Wesley and Robin bond while working in engineering and make a date for that evening. Later, he walks in on his mother playing the game, which she offers to him. He declines, as he has a date to get ready for. Over dinner, the conversation turns to the game. Neither Wesley nor Robin has played it yet, and the obsession everyone seems to have with strikes Wesley as weird. Robin dismisses it as a fad but shares his curiosity about just how this thing works. And so the date turns to the most romantic activity of all: SCIENCE!
In the engineering lab, they hook up one of the game devices and discover that it stimulates the pleasure center of the brain, rendering it physically addictive. It also has affects the user’s higher reasoning ability. Wesley tells Picard what he’s found. The captain promises to begin an investigation, but no sooner does Wesley leave the ready room than Picard dons the headset and activates the game.
Wesley meets Robin in Ten Forward, and everyone around them is playing the game. Not only that, but they’re pestering anyone without a headset to play as well. The two note that only one crew member – Data – would be immune to the effects of the game, and he’s been incapacitated ever since the game was brought aboard. They go to sickbay to examine Data and Wesley soon spots the damage. Some of his positronic links have been severed, and it looks to have been done deliberately. This tips them off to the fact that there’s more to this than a highly addictive hobby spreading like wildfire. Meanwhile, the Enterprise has arrived at a rendezvous point, and Picard tells the senior staff to make sure any crew members still unaffected are introduced to the game, with special mention of Wesley. Crusher and Worf go to evangelize Wesley, only to find him and Robin playing the game in his quarters. Satisfied, they depart and the two remove their headsets, revealing them as fakes. Another ship arrives and the rendezvous and hails the Enterprise. Its commander is Etana, and Picard reports to her that the Enterprise has been secured.
Etana instructs the crew on the next phase of the “expansion project.” They are to head for various Starfleet vessels and facilities where they will introduce the staff to the game. Wesley makes his way to engineering, passing several crew members who have practically been zombified by the game. Once there, he meets Robin, who seems a bit… off. She offers him a headset, confirming his worst fears. Riker and Worf approach from behind and Wesley runs for it. Using a site to site transport program, he’s able to get a head start. Wesley leads the crew on a merry chase, but is eventually cornered. Worf and Riker drag him to the bridge where they hold him down and force the game on to his head.
As the game claims another victim, the lights dim and Data steps off the turbolift. He points a palm beacon at each of the crew and triggers a strobe pattern. This breaks the game’s hold on them. Released from Etana’s influence, they seize the Ktarian ship in a tractor beam. Data explains to his stunned comrades that Wesley repaired him, his subsequent flight through the ship as much a diversion as anything else. Workstations throughout the ship have been programmed to emit the same strobe pattern as the beacon, freeing most of the crew with medical teams sent to aid the rest. Later, Wesley bids Robin a fond farewell and heads for the transporter room to return to the Academy.
This is an episode that I tend to remember as being pretty cheesy only to be surprised at how much I actually enjoy it when I actually watched the thing. Though to be sure, there is definitely some cheese to be had. Some of that comes from the portrayal of the game itself, which has been memorably described by Jonathan Frakes as “a tuba on a checkerboard”. But it gets the job done. After all, as any gamer will tell you, sometimes the simplest games are the most addictive. And of course, the entire concept of “the Enterprise almost gets taken over because the crew gets hooked on a video game” does have an undeniable element of “old man yells at cloud” to it.
Despite that, the writing staff on average wasn’t particularly old. Braga himself was still in his twenties, and Bronson (whose ‘Tetris’ habit reportedly served as an inspiration for the episode) was barely north of forty. That being said, I’d be lying if I told you I never stayed up a little too late or put off working on something just so I get squeeze in “one more mission” in ‘Grand Theft Auto’ or “get to the next save point” in ‘Metroid’, so maybe I should just stop saying words.
As for the episode itself, it’s fun. There’s not much to it beyond that. It all feels fairly low-stakes until last fifteen minutes or so when the threat of the game becomes apparent, but that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it’s nice to have a lower-key episode that’s more about Wesley coming home for a visit and meeting a girl than an existential threat to the Federation, you know?
And speaking of meeting a girl, Robin is definitely one of the highlights of the episode. In fact, her return (following a fleeting appearance in ‘Darmok’ a few episodes prior) may be the most notable thing about the episode, as she’s played by a then-unknown Ashley Judd. Unfortunately, it’s also her last appearance, though at least one other was written and abandoned. No doubt that’s at least partly thanks to the fact that Judd’s film career started taking off soon after this episode aired, but it’s a shame nonetheless. Judd gives a tremendously memorable performance as an instantly likeable character. And if you do want more Robin Lefler in your life (And who could blame you?), she has appeared in a number of tie-in novels over the years, most prominently as a major character in Peter David’s ‘Star Trek: New Frontier’ series. If you haven’t read those, do yourself a favor and track them down.
What did you think of The Game’? Let me know in the comments, and as always, make sure to check back in two weeks for the next ‘Final Frontier Friday’!