“The Game” – TNG 5X6

If you hear: “Star Trek episode featuring Wesley Crusher saving the ship from video game addiction,” you might think “The Game” would be a painful episode. You would be wrong. 

“The Game” is awesome. It has Ashley Judd as the smart, assertive and quirky Ensign Robin Lefler. It has two minutes of Troi rhapsodizing over a chocolate sundae. It has…horrible special effects…but otherwise I loves it.

I loves it even though it starts out with a bathrobed Riker frolicking with Etana, his latest one-night-stand, on Risa. I have never seen people act that silly in real life, but I’m assuming they’re drunk, since it’s Risa. 

Etana pulls out a visor-thing that looks vaguely like the headgear that goes with braces, and puts it on Riker, saying it’s a game.

Etana puts a game headset on Riker

The game graphic is the worst part, even for the time. Jonathan Frakes has said it looked like “a tuba on a checkerboard.”

The Game's graphics - red disk into blue funnel

Etana tells him to relax and use his mind to get the disc into the funnel. When Riker completes the level, this little beam comes out and zaps him in the eyes, and he sighs with pleasure.

When Riker returns to the Enterprise things are bustling. A bunch of science teams and a diplomatic mission are all on board, getting ready for a two week survey of a newly-discovered region of space. 

Luckily, Picard announces they’ll have help because Wesley Crusher is on his way back to the ship, on a vacation from the Academy. 

Riker goes down to Engineering, where Geordi introduces him to Ensign Robin Lefler. Geordi gushes over how great her work is – so great he’s made her a mission specialist.

Ashley Judd as Robin Lefler

I just want to pause for a second to say how awesome I think this intro to Lefler is. You’re pretty sure she’s going to end up in a romantic relationship with someone but they decided she’s attractive enough without putting her in a cat suit or giving her an unbusinesslike hairdo or special soft-focus lighting. And the main thing to recommend her at this point is she’s smart! 

None of that TOS-style men not being able to talk when she’s there, or giving each other winks behind her back.

So anyway, Riker tries to subtly encourage Geordi to try the game but he’s busy, so he heads to Ten Forward, where he finds Troi making out with a chocolate sundae. She gives the famous “I never met a chocolate I didn’t like” speech. 

Troi eating a chocolate sundae

It’s possible to see this as reinforcing a stereotype about women being emotional chocolate eaters, but I think they made this clearly Troi’s trait – not all women’s. I’m also happy it shows her feeling fully-justified in eating for pleasure. It was nowhere near a Cathy (the comic strip) scenario where a woman’s chocolate binge is inevitably followed by insecure thoughts about one’s weight (Ack!). 

After she describes her ritual to Riker, he suggests she try the game.

Wesley arrives and finds the senior staff have planned a surprise party for him in the Observation Lounge.

Doctor Crusher greets Wesley

Picard tests Wesley’s Latin skills, because it makes sense to prioritize that when you’re getting ready to be an interstellar explorer. 

On the way out, Wesley and Data chat about what it’s like to feel like you don’t quite fit in at the Academy, including this bizarre observation.

Data: I also found social gatherings difficult. There was one event, an Academy tradition, the Sadie Hawkins Dance?

Wesley: They still hold it, every year.

Data: A notably awkward experience.

Data talks to Wesley in the corridor

Wha? Girls can’t just ask guys to dance as a matter of course in the 24th century? How Eurocentric and heteronormative is Starfleet Academy? 

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe they mean it’s “notably awkward” because everyone knows it’s totally archaic, unnecessary, and exclusionary of LGBT cadets.

Arriving in Engineering, Wesley runs into Robin. She shows him how to recalibrate…something…manually and references number 17 of her “Lefler’s Laws”: “When all else fails, do it yourself.”

There’s an adorable awkward handshake as they introduce themselves. She’s already heard about him from friends at the Academy.

Wesley meets Robin

Meanwhile, more and more people are playing the game. Crusher hails Data and tells him he needs to come to Sickbay. When he gets there, Crusher incapacitates him. Troi and Riker come in and Crusher starts working on something in the circuits in the back of Data’s head.

