On Friday, February 27th, the entertainment industry lost one of its most respected members. Leonard Nimoy died in his Bel Air home due to complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a side effect of smoking many years. The multi-talented actor was truly beloved by millions both in front of and behind the camera. Of course, everyone knows him best as Spock from the original Star Trek series, a role he gleefully relished all the way to the end. It was a performance that catapulted him into the stratosphere of nerd culture, practically making him royalty. To put it simply, if Nimoy was supposed to be anywhere, people would rush over decked out in crazy costumes, and the man would happily greet them. He was far more than Spock though. Nimoy was a talented photographer, director (including some of the Star Trek movies), poet, and singer. He even had a two year stint in the US Army. If there was anyone out there who personified “Live Long And Prosper,” it was Nimoy.
As of this writing, #RIPSpock, #LLAP, Star Trek, #LiveLongAndProsper, Vulcan, and Nimoy himself are top trending topics on Twitter. Over the next several weeks, you can bet sites everywhere will pay tribute to the actor. I’m sure the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is already working intently on a worthy tribute. That is a difficult undertaking though, because to be perfectly honest, the man was a figurehead of a massive cultural institution. Star Trek redefined science fiction entertainment forever. The show predates the other major space based property, Star Wars, by over 10 years. Everything that has come over nearly five decades was borne from the work Nimoy helped lead with other major icons like William Shatner and George Takei.
This, unquestionably, includes video games. The sheer amount of games in general is rightfully massive, but there are about 60+ unique commercial electronic titles alone stemming back to 1971. Of course, when you go back that far, you predate Atari itself, and subsequently all of modern gaming. The 1971 Star Trek was a text-based entry which repeatedly evolved as the industry itself changed. It was a justifiably small start that didn’t really give any indication of how popular the brand would become. Star Trek had already been around for several years though so you can bet some people back then hoped the property to grow with the medium. Surely as long as Trekkies existed and video games were in demand, Star Trek video games would keep coming.
Which is exactly what happened. Despite the insane roller coaster that was the industry’s early years, developers kept wanting to push out material. When Atari hit hard times after E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and the North American crash of 1983, Star Trek kept going on Apple and Microsoft computers. Interestingly enough, Star Trek was the very first TV program to really make video games a priority at this time. Understandably the Nintendo Entertainment System was the next console home of the brand with Star Trek: 25th Anniversary coming in 1991. This was of the graphic adventure genre, which was much more popular back then. 25th Anniversary was fairly well received and it helped bring Star Trek into a resurging industry ripe for the picking.
Despite the sheer amount of titles, very few Star Trek games have gone on to become influential to the industry as a whole. Perhaps with a name as popular as Star Trek, they didn’t have to change how people consume the medium. Fans would drop money simply because they’re hooked on the brand. A decent amount have been critically received, for sure. Games like the 2000 release Star Trek: Voyager – Elite Force and Star Trek Armada are only two that still have dedicated players. But there are as many, if not a little more, that were critically panned. A recent one is 2010’s Star Trek Online, an MMORPG that puts players as the captains of their own starships within that massive universe. A lot of critics weren’t exactly kind to the game, yet clearly that didn’t matter to the players. Star Trek Online was home to more than 3 million registered users as of January 2014. I don’t know how many play it now, but seeing as its still being maintained, the numbers are clearly large enough to generate a profit for developer Cryptic Studios.
Nimoy himself wasn’t exactly a stranger to the gaming business. He has lent his immensely recognizable voice to a select few titles during his extensive career. The one Star Trek game that can boast this star power is easily the most ambitious: the aforementioned Star Trek Online. Nimoy voices the game’s narrator and it’s a role that fits the man perfectly. Who else would you want guiding your own journey than Spock himself? Nimoy wasn’t constrained to his biggest brand though. He also voiced the evil Xehanort in none other than Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. The story goes that Tetsuya Nomura, the series creator, is a massive Trek fan and personally wanted Nimoy to play this integral role. I’d say we all benefited from that decision.
To be perfectly honest, I’m much more dedicated to Star Wars than Star Trek, if I actually had to pick between the two. It all comes down to what got to me first. I first saw A New Hope well before I consumed anything related to Star Trek so that’s where my allegiance firmly sits. It also didn’t help that none of my friends nor family members are hardcore Trekkies. This has unfortunately resulted in me ignoring Star Trek games almost entirely. I have, in my entire lifetime, owned one, and I can’t even remember why. It was 1994’s Star Trek: The Next Generation: Echoes from the Past on the Sega Genesis. The game looked cool and obviously featured a major brand name, so whoever bought it likely thought my brothers and I would love it. Unfortunately, we couldn’t even figure out how to get past the first scene. We just kept walking around the Enterprise without any idea of what to do. I’m sure I could figure it out now with ease, but when you’re not even ten and you can’t even progress anywhere in a game, patience is completely out the window. I quickly pushed away Echoes from the Past and went right back to playing Sonic The Hedgehog or what else I had available. It was, sadly, such a disappointing experience that it has stuck with me since.
Star Trek is unquestionably one of the most popular properties in all of entertainment. It has not just defined what science fiction television is. It created an entire subculture that dictates lives of thousands. Maybe even millions! For some, Star Trek is a way of life. Klingon is a language you learn and the actors are revered as legends. Yet even if you were only a passing fan or totally indifferent, Nimoy was someone you knew. He was an icon in every sense of the word and we have the Trek many love because of his involvement. It’s tragic that Nimoy passed, but with 83 years on this earth, the man made a massive impact. He is basically eternal now, living forever as the Vulcan First Officer of the Enterprise. Star Trek in any form will never die, and neither will Spock (except, you know, when he did for a bit).
RIP Leonard Nimoy. Long live your incredible body of work.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.