In Brief: In-Depth Reading of Star Trek's "Darmok"

By Norman Chan

Sokath! His eyes open!

One of the most beloved episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is Darmok, in which Picard is trapped on a planet with the captain of an alien ship, forced to find a way to communicate with a species whose linguistics conventions are so distant from our own. It is the quintessential Star Trek episode: the conflict lies not in hostility or aggression, but in the strained cultural differences between two races who are determined to find a common understanding. Atlantic contributor (and notable game design researcher) Ian Bogost has written an epic in-depth analysis of the linguistic theory at the crux of Darmok, in which he posits that the resolution of the episode is incomplete--that depicting the alien race's language as one based on metaphor and image is semantically incorrect. "[The Federation] can’t help but interpret Tamarian through their (and our) cultural obsession with mimicry: Metaphorical language operates not by signification, but as poetry, by transforming the real in a symbolic mirror." Bogost argues that allegory and strategy may be a better way of interpreting the alien language. There's a great example of science fiction apologetics in Bogost's piece as well, addressing fan nitpickings of the episode. A must-read for TNG fans. (h/t Gary Whitta)