Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Game"

**1/2

Air date: 10/28/1991
Teleplay by Brannon Braga
Story by Susan Sackett & Fred Bronson and Brannon Braga
Directed by Corey Allen

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Here's a competent but sometimes hokey little adventure yarn, in which the 24th-century equivalent of an uber-popular and hopelessly trivial cell phone game (an Internet video parody that substituted Angry Birds footage for the Disc-in-Cone game was on to something) becomes the avenue through which the Enterprise (and apparently all of Starfleet) nearly becomes the victim of an alien takeover plot. If only visiting Starfleet Academy cadet Wesley Crusher and his plucky love interest Ensign Robin Lefler (Ashley Judd) hadn't stood in their way!

The game at the center of "The Game" is something Riker brings back from Risa. It's really easy to win ("It practically plays itself," one brainwashed player says), and when you do, you are given a heroin-like high of a reward, leading you to become addicted and wanting more more more, I tell ya. Eventually, the game is playing you, because you are turned into a puppet of the Nameless Aliens' plot, and will do whatever they tell you to.

The problem I have with "The Game" is the same problem I have with many Wesley-oriented stories, and I'll phrase it in the form of a question: Why is it that everyone else aboard the Enterprise is so easily taken in by this ploy while Wesley friggin' Crusher is the only one to ask even a handful of simple questions and spend the three lousy minutes to hook the game up to the computer and run some simple tests to see if it's, y'know, potentially harmful? When the rest of the crew has to look incompetent in order to give Wesley a reason to save the day, I am forced to release a lengthy sigh. I also wasn't sure exactly what level of awareness the brainwashed crew members had while under the influence of Disc-in-Cone. They sure seem normal (except, of course, when they don't).

It's too bad, because if you grant the episode it's implausible premise, the story execution mostly works. Wesley and Robin work well together as clue-chasers and problems-solvers in the vintage TNG tradition, the story is nicely paced, and I enjoyed the way the walls slowly closed in on Wesley at the end (until ultimately, crew members are holding him down, prying open his eyelids, and forcing the game upon him). Wesley is saved by what I'd be tempted to call a "Data ex machina" if not for the fact that it's clearly established beforehand — by the ever-clever Wesley himself, of course.

Previous episode: Disaster
Next episode: Unification

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28 comments on this review

Brendan - Fri, Apr 1, 2011 - 11:51am (USA Central)
Ashley Judd?
Poltargyst - Fri, Apr 1, 2011 - 4:13pm (USA Central)
"Ashley Judd?"

The very one.
bigpale - Tue, Apr 5, 2011 - 12:06am (USA Central)
One of my most disliked shows. It seems to dated, which is easy to do in sci-fi, but is something Star Trek usually managed to avoid. Not here though.
karatasiospa - Wed, Apr 6, 2011 - 10:34am (USA Central)
No more than 1 star from me! The alien threat/conspiracy story is simplistic and for one more time wesley Crusher is so smart that he understands everything and the others are just so stupid that they understand nothing! oh please!
Nolan - Thu, Apr 7, 2011 - 3:18pm (USA Central)
"The game at the center of "The Game" is something Riker brings back from Risa. It's really easy to win ("It practically plays itself," one brainwashed player says), and when you do, you are given a heroin-like high of a reward, leading you to become addicted and wanting more more more, I tell ya. Eventually, the game is playing you, because you are turned into a puppet of the Nameless Aliens' plot, and will do whatever they tell you to."

I find this description, funny, as it's almost like how some people eventually become, seeking out achievements in video games nowadays, continuously playing till they get that Bleep-Bloop. Jammer, I think you've uncovered Microsoft's secret plan! =P
Vladimir Estragon - Sat, Apr 23, 2011 - 8:46am (USA Central)
And would someone care to explain how LaForge got taken in by this?
Paul - Sat, May 14, 2011 - 8:03pm (USA Central)
I really *really* have to say that Ashley Judd look SO cute here :)

I remember being in geek love when I first saw this episode a long time ago.
Dirge - Tue, Jul 5, 2011 - 10:04am (USA Central)
I have always liked this episode for some reason. Maybe it is that it is pretty creepy. I can even buy Wesley not being taken in by the game, because he is a visitor, and wants to do more with his vacation than play a game. And based on how it got around (starting with Ryker, Troi, and Crusher, three of the most trustworthy crew members), I will buy that no one else looked into the nature of the game. It does have the improbable notion that Wes could find and repair Data when LaForge could not.

I do agree that Ashley Judd is super cute, which helps.
Troy - Wed, Aug 3, 2011 - 10:56am (USA Central)
I hate this episode with a passion because the script requires Wesley to be stupid. Why did he or Robin not leave the fake game glasses on to fool the other crew members?
pviateur - Thu, Aug 4, 2011 - 1:45pm (USA Central)
It's bad enough when Wesley's makes a visit to the show but he just happens to save the Enterprise yet again at the very same time, it's too much!

