The Book Lightwalker Files

Science fiction by Victor Travison

Lightwalker's View

Artificial Joys

Posted on April 11, 2012 at 6:15 AM

Part 2 of 6 on the next generation of space travelers.


For April, our CW blog chain gang chose the theme “Joy,” since it’s an important component of the Easter season. Technically Easter was last Sunday, but there’s no reason why we should give up celebrating Jesus’ Resurrection. This event not only procured our salvation, but through it God ordained Sunday as our worship day, as practiced by the first Christian missionaries in the book of Acts.


Trouble is, when you write a blog about secular sci-fi and fantasy, it’s hard to find a good expression of joy. What passes for joy in most of them is more accurately called pleasure or happiness, which is not nearly the same thing. Happiness and pleasure occur because of circumstances, while true joy occurs in spite of them.


Take the episode “The Game,” for instance. It’s one of my Next Generation favorites, regardless of its opening: Riker having a playful extramarital affair on Risa, with an alien woman named Etana Jol. Though it does show an alien at play, which I usually want to see; and though it also shows corruption is not exclusive with Earthians, I didn’t care for it. Still, I’d have to say it demonstrates the trouble people get into when they are morally obtuse.


Amid the frolicking, Etana introduces Riker to the Ktarian game at the heart of the story. It looks like a wire that fits over the head and ears, and a hypnotic beam flashes into his eyes. “What is this?” asks Riker.


“It’s a game,” she says smoothly. “Everybody here plays it.”


He sees a base of grid holes, from which red disks arise and float about at random. Blue cones grow to flex about and change shape. The idea is to mentally force the disks into the cones, which swallow them and retreat. And at the end of each level, there comes a sensation of pleasure.



Riker brings the game to the Enterprise-D and replicates it for everyone on board. About the same time, two other significant events occur. Data is deactivated, being the only crewmember who would not be affected by the game’s hypnotic influence; and Wesley Crusher beams up on vacation from Starfleet Academy, full of learning and stories.


Wesley meets Robin Lefler (Ashley Judd of the country-western Judd family), an engineering ensign who recites clichés as “laws” as though she made them up. Many of them seem self-serving, such as “When all else fails, do it yourself,” or “Always watch your back.” As the pair gets to know each other, they begin to notice how popular the game has become in a short time. People they know keep trying to force it on them, including Wes’ mother Beverly.


As any dutiful young man would, Wes reports to Captain Picard, who listens thoughtfully and promises to investigate. But as soon as the lad leaves, Picard swivels about and puts on a headset to enjoy the game himself. That’s rather like investigating drug trafficking by taking heroin.


In one scene, the pair sits together in Ten Forward to discuss plans, when they spot a woman in a booth, lounging back in artificial bliss. This is a clear indication of the psychotropic effects any “recreational” drug has on a person.


And that, I believe, is the whole point.


The Ktarian game is a symbol for drug abuse, something that appears innocent but is deadly, like cookies laced with marijuana. It’s the same message as Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where a scientist’s formula transforms him into a monstrous alterego. It also reminds me of TekWar, the novel series by William Shatner which became a TV series in the mid-1990s.


Besides the implied warning, I like the teamwork between Robin and Wesley when they investigate what the game is actually doing. By hooking a headset into the diagnostic computer, they discover it affects the areas of the brain controlling pleasure and reason. When a person plays the game, his reasoning powers fly out the window, exactly as drugs do. I’ve heard addicts talk about “joy” or “happiness” connected with the substance he’s using.


When Robin is forced to play the game in Engineering, Wesley winds up all alone. There’s an entire interesting sequence where he’s running from the whole crew—until he too is captured on the bridge, set in the command chair, and forced to don the device. Eventually Etana Jol shows up again, this time as the commander of the invading Ktarian fleet confronting the Enterprise-D. She is exactly the opposite of playful now, firmly commissioning the starship to spread the insidious game all through Starfleet.


