My Simming Memoirs

Part 1: The Dawn of Simming

Sunrise, by Claude Monet

Chapter 1: Births; Chapter 2: SFOL and the First Generation; Chapter 3: The Second Generation; Chapter 4: STECO and the Lost Generation; Chapter 5: Meanwhile, on AOL

 

Chapter 1: Births

"There were ship subjects being mixed with government subjects being mixed with Trek Talk subjects." - Jim Midyette. Describing the early simming situation on Prodigy in 1992.

The birth date of Trek Online is subject to some debate, which is fitting because the clubs very essence and eventual fate was linked to debate.

Trek Online technically came into conceptual being on August 31, 1996. However, it was not given the name Trek Online until September 3, and it did not hold an official sim until November 5, 1996. To make matters more complicated the club on Prodigy, called Trek Online, would eventually merge with a club on AOL, called the UFP/SF aka the USG, which also began in the summer of 1996.

Regardless, Trek Online traditionally listed August 31 as its birthday because that was the day I decided to found the club. However, as a sort of compromise, the club always held a birthday party sometime during the month of September.

Both Trek Online and the UFP/SF were born during a flurry of simming activity - termed the "Lost Generation" - which began during the middle of 1996 when AOL changed its billing policies. Previously AOL had only allowed its members 5 hours of online time a month. Not 5 hours per screen name, but 5 hours for the entire account, period. If one were to spend more than 5 hours online in any given month, that person was sure to rake up huge additional usage charges. However, during the late spring of 1996, AOL began to give its members 20 hours of online time a month. This caused profound changes for the simming world, and gave rise to the "Lost Generation." This generation was not lost because it failed to produce anything, but because it only lasted a few short months - and was lost when in December of 1996, AOL changed its billing policies once again - this time to unlimited.

Previously, because one could only spend 5 hours online during any given month, a person could only afford to join one sim club and serve with one crew. As a result, sims understandably possessed a greater degree of professionalism, crews were much more tight nit, and the entire simming world was much more rigid because no one had the time to challenge anything.

To convince a person to spend 4 out of their 5 precious monthly online hours in a sim (figuring that a chat sim lasts 1 hour and there are 4 weeks in a month), the sim had to be good. And the sims were made better by the fact that crews were not constantly changing. As a result, some crews and simmers would spend years together, and this would allow them to get to know each other, to deeply develop their characters, and to design intricate plots.

But because the sim had a monopoly on a persons online time, that person probably could not afford to visit other sims (either in their own club or outside of it) to see if another sim was better or if another club could give a better deal (ie a higher rank). As a result, sim clubs could impose strict regulations and demand high standards for promotion. Additionally, because it took so long to be promoted, you would not want to leave your crew and join another because you would have to start over as a cadet and it could take months, even a year, to advance in rank.

This, of course, all had advantages and disadvantages. As an advantage it produced high quality, dedicated simmers and allowed for close crews and highly developed sims. However it also meant that new simmers were often ignored and it took a great while for a new person to gain acceptance, and the simming world it produced became ridged, static, and bureaucratic.

Furthermore, because simmers were a captive audience, captains and club leaders could impose strict rules and let their simulated rank go to their heads. When I say rules here I do not simply mean rules relating to discipline and attendance, but also elaborate rules about what your sim character must be, what next week's sim must involve, what your ship can do, etc. All these rules were designed to keep things accurate and canon, and all of this made the sims very intense and realistic, which was the basic goal of simming in those days - to be as realistic and accurate as possible.

The fact that most early simmers were also dedicated off line role players helps to explain why early sim clubs were so concerned with controlling the simming environment and creating so many rules. Role playing games are all strictly controlled, have tons of rules, and are concerned about canon items, so the early simmers just followed what they were used to.

However, despite the focus on rank and the virtual power trips it commonly produced, the head of a club was just like everyone else in that he or she could only spend 5 hours online a month. As a result, a vast bureaucracy was needed to administer the affairs of the club. Indeed, many clubs of the era possessed a detailed and ridged hierarchy that handled everything from the approval of next week's sim plot to the disciplining a disruptive member.

Most of this bureaucratic work was conducted over E-mail and - due to the limited online time - most captains and regular simmers never had any contact with other club members outside the ones in their crew - let alone contact with other clubs. This separation had the added advantage of preventing communication that could lead to the spread of dangerous new ideas and revolutions.

This was how the simming life was organized in the first and second generations of simming. However, that way of life was shattered in 1996 when people received 20 hours of online time every month.

For years, under the surface of the rigid system, there where all of these high quality, dedicated simmers confined to one sim, slowly grinding away and refining their skills to a point of perfection and bubbling with new ideas. They had heard rumors about other clubs and other sims and were curious to see what else was out there, but they could not afford to explore.

While it is true that most people just wanted to sim, there were still plenty of ambitious people who were kept down by the ridged nature and economics of the simming world. They had to patiently wait for the day when they could run a club. In the mean time, all they could do was watch how things were done and think up how they would run an improved sim and club of their own.

In the spring of 1996 with 20 hours, the time for waiting was over. Some of the more bold ones began to think they too could now afford to run their own ship, their own club. People began to visit other ships and join other clubs. They began to talk and get to know each other. After years of isolation, ideas were exchanged and a cultural revolution started to take shape. People started to think that maybe the focus of simming should be creativity and fun, not accurate cannon recreations of Star Trek or whatever else they were simming. People started to think about the club as a whole - as a community and not just a bureaucratic entity. People wanted to get to know their club and fellow simmers. People did not want to be confined to one sim.

This is where the story of Trek Online begins. Trek Online was a unique sim club and we were very different from any other sim club because we were born during the revolutionary period of the "Lost Generation." To my knowledge we were the only major club to come out of that era. This does not mean there were not any other clubs started during that era, it just means that TOL was the only one to survive and grow into a large club.

The story of Trek Online is a struggle between the old and the new that defined the "Lost Generation." We constantly straddled two worlds. We worked to preserve the best of the past - all of the wonderful dedication and professionalism - but at the same we embraced the new - creativity over cannon recreation, openness over rigidness, and always working to make the club a true community, to break the bonds of the past that saw a club simply as a bureaucratic container for individual sims.

Today, simming is far removed from its past. Simmers are free to explore, to join whatever club they want, to be creative - and while this is not in of itself a bad thing, a whole host of problems have arisen (just as having a simming world focused on accurate recreation was not a bad thing, but it too produced a whole set of different problems). If more people would take some time to seriously think about simming and study the lessons of TOL I feel that simming today would be in far better shape. If only simming could once again straddle both worlds.

Even though the "Lost Generation" was started by the changes in AOL's billing policies, the effects of the 1996 revolution were not confined just to AOL. Due to AOLs move, other online services of the day switched their billing programs to give their members more monthly online time. As a result, the simming community on each online service of the day experienced major upheavals of their own. And, with time, most other online services gave way to AOL, leaving only the sim clubs of AOL to venture out onto the internet and establish the framework for today's simming world.

1996, however, was not the first major upheaval to effect the face of simming. Despite its static and ridged organization prior to 1996, the simming world up to that time had been rocked by at least two major upheavals, the remnants of which still effect us today.

There is evidence to suggest that early simming was actually very fluid and unorganized, in sharp contract to the rigid society it eventually evolved into. So, the first great upheaval must have caused simming to become rigid.

My hypothesis about this early nature of simming is born out of my own experiences on Prodigy (Prodigy being the Classic Prodigy service which was shut down in 1999), the accounts of early simmers that I have had the pleasure to talk to, and surviving records from the early simming world.

In 1995, chat was new to Prodigy. Prodigy was a service of online bulletin boards. However, due to pressure from AOL, chat rooms were added. Yet, because chat rooms were new to Prodigy in 1995, so to was the idea of chat simming. There were no organized chat clubs or sims, just a bunch of highly experienced bulletin board role players milling around in the chat rooms, and when enough of them gathered together, a sim would break out.

The sim would normally go on for a few hours. People would join and leave at random intervals, and eventually, after many hours of fun and high quality simming, it would fizzle out and everyone would go their separate ways. With only 5 hours of chat time a month on Prodigy, a person had to wait a month, letting their head dream up ideas for the next sim.

Over time simmers would start to exchange E-mail addresses (your chat name and E-mail address were two different things on Prodigy), and collections of simming friends would start to coalesce. Every so often enough of them would be online that you would sim, or maybe you would set a date and time to hold a sim for a few hours. Over time, these groups of friends would form official sim clubs. In the case of Star Trek sims, because there were more Trek simmers, the club would be divided into different ships, each with their own crew. In the case of other simming genera's, because there were not so many people, there would just be one sim that everyone would take part in, and the entire club would be that sim.

It appears that the early stages of simming elsewhere resembled the early stage of chat simming that I experienced on Prodigy.

In 1998, during the dying days of the Star Trek Sim (STS) club on AOL, I was appointed their historian in an attempt to preserve their name and legacy for posterity, and what I uncovered helped to confirm my theories about the early days of simming.

The club began in 1993, and its early history reveals the unorganized and fluid nature of early simming on AOL. STS, just as Trek Online later would many years later on Prodigy, started as a collection of simming friends who, under the leadership of AdmTrekker, would gather together once a week to sim.

The simming that occurred was not even a sim in the standard way we think of Star Trek sims today. It did not consist of a bunch of people gathered together in a chat room with one captain and the rest playing various crew members on a ship as is common place today. Rather, there were several ships simming at once, with maybe just one or two people assigned to each crew - in other words, the sim was one big fleet action.

STS was not the only 'club' that existed in 1993. Many other similar collections of simming friends existed at the time on AOL, suggesting an unorganized and fluid simming universe. Admiral Trekker reported, "There were only a few 'organized' groups (in 1992 and 1993). Most sims just happened on the fly. I only attended one or two 'on the fly' sims before I decided to start a group. Actually, I didn't know it would turn into a group. I just asked a whole bunch of people if they'd like me to mail them when I was going to have a 'get together,' i.e., a sim. It grew from there."

