What Is Steampunk - Origins, Aspects, and Community Defined

Deyan Georgiev
Deyan Georgiev

Updated · Jul 19, 2022


Techjury is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Have you ever felt a longing for a place that has never existed in a time that has never been? 

Do you feel a strong attraction towards brass machinery? 

Does the sound of steam breaking through a pipe excite you? 

Well, you are not alone. All of these are elements of the steampunk genre

But what is steampunk?

Join us, as we show you a whole new world.

Origins of Steampunk

The subgenre originated thanks to the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. The action often takes place in Victorian-inspired worlds, in which steam power is still widely used.

But this alternative reality isn’t all rainbows and roses. The steampunk universe hides many dangers. Imagine like cities on wheels consuming one-another, giant clockwork spider-robots and airship pirates.

It’s easy to see why the modern world is fascinated by it and is trying to adopt it.

Here are a few examples:

Steampunk in Contemporary Culture

Nowadays, steampunk is still a strong and developing genre in various media. 

In music, it has found a comfortable place in the Goth subculture. Steampunk performers carry endless wanderlust, complemented with technological ingenuity. Their lyrics are inspired by Victorian sensibilities, adventures in far-away places, and the struggles of the Industrial Age. Thе videos lean strongly into the steampunk aesthetic, with cogs, brass goggles, and top hats being among the most easily recognizable elements.

The steampunk genre has also influenced numerous game developers. For example, “Frostpunk” is a city-building survival game that takes place in an alternative version of the late 19th century. The world is experiencing an ice age, and only through steam-powered technology, the world may survive. 

Another notable title is “They Are Billions”, where steampunk technology is utilized by humanity in a last attempt to survive a seemingly endless horde of zombies.

The steampunk genre has been influenced by seminal works of cinema such as Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920). Both movies take a look at the role of technology in society and its influence on human nature. 

Nowadays, we have movies such as “Around the World in 80 Days”, “Hellboy”, and “Van Helsing” where retro futuristic technology is used.  The genre has also made it into animation with works such as “Treasure Planet” and the anime series “Fullmetal Alchemist”.

Elements of Steampunk

Are a pair of goggles and a silly hat all there is to steampunk?

Definitely no.

The Steampunk Wardrobe

The steampunk wardrobe is inspired by the Victorian era. The emphasis is on dresses, corsets, military uniforms, and worker clothing. The clothes can be left as they are or decorated with mechanical elements.

The steampunk style can be augmented with appropriated accessories. These include brass canes, flying goggles, tool belts, bolt-action rifles, plasma pistols, and others.

Human enhancement has its place in the style. You might encounter:

  • mechanized prosthetic limbs
  • lenses used as ocular implants 
  • mechanized breathing masks
  • entire automaton bodies.

Steampunk Technology

Steampunk is an endless inspiration for the creative imagination. What do airship pirates fly on? On planes, of course. They run on coal and their engines must often be fed coal but not too much, because they may explode.

In “Arcanum of Steamworks and Magick Obscura” mages are sent to the back of the train, as their powers interfere with technology and may destabilize the engine. At the same time, Clockwork Physicians are deployed on the field of battle to keep soldiers alive. Electric arcs shot from tesla guns vaporize anyone unlucky enough to end up on the wrong side of the barrel.

Other elements of steampunk technology include bulky diving suits, as the ones seen in the “Bioshock” games. Another example - Anabella’s box for bringing back the dead. Also, the eponymous screeching contraption from “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs”, and most important of all, Samson’s soap.

Steampunk technology is big, messy, barely holding together. They chomp on coal and workers alike, just ask Frederick from “Blood, Sweat, and Tears”. Sometimes, machines are even able to grow seven times their size and shoot lasers out of their eyes. This world is full of surprises.

The Steampunk Community

The steampunk style has united a lot of people. 

For example, the “Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention” in Arizona. It is an annual three-day gathering, where lovers of all things steampunk can get together, participate in workshops, listen to live music, etc.

Other notable events for the followers of the steampunk life are “Clockwork Alchemy” in California, “Watch City Steampunk Festival” in Massachusetts, and “STEAM Fest” in Pennsylvania.

If you prefer a more intimate encounter with the steampunk community, you may find the nearest steampunk pub. Good company is just one internet search away.

Final Words

What is steampunk? 

To some, it is a genre in literature. To others, it is a fancy aesthetic. Some even claim its a way of life. Steampunk culture is diverse and robust enough to bring all sorts of people together. But what unites them is the longing for a place that has never existed in a time that has never been.

So, if you’ve got a love for fancy Victorian clothing and cool steam-powered machinery, you just might belong to this community.


Why do they call it steampunk?

The “punk” suffix in words such as “cyberpunk”, “silkpunk”, “steampunk” assumes rebellion. A complete rejection of the status quo gives way for an alternative life. In “steampunk” it means that the current-day world is abandoned in favor of Victorian-era-inspired fashion and technology.

Is steampunk still popular?

Books such as “The Difference Engine” and “Leviathan”. Movies like “Mortal Engines”, and the many steampunk-inspired video games prove that the genre is alive and kicking.

Is Cyberpunk like steampunk?

What is steampunk? Well, steampunk is the refusal of the current-day lifestyle and the embracement of the past. 

Cyberpunk, on the other hand, reject reality for an embracement of the digitized future.

Still, it does not mean they are radically different, as both styles share common topics such as social injustice, human augmentation, technology, and its power to create, corrupt, and destroy. So the differences between the two genres can be considered more cosmetic than conceptual.


Deyan Georgiev

Deyan Georgiev

Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.

Leave your comment

Your email address will not be published.