Bill Striker laughs in the face of condoms.

#5 – Bill Striker laughs in the face of condoms

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A fact about me: I have DMed exactly one pen-and-paper RPG session in my life, and I was I think a junior in high school at the time, and I was not very good at it at all, but I had drawn up a bunch of random encounter tables for it, and also there was this spooky mansion and in the basement of the mansion was some weird complicated glowing magical trap thing that reacted to character alignment in a way that I thought was super clever but the players mostly thought was kind of confusing and annoying, and I stayed up till four a.m. running it for a bunch of gamer/theater friends and two of them ended up sort of making out under a blanket instead of paying any attention, which was kind of rough because I totally had a crush on one of them.

I haven’t really comported myself that much better as a player over the years, either.  One time, I stabbed a horse in the neck with an arrow?  To try and slow down some dwarves?  Basically it was like pushing over a bunch of Hell’s Angels bikes outside a bar, except in the Forbidden Realms.  So that was a thing.

Basically what I’m saying is I have a lot of respect for anyone who can manage to run a game.  I’m not sure Geordi knows what he’s getting himself into.

WHO'S THE BLACK STATION HEAD WHO TAKES *ALL* THE DABO GIRLS TO BED? wockachickawickachucka BEN! (I can dig it)

#11 – Picard will spend a whole session at some point just making Sisko brush his hair ad nauseum

10 Comments

Character introductions! Now we get to see the rubber meet the road. Or the…nacelles hit the spacetime fabric? Do cars even have rubber wheels or drive on roads in the 24th century? I don’t know, future metaphors are a problem.

In fact, I’m willing to argue that Darmok wasn’t actually an episode about communicating with a species with a fundamentally alien (and Universal Translator-defying) language but rather a cautionary tale about being four hundred years out of date on your internet memes.

Anyway, as character picks go I felt like this was sort of a gimme, right? Picard’s idea of branching out is “me but cooler”. The demotion stung a little but he decided to take one for the team so long as everyone else has the good sense not to outrank him. (Riker knows which way the wind blows and quietly scraps Admiral Beefstrong, goes back to the cartoon-penis-drawing board.)

I get the impression of Picard that, for all his merits as a Captain, he’s not one of those bosses who really digs on the whole inverted-power-dynamics Carnival sort of deal; he’d grit out a smile through the first couple of disrespectful jokes and then he’d lose his cool and people would start getting fired and that’s the end of that office party, etc. He’ll laugh with you, but he won’t laugh with you laughing at him.

Wes doesn't have a lot of outlets on this ship.  And lately he can't even deck off.  It's trouble.

#12 – Oedipal underwear

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I know there’s a lot of jokes and or uncomfortable straight-faced discussions to be had about (a) the dilemma of being an adolescent boy with essentially no peer group on a sterile, surveillance-state environment like a warp-powered submarine and (b) the dysfunctional dynamics of spending most your time around your hot mom and your adoptive-but-actually-pretty-seriously-not father figure who sorta got your real dad killed, but:

Let’s talk about Counselor Troi. Specifically, about her duties as psychological counselor on the Enterprise. There’s about a thousand people on this ship, yeah? And she’s the ship counselor. There’s no clear indications in the show that she has staff; she’s The Ship’s Counselor, and that’s that.

How does she spend all that time chillin’ like a villain on the bridge? We see her actually counseling someone in a regularly-scheduled sit-down session like…five times? Maybe? In the entire run of the series. We see Picard specifically ordering some tea to drink more often than we see Troi doing what is ostensibly her vocation. She does plenty of little ad hoc “let’s just have a chat where I say observant things and we make expressions” moments mid-narrative but that’s not a J.O.B., that’s being there for your Bs.F.F.

A thousand crew members, let’s guess that maybe 30% of them need a monthly hour-long session (or a couple of half-hours, or a quick weekly check-in) for recurring mental health / evaluation / misc. counseling reasons. Most of it’s not dramatic, but it’s basic due diligence, crew-maintenance stuff that’s important in its own right, yeah? That’s 300 hours a month, or 10 hours a day and no weekends off. Plus drop-in hours. Plus emergencies. And that’s ignoring paperwork (PADDwork?), briefings with the senior officers, coordination with Bev’s medical staff, etc. Every single time she gets paged off screen, it should be interrupting a session or some bit of office hours.

