Issue 4.0: Tempus Ludos
Video Games and the Concept of Time
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Game & Word, Volume 4, Issue 0: Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022
Publisher: Jay Rooney
Author, Graphics, Research: Jay Rooney
Logo: Jarnest Media
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Table of Contents (Vol. 4, Issue 0: Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022)
Message from the Publisher
Topic Introduction: “Tempus Ludos”
Currently Published Issues
Message from the Publisher:
Here we are. After a much-needed (but still quite busy) one-month pause, Game & Word is back and better than ever! I’m super excited to tell you more about our theme for Volume 4, but before that, I wanted to make sure I touched on a few quick announcements and housekeeping items.
First: Say “Hi” to Cover Pages!
I experimented with this in Volume 3, but now I’m going to fully lean into using this issue as the “Cover Page” for Volume 4. As new posts get published, I’ll add them to this page. And I’ll eventually add this page (and covers pages for previous volumes) to a “Welcome” post that I’ll pin to the top of the homepage. I’ll also make note of any corrections/errata here, should it become necessary.
Hopefully, this will make navigating older issues more manageable. Oh, and speaking of older issues…
Second: Subscription Overhaul (and Promotion!)
In case you missed the announcement last week, I’m overhauling my subscription model: going forward, each piece will be free for the first two weeks after publication, after which it becomes paid content. I go over my rationale in last week’s post, but basically, it’s a way to add a ton of value to a paid subscription without excluding people who aren’t able (or willing, for that matter) to shell out money for a paid subscription.
In addition, to celebrate the launch of Volume 4, anyone who upgrades their subscription from now until the end of 2022 will get 20% off their first 12 months (this applies to monthly and annual plans):
Third: Game & Word Made a Game!
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Ok, that’s all for now. Enjoy Volume 4, and thank you—as always—for reading.
Topic Introduction: “Tempus Ludos”
“Time passes, people move... Like a river's flow, it never ends. A childish mind will turn to noble ambition. Young love will become deep affection. The clear water's surface reflects growth.”
~Sheik; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
In case you’re wondering, Tempus Ludos means “time for games” or “time to play” in Latin. It’s a play on a much more famous Latin adage, Tempus Fugit, which means “time flies.” Fitting, as games are supposed to be fun—and time sure flies when you’re having fun!
But… what even is time, anyway? I know that sounds like one of the most basic, trite, “Stoner Philosophy 101,” BS questions one could ask, but it’s actually really deep, maaaan.
After all, we think of time in terms of years, hours, minutes, and seconds, but it wasn’t always like that. For untold tens of thousands of years, our prehistoric forbears told time through the the course of the sun and moon, passing of the seasons, and motion of the stars.
After the dawn of civilization, we started breaking time up into years, months, days, and hours. The first sundials came out of Ancient Egypt, c. 1500 BCE, which let us divide each day into discrete and consistent units, called hours. Well, during the daytime, at least. At night, we’d remain… *ahem*… in the dark until much, MUCH later.
Soon after sundials, the world’s first recorded computed calendarssprung up in the Bronze Age, starting with the Babylonian Calendar (c. 499 BCE)—which, in due time, influenced the developments of the Hebrew Calendar (c. 70 CE), the Assyrian Calendar (c. 312 BCE), and even the Gregorian Calendar (1582 CE) that we use today.
Hell, the Gregorian Calendar's grandaddy, the Julian Calendar—implemented by Julius Caesar (get it?) in 45 BCE—lasted over a millennium and is practically identical to its successor. The key difference? The Julian Calendar added a leap day every third year, instead of on every fourth year like we do today. Which, believe it or not, actually caused it to veer way out of alignment with the actual seasons over the course of 1,500 years, thus necessitating an update. To use a gaming term, you could say Pope Gregory XIII “patched” the Julian Calendar.
Other notable ancient calendars include India's Vikram Samvat (57 B.C.E.), Persia’s Zoroastrian Calendar (c. 650—330 B.C.E., if not much earlier), and the Traditional Chinese Calendar (c. 771—476 B.C.E.).
Fast forward to the 19th Century CE, when the Industrial Revolution literally changed everything—including the way we think of time. Astronomy and navigation (particularly the advent of longitudinal measurement) had led to the sundial’s major upgrade: timepieces (clocks, watches) that allowed us to precisely measure the passage of hours at day and at night. The process of industrialization made them common household items. The dominance of the railroad—and the precise scheduling it demanded—further broke time down, from mere hours to minutes and even seconds.
Later, electricity allowed people to remain awake and even (somewhat) productive at night—and today, people can live their entire lives at night. In such a world, timekeeping (now calculated by hyper-precise atomic clocks)—becomes singularly important.
Meanwhile, the Scientific Revolution not only gave us a proper definition of time—which shifted and evolved as Newtonian Time gave way to Relativistic Time, and may well continue to change if Quantization has any legs to it—but also dramatically expanded the scales at which we think of time, in both larger and smaller increments.
Larger increments jumped from thousands of years to tens of thousands, millions, and billions of years, all the way back to the Universe’s very birth and all the way forward to its eventual death. In parallel, smaller increments shrank from seconds to microseconds, then nanoseconds, then all the way down to Planck Time: the smallest measurable unit of time, beyond which the very structure of time itself starts to break down.
