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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

11 Comments

  1. K. Jones
    January 7, 2015 @ 8:47 am

    I picked up on this line; "I think what all of this comes down to is that Western society doesn't really know what to do with adult works that are also utopian and idealistic, though this is probably true of modernist societies in general. There seems to be an in-built assumption that everything made for adults has to be cynical, dark and completely self-absorbed and that there's no room for stories that do something above and beyond caricaturing and sensationalizing the drama of everyday life."

    It reminded me immediately of Plok's "Big Boys Don't Cry" post about Guardians of the Galaxy (http://mindlessones.com/2014/12/30/big-boys-dont-cry/), and also the often false connections drawn between "For Children" and "For Adult" versus what the actual contrast tends to be – emotional maturity and an interest in other people, not just oneself.

    This is certainly the ultimate Pulaski "arc" moment, though I'll be arguing soon that Shades of Grey, ironically for a clip show, is actually a really strong Pulaski and Troi showcase (ironically all of Riker's charm and being the soul of the crew and how he interacts with others gets payoff in an episode so many people deride.)

    And war games are fun exercises. I don't think ever playing paintball matches (in camouflage, no less) in the woods do we ever in real life fancy ourselves soldiers even as we realize that specific proper real-life tactics tend to win the games. It's a cold irony that the most creative, useful things to come out of the human brain often come out of war and soldiering, but there's no shortage of literature on that, on how the horror of war is ironically the birthplace for a lot of humanity's best.

    Picard sighs, Riker smirks, Data is a human.

    Meanwhile in the universe, young LTCR Benjamin Sisko is aboard the USS Saratoga, twiddling his thumbs in the thick of the "Other Starfleet".

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  2. Adam Riggio
    January 7, 2015 @ 3:58 pm

    The best expression of the imaginative power of paintball is, in my humble but true opinion, Season One Episode Four of Spaced.

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  3. Adam Riggio
    January 7, 2015 @ 4:17 pm

    I remember watching this episode when it was originally broadcast so well because of the B-plot conflict between Data and Kolrami. Being six years old, the unfolding of their conflict was something of a revelation to me. Kolrami was not only arrogant, but that high opinion of himself and his abilities led him into bullying behaviour. Trying to deal with these sorts of people would pretty much define most of the emotional moments of my childhood.

    The B-plot of this arc is Data being bullied into losing his self-confidence. Right here is why so many Star Trek fans out there identify so deeply with Data.

    And the way he ultimately won his conflict with Kolrami was frankly inspiring (and kind of reminds me now of the ethics underlying Doctor Who when it's done right). Data is facing a bully on the field of a complex, fast-moving strategy game where the objective is to defeat your opponent as quickly and soundly as possible. Kolrami can't be defeated by playing his game by his rules, playing to win and humiliate your opponent just as he did to Riker and Data.

    Data instead develops a strategy of playing to a draw. Data's actions don't make sense to Kolrami because he isn't looking to defeat the bully, only finish as his equal, in a literal sense. When Data realized that he could not win when playing by Kolrami's rules, he broke the rules. Data's lesson is also Doctor Who's. When you're stuck in a system whose rules are set up for your fall, break the system. It reminds me of Dirty Pair's guiding idea as well.

    This is also why I drifted away from gaming culture as a child. I met a few too many Kolramis, and they've become only more obnoxious and vile as the echo chambers of social media developed.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    January 7, 2015 @ 4:35 pm

    That Guardians piece was terrific, K-Thanks for passing it along.

    I've been working with a lot of utopian themes in my work of late, and that gave me a lot to think about.

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  5. Josh Marsfelder
    January 7, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

    "When you're stuck in a system whose rules are set up for your fall, break the system. It reminds me of Dirty Pair's guiding idea as well."

    Very, very true. Couldn't have put it better myself. And it warms my heart whenever my readers cite Dirty Pair 🙂

    "This is also why I drifted away from gaming culture as a child. I met a few too many Kolramis, and they've become only more obnoxious and vile as the echo chambers of social media developed."

    Gamers are all Kolramis. You have to be one to dedicate yourself to fruitlessly chasing high scores and tournament victories on games designed to get you addicted. They never left the carnie culture and the industry has leaned on them for far too long.

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  6. elvwood
    January 8, 2015 @ 1:38 am

    "And bamboo." Adam, I love that episode! Of course, I love Spaced as a whole, but it has to be one of my top three, and it is my first thought when anyone mentions paintball. (Second is Good Omens.)

