. Later editions updated the world to remove some of the zee rust or at least justify it (such as the second Crash).
  • Warhammer 40,000, being a mishmash of all sorts of futures and settings, features this trope particularly in the Hive Cities, where 70s style punks that live in a Cyberpunk Wretched Hive face off against each other or expies of Judge Dredd that make up the local police force. Other times, some technology of the Imperium Of Man is quite boxy and their screens tend to lack a Graphical User Interface. Considering that the game was developed in the 80s, a lot of the original artwork was full of this trope.
  • Hostile is a setting for the Traveller system that is deliberate homage to the future envisioned by movies like Alien and Outland. Humanity has begun expanding into space, but the ships and colonies have a gritty industrial design, and all the technology is analogue. Computers are bulky with CRT monitors, and there is no wireless technology.

    Video Games 
  • Alien: Isolation does this deliberately as part of its Zeerust Canon, mimicking the original films' '70s/'80s vision of the future.
  • The Borderlands series features this with Echo Logs. Borderlands 3 even has the player blow into the tape like an NES cartridge the first time you pick one up.
  • A design aspect was to treat Brigador as if microprocessors were not invented, as well as Brazil's historically high taxes on foreign technology. As such, you receive marching orders from a deep-red CRT, the synthesized voice is an old Audio Blaster proof-of-concept DOS program from the 90s, and even the high-tech nature of the Spacers still resembles blocky seventies/eighties tech, such as tanks greatly resembling old Space Race lunar rovers.
  • Control takes place inside a Brutalist building full of deliberately outmoded technology. The Federal Bureau of Control specifically forbids "anything smart" (including cell phones) from being brought into the Oldest House, and there are even posters warning employees of the Bureau to be on the lookout for modern technology because it does not react well to the supernatural phenomena within. The desktop computers are big and bulky in the style of an early '80s "micro" or IBM PC, mainframes are absolutely huge and covered in analog switches and blinkenlights, the Bureau uses reel-to-reels and film projectors, data is transferred between departments via an immense pneumatic tube system (even if it does lose things sometimes), and even the firearms used by agents and rangers are outdated. Nothing can be seen in use that dates back to later than the 1970s or '80s.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 is set in a very '80s/'90s vision of what the year 2077 would look like, in keeping with the pen-and-paper RPG that it is based on. The angular cars look like they came out of Ghost in the Shell or an '80s Detroit assembly line, The European Union (on the ascent in The '90s after the end of the Cold War) is an economic superpower whose "euro-dollars" are the global currency, and even with all the high-end computer technology around, the primary means of electronic data transfer is through an evolution of USB drives rather than anything resembling the internet (which, in the Cyberpunk universe, collapsed during the Fourth Corporate War).
  • Death Wore Endless Feathers is an animated Adventure Game inspired by Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash. It takes place in a retro-Cyberpunk world which has 1990s-style computer technologies and VR, and is inhabited by both humans and Funny Animals. The protagonists are a bunch of hackers who break open "ractives" (video game files) so that everyone could play them, and come across a mysterious game that kills those who crack it.
  • Done to a limited extent with the Fallout games. While the vast majority of the series' technologies, aesthetics, and geopolitical backstory are retro-futurist throwbacks to the science fiction and culture of The '50s, the designers recognized that this wouldn't fly for ubiquitous personal computers (which didn't really exist in '50s sci-fi). And so, the game features '80s-style computers with monochromatic, green, text-only displays, and "holodisks" being the main medium of transferring data. Fallout 4 adds games with simple graphics that pay homage to classic real-life games from the '70s and '80s like Missile Command, Pitfall!, and Space Invaders, whose holodisks resemble old-fashioned Atari and Nintendo cartridges.
  • Quadrilateral Cowboy features clunky computers, Walk-Men that use records, and cyborg limbs.
  • Shadow Warrior 2 has a quite '80s aesthetic to the cyberpunk part of the setting. There's one major mission where you have to stop a paparazzo from releasing sex tapes of Ameonna by destroying vending machines selling VHS tapes, which would definitely not be enough in this Internet-connected age.
  • Classical futuristic id Software 3D shooters, especially Quake and Quake 2, are styled in this aesthetic.
  • Wasteland and its sequels heavily feature machinery of this style and vintage whenever electronics are involved, the first game having been made in the '80s itself and the later games following up on setting consistency.

    Web Comics 
  • This strip of the French web comic Bouletcorp, called "Formica Punk", is mostly a retro-futuristic re-imagination of the trope, and is not as much based on the sci-fi of that era as on the actual look of the time period. Includes a scene where Boulet uses a Minitel (French telephone network which could be considered as the ancestor of the current Internet) to download an episode of Games of Throne, which is then burnt into VHS format.

    Web Original 
  • Atop the Fourth Wall: During Linkara's Marvel 2099 reviews, the (Two-Thousand-and)Nineties Kid revealed that, by his time, people would be using USB drives stylistically molded to resemble floppy discs.
  • Formica Punk is basically the Punk Punk version of this trope. The name inspired a Tumblr blog (in French). It’s also referred as Modem Punk after the tabletop game example above.
  • This article lists several movies that feature that kind of aesthetics.
  • The fictional computer game Cube was created with this style in mind, being made of computer graphics that can only produce monocoloured, primitive shapes, such as cubes, pyramids and spheres.

    Western Animation 
  • Regular Show has a very '80s (and later parts with some '90s) feel to it, despite being set in the then-present day and having one early episode where characters time travel to the actual 1980s. All video game graphics are 8-bit, the music is mostly Hair Metal or New Wave, some montages ape early-MTV music video techniques, Russia is implied to somehow still be the USSR, America's current president is very like Bill Clinton himself, and two of the oldest main characters' (Skips and Pops) backstories are have their high school years play similar to 1980s films set in high school.


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