Whoa. See, I told you it was deep!
But wait—you’re probably asking yourself why we still haven’t answered the question of what time is. And the answer is… way beyond this introductory cover page’s scope. Don’t worry, we’ll get to it in due… time.
Time for Games
So, what about time in video games, then? Well, they’ve got a lot to say about time, it turns out.
We have games in which time is a central concept—whether mechanically, narratively, or both. These include games about or with time travel, such as Chrono Trigger (pictured above), Life is Strange, Timesplitters, Timelie, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and even sillier fare like the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time or South Park: The Fractured But Whole.Games in which there's no time travel per se but span several aeons, like Live a Live, also count.
Many games take us to the past. Some, including Civilization, Assassin’s Creed, and The Forgotten City (pictured above), boast impressive fidelity to history and/or archeology, or at least hold potential educational value in those fields. Video games (as a whole) have also led to the rise of archaeogaming as a field of study, which I’ll get into in an upcoming issue (or two… or three…).
Just as many games take us to the future. After all, science fiction is just as fascinating and fun in games as it is in books and movies, if not more so. Sometimes, these games show us the near future—like Chrono Trigger, The Last of Us, and every game with a branching narrative. Other times, they show us the wonders (and perils) that await a spacefaring human race in the distant future—which includes more “traditional” sci-fi fare like Mass Effect and Stellaris (pictured above).
And countless games implore us to do better in the present, to make the most of the here and now—whether by healing the wounds of the past, creating a better future, or both. Think games like What Remains of Edith Finch (pictured above), Chrono Trigger (noticing a pattern?), Land of Screens, and To The Moon.
Finally, we have games that explore the… wonkier side of time. These include Everhood, Chrono Cross, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Outer Wilds (pictured above). And that’s not even getting into games that operate in real time, such as the Animal Crossing games and the entire Real-Time Strategy (RTS) genre. Ditto for the meta-commentary that games in and of themselves provide about time, just by virtue of their existence.
This is roughly how I’ll structure this volume. That said, there is overlap between these categories, so expect a little “bleeding” between different groups of issues. Some of these games check so many of these boxes—most notably Chrono Trigger (did you guess?)—that they may well deserve entire issues (maybe even two- or three-parters) of their own.
Oh, and we’ll break for a bit in late October, for a Game & Word Halloween Special!
As for how long this will take? I’m not even going to try. Whenever I attempt to estimate the length of a volume, it always ends up at least three times as long. I’ve learned to simply go wherever the writing takes me, trusting that it’ll take as long as it needs to. Not to get all meta on you.
That said, I do want to try to wrap up before years end, so I can at least do one of those obligatory “Year in Review” issues (where I hope to announce something big).
So, with all that out of the way, go ahead and kick back, relax, dust off your flux capacitor, and get ready for a Game & Word volume for the ages!
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Currently Published Issues
Volume 1 (The Name of the Game): Issue 1 ● Issue 2 ● Issue 3 ● Issue 4
Volume 2 (Yo Ho Ho, It’s a Gamer’s Life for Me): Issue 1 ● Issue 2 ● Issue 3 ● Bonus 1 ● Issue 4 ● Issue 5 ● Issue 6 ● Issue 7 ● Bonus 2 ● Issue 8 ● Bonus 3
Volume 3 (Game Over Matter): Intro ● Issue 1 ● Issue 2 ● Issue 3 ● Podcast 1 ● Issue 4 ● Video Podcast 1 ● Bonus 1 ● Issue 5 ● Podcast 2 ● Issue 6 ● Issue 7 ● Issue 8 ● Issue 9 ● Podcast 3 ● Bonus 2
#history #anthropology #archaeology #culture #narrative #storytelling #physics #cosmology #philosophy #metaphysics #spirituality #ludology
Calendars which are mathematically calculated, as opposed to observational calendars, which are… well, observation-based and not nearly as precise.
Though this is disputed.
That said, not everyone switched over. The Julian Calendar is still used today by the Eastern Orthodox Church (the dominant Christian denomination in Greece, Russia, and most of the Middle East). Falling entirely outside of the Vatican’s purview, the Orthodox Church had no obligation to follow Gregory XIII’s lead. Have you ever wondered why Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter later than those in other denominations do? This is why.
In gaming turns, you could say the Julian Calendar is the Orthodox Church’s Melee as the Gregorian Calendar is the Catholic Church’s Ultimate.
In which the player’s farts are so powerful they actually bend and manipulate time. No, I’m not kidding. It’s South Park, what did you expect?
I don’t care how many subscribers it costs me, I will never relinquish my puns!
Time as a measure of "reality moving", also goes deeeep man in games when you consider frame counting on action games with strict emphasis on timing(fighting games...), where a single frame of difference can be of difference. I've always tough of Kairos as a concept that applies a lot to timing based plays, one that even extends to turn-based games. Then there are also notions of going fast as in speedrunning, or of (strategic) acceleration with concepts like tempo or rush. And let's not get started on more explicit treatments like rewind mechanics or games where seeing time past is a thing... it really goes deep 🤣
I love an evil laugh as a footnote.