In this episode, we have several pleasurable pursuits most people mistake for joy. First, there’s the playful but non-marriage romance Riker has with Etana. Strike one. Later, not really plot-related, Deanna sings the praises of eating chocolate ice cream with chocolate fudge and chocolate chips, in an almost worshipful way. Strike two. But most of all, the deceptively simple but highly addictive game leaves them open to invasion. Strike three and they’re out.


In the proper context, each of these is not bad in itself. A man should enjoy playful, sensual pleasures, albeit with his wife. Like any food, chocolate has its place in a diet, in conjunction with other foods. And games should only be a diversion, never the primary activity of the day. I must confess that, like most writers, I like to play Facebook games; sometimes it’s hard to tear myself away. But I also take the time to eat, relax, run errands, attend functions. And of course, write.


But none of these is what God means by “joy.” A man can go through the worst of times, as I feel I am right now, bedeviled by heart problems. Yet in the midst of it, God gives me joy. I have watched a sweet lady in my Sunday School class gradually become more and more infirm as she ages. But if you ask her “how are you?”, she always gives the same answer: “Awesome and blessed.”


Now that is real joy!


“My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God,” says Psalm 84:2. The Hebrew word translated “cry out” is also the word for “joy” or “rejoicing” or “singing.”


As for the New Testament, when the women came to Jesus’ tomb, expecting to anoint His dead body, they were surprised to find the stone standing aside and the body gone. Matthew 28:8 says, “The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples.”


So clearly joy is not an emotion apart from those we’d rather not feel. I admit, in the midst of my troubles, I do go through periods of depression. But as Psalm 30:5b says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy [comes] in the morning (NKJV). I don’t like the restrictions my body keeps throwing my way. I don’t like having to watch my diet and weight. I don’t like being on a strict budget due to outrageous medical bills. Yet I can experience joy without drugging myself. Like every other good gift, joy comes from God, no matter what I may be going through.


In the episode, Wesley Crusher had the foresight to reactivate Data before he wound up running from his crewmates. After the senior officers pin him in the command chair and force the headset on him, Wes’ eyes squeeze shut, trying to avoid the disk and cone images. But his mother holds them open. He begins to relax.


In comes Data, flashing a special light in everyone’s face that wipes out the psychotropic drug. In the same way, when we see the Light of the World flash in our souls, we can recover from drugged lives and live forever in His glory. I’ve seen it happen many times.


Anybody who struggles with compulsive addictions needs to learn how completely the Light of Jesus can heal.



Categories: Next Generation

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Reply Terrie
12:32 PM on April 11, 2012 
This is a wonderful take and might I say, you masterfully intertwined the themes perfectly. Joy is a deep knowing, not an emotion. The temporary euphoria that drugs or other things bring are deception from Satan who wants only to destroy your life, your hope and your future. Rest assured if anyone has truly trusted in Jesus for salvation, they are saved- the devil may temporarily derail some lives, but Jesus does shine his light. Peace and Blessings
Reply Carol Peterson
12:58 PM on April 11, 2012 
I loved that episode. Ashley Judd showed just how much star quality she had. I loved how you related drugs to our true joy in Jesus. Thank you.
Reply Pegg Thomas
1:08 PM on April 11, 2012 
Entertaining and insightful - as expected! We have become a society of artificial joys. How sad. :(
Reply Mike
7:48 PM on April 11, 2012 
The Matthew verse where is says they were "afraid yet filled with joy" is really an interesting phrase. It seems quite odd really.
Reply Chris Henderson
9:14 PM on April 11, 2012 
Really like your line...Happiness and pleasure occur because of circumstances, while true joy occurs in spite of them...It totally plays into how you relate the episode.
Reply Tracy Krauss
10:13 PM on April 11, 2012 
I remember the Game well. it was a rather profound episode
Reply SandiGrace
10:42 PM on April 11, 2012 
The game in this episode always reminded me of TV. It's amazing how much time we waste watching people pretend, punctuated by watching people exaggerate (commercials).

As writers, we know the value of well-written stories, true and fiction. Yet, too much TV can leach potential from a life. People get lost in the lives on screen and forget to live their own. How sad.

In TV, we're also taken down certain roads of social reconditioning on programs that "preach" liberalism through their stories.

