Life After Death? - Star Trek: The Experience Virtual Tour and Interactive Archiving

Curator's Note

TheStar Trek The Experience Virtual Tour and Slideshow Database, produced by, is a self-described "visual time-capsule" and "immersive tribute" to Star Trek: The Experience, formerly at the Las Vegas Hilton. Photographed three weeks before The Experience closed its doors in September 2008, this virtual tour allows visitors to explore 360-degree captures of the attraction's environments, including its rides, exhibits, promenade, and staff rooms. The high quality images are combined with surviving audio recordings of the tours and are curated using Adobe Flash Panorama Player, allowing limited mobility through a virtual recreation of the former media attraction.

While "wandering" through these virtual rooms provides the opportunity to engage with a space that no longer exists in the physical realm, the fragments assembled in this tour seem incomplete. It is an experience that is, in some ways, akin to wandering through a haunted house where ghosts of the past still echo through its halls. Other fragments found online that are not included in the Tour can provide additional context. One of the most comprehensive resources is a documentary produced by a former cast member, featuring filmed segments from throughout the Experience's life and death, as well as interviews with its former cast and crew (the Facebook page includes photographs and a forum for sharing memories). Even the clip accompanying this post - an advanced preview of the Tour's content - contains materials not currently included in its virtual exhibition spaces (video footage of the attraction and some of its media). While these materials provide additional context, they lack the main feature of the Tour - its interactivity and the chance for visitors to "move" through this now closed (and sadly demolished) media experience. Due to its strengths and weaknesses, the Tour serves as both a tribute to what once was and a reminder of what has been lost and will never be recovered.

This week of IMR explores the theme of media fragments and virtual museums. Digital media and the internet have encouraged curators, archivists, and artists to rethink traditional perceptions of the exhibit space and digital archive in an environment where geographical limitations are no longer a restriction. Some online content, like this example, continue to exist long after the physical is lost. One day these too will be "demolished" when the servers housing the content are finally deactivated. The limitations of life and the permanence death affect both the digital and the physical. How do we contextualize what has been left behind?


As a historian, my personal techno-utopian fantasy has always been that 3-D digital preservation would be the great leap forward, preserving experiences rather than just artifacts.  But your notion that digital preservation is a second life - and a pale shadow at that - is a reminder that an experience, in interactive media, is itself an artifact.

I am thinking of Werner Herzog's film "Cave of Forgotten Dreams."  Though it seems Herzog's intent, with the use of 3-D cameras, was to preserve the perpetually endangered historical cave, what he actually preserved was his own experiencing of the mystery of the cave: his vantage point, his questions, etc.  And, much like your point about "Star Trek: The Experience," Herzog's film also requires preservation and continued distribution.

Perhaps we must contextualize interactive media - even historical oriented ones - as 'acts' rather than 'archives.'  Not the preservation of the thing itself, but one experience of that thing?  Much like constructing a documentary to pretend that the filmmaker is not present, perhaps the utopian fantasy of interactivity (complete without absent author) is encouraging us to believe that digital archives are less limited and individual than they truly are?

A very interesting response, Jeremy. Your idea of contextualizing interactive media as experiential acts rather than archives is intriguing. Material culture studies has frequently explored the ways we contextualize spaces (architecture, etc) in relation to the artifacts held within, and any curatorial decisions made in the preservation (or recreation) of experiencing that artifact or space is itself a highly mediated act. Choosing the term "act" over "archive" is essential when exploring how a museum or experience is constructed through acts of curation. The construction of interactive media is itself dependent on curatorial decisions that shape our experience of it. In some ways, endeavors like the Virtual Tour are acts of re-curation as we are forced to transfer the physical to the virtual.

Your comparison to documentary filmmaking is an important one as it draws attention to the fact that despite the limited degree of interactivity afforded to those exploring the Virtual Tour, visitors are still dependent upon fixed vantage points (with the benefit of some additional control through the Panorama player). Even if we were to construct a full-explorable virtual environment of these experiences where the visitor can move freely within the space (such as a virtual world recreation of it), the invisibile documentarian/curator would still have a presence as they are the ones who constructed the recreation and shaped our perceptions of it due to the "camera" that determines our view.

The questions I am therefore left with are centered on whether or not there is a difference between a documentarian and a curator if media is used to record/recreate an interactive space, and how the concept of visitor then needs to be altered due to differences in experiential mediation?

Fascinating post! It’s amazing that this tour survives via these virtual fragments and it’s interesting to think about what they accomplish in terms of fan’s emotional capital. For those who once visited the exhibit, their memories are reconstructed through them, while those who never visited, they formulate ideas of what it must have been like; a desire for something lost to history. And while the interactivity is lost in terms of exploring the actual place of the original tour, these virtual memories (perhaps this is what they become for everyone) are shared amongst the fans as another form of interaction. Several layers of things to think about!

You've identified two very important concepts here, Laura: the roles that memory and fandom play in these endeavors. All acts of preservation are inherently mediated and planned (choosing what to save and what not to save). Caroline Frick pointed out in Saving Cinema: The Politics of Preservation that "those involved in moving image preservation have not merely preserved movie history; they have, instead, actively produced cinematic heritage" (5). The same thing can be said about fandom and what artifacts or experiences related to specific texts are chosen to be preserved. While there have been other media experiences that have risen and fallen since the demise of The Experience, as far as I am aware, none of them have been preserved in such detail. Such endeavors really encourage, as you pointed out, the construction of actual and virtual memories that add to the heritage of the specific fan group.

I also think there is a certain mystique surrounding The Experience and its unexpected death as it surprised everyone that the Hilton would decide to close it less than a year before a new major motion picture was scheduled to be released (and directed by one of the hottest filmmakers in Hollywood). There seemed to be a real sense of loss mmong the Trek fan community by those who were sad that they would never be able to go back to The Experience once Trek was back in the public eye, and among those who never had the chance. The role that memory plays in these endeavors, and how fandom is a factor in what is preserved virtually, are definitely areas worthy of further research.

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