|The Star Trek Text Video Game|
In one of my other lives I moonlight as a video game journalist. Now, when I say that I mean I write largely gonzo stream-of-consciousness mytho-symbolic reactions to video games from twenty-seven years ago, which is admittedly what you’d probably expect from me. The point being video games have been an incredibly important part of my life for a very long time. So much so that I’m far more comfortable associating with and relating to video games then I am to pretty much any other kind of creative expression with the exception of music, and this influences the approach I take to media studies and just media consumption in general. It’s also why I find it…not so much disquieting as ironically curious that my biggest project to date is a sprawling overview of a franchise most known for its film and television work. On the whole, I don’t work well with scripted drama. I feel I’ve never been able to truly appreciate it the way most people do and that I keep coming at it from weird angles. In that sense my long relationship with Star Trek and the scant few other non-game or -music works I hold dear to me is almost a fluke.
But Star Trek itself has a very important relationship with video games that goes back almost as long as video games do. The idea of a licensed video game is an interesting one: For this kind of game to be successful it has to be beholden to both the standards of good game design and fealty to its source material. It’s a very thin line to walk and too far in either direction all but guarantees failure, if not commercially or critically definitely aesthetically. My own history with Star Trek is also quite bound up with my history with video games: Some of the first games I ever played were Star Trek ones, and it’s been a minor life goal of mine to find that one elusive Star Trek game that both works as a game and fits with my conception of what Star Trek should be like (and given the way so many licensed games turn out and the fact not even most televised Star Trek holds to what I think Star Trek should be like, you can probably tell what a fruitless endeavour this is). But even so, there have been a number of Star Trek video games that have proved to be both historically and personally significant, and this series looks at some of them.
And so it happens that one of the earliest computer games distributed as part of a pack of games written in BASIC for early home computers happened to be based on the original Star Trek. What became The Star Trek Text Video Game was born out of an early jam session held by programmer Mike Mayfield and some of his high school friends in 1971, and was eventually ported to the HP-2000C when Hewlett-Packard asked Maynard for a version of it.…