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Mum's Corner: The Star Trek Google Doodle

June 27, 2014  |  12:00pm
Mum's Corner: The <em>Star Trek</em> Google Doodle

Dear mum:

Do you remember that time I sent you my favorite Nintendo DS game Hotel Dusk: Room 215 in the post, and you played it for ten minutes, got stuck, later lost the cartridge, and then lost the DS too? I have been thinking a lot about this recently. Because that sounds a lot like something I would do if I didn’t have to depend on games for a living. It also makes me want to address a “gaming history” you might think that you do not own. But you do.

I know you are traveling around Victoria, Canada right now, I guess that makes mother like daughter—we always liked to go to new places—but time differences have meant that we haven’t properly spoken in a really long time. The way I communicate these days is by writing my feelings down and selling them, and well, that’s okay if you are a person who likes games and you want to know my opinions on them.

But I know that you don’t really regard yourself as a “game” player (well, not the sort of games that you would call games—you had a DS Lite and don’t think Brain Training is a game and yet you “played” hours of it). And anything that I write, which is usually on PC games, must seem tiresome to you. You are probably slightly appalled that I have a column called “S.EXE”, you probably are fairly annoyed with my propensity to use the, uh, F word, often, you might even be a little taken aback by the honesty with which I describe my personal tastes and intricacies to people who, on the surface, just want to read about a game. Part of my reason for doing this is because all of those things are facets of who I actually am, not the whole of who I am, and they speak to different people at different times about the things they love and play.

In short, I am aware that I want you to feel comfortable reading something I have written and I want you to understand why I love games. I know you are already proud of me (well, that one time I was on BBC Radio you were proud of me). But I want to write something for you that doesn’t make you feel alienated from a hobby that, perhaps forever, you have felt is slightly abrasive or unwelcoming towards you. I remember, for example, introducing you at Christmas to Proteus, a quiet exploration game full of wonder that I thought you would find soothing.

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You felt motion sick, and you were baffled by the lack of “objectives”. I asked you if you liked it, and you said that you did like it. And then you said that it wasn’t a game.

You liked it, but it is not a game, you said. I have been thinking about this ever since.

Did you know that this is what some “gamer”-identified people say about Proteus? That because it has a lack of traditional game objectives (I would say the “objective” is to enjoy the view) that some young people who grew up on Mario and Doom (me and Andrew played these as children, remember?) also think that Proteus is “not a game”? That realization, that this was what you thought, was so valuable and interesting to me. For the first time, I understood that perhaps I should be talking more often to you about games. Perhaps even games that you might go out of your way to play.

So Maddy, the assistant editor here at this fine publication, suggested that I “review” a Google Doodle for you. Maddy’s mum likes them, but I know you mentioned that you like them too. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like Google Doodles? They are accessible. They sit right there in the middle of the page, above or underneath the Google search bar. Most people these days can interact with a Google Doodle without having to invest in an expensive games-ready device, like the Nintendo DS Lite you loved so much and then lost unceremoniously on a bus or something. (Let us never say we are not alike.) (How I wish I could get The Guardian to send you 3DS games to review, but you’d faff and fret and never submit the article. And, well, let us never say we are not alike.)

But the best thing about a Google Doodle is that they are there if you want them. I think this is partly why Facebook games became “the in thing” as grandma would say, with a flap of her hand. If you use Facebook, and I know you do because you stalk me on it, then games with a simple concept like Farmville (you must have seen ads, right?) are right there with a user-friendly interface, and all you do is click to get in, and they are free. There is no cartridge to find and insert, no expensive game-machine, there is no physical barrier to your entry. Not many games on consoles—like the Playstation 4, or Xbox One, the newest doorstop game machines to blight everyone’s living room—have games that are very low in investment. Every time I buy a game on one of these expensive new bricks, I have to wait a long time for it to download, and I know you would have so little patience for that sort of thing. People who own these machines barely have time for it.

But unlike the Facebook Farmville game, Google Doodles do not demand anything from you. The coolest thing about Google Doodles is that they are a momentary, jolly fragment in an otherwise busy day. Something that you do not necessarily need to “complete”, and you do not need to remember anything about. There is a lack of pressure to involve yourself in a Google Doodle. Tomorrow there will be a new Google Doodle on the internet, just below the search bar you use every day! If you don’t play this one, it’s okay.