And how likely is it that when confronted by what appears to be a simple game, a kid is going to take it apart to see how it works before even trying to play it first?

And is it my imagination or is Wesley equally adept in physics, engineering, and now apparently, advanced robotics too?!
TH - Thu, Sep 8, 2011 - 8:10pm (USA Central)
Afraid I have to agree with other commenters. I wouldn't give this one more than 1 star at the MOST. Why does everyone other than Wesley get hooked on this thing? Other than his apparent god-like abilities which are cemented by Journey's End practically turning him into a god literally, there is no good reason why he and a random ensign would not succumb. Do you REALLY believe ANYONE could get Picard to play... a game?! Not without holding him down; I suppose this is possible, but noone bothers to do it to Wesley until he's the last one left.

This episode would have more credence with me if it WAS something like Heroin. Perhaps the episode is a veiled metaphor for the way druglords can control people with drugs, or perhaps not; but I'd have believed the episode a bit more if the plot device were anything that might plausibly affect Starfleet officers. To peolpe who play 3D chess because regular chess became to boring, I can't imagine anyone seeing the "rush" that people have while playing this game and not find it so odd as to hesitate in trying it for themselves.

I just can't get over the fact that everyone is acting so goofy and stupid and yet someone non-affected people are still convinced to try this game? If it's THAT addictive, why hasn't this race attempted to take over anything else with it? or was it just recently invented and the Enterprise was the first target?
Jay - Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - 10:25pm (USA Central)
As TH indicated, being one of the first few is understandable, but when, say, 50 people are walking around stoned, wouldn't person 51 be suspicious, to say nothing of Person 551? If we assume th logic in this episode, the entirity of a population, even one as large as the UNited Staes, would be drug addicts in short order just because drugs exist.

Also...good catch from Vlad up above...how could Geordi play this game?
Matrix - Tue, Sep 27, 2011 - 4:32am (USA Central)
I used to love this one but I watched it the other day and it has not aged well. The only thing it has going for it is how sweet Ashley Judd's Robin Lefler is.
Jay - Sun, Jan 22, 2012 - 5:56pm (USA Central)
It's hard to believe that Guinan would succomb to this thing...
DBL - Sat, Apr 28, 2012 - 8:51pm (USA Central)
Geordi can see and he does it from the same part of his head that everyone else does, so, I see no reason why he couldn't play this game. Also, those who think Picard would never even think of playing a game are just wrong, or else they never saw him geek out as Dixon Hill.

However I agree that the Wesley-messiah factor is way too high in this episode, although Crusher does a fine job with it.
Sanagi - Sun, May 6, 2012 - 6:53pm (USA Central)
I remember disliking this episode just for depicting a clearly stupid game becoming so popular. Little did I realize. Although in real life it's operant conditioning that did the trick, not doses of space drugs.

Speaking of, maybe Wesley resisted the game so long because he took to heart that lecture about drugs from "Symbiosis."
Glenn - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 1:36am (USA Central)
The main problem I have with this episode is the same one I have with any episode where members of the flagship crew of the Federation get duped or otherwise compromised into doing something rouge or dangerous or treasonous: no one is punished or at least demoted or placed under suspicion or has their fitness for duty questioned. At all. Here, Picard and Co. are about to give away the Enterprise after falling for a simple "game" and what do you bet there was any sort of disciplinary investigation about such a colossal failure of judgement? Not much? Me neither.
Q - Sun, Aug 19, 2012 - 9:20pm (USA Central)
I like this episode but it is a almost exact copy of one of the other episodes.It was good manly because it didn't go on and on like some of the others did.Why would picard play a simple game to only distract him from his duties!
Jack - Sun, Oct 28, 2012 - 10:23pm (USA Central)
So who was caring for the one-week old Molly O'Brien here? I'm guessing she wasn't addicted to the game, but she did need to be fed and changed.
Cail Corishev - Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - 7:01pm (USA Central)
Seems Starfleet needs to bring back those old public service ads from the early 1900s: "Stay away from her, boys; she might have syphilis!"

