Friday, June 8, 2007

Star Trek Characters as Archetypes

As I think about what elements define Star Trek, one that jumps out at me right away is "the characters."

So what is it about the characters of Star Trek that makes them immediately recognizable?

It seems to me that part of the answer is that these characters were designed primarily as archetypes. That is, each character is written to express a particular way of looking at and dealing with the world. These characters resonate with us in part because we recognize something universally human in each of them (including the non-human characters).

So I thought it might be fun to think about these archetypes. Seeing the kinds of people who make Star Trek what it is might tell us something about what features would be valuable in Star Trek Online.


The typology of the Big Three in TOS was pretty simple: Kirk was the Leader, Spock was the Thinker, McCoy was the Healer.

(Note: Classifying a character as being primarily of one archetype or another doesn't mean that character can't express other types of behavior. For example, Kirk was a Leader, but obviously he could think as well, as could McCoy.)

However, the development of the various Star Trek shows as ensemble dramas meant that more depth of characters was necessary. Thus it might make sense to consider one additional archetype -- the Doer (that is, someone who prefers to Do things; usually a Tactical/Security or Engineering officer) -- as well as imagining characters as having a primary type and a secondary type.

Accordingly, here's my off-the-cuff classification of the characters in the various Star Trek shows (other than ENT, which I'm still thinking about):

Spock:Thinker/LeaderRiker:Leader/Doer Jadzia Dax:Doer/ThinkerChakotay:Leader/Doer
Scotty:Thinker/DoerData:Thinker/Doer Bashir:Healer/DoerParis:Doer/Healer
Guinan:Healer/DoerEzri Dax:Healer/ThinkerNeelix:Doer/Healer

Assuming these classifications are more or less acceptable (and I'm open to different interpretations), we can see some interesting things.

1. A lot of characters have the Doer archetype as either a primary or secondary style -- their main interest is in action. This is perhaps natural for characters in an action/adventure TV show. But it also makes sense that Starfleet might attract people with that kind of physically active personality. Is this also a natural fit for the gameplay of a MMORPG?

2. TNG and VOY were fairly balanced in the archetypes of their main characters, although Voyager's crew was perhaps tipped a little toward the Thinker archetype. But look at DS9 -- for six years, everybody was a Doer! That could be a source of both understanding ("these people see the world like I do") and conflict ("I'm going to do this my way whether you like it or not"). I think the kinds of episodes we typically saw in DS9 and VOY were a pretty good reflection of these character archetypes.

3. Compare the leadership styles of Picard, Sisko and Janeway. Where Kirk and Sisko were inclined to act immediately on their decisions (and led others through the force of their convictions), Picard and Janeway had a more thoughtful approach to getting things done. Their inclination was to assess the factors of a situation, consult with others for the best course of action, and then exert leadership to accomplish what needed to be done. So: are either of these styles “better” than the other? What might a Leader/Healer character have looked like? Do these different leadership styles suggest any gameplay for Command skills in a Star Trek MMORPG?

At any rate, there are some ideas. What do you think? Is there anything in this that might help clarify for us what we believe Star Trek Online should offer?


  1. See article on Psychology Today:

  2. Very interesting -- your Red Earth style seems like a very close fit with the Leader archetype I suggested here (or perhaps the Leader/Doer combined style).

    Thanks for commenting!