Tag Archives: diversity

Data, Spock, and Star Trek Emotions

“Unlike Data, for example, [Spock] at least has feelings.” -Richard Raben, Boldly Live as You’ve Never Lived Before: Unauthorized and Unexpected Life Lessons from Star Trek

I posted this quote (from a book I read for another post) on my Facebook a while back, with the simple caption “#NERDRAGE.” It generated an excellent conversation about Data, Spock, emotions, neurodivergence, and Star Trek’s unstated values. I wanted to share some of those thoughts here because they’re really, really important. Instead of just spouting off about it myself, I’m pleased to present it in conversation form with two brilliant Facebook participants, fellow Comparative Geeks contributor Rose B. Fischer and super duper college buddy Lani. Edited slightly for readability.

Hannah: So, my irritation with the above quote is twofold: The statement that Data doesn’t have emotions, and the implication that having/expressing emotions is intrinsically better. They sound contradictory but they’re not, given the two characters being portrayed and especially the connection with autism.

Firstly, the definition of emotion. I have this conversation every time I watch the movie Equilibrium, where “emotions are suppressed/removed” but things like loyalty, ambition, and disgust (ironically, disgust for emotions!) all remain. Data’s kind of the same, he “doesn’t have emotions” but actually he has desire (for knowledge/curiosity, desire to please), happiness and sadness when good or bad things happen, affection (for Spot), loyalty to Picard/his friends/Starfleet, etc. Where does emotion end and an intellectual position begin?

Lani: If we are are argue that Data has no emotion, we have to argue that the desire to experience emotion is, in and of itself, not an emotional experience. Beyond that, his friendship with Geordi, his affection of Spot, and his desire for a family unit all suggest emotional response.

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“Phantasms”

Rose: The issue that’s consistently played up with Data is lack of emotional awareness, compounded by incomplete cultural/social understanding. He can analyze human culture norms but isn’t invested in them and doesn’t have a bunch of conditioned responses based on observed behavior since infancy. There are several instances of other characters recognizing emotion in Data and commenting on it. Data usually “corrects” them, but context makes it pretty clear that the audience is meant to infer that Data has more emotional capacity than he realizes.

Hannah: Yeah, a lot of people tease about this, as in “Oh, they’re trying to write an emotionless character but they keep accidentally giving him emotions anyway, haha,” but I think it’s a more foundational concept that there IS no distinct line between emotions and thoughts/opinions/beliefs. The issue here is with comprehension and expression, not existence. Data doesn’t understand other people’s emotions or the way humans act because of them, and because others tell him he doesn’t have emotions, he believes them and continually uses that as a defense, reminding others that he’s responding in his own way and isn’t capable of doing what they’re doing.

The Enterprise crew tends to be more understanding than the rest of the universe in all things and all situations, and they generally provide a supportive environment in which for him to experiment and learn, but it still would’ve helped him out enormously if there was ANYONE there who could go “Oh, me too, I also find this difficult and this is what my emotions are like,” etc. Data’s emotion chip basically gives him overwhelming emotional reactions, and cues the matching physical action (laughter, etc.) but he gets little or no help learning how to deal with them the way a (neurotypical) child usually learns.

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“The Outrageous Okona”

Lani: Data’s ability to process emotions coincides closely with the disorder alexithymia, which is the inability to understand, identify, and process one’s own emotions and, no surprise, research shows that 85% of autistic adults have it. So yes, Data’s experiences are highly analogous with autistic experiences.

Also, speaking as an autistic adult, one thing I have learned over the years is that if someone tells you that you have no feeling, your instinct is to believe them. Especially if you are alexithymic and can’t identify those emotions, it is very easy to take the words of someone else regarding your own emotional experiences as gospel.

The flip side of that is Spock’s experience with emotions, which is also analogous with an autism spectrum experience: your emotions are Big. They are Big and they are Violent and they don’t fit right inside you and you don’t know what they are or what to do with them. You’ve been told that your emotions–not other people’s, but yours–are odd or unnatural or too Big, too Violent, and you learn to push them aside because no one has time to understand your emotions, which are big and violent and angry and confused. And so you learn to dislike them and to feel ashamed of them because they are difficult to deal with and People Like You shouldn’t have or need emotions, anyways.

So yes, Spock has emotions. And Data has emotions. And they process them differently from each other, and differently from the humans around them. But to classify emotions that do not fit the typical mold as nonexistent is a dangerous place to start.