As Christians, we're told to renew our minds. We're also told we will be blessed if we don't "walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scornful," but rather spend our time immersing ourselves in God's Word. (Psalm 1)
Reply Scott Fields
4:02 PM on April 14, 2012 
I'm please to see that you're delving into the Next Generation series. "The Game" was a good episode, a stark take on drug abuse. It also spun an interesting take on the insidious plans of drug pushers, who work to addict people to their substance in order to take a psychological and economic hold on their lives. Etana pushed the game on Riker, knowing full well who he was and the position he held on the Enterprise. She used it to take control of their ship?and, if not for the heroics of Wesley, might have extended that control deep into Starfleet as well.

Excellent and thought-provoking post as always, Victor.
Reply Victor Travison
7:42 AM on April 16, 2012 
I've been having internet problems this week, so I apologize for not getting back to my commenters earlier. You talk about my inspiration, I'm inspired by some of your comments as well. You are all right on the money.

The difference between happiness and joy is all too often neglected, which is why it seemed appropriate to mention it.

Mike, phrases like "afraid yet filled with joy" do seem to contradict themselves, until you understand what the author meant.

Sandi, as with many other things, TV can be good in small doses, but constantly watching it day and night is indeed a lot like what the game did.

Scott, your evaluation of why Etana introduced the game was a great, if not greater, than my remarks. In this respect, she can represent the Devil encouraging us to try different drugs, or any other distractive pleasure, knowing full well he can control us better that way.

Wonderful comments, everyone. Thanks for coming.

~ VT
Reply Victor Travison
7:58 AM on April 16, 2012 
By the way, I'm planning to do a lot more blogs about The Next Generation. I've already done a few, but more is begging to be said. As for Original Star Trek, I'd like to have blogged about each of the episodes by the end of 2013.

~ VT
Reply Adam Collings
1:32 AM on April 18, 2012 
You did a great job of reviewing this episode, as well as pointing out the difference between happiness and joy. The characters fell for the illusion of false joy just like those who become addicted to drugs. I like how you compare Data's flashing light to the light of God's word showing us the truth.

In the scene where Picard promises to investigate and then proceeds to play the game, I think the intention was to show that he was already compromised by the game and actually had no intention of investigating.

Thank you also for sharing the encouragement of your own joy in difficult circumstances.
Reply Victor Travison
3:45 PM on April 18, 2012 
Regarding Picard's double standard, I intended to remark on his promise, rather than his intention. True, the captain was already hooked; but if his promise to investigate was real, it would negate his doing anything about it. Sorry I was a little vague there.

~ VT
Reply TraciB
7:13 PM on April 18, 2012 
"The Game" is one of my favorite episodes of STNG too. The premise is interesting and the story tightly told. I equated the game's effect to a different addiction than drugs, but at its heart, addiction is damaging regardless of what form it takes. It initially gives us pleasure, but we soon become numb to it and seek more in order to recapture the first euphoric feelings. Before we know it, our lives are centered around something we no longer experience but hunger for anyway.

And let's face it, if it weren't for the pleasure center stimulation of that game, no one would get hooked on it - the thing is fairly cheesy looking for such advanced beings living centuries from now. Nintendo was producing more interesting looking games even then. ;)
Reply Victor Travison
7:52 PM on April 18, 2012 
True, Traci, compared with what Nintendo, Xbox, and others put out, the disks and cones are oversimplified. This could be because it was supposed to be playable to everyone, regardless of video-game prowess; or Ktarian technology was well behind the Enterprise's.

Of course, the most likely reason is that the producers and writers didn't have time to come up with a game more complex. LOL! ;)

~ VT
Reply Deborah K. Anderson
2:04 PM on April 21, 2012 
You captured my attention from start to finish. And that doesn't usually happen for me in this genre. You wove the theme in beautifully.

Speaking of which, I see your joy, in spite of the difficult things you're going through.

I'm pulling for you, brother.
Reply Victor Travison
11:21 PM on April 21, 2012 
Thanks, Deborah. I appreciate your compassionate heart and your comments.

~ VT