Bend It Like Link: Time Traveling in Games (Part 2 of probably 3)

Time travel, man… after we all had our collective minds blown last time with talk about rewinding time and why we couldn’t ever meet our past selves because our past selves didn’t meet our future selves, back when the past was the present.

Image result for dizzy

And here we are again, asking for more! We’ll be covering two types of time travel, one being the idea of the multiverse, and the other being a scenario in which we go back in time and influence events, but don’t meet our past selves. Hold on to your hourglasses and toot your ocarinas, because we are jumping into the multiverse.

The Beat Goes On, The Beat Goes On… (the Multiverse) – Zelda timeline

This is one of my favorite ones to think about, to be honest. The idea of the multiverse is that there are multiple universes, each with a separate but equally true reality. For a very simple explanation, everything a person chooses creates on universe, and everything that a person doesn’t choose creates another universe.

Think of what you ate for breakfast. Perhaps you ate some cereal. So that is what occurred in this universe. But there is also an equally true universe in which you ate eggs, or nothing at all. Or maybe you drank some milk, or walked outside to get the paper, or left for work early and got into a car accident. Which one of these is real? Our knee-jerk reaction is to say , “The one I am in, of course!” but you are in all of these universes.

How does this figure into time travel? Well… let’s enter the Zelda-verse.

Image result for zelda timeline

As fans of the series know, the official Zelda timeline has three timelines: the Child Timeline, in which Link returns from his time traveling adventure and stops Ganondorf before he takes over Hyrule, the Adult Timeline, in which the Adult Link defeats Ganondorf and Ganon and then disappears, and the Game-Over Timeline, which is what happens if the Hero of Time dies along his journey and doesn’t save Hyrule, meaning all three timelines are canon. Meaning there are three canonical universes in the world of Zelda, based on Link’s actions (or his death).

This would make time traveling easy (relatively speaking), because there is no concrete past that must be preserved. Instead of traveling along a line, the time-traveler “simply” travels into/creates a universe in which he or she meets his past self, influencing that timeline but preserving the original one. Meanwhile, the time-traveler leaving also creates two universes: one in which the time-traveler doesn’t exist anymore, and one in which the time-traveler never left at all.

It’s sort of like flipping coins, except each time you get heads, you create an alternative dimension that has you getting tails instead.

Image result for multiverse tree diagram

A link between worlds, indeed. Puns aside, Ocarina of Time Link does travel through time, space, and realities, if the Zelda multiverse timelines are indeed true, and this would explain how he remembers his adventures, and yet the people around him (even during the Adult Period of the game) do not. He is not just sliding back and forth across a Number Line of Time (which I have just trademarked, in case Nintendo is looking for another time-travel device for a future Zelda game), but stepping between dimensions, which is a much tidier and simpler time-traveling solution, and one that would explain how this could be possible in the real world.

(Not) Strong Enough to Live Without You (Influence Without Meeting) – Oxenfree and Being a Gamer

One of my pet peeves last time was the idea of the past being somewhat fixed: events happened, and we remember the events that happened, so if Teenage Me were going to meet Adult Me, then Teenage Me already would have met Adult Me.

But what about influence? Wouldn’t it be possible to travel through time and influence events without meeting past selves and causing a time paradox?

Image result for time paradox mgs3

Well, maybe.

But for this to work, let’s all agree that free will doesn’t exist. Okay? Poof. No more free will. We are all on a pre-determined track.*

I wrought my brain for a game example, and came up short, until a friend mentioned the game Oxenfree. Now, my friend wrote up a thorough summary of the game and spend a good few hours patiently answering my questions, so I apologize in advance if I get a few game details wrong, but the gist of Oxenfree is that some teenagers travel to an island, and quantum physics starts happening.

The main character, Alex, sees (what is revealed to be) her future in mirrors and reflections, and this Reflection/Future Alex gives her clues from said future. Now, Original Alex will eventually go on and must become Future Alex, meaning that she must interact with the never-ending loop of Original Alexes that parade through, putting her in a sort of time loop, regardless of whether the game calls it such.*

alex from oxenfree
“???: What’s… what’s happening?”

