- See Kobayashi Maru (disambiguation) for related links.
The Kobayashi Maru scenario was an infamous no-win scenario that was part of the curriculum for command-track cadets at Starfleet Academy in the 23rd century. It was primarily used to assess a cadet's discipline, character, and command capabilities when facing an impossible situation as there is no one answer to the problem.
In the scenario, a cadet was placed in command of a starship on patrol near the Klingon Neutral Zone. The starship would receive a distress signal from the USS Kobayashi Maru, a civilian freighter that had been disabled in the zone after having struck a gravitic mine. If the cadet chose to enter the neutral zone in violation of treaties, the starship would be confronted by three Klingon Template:ShipClass battle cruisers. The test was considered a no-win scenario because it was impossible for the cadet to simultaneously save the Kobayashi Maru, avoid a fight with the Klingons, and escape from the neutral zone with the starship intact. Electing not to enter the neutral zone to rescue the ship is considered a failure. A cadet's choice of how to handle the rescue operation gave great insight into his or her command decision making.
In the 2250s, James T. Kirk became the first (and only known) cadet to ever beat the no-win scenario. After taking the test and failing twice, Kirk took the test a third time after surreptitiously reprogramming the computer to make it possible to win the scenario.
Kirk got a commendation for "original thinking", and later commented wistfully that his stunt "had the virtue of never having been tried." Kirk would later defend his "cheating" by arguing that he didn't believe in the no-win scenario. Ironically, Kirk also defended the test itself by suggesting "how we face death is at least as important as how we face life".
In 2285, Kirk, then an admiral serving as an instructor at the Academy, supervised Lieutenant Saavik's performance in the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Former USS Enterprise crew members Spock, Sulu, Uhura, and McCoy participated as "actors" in the simulation. Saavik's performance was predictably dismal; as Kirk observed, "She destroyed the simulator room and [the crew] with it." (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
The term "Kobayashi Maru" may be a slang term for any hopeless situation in the 23rd century, at least in Starfleet Culture. Leonard McCoy considered his and James T. Kirk's imprisonment on Rura Penthe to be a "Kobayashi Maru", and told Kirk as much their first night at the penal mine. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
A similar simulation was later used in the 24th century. It involved a damaged Ferengi ship and Romulan warbirds instead of Klingon battlecruisers, and was performed on the holodeck. (VOY: "Learning Curve")
In an alternate reality, the Kobayashi Maru test was programmed by Spock between 2254 and 2258. Its purpose was to cause the cadets to "experience fear in the face of certain death", and learn to remain in control of themselves and their ship despite it. In the alternate reality simulation, Starfleet Command specifically orders the ship to be rescued, while in the prime reality this would have been a violation of the Neutral Zone Treaty. In 2258, James T. Kirk, on his third attempt at the scenario, inserted a sub-routine to make it winnable by eliminating the attacking Klingon vessels' shields and rendering them vulnerable to a single photon torpedo strike. A hearing was called in front of the entire assembly of Starfleet cadets to determine Kirk's guilt, but it was interrupted by a distress call from Vulcan, which was under attack by the time-displaced Nero. Kirk was placed on academic suspension until the Academy Council could rule on his case. (Star Trek)
Spock stated that he had never taken the Kobayashi Maru test, suggesting the test may have been introduced in the period between Spock's Academy training and Kirk's. However, it is also possible that, as a science officer for much of his Starfleet career, Spock was not required to take the test. It is also possible that, as in the alternate reality, Spock had a role in designing the Kobayashi Maru test; he would, as its designer, never have taken it himself. In his death scene at the conclusion of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he would describe his sacrifice as his solution to the scenario.
The Kobayashi Maru scenario has appeared in several novels and short stories. Julia Ecklar's The Kobayashi Maru tells how Kirk, Pavel Chekov, Montgomery Scott, and Sulu each faced the problem: Kirk won the scenario by reprogramming the simulation so that the Klingons believed he was a famous starship captain, though he was only a cadet at the time. Chekov self-destructed his ship, taking the Klingons with him; to his humiliation, his instructor pointed out that ejecting his crew in lifepods did not save them, due to the explosions of the four warp-drive vessels and the attending radiation. Scott tricked the simulation into overestimating the effectiveness of a theoretical attack against the Klingon ships' overlapping shielding. Faced with proof that such attacks, although quite valid in theory, would not work in reality, and that Scott knew this, Academy staff removed Scott from command school into Engineering. Sulu, given the consequences of entry into the Zone versus the slim chance of recovering the crew of the freighter, elected not to conduct a rescue operation.
The Starfleet Academy game provides the test as one of the missions in the game scenario. Imitating Kirk, the player character has the choice to reprogram the simulator and win the mission. One of the options is to make the AI-Klingons believe that the cadet protagonist is a famous captain and obey him at once.
Comic book stories of the Star Trek (DC volume 2) series are based on Ecklar's scenario. Three short stories in the Strange New Worlds anthology series have also tackled it. In "The Bottom Line," by Andrew Morby (SNW III) and Shawn Michael Scott‘s "Best Tools Available," (SNW VI) cadet Nog solves it in two entirely different (and thoroughly Ferengi) ways. Kevin Lauderdale's "A Test of Character" (SNW VII) depicts a different solution from Ecklar’s, one in which Kirk’s tampering is "cheating without cheating," since Kirk merely creates a level playing field, where success is not guaranteed. Pocket TNG: "Boogeymen" depicts Wesley Crusher's Kobayashi Maru-type test. In Peter David's New Frontier novel, Stone and Anvil, cadet Mackenzie Calhoun 'wins' the scenario by destroying the freighter, disabling the attacking ships in the process, escaping with his ship and crew but killing those he had been attempting to rescue (he later defended his actions by claiming the scenario was clearly a trap, and the freighter crew were most likely already dead). By this time the scenario had been upgraded with holodeck technology, enabling variations on the basic theme of a starship in trouble. In the novel Sarek by A.C. Crispin, Peter Kirk beats the scenario by using a knowledge of Klingon customs unanticipated by the test's designers.