The True Story of the Original Star Trek Prodigy

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Title: The True Story of the Original Star Trek Prodigy
Creator: Tamar Wyschogrod
Date(s): February 27, 2021
Medium: online
Fandom: Star Trek
Topic:
External Links: online here
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The True Story of the Original Star Trek Prodigy is a 2021 essay by by Tamar Wyschogrod.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Prodigy and its early history
  • Star Trek fandom on Prodigy
  • role-playing
  • Adult Silly Session, or A$$ "(because Prodigy controlled language so strictly that even the word “ass” was verboten)"
  • a virtual town called "Roddenberryberg"
  • the creativity of fans
  • some images: maps and messages

Excerpts

Once upon a time, a long time ago, Star Trek Prodigy wasn't a TV cartoon. Gather round as your fandom grandma tells you all about a bunch of fans on a prehistoric online service who accidentally invented role playing and their own very silly, Star Trek-based town called Roddenberryberg.

It was back in the early ‘90s, when people were first discovering that their PCs did something even better than word processing: going online. Via dial-up modem, one could connect to one of several subscription based online services, like Compuserve, America Online, and….

Prodigy. The country bumpkin of online services, Prodigy had a graphical interface and was designed to be simple to use, but lacked a lot of the functionality of the other services (in large part because, as a subsidiary of IBM, it did not use the newly developed Windows OS of archrival Microsoft, as AOL did -- but I digress).

What other services usually called forums, Prodigy called bulletin boards – the feature that allowed users to interact via text messages (not in real time – chat would only come later). It tells you a lot about the lack of imagination of Prodigy execs that BBS were added to the service as something of an afterthought. They woefully underestimated people’s appetite for communication with total strangers about topics of interest. Of course, before long, fandom sprang up on the BBS, and Star Trek fandom was front and center. TNG was in its first run, and Trekkies who had never had an easy way to connect with fellow fans were thrilled to be able to find each other and interact.

As is wont to happen, like-minded groups began to form, creating their own “subjects” (Prodigy’s designation for user-created threads, before anyone realized that these would become more like communities than topics). One was Adult Trek Fans (ATF) – the “adult” indicating serious discussion, not porn, which was most emphatically prohibited on Prodigy. But people tended to get off topic, crack wise, and generally goof around, so a spinoff subject was created.
Exclusive French dining was available at the Captain's Table; the big box store was, of course, Q-Mart; the cemetery was at the end of Expendable Way; you could work out at the He's Dead Gym, visit the Great Bird Aviary, launch a boat from Worf Wharf, or buy a suit at the Measure of a Man tailor shop. Popular entertainments included tribble races, the nanite marching band, and poetry night. Everyone had the job and the home of their dreams, as long as they dreamt shamelessly of Star Trek and bad puns
One of the shortcomings of Prodigy BBS was that there was no way to download and save content. It could only be printed out. Eventually, the chancellor of Roddenberberg University (motto: RU (I am!)) – spent many hours assembling, printing, and reproducing a hard-copy collection of hundreds of these posts. Titled “CLA$$ICS: A Roddenberryberg Anthology,” she distributed it via snail mail to a few dozen RBBeings for just the cost of postage (I know, because she was me). Another (far more creative) citizen drew an amazingly detailed map of RBB, including just about every location that had ever been mentioned in the group. That, too, was sent in hard copy (in a beautiful, poster-size format) to fellow RBBeings.
I’m pretty sure this is the first time this obscure chapter of Star Trek fandom history has been told outside the small group who were there. RBB wasn’t exactly a major milestone in Trek history – it wasn’t big, it didn’t change anything, and it wasn’t even known beyond its small circle of a few dozen participants – but I think it’s still worth celebrating. For possibly the first time, a group of Trekkies came together in an act of ebullient creativity to invent their own little world, concocted irreverently but lovingly from the ingredients of their fannish passion.

References