Thursday, August 16, 2007

Religion and Politics in a Star Trek MMORPG

Originally Posted by Irdnova:
I was wondering if a game of this dynamic as Star Trek Lore does should have a place in it that has Religious and Cultural beliefs as a major part of how you (your character) or the world and species you interact with have these traits.
There really are two questions here. Religion and culture are different enough to be worth treating separately.

Firstly, concerning religion in a Star Trek MMORPG, there are two choices: real-world religions, and made-up Star Trek-y religions (though these could possibly be stand-ins for real-world religions).

The main point I'd like to make here is that IMO a game developer would have to be out of their collective minds to make a mass-market online game that included actual real-world religions as any kind of official feature. The potential payoff for doing so (whatever that might be) is so unlikely to come anywhere close to the potential downside (people harassing each other in-game for horrible real-world PR and potential legal action) that the odds of it happening seem pretty low to me.

Having made-up religions takes a lot of the sting out of that problem... but not all of it. This is particularly true if Star Trek Online's developer elects to do what Star Trek's various writers and producers did, which was to science-fictionalize current-day issues for dramatic purposes. Star Trek on TV could get away with a certain amount of that. For a passive medium like a TV show, generating external debate is not necessarily a bad thing. But for an interactive medium like an online game, that debate is guaranteed not to be external at all -- it will happen in-game, and as such real-world argument intrudes it will destroy the "magic circle" of the game's story and setting.

So although I think it might be possible to have made-up religions in ST:O, and even to use them to pose (but not "answer"!) questions about religion in our real world, I suspect that ST:O's developer will choose not to implement even made-up religions, either, unless as non-interactive text to flavor a story. I could be wrong about this, of course, and I'll be interested to see how it's handled.

Secondly, there's culture. This, I think, would be a great addition to a Star Trek Online -- in fact, it's hard to imagine alien races feeling really alien without them having unique cultural attributes and behaviors.

The question of "what is culture?" is a little too big to get into here (though it might be fun to bash around elsewhere). But for our purposes, let's say it's things like customs, attitudes, beliefs, aesthetics, artistic and philosophical views, and generally shared assumptions.

So how could those things be implemented in an online Star Trek game in a way that's fun for most players most of the time?