DS9: Rules, Games, Winning
One thing while watching Season 7 I keep thinking about is how DS9 deals with success and continually redefines what it means to “win”… and how the lessons they learn by playing games for entertainment informs how they make sense of winning real-life victories.
1) The take-home message of Take Me Out to the Holosuite is that “manufactured triumph” can be just as good as actually winning– the Niners team of misfits was never going to win against superstar Vulcans in the baseball game, but they can win by ~having fun~ and infuriating the main Vulcan guy anyway. If you can’t win, change the goal.
2) Miles and Julian’s obsession with the Alamo shows also how losing a battle can mean winning the war– in the Battle of the Alamo the Texans (who are the heroes in US history narratives) are outnumbered, outmatched by Santa Anna’s Mexican troops, and the Texans are slaughtered while standing their ground. This is a losing battle! However as Wikipedia further informs me, “Santa Anna’s cruelty during the battle inspired many Texans to join the Texan Army” eventually leading to them winning the overall revolution. This is Miles and Julian’s escape into fantasy to take the pressure off, but also is a way for them to make sense of the casualty lists. Will their co-workers and allies have died for nothing, in the end? If they themselves die will their lives have been worth it? The desire to avenge the deaths of the Alamo led for Texan victory, and so the DS9 crew has to use their grief over Federation/ally deaths to fuel their will to beat the Dominion.
3) oh and the Season ½ pointless plots with aliens that like to play games that don’t seem like fun to us (Move Along Home, Captive Pursuit, Rivals, perhaps even Q-Less… Battle Lines is not a game in terms of entertainment but it is like a neverending laser tag with real weapons.) is an attempt to set up further questions on what winning means– how can you win when you don’t know what rules you’re playing by? what happens if you refuse to play the game? what happens to your honor and integrity when the game isn’t fair to begin with, and in that case what’s the point in playing? (why not just punch Q in his smarmy face?)
4) in Our Man Bashir, Julian and Garak have to win the holosuite game to save the crew trapped from the transporter malfunction, but in the process might be killed themselves. Garak tries to save him and Julian, but it would kill the crew– this attempt at victory isn’t acceptable to Julian who shoots him, and Garak is pleased at Julian’s commitment: “He showed me that he had the spine to play the game as it ought to be played”. In the end, Julian “saves the day by destroying the world”– to save the real lives of the crew, he has to lose the expected endgoal of the holosuite game.
5) All of this builds to our more seriously treated plot arcs that deal directly with these themes– how will our heroes save the day, what will they sacrifice in the process, how will they know what victory is and if it’s worth it? The first related ongoing arc is Bajoran independence and their ongoing struggle with self-governance and rebuilding, as seen through Major Kira: the black and white of the Resistance against Cardassian oppressors doesn’t apply to the murky grey politics of democracy– how to do what is best for the Bajoran people while also letting them make their own decisions. When Bajorans disagree with Bajorans who is the enemy? How do you deal with nebulous objectives? Winning was easy, governing’s harder.
6) Sisko’s confrontations with the Maquis culminates with his pursuit/standoffs with Eddington– Federation values don’t generally allow for officers to poison whole planets, not for any reason, but for Sisko to win he has to play the game that Eddington has set up for him, he has to be the Javert to Eddington’s Valjean. This is against standard Star Trek rules!!! but it pays off and he wins.
8) Sisko’s struggle to win the game while playing by the rules– and then having to overstep those rules– is most obviously dealt with in In the Pale Moonlight. “I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all… I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again - I would. Garak was right about one thing: a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant." No subtext here, this is the thesis statement of this whole theme, from the mouth of the Sisko himself. This is followed up by the Section 31 episodes, which reveal that the Federation itself– who has set those rules Sisko breaks/bends!– is willing to sacrifice its integrity in order to win in the end.
Whose rules do you play by and when? If you play to win what do you lose in the process? By saving the day, do you destroy the world? Is it worth it?