Crusher, Riker and Troi deactivate Data

Wesley is having tea with Picard when Picard gets called to Sickbay. Crusher said he collapsed and is in the equivalent of a coma.

Geordi is really worried about Data but he and Riker can’t find any clues in Data’s quarters. Riker suggests he unwind by playing the game.

Wesley and Robin are back at work in Engineering a little later and they’re both so darn geekily endearing. We get a little more about “Lefler’s Laws”:

Wesley: What are all these laws that I keep hearing about?

Robin: They’re my personal laws. Every time I learn something essential, I make up a law about it so I never forget.

Wesley: How many do you have?

Robin: A hundred and two so far.

So obvs, after that he has to ask her for coffee. She says she’ll accept if they do dinner. He goes back to quarters to prepare and finds Dr. Crusher really into the game. Like if I walked in on my mom like that it would be awkward.

Crusher has a pleasurable reaction to the game

She tries to get him to try it too and seems almost desperate, but he has to go meet Robin. 

In Ten Forward the two start trying to figure out what the deal is with the game. They get the idea to hook a headset up to the computer to find what it does. 

Robin and Wesley on a date

They’re so enthused by that idea, they head right to the lab. They figure out the game stimulates the brain’s pleasure centre, is addictive and interferes with higher reasoning.

Wesley goes to warn the Captain, but Picard’s already hooked on the game. Re-connecting with Robin they clue into the suspicious circumstances around Data’s malfunctioning. They are the only people not playing now, and people keep coming up to them and creepily encouraging them to try.

Later, in Sickbay, Wesley finds out Data’s positronic links have been neatly severed, by either La Forge or his mother. I’m not sure how he figures this out so quickly when La Forge couldn’t figure it out earlier, but he is Wesley.

And he is being hunted down. On the bridge Worf announces they’ve reached their destination and a ship is approaching. Picard orders Worf to make sure everyone – including Wesley – is playing.

Worf and Dr. Crusher find Wesley and Robin in Wesley’s room, apparently playing the game. They leave and the two take off their mock headsets and go to start the next part of their plan.

Meanwhile, the other ship hails the Enterprise and it’s commanded by Etana, Riker’s lady-friend from the first scene (surely his actions resulting in this kind of crisis warrants a regretful morning-after turbolift confession to the Captain. No?).

Etana appears on the viewscreen in a grey military outfit

Wesley has some sort of plan but the crew has figured out he’s still not playing the game and they’re in hot pursuit. It’s exciting to watch all the neat tricks he comes up with, like whipping up a site-to-site transport program and then using his comm badge and an auto-firing phaser as decoys.

But Riker and Worf grab him eventually and drag him to the bridge, where they make him sit in the Captain’s chair and play the game.

Wesley's eyes are held open as he's forced to play the Game

Just as he gets zapped by the lasers, Data comes in, turns off the lights, and shines a strobe light from a palm beacon. The pattern of the lights disrupts everyone’s addiction. 

Data tells Worf to tractor Etana’s ship, which is far inferior. Wesley explains he reconnected Data’s positronic matrix (outdoing Geordi yet again, darn boy genius!). The diversions Wesley created let Data come up with the modified palm beacon.

The episode ends with Robin helping Wesley pack. Their interaction is cute and playful but also mature. And, they kiss!

Wesley and Robin kiss

She gives him a copy of Robin’s laws, which is the best present ever. 

Wesley: Thanks. Law one hundred and three?

Robin: Yes?

Wesley: A couple of light years can’t keep good friends apart. Bye.

Oooh, friend-zoned. I’m gonna assume that wasn’t intentional. 🙂

What we learned from this episode:

  • The youngest people can be the most mature people on the ship
  • Geek love is the best kind of love
  • Don’t play too many video games, kids.

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass. Dr. Crusher asks Troi about the game.

2 Comments

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I think for the Sadie Hawkins dance, data’s awkwardness is mainly because it’s a dance, not because of girls asking boys. He and Wesley are both not good at social events.

Fair point – I guess I’m just saying I don’t think this aged well. In 2021 it’s highly unremarkable for girls to ask boys to dance so it’s weird to me they’d even have a Sadie Hawkins dance in a supposedly more egalitarian future.

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