It’s like in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry and Hermione time travel back in time, meddle in the affairs of their past selves, and Harry explains his ability to use a powerful spell because he “had already done it.”

However, in Oxenfree there are also time rifts that occur throughout the game, and it is commonly accepted that these rifts create a new universe/timeline, with a new Alex in it. So we are already flirting with the multiverse here, with Alexes interacting and talking to each other through handheld radios and reflections, in theory influencing each others’ decisions without actually meeting each other, and possibly being dismissed as some sort of spooky, disembodied voice (even though it’s shown through multiple playthroughs that this is not the case).

Oh, and there is also the possible destruction of the many multiverses formed, because one of the Alexes can influence Original Alex to not even start the events of the game. Yep. This sort of blows the whole “not meeting yourself” bit out of the water, because it destroys a whole bunch of multiverses*, but it is an option that is on the influence table, at least in this game.

Image result for mind blown

But, through these interactions, it becomes clear that the only way to influence your past self, like in Meeting Your Past Self, would be if:

  1. Future Self had already visited, even if Past Self wasn’t aware of it
  2. We take away free will as a concept because Future Self must perform the events that happened in the past
  3. A Future Self breaks free of the rules of their universe and manages to somehow erase bits of time and space (this is unlikely)

Enough with the Cher References Already, or, What About Braid?

You mean we haven’t talked about Braid yet?


Alright, so I know I promised that we’d talk about this game today, but Braid covers way too much in regards to how it handles the manipulation of time to be left as a footnote at the end of another article.

Never you fear. I’ll be back with a timely analysis of Braid’s use of time in a short… time.

Until then, make sure your clocks are still working.

What do you think about universes being created and destroyed by our mere thoughts? What is your most favorite (or least favorite) thing about the Zelda timeline? Let me know in the comments!

Special thanks to LightningEllen for suggesting this idea over On Patreon!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!

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  1. I love thinking about the multiverse! It’s fun to imagine a reality where I have the thing I want the most, while totally ignoring the ones where my life is a complete train wreck, haha. Everything that can happen will happen in some reality. Just like in video games, all of our choices matter. 🤔 I find the Zelda timeline in general quite fascinating. I can’t think of another series that branches off like that.

    No plans to play Braid so I’m excited to learn more about it from your next article. Thanks again for the shout-out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right? Everything is real and imaginary at the same time. Remind me of another game I played last year………………………..

      I can’t think of any other game timeline that officially branches off like that, but I suppose it could be any game, really. For any choice or any character death, another universe is made……

      I admit I watched a few let’s plays of Braid, which sated me. But it’s fascinating, if you get the chance.

      Thank you again!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m in the midst of writing my review/analysis for Oxenfree, and it’s…interesting. I think of it more like split timelines, because to truly finish the game, you have to play through it twice. The Alex that’s stuck in a time loop is able to get a message to herself before she gets stuck warning the past self from performing the actions that cause it, but in some universe/timeline there HAS to be an Alex stuck in a time loop in order for this to occur. This is reminiscent of an episode of TNG where the Enterprise gets stuck in a time loop, but it’s destroyed at the end of it, so…that solves the paradox problem I suppose lol. The eventually avoid destruction and escape the loop. There are a bunch of Futurama episodes that deal with this, too, most famously where Fry becomes his own grandfather o.O

    I had to skip the Braid part because I haven’t played that one yet but in due time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Reading those examples has me like o_O and I know the episode of TNG that you’re referencing haha. Wibbly wobbly timey wimey and all that. But yeah, it seems like in Oxenfree there *must* be at least one timeline where Alex is stuck, because otherwise the warning could never get to Other Alex, meaning that there must be at least two realities and… I think my brain is melting.

      Sounds good! Let me know what you think when you’ve played it!

      Liked by 1 person

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