Hannah: Yes. Plus the fact that they exist doesn’t mean they need to be pushed into typical channels. Spock’s situation is almost the opposite of Data’s, he knows he has emotions but he’s always dealt with them by getting rid of them. Some fans complain that he gets “turned into Kirk” by the end of the movies, and I agree with that in part — I would’ve loved to see him remain more alien and more incomprehensible in some ways — but that also shows his journey toward accepting his emotions and factoring them into the equation, but still never allowing them to overwhelm him. (eg he has an emotional attachment to Jim, so he breaks rules and lies to save him, but he doesn’t need to indulge in an emotionalistic display about it.) He was suppressing them and suffered a lot of internal distress about his emotions, but learning to “express” or “release” them was not part of the solution at all.

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“The Devil in the Dark”

Rose: Spock can be an analogue for trauma survivors, too, though I guess not as close as the one with autism.

Spock expresses emotion by acting in supposedly “illogical” and non-Vulcan ways. His entire relationship and way of interacting with McCoy is emotional, even though neither one will admit it. What logical purpose is served by the way they banter? He didn’t need to learn to “express” emotions in the sense of becoming a passionate romantic or having big Vulcan rages, or laughing at jokes, but he was always expressing them whether he wanted to admit it or not.

I think what a lot of the fan commentary is saying is that there is a “right” and “wrong” way to express feelings. It’s codified as closer to what a stereotypical neurotypical person would do, so obviously problematic from that perspective.

Equally so for anyone dealing with trauma. Primary symptoms of trauma-related disorders involve inability to express, identify, or cope with emotions, having emotional reactions and responses that are frowned upon by society (either too much or too little) or in simply needing alternative means to express and cope with emotions because the ones society likes don’t work anymore. Star Trek has a poor track record for mental illness in general, but Spock and Data both demonstrate degrees of my experience in trauma recovery (moreso Spock, because I’m prone to rages that nobody sees and recognize emotions but don’t react or express them in commonly accepted ways. Data comes in with the aspect of needing feedback and rarely having an opportunity to get it because then I have to explain the problem…)

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“Plato’s Stepchildren”

Hannah: Absolutely. It’s also relevant that both characters essentially come from non-human cultures, although Data doesn’t really have a “culture” in the same way. That would be enough to say “this character is different, stop slapping them down for not expressing the same way humans do,” but the fact that actual humans are actually like this makes the whole thing that much more important. Data and Spock are VITAL crewmembers and friends, and neither of them would be improved by making them more “normal,” either more “useful” for others or more comfortable with themselves.

Both of them learned and grew as people, becoming more confident and happy and satisfied with themselves, but neither of them were “fixed” by becoming neurotypical, it’s the opposite. And for the most part, the shows/movies didn’t indicated that they should be, it’s the fan reactions/commentary that have grown up in response to them. The whole response to Data and Spock devalues intellectualism and all the things Data and Spock actually care about the most. Ties into the “right and wrong expressions” issue, plus the idea that they need to learn from humans because emotionalism is some kind of glorious thing that makes humanity special in the cosmos when it’s not.

Lani: Neurodivergence is woefully underrepresented in Star Trek. I actually can’t really think of any canonically neurodivergent characters? Worf has a very brief (one episode) bout of suicidal ideation, but that’s about it. Which is really disappointing to me because in a universe that says that differences are the things that make us great, in a rare sci-fi universe where disability isn’t treated as an evolutionary failure, it would nice to see some hint of canon neurodivergence.


Let us know what you think in the comments below! And if you’re interested in this topic, don’t miss the post on my book blog tomorrow, a review of The Myth of Irrationality: The Science of the Mind from Plato to Star Trek by John McCrone!

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Thoughts on Marvels Comics Sales in the News

So I saw a the story flying around in my news feed, and just had to shake my head. Marvel blaming their move to more diversity for decreased comics sales? Here’s a great write up (with lots of sales numbers) on the question:

I had to stop and remember that I’m certainly someone who stopped buying comics, so maybe I have some things to weigh in… reading that article actually just gave me more to think on.

The big thing was that Marvel has been seeing sales drops ever since Secret Wars – which was when I stopped reading new Marvel comics. I think Jonathan Hickman did an amazing job of killing off the Marvel universe, and I’m okay with the thought that the universe is done and I’m good with it. I plan on still reading some older comics still via Marvel Unlimited (which seems like another thing that must be chipping away at physical comics sales), but I’m not feeling much interest in checking out any of the All New All Different Marvel Universe.

Man, I set up multiple segues there. Let’s see…

All New All Different Marvel? Yeah, lots of new ideas out there, and I have to agree with the article I shared – they were throwing things at the wall to see what stuck. Lots of titles started and stopped. And I know I haven’t been following them, so whatever. And it seems plenty of other people haven’t been either, given the big sales drop.