Dr. Baby to the ER.  Paging Sexy Dr. Baby.  We've got a Code Binky.

#13 – Anagrams include ‘I shun bra jail’ and ‘Uh, sir? Anal jib.’

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People have been having a good time making character-mapping arguments in this thread from yesterday, so I almost hate to collapse the waveform a bit more already, but here we are.

Riker-as-Bashir doesn’t really speak much to Will’s imagination, but it seems like a pretty inhabitable character for him. I prefer to think that Riker would go into this expecting to basically play himself but more so and without any consequences; he’s a bit hemmed in trying to be the responsible First Officer, so why not dispense with some of that burden of duty and just be a brash, handsome, no-strings-attached medical genius on a space station away from prying eyes?

Should we talk about Riker-as-Kirk? Because I guess that’s sort of the inverse function here, in a sense. Riker is Kirk knocked down a rung on the command ladder and providing a buffer to Picard, to be reckless so the ship’s captain doesn’t have to — early episodes of TNG in particular have Riker making pains to object to Picard putting himself in harm’s way, which seemed like a pretty clear commentary on the original series’ habit of having half the senior staff plus a couple redshirts beaming down to every crazy planet they could find.

But if Riker is the Kirk id and Picard is the Kirk superego, what does that make Riker-as-Bashir? id-of-the-id? That’s a drug only a Riker-addict like Riker himself could have positive feelings about ingesting.

A: "I love this coffee." B: "I loved that waiter..." A: "...who shouted at your son!" A + B: "Jean Luc!"

#15 – He assimilates entire background characters and I fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here!

13 Comments

Oh Six Hundred already
I was just in the middle of a dream
I was kissin’ Ashley Judd
By a bloody red Cardassian stream

JUST ANOTHER WESLEY WEDNESDAY

It turns out that I can’t think of anything good to rhyme with Wednesday, at least not at seven in the morning, so let’s just put down The Bangles right there for your sake and mine.

Would it be unreasonable to suggest that a central part of Picard’s character is a disinclination to share? I’m not busting on him here, I mean that more in a straight-faced characterological way, as part of what makes him an interesting and complicated guy. He’s a thoroughly decent man, with strongly-held principles and an apparent desire to do good and see that others do good in the universe, but he’s also clearly ambitious and occasionally impulsive and it seems like messing with his stuff is about the best way for someone to get on his bad side.

The “someone” in the show when it comes up tends to be an alien race treating the Enterprise or by extension Starfleet as an entity or a concept with disrespect — e.g. shooting at his shit, ignoring his ethical boundaries, turning him into a Borg, being Q at all — but it’s there in his discomfort in crew interactions too if you look. Arguably the series ends on an admission of this, with Picard’s acknowledgement when finally joining the crew at the poker table* at the end (“I should have done this a long time ago…”) that he has been too reticent about sharing simple ritual fun-times with his own senior staff, the folks who are mostly clearly his friends at this stage in his life.

So Wes bogarting his fictional kid seems like it would set him off pretty well in its own right, is my feeling.

* And don’t think that poker table scene at the end of All Good Things… hasn’t kept me up at night given its implication that Picard wouldn’t go in for This Sort Of Thing. Though that is in itself a bit of an odd scene, because there were plenty of episodes where Picard holodecked it up with other crewmembers. Maybe he meant specifically confining himself around a gaming table in a small room, disintermediated from the protective conceit of a holoscenario? Which required a massive meta-existential life event to get him over? Which sounds like about what the holodecks going down would represent to the crew. Et voila, the circle has been squared and this all makes perfect sense after all.

Jean Luc!

"Make mine a double.  On the rocks.  You know which rocks I mean."

#16 – People associate my character name with being both top AND bottom…

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I think a lot about who the audience for LARP Trek is — I’d like to think it works pretty well for both my fellow Trek/Next Gen/Deep Space Nine nerdballs and for the more casual reader who doesn’t really know much about Star Trek other than that “it’s not the one with the lightsabers” but can still appreciate a good Riker sex joke.