Nor was this fluid simming universe and collection of simming friends confined to AOL at the time. Even though Prodigy was always dominated by bulletin boards and thus by BB simming, surviving written histories about early BB simming on Prodigy, or Role Playing as it was called there, indicates a similar fluid nature on the boards in the early 90s which eventually coalesced into groups of simming friends.

In his history entitled "No Regrets" Jim Midyette, one of the early president's of the Starfleet (STF) sim club, a club which started on the bulletin boards of Classic Prodigy in 1992, reports that the club actually started as a collection of Star Trek fans who would talk about Star Trek on a particular message board, defend against the fans of other shows who would raid and disrupt their board, and who would themselves sometimes go off and raid non Trek boards. They seem to have had a particularly fierce rivalry with the 90210 fan board.

To foster these 'military' actions, a leadership of admirals and captains was created. However, some of the members of this organization were more interested in peace, and they wanted to engage in role playing. However, as Mr. Midyette comments, Classic Prodigy did not allow role playing till April of 1992.

When Prodigy finally changed their policy and allowed role playing games to occur on their bulletin boards, a club, called STF, quickly formed. Instead of raiding other boards, the various captains and admirals began to run their own ships and organize their own sim crews.

Of course, that did not happen right away. Much like the early days of STS, it appears that most of the people in STF ran their own ship and all simmed together in one chaotic jumble. The author also discusses a number of elaborate in and out of character byzantine plots and intrigues, which clearly show that no one had any control and that everyone was struggling to figure out how to establish and run a sim club. After all, simming was very new and no one had any idea how to organize and run a club. It would be many months before any kind of modern Star Trek simming, marked by independent ships, each with their own crews, began to occur in STF.

This early struggle reveals the beginnings of the first great simming upheaval and the establishment of traditions that still lie at the very core of simming - such as ranks, terming minor disputes in the language of war and great power politics, and the organizational concept of the sim club. Today all of this seems so natural - Star Trek has ships with crews, so sims should consist of a ship and crew. From there, ships should be grouped together to make a club, similar to Starfleet. But just because that is the way it is today does not mean that is the way it has to be, or that it was always that way. As we have seen, early simming was quite the opposite.

In 1992 simming was largely unorganized and fluid. People gathered together and had huge jumbled sims. While STF had a name and an elaborate hierarchy left over from the 90210 wars, STF, during its early stages, was nothing more than a collection of simming friends - friends who more often than not tried to kill each other then actually sim.

The events in STF during the early days of the simming world also help to explain why a radical split occurred that forever separated Trek simming from all other kinds of simming. Other genres of simming, Star Wars for example, stayed focused on the small collection of simming friends and continued to developed their initial core into a tight, intense sim. As a result, Star Wars simming became dominated by fleets and universes, with everyone pretty much running their own ship. Medieval/Fantasy sims became organized around clans with similar results. The club in other simming genres, if it can even be called a club, the sim, and the in character universe in which the sim took place were indistinguishable.

Early Trek clubs tried to sim and develop in a similar way - but they were simply swamped by too many people, too many competing interests, and too many egos. Non Trek clubs simply did not experience the population pressures that the Trek clubs faced, so, as a result, non Trek clubs were able to stay small and tight nit. They never had to evolve beyond the early collection of simming friends. Trek clubs, on the other hand, were forced to evolve and reorganize themselves in order to find a way to deal with the large number of Trek simmers. In the beginning, STF, STS and other Star Trek clubs clearly attempted to evolve in the direction of having a club that was the sim, where everyone simmed together in a large fleet action, and where just about everyone commanded their own ship - even despite the fact that Star Trek as a show was focused on one ship and a crew. However, it just was not possible to have huge fleet sims as the chaos reported by Mr. Midyette illustrates.

In addition to the population overflow, STF had a large number of admirals, captains and self appointed demigods running around. No one had the power to get rid of them, so for a plan to organize the club to be successful, it not only had to organize the simmers, but it also needed accommodate the number of high ranking officers. Our author, Jim Midyette, reports that in July of 1992 Admiral Adrian Kowalewski came up with a radical plan that solved both the population problem and the high ranking officer problem. Her plan for STF, quite simply, consisted of "a ship with an actual crew." It was such a radical and unorthodox plan that Mr. Midyette, who normally is detached author, comments that he "hated the plan with a passion" because it "called for a radical new concept."

The plan built a club and government hierarchy around individual ships and crews. This gave all of the admirals and captains a ship and fancy job to soothe their egos. Also, in keeping with the rigid nature of the economics of the day, along with the cultural desire to have sims which accurately reflected Star Trek, the plan "called for strict controls on gov't and private (probably in character) affairs."

Whether from this point forward all of simming history should credit Admiral Kowalewski with the creation of the organization that Trek simming still uses to this day I do not know. Perhaps she really did think up this new and radical plan with a simming ship and a club hierarchy based over it. Perhaps she was influenced by another club that was doing the same. Perhaps she was inspired by offline Star Trek fan organizations. Perhaps it simply was a case of thinking that because Star Trek revolves around a ship and crew, our sims should as well. We may never know what the case really was. But it is clear that the idea of a sim club was a new in 1992. Mr. Midyette was unfamiliar with the concept, and it appears so were many others. If Admiral Kowalewski did appropriate the idea from elsewhere, it could not have been a very old or widespread notion.

However, the concept of the sim ship and sim club solved all kinds of problems and provided all kinds of advantages to Trek simming. Things became defined and organized. Leaders now had a clear set of people to command and ships to run. To expand the club, all one had to do was find a new captain and crew. As a result, a club theoretically could grow to an unlimited size, which gave Trek clubs tremendous potential over non Trek clubs. However, in part due to the economics of the day, and in part Admiral Kowalewski's organizational approach that called for strict controls on government and private affairs, the sim club model adopted by Star Trek sim clubs became compartmentalized, and members became isolated from each other within their own club, and from other clubs.

In effect, this history, my story, the story of Trek Online and all of the grand generational struggles outlined here are nothing more than an attempt to modify, reinvent, or deal with the consequences of the sim club model created by Admiral Kowalewski. The "Lost Generation" and Trek Online is the attempt to overcome the rigid hierarchy, government controls and bureaucracy set up by her plan. My career is the attempt to address a major area her model failed to - community within a club and among clubs.

Regardless, it was the development of the sim club model of organization that represents the first great revolutionary change, upheaval if you will, to effect and reshape the entire simming world. Shortly there after, the fluid nature of simming started to come to an end. The unorganized collections of simming friends simply could not compete in the face of such a powerful organizational system. The simming friends either organized their own clubs (as STS did), joined a club as a sim, or disbanded as the individuals joined different clubs.

When STF evolved into a club, simming as a concept clearly already had been developed somewhere other than on Prodigy because the people in STF knew that that simming existed and knew that it was banned on Prodigy. Immediately after the ban was lifted in April of 1992, they began to sim, and after a few months, they organized into a club.

However, when all of this was occurring in 1992, how old was simming, and where did simming come from if it did not begin on Prodigy?

A CompuServe Reference Almanac* from 1990 which shows that online role playing was alive and well in its current forms of E-mail, Bulletin Board and Chat based. However, only games like AD&D and RuneQuest - games that primarily were offline role playing games - had forums for online role playing. (*In the early days of the online world, online companies would snail mail their customers reference guides which were several hundred pages thick and listed all of the content provided by the online service.) So, could CompuServe be the birthplace of simming?

Probably not. I have been contacted by a few individuals who reported that they took part in sims on local online bulletin boards and college servers in the 1980s. Due to the limited nature of these servers, their sims only attracted a few individuals, and did not create the population pressures that facilitated the need to make clubs. As was the case before the STF sim model, the sims were just collections of simming friends that usually took part in fleet actions.

But a long time roleplayer named Louie contacted me once and argued that the roots of simming should be pushed back to the 1970s in the form of Fanzines. You can still find a few fanzines at Star Trek conventions today, but they were far more prolific in the 70s and 80s. As Louie explains, "There existed the form of fanzines to which people who were interested would subscribe for only a dollar a month. These fanzines were about the crudest things formed. Printed on stock pulp paper (with no more than four or five pages at the most) and consisting of more blurred text and typo's that could be remembered, they allowed various fans of genre's to unite to game with each other. Among those fanzines were Star Trek fanzines. Just like in a Star Trek simulation, various fans would establish a character and write a post each month while a GM delegated the task of editing and controlling the pace of the game." A popular Star Trek fanzine was called Star Federation.

One can only imagine the rich history that Star Federation and other fanzines possessed. Sadly, to keep costs down, as Louie explained, "The fanzines were incredibly cheap with all of the contributions going to the production of the magazine itself. Most GM's used the money to buy the paper and ink to print. They would then print them either on the old ink copiers or on their PC's. Believe you me, it didn't take long for them to fall apart." As a result most copies of the fanzines have probably been lost to history. (But if anyone has any old copies of them lying around, or took part in one and has any memories to share, please let me know.)

Fanzines were like today's E-mail sims. In Star Federation, each person played a captain of their own starship, and they could play Federation, Klingon, Romulan, etc. Every month you would write up your story and snail mail it to the GM. The story would most likely consist of two rival ships engaged in combat or some kind of mission, with each person describing the movements of their ship up to a point. The GM would roll dice to determine the outcome, and then would write up the outcome and snail mail it to everyone.

Given the limited nature and time frames involved in snail mail, this was the most fanzines could accomplish. However, there were some diehard fans who took things much further, and would, via snail mail, engage in Play By Mail (PBM) games. These were very similar to today's E-mail sims, or Play By E-mail (PBEM). Often, it would take a year to complete one mission over snail mail.

