Friday, March 25, 2016

Is the End of Time inside a Black Hole? Chrono Trigger Video Game Theory

In Chrono Trigger, widely acclaimed as having one of the best stories in a video game, the characters travel between time periods, influencing the course of their fictional history on a quest to uncover a plot that has been in the making for mega-anna. Each time period has a label—600 A.D., 1000 A.D., 12,000 B.C., and so on. But when they crank the dial past the furthest date and off the scale, they find themselves at a place called the End of Time, where only a few pieces of land float in a dark void. The time stamp for this dreary, mysterious place is “infinity.”

At first glance, it doesn’t make sense for there to be an actual time called infinity. After all, infinity is always as far away as ever. Time can keep passing, on and on and on. The stars will burn out, the galaxies fizzle away, but infinity will never get any closer. Therefore, the End of Time must be simply a poetic device the game makers put in to make the game feel more mysterious.

Or must it? The ancient Greek philosopher Zeno of Elea showed a curious puzzle about infinites, which is known as Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox. Zeno noticed that if someone were to run a race, he would first have to run half the race, then half the remaining distance, and then half the distance that still remained, and so on and so forth an infinite number of times. Though it is against our intuition that an infinite sequence of events can happen in a finite amount of time, runners do indeed finish races, so we must accept that it is possible.

From Wikipedia. The runner must travel half the distance,
then 1/4, then 1/8, etc.

If it is possible for an infinite number of events to happen in a finite amount of time, could it be possible for an infinite amount of time to pass between two events? The answer, believe it or not, is yes, according to the relativistic nature of time as discovered by Albert Einstein. A boundary that takes an infinite amount of time to cross is called an event horizon. There are several kinds of event horizons, but the most well-known type is what we think of as the surface of a black hole.

From the movie Interstellar

According to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, time passes more slowly in a gravitational field. The stronger the field, the slower the passage of time. In fact, where there is strong enough gravity, time will completely stop. For a black hole, this happens at its event horizon.

If this is confusing, don’t sweat the details; we’ve just gotten to the important part. Remember, time passes differently in different reference frames. In the reference frame of someone falling into the black hole, they would pass right through the event horizon no problem, just as they would expect to from gravity. They don’t notice their own time slowing; to them it seems like the rest of the universe is speeding up. This person ends up inside the black hole, so we know that events inside black holes do happen. In the frame of an observer who stays far away from the black hole, however, the time around the event horizon slows to a crawl, and so the falling person takes an infinite amount of time to pass the event horizon. This is why it is called an event horizon; events on the other side are removed from the rest of space and time.

In summary, things inside of black holes happen after an infinite amount of time has passed. If any place could be called the End of Time, where the date is infinity, it would be the inside of a black hole. A time traveling space ship would have no trouble getting in or out though, so it would be an opportune place for Crono and his magical companions from throughout history to set up a base, out of reach of their eldritch abomination archenemy.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Choosing a Canvas: Video Games

The mark of a true artist is to be able to make people feel exactly how the artist wants them to feel. As civilizations advances and technology progresses, more and more tools appear for artists to use, expanding and pushing the limits of true art. For the storyteller, the most recent major leap forward has been the invention of the computer, which has led to an entirely new medium for storytelling: the video game.

Final Fantasy VII, widely acclaimed for its innovation and fantastic story.

The story of a video game is not entirely written by the developer. Instead, the developer lays a framework, and the player writes the details. Video games have the potential for much stronger immersion than any other medium of story, since the player usually controls—gets to be—one or more of the characters. In role-playing games (RPGs) like Final Fantasy, the player must invest time and energy in making the characters grow, drastically increasing the sense of accomplishment the player feels with the characters, and creating a sense of magnitude about the feats they perform.

This writing dynamic between developer and player opens doors to new kinds of stories, which would either not work well or be dull in book or movie form. In The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, the character is forced Groundhog Day-style to relive the three days leading up to the moon crashing into the world. The different choices the player makes each time around lead to stories playing out in different ways. In the Metroid Prime series, the player explores the ruins of ancient alien civilizations, discovering their cultures, values, and causes of destruction.

There's history and culture to be found in this floating city in Metroid Prime 3.

Perhaps the most defining feature of video games is that the players are required to overcome a challenge in order for the story to progress. The classic science fiction shooter Halo is an archetype of balancing challenge with story, continually challenging the player to the maximum of their abilities, and then making the next challenge just a little more difficult. The challenge can be made even more exciting by adding music; when Halo’s Rock Anthem starts playing as the player enters a battle, it feels that much more like they are fighting to save the galaxy.

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that, of all the storytelling media, video games bring the most variety to the table. From the mysterious ambiance of Myst to the Lovecraftian horror of The Last Door, from the courtroom drama of Phoenix Wright to the heroic adventures in The Legend of Zelda, from the tactics and adrenaline of Halo to the epic sagas of Final Fantasy, video games embody many artistic modes that can be mixed and mashed to create an untold variety of experiences and stories. Though they may one day be usurped by holodecks, I am glad to have been born in a time when video games are on the scene.

Choosing a Canvas:
Video Games