Your-Trek-My-Trek and Canon
AKA Your Board, Your Wave -- AKA Your Mileage May Vary
-- By Jay P. Hailey
In 1980 I was first introduced to role playing games via Dungeons and Dragons. It could not have been a few days later that I thought “Hey! You could do that with Trek, too!” That's just the kind of Trekkie I am. By 1983, I had FASA's Star Trek the Role Playing Game, and multiple reference books, “treknical” resources if you will.
I started to make up my own Star Trek The Role Playing Game scenarios. When I joined Star Trek Fanclubs I was encouraged. They all made up their own ships and their own crews and their own stories. It was interactive Star Trek. It wasn't just sitting and watching, it was playing along, too. It has never occurred to me that Star Trek wasn't something that i as invited to play along in.
Well, when world building for a role playing game one starts off with a bit of set up, then one goes to the map. The map really informs a lot of the rest of what is going on. So I started a map of the Federation and environs for my RPGs. I had a lot of reference materials from the Franz Joseph technical manual, FASA's role playing game, the Star Trek maps. Right away I bumped my nose into a problem. The stated speeds of Warp drive were totally inconsistent with the distances and travel times.
When I was young and took myself too seriously I cursed Gene Roddenberry. He knew his audience were generally not astronomers and so used familiar star names willy nilly with no real regard from the true location or distance. He was no astronomer himself. But now I had to make a decision. I stared at pictures of the Enterprise and the early blue print drawings from fan based production houses and smoke poured out of my ears.
Then I hit a sort of epiphany. This game I was setting up didn't belong to Gene Roddenberry or Paramount. They weren't going to come and tell me what to do. This version, this vision of Trek belonged to me. And I could change things if I wanted. I had to be careful. I had to keep it “Trek” enough to keep people who liked Star Trek comfortable with it. But I could also reap benefits, like a consistent map. I could exclude stuff I thought was too stupid. I was building Jay's Version of Star Trek. Cool.
The results were mixed at first. But I Game Mastered Trek from 1983 until 2000, and improved as I went. The main benefit of building my own version of Star Trek is that I can show by example what makes a good Trek story and why I don't like some of the things that later incarnations of Trek did.
I believe that, on some level, everyone who is a fan of Trek has an internal view of Star Trek and how it should work. That internal view is why some people look at an episode and say “That's dumb” or “That sucks” What they're really saying is “That is not consistent with my internal view of Star Trek. That contradicts what I am seeing in my mind's eye.”
Notice how not everyone thinks that exactly the same episodes suck or rock. Because, while there's a good deal of overlap, everyone's internal view of trek is slightly different. You already have your own conception of what makes good Star Trek inside.
From The : Merriam Webster On-line Dictionary
Main Entry: can·on
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin, from Latin, ruler, rule, model, standard, from Greek kanOn
1 a : a regulation or dogma decreed by a church council b : a provision of canon law
2 [Middle English, prob. from Old French, from Late Latin, from Latin, model] : the most solemn and unvarying part of the Mass including the consecration of the bread and wine
3 [Middle English, from Late Latin, from Latin, standard] a : an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture b : the authentic works of a writer c : a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works <the canon of great literature>
4 a : an accepted principle or rule b : a criterion or standard of judgment c : a body of principles, rules, standards, or norms
5 [Late Greek kanOn, from Greek, model] : a contrapuntal musical composition in two or more voice parts in which the melody is imitated exactly and completely by the successive voices though not always at the same pitch synonym see LAW
In Trek, Canon is used in the meaning of definition 3 b and 3 c. Canon amounts to, if it's on screen it's real for Trek. Although there were exceptions, like TAS and Star Trek 5.
I believe the Canon was dreamed up and instituted by the Evil Richard Arnold who, in the mid 1980s was Gene Roddenberry's executive assistant.
Canon is an interesting concept, as far as it goes, but what use is it? Mainly it's good for establishing a baseline for discussion, a baseline for continuity. But note that even GR couldn't reconcile it all, which is why TAS, parts of some movies and all books and secondary materials are considered non-canon.
Personally I accept Canon as a base line for discussion, but it's not much other use to me. Canon says that I am not allowed to play along with Trek. It reduces it from an interactive form of entertainment to a passive one. It reduces me from a Trek player to a Trek watcher.
I don't mean to denigrate people who find just watching Trek plenty of entertainment without going to all the effort that I have. I don't want to dictate anyone else's joy or fandom to them. I am talking about me and what I do. Being a passive consumer of Trek is no fun for me, so I elect to move ahead with my own toy.
For me, everything in the Trek canon and everything outside canon is metaphorically a lego block that I can either use or set aside as suits me for Jay-Trek. I can even add conceptual lego blocks from other shows, movies and books to my conceptual toy, Jay-Trek.
The point of this is that Jay-Trek is specifically NOT canon and so not binding on anyone else. It is, in fact an invitation for you to make up YOUR-Trek. Everyone has their own ideas of what works and what doesn't. I am saying that we're all allowed to have our own interpretation of the canon and other materials, just so long as its a voluntary game we're playing. Sometimes I discuss Jay-Trek but I always try to label it as such and point out that it's not binding on anyone else.
I like to hear about other people's views of Trek. It allows more perspective and different points of view about it, which enhances my own conceptualization of the thing.
So off I go to see if I can find and add some more metaphorical pieces of lego to Jay-Trek, either by fashioning them myself in terms of role playing background and characters or in terms of writing fan-fiction. Or maybe I can find a neat piece in another show (maybe Firefly, maybe SeaQuest, maybe SG1)
The point of this whole exercise is fun. Long ago I realized that being a Trek fan for me centers around having fun. If I am not having fun there is no point. I hope that you are having fun as well.