However, just as is with simming today, fanzines were not confined to just Star Trek. Louie continues, "In addition to the Star Trek fanzines were also wrestling fanzines which were really popular during the 80's when wrestling was a big thrill as it is today. Gamers would establish a character wrestler, go through a period in which they would challenge another wrestler, and then a match would be set. The GM would use various rules and the roll of the dice to create the solution which would then be printed." One of the most popular wrestling fanzines at the time was called the United Wrestlers Club.

When computers started to become popular in the 1980s, some of those who took part in fanzines, PBM and RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons began to switch over to online bulletin boards. In the early 1990s, with the arrival of CompuServe, Prodigy, and America Online, even more fanzines participants, PBM players, and RPGers switched to these services and began to sim because it made their hobby much easier and put them in contact with a vastly wider number of people.

In 1992, when national online services like Prodigy, CompuServe, and America Online appeared, simming was already in existence. The fleet simulations, development of characters, strong focus on cannon recreation, and the use of dice in early simming all strongly resemble Fanzines and offline roleplaying - making it safe to say that simming - under one name or another - existed long before the development of the online world. Rather, the online services simply allowed thousands of role-players and fanzine participants to easily join together in one place to do what they had already been doing for well over a decade.

But the online services did force roleplaying to evolve in order to adopt to the online reality, and did create a fundamentally political question that offline roleplaying games and Fanzines did not face - how to organize the thousands upon thousands of people who were brought together? STF proposed the first answer, and as conditions have changed, new generations of clubs and leaders have proposed additional answers.

Yet, there is one area that I feel simming never adequately answered - how to divine the outcome of results. Many early sims used dice, just as offline role playing games and Fanzines do. When exactly the use of dice in simming disappeared I do not know, but Admiral Nfo, the second in command of STS, reported to me that early simmers frequently used online dice, and SFOL (more about them later) had provisions in its rule book on how to use online dice in a sim. But it appears that in most places by 1994, the use of dice simply disappeared - probably because it disrupted the flow of the sim - and a general unwritten understanding about how to keep a sim flowing with out an official way to divine the outcome of events went into effect.

At the time, this unwritten understanding was not a problem. Most early simmers, myself included, already possessed years of offline role playing experience, so early simmers already understood the intricacies of role playing, and everyone was skilled enough to follow what was going on in the sim without dice.

STS however, was not comfortable with giving up dice and leaving it to the whims of the simmers to determine, as a group, the outcome of events in a sim. So, STS took the concept of the roleplaying Game Master and used it to create the position of Sim Master so that there would always be one official person in every sim to determine fate.

The concept of the Sim Master is perhaps STS' greatest contribution to the simming world. It was invented by TrekGuru, who joined STS in 1994, or more accurately, joined AdmTrekker's collection of simming friends that was slowly became STS. Trekguru loved D&D and thought the free form of simming that was being practiced Trekker's ship and just about everywhere else was "lame." While in 1994 and 1995, myself and others enjoyed the free for all simming style, in retrospect it was only possible because so many people who were simming also had offline role playing experience and knew the boundaries. TrekGuru could see ahead to a day when that was not the case. She saw ahead to the chaos and the dumbing down of simming that has since taken place - an era of sims that are nothing but mindless battles that appeal to an unskilled mass audience. She did not like "Everyone going everywhere with no performed concept of play. So, I talked to Trekker into letting me "DM" a sim with a concept only I would know. I was the computer, the enemies and the universe."

In my own humble opinion, I now find the Sim Master form of simming to be far more interesting, more fun, and a whole lot better than free for all simming. It makes the sims more realistic and intriguing. Sadly for simming, TrekGuru did not come along until 1994. By this time, the simming world was already established and expanding in every direction. Had she come along a few years earlier, the Sim Master probably would have become a staple of Trek simming. But by 1994, the Sim Master concept was relegated to a niche of clubs under the cultural influence of STS, TOL being one of them.

At any rate, all of this evidence - dice, game masters, fanzines, chaos in early sim clubs, suggests to me that it is very likely that when Role Players went online, they began to use the wider pool of people provided by an online service to play their games. Out of that, the basic techniques of simming began to take shape as people experimented with playing off line role playing games online. By 1992 and 1993, even despite the constrains of only 5 hours of online time a month, the concept of simming had more or less been finalized and was spreading rapidly. It is amazing how quickly the basic idea of simming and all of its core components spread - ships, clubs, captains, admirals, rules and focus on cannon.

It is also amazing that simming everywhere developed simultaneously into similar online cultures. While people did move between online services, taking ideas with them, the online services of the day were rather isolated. Yet, simming everywhere developed in similar ways, and developed a similar language and rules. All of this shows how powerful of an effect the economic forces, which were universal to all online services, had on simming. It also shows how important early offline role players and Fanzines were in shaping simming. If a role player signed onto CompuServe, Prodigy or AOL, they still all followed the same set of offline gaming rules, which, when taken online, caused them to develop similar types of simming despite being on different, isolated online services.

Sadly though, I fear that the details of how simming rapidly spread across many online services, and how it developed into a similar game everywhere, have been lost to time. Regardless, it is amazing how one can join different sim clubs - clubs that probably do not know that each other exist - and in them one will still be able to follow the sim and see the same basic gaming and simming techniques employed. How did ::: become the abbreviation for an action? Who knows. But somehow almost everyone uses it.

Yet, the fact that simming did develop with such speed and basic uniformity is testimony to the amazing unguided, uncontrollable, powerful forces that shape simming. All simming leaders should accept and be aware of these forces, and should attempt to deal with them. Those leaders who try to fight or control the unguided powerful trends, forces, and realities will be swept aside. Those leaders who understand the forces, use them to their advantage, and shape their club around them will prosper. Simming history proves this time and time again.

 

Chapter 2: SFOL and the First Generation

"They are all just a bunch of strange people in their own weird universe talking with crazy symbols." - Me, December, 1994. My first reaction to simming.

 

Regardless of if Admiral Kowalewski came up with the idea for a sim club or not, it was Starfleet Online (SFOL) who popularized it, perfected it and used it to rise to unprecedented heights in the simming world.

I joined SFOL on AOL during the end of 1994, but I did not last very long, however, because to me, simming is just a game. When I first encountered simming I thought it was just a game, I still think it is just a game, and during my entire career I have treated it as such. I did not care for all of the strict rules and military style organization which was in place to recreate Starfleet and which was used to ensure that the sims followed traditional Star Trek plots. I still refuse to stand at attention as some captains call for during the start of their sims. It is little things like that which create a mindset and reality because in simming, all we have are words on a screen.

However, to me, people in SFOL seemed to be too concerned with their ranks and making sure that I addressed them as sir. Plus, no one took the time to explain to me what was going on in the sim. I commented later to a friend that simming was just a bunch of crazy people talking in some weird language of symbols and abbreviations.

It was my first experience with simming, and given how I responded, it logically should have been my last. Sims during this era may have been highly professional, but that professionalism also created many negative aspects which drove away potential new simmers like myself. However, I was able to discover SFOL, and thus the entire simming world, because SFOL had achieved something that no other sim club had ever done before or has ever done since. It had managed to became the official sim club of AOL. As a result, SFOL had its very own chat rooms, message boards, forum and advertisements for me to stumble across.

Today, to get your own keyword and forum on AOL, you pretty much need to be a corporation with lots of money. But that was not always the case. During the early days of AOL, anyone with a good idea and the right connections could get their own keyword and run their own forum. Apparently at some point in time someone on AOL thought that Star Trek simming and SFOL was a good idea.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, it has proven very difficult to find much in the way of historical information about the early days of SFOL. Thus, in order to understand SFOL, I am forced to speculate and compare to similar cases on other online services.

The only club which achieved something similar to SFOL was Fleet 74 on CompuServe. Despite different online services, Fleet 74, like SFOL on AOL, apparently was one of the first clubs to establish itself on its respective online service. As a result, perhaps because they had a head start, perhaps because they had a superior organization, both clubs were able to rise to become, by far, the dominate sim club on their online service. AOL rewarded SFOL with its own forum. CompuServe rewarded Fleet74 with its own chat room, which for CompuServe was just as good. The only difference is that even with the chat room, Fleet74 remained a private club, but with its forum, SFOL came under AOL control.

Like Fleet74, SFOL probably started as a private sim club. It probably started as a humble collection of simming friends, which, through superior organization, marketing and a little luck, exploded onto the scene to become the largest sim club on AOL.

During the course of my research I have heard several stories which all more or less state that SFOL did in fact start as a humble private sim club, ran by a group of friends. The most credible person I talked to who claimed knowledge of the early days of SFOL stated that SFOL started on the Classic Prodigy service in 1991 as an E-mail sim. When simming was allowed on Prodigy in April of 1992, the E-mail sim became a Bulletin Board sim and grew into the Starfleet Online (SFOL) sim club on Prodigy, which, like its AOL counterpart, happened to become the largest sim club on its respective online service.

Somehow, the club spread to AOL and a chat version of SFOL was set up there. By employing the new concept of the sim club, being pioneered on Prodigy by STF, and maybe even by introducing it to AOL, SFOL on AOL rapidly expanded and it soon became the largest sim club on AOL. A simple counting of the number of ships listed in old SFOL newsletters reveals that the club on AOL probably had 500 to 700 members at its height. That may not seem like much, but consider the fact that today some of the largest sim clubs only have 200 to 300 members.

It could be that SFOL on AOL and Prodigy had nothing to do with each other and the fact they shared the same name and became the dominate sim club on their respective services is a coincidence. Nevertheless, it is interesting how the largest club on two different online services had the same name, so it is possible that they were related and shared some organizational secret that allowed them to succeed.

The organizational secret probably was nothing spectacular. Early clubs like STF which pioneered the sim club model before SFOL were held back by internal conflict. SFOL probably possessed strong leadership that allowed it to escape such problems, and this fact allowed it to grow with far greater ease. Timing was also a factor. Simming was new and there was an increasing amount of role players signing online for the first time, creating an ever expanding pool of talent for a club to tap into. This, combined with little organized competition to stand in SFOL's way, probably accounted for a great deal of SFOL's success. Getting in on the ground floor is always beneficial.