And so this is one of those jokes that’s going to operate differently for Deep Space Nine fans vs. folks unfamiliar with the series, since the twist is only explicit in the seventh panel but all the DS9 fans are screaming BUT THAT’S QUARK SHE MEANS QUARK QUARK IS THE BARTENDER the whole time anyway.

It’s like watching a horror movie with someone who doesn’t watch horror movies. Genre-savvy viewers have a different set of expectations and so a different viewing experience. They’ve got different Ghost Ship moments. Which is neat! Sit down a non-Trekful friend and read the strip together! Discuss your experiences! Create a diorama about it. Process the hell out of those feelings, just, really explore that stuff or something.

But so anyway the real takeaway here is that this is the sort of thing that would more slow Riker down than scare him off, in the long run. He balks now but as soon as the holodeck comes back he’s gonna start privately trying his hand at oo-mox.

Miles: "Keiko."  Michael Bluth: "Her?"

#18 – My girlfriend lives in the Canada sector…

25 Comments

So here’s a thing: when I sat down to try and refresh my memory of the backstory of Miles and Keiko’s relationship, I figured I’d need to check out two or three episodes of Next Generation prior to their wedding in the middle of season four (in Data’s Day).

There aren’t any. I’d gotten so used to the O’Briens as fixtures on Deep Space Nine that I’d sort of internalized their presence on the Enterprise in TNG and assumed that there were just a lot of little Keiko tidbits I’d forgotten about. Like, hey, they were on the Enterprise together, she was in a bunch of episodes, some of that had to be courtship stuff, right?

But, no! We only meet Keiko Ishikawa on the day she gets married. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but man that’s sort of weird to think about in retrospect. Her defining character introduction to the Star Trek viewership is as “that lady who got all hysterical and threatened to call off her wedding”.

When did Miles and Keiko meet? Who knows! How long have they known each other? Beats me! The one bit of canonical backstory I could find was a reference in Data’s Day to the idea that Data is the person who introduced the two of them, though how and when and where and why is left totally unclear.

There may be further hints in later episodes of TNG and DS9, though if so even the folks who collectively maintain the encyclopedia specifically dedicated to Star Trek TV trivia didn’t bother to mention it. And I have already spent more time trying to research the issue than I have any number of actual historical events, so I’m not going to try any harder at this point.

Aside from being sort of weird and disappointing in retrospect, though, this is also super duper convenient for me, because it means I’m beholden to just about nothin’ in writing any Keiko-and-Miles stuff at the point in Star Trek: The Next Generation history where this is all happening. So thanks, TV writers! Your abrupt mid-series introduction of a secondary character for a secondary character has paid off.

More about Miles and Keiko on Friday. Because there’s always more to say about Miles and Keiko.

Not pictured: Counselor Troi attempting to sense the comet's motivations.

#22 – Comet Comet Comet Comet Comet Chameleon

17 Comments

Geordi, man, you got to corral those players. They’re not even staying in character! I know you’ve got pages and pages of notes on this setting already, but try to start with the key concepts maybe.

But, yes, seriously, what is with that comet in the opening title sequence of Deep Space Nine? Why is the first thing we see a comet about which nothing is, as far as I can recall, ever said? It’s not a plot comet or anything; it’s just a random bit of stellar flotsam, the sort of minor phenomena that Enterprise or Voyager or Enterprise Bakula Edition might chase down and scan but which DS9 would at best grab some long distance pix of if it was a slow day in the astrometrics lab.

Maybe it’s a metaphor? Like for the way Deep Space Nine embraces a degree of momentum, of continuing arc, which contrasts with the more episodic structure of the preceding Next Generation? Not that a comet drifting in a straight line is really a good non-trivial example of an arc. Plodding along in a dull straightforward path is kind of an unflattering self-assessment.

But then, oh, there could be gravity wells? Suns, planets, spatial anomalies? The perturbation of its path by stellar masses seen and unseen? I suppose that’s a good example of how an arc can come from nowhere, a twist in the road, an unintended shift in one’s path so that one ends up treading into strange territory even as one tries to presses ever forward and onward? Is this metaphor shaping up? I feel like we’re reaching here. Feeling like the ol’ grasp is being exceeded.

