Original air date: October 28, 1991
This episode begins with Riker on vacation to the pleasure planet Risa, enjoying some time with a Ktarian woman named Etana Jol. During the course of their frolicking, she introduces him to a small headset device: a holographic video game, and an incredibly simple one at that—just put the frisbees into the tornados to win. Riker notes the little jolt of pleasure the device gives him, his reward for winning. As Riker's eyes glaze over, the music takes an appropriately dark turn.
After Riker's return, the ship is journeying to the Phoenix Cluster to do some exploration. Wesley Crusher stops by on break from Starfleet Academy and gets welcomed back by a surprise party. At Riker's suggestion, Wes makes it a working holiday and pitches in to help the Enterprise complete its exploration. And so down to Engineering Wes goes, where he meets the pretty and plucky young Ensign Robin Lefler. Sparks start flying, and not from the warp core.
In the meantime, Riker is trying to show The Game to everyone within earshot. Then, in turn, each person who receives The Game tries to shill it to everyone else as well. This cannot be good. Indeed, at one point Dr. Crusher calls Data down to sickbay to assist her with a Technobabble experiment, but while his back is turned she hits his hidden off-switch and starts tinkering with his brain. Later, she tells Picard that Data simply collapsed after a servo malfunction; but La Forge determines that Data's brain is still fully functional, but somehow unable to send control signals to his body. And then Riker gives him the Game.
Later on, Wesley is working closely with Lefler and discovers that she knows all about him. He's something of a celebrity in the Academy. She teases him over some rumors about him, and Wes invites her on a date to get to know him for real. On his way to meet Lefler, Wes barely scrapes past being "introduced" to the Game by his mother. During his date, he and Lefler bond over growing up with parents in Starfleet. They start to notice that everyone on the ship is becoming obsessed with the Game and decide to make it a shared activity to study it.
Wes and Lefler quickly discover that the Game is highly addictive and also affects the reasoning sections of the brain, a sinister combination. Wes goes to Picard to announce his findings, but unbeknownst to him, the captain is already under the Game's thrall. The plucky pair also examine Data and find that someone has severed the connection between his brain and his body, rendering him inert. No one except Dr. Crusher and La Forge know how to do that, and the pair conclude that the Game is somehow behind all this, since Data would be the only crewmember who is not susceptible to its brainwashing effects. Sure enough, Worf and Crusher arrive with a pair of Game devices to force on Wes and Lefler, only to find them already playing. Fake out! Those were phony devices! And so the duo are free to continue their investigation cum resistance.
Meanwhile, a ship approaches and contacts the Enterprise; it's Etana Jol, only now she's got a decidedly military-looking uniform and hairdo. This device is, in fact, her tool for gaining control of the Enterprise and its crew. But not just the Enterprise; she gives orders that the Game be spread to various Starfleet and Federation installations as part of her "expansion" project. But first they'll have to deal with Wesley and Lefler, who they now realize are not really playing the Game.
Wes meets Lefler in Engineering, and discovers that she's been compromised (off-screen) when she tries to foist the Game upon him. Wesley initiates a lengthy game of cat-and-mouse with the crew, but is eventually caught, brought to the bridge, and forced to play the Game. At that moment, Data steps onto the bridge, lowers the lights and flashes a strobe into everyone's eyes, bringing them back to normal. Wesley reveals that sometime in the interim, he had repaired Data and played the cat-and-mouse to give Data time to come up with a way to circumvent the brainwashing. The cleansing strobe effect has already been sent throughout the ship, and Dr. Crusher is sent to help the remaining stragglers.
The Enterprise captures Etana's ship, and everything is back to kosher. Wes kisses Lefler goodbye as he prepares to return to Starfleet, proclaiming that a few light years can't keep good friends apart.
This episode contains examples of the following tropes:
- Behind the Black: Picard has a version of the Game sitting on his display mount, just off-camera, during his entire conversation with Wesley. Wesley should have been able to see it from his perspective.
- Big Damn Heroes: Wesley is captured and forced by the senior staff to play The Game, but then a reactivated Data appears on the bridge to reverse the conditioning.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Etana starts the episode acting like a giggly, lovey-dovey girl before revealing her plans to conquer The Federation.
- Boldly Coming: Riker has a dalliance with a Ktarian on Risa, which turns out to be a Honey Pot.
- Busman's Holiday: Even though Wesley's technically on vacation, he still helps out with tech stuff on the Enterprise.