My interviews with Admiral Trekker and other old timers in STS made it seem like all of Star Trek simming in 1992 and 1993 on AOL was the more random, collection of friends type, and that SFOL was, more or less, the only game in town utilizing the sim club model. STS didn't change and become a sim club till several years later, in part because population pressures and competition from SFOL and other sim clubs made it impossible to continue using the old style. In this kind of climate, successful marketing and advertising was all that SFOL needed to recruit new people. Armed with the sim club model in a world where the only competitors were small groups of simming friends, SFOL could use their new recruits to forever expand, add new ships, and build a huge sim club.

Further, SFOL seems to have had a strong tradition of working offline via phone calls, strategy meetings at Star Trek conventions and other real life get togethers to manage the club. I have been to several Star Trek conventions where entire SFOL sim crews attended just so that they could meet and talk about their sim for hours on end. This real life interaction must have been of tremendous importance, especially when one could only spend 5 hours online.

After running a sim club for several years I can tell you that trying to manage people over a computer is probably one of the most difficult things to attempt. Despite all of the academic talk over globalization and how computers will eliminate the need for cities and business offices because we will all be able to work from an isolated mountaintop via a computer, I do not think it will happen any time soon. It is still far easier to converse and work with or manage someone in person then it is over a computer. It takes a completely unique person and business model to pull it off, which is probably one of the fundamental reasons why most sim clubs fail or encounter great difficulties because real life strategies for dealing with people and organizations just do not work very well online. SFOL was so successful because it was able to create a strategy that worked online, but also brought real life meetings and interactions into the core of their online being.

Of course, all of this is just speculation on my part. Regardless of how it was done, SFOL became so large and successful that AOL stood up and took notice. SFOL represented a group of dedicated people who were spending 4 out of 5 of their monthly online hours engaged in this thing called simming. If AOL could only gain control of those people, make the simmers stay online a little longer and turn simming into a mass appeal game, it would mean more money for AOL.

As the legend goes, in 1994, some AOL types approached the leader of SFOL and offered to give the club its very own forum, keyword, message boards, chat rooms, and to make it the official Trek sim club of AOL. The leader immediately signed the paperwork without consulting anyone. As we will see, it was a bad move for the leader not to consult anyone in the club about it, but you can't fault the leader. I think anyone would jump at the chance of having their sim club being endorsed as the official club of some major thing. Plus, in the rigid, autocratic simming world that had developed as a result of the sim club model, the leader probably figured the club was his and he could make decisions as he pleased. When you set yourself up as the virtual admiral of a play military, you start to think people will treat you as such and follow your every order and decision.

Reaction in SFOL was split. Some saw the acquisition by AOL in a positive light - it would mean they would have their very own forum and all of the goodies that went along with it. More importantly, the captains would not be billed for the time they spent simming (but club members still would). SFOL had become the dominate sim club on AOL, and now with this move it could ensure its dominance for years, if not forever. Others in the club, however, saw it as a hostile takeover, pure and simple. AOL's control of the club meant they had lost control of their sim. Now captains had to worry about lots of paperwork, new rules, politics and listening to AOL bosses. In addition, many were not happy over the fact that the leader of SFOL had not informed anyone about AOL's offer.

The date of 1994 as the year SFOL came under AOL's control was retold to me by a number of people, and was further supported by the fact that SFOL's message boards and file libraries on AOL do not have anything in them from before 1994.

If these stories are correct, what we have is the first generation of simming, which begins around 1992 with the coalition of simmers into organized clubs; either clubs with individual sims like Star Trek clubs, or formal clans or universes of simming friends for other genera's. SFOL and Fleet 74 represent the maturity of this early sim world as it grew into the first generation. It was a generation marked by the dominance of one club on a particular service.

Trek simming could have developed along very different lines had it not been for the success of SFOL and Fleet 74. Had the sim club failed, or even had it not expanded to such great heights as to allow one club to dominate, there today probably would still be lots of collections of simming friends out there. But, following the spectacular example of SFOL, all Trek sims start to become sim clubs. For example, STS started in 1993 as a simple collection of simming friends. However, spurred on by the success of SFOL, it reorganized itself into a sim club. Today, simming friends simply do not just get together to sim - they organize a club right off the bat.

But unfortunately for historians like myself, there is evidence which challenges the neat and tidy story of SFOL being so successful that in 1994 AOL made it its own. An article from The Recorder (A San Francisco Legal Newspaper), entitled "Command Control," dated November 15, 1995, written by Robert Ablon, gives some insight into how vicious AOL's control of SFOL was. The article details the plight of Stanley Parker, a 52 year old retired aerospace engineer and SFOL Host who sued AOL after they kicked him out of SFOL on May 30, 1994, and terminated his AOL account for "expressing hatred toward AOL management and making derogatory comments against AOL staff." Mr. Parker fought back by suing AOL.

If the stories about SFOL being acquired by AOL in 1994 are true, this article could indicate that Mr. Parker was kicked out of SFOL because he expressed his opposition to SFOL being taken over. The problem is that AOL claimed that the statements which caused Mr. Parker's account to be terminated were made by him in 1992.

So, does that mean Mr. Parker - a private simmer and user of AOL - made some comments in 1992 and that AOL recorded them and used them against him 2 years later when SFOL came under AOL's control? Or does it mean that SFOL had been under AOL's control for a long time, perhaps SFOL even was started by AOL, and that in 1992, while serving as a host in SFOL for AOL, Mr. Parker made some comments which came back to haunt him when for whatever reason AOL wanted to get rid of him in 1994? Or maybe AOL just made it up? Or maybe the article got the dates wrong? Or maybe Mr. Parker was an AOL host in 1992 at some other forum and was transferred to SFOL when it came under AOL's control in 1994? When it comes to Mr. Parker's simming career, the article is vague at best.

The article does state that "Stanley Parker says he loved AOL when he first logged on in 1990. He fast became a regular player on a role-playing game called Starfleet Online, and by late 1992 Parker had landed a position he'd long been gunning for: hosting."

This very well could mean that simming and SFOL existed in 1990, and that the club was controlled by AOL at that point in time. However, the language is vague. It could also support the notion that he liked AOL when he first signed on in 1990, but that he didn't join SFOL till 1991 or 1992, which is when other stories date the creation of SFOL. If that is the case, when Mr. Parker did join SFOL in 1991 or 1992, he quickly became a regular and since since the club was still new, he was able to move up the ranks fairly easily and become a host. After all, during the early days in any sim club - TOL included - people can move from cadet to admiral in a matter of weeks.

But even the term host is problematic. In SFOL host normally means captain. However, the article claims that "Although AOL considered him a volunteer, Parker says he sometimes worked as many as 50 hours a week -- all compensated with credited time -- and was allowed access to staff bulletin boards." From my own simming experience I can tell you that is a heck of a lot of time to spend online for just being a captain. Even as the President of Trek Online I did not spend anywhere near that amount of time online. So what was he doing? Was he running a bunch of sims for SFOL, or maybe he was running the club?

The term host meaning the president or head admiral in Mr. Parker's case is supported by the fact that when AOL terminated his account, he "informed the company (AOL) that he had claimed the rights to the Starfleet Online name, and that AOL would have to secure his permission to use the moniker." Either this was a bold move on the part of a disgruntled captain, or he was the leader of SFOL and as such he felt that he possessed ownership of the name.

Thus, it is possible that in late 1992 SFOL experienced a leadership change in which Mr. Parker ended up becoming the president of SFOL. But did that leadership change take place in a private club or in an AOL forum? The article is not definite. The article can be seen as supporting the standard history that SFOL was acquired by AOL in 1994, or it can be seen as hinting at the possibility that SFOL may have always been AOL's official Star Trek sim club.

However, if SFOL was always part of an AOL forum, and was created by AOL, it does not make any sense that Mr. Parker would have claimed ownership of the name Starfleet Online. If he was given his job as the head of an AOL forum in 1992 and charged with running the club, there was no way he could claim the name was his. But if the club was a private, independent sim club and he had been its leader, he could make the case that the name was his and AOL did not have the right to use it.

So, I personally believe the common story that SFOL - because it was so successful - was acquired by AOL in 1994. AOL has tried to run its own Star Wars, X-Files and other kind of sims, but with little success. Quite frankly, it botched and butchered them quite thoroughly. AOL is a bureaucracy, it is a business and it has proven that it can't establish and run its own sims. When, as we will see later, AOL really began to impose its will over the simming forums and SFOL around 2000, it ended up pretty much decimating simming on AOL and effectively killing SFOL, one of the largest and greatest sim clubs that ever existed. Thus it makes little sense to believe that AOL could have invented and ran the largest, most powerful sim club in history. It is far more likely that AOL acquired it and slowly killed it.

However, if SFOL did start as a private club, which I believe, the article raises the possibility that Stanley Parker might have been the unfortunate SFOL leader who turned the club over to AOL without consulting his fellow leaders and members. His story becomes even more tragic because, shortly after handing the club over, AOL terminated his account. From a political standpoint though, it was a basic move on AOL's part to get rid of anyone who could have claimed legitimacy to the throne and thus have interfered with any AOL attempts to control the club.

Despite searches of court records, however, I have failed to find anything about Mr. parker's case. Perhaps additional records would shed more light on SFOL's early history. But all of this is testimony to SFOL's closed mouth policy and America's liturgical nature that perhaps the only surviving clues to SFOL's early days may be found in a court record. Who ever said simming was simple childs play?

 

Chapter 3: The Second Generation

"However, due to a sudden shift in SFOL managerial direction, Tigress left her position as USS Omni Captain and as "The Communiue OnLine" SFOL magazine Editor-in-Chief." - COL History Page, describing the break up of SFOL.