The first officer goes to the galaxy's red light district and hooks up with some strange woman (although this appears to be normal behavior, from everything we've seen about Risa), and comes back a junkie. Wonder how he's still on everyone's short list for captain after that.
mephyve - Sat, Jul 6, 2013 - 7:52pm (USA Central)
Wesley Crusher's on the way! Here he comes to save the day! ... again ...
William B - Wed, Jul 17, 2013 - 7:05pm (USA Central)
In the teaser, Riker runs around the room chasing Etana until she throws his communicator out the window. For a moment, he seems genuinely stunned. "I can't believe you did that." And then he gives back in and makes out. This moment probably covers what this episode is "about" (if anything): which is the way pleasure drives can sometimes overwhelm and trump one's sense of duty. The way various characters are introduced to the game play on this theme: Riker introduces the game to Troi when she's giving her speech about the delights of decadent chocolate, for example. The other main seductions into the game we see are Riker's using Geordi's grief and concern for Data against him -- suggesting escapism to deal with his pain; and the extra-creepy scenes in which people try to force the game on Wesley, especially Crusher's trying to push her orgasm-game onto her son (and playing with the toy she was going to get him), which is about the weirdest, sickest thing that has ever been on this show. What's interesting is that the things the adult crew are doing, while not terrible, all do feel like a tiny bit of a perversion of natural, healthy instincts -- Riker's love & sex drive is directed to sleeping with people who end up exploiting him, Troi's food urge manifests in the not-particularly-nutritious chocolate consumption, Geordi's friendly concern over Data leads him to escapism rather than trying to deal with the source of that concern, and there is that Beverly trying to pervert the son's trust in his mother.

All this contrasts with Wesley and Robin's willingness to do and be enthusiastic about hard work, and their engagement in building an actual relationship with actual other people rather than with strangers on Risa or chocolate sundaes. How wholesome are these two? They are so wholesome that Robin turns down Wesley's suggestion that they go get *coffee* and suggests dinner instead -- okay, so that one is a stretch, but you see where I'm going with this. This would be sickening, except that Ashley Judd is the cutest person alive, and Wesley is still recognizably Wesley but just a bit more relaxed with himself. We also learn that the Leflers basically abandoned Robin to herself as a child, which reinforces my feeling that Lefler's 2nd law (and the theme of the episode) really should be "don't trust anyone over 30." Despite her veneer of cynicism, Robin shares with Wesley a playfulness and work ethic and even idealism that makes them a good match (and a surprisingly effective love story, considering that the last time they tried a Wesley romance was "The Dauphin"); the two represent the best of youth in this story, and while kids are usually the ones associated with getting hooked on video games, it makes (a tiny bit of) sense that it's the young who can look with fresh eyes when adults starts taking their cues from each other and lazily accept their own failures. And I keep coming back to that last scene, Wesley being held down and forced into a world he doesn't want, like this is some version of that Fleischer brothers cartoon "Bimbo's Initiation" where being an adult means passing through into a seedy, kind of disgusting conspiracy of an adult world where there are no rules anymore. If you think this is too far to take this episode -- and I'm not convinced it isn't -- try for a second to imagine Wesley in Riker's place on Risa in the first scene, and maybe you'll see what I mean. Because he got Data reactivated, Wesley mostly manages to get through this episode with his innocence in tact and restores the adults to their thinking selves; his real loss-of-innocence, dealt with in tragedy rather than this episode's dreamy horror-comedy, is later in this season.

So! This episode is probably terrible, and I groaned through many of the scenes. As with most Wesley-saves-the-day episodes, the crew has to be put down to push Wesley up; Geordi's playing a game when he should be working on bringing Data out of a permanent-coma is probably the most ridiculous individual bit of characterization, but generally the idea that no one on the whole ship was capable of asking the simple questions Wesley and Robin come up with means that the whole crew was basically put out of character. And if it's possible to take over the flagship's Federation with this device, why are these people not basically running the galaxy? And yet, there is something primally effective about the idea that the whole world has gone crazy and that only the youngest ones are able to see it. Were it not for Lefler, this would be nothing but a Mary Sue story, but as it is it's a Mary Sue story that also has something like resonance. The dialogue is sharp and the chase at the episode's end is really thrilling. It really only barely seems to be in the show's actual universe, anyway, with Riker, Troi, etc. playing mostly as distorted, id-driven versions of themselves even before they get hooked on the game. But if (a big if) you can accept all that, view it as a weird horror allegory in which only Wesley and Robin (and I suppose Data) are "real," it's actually kind of good. I don't quite, but I agree with Jammer's 2.5 star rating (though probably for different reasons).
Marshal - Sat, Aug 17, 2013 - 10:31am (USA Central)
Troi makes me hate ice cream! She is just the worst.

What baffles me is not that Wesley is so smart, we already knew that, it's that he automatically says, "Let's analyze the game!" Rather than just try one out. An all too convenient leap of logic.

Speaking of convenient, it was the captain of the alien ship that seduced Riker? I guess they saved money on making a costume for a different alien.

Coming right after the episode where Jordi gets reprogrammed the theme seems a little redundant.