Another thing that I suspect: somewhere on a datapad (yes, yes, they’re called PADDs in the Star Trek universe, shut up), Geordi has written down lyrics to a song about Deep Space Nine. Maybe those’ll slip out at some point. Maybe just.

My Bashir guy walks up to Miss Andoria and says "I don't know why they call you *Miss* Andoria; a guy would have to be *crazy* not to hit that..."

#23 – Captain Picard, of the OOC Enterprise

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Originally I thought this strip was going to involve a much more elaborate metaphysical argument on Picard’s part, about the nature of being, the continuity of consciousness, thoughts on the implications of sleep and stasis and transporter technology on our sense of ourselves as constant beings, etc.

But it wasn’t really gelling, and so: Riker sex jokes. I hope you will forgive me.

But! It did get me thinking about something: the use of montage as a core storytelling technique in television and film work, and how it seems possible that that might fall almost entirely by the wayside in a future where holodeck programs were the new norm.

A montage of disjoint scenes in sequence works great in a film as a way to convey a sense of a story progressing quickly — Rocky Balboa is jogging, looking very winded! Now he’s working a punching bag! Now he’s sparring in the ring, takes a shot to the ribs, the coach hollers at him! Jogging again, but now with more strength! He’s sparring again, blocks the rib shot, jabs the other guy clean! etc. — but it depends on edits to work, depends on the ability to cut from one scene to the next to the next without logical transitions or explicit continuity, letting the viewer do the interpretive work that reassembles the collection of scenes into a meaningful story.

Which in a passive, interpretive medium like film obviously can work very well, but how well would it work in an interactive, fully-realized 3D worldscape with direct viewer/player agency? Seeing Rocky zip through weeks of training in a couple of minutes is fine, but imagine playing as Rocky in virtual reality and having your jogging track disappear suddenly, or your punching bag turn into a sparring partner, or so on. It’d likely be pretty jarring! Sympathetic immersion in the scene seems like it’d create a serious challenge for abrupt scene transitions.

You can see hints of this in the editing of contemporary 3D films, I think; the more information-rich visual field carries with it more of a need for visual continuity, a meeting of the viewer halfway in terms of mechanical expectations from the film. We’re not used to changing focus on the fly while viewing films; we’re also not used to dealing with the kind of impossible focus changes that editing two 3D scenes together can introduce, like having one scene with a distant foreground wipe cut into another scene with a foreground much closer (perceptually) to the viewer, or with depth of field changing abruptly across a cut. There are edits that work great in 2D film that are at best problematic in 3D, at worst Escher-esque, and in general the editing of 3D films seems from what I’ve seen to be at least incrementally more conservative about smash cuts and fast edits.

There’s a parallel here to the introduction of sound to film in the early 1900s, actually. Before talkies, the only limit on what worked in edits was what worked visually — if it was effective to look at, you’re all set. Adding sound to the equation created new constraints: your cuts had to make sense not just visually but audibly, and suddenly there was the problem of things that might work well on the screen but not make sense to viewer’s expectations in terms of the sonic logic of a transition.

Maybe it’s hopeful for 3D film to look at the change in viewer savviness over the ensuing decades to the point where clever editors and passively film-literate viewers make it possible to do unusual and jarring things with picture/sound editing that would have been seen as too esoteric 70 years ago to work. But then, maybe not!

Also, on the silent vs. sound film front and returning to the montage editing idea: consider how the classic montage scene in modern films and TV often dispenses with realistic sound in favor of a musical backdrop with maybe some incidental sound effects or maybe none at all. There’s the argument that music over montages is just an effective tool for emotional manipulation, but I think it’s more than that; it’s a smoothing out of that editing process, a way to let the viewer not be treating each edit as a new disorienting scene. (Look at how effectively unsettling it can be when a horror movie uses jarring edits without attempting to smooth them over with a nice soundtrack chaser!)

And there’s a whole additional, and probably actually pretty central, argument to be made about the parallels to video game experience vs. film/tv editing. But this is already pretty long, so, another day? Another day.

But so yes! Holodeck. Montage. Never the twain shall meet, is my Speculative 24th Century Film Studies thesis.