 

During late 1994, despite any surface impressions I may have had when I joined SFOL that it was a large and static club with an obsession for order, things within the club were actually becoming very chaotic. The stage was set for the second great simming upheaval.

If one believes the 1994 acquisition story, the cause of this growing chaos would have been that people were upset with AOL's takeover of SFOL, the new rules that AOL was imposing, and the fact that the leader of SFOL had not consulted with any of the captains or admirals about the takeover. If one believes that SFOL had always been part of AOL, this chaos would clearly have been caused by a dramatic shift in AOL's policy towards SFOL, demonstrated by its sudden firing of Stanley Parker. The atmosphere was so poisonous that Mr. Parker sued AOL and fought for control of the name Starfleet Online. As this one fact reveals, it is impossible for me to understate the resentment that the breakup of SFOL generated in the simming world.

Regardless of the cause, things were so bad within SFOL at the end of 1994 that the club began to break apart. People were so fed up with AOL's policy towards SFOL that a number of captains and admirals were willing to take the unprecedented step of giving up their benefits as an AOL host and decided to venture out on their own. The economic risk these people were taking must have been staggering. As a captain in SFOL, a person would be able to sim for free. (Simmers didn't sim for free, they were still charged for their time online.) To give up that free time and return to 5 hours of online time a month would mean that the people who broke away from SFOL were willing to spend hundreds of dollars a month just so that they could get away from SFOL and keep on simming as they saw fit. To do such a thing these people clearly loved simming, clearly stood by their simming principles, and clearly wanted to get away from SFOL.

The most substantial of these simming patriots was the Tigress. She was a high ranking SFOL leader responsible for publishing the clubs newsletter. As such, she possessed a lot of clout, respect and contacts with in SFOL, but even she became so fed up with the situation in SFOL that she left in early 1995 to found her own club, called The Continuum OnLine (COL).

A history of the COL (no longer posted online) stated, "The Tigress was a well-respected, charismatic and popular "Starfleet OnLine" (SFOL) host on AOL. However, due to a sudden shift in SFOL managerial direction, Tigress left her position as USS Omni Captain and as "The Communiue OnLine" SFOL magazine Editor-in-Chief. The Omni crew and the Communique OnLine staff enjoyed Tigress' management style, and with the permission of SFOL, the USS Omni and the Communique OnLine left SFOL (a very rare event in SFOL history)."

It continues, "Soon, Jats approached her with an idea to spawn an entire new organization, not limiting herself to just the Omni. Jats brought with him the crew of the USS Defiant. CmdrME was also a host who had left SFOL and was assigned as the Vice Admiral, and the name "The Continuum OnLine" was chosen."

"Over 100 people left SFOL to form an organization that would be supportive of its staff, minimize politics, and create a fun simming environment with mature, motivating leadership. CmdrME eventually left and Jats became the new Vice Admiral. In January, 1999, Admiral Tigress retired, leaving Jats as Admiral and "CptnEdD" as the Vice-Admiral."

Maybe out of fear of legal action, maybe out of respect over the fact that SFOL actually allowed her to leave the club and take her ship with her without a fight, The Tigress never publicly revealed any details as to what happened in SFOL or what the sudden shift in SFOL managerial direction involved. However, the language in the article hints at some of the problems.

I know people who have been a host (captain) in both SFOL and in private sim clubs, and they have told me that SFOL, since it is a part of AOL, is ran like a business. All of the high ranking officials in the club treat their job as work, and in fact, some bitter ex-SFOL hosts refuse to call SFOL a club. A club conjures up images of people who are friendly towards each other and work together to achieve a goal or to share a common interest. But a club is the exact opposite of a business, and the image conjured up by a club is the exact opposite of what is the reality in SFOL. Do not get me wrong, apart from my initial experiences with SFOL, everyone I have met from SFOL have been friendly people and highly dedicated simmers. But when the AOL leadership treats SFOL as a business exercise, that is going to be translated down the chain of command, eventually into the sims.

As a result of SFOL's business attitude, there is a lot of behind the scenes bickering, politicking and paperwork, and hosts are often left to fend for themselves. They do not have much contact with those above them, and they do not receive much aid or support from those higher up the chain of command. This reality reflects The Tigress notion that her new club would "be supportive of its staff, (and) minimize politics... with mature, motivating leadership." She also apparently had issues with SFOL's simming style and called for "a fun simming environment." These points comprised the rallying cries of The Tigeress' revolution, and they also mark the beginnings of the revolutionary ideas which would be carried out in full force in 1996 when people had more time to spend online and experiment.

By my calculations, The Tigress' revolution robbed SFOL of probably 15% of its membership. But she was not the only one to leave. During the end of 1994 and beginning of 1995, many other captains, simmers, and in fact, entire ships left SFOL to start up their own clubs. As a result, the power of SFOL was shattered, and the first generation, where one sim club practically dominated all, came to a violent end with the cataclysmic breakup of SFOL.

The first generation of simming on Prodigy also came to an end around this time, but not through such a violent process. If SFOL on AOL and Prodigy were ever related, by 1994 they had drifted apart. While SFOL on AOL was breaking apart and giving rise to a bunch of new clubs, the simming world on Prodigy was naturally growing and evolving. New clubs appeared. Competition took hold and the monopolies possessed by the largest clubs broke apart. Eventually a rich and diverse community of clubs, from Star Trek to Babylon 5, took root and thrived with no real dominate club to speak of.

Would the same natural evolution have occurred on AOL? SFOL on Prodigy was large, but it was no where near as large and powerful as its AOL version. Given the shear, overwhelming position of SFOL on AOL in 1994, it is doubtful such a natural evolution would have occurred. SFOL would have just continued to recruit into its ranks the vast majority of simmers, thus robbing any new club of the chance to get very far. If it was not for simming patriots like The Tigress, it is very possible that SFOL would have continued to dominate simming on AOL for a very long time. To support this theory I again I turn to CompuServe.

Simming on CompuServe never evolved beyond the first generation. The chat room situation there, which only allowed for chats to occur in rooms created by CompuServe, was so staggering to development that Fleet 74 continued to be the dominate, and often (aside from rare times, like when Trek Online attempted to set up shop on CompuServe), the only Trek sim club on CompuServe. It was almost impossible to run a sim on CompuServe considering the fact you had to compete with others for the use of the public chat room. Anyone who did try to sim would do so in full view of the public, and Fleet 74. More often then not the simmers would end up being recruited by Fleet 74 before the night was out. In fact, due to its high visibility and dominate position, a visibility and position similar to what SFOL enjoyed on AOL, Fleet 74 maintained complete dominance on CompuServe right up to the very end of CompuServe as a viable online community. As such, I feel that similarly situated SFOL on AOL would have done the same.

In any event the second generation of simming had taken root on AOL and Prodigy by 1995. As the history of the Federation Sim Fleet (FSF) nicely sums up, the Second Generation was a time when "Simming (was) on the rise, a community (was) being born, (and) everything was nice."

Simming was on the rise. Online services were rapidly expanding, and an increasing number of people were signing online for the first time. Simming was starting to become more main stream as role players and non role players alike began to join all of the new clubs that were coming into existence.

At the same time, a diverse simming community was being born. The dominance of one club was broken. Now there were more clubs, each experimenting and refining simming. The history of the FSF helps to illustrate how diverse and interconnected the simming community was starting to become. FSF had started in 1993 on the FIDOnet Bulletin Board System gateway. By 1995, it was running chat sims on AOL as well as E-mail sims. Needless to say, if FSF could run such a widespread operation, the simming world must have been evolving into a large and diverse community, even despite the constraints on online time. This only helps to show how wonderfully suited the sim club model was to this environment, and how simming could thrive and develop an interconnected culture and way of doing things. Yet, despite these developments, the basic simmer was still isolated on one ship.

FSF history is also correct in pointing out that everything was nice. Despite its revolutionary beginnings, the second generation settled rather quickly and there was peace and plenty. A large part of this peace was due to the fact that simming at this time was not a zero sum game. Because the overall simming population was expanding as more and more people ventured online for the first time, it was easy to find members. Had the situation been different, had this simming population growth not occurred, the tensions unleashed by the break up of SFOL and the competition among the successor clubs for members and the prestige that goes along with having lots of members probably would have turned violent. When the simming population did begin to decline, and when pressure on the simming world increased in 1997, wars broke out among clubs.

However, because the overall simming population was expanding, clubs engaged in a friendly competition with each other and attempted to gain prestige and bragging rights by becoming the club that had the most simmers. This was true on both AOL and Prodigy. The motto of the second generation can be said to be "Bigger is better," and this motto would carry on well beyond the second generation, often with negative results for simming.

To make things even easier for clubs of the second generation, the internet did not exist in a popular form. Everyone was concentrated on to online services, and these services responded by providing forums, message boards and a places for simmers to gather together. After AOL failed with SFOL, it quickly created a new forum, called the Non Affiliated Gamers Forum (NAGF) as a place for simmers and clubs to hang out at. The NAGF proved to be a very fertile recruiting grounds, and it provided clubs with their very own message boards and file libraries. The creation of the NAGF was no act of simple kindness on AOL's part, however. It was simple economics. Provide the private clubs with a forum and hopefully enough simmers will stay online for more than 5 hours, giving extra money to AOL.

Because there were so many large clubs during the second generation, and because the simming world, despite its growing connections, was still a place where clubs were largely isolated from each other, it is impossible to speak of any one club as the leader or dominate club of the second generation. However, on AOL, the United Space Federation (USF), ran by Admiral Andy B. Clements, always stood out in my mind as the embodiment of the second generation. Maybe it is because their members seemed to be every where and the club advertised so heavily. Despite this, the USF always followed a policy of diplomatic and cultural isolation. As was typical for the second generation, Andy never communicated with fellow simming leaders, and most USF members stayed in the club. As a result, its simming culture, ideas and influence never spread as much as it could, and despite all of Andy's great service to the simming community, this isolation robbed the USF of a potential leadership role, and robbed Andy of the recognition he deserved.