But the universe died, the storylines changed, what characters were where doing what changed… and it’s entirely plausible that those new configurations just haven’t drawn people in. Or, they’re going to take time to draw people in – time that they’re not being given by being canceled. Rebooting everything is kind of like starting over, and at the start you have to draw people in and stick it out. Except that they were doing new things with known characters, so you’re both having to start fresh and carry in all of the baggage of 50+ years. You know, the true point of a reboot is to cut loose baggage…

Physical comics? Man, who knew that was still a thing. I mean, probably people who live in a place where there’s even a single comic store… We have a trade paperback store. Which is another thing that takes away from the sales of individual comics – the knowledge that all of these things are going to come out in trade paperbacks, and that you can wait for that time, for a more survivable and shelve-able material. I mean, I just was going through my old box of comics and had a lot of feels, but the trade paperbacks have been living on a shelf in the living room.

And beyond physical comics and trades, there’s digital. I don’t know how much that’s taken into account for a conversation like this, and I don’t know how well digital does versus physical. I know that when I went crazy buying comics, it was with digital. I had to reel myself way back in, which again had me back towards the trades (or their digital equivalent). There are so many options for how to buy comics, and with so many titles out there, buying things in a set is really nice. Digital is actually a really nice way to own comics, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

Oh right, diversity. Yeah, all of that before saying much of anything about diversity. Because I feel like sure, maybe that’s a factor – and maybe especially a factor among the more “traditional” comics buying crowd. Because if I were to try to determine who is buying physical individual weekly comics, the main folks seem like people who have been doing it for years. They’re following a character, or a creator, or you know, a lot of characters and creators. They may not be picking up something new. They seem to clearly have been hit by Secret Wars – as the article said.

The article also said that all those title changes mess with people who are buying their comics at a comics store, where you set up subscriptions or pull lists. They mess with your existing “traditional” buyers. Meanwhile, as the numbers presented for some of the trade paperbacks versus individual comics seem to show, I think some of the new readers being brought in – or the sales support coming from book fairs and librarians – are in trade paperbacks. Or other formats. And when people are waiting to buy a trade, and you’re cancelling the series within the timespan of the first two trades, there’s no time for people to show their support.


Anyway, I don’t know. The article is right – there’s a whole lot of factors at play. You could dive back in to the X-Men conspiracies. I’m sure there’s data they’re tracking about whether it seems like the movies are bringing in truly new comics readers – or maybe just old hats like me. Or maybe no one.

Which could be a part of where all of this ends up going – will these huge movie franchises end up killing off the comics industry that spawned them? Or at least the base universes they come from, the Marvel and DC universes. Will some other new universe rise up and be the new one to read – maybe something like Valiant? Time will tell. What do you think?

High School Story: The Best in Casual Gaming

I’ve been playing High School Story for almost three years now, and it’s still one of my all-time favorites. A cross between a choose-your-own-adventure story game and a town simulator, it’s an extremely well-done casual game from Pixelberry Studios, free to play on Apple and Android devices. (I play on my Kindle Fire to get a bigger screen, but it works fine on a phone too).


High School Story has two distinguishing characteristics: First, it’s inclusive. Default characters arrive in a variety of skin tones, and when you send characters on dates, they can go with characters of the same or the other gender. One prominent default character has a disability, and a lot of storylines are written to raise awareness for organizations like Girls Who Code or groups that help people with eating disorders. (All the characters are built on the same body type and there’s limited gender nonconformity, but if you start playing the game and you want more options I encourage you to write Pixelberry and say so.) You work with a mixture of standard game characters, plus the ones you’ve created in a wide range of personality types or cliques — these go from basics like “nerd” and “jock” to more complex combinations like “rock climber” and “DJ” as you progress into the game, so I don’t find that particularly problematic.

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The second distinctive thing about HSS is the excellent writing. You have a lot of leeway to create characters, pick outfits and build your school, but the main activities are chains of quests in a few different styles. Some are long and encompass your whole school in a more intense storyline, others are short-term or seasonal, and there’s also a running chain of quests where you help different classmates with their problems. You can get very involved with the standard characters, but you also get enough leeway to create your own mental personalities for your own people, and the fun comes in choosing the right characters for each stage of a story. It’s not completely choose-your-own-adventure, because your choices don’t significantly change the outcome of a quest, but somehow the writing gets you involved and almost never contradicts whatever mental image you’ve built up of your school.

