Follow TV Tropes


Cassette Futurism

Go To
In the future, we can remember it for you... on Memorex!

"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?"

Stories which use a technological aesthetic reminiscent of the early 1980s as popularized by the IBM Personal Computer and imitators, regardless of the real time setting of the media. Most often found in the context of science fiction.

Whether it be the loud, bright colors and geometric shapes, the tendency towards stark plainness, or the the lack of powerful computers and 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.

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, and loads of analog technologies. The Internet or some analogue may exist, but if it's more frequently used to exchange large files than physical media, chances are that the work isn't using this trope.


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.

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



    open/close all folders 


    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Ghost in the Shell (specially the 1995 movie) apparently cellphones don't exist and 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ron Cobb's set designs for Alien made to bring the Used Future depicted by the film to life 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hackerman from Kung Fury is probably this film's most representative example.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 in it of itself named after a TRON mockbuster film.
  • LeftBehind 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Space: Above and Beyond also had lots of CRT screens (not disguised) as well as CDs and other mid-nineties tech.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the 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).
  • Space: 1999 shows computer tech didn't really changed 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.
  • Maniac 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 monocromatic displays and old 5 & 1/4" floppy drives.
  • 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.
  • 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.


    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Alien: Isolation does this deliberately as part of its Zeerust Canon, mimicking the original films' '70s/'80s vision of the future.
  • 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 Great Politics Mess-Up) 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).
  • 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 Original 
  • This article lists several movies that feature that kind of aesthetics.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: