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The Trek Nation - The Game

The Game

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at July 10, 2009 - 10:17 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Game' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While on shore leave on Risa, Riker meets a woman named Etana who gives him an electronic headset for a game controlled directly by the player's mind. Riker brings it back to the Enterprise, which is about to begin a survey mission after picking up Wesley Crusher, who is on a holiday from Starfleet Academy. Riker gives the game headset to Troi, who passes one on to Beverly Crusher, who in turn tries to get her son to play it, but Wesley has met a pretty ensign named Robin Lefler and is more interested in dating than playing games. While Wesley and Robin are getting to know one another, Crusher, Troi and Riker disable Data, then lie to Picard and LaForge about the mysterious ailment that seems to have damaged the android. Riker distracts LaForge from trying to repair Data by giving him a game headset. Wesley and Robin become concerned about how obsessed the crew seems with the game and run some tests, discovering that the game affects a user's brain chemistry like an addiction - it stimulates the pleasure centers and affects the processing of logic. Wesley warns Picard, who promises to look into the situation, then goes back to playing the game himself. Robin and Wesley then conclude that Data was deliberately disabled and suspect it must be because an android would not be affected by the game. While Picard takes the Enterprise to rendezvous with Etana, who orders him to distribute the game to more ships and a starbase, Wesley evades crewmembers trying to force him to play the game and repairs Data's positronic pathways. Just as the bridge crew corners and forces Wesley to play the game, Data appears and uses strobe lights to break the crew's addiction. Picard tells Etana that her attempt to take over Starfleet has failed, and Wesley has some free time at last to have fun with Robin before he must return to the Academy.


Analysis: I'm just going to come right out and admit that I like "The Game," even if it can be summarized as a "don't play too many video games" after-school special and even if Wesley Crusher saves the ship yet again. In this particular episode, it's nice that it's the nerdy teens who resist peer pressure and don't get involved in the latest fad, and it's downright creepy to see Picard addicted while seemingly not knowing it, after Beverly assaults Data and cuts through his circuits without a second thought. If the roles had been reversed and Riker was the only one on the ship who knew what he was doing once Wesley brought the game aboard, it wouldn't be nearly as compelling a story. It's always scary when the grownups are too drunk, stoned, or brainwashed to know what they're doing, and that's how it seems here.

Yet - I'm sorry to have to say this - it's a lot of fun to see the entire crew having a good time, even under such horrible circumstances. Riker comes back all smiles from shore leave, flirts with Troi in Ten Forward and teases her about her hot fudge sundae before he gets around to telling her about the game. The bridge crew throws Wesley a surprise party in the conference room, where Worf has made Wesley a Tarvokian pound cake and the game is hardly mentioned. Lefler is easygoing and clever without being under the influence of the game, and she's as comfortable talking shop with the first officer as she is discussing engineering with LaForge - plus she has Lefler's Laws, which, though seldom original, demonstrate that she's not likely to follow any superficial craze, even if it's not something as dangerous as the game. I realize that when one looks like Ashley Judd, one can probably get away with being a nerd and still be popular, but it's fun to see her ease with the computer systems even as she's teasing Wesley about his birthmarks.

It's when the smiles degenerate into very scary behavior that the episode gets interesting, though. Beverly is clearly delighted to see her son, but her insistence that he has got to try the game is really unnerving. It's like she just can't let it go, like behind the smile she's completely unhinged - and this after we see her turn off Data and use a scientific tool as a weapon against him. There's an equally icky scene with Alyssa Ogawa in the turbolift, obsessively playing the game as the lift moves from floor to floor, no destination in mind but the endorphin rush when she levels up. As the parent of two boys who are capable of hearing everything yet nothing I say to them when they're engrossed in Runescape, the behavior is all too eerily familiar.

That said, there are plenty of plot holes in the story that would derail it if the pacing weren't so good and the performances so entertaining. Getting the crew addicted to the endorphin rush makes sense, sure - we know now even better than when "The Game" first aired that video games can be compulsive in precisely the same way as certain drugs, that they work by stimulating the brain's endorphin centers, and that playing them too often can actually reroute signals in the areas concerned with higher reasoning. But there's a difference between compulsion and addiction that's never really explored here; Troi may adore her chocolate but she isn't dependent upon it, and you'd think that while still clear-headed, she'd pick up on the emotional changes in Riker produced by the game's compelling him to recruit others.

So how does the mind-control work, exactly? Clearly, the game compels users to eliminate threats to its use, but how come Beverly shuts off Data before he's taken any notice of the game? How is she able to speak as a concerned mother, not sounding like a complete obsessive, when the parts of her brain that govern moral awareness have obviously been compromised? As for Picard, why doesn't he insist that Wesley try to the game when Wesley first comes to him with concerns if he's capable of maintaining enough of his usual fatherly calm to promise to look into the situation when he has no intention of doing just that? It's like the game switches off precisely the areas of people's personalities that are inconvenient while leaving the rest intact, at least at first. Clearly Picard can still respond to orders and give them with authority once he's under the alien mind-control, but how can that be achieved while at the same time repressing his duties and instincts as a Starfleet officer?

Well, it doesn't really matter - like a lot of horror movies, the pleasure is in the revelation that the monster is already inside, not with the logic of how it got there. And Wesley and Robin have good chemistry...better chemistry than Picard has had with any of his love interests, really. If you hate Wesley Crusher for being Wesley Crusher, you probably won't enjoy this episode, but if you're willing to give the kid a chance, there's fun to be had with him here.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.