I guess this is why you stopped playing Proper Game Hotel Dusk? You were afraid, after a while, that when you started it up again you would be lost, or wouldn’t remember where you were. Or perhaps you were already lost, knocking on every hotel room door in that game as if you were trying to raise money for charity by washing cars like you remember I did in Mannofield. There is none of that wasted time with Google Doodles, right? You don’t feel like you have failed if you don’t spend time in a Google Doodle. It’s just a Doodle! Perfection in that name: a “doodle”! A momentary scribble! A thing that doesn’t need to exist but you can do it if you like. It’s just a second-long expression of the day. A little flimsy thing. A doodle.

So: here is the meat of my profession, mum. A “review”. A little guide to what a game is, and whether it is worth playing. I have chosen from the Google Doodle archive the 46th Anniversary of Star Trek’s First Broadcast Doodle. This is because I know you grew up watching Star Trek and I like to think of you as a Secret Nerd.

The Star Trek Google Doodle is adorable-looking. It looks like a little cartoon USS Enterprise bridge and each of the letters of the word “Google” are, recognizably, a character from the original television show. The “G” has little pointy Spock ears! Uhura, the letter “O”, has pretty hair. Kirk, the other letter “O”, has what resembles a very fine toupee on. Was that a toupee, mum? I am not of that era. Did William Shatner have very toupee-like hair then? All I remember of this show is that William Shatner had a very shiny face and liked to punch people. I bet that was rad when you were young. I bet you and auntie were just waiting until Captain Kirk punched someone each episode until grandma would come by and tut and attempt to get you to switch it off.

This Google Doodle tells a very short story via a few clickable objects. You can hover the mouse over parts of the image and it will highlight things you can click. On the first screen, if you click the console in the foreground, it makes all sorts of gargly Star Trek noises, those iconic beeps and blips, and man, even now it’s really futuristic sounding, evocative of an otherworldliness. I had a good time clicking this several times and I am not afraid to admit it. One of them turns on the distinctive whine and rhythmic chirp of something resembling an interstellar submarine, one of the ways in which you can tell you are aboard the original USS Enterprise and none of that modern impostor lark.

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Clicking the Uhura character makes some artistic sparkliness happen about her person which is very cute. I do have some reservations about this though. (Did you know mum, that I am known for my feminist interpretations of things on the internet? Lots of people get annoyed with me about this. These people, we both know, include dad.) I am sort of annoyed about this because it implies Uhura doesn’t do anything but be an ornament on the bridge. She’s the communications officer! She’s great. She should get to do something cool in the Google Doodle apart from look pretty! (Oh my god I can’t believe this has turned into one of my ACTUAL game reviews. I am a parody of myself, mother! I have jumped the shark!) But perhaps it also points out something interesting: that maybe in the original Star Trek women weren’t anything other than something to look at. Perhaps this can be the next huge argument that we have over the Christmas stuffing.

Anyway, you can click on the bridge’s doors to have them slide open, and the screen will show the transporter room. If you click on the “e” with a red shirt on, he will tremble and sweat under the transporter, which hah—well, you get it. He has a red shirt on. You can click on the transporter to whisk him and Kirk off to an alien planet, and reliving that shiny transporter sound effect is this childlike thrill I am sure you will remember.

On the alien planet there are two things Kirk can do, and both of them include violence. I predicted this part earlier. Probably so did you.

I won’t spoil the end point of the doodle for you (the internet, you know, is very sensitive about these things called “spoilers”). But I think you will enjoy this mum: It is short, affectionate and employs sound effects in a really fun way. It’s just long enough to give you the camp flavor of the TV show through three of its most memorable locations, and the art makes each of the characters recognizable, enough to make me smile. The sound effects are the main joy. There’s a little mute/unmute button on the bottom right you can turn on to enable them. They seem to have used the original ones—perhaps they got permission—and really just hearing them along with a small animation is enough to make the day seem better.

I’d play this Doodle to cheer me up on a rainy day. It takes about three minutes to click through, and I think especially for those who grew up with Star Trek, it is cute and sentimental. Although it ultimately makes a little “gag” about the show’s tropes, I think it shows some real affection towards the original material.

At this point it is traditional to give a number out of ten, mum, but I don’t know if you’d have a context for this. I would say that this game would be much more enjoyable for you than Hotel Dusk, and you are about ten times more likely to play it to the end.

Much love from California,

Cara xx



Cara Ellison lives in the UK and writes about games for places like The Guardian, Rock Paper Shotgun and PC Gamer. She tweets at @caraellison.

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