How does the Kobayashi Maru test make any sense?

| Comments (4) | Misc
As veteran Star Trek viewers know, Starfleet cadets take the Kobayashi Maru test. The details of the test don't matter; what matters is that it's a simulation exercise designed so that there is no way to win, and either the cadet in command lets a bunch of innocent people die or their ship gets destroyed. As Spock puts it in the 2009 Star Trek reboot, the purpose of the test is "The purpose is to experience fear. Fear in the face of certain death. To accept that fear, and maintain control of oneself and one's crew. This is a quality expected in every Starfleet captain."

I don't really see how it does this, though, because everyone knows that the test is unwinnable and that everyone dies. This makes it pretty hard to obtain the requisite level of immersivity; as games designers know well, getting people to immerse themselves in your simulation game isn't just a matter of having realistic graphics, but also of having there be just the right balance of control and uncertainty. Games which are too easy (e.g., playing in god mode) or too hard (where you clearly can't survive at all), are very hard for people to take seriously, which would seem to be a critical element if you want people to "experience fear".


It works because Star Fleet cadets are often self-important jerks who despite everything still think they CAN beat the test. viz Kirk. They take the test at or near the end of their training, where they've just spent a number of years being told they're the best of the best of the best and believe they can do anything. I suspect many would feel that even though "everyone says" that the test is unbeatable, they don't really believe it.

Kirstie Alley's performance though seems a little unrealistic. I think viewing the rough edits for Star Trek II drove her to try and kill herself by overeating.

Also too:

Games can be extraordinarily hard and yet still compelling, fun, and cause you to experience fear. Even if you know ahead of time that you're going to die over and over and over, you still play, and you still get scared when stuff comes around a corner unexpectedly and kills you, yet again.

The only way this would work is that the people taking test aren't told it's unwinnable until afterwards. I don't recall enough of the canon to know if trainees go into the test knowing it's hopeless.

Personally I get this same feeling every time someone reminds me there's no such thing as free will. e.g.,

Well, in the future they have better graphics. This is a universal law, since the advent of machines capable of visual display, and it is well understood by now, is it not?

Seriously, though, the test probably doesn't seem impossible until the moment you die, or shortly before. Different people probably experience that moment at different points during the exercise. Even if someone surpasses previous records, there's nothing to stop the simulation from generating another fleet of Klingons, is there?

In real life, when someone gets into a probably-fatal situation, while mountain-climbing or lion-taming or swimming or whatever, does she find it "hard to take seriously"? I submit that even (or, with enough experience, especially) at the height of fear, one attempts to react to difficult situations in productive ways.

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