Internally too, the USF, like most first and second generation clubs, was isolated. There was a weekly club newsletter which included everyone's ships logs, but there was little communication between people on different ships.

Myth has long held that Admiral Clements was involved with SFOL's break up. As the story goes, he was a host in SFOL, and when the club broke apart, he took his ship, the USS Excelsior, out of SFOL to start a club of his own. But there is also a more likely that rumor that has Andy breaking away from another, smaller first generation club after they refused to promote him to fleet captain. The myth that Andy broke away from SFOL came about, in part, because he used the breakup of SFOL to his advantage by skillfully convincing a number of disgruntled SFOL simmers to join his new club.

Culturally, the second generation was much like the first. Due to the economics of the day and the fact that many of the simmers were also offline role players, the purpose of simming was still to accurately recreate your chosen genera. While there were some attempts at reform, such as The Tigeress' call for "a fun simming environment," little changed. This culture - the same culture that caused people in SFOL to allow ranks to go to their head - caused some problems in the USF because Andy saw himself as the Chief of Starfleet Operations. This is a very important point. He was concerned with the content of the sims to ensure accuracy, and as the Chief of Starfleet, he would issue orders to ships to direct their sims. Furthermore, as the leader of simmers who pretended to be in the military, he expected everyone to follow his orders - both in character and out of character - without question. But this was common to the first and second generation. In STS, for example, Trekker played the head of Starfleet, and every sim plot had to be approved before hand.

According to interviews with people who simmed in the USF, while Andy was a very energetic and capable leader who was dedicated to his club, he did have his flaws, and his military mindset and desire to control everything caused great resentment. Luckily for the USF, one of their captains, Captain Brandon Connery, understood that just because people in the sims were pretending to be in the Federation military, did not mean that out of character they would respond to military style leadership. Had it not been for his realization, and his diplomatic temperament, the USF probably would have descended into civil war. But, with both Andy and Brandon, USF was able to grow into a large club with around two dozen sims.

Of course, every club must come to this realization in order for it to be successful. During the early days of the first generation, STF realized this fact. They created a command structure separate from the in character playing of Starfleet, which, as they described it, was a "Constitutional Monarchy." SFOL, on the other hand, broke apart because its leader inaccurately believed that he was a military leader and all would follow his decision to become a part of AOL. While Captain Connery had no official power, through his personality, he was able to act as a peace maker and stabilizing force in the USF.

In terms of government and organization, the USF was a radical departure over the first generation due to the fact that Andy, even though he only possessed 5 hours of online time a month, attempted to control the club by himself. In practice that did not occur and others, such as Captain Connery, took on governmental roles where needed. In any event, unlike first generation clubs, the USF did not possess an elaborate hierarchy or bureaucracy. Yet this was hardly revolutionary for the era. The second generation's biggest distinction, aside from the fact it broke the dominance of SFOL, was that it experienced a flowering of different governmental and organizational systems, perhaps in order to avoid the problems - as pointed out by The Tigeress - that had plagued SFOL.

The extent of this governmental experimentation is highlighted by another major club of the second generation, the Alliance Simulation Group (ASG), which took an approach that was completely opposite to the USF. Instead of rejecting bureaucracy, the ASG embraced bureaucracy as the way to successfully hold a club together. During its heyday, the organization of the ASG was so complex that to understand it, one literally needed to hold a degree in either political science or business management. To some extent, it worked. For years the ASG was a very stable and cohesive group, and despite its bureaucracy, it grew into a very large club. Actually, the ASG was something more than just a simple sim club, it was a sim group.

Sim groups are in essence a collection of several sim clubs cobbled together under one organization, and the ASG is the finest example of the Second Generation's ideal of "bigger is better." The ASG had separate Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5 and Sea Quest divisions - really clubs in their own right. The problem with sim groups, however, is that they are often plagued with constant infighting as the simmers of the different genres vie for power and resources within the club. However, the ASG proved to be a remarkably stable sim group, thanks in part to the fact it possessed a huge bureaucracy, and thanks in part to the fact that it developed during the second generation, where all of those diverse simmers did not have much chance to come in contact with each other and fight. The problem was, when the good times came to an end, the bureaucracy was slow to respond and adapt, and the ASG slowly declined.

It was perhaps inevitable that someone would come up with the idea of tacking non Star Trek sims onto a Star Trek club, but the fact it began to occur on a widespread basis during the second generation not only indicates the desire for big clubs and groups, but it also indicates that other genera's of simming were starting to become popular to such an extent that people began to make groups which combined different simming genera's under one roof.

Most clubs, however, continued in the pattern of STF and the first generation. STS, for example, expanded and began to develop into a full fledged club in 1995, and in the process created its own "constitutional monarchy." In public, Trekker was the head of Starfleet Operations. He and TrekGuru approved sim plots, issued orders to ships, and maintained controls over peoples characters - all to ensure a cannon recreation of Star Trek. However, behind the scenes, NFO was the real power. He wrote the rulebook, was in charge of placing personnel, and made many executive and administrative decisions. Thus a balance was struck between in character and out of character control.

As for SFOL on AOL, it was badly wounded in 1994 and 1995, but it still retained a command position in the simming world because it had the full resources of AOL at its disposal. It was able to rebuild, but it never again became as large or as powerful as it had been.

 

Chapter 4: STECO and the Lost Generation

"Please don't call me Cindy." - Julie, July, 1996. Inside joke from STECO.

 

The story of the Star Trek Entertainment Club Online (STECO) demonstrates how quickly a sim club can expand when simming is new and there is no competition to get in the way. Such a situation probably explains why all of the early online services were dominated by one club. If you began early enough with a good set up, you were free to expand because there was little competition.

The story of STECO also demonstrates what not to do when running a sim club.

After my experiences with SFOL, I left AOL for Prodigy, which even as early as 1995, or there abouts, was offering its members 20 hours of online time a month. Well, actually, Prodigy offered a choice. You could either receive 5 hours of chat and unlimited usage of its bulletin boards, or you could receive 20 hours of online time a month for chatting or bulletin boards - but all you got was 20 hours. Since Prodigy was a service dominated by bulletin boards and since chat was new, most people opted for the 5 hours of chat with unlimited bulletin board usage. I, however, liked chat, so I took the 20 hours and used most of that time chatting.

Despite my first reaction to simming, I managed to get involved with the developing free for all chat simming environment on Prodigy and I quickly fell in love with it. The sims there were so fun, free and creative. No one knew each other, but everyone had a role playing backgrounds so everyone knew what to do. As a result, everyone followed a set of unwritten rules which caused the sims to flow naturally among complete strangers. Since then, I have always felt that what I experienced on Prodigy is what simming should be. It should be fun, entertaining, creative and imaginative, but tempered by an unwritten dedication to professionalism.

Despite my SFOL setback, I probably was inclined to eventually become a simmer. After all, when I was little I would organize my friends at recess, we would take over a piece of equipment on the playground - usually the jungle gym - and pretend it was a starship. I, of course, played the dashing captain.

For me, my simming career slowly took shape during 1995 and 1996, and believe it or not, at the time I was not exactly a crazed simmer. I would just sign on for a few hours each month and happily sim away. However, in May of 1996, two things conspired to change all of that.

First, I established my own collection of simming friends. During the course of all of those random sims I had developed my own ship, the USS Orion, and several of my simming friends had developed their own ships. It only became natural that we would try to gather together once or twice a month for a few hours and sim. We eventually had a nice continuing story line going where we were battling Romulan renegades.

Second, I was recruited into a new club on Prodigy, STECO. Even though chat simming had been around on Prodigy for a year or so, it had not developed beyond the random, primordial stage. This was because Prodigy was dominated by bulletin board sim clubs. No one gave any serious thought to organizing a chat based club on Prodigy because chat was seen as being a sub standard form of simming. Thus, STECO was one of the first, if not the first, Star Trek chat clubs ever to develop on Prodigy.

Unfortunately, the club had a slight problem from the get go. To sign on to Prodigy the clubs president, Admiral Rick, had to dial a long distance number. As such he could not spend too much time online. Why someone would try to run a sim club when they clearly knew they did not have the time to be able to run it is beyond me.

To make matters worse, Admiral Rick was a control freak. Even though he knew he could not be online, he refused to delegate responsibility to others. He would not even let anyone else command a sim in his club. STECO held 3 sims on 3 different nights, and each one was commanded by Admiral Rick. Yet, due to long distance bills, each sim was only a half an hour long. However, Rick hit on the 'brilliant' idea to get around this half an hour sim problem - which even he realized was not enough time to sim - by requiring everyone to show up to all 3 sims. A member of STECO was expected to sim every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night for a half an hour. Common sense should have told him this was not going to work, but it didn't.

Somehow, despite the obvious problems inherent in the system, STECO actually managed to thrive. Admiral Rick ran a good sim and STECO was the only game in town. By July STECO had about 40 members.

Most of the time I did not attend all three of the sims, but neither did anyone else. Yet, this did not matter. There were enough people in the club to provide each night with its own crew. Most people would just show up to one or two of the weekly sims, and everyone would keep everyone else informed about what went on at the sims they missed. After all, the sim was only half an hour, so a person never missed all that much.

I gained distinction in the club because I ran a Star Trek trivia session for STECO on Tuesday nights. At one point in time Admiral Rick had ran the trivia for half an hour, but I was able to convince him of the wisdom of saving his money and letting someone else, like me, run it. The trivia was very popular and many people were recruited into STECO after they attended one of my trivia sessions.

Maybe if Admiral Rick had let others command their own ship and allowed each night to have its own crew, maybe if Admiral Rick had written logs and newsletters to keep everyone in the club up to date about what was going on, STECO could have grown into something great. However, that was not the case. In fact, starting in July, Admiral Rick set STECO on course a course towards its destruction, for in July Rick was becoming concerned over the fact that people were not attending all of the sims as required, and that because of it people were becoming lost and confused when they did attend. I suggested that Rick should write logs to keep everyone informed, but instead Rick decided to crack down, attempted to enforce an unenforceable rule about attendance and began to take more and more control in the sims.

