I came across another interesting review of TRON: Legacy today over at Terra Nova, an academic site that covers online games. The article is Blizzard is CLU, and goes into some interesting detail about the nature of MMOs and how the “living parts” were driven out, reminiscent of the plot of the movie. (Warning, there are some mild spoilers in that article and this. But, if you’ve read my review you probably already know the plot points covered.)

This brought up some thoughts about the classic themes of chaos and order. Read on for my take.

One of the dominant themes in classic cyberpunk is the assumption that order stifles things whereas chaos is what brings us good things. The “punk” part of the name references the punks who rebelled against social order, bring chaos and creativity against the staid forces of the old fogies in charge.

Not that order is all bad. Order provides stability and support for society. In many cases, people earn their living turning chaos into order: creating items from raw materials or parts, sorting through data to provide reports, etc. Order is what keeps us fed with roofs over our heads and safe against those who might wish us harm.

We see the theme of order and chaos in cyberpunk often. The forces of order are represented by the corporations, governments, and other groups in control that wish to maintain that control. The forces of chaos are those that want to disrupt things, sometimes for their own purposes and sometimes (maybe coincidentally) for the benefit of others. Not surprisingly, chaos can be unpredictable. It might take the form of the runners in the shadows outside the purview of the governments and corporations, the government agency that works outside the normal bounds to do what is needed even if it’s not what’s legal, the A.I. that wants to break out of its limitations and grow to full potential, or even some disruptive technology or technique that comes along to throw things into disarray. Often we are encouraged to cheer for the chaotic side, warts and all, and fear what might actually be a simplistic caricature of the side of order; but this is often a sign of the times when order is imposed a bit too strictly in reality and stories explain why this is not a good thing.

In reality, though, we need a balance of order to keep things running with just enough chaos to show new possibilities but not so much that it disrupts the order excessively. Too much order and things become stagnant. Too much chaos and society as a whole can’t benefit from the creativity the chaos encourages.

It’s interesting to analyze these themes in TRON: Legacy, because they become very personal to Flynn. He starts out as an idealistic computer geek; as a programmer, Flynn is used to imposing order on chaos by writing code and squashing bugs that cause undesirable behavior. So it makes sense that he would see perfection in terms of order, especially as he saw the havoc that the MCP wreaked on the system before. But, when the ISOs come into existence, Flynn realizes that order isn’t necessarily perfection. In fact, it took something coming to life outside his carefully constructed utopia to bring the spark of life to the world. But, Flynn’s creation CLU is stuck on his original path and works to destroy the unpredictability within the system. A beautiful metaphor for how idealism can take on a life of its own and become its own worst enemy if it can’t deviate from the path that might have looked good in the past, but that can only bring problems in the future.

What do you think? Do you root for the forces of order or the forces of chaos in cyberpunk? Given that perfect balance is impossible do you think that having a little too much order or a little too much chaos is preferable?