Reminds me of the old story about monkeys with a device implanted in the pleasure center of their brain. They have two buttons, one gives them food the other gives them an orgasm. The monkeys starve to death. I hear this story over and over but I wonder if it is just a myth.
Jack - Mon, Oct 28, 2013 - 9:37pm (USA Central)
The entire star and a half that I give this episode is entirely due to Data's hilarious fake laugh. Chop it out and it's zero stars.
Looper - Wed, Nov 13, 2013 - 1:45pm (USA Central)
Am I the only one who felt a little disconfort at times watching those orgasm-like rewards? I was like: get a room... Lol.
Damon Sweeney - Mon, Jan 13, 2014 - 3:15am (USA Central)
This is a brilliant episode. I found the plot was strong and the mystery interesting, the action sequences were also excellent. It explored the character of Wesley very well also and was a genuinely humorous 3episode at times.

On my scale of grading, which is A+ (The Best) to G-(The Worst), I gave "The Game" a "B." I thought it was very good, a highly underrated episode in my opinion.

On Jammers grading system I would give this episode a strong three stars out of four.
SkepticalMI - Fri, May 30, 2014 - 5:38pm (USA Central)
Ugh. This episode has two critical flaws that kills the whole "willing suspension of disbelief" thing. I could probably survive one of them, but both? It really hurts this episode, far more tan the whole "Wesley saves the day yet again" bit.

1) Clarke's theorem that any sufficiently advanced technology would seem like magic doesn't apply here. I don't care how sufficient it is, that game was magic. The Romulans spent a week with Geordi strapped to a chair, could only perform their brainwashing on him, and still needed a jolt of doodad rays every now and then to keep him in line. And even then, he only mostly acted normal when brainwashed. Yet, this game? One zap and you are perfectly brainwashed. You don't need to be told what to do, you don't need to be programmed. It works on any species instantaneously. And you act perfectly normal the entire time you are brainwashed. Very, very convenient. As others have said, how have they already not taken over the universe with this technology? And it can all be wiped away with a strobe light?

2) Even if you accept that (and admittedly, a few episodes later we get Conundrum, which I think does ok with such magical tech), the crew succumbing to the game so easily is rather contrived. OK, so Riker giving it to Troi made sense, as did Troi giving it to Bev. But then we see Bev creepily trying to push the game on her son in a scene that clearly show how wrong the game is. And we see Riker inappropriately pushing the game on LaForge after Data crashed. It's no wonder we don't see any attempt to get Picard or Worf into the game. Can you seriously imagine Worf getting addicted? The guy who's first instinct is to blow everything up? The guy who's reaction to going to a bar with his brother is to tell everyone to stop having fun? Yeah, I doubt a warrior would play Candy Crush. And Picard? The guy who refuses to go on vacation? The no-nonsense captain? Only Bev or Riker would have enough familiarity with him to suggest it, but does anyone really think the guy who loves Shakespeare and archaeology would play a simple game?

Given that, the episode (which is ok, as far as that goes) was hard to swallow.

Besides, there was another option that might have been fun to explore. It would admittedly eliminate any moral of the story regarding videogames or pleasures or whatever, but given how the story turned out it was basically a space whale aesop anyway. But anyways, why not replace the silly game concept with the silly bugs from Conspiracy? They are already established and set up for a sequel, why not do them instead? How about having Wesley come aboard while the bugs are halfway to taking over the ship? Wesley could come aboard, could hear from Robin that something is wrong, and then try to figure out what's going on and who hasn't been converted yet. Might have been a better story than what we have.

Besides, then the innuendo of Riker bringing back something from Risa would be even more funny with a parasite!
LN - Wed, Jul 16, 2014 - 3:21am (USA Central)
I don't get why they insisted on putting Wesley back into the show even for just this episode after having put him on a bus. Were they testing the waters for the next season? Why is he so important they had to constantly try to validate his 'Sueness'?
I wouldn't even mind so much if that didn't turn all the other officers into brainless incompetents. Fine, let Wesley be awesome. But not at the expense of the other characters.
Come on, it wasn't even a common, innocuous looking game, it was a fishy device that evidently fiddled with your brain, through your eyes (?!). And also it came from an unknown alien. It's not only weird because we're talking about the crew of a starship - scratch that, the starship. They're f*cking human beings with brains, excuse the expression.
That's pretty much the basics of Mary Sueing. Then there are the people at the academy aparently liking Wesley, in spite of, if not actually because of, having served on the Enterprise per recommandation. And then the nth attempt of getting him a hot gf.
I don't like bashing on characters, I swear. But this episode really threw me off because of it, probably because it was enjoyable otherwise. A good storyline, as opposed to some of the rest of the season. It's also surprisingly, maybe increasingly, actual; I'm talking about the addiction to the game obviously. If only...

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