Let's get this out of the way: yes, you lost The Game.note
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 frisbee(s) into the tornado(s) to win. Riker notes the little jolt of pleasure the device gives him, his reward for winning. And as all good Trekkies know, devices which send pleasure signals directly to the brain are never a good thing, and the music takes an appropriately dark turn.
Meanwhile, Wesley Crusher is also on holiday from Starfleet Academy and has come to visit everyone on the Enterprise. At Riker's request, Wes makes it a working holiday and pitches in to help the Enterprise complete a hurried exploration quest. And so down to Engineering Wes goes, where he's having trouble with the ship's sensors (this is the same kid who reprogrammed the tractor beam while drunk?) and is assisted by one Ensign Robin Lefler. Soon enough, a friendship is seeded.
In the meantime, Riker is running around the ship and, in between dealing with the be-hastened mission, 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. Riker and Troi lock the sick bay doors... 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 still having troubles getting the ship's Applied Phlebotinum to work right, prompting Ensign Lefler to give him some simple but obvious advice: "You gotta go with what works." And a romance is seeded, with the two making a date.
On his way to said date, Wes barely scrapes past being "introduced" to The Game by his mother (who also prevents him from helping out with the disabled Data); he later discusses with Lefler how everyone is playing it and he wants to know what it's all about. Studying it, they find that it not only sends pleasure signals into the brain, not only that it's addictive, but that it also affects a person's ability to reason, making them 'open to suggestion'. Wes dutifully reports this to Picard, but unbeknownst to him, the captain is already under The Game's thrall.
Wes and Lefler also examine Data and find that someone has severed the connection between his brain and his body, rendering him inert (as La Forge had earlier reported). No one except Dr. Crushernote and La Forge have the skill to do this, 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 (said strobe light then gets flashed all over the ship, bringing note everyone 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 Enterprise captures Etana's ship, and everything is back to kosher.
This episode contains examples of the following tropes:
- Arc Number: Nurse Ogawa says she's made it to level 47 in The Game.
- 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.
- Broken Aesop: The episode attempted to make an aesop against constantly playing video games. However, the game in question was actively programmed to brainwash whoever plays it. It also ignores the fact that the crew regularly uses the Holodeck, which is essentially the endpoint for videogames (can simulate any scenario imaginable, and stimulate all the senses while doing it.) Although considering all of the times the Holodeck has malfunctioned, it is not the best example.
- Busman's Holiday: Even though Wesley's technically on vacation, he still helps out with tech stuff on the Enterprise.
- Call-Back: To Data's dance lessons with Doctor Crusher. Data is surprised to hear Wesley say he's not a good dancer, considering his mother's proficiency.
- 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?:
- Dr. Crusher is embarrassed when Wesley catches her doing something very pleasurable by herself.
- Even more apparent when the episode reveals that The Game stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, complete with users gasping and twitching, making it a very literal form of 'mental masturbation.'
- 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.
- 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.
- Irony: The episode has the crew of the Enterprise being taken over by a highly addictive video game. At the end, Wesley Crusher saves the day. The irony is that Wesley's actor (Wil Wheaton) is an avid gamer in real life.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.