Monday, February 25, 2013

Star Trek and Traveller and My Opinion

    Over the last week or so, my wife and I have watched a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix. I am always on the lookout for plot ideas to use for my Traveller projects, so I have a reason for paying attention. I have watched some, but not all of Star Trek (ST). I'm not old enough to have seen the Original Series on TV, but I was in high school when The Next Generation (TNG) came out. I watched it some, but once I went to college I stopped watching TV so I only really saw parts of the first three seasons. Only caught DS9 or Voyager when I was at my sister's house, so not much.

      I have been playing Traveller since the very early 80's, so the two sci-fi artifacts overlap in my experience. But I cannot recall ever wanting (let alone trying) to play a Traveller adventure based upon or in the ST 'verse. And hey, I've toyed with doing a Traveller/Doctor Who crossover – let the Imperial Marines handle those pesky Daleks! – but never ST. Oh, and let's not forget Firefly, which just oozes Traveller! Even with re-watching the show with what I hope are more mature eyes, I still say no to Traveller/ST. Why not?  Most of my experience was with TNG, and so far I haven't seen anything to change my original opinion of the show, which is this: the universe as presented by ST-TNG is boring.

      According to TV Tropes Gene Roddenberry believed that by the 24th century, humans will have evolved out of silly things like emotions, strife, violence, greed (there's no money in TNG!) and all that. The pilot episode is a long-winded, wooden and dull tribute to that vision. This is rubbish for two reasons.

      The first reason is this: it simply does not reflect the reality of the human experience. To believe in such an outcome requires far more faith than I have (Roddenbery was an agnostic, hence there is no religion in ST). As an Orthodox Christian, I believe that mankind is fallen in his nature, we cannot become truly virtuous on our own. Now, I do believe that a person can grow beyond self-centeredness and its attendant vices; such people are called Saints. But I will leave the religious discussion there.

      The other reason the vision of TNG is rubbish, is that it does not make for good storytelling. The pilot episode and by extension the setting has very little drama. The secondary characters, who can reasonably be called audience surrogates, move very little and emote even less. If these people are all bored with what's going on, why should the audience care? The plot of the pilot episode grinds to a halt several times to introduce new characters, all of whom are boring. TV is a visual medium, but we need more than shiny screens and sparkly transporter lights to keep us interested. We need characters we can relate to. Note that after Roddenberry was moved away from writing/directing the show got more character complexity (and flaws) and more conflict/drama.

     Traveller, by contrast, is for lack of a better term a literary medium not a visual medium. The only shiny bits are the ones the players describe. It is for me a much more interesting setting by the very fact that playing Traveller is an active, creative process as opposed to the passive viewing of a TV show. To make the connection to what I have said above, characters in Traveller are explicitly player surrogates and so reflect the desires, hopes and shortcomings of the players. There is no requirement for a Traveller character to be virtuous or villainous, but both options are available. A good game, though, will be one in which the choices and actions of the characters have consequences, and require the character (and the player) to deal with those consequences. 
      As I have discussed before, Traveller does not have an 'experience point system', so character growth and change stays within the story, as part of the setting. Traveller characters have goals, which can be either easy or difficult to achieve, and drive the character's choices and actions over long periods. As far as I could see, none of the crew on TNG had any goals other than "let's do this again next week" - you could watch the shows in any order, and very little of previous episodes mattered this week. 
     Another difference between the two that makes TNG unappealing to me as a source for adventure ideas is that the crew & the ship seemed almighty and invulnerable. There was a techno-babble solution to hand for every problem, and every episode whatever harm had befallen the ship the week before was all better thanks to, well, techno-babble. Conversely in Traveller, I've had many character's ships in constant need of repair, or characters put into situations where technology won't save them, and they could possibly die. This is called drama - the uncertainty of potential loss. 
     Conflict, drama, potential for growth, or failure or loss; characters who are invested in the outcome whether for gain or growth - these things make for interesting stories. Maybe I will come upon something in TNG that gets my interest, if I see the characters in the show displaying some interest. If I do, I will duly note it here.


Library Bob said...

I have watched several more episodes of TNG, and there have been some that I've enjoyed and even one ("Disaster", 4th season) that I could use as the basis of a Traveller adventure. I still wish that the actors would have emoted a bit more, but the show definitely improved as it moved into later seasons.

Craig A. Glesner said...

Have you checked out ENTERPRISE yet?

While I am not so keen on the major arc (but reserve judgement) and I didn't get to catch the last season or so I do like the first season quite a bit. Probably because NX-01 is my second favorite ENTERPRISE ever as it is so primitive compared to NCC-1701.

I also like the tension between the Vulcans and Humans. More conflict and less communism, all in all I still like the show and it seems like it would be far and away the best bet for Star Trek based Traveller. I mean if you had to go and mix other science fiction worlds into your Traveller, which would probably make you some one who grew up on LLBs like me.