Stock and Trade: ENCOM

Posted by CB Droege

Often when the protagonist of a speculative narrative must struggle against an unfeeling world, that world is represented by a faceless conglomerate, a near-governmental corporation which seems to control facets of society wherever the character looks. So in Stock and Trade, our latest genre fiction feature series, we’re looking at fictional corporations. Today, we’re featuring ENCOM.

ENCOM is the major computer software, and experimental technology developer in the TRON story-world. It’s the corporation that many of the major characters work for, and serves as a catalyst for the primary conflict in several of the franchise’s entries.

The company was founded in ’72 in the garage of Dr. Walter Gibbs, who specialized in game design. One of his first products was a very sophisticated, learning Chess program, which never gets named inside the stories, as, by the beginning of the first story, it had already been modified by another programmer.

Ed Dillinger used the chess program as the basis for a mainframe and network administration program called the Master Control Program (MCP).

It was just before the development of the MCP that Dillinger had a dispute with the Lead programmer, Kevin Flynn. They both claimed to have developed a series of five video games, which later became best sellers. Dillinger won that dispute, as he had presented the games before Flynn, and in the resulting angry fallout lost Flynn his job. Simultaneously, ENCOM developed a dematerialization laser, which was odd since they normally only developed software.

After a short, mysterious disappearance, Flynn was able to present proof of his development of the games to the board of ENCOM, and Dillinger was jailed for his fraud.

Over the following years, Flynn rose to a leadership role in the company, and after the death of his wife, become obsessed with the idea of life "inside the computer" making numerous speeches, and even writing a book about the future of humanity taking place within the system. Also during this time, he sold a screenplay called TRON about a man who got transported inside the computer, where he was revered as a deity, and had to participate in gladiatorial-style games to escape the system.

He later disappeared again, leaving majority control of ENCOM to his young son, who had no interest in running the company, despite a great deal of computer knowledge.

The men left to run the company were unable to be successful while following Flynn’s ideals. It seemed that he was the only one with the vision to make the company function both ethically and profitably. After 20 years, the company was finally beginning to see some success again, when new leadership cast off Flynn’s ideas, and even began removing his name from their products.

Flynn’s apathetic son disappeared for a short time, similar to his father, and reappeared with a strange, beautiful woman on his arm, and the desire to finally take charge of ENCOM, and turn it into a successful operation by returning it to the pure ideals it ran under when his father was in charge.

ENCOM itself never really serves as a villain, but it is the environment in which villainy is allowed to thrive. In the first film, it’s an environment that fosters competition and individual drive to the extent that employees are stealing from and sabotaging each other, rather than working together and celebrating successes.

In the second film, TRON: Legacy, the corporation has become the typical ‘our duty is to the shareholders’ type of environment, which has all the obvious flaws and amoral properties associated with a profit-centric operation.

Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at Buy ‘N Large. If you have an idea for a corporation we could feature in this series, let us know in the comments.