Tag Archives: Brent Spiner

Lessons from Strategema: the Star Trek Strategy Game

Star Trek was a show that certainly had an influence on me during my formative years. That is, Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember gathering round the TV with my family to watch new episodes when they came on (or reruns). From time-to-time, I still like to catch an episode or two. Last night, I happened to catch a couple of episodes, one of which I think has an important lesson.

The episode in question is called: Peak Performance. It comes from near the end of season 2 (of The Next Generation). Earlier in the episode, Data and another character, one who is a ‘grandmaster’ at the game Strategema (strategy-like game), sit down to play. During their first encounter, the grandmaster beats Data. This puts Data into a bit of a tizzy as he is an android and should — theoretically — be unbeatable. That’s one of the subplots throughout the episode, but not the main reason I’m writing this post.

Near the end of the episode, the grandmaster grants Data a rematch. I’ve been able to find the clip online, so I’ve embedded it below (at just about the time of the clip where the scene with Data and the grandmaster commences):

It’s such an important lesson — sometimes playing not to win (is a form of winning). In some circles, folks might think of this as playing fearfully. In other circles, one might call this “risk mitigation.” In reflecting on what happened, it seems that Data knew he couldn’t beat the grandmaster, so he employed the next best strategy — stalemate.

I like to play chess every now and again — playing for a stalemate is a strategy. If you know you’re playing against a formidable opponent, a draw may be just as satisfying to you as a win. I think this is one way to look at this clip.

The other way I want to explore is the idea of risk mitigation. I know, I know. That phrase sounds a bit “bleh,” right? Well, it’s important. It’s important to minimize risk, or minimize one’s exposure to risk. This is exactly what Data is doing when he is playing for the draw. If Data had pursued those obvious places for advancements, he would also be leaving himself open to attack.