This is a discussion article written by Akeram Mulvar from USS Hartington. Have an opinion on this? Write it in the comments below 🙂 -Onion
OK, now in advance I’d like to apologize to writing an article about semantics. I am fully aware that many of you are shaking your heads and pleading to various deities for an answer to ‘why.’ Well, because. Because reasons.
I suppose the real reason I want to discuss this dead-end is the connotations and meanings of both terms. This is largely because I’m not a fan of the term ‘sim’ or ‘simming’ for play by post roleplay. I think you folks should hear me out on this, because maybe, just maybe, you’ll agree with me.
Sim is a slang term for simulation. Now, I’m sure just about all of us have tried a flight simulator at some point. If you’re lucky, it’s been a big one, like what the Air Force uses to train pilots. Or maybe it’s just been Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000. Well either way, you probably noticed something about it. There’s not a whole lot of cool and awesome dogfights and barrel rolls (if there are, you’re doing it wrong. Oh so wrong…), and there’s a lot of examining readouts, pressing buttons, flipping switches. Also, there’s a lot of boredom. You can only stare at the screen so much while waiting on your plane to cross the Atlantic.
Why is that simulation boring? Because it’s a simulation. In proper lexicon, a simulation is replicating the real thing as closely as possible without actually doing it. So The Sims is actually very poorly named, as I can never recall bouncing on a trampoline while oblivious to the fact my house was on fire.
Now why do we call Star Trek play by post roleplays ‘sims?’ If it’s a simulation, we’ve been doing it wrong. I can guarantee that at least 90% of the time onboard the USS Enterprise, Ensign Snuffy is calibrating the sensors or washing the beige carpet in the corridor instead of battling the Borg. Captain Picard doesn’t usually get to solve a vast mystery or save a planet. Normally he’s probably in his ready room up to his eyes in pads full of paperwork. Same thing goes for the whole crew. And Sisko probably had it worse by virtue of having two governments watching him and dozens of ships coming and going every day.
We have to admit either that we aren’t doing simulations, or that we’re doing them wrong. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never gone onto a Trek RP site where my assigned mission was ‘Fill out Duty Report. Submit to Department Head. Calibrate Sensors. Eat lunch. Talk with Ensign Rodriguez. Go back to work.’ That would be an immensely boring site, though I applaud any of you who want to take on that challenge.
It’s clear these are not sims. That’s not to say that misusing the term is a crime punishable by death, because we misuse plenty of terms. I can almost guarantee that the last person you referred to as Caucasian is not from the Caucasus region. But let’s examine what we actually do before I get distracted.
What we do is very simple. We tell stories. We do that because it’s fun, because we enjoy writing, and because we love our universes. Heck, we could be doing fan fiction, but what makes this different is that it’s collaborative. It’s very handy for me to write pieces for my characters, then have someone else come in and give me something fresh to reply to. Even if we’ve planned it in advance, it halves what I’d have to come up with for writing my own complete tale, and it’s amazingly helpful for my own lack of pacing. Yes, as much as it pains me, I am not perfect.
What are we supposed to call it? Group Writing? Sounds a bit stuffy. Collaborative Storytelling? Doesn’t have a wow factor. Roleplay? I can buy that. I can handle it, but it’s not perfect either. I think most people are likely to hear that and immediately have their minds travel either to the gutter or straight to a bunch of adults running around with wigs, elf ears, and foam swords LARPing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As a result, most people abbreviate it to RP. And then it evokes images of nerdy people rolling many-sided dice to see if they killed the dragon. To which I say, ye plebes could hardly slay a kobold, least of all a dragon!
The bottom line is that no term is perfect for what we do. Maybe we need a new one, and I’d love to hear your catchy suggestions. If it’s done with Scrabble tiles, so much the better. However, in the interim, maybe we can stop calling it ‘simming’ in the Trek community?