Monday, June 25, 2007

Star Trek Canon vs. MMORPG Gameplay 1

For some reason, I couldn't stop thinking about this gulf I see between the behaviors expressed in the typical MMORPG and the typical conception of Star Trek. How can the competitive, acquisitive action of the typical MMORPG be squared with the cooperative, exploratory nature of Star Trek?

And then a simple and elegant solution came to me: Make the Mirror Universe the primary setting for Star Trek Online.

MMORPG players who are accustomed to being aggressive, avaricious, and to ganging up in groups to beat up other groups, will be free to indulge in exactly that kind of behavior in a Mirror Universe Star Trek Online. ST:O's gameplay and the characters who engage in that gameplay can be utterly combat-centric.

And Star Trek fans will accept such behaviors being rewarded by the game because those are exactly the behaviors that Star Trek lore tells us to expect from Mirror Universe characters.

The more I think about this, the more I like it as a solution that can work for many potential ST:O players, but of course there's no such thing as a solution that can satisfy everyone. So here are the advantages and disadvantages of the Mirror Universe approach that I've thought of so far.


1. Gives current online gamers what they expect. Star Trek Online's gameplay can be built around the combat, loot, guilds, and XP-for-character-growth activity model that current MMORPG players seem to assume must be the core of any MMORPG.

2. Provides core Star Trek fans with a highly plausible story justification for typical MMORPG activities. Fighting, taking other people's stuff, ganging up, and self-interest, which are the behaviors rewarded in existing MMORPGs, are exactly the behaviors that Mirror Universe characters are supposed to demonstrate.

3. Could provide a workable justification for civil war (albeit within the Empire, not the Federation). "Good" players could fight to overturn the Empire from within, following in the footsteps of Jennifer Sisko and (perhaps) the "bearded" Spock.

4. Following #3, could provide a workable justification for PvP.


1. Doesn't resemble the optimistic Federation-viewpoint Star Trek that the casual Trek fan knows and expects.

2. Makes interacting with the Trek characters from the Federation universe a lot more complicated. People may prefer to meet the "good" Picard, the "good" Bashir, and so on.

3. Doesn't follow the backstory as currently provided [in former developer Perpetual's version of Star Trek Online] about Ambassador Picard going to the Romulans. (But note that, as has been pointed out very clearly, information released publicly about the game's development to this point is subject to change.)

4. If the civil war opportunity is implemented, struggling to defeat an evil Empire might seem a bit too similar to a certain other science fiction universe!

5. Will still not be satisfactory to the serious Star Trek purists, who want "their" Trek universe.

6. Won't be satisfactory to the hardcore MMORPG gamers, either, who need non-leet gamers around to take advantage of.


On balance, I think this Mirror Universe setting could work for both those gamers who are strongly MMORPG-oriented and those who care most about plausibility of game action within Star Trek canon. As noted, there are potential difficulties to overcome. But to my mind, those would be considerably easier to address than trying to resolve the major cognitive disparity between Star Trek expectations of a peace-loving and cooperative Federation and MMORPG expectations of combat and loot acquisition.

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