Dear Dayton: A short while ago, a guest in the chat room asked when does a Foundry mission become fan fiction. You had mentioned that you wanted to join them the following week when they discussed the topic, but were unable to attend due to prior commitments.
So, here’s your chance. Lay it all on us. What are your thoughts on the subject? Or, what would you have said, if you were able to join them?
Could you share how you went from Dayton Ward, programmer, to DAYTON WARD, Star Trek author?
As a regular listener and a lover of all things Dayton, I look forward to your response. And, if you need a mediocre pool boy, I’m your man.
Have Net will Travel
Okay, confession time, I had to go back to the show where this topic was first broached in order to refresh my memory. What initially caught my attention was the question as originally posed: “When does a Foundry mission start being a mission and stop being fan fiction?”
I must also confess that while I’m interested in Star Trek Online, I don’t play it. Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to play it, but I know—deep down—that once I start playing, that’s the end of Dayton in the real world, as I’ll be lost in the game grid for-fucking-ever. That said, I’ve tried to keep up with it so far as the storytelling is concerned, just to keep tabs on what the good folk at Cryptic are doing. As I understand it, most of the game’s “official” missions come from a small cadre of writers employed by Cryptic. In addition to that, fans have the Foundry, where they can create their characters, settings, and missions to play and share with other fans. Beyond whatever boundaries or guidelines are in place for using the tool, players by and large are free to do pretty much whatever they want. I have to say, that really sounds pretty damned cool. It seems to me that with the Foundry, Cryptic has provided what I think amounts to a natural extension of the time-honored tradition of fans expressing their creativity and enthusiasm for Star Trek.
So, the question: Is a Foundry mission basically a form of fan fiction? For whatever the hell my opinion’s worth, yes, that’s what I’d call it. If I understand the Foundry correctly, I don’t think that transition from fan fiction to…something else…ever happens. Now, let me be clear: This most definitely is not a judgment on validity or quality as it pertains to fan fiction. I’m a fan, and before I started getting paid to write Star Trek, I wrote my own stories to share with friends and have published in fanzines (Fanzines? Remember those?). This actually ties into the second part of this week’s question, asking about how I got my start writing Star Trek for Pocket: I submitted stories to Strange New Worlds, the writing contest for unpublished writers. Some people called those “fan fiction contests,” which I suppose is true to a certain extent, as I’m sure a good number of the stories submitted had their roots in fan fiction stories. The story I submitted for my first go at Strange New Worlds was a fan fiction story I rewrote for the contest.
Fan films like Phase II or Starship Farragut are a new era of fan fiction, costing an assload more money to make than writing a story for a fanzine. Between the two are comics, audio dramas, computer games, and whatever else I can’t think of right now.
Creating stuff like this has been an integral part of fandom since…well, the Big Bang, give or take a week. Star Trek fans in particular have always had a strong drive to create their own adventures in a variety of different mediums. The owners of Star Trek, by and large, have been accommodating in this regard, just so long as certain lines are not crossed. So, while fan efforts as fanzines, fan films, and—apparently—Foundry missions are allowed (or “tolerated,” if you want to go that way), that’s pretty much as far as it’s liable to go, so far as the owners of Star Trek are concerned. In that regard, it’s not that much different than books or comics, in that I suppose it’s possible that one of them might be the basis for some future Star Trek film or TV episode……but I’m not betting all my chips on it.
Someone on the show I listened to talked about not wanting to be an “official author” because they felt this would impede their “creative freedom.” Of course, this came after the same listener was wishing that Cryptic would let fans craft “real” missions for the game. Well, here’s the part where I risk irking people, and tell you that you can’t have it both ways.
For me, the distinction between fan fiction and something “official” is pretty simple, and consists of two criteria: It stops being fan fiction once you’re paid for it, and it’s subject to oversight and approval by the owner of the property in question along with whichever company has acquired a license to develop spin-off material from that property. Star Trek is a brand that’s worth…hang on….this plus that…carry that…round that…a metric fuck-ton of money. The people who own it are going to have a say so far as whatever product goes out the door with their brand affixed to it. That goes for novels, computer games, toys, comics, whatever. That’s just the way it is. If you want to be paid, or otherwise receive the “Official Stamp of Approval” from the people who own the brand, then you’ll have to get used to playing by whatever rules they lay down. If that cramps your style too much, then playing in someone else’s sandbox is probably not going to be your thing.
Is writing as an “official” author really a big, restrictive pain in the ass? Not in my experience. Perhaps some of you’ve read that whole Star Trek: Vanguard series Nick and Terry are always gushing about. You might have noticed that we got to do a whole bunch of shit that you’d never see on any of the television shows. Yeah, that was a story about characters not really tied to any of the shows, but even the books featuring the TV crews are being allowed to do all kinds of stuff with those characters. People are growing far beyond the roles they once occupied on the screen: changing ships, getting married, having kids, getting killed, revealing their secret lesbian love for each other…..wait; that was just me, thinking about T’Pol and Hoshi.
Anyway, the point here is that the so-called restrictions placed on “official” authors are not nearly as confining as many folks might believe. The “rules” for what we can’t do—such as they are—are far outnumbered by the things we’re allowed and even encouraged to do. Speaking as a writer, I enjoy the challenge of coming up with something new and original that works within the established Star Trek universe. Yeah, somebody pays me to do it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not having the time of my life. I’m basically doing a more elaborate version of what I used to do when I was ten years old, creating my own adventures with my Star Trek action figures.
Okay, I was actually doing that just yesterday. Don’t tell anybody.
So, long story short? Fans enjoy enormous freedom to do pretty much whatever they want so far as creating their own stories. For Star Trek Online, that extends to the Foundry. From where I sit, it sounds like a total blast. Enjoy it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have this story with T’Pol and Hoshi I need to write……