Star Trek Online and SF in MMORPGs

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I just heard about Cryptic’s soon-to-be opened private beta for Star Trek Online, so I threw my name into the hat in the hope that: 1) I get a beta key, and 2) I find some time to play in the Star Trek Prime universe.

There’s definitely been a lot of talk about MMORPGs in cultural studies circles. I, for one, have presented on Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (WoW) on more than one occasion and I have an essay that will be included in my edited edition Postnational Fantasy on WoW.

But what about science fiction and MMORPGs? Can science fiction be successful in online gaming worlds?

WoW has science fictional elements, but it is primarily a fantastic universe constructed on the frameworks of Tolkien, Dungeons & Dragons, etc. Its success is in large part based on its ability to bring in a wider audience into its fantasy realm through a sort of linear learning curve as opposed to the rather daunting logarithmic curve of games like Everquest.

There has been and is science fiction based MMORPGs. A few include The Matrix Online (dissolved, literally), Star Wars Galaxies (does anyone play this anymore?), and if we go back far enough, Trade Wars (ah, yeah–where’s my modem?). These, however, have not made a splash in the MMORPG scene as large as their fantasy counterparts. What is different about the genres mixing within the MMORPG gaming genre? Is there something about the ontology of the fantastic and science fiction that make one better suited for the current dominant design of realtime MMORPGs? Does science fiction need to go in a different direction, what that may be I do not know, than its fantastic compliment in terms of online gaming?

I will see how it goes with Star Trek Online, and time permitting: Star Wars: The Old Republic, Warhammer 40,000, and Hello Kitty Online (That’s SF, right? I mean, we’re talking about hyper-cute anthropomorphic animals coexisting with humans. Animal studies folk should have a field day with this one).