A multitude of video games have delved into the steampunk genre throughout the history of the medium.

This was inevitable, based on the success authors and screen writers have had adapting the style to their respective fields. As new games emerge, showcasing the unique aesthetic, it’s interesting to see how steampunk has evolved since it was first introduced into gaming’s virtual worlds. The upcoming game Dishonored has a very distinct art style. From the industrial Tall Boy mechs to the protagonist’s otherworldly mask, the title promises to deliver an original experience. Art director Viktor Antonov’s prior work as an industrial designer is evident at every turn, from the architecture to the machinery of Dunwall, the in-game world. While the developer is stressing that the game doesn’t fall into the steampunk category, there are definitely obvious nods to the style.

What Is Steampunk?

The definition of the word “steampunk” is arbitrary at best. The aesthetic is constantly changing from generation to generation, providing a slippery basis upon which titles can be classified. 

The term steampunk originated in a letter to science fiction magazine Locus, in which author K.W. Jeter attempted to encompass his literary works, and those of several other writers, under one genre. In contrast to the prevailing cyberpunk genre in which higher technology is emphasized, his 19th century settings and exaggerated industrial technology led him to the phrase “steam-punks.”

Authors like Jeter, Tim Powers, and James Blaylock combined the architecture and clothing of the late 19th century with science fiction in a new genre where alternate histories were the norm. Novels like Morlock Night, The Anubis Gates, and Lord Kelvin’s Machine all elevated the genre to popularity. The spirit of invention and sense of discovery are commonplace themes in steampunk, and imagination runs rampant. This is where the punk side of the genre comes from. Like punk music, steampunk diverges from the mainstream, providing an alternative to the accepted tradition. The aesthetic’s blend of historical accuracy and fantastical twists has captivated the minds of readers, and ideas about technology’s impact on the human condition have become underlying themes in many works since. Without these early pioneers, the following games may never have been created.

[Next Up: The Birth Of Steampunk In Games]