Posts Tagged ‘Take Me Out to the Holosuite’

(With due apologies to Tony Hawks.)

It is interesting, and not a little cheering, to see that most people are resisting the crack of the whip as wielded by the vested interests of the untrammelled capitalist system and not trudging back to the old status quo simply because those who would benefit most from this demand them to. For me and many others the pause in everyday life continues (not quite a complete pause, as the passage of time is reflected in the slow erosion of my savings, but that’s by-the-by) and we continue with whatever we’ve been doing for the last two months. In my case this has been online gaming of various kinds and watching films and TV shows online and on DVD.

One of the games I ended up trying was Modiphius’ Star Trek Adventures, the latest in a very long line of Trek-related role-playing games and wargames. I and the player group I rassled together have been having quite a good time with this – although it’s hard to tell whether the dud moments we occasionally have are down to problems with the way the system translates Trek into an RPG context or just us not getting the vibe right ourselves as players.

Anyway, we have been having a good enough time to want to continue for the foreseeable future – inasmuch as that expression has any meaning at present – and this has put my mind to the question of writing stories for the game (this would probably be a more appropriate topic for a more gaming-focussed blog, but hey, one thing at a time). Star Trek RPGs can be difficult to write for, as the characters are not acquisitive or inclined to violence as a first resort, standard jeopardy plots are often negated by the ship’s transporter beam, and many key conflicts are often internal or somewhat abstract (you want your players to respect the Prime Directive, but if they treat it as an unbreakable rule in the way that Picard and Kirk frequently don’t, it becomes an obstacle to stories rather than a facilitator of them).

Then there are the really odd episodes that a game like Prime Time Adventures would probably handle better than even a semi-traditional RPG like STA: the one where Picard goes home to his family, or the one where someone unknowingly gets stuck in a micro-universe and has to figure our why the galaxy is now only half a mile across, or… you get my point. Or, and we finally reach our topic, the one with the baseball game.

I speak of Take Me Out to the Holosuite, fourth episode of Deep Space Nine‘s final season. DS9 has a reputation as the grimmest and grittiest of the Trek series, which I suppose is not undeserved – although personally I think of it as a series which, once it found its stride, was essentially about what happens when a utopia faces an existential threat: can it hang onto the values and philosophies which are at its core? When does survival come at too high a price? Nevertheless, the show also occasionally throws out what I can only call a goofball episode, of which this is a good example.

The USS T’Kumbra, an all-Vulcan ship, is docked at the station for repairs and refits, and it turns out its captain, Solok (Gregory Wagrowski), is an old rival of Captain Sisko. That doesn’t sound very Vulcan, I hear you say, and I agree: but quite apart from holding a grudge, Solok is also arrogant about Vulcan superiority and dismissive of other less developed races (which is to say, all of them). Solok completes his bid for the title of least authentic Trek alien this side of Australian Romulan Legolas by also revealing he is a follower of baseball and has formed his senior officers into a team. (It is implied he has done this just to wind the baseball-loving Sisko up – I know, I know, it just keeps on like that.)

Needless to say Sisko accepts Solok’s challenge of a game between the Vulcans and his own staff, to be played on the holosuite in two weeks’ time. Cue various droll scenes of Klingons, Trill, and Bajorans sitting around trying to learn the arcane rules of baseball, try-outs amongst the regular characters, and so on: even sour-natured barkeeper Quark ends up on the team, even though he has virtually no reason to want to take part. Odo is recruited as umpire; O’Brien invents whiskey-flavoured chewing gum for his role as coach; and so on. (Meanwhile, the Dominion War, in which more than a billion sentient creatures die, continues to rage off-screen, although no-one really mentions this as it would break the whimsical tone of the story.)

Most of the latter part of the story is taken up with the game itself, between the Logicians (Solok’s team: in one of many nice touches, their team symbol is the Vulcan IDIC icon) and the Niners (their symbol merges DS9 itself with a baseball). But how can Sisko and his people hope to stand a chance against a team who are much stronger, tougher, and faster, and – perhaps more crucially – actually know how to play?

I suspect I’m coming across as a bit dismissive of this episode, which is not my intention – I do like it a lot, mainly because it is so atypical of DS9. The thing is that it is quite self-indulgent – or that you have to indulge it in its various conceits, I’m not sure which is more accurate. The characters forget about the war to play baseball for a while; there happens to be a Vulcan baseball team in Starfleet; Sisko believes for a moment that his guys have a chance against them (only Worf the Klingon and the genetically-augmented Bashir can realistically match the Vulcans). There is something deeply un-Roddenberry-esque about the decades-long, and seemingly quite bitter rivalry between Sisko and Solok, and Sisko’s characteristically ruthless determination to win (to begin with at least).

There I go again. It is still really very likeable, even if, like me, your grasp of the rules of baseball is negligible – this is apparently one of those stories which has proven a victim of history, as the rules of baseball have changed since it was made – it seems that while people are still playing the game in the 2370s, they’ve reverted to an archaic version of the rules. I would never have known this; I don’t really understand what is going-on game-wise at the end of the episode, although of course I can follow the emotional track of the story, which is about Sisko learning to loosen up and Rom getting his moment of glory (the famous behind-the-scenes anecdote from this story is that Max Grodenchik, who plays the Ferengi, was a semi-pro baseballer in civilian life and found it almost impossible to convincingly play badly).

In the end this is a cheery little story, two-parts character study to one-part love letter to baseball itself. The stakes are personal and the tone gently comic, for the most part. How you’d make people buy into it as a traditional RPG scenario I’ve no idea, but perhaps the lesson to be learned is that some things just don’t transfer from one form to the other that well. In any case, this is an entertaining example of what Deep Space Nine routinely absolutely isn’t.

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