The sims in STECO were complex because they were set in the 25th century, where the Federation had been destroyed by the Romulans. The one Federation ship we all simmed on, the USS Roddenberry C, had escaped to fight with the resistance on Bajor. Myself and others worked to keep everyone on the same page by explaining the sim background to all who joined the club, and everyone worked to keep each other up to date about what happened in the previous sims. But as the months went on, and the story line became more complex, this task became ever more difficult.

At the time, the 25th century story line seemed to present the possibilities for great simming, and it would have made a good movie or show. However, as I learned with the Roddenberry, and with countless other sims in and outside of Trek Online, sims set in future or alternative universes just do not work out very well unless you have the right captain and crew. It is hard to recruit for these sims, it is hard to educate the crew, it is hard to keep the crew on the same page, and it is hard to keep the sim going because such specific plots either run out of steam or become too complex to sim. The universal rule in simming is anything that would make a good book, show or movie won't make a good sim. A good sim needs to be organic, random, and as general as possible.

I think in July that Admiral Rick began to realize all of the problems inherent in running a complex sim. To try to solve them, Admiral Rick made the disastrous decision to force people to attend all three sims, and when that failed, he made things even worse by taking almost total control over the sim. He began to assign everyone's sim character. He scripted out the entire night's sim before hand and ended up IMing everyone telling them what to say and do. The sims effectively started to become a script reading.

Under Rick's new program Julie, one of my simming friends, was assigned a character named Cathy. She hated the name and would always snap back at Rick with the quote given at the beginning of the chapter. The name Cathy became an inside joke in STECO, and testimony to the fact that things were beginning to fall apart. The sims quickly went from being fun and exciting adventures to boring. People began to quit STECO left and right. As more people left, Rick cracked down with more rules and requirements, which just made the sims that much more worse.

Perhaps as a way to keep me from quitting, on August 8th or there about, Admiral Rick made me the Vice President of STECO. He also promoted Julie and made her the second Vice President. By that time we were pretty much the only competent people left in the club. Rick also promoted one of his friends, who I had only seen at one sim, as the third Vice President. The orders he gave all of us were clear. As the Vice Presidents, if Rick did not show up on a particular night to sim, we were to cancel the sim for the night and take no further action. Shortly there after, Rick stopped showing up to the sims, but it didn't matter since no one else was showing up. The only reason I stayed around was because of the of trivia session I was running, which, despite the collapse of STECO's sims, was still going strong.

At first I did not want to attempt to save the sims. They clearly were Rick's territory. After all, he was the one who invented the story line for the Roddenberry C. However, I did try to recruit some new people into STECO for the sims, and I convinced a few of the old members to stay on for another week or two in case Rick saw the light, changed his mind and returned to the old way of simming, or just bothered to return and sign online at all.

However, he never signed back on and during the end of August I left for a vacation. While I was away I occasionally thought about STECO and I decided that when I returned I would confront Rick. To make my confrontation more productive, I decided that I would present Rick with some of my ideas on how to save the club. Under my plan I would take one of the three weekly sim slots and turn it into a classic Trek sim for STECO on a Constitution class ship called the USS Patton. Julie would take another night and run her own sim. Rick would have the third night and would continue to run the Roddenberry. Since I did not want Rick destroying my sim by imposing a lot of dumb rules, under my plan each captain would be responsible for their own ship, running the sim and managing the crew. However, captains could not dictate peoples characters since this fact had turned into a major point of conflict in STECO. Also, in the tradition of the free for all simming environment on Prodigy, and in keeping with the early days of STECO, the sims would not be scripted. They would be kept as free and organic as possible. The crew would sim together, add their little bit to the sim, read off of what each other was doing, and a sim would naturally occur. Rick would continue on as the president of the club, but his exact role and powers were left up in the air.

To help orient new members into STECO, the club and each ship would have its own guidebook which would be E-mailed out to a person when they joined. Additionally, each captain would send out a weekly log to update their crew on what happened in the last sim. The plan was simple, but revolutionary. It represented the growing ideals of the lost generation of simming and eventually the core principles of TOL.

With 20 hours of online time, simmers like myself could spend more time simming, more time exploring and experimenting. While we wanted to keep the sims accurate and professional, we started to view the sims as an object of entertainment, something to have fun with and be creative with. It was not just simply some way of pretending to be on a starship and an accurate recreation of Star Trek, which was the driving force behind first and second generation sims.

STECO was revolutionary in its own right and represented the lost generation ideal of community in the fact that STECO was designed around the club and was not broken down into ships. Everyone was supposed to sim together and show up to sim every night. In all other clubs of the day you were assigned to one ship and that was it. If your ship simmed Wednesday, you did not know anything about the sim on Tuesday. Even though Rick required people to sim together on different nights because the sims were only half an hour, that does not diminish how radical the concept was, and how when I returned to AOL and confronted its rigid simming world, I knew things could be different because we had tried it in STECO and with a little tweaking STECO could have worked.

For the first time in Star Trek simming since the sim club was pioneered by STF and SFOL, the club during the lost generation was viewed as a whole and not just as a collection of sim ships with an organization over it to keep those ships together. The desire to make a club community went beyond the attempts of second generation clubs to experiment with new models for government and organization. The second generation was not interested in making a club community, the economics would not allow it. All the second generation wanted to do was to find a way to structure the container so that it was more effective and less prone to revolution.

My plan for STECO also represented the new economic reality. Simmers and leaders could spend more time online, so there was no longer the need for a vast bureaucracy to carry out club operations. Some of the second generation clubs, like the USF, had proved it was possible to run a club with only a handful of leaders. As a result, all of the bureaucracy standard to most sim clubs was cut in my plan. There was just to be captains and the president. While it was not specified in my plan, captains were expected to get to know each other and work together to improve the club. Power over the sim was to be placed in the hands of the captains (the people who actually ran the sims) and not the president or a bureaucracy which just sat back and gave in orders, which was the case in most first or second generation clubs.

Communication was also an ideal of the lost generation. If a first or second generation club even bothered to publish a newsletter, it was a weekly update which simply contained everyone's logs. That is all the SFOL newsletter was. Club news, club wide announcements and declarations of club wide goals were not published. But all of these would be published in a lost generation club newsletter in order to promote a common club community. To help further communication, there would be guidebooks and logs that gave people information so that they could get involved in the club and sim. I figured, if simming is just words on the screen, the more words on a screen one can provide to help people understand the sim and the club, the better. Plus, we figured, if people had fun on just one sim, imagine how much fun they could have on several ships. It was our duty to organize clubs to make it possible.

The plan I came up with reveals what I had learned from watching SFOL, STECO and other clubs. In developing my plan for STECO I developed an underlying pragmatic belief, one which I still hold to this day. I determined that the key to a successful sim club is an attention to details and communication.

Having an elaborate sim story line does not work. Rick had one which probably would make a great movie but it did not translate well into sim. In the long run it caused more confusion and problems then good.

Having lots of rules for the sim does not work, it just stifles creativity and drives people away. Having rules or a constitution on how to run the club, however, can be very helpful in keeping the club united, distributing power, solving crises, and preventing civil wars.

Having a really fancy website is not the key to a club. Simming thrived long before there were websites. Yet, websites are very important tools and can be very helpful when it comes to recruiting, communication and organization of your club. But people too often forget that a website is just a tool and view it as the end all solution to all problems.

However, if you worry about mundane details such as logs, making sure a sim starts and ends on time, making sure every sim has a good captain, organizing an efficient system which promotes communication and interaction within the club, making sure there is a balance in your club between rules and creativity, between free for all sims and professionalism, the big picture will take care of itself. I have watched too many great people with great ideas and potential fail time and time again because they think some grand policy, some grand merger, some grand website is what is needed. No matter how much I say it, people do not want to accept the fact that the key is attention to detail. It is the job of the president or captain to worry about detail, to take care of the boring, mundane tasks. That is what is needed to be successful. It is these little details that bring reality to the simming world.

When I returned from vacation on August 31, 1996, I signed onto Prodigy and found several E-mails in my box. While I was away there apparently had been some kind of fight with Rick - Julie and the others who had stayed in STECO became so fed up that they left the club. In response, Admiral Rick sent an E-mail out to as many people as he could saying, in effect, that this was not happening, that the club was not dead, and that all was fine. Now, as a distraction, just answer this trivia question and I'll E-mail you a picture of the Enterprise E. (Which, considering that it was before the movie First Contact came out, was a pretty good prize.)

With those emails and Rick's response, I saw no point in trying to save STECO, so I E-mailed my resignation to Rick and saw that Julie was online. I IMed her and told her that I too had quit STECO. Than, out of the blue, I told her, "I am going to start my own sim club." I had never planned to start up my own sim club, I had never given it any thought, but with STECO now dead and plans swirling around in my head, I decided right there, at the spur of the moment, to try to run my own. Julie replied immediately and said "I'll be your first member and Vice President." "No," I said, "I was thinking more along the lines of Co-President."

After having witnessed STECO, a club I truly cared for and put a lot of time and energy into bleed to death and die right before me within one short month, I was determined that my new club would be successful. I had not planned to create TOL, but now that the idea was out, I would not let it fail. If for no other reason, the failure of STECO gave me the drive to keep TOL going despite all of the overwhelming challenges it was to face.

 

Chapter 5: Meanwhile, on AOL

"I'm not sure if Curoc or PJPerry ( I don't know which screen name he was under at the time) sent you this information. If he did i'm sorry to bug you again." - Chip Rollins, August 19, 1996. From an E-mail asking me to join his club.

 

During the summer of 1996, AOL switched its billing policies and began to offer its members 20 hours of online time a month.

