The Star Trek online role playing club Independence Fleet celebrated its 19th anniversary earlier this summer on July 4th. It’s now one of the longest-lived simming clubs still in existence. But what exactly is simming and online role playing?
Often called creative writing or role play-by-post as well, simming and online role playing came to be a dedicated hobby during the 1990’s. The Internet was young and Star Trek was in its heyday: There were two major television series in production (Deep Space Nine and Voyager) and movies were regularly being released (The Next Generation films).
Many people were accessing the Internet for the first time through online services like America Online (AOL), Prodigy, and CompuServe. It was only natural that a large number of teens and young adults took their interest in Star Trek to the Internet.
In addition to the many Star Trek fan websites that were created during the 90’s, a subgenre of simming emerged. Star Trek fans would regularly meet up together in chat rooms or through email.
They would each take on the role or persona of their own made-up Star Trek character. One might be the Captain, another the Chief Medical Officer, another the Chief Engineer, or another the Science Officer. Then they would take turns telling the story of their starship and the crew.
Chat role plays sometimes moved very rapidly with players adding only a single line of action or dialog at a time, building on the previous player’s submission, and so on. These chat sessions often went on for hours. In email role plays, it was much more deliberate. Players were also sometimes given more latitude to write for other players to allow for longer posts due to generally slower method of delivery.
Many of these first role play groups formed organically—people just meeting up spontaneously. Eventually dedicated chat rooms for simming formed. AOL at different times even officially sanctioned role playing chat rooms, sometimes Star Trek specific chat rooms. Changes at AOL and the other online services eventually led many groups to transition to the world wide web. Today most simming groups still exist on the web and use installable forums, Discord servers, or open source Nova software from Anodyne Productions.
Where does simming fit in with other forms of role playing? That’s not easily answered. When simming first emerged, it was practiced mostly by people who had previously done table-top role play or had written their own fan fiction. Today, cosplay is extremely popular—so popular in fact that it can be considered mainstream. All four forms are ultimately expressions of something similar: taking on the identity of a character from a beloved franchise and living it out.
Cosplay differs from the other three in that it’s almost always an actual character from the franchise. Table-top and fan fiction generally offer a mix of actual and created characters. Simming is unique in that it consists almost exclusively of player-created characters. It’s also uncommon to see starship names from actual Trek movies or tv shows.
What’s next for simming? Who knows! It’s a craft that’s been continuously evolving for nearly 30 years now. Old and new players alike are still captivated by it. Maybe you should give it a try!