Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Transmedia Space Battles: Reference Materials and Miniatures Wargames in 1970s Star Trek Fandom

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Transmedia Space Battles: Reference Materials and Miniatures Wargames in 1970s Star Trek Fandom

Article excerpt

In their pioneering account of the role of Star Trek (US 1966-) in the evolution of real-world digital technologies such as the CD-ROM, Janet Murray and Henry Jenkins argue that the computer's promise as a medium for 'expressive narrative art' was strongly hinted at by the 1960s television series and the franchise that followed (37-41). This foreshadowing, they suggest, took place not just within Star Trek's fictional content - rife with artificial life-forms, sentient machines and the apparently limitless virtual reality scenarios to be enjoyed (or survived) on Enterprise-D's Holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation (US 1987-94) - but through the fandom it spawned, a group whose intense interest in and creative activity around Star Trek was part and parcel of the expansive, varied textual world the show presented. Jenkins and Murray write:

From its initiation, Star Trek sought to provide a richly detailed narrative universe that could be the platform for many different characters and situations and thus attract diverse audiences. Star Trek might one week offer us a mystery or a scientific problem to be solved, another week a combat situation or a diplomatic crisis, or still another week a political allegory. For some fans the scientific and technological challenges of the twenty-fourth century form the central focus. For others it is the close social bonds between the vividly portrayed characters. For still others it might be the program's utopian vision of a future founded on intergalactic cooperation and fellowship, on the IDIC and the Prime Directive. (38)

What Matt Hills calls the 'hyperdiegesis', Henry Jenkins and Jeffrey Sconce the 'metatext' and Mark J.P. Wolf the 'imaginary world' of Star Trek is not, of course, unique to Trek, or for that matter to the cult texts whose often fragmented, incomplete and inconsistent stories seemed nevertheless to take place in some coherent alternate reality possessing a layout and behaviours that could be charted and mapped (Hills Fan Cultures 137-8; Jenkins 98; Sconce 210; Wolf 2-3). But Star Trek was one of the first modern media franchises to deliver a world intended from the start to be not just internally consistent but to manifest a depth of design achieved through the contributions of many different production artists united under a single vision. Throughout the 1970s, Star Trek fans who were interested primarily in the show's fictional backdrop created a host of blueprints, concordances and technical manuals to codify the contents of its storyworld. These reference materials in turn spawned multiple subcultures that helped to extend Star Trek into other, explicitly materialist media such as model kits, miniatures and tabletop wargaming. By the end of the decade, when the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise US 1979) occasioned an explosion of licensed cross-promotions, the reference materials generated by design- and tech-oriented 'affirmational' fans had decisively diverged from the sf samizdat circulated by 'transformational' fans writing fan fiction. The uneasy story of that evolution, which complicates any straightforward picture of resistance and incorporation in studies of fandom, has yet to be fully explored. Star Trek's grassroots 'gamification' in the 1970s represents an important but overlooked stage in the franchise's evolution, as well as a critical corrective to histories of transmedia world-building that neglect the role of fans, material craft and game design/play in laying the groundwork for contemporary fantastic media in the convergence era.

As Derek Johnson observes, during the genesis of Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-9) in the 1960s, creator Gene Roddenberry laid out the basic history and operating principles of the twenty-third century's United Federation of Planets and Starfleet Command in a series bible that served as a unifying framework for the show's many writers (116). This written document formed the base for a superstructure of world-building production design by figures such as costumer William Ware Theiss, make-up artist Fred Phillips, prop- and alien-maker Wah Ming Chang and most of all Walter 'Matt' Jefferies, who created the USS Enterprise along with other 'star' space vessels such as the Klingon battle cruiser - to say nothing of iconic settings such as the Enterprise bridge, sickbay and transporter room. …

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