Time Travel in Fiction Rundown: A Video

Guest Writer: Dave Johnson

For those of you that haven’t heard of this video, it is produced by Minute Physics on YouTube and the link is below. This video talks about the ways in which people travel through time and the various methods in which they can change the course of events in a given time stream. It also talks about the various movies and books that employ the plot device of time travel and how realistic it is in terms of Einstein’s theory.

Logical Consistency

Actions must have consequences in order for the reader to care about the characters. In the case of role-playing games, the players must have concrete rules that govern the multiverse. The rules must be consistent and easy to understand. This is the basis for Logical Consistency. This video explains very well the differing types of time travel. The gentle reader will see that this can be a fun alternative to the “work-a-day” plots and scenarios found in a lot of adventure modules.

Time Dilation is the idea that could be used in most space travel games. Metamorphosis Alpha role-playing game comes to mind, as well as The 77 Lost Worlds RPG. Both games have space going ships and could employ the plot device of Time Dilation. Say, for example, the Warden is traveling at near light speed and it docks with another ship that had previously departed the Warden five years in the past. The second ship may have been trying to find help and enters into a worm-hole. They instantly travel three years to the future. They, much to their surprise, encounter the Warden again. When re-entering the Warden, they find a great disparity in terms of age. The people on the Warden are much older than the folks on the second ship. This can make for great drama.

Time Travel Paradox is another plot device that could be great fun. In this category, we have three subcategories to discuss. Although the three subcategories are not mentioned by name in the video, I believe it to be important to include for the sake of instruction.

Casual Loop A loop is an anomaly of time travel that befalls when a future occasion is the cause of a past occasion, which is the cause of the future event. Note: No origin can be determined.
Grandfather paradox”This occurs when the past is changed. This causes a contradiction and will change the future. The time traveler should do only the things that have been done in the past. See, Back to the Future 2.

Fermi paradox  is a type of question that asks: “If time travel is a real thing, where are all the visitors from the future?” The answer is, for games purposes: the time travelers disguise themselves to avoid detection.

The Do Over time travel. In this form, the traveler gets to relive the same segment of time over and over. He or she has the free will to learn from previous mistakes. This is much like a video game. This can be used by benevolent GM’s to save the life of a beloved character or characters. Another example can be that the group can try a different method to overcome the problem.

The Anything Goes time travel. This version allows the traveler to go back or forward in time. He or she can see versions of themselves. Back to The Future is an example.

If A then B time travel. This form is logically consistent. See the video for more information. This can be a very dangerous way to thin the party. Use your noodle Game Masters! The sky is the limit.

Time is fleeting and madness takes its toll. Listen closely

In conclusion, I feel that the video is very well made and presented in a thoughtful way that is easy to understand. I would have liked a more in-depth explanation of the various ways one could travel through time, but I think that was beyond the scope of the video. For the gaming community, this video is a great tool for the imaginative designer to create an unforgettable adventure!

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    John Enfield

    Then, there’s the time travel in one of my favorite books/TV shows: Quantum Leap. In that one, our hero, Samuel Beckett is time traveling into the past, within his own lifetime. He’s disguised as time traveller because his body doesn’t time travel, just his soul does. His body stays in his current present and basically switches souls with some person in the past. It’s a clever idea that gets around the problem of how you’d actually move a mass, especially a living one, from the dimension and space it is made to be in through some sort of tear, rift, wormhole, etc. without destroying it in the process. Human bodies can’t even travel in a machine very much faster than the speed of sound without consequences to their health, let alone out pacing the speed of the forward movement of time.

    It also takes care of the problem of what to do with the time machine itself. In a lot of time travel stories, the time travelers are transported by some ship or machine that goes with them. This machine is then in peril of being damaged, stolen, lost etc. in the process risking exposing the travelers for whom they really are or even leaving them stranded in this different time/place. In Quantum Leap, the time machine stays put in the lab where its being tested and it sends the soul into the past. The body that he switches souls with then becomes his ‘traveling machine’ while he’s in that time and place. It’s the perfect disguise so long as he does a good enough job of convincing people around him that he’s still whomever he’s ‘leaped’ into, which provides much of the drama and humor of the show. It illustrates an interesting theory that our bodies are little more than vehicles or space suits for our eternal souls and it’s the soul that makes us who we are, not the thing it’s encased in. To some degree, this has been proven by organ and limb replacement. We’ve been able to replace increasingly complex and important parts of our bodies when the originals quit working right, even our hearts, without any noticeable difference in the actual ‘personhood’ or being of the patient. They are still the same person they were before the transplants or artificial parts were inserted.

    The changes that Sam makes are usually depicted as being small and on a personal level for the person he’s leaped into and whatever their closest sphere of influence happens to be. It’s a bit like the Grandfather Paradox except that he doesn’t leap into his past self, nor any of his close relatives or friends (at least not that I remember him ever doing, its been a while since I watched episodes of the show). It’s usually a total stranger living in some place away from his past self’s sphere of influence. Though, I sometimes wonder what the long term and ‘butterfly effect’ type changes his leaping caused when he ‘fixes’ what had gone wrong in that person’s life so that their life turns out better. Often, its a pivotal decision that they made or a disaster that they failed to avoid. As a kid, I just thought the show was different and cool and sometimes even funny. Now, I wonder about the ethics of messing around with other people’s lives and decisions in such an invasive way. Still a great show, but I think it could have dealt with that issue a bit more.

    It’s kind of like the time travel theory in Harry Potter, only Sam never interacts with his past self. But it is a rather linear concept of time travel without all the confusing alternate realities, parallel universe stuff that some shows/books get themselves mired down in. The method of doing the time travel is, however, quite different and seems to be rather unique amongst time travel stories. I can’t think of any other shows or books in which the traveler goes about jumping from one body to the next while his own body stays back in the time machine at home.

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