Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enter — I mean, Artemis. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations that are just legally different enough to avoid a lawsuit, to boldly go where no one has gone before (except for all the Beta testers).
Thomas Robertson’s “Artemis Bridge Simulator” is a game that seeks to complete just this mission. Part of the expanding micro-genre of Star Trek-inspired starship command simulators, Artemis puts you and your friends on the bridge of a starship and tasks you with the unique experience of operating in the ship’s highly specialized positions. Whether you are an engineer, captain, weapons officer, or any one of a variety of other positions, each job demands the utmost attention and is integral to the ship’s upkeep.Only through persistent teamwork and coordination with other crew members can you keep your ship from flying into an asteroid, let alone complete your objective of saving colonists from alien raiders or rescuing ships stranded in minefields. It’s a multiplayer game that demands cooperation. In this respect, it is quite different than many other multiplayer games yet still very true to its inspiration, Star Trek.
Whether it be the original series, The Next Generation, or Deep Space 9, Star Trek has consistently endeavored to portray utopian society. The centerpiece for this thematic core has always been the starship’s bridge, a place where all genders, races, and backgrounds come together and work for a common cause. Creator Gene Rodenberry originally envisioned the starship bridge as an example of total utopia, without a shred of conflict between crewmates. This would eventually be revised in order to create a more dynamic viewing experience, but even the most recent of Star Trek bridge crews showcase the sort of diversity, progressiveness, and community that truly push the boundaries of cooperation between different people.
Artemis is intended to echo that same sentiment by making the starship bridge a place where teams have to work together to achieve their objective. It is impossible to fly a ship alone and difficult to maneuver without a crew of at least four members. The basic mechanics of the game force players to engage and subscribe to the cooperative and utopian values that help guide the bridges of Star Trek vessels. However, while this may be the intention, reality tends to stray from these ideals.
In my experience, players will routinely disobey each other. Whether it’s warping to locations against the captain’s orders or letting the shields down in tactical areas so that other players will be destroyed or rendered useless, the actuality of Artemis’ bridge dynamic is constant mayhem. It seems the thing we can most agree on is that it’s hilarious to let a player get into a short range attack ship and just as they depart the command vessel, warp away to let their small ship float helplessly in the void of space with no hope of recovery and no way to resume command of their bridge station (or maybe that’s just me).
This is certainly not the micro-utopia Rodenberry envisioned, but is it emblematic of the wider world? It’s easy to chalk up a friend’s unsportsmanlike actions to them simply wanting to have fun, albeit at the cost of the objective, but there may be a more pervasive reason for the disunity of the bridge.
In over seventy hours of Artemis, I have only played one successful campaign. We had two ships full of five players each, and one mission: wipe out a squad of alien invaders. It was deceptively simple and took an incredible amount of coordination from the captain and discipline from the crew to align the ship so that we didn’t float into a minefield and warp to a spot that wasn’t across the map from our objective. But for one glorious session, we pulled off the impossible: two starship bridge crews working like a well-oiled machine to destroy the alien invaders and save human colonists. Not once did we succumb to the temptation to pick a fight with space whales instead of the aliens, nor did we shoot nukes at the innocent civilians. No, instead we powered through with the resilience and discipline one might expect from The Enterprise.
But the mere fact that I’ve only ever experienced one of those moments in such a large amount of gameplay speaks to the fact that perhaps we succumb to the same self-centered tendencies and biases that Rodenberry actively rebelled against. Players move against the idea of cooperation in favor of satisfying themselves. Looking out into the wider world, it’s easy to see the example of “that one guy in a team who wants to satisfy his own desires at whatever cost may come to the group. These people are out there at every level of community, and no matter how frustrating it may be we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to them. Rather than push to reform, however, we simply try to ignore these disruptive forces. In this sense, the bridge of our modern Artemis team is far-off from the harmonious Enterprise, and the ideal of a perfect utopia seems just as distant now as it was at the inception of the first Star Trek series. So why then don’t people do something about it? Why don’t we change?
You would think that some basic concepts like winning the game or achieving some preset victory condition would be something people would universally pursue. However, in the eyes of disruptive players, victory is not necessarily worth the cost of cooperation. If they can have more fun disrupting other players than putting in the time and cooperation needed to technically win the game they will always choose the former option.
Without the capacity to change the game’s fundamental reward systems, cooperative players are left with one option: perseverance. While there will always be disagreements on any team, the ability to compromise, to work together, and to communicate desires before taking action will literally mean a world of difference. A team doesn’t have to be perfect in order to win, but it does have to be capable of putting in the effort required to achieve a victory state for all players. With such a team at your side, it might mean that you actually manage to rescue those human colonists without floating off alone in space.