    As for Peak Performance, it was the first TNG episode I ever saw, at a time when I was watching no science fiction on TV. My friends persuaded me to watch it – and I thought it was rubbish. It was a long while before they managed to convince me to try again.

    I am sure that my opinion was based far more on my own personal state of mind than the episode. I'd be interested to watch it again now, with less jaded eyes.

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  7. Froborr
    January 8, 2015 @ 6:43 am

    I found the Guardians thing unreadably incoherent. I'm really curious what other people are getting out of it, if anybody would be willing to kind of summarize what his actual POINT is?

    It's really weird trying to imagine what a pre-Wolf 359 Sisko might have been like. It's honestly hard to imagine him joining Starfleet at all! It has always seemed to me like there are three Siskos–Sisko the maker, who likes working with his hands and producing tangible products, like cooking and building ships and houses; Sisko the warrior, who was born at Wolf 359; and Sisko the mystic, who was born from his experiences on DS9. Only the last is really any sort of explorer, so I have trouble imagining what his motivations for joining Starfleet in the first place would have been.

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  8. Froborr
    January 8, 2015 @ 6:47 am

    I'm curious as to how you're defining "gamer" here, Josh–I assume you're equating it to competitive or hardcore gamers, because it seems rather an overbroad statement to be making about everyone who plays games. Certainly it's accurate of gaming culture, though, which is utterly vile and needs to be smashed with the rock it hides under.

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  9. K. Jones
    January 8, 2015 @ 7:28 am

    Much in the way of competitive gaming, to be sure. It's a generalization but not exactly an inaccurate one. I've got a storied history of gaming, and that includes the ur-Kolrami of games, Magic: The Gathering … which is a tough sell because I'm not competitive. There's an in-built correlation though, between being hardcore competitive and tactics, I think. I cite this a lot in daily life – my brother's a big MTG card player and always wants to play and I always turn him down – I have no competitive edge. He also challenges me to chess a lot, which I can never win … as well as even Scrabble. I'm a writer, I majored in English Lit at one point. I correct his spelling every day. I still can't win because I can't see past the words to the point-system on the board.

    Which is interesting – because Data's victory over Kolrami is explicitly him applying Riker's tactics and style from the war games. It's Data learning from his friend in the A-Plot and applying it in the parallel theme of the B-Plot. Riker is not competitive, at least, he's not hardcore competitive. He's not a gamer. When Tasha and Worf go to kick ass at Parrises Squares, Riker wishes them luck and to have fun.

    I am a gamer. But I have no competitive urge. I'm a retro gamer, specifically. I mean I play games to pass the time here and there, to solve a puzzle, but it's always old Nintendo games. But competition can function as motivation as well – motivating my brother to keep updating to top-of-the-line systems, to play first-person shooters online (he doesn't use a headset or mic, though – all Kolramis are muted and not to be socialized with).

    I've met Kolramis in paintball as well. It's not so relevant to this episode or the VG culture, but it is interesting to note that a Kolrami's competitive edge means jack when somebody else has the homefield advantage.

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  10. K. Jones
    January 8, 2015 @ 7:30 am

    Mindless articles are often pretty laden with Inside-Baseball (Cricket?) references. I mean I know most of the reference but certainly not everyone will. But the shadow-line stuff resonates fine.

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  11. Daru
    January 8, 2015 @ 9:49 pm

    "I've previously complained about war games in the context of Star Trek when I wrote about the Star Fleet Universe, but this episode addresses every single one of my concerns by actually acknowledging that the artifice is the most important part of the experience at a textual level"

    Personally I have real problems with competitive gaming, especially war based games. I guess I have issues going way back to bullying experiences from more macho boy on my school sports field. Though I totally respect the joy of others to engage in them. It's a great call-out above to the paintball episode of Spaced – it's so brilliantly funny! One thing I love is say the skill of throwing or kicking a ball, but have not interest about the context of a game with rules that it gets placed in.

    The kind of games I enjoy are usually roleplay based, or use the imagination to a high degree – and they have to be fun! One of the reasons I enjoy watching any Star Trek is because of Starfleet's military nature and the problems that entails, as well as seeing crews of various Enterprises take the journey towards more utopian ideals.

    The thing that grabbed me when I was in my teens about TNG was the spiritual journey in the "interpersonal and naturist-cosmic" realms that seemed to be unfolding before and that it mirrored something of my own struggles and hopes. I really look forwards to seeing where you go with this Josh.

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