- Cargo Ship: In-Universe — Riker ships Troi with her chocolate sundae. Her sensual description of eating the sundae reinforces it.Riker: Would you like me to leave the two of you alone?
- The Commandments: Lefler's Laws. Robin has codified a list of 102 rules out of her life lessons to make sure she never forgets them.
- Companion Cube: Robin's first friend was a tricorder; Wesley's was a warp coil.
- "Die Hard" on an X: The climax plays out like this, with Wesley being the only one out of the entire crew not addicted to The Game.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The game's euphoric effects and addictive nature are supposed to be reminiscent of narcotic drugs.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: Ktarians are later revealed to be Federation members and the next Ktarian character who is seen (well, half-Ktarian) looks absolutely nothing like Etana Jol in any way.
- Escalating War: Wesley apparently had one of these with a fellow cadet who had a reputation as a prankster when he first got to the Academy - Wesley's sonic shower was reprogrammed to cover him in mud, so he got the other guy back by programming an antimatter regulator to spray him with chili sauce.
- Failed a Spot Check: Later when Wesley uses a phaser to distract several guards, he enters a room to hide from them as they pass by. The door is open when the guards pass, but they clearly ignore a suspiciously open door to deactivate the phaser.
- Fantastic Drug: The Game. It stimulates the pleasure center of the brain while it also does something to the part of the brain that controls higher reasoning.
- Flash-in-the-Pan Fad: Discussed. Robin Lefler initially thinks The Game is just a passing craze. "It's a fad. This week it's popular, next week we won't even know it existed."
- From Bad to Worse: The entire senior staff has fallen victim to The Game and is prepared to surrender the ship to Etana. Shortly afterwards, Wesley learns that Robin is also now under The Game's influence.
- Hidden Depths: Apparently Worf can bake; he provides Wesley with a slice of Tarvokian pound cake which he claims he made himself. Impressive in an age where replicated food is the norm and most people could go their entire lives without having to cook.
- Honey Pot: Etana Jol seduces Riker as a means of introducing him to the Game.
- Lotus-Eater Machine: The Game is a head-mounted holographic game, which is slowly brainwashing the user to do whatever theyre commanded to do. The more they play, the more entranced they become.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The Enterprise crew are horrified by their actions after they're brought back to normal by Data.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Wesley goes to Engineering to execute The Plan, sees Robin at her console and starts telling her about it...and then sees the blank look on her face...Wesley: ...Robin?
Robin: It's your turn. Play the game, Wesley.
- And then Worf and Riker walk in, forcing Wesley to run like hell.
- Wesley goes to Engineering to execute The Plan, sees Robin at her console and starts telling her about it...and then sees the blank look on her face...
- Pink Means Feminine: Robin wears a pink dress for her date with Wesley.
- Pleasure Island: The Game is promoted by everyone who plays it as the most fun activity imaginable. It not only turns out to be extremely addictive, but is ultimately revealed as the key piece in a plot to take over the Federation.
- Real Men Can Cook: Worf makes Wesley a Tarvokian pound cake.
- Recycled In Space: The episode is very reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Etana Jol the Ktarian is still human-looking enough to seduce Riker, though her design makes her look a little like Rocky Dennis.
- Serious Business: Chocolate, according to Deanna. Apparently, it's even Better Than Sex to her. Then Riker tells her that The Game is even better than chocolate...
- Smart People Know Latin: Picard and Wesley have a few lines of dialogue in Latin. Apparently, it's part of the Starfleet Academy curriculum.Picard: Quomodo tua Latinitas est?note
Wesley: Praestat quad prius.note
Picard: Oppido bonum.note Your Latin has improved.
- Story-Breaker Power: Data can't be affected by The Game, which is why the affected crew members disable him.
- Sweetie Graffiti: Picard apparently got in trouble with Boothby for carving "AF" into his prized elm tree.
- The Only One I Trust: Wesley and Robin become this to each other once they realize how far The Game has spread. And then Robin gets compromised.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: We don't find out until after the plan has succeeded that Wesley was serving as a distraction while Data worked out a way to end the Game's effects.
- We Need a Distraction: Wesley manages to get Data reactivated off-screen and proceeds with the big chase to buy him time to figure out a solution.
- Wham Shot: Just before Wesley enters Picard's ready room to tell him about The Game, we see him put something off to the side but not what it is; after Wesley leaves, Picard picks it up—and it's The Game.