Members of AOL also received a further bonus. Mr. Parker's and others lawsuits against AOL had been successful. They exposed the fact that for years AOL had been rounding up the amount of time people spent online, thus charging members for more time than they actually spent online. To settle the case, AOL gave all of its members several hours of extra online time during the summer. (At the same time, and perhaps related or not, SFOL on AOL changed its name to Spacefleet Online. It could be due to the fact that Mr. Parker was successful in claiming ownership of the name Starfleet Online. However, I have also heard many persistent rumors that Paramount sued AOL for using the name Starfleet to make money, and so the name was changed. AOLs usage of the name Starfleet to get people online to sim with AOL apparently caused Paramount's paranoid belief that anyone who mentioned Star Trek on the internet was out to rip off the company, and thus Paramount began a crusade to crack down on Trek websites and clubs during the mid 1990s.)

As a result of this billing change, I returned to AOL in the summer of 1996. Realizing that STECO was beginning to fall apart, and seeing how there were no other Star Trek chat clubs on Prodigy (and not yet thinking I would run my own club on Prodigy), in July of 1996 I began to look around AOL for a sim club to join.

Well, looking is too strong of a word. Looking around means I was engaged in an active quest to find a club, which was not the case. There were plenty of recruiters milling around AOL, even though recruiting for anyone other than SFOL technically was illegal on AOL. The recruiters made their cases to me and I listened. During the end of July, while I was sitting in the Bridge chat room, the Star Trek chat room on AOL, I was approached by a recruiter from the Star Trek Sims (STS) club. He sent me some info about the club and I was impressed. After a few days of E-mail discussions - me asking questions and they quickly replying with detailed, clear answers - I decided to join the club.

What impressed me about STS is that they were totally unlike SFOL in their approach to recruiting, and they shared my ideas about communicating information to everyone in the club. Also, unlike SFOL, which just rushed me into a sim without telling me what was going on, STS sent me to an academy to teach me their simming ways and rules. Additionally, they sent me a detailed guidebook which outlined their club. They also maintained an information library about their ships and personal. Everyone was friendly and took their time to answer my questions, and the club was well organized and efficiently ran.

Like other first generation clubs, STS viewed itself to be Starfleet. The club's bureaucracy and sims was organized like the military. Admiral Trekker was the head of Starfleet Command, not the president of STS. Instead of issuing public orders about how the club should be ran, he would issue directives about warp drive, contact with alien races, and so forth. Nevertheless, things were laid back and in most cases captains didn't let rank go to their head.

At the same time I was joining STS, some others were beginning to take advantage of their additional online time and the growing spirit of the lost generation to reform simming and establish a new way to run and organize sim clubs.

During the late spring of 1996, a person, whose name has been lost to history, became so fed up with SFOL's treatment of private sim clubs and of the treatment he and others received at the hands of the Star Trek forum, that he began a protest to attempt to reform those entities. He or she managed to get several hundred people to sign an E-mail petition before suddenly vanishing. Perhaps the person got fed up that they decided to leave AOL, perhaps their account was terminated by AOL for causing controversy.

At this point all could have been lost had it not been for a person named Ben, who at the critical moment stepped forward and assumed leadership of the protest movement. At this time he and his friends, Dan and Uridien1, decided it would be better to forgo reforms and instead decided to lobby AOL to create a brand new forum for Star Trek and simming. To, in effect, make a new SFOL. Ben and the others were familiar with the stories of how SFOL received its own forum from AOL in 1994. They were inspired by it and honestly believed they could get their own forum if they tried hard enough and presented a better simming model to AOL.

In the middle of August, Ben and his group began to put together a sim club. One night they encountered Chip Rollins, computer engineer from Louisiana and a simmer in the Alliance Simulation Group. Chip offered to help with the forum and protest in any way he could. The group (Ben, Dan, and Uridien1) were so impressed with Chip that they immediately offered him command of their new sim club, which possessed the ungodly name of the United Federation of Planets/Starfleet Simulation Forum (UFP/SF). It was never resolved if the SF stood for Starfleet or Simulation Forum or both. In any event Chip, of course, accepted command. Since Ben and his group would be busy running the overall forum, they gave Chip complete power over the sim club.

My entrance into this story was brought about by a completely random set of events which clearly had to be the work of fate.

While attending the STS academy, my class mate was one M. L. Moses. We started talking and hit it off right away. I always felt that the name Moses was appropriate since he lead me to the promised land of the UFP/SF. (Forgive me for being over dramatic.)

On August 19, 1996 (Gene Roddenberry's Birthday), and a few days after we had met at the STS Academy, Moses went to the Bridge chat room on AOL and there he ran into Chip, who was busy recruiting for the UFP/SF. Moses was interested and he signed up for the club, and he also gave my name to Chip and said that I may also be interested in joining. Later that night Chip sent me a rather extensive E-mail which outlined the new club and his ship, the USS Generation. The E-mail packet also included an application for the positions of Chief Engineer and First Officer onboard the Generation.

I figured STS was a nice club, but I was starting out as a cadet and it would take me forever to advance up the ranks. If Moses thought this new club was a good idea, and since STECO was falling apart, I decided to apply for First Officer onboard the Generation and see what happened. Maybe I would get lucky and land the rank of commander and position of XO.

Sure, it seems a little hypocritical that I complain about how simmers now a days move from club to club to see which one gives them the best deal, but the difference is I had earned my rank in STECO, I was dedicated to working my way up the ranks in STS (it was not until 2000 that I became a Commander in STS), and I figured this way I would be able to keep my STECO rank in a new club if the club died (keep in mind this was a few weeks before STECO actually died, but it was pretty clear that its days were numbered). Plus, I always worked to promote rank exchange programs among clubs to allow experience in other clubs to translate into a higher starting rank in TOL.

When I sent in the application I explained my situation in STECO, how I was a Lt. Commander and a Vice President, and how I was also starting out in STS. I stated that I felt I was qualified for the position and that it would be nice if my rank and experience from STECO could transfer over to the UFP/SF. However, after a few days I began to have second thoughts about Chip and the UFP/SF. In fact, I was overwhelmed with a sense of impending doom which would stay with me well into 1997.

Having applied to be the First Officer on the USS Generation, I was added to Chip's E-mail string and received several E-mails about the club and forum. I soon began to realize that Chip was in way over his head. He was only a Lieutenant in the Alliance Simulation Group and he had no idea how to command a ship or run a club. Don't get me wrong, Chip was a really nice and friendly person and he eventually grew to become a great captain, but at the time he had no idea what he was getting into. Why Ben and company picked him to become the president of the sim club is beyond me. Surly they could have found a better qualified candidate. But maybe, as we will see, they felt that they could control Chip, and that is why they picked him.

Not only did I realize that Chip was in over his head, but I also realized that the ship and club was completely unorganized, and I did not like one bit the talk of protest and trying to get AOL to give us a forum. I knew that AOL would never give us a forum, so why are we even trying and making a ton of enemies in SFOL, at the Star Trek forum, and AOL in the process? Plus, I had heard stories about AOLs take over of SFOL and how SFOL was sued by Paramount for using the name Starfleet. I personally wanted to stay away from all of the potential legal pitfalls involved with having a forum. But what bugged me the most was the fact that over the course of the week Chip kept on setting deadlines in which he said he would announce his decision about who would become the First Officer and when the Generation would start to sim, only to constantly postpone and push back his decision and the sim start date.

On August 21st Chip sent an E-mail informing all of the first officer candidates that, due to the forum, all of us would be promoted to captain and we would be allowed to run our own version of the Generation sim once a week. Basically, one night someone would command the Generation. The next night someone else would pick up the story and command it, etc. It sounded too much like the situation in STECO for my liking. Plus there were more days than there were captains, so our schedules would rotate. One week a person would command on Monday, and again on Sunday, and again on Saturday, etc.

This idea of Chip's, however, is interesting, since it shows how similar economic and cultural trends randomly appear in the simming world in places that have no contact with each other. When Rick began experimenting with lost generation ideas on STECO, he ran the same ship every night so that everyone in the club could sim together. When Chip wanted to make a new ship and club, he called for running the same ship every night. Basically, people jumped to the other extreme. Want a club wide community? Why not have everyone sim together every night.

Before I could reply to Chip's multiple command proposal, a thunderstorm hit and the power went out. I remember pacing around in the dark wondering what I should do? Should I accept the offer of being a captain? No, I could not, there was no way my schedule would allow me to take part in the rotating command system. Should I turn down the command offer but still say I wanted to be considered for First Officer? I wasn't sure about that either because I had a really bad feeling about the entire situation with the club and forum. I wanted to quit. I had a bad feeling about the club, but I also felt like I belonged there.

Nevertheless, when the power came back on I replied to Chip and said that I was sorry, but that I could not be a captain since my schedule did not allow me to take part in the rotating command, and further, I no longer wanted to be considered as a First Officer candidate. Chip accepted my refusal to be a captain, but he talked me into staying in the running for first officer. He already had big plans for me and didn't want to lose me.

Shortly there after I left for vacation. While I was away, events which would dramatically effect my future were unfolding on AOL as well as Prodigy. To this day I still wonder in amazement at the completely random chain of events with Moses, STECO, and everything else that brought about TOL. Too many things happened to make it seem to be more than just a simple accident. Had I been a few minutes late and missed Rick that day he recruited for STECO. Had I not joined STS. Had Moses not joined or been assigned to my academy slot. Had Moses not ran into Chip or had not passed my name along to Chip, none of this would ever have come about. But it did occur, and as a result the lost generation of simming produced a very wonderful and unique club - Trek Online.

In some ways the lost generation was a brand new way to look at simming, a revolutionary attempt to reform the system created by STF. In other ways, however, it was the last flowering of the primordial generation of simming. In 1995 and 1996, that primordial generation was still alive and well in the chats on Prodigy and gave direct rise to STECO and TOL. It was as if simming had one last chance to start over, to create a new first generation around a different set of ideals and models.