Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Religion and Politics in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by Ereiid:
Remember that one of the cultural legacies of Trek (if you'll forgive the up-with-people, touchy-feely stuff) is that it presented an optimistic, progressive (left-wing, if you must) view of a future society transformed by technology, at least as much as by social development and change.

I think that the point of this thread, that we're dancing around -- is that believers of Christianity, Islam, Judaism -- whatever -- would like to believe in a future that validates their present beliefs. That humanity hasn't done away with faith. That a positive view of the future has space for spirituality.
I think we have at least two important points of agreement:

  • a core feature of Star Trek is its optimistic, we-can-be-better outlook

  • believers in current faiths consider their beliefs positive and hope for them to still be around in the future
The thing is, I think I can agree with you on these points and still come to a different conclusion regarding a Star Trek MMORPG and real-world religions because there's an additional point to consider, which is that Star Trek Online will be a massively multiplayer online game.

If you've read even a few of my posts here, you'll know I'm an unapologetic defender of the idea that a Star Trek MMORPG needs to have distinctive Star Trek characteristics in its core feature set. But that doesn't mean I can ignore the special constraints and opportunities that being a game, and being a game that's played by many people in a persistent world, will impose on Star Trek Online.

Being a computer-based game means that it has to be interactive fun, first and foremost. And being played by a lot of people means it has to be designed to satisfy the entertainment goals of as many people as possible as far as possible given that different people define "fun" very differently.

One way to accomplish that is to push the "magic circle" concept. By choosing to keep real-world stuff out of the game world, you minimize opportunities for one person's passions to interfere with someone else's fun. Of course that's not a perfect solution since for some people exploring religious and spiritual beliefs is fun. The problem is that this is extremely not-fun for other players... and making a commercial multiplayer game is about trying to maximize fun for the maximum number of paying customers.

If the goal was to build a Star Trek simulator, I'd actually be on board with including real-world religions. I'd probably even go for "ethical scenarios" in the Star Trek style, even though I retain my suspicion that no developer would long be able to resist going completely Aaron Sorkin on players by turning NPCs into self-righteously frothing mouthpieces for some "up yours, bourgeoisie!" ideology.

But regardless of who makes it, Star Trek Online will be a game, not just a Star Trek sim. That being the case, I wouldn't be surprised if they choose to keep many real-world things -- including religion -- out of the game.