You have the option to spend actual money on resources, mainly rings (which are used to purchase special quests and items). You may have to grind a little to get gems in-game, but it’s perfectly doable and if you’re not into outfits, you may never want vast numbers of rings. You can also just run out of stuff to do too soon sometimes, and there aren’t a whole lot of options in the game if you just want to kill time, although you can always reclothe all your characters or move your decorations around. However, that can equally be a plus, if you want a distraction with a built-in time limit. (I love to play while I study. I can play, read for thirty minutes while I wait for a quest to finish, play some more, read while I wait…)

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I’ve gotten several friends to play, and the only real problems we’ve had with the game or gameplay have been associated with backups and losing progress. There’s an option now to link your Google+ account to save online — I think it used to just be Facebook, although I’m not sure — and I also recommend only playing when your device is connected to the internet. You can theoretically play offline and sync up later, but I lost several months of progress doing that last year so I don’t anymore!


If you have any interest in casual simulator games, High School Story is definitely worth a try. And if you’re not sure, HSS would be a great place to start! Let me know in the comments if you’ve played it before, and feel free to recommend other casual games!

Star Trek: The Year Ahead

Happy New Year, friends! Last month I recapped my year of watching and blogging Star Trek. Here’s a rundown of the Trek goodness I’m looking forward to in the coming year: The Next Generation, Discovery, offline shenanigans, and posts for Comparative Geeks! Be sure to check out the poll at the bottom to let me know which posts you’re most interested in reading.

Upcoming TNG Episodes

We Trekkies joke around a lot about the first season or two of TNG being bad, but it only took a couple of episodes to find some interesting stuff, and I’m so looking forward to progress here in my watch-all-the-Star-Trek project. I’d only seen about five episodes of season 1, and I’ve already passed two of them in the first two episodes. Currently my most-anticipated upcoming episode is “The Big Goodbye,” what looks to be a thrilling “trapped on the holodeck” adventure!

Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard in 1930s attire.

“The Big Goodbye,” Memory Beta

Star Trek: Discovery

I admit it, I’d gone full purist on Star Trek in the past few years. I didn’t like the reboot movies one bit, and still haven’t seen the most recent one. I thought they were heavy on explosions and tissue-light on actually making sense. Not to mention that Star Trek started as a scrappy celebration of diversity, and the movies took exactly zero risks. My reaction to the “new TV show!” announcement was a solid groan.

BUT. Every piece of news about this show gets me more excited. The lead is a woman of color (Sonequa Martin-Green from The Walking Dead), we’ll get our first gay character (two seconds in a montage doesn’t count, Star Trek Beyond), and the inimitable Michelle Yeoh as a captain! The fact that they’re promoting their diversity is just as exciting to me as the actual casting.

It’s set pretty early in Star Trek’s chronology, which I find disappointing, and it’s also about Klingons when I think the Romulans have been sorely underused, BUT the protagonist isn’t a ship captain (so that’ll be structurally different) and there’ll be a new alien species introduced. It’ll be available online for a subscription, and also on Netflix, but maybe just for international audiences? Not clear on that. Either way I’m stoked and I’ll do my best to find it.

The Outernet

Sadly, now that the 50th anniversary year is over, there isn’t as much awesome Star Trek stuff going on. The original show ran for three years, why isn’t the anniversary celebration three years long? Anyway, I’m planning a trip to a small local con. I may or may not be designing a tattoo — feel free to guess what it is. And I’m memorizing my favorite Trek speeches, because I’m a nerd. IT’S MENTAL EXERCISE OKAY.

Upcoming Posts

Since upcoming episodes are, well, upcoming, I can’t say for sure what I’ll want to write about there. But aside from that I know I want to write posts about some Star Trek games, cast memoirs, and a couple of behind-the-scenes or otherwise related documentaries. I’d love to hear what kinds of posts you most like to read, though: episode reviews/reactions, listicles, topical essays, outernet reports, reviews of related media or even merch? Let me know in the poll/comments below!

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Comparative Opinions: Representation in Video Games – Episode 22

Welcome to the Comparative Opinions podcast! This week, on the heels of hearing such positive things about the game Dishonored 2, hosts David and Holly talk a bit about representation in video games, how it’s improving, why it’s important, and why it’s important to celebrate that it’s improving. They are also less than enthusiastic about the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XV.

Comparative Opinions is a weekly half-hour-ish podcast hosted on ComparativeGeeks.com. Subscribe for new episodes every Sunday!

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Music is by Scott Gratton: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Scott_Gratton/Intros_and_Outros