Timelines In MMO’s (and Other RPG’s)

I was reading a reddit thread earlier, about a recent (in-character) blog post for Star Trek Online. Most of the thread was grousing (yet again) about the official timeline for the game: everything in the game takes place in the years 2409 and 2410. And the year isn’t over yet.

Now, said thread has the author of the post (a fan, not a dev) in there to justify said timeline. Basically, all that stuff happens quickly, and in rapid succession. And I can see how that could theoretically be justified.

But really, I think it’s a big stretch, especially since these things don’t take place in a vacuum. Part of the whole “RPG” thing is “role-playing,” ie, taking a role. The PC is a Character, after all. And while all the stuff in STO could, in theory, possibly take place in two years – two TV seasons, in other words – that would only really work with an established crew with an established captain. But that’s the trouble – in STO, no matter which faction you pick, you start out as a lowly junior officer, and end up as a full admiral (or its equivalent) well before even getting to the real “big damn hero” stuff.

The reddit thread offers some alternative timelines. One would be to have time in-game roughly match real life time. That’s how the shows worked. And it would at least be slightly sensible to take at least several years to build up rank. It’s still way too damn fast – even Kirk took about a decade as Captain to rank up – but at least it’s not crazy. Another option would be for each in-game “season” (major content patch) to equate to a year. This is also how the shows worked, although each show only had one season per year, so both are viable. This is better for the rank progression issue – we’re at something like season 18 or 19 I think, which makes for a much more sensible career path, even for a “saves the galaxy multiple times” hero.

(My own personal headcanon is that one’s career – and the events in the game – take place over at least a couple of decades, at least on the Federation side of things. Klingons can justify all this based on merit – this is the stuff songs are sung about, after all; and the Romulans can as well, as they’re basically the Rebel Alliance, promoting anybody to high rank as long as they stay alive and are successful. But Starfleet is pretty much a traditional, modern, bureaucratic military-complex, and while heroes get noticed (and thus placed first in line for promotions), there is still a process to all this. Hell, even in the US Civil War, brilliant officers still took the whole war to get from low to high rank.)

All that brought on the thought: what about other games? Especially MMO’s. From the games I’ve played, time doesn’t really seem to pass. I mean, some have day-night cycles, and some have seasonal events. But time doesn’t seem to pass in-character, for the most part, besides the occasional time-skip (like Dragon Age 2). When you have quests you can do in any order, especially sequence ones that can be interwoven (or, heaven forfend, out of order!), that makes trouble for setting up a timeline.

Let’s take Granblue Fantasy, for example. In a recent interview Director Fukuhara said that all the events were canon, but that they really didn’t think about where they fall in relation to each other (and the main story) – the players are all over the place in terms of what they’ve played (and I figure most are relatively low-level, and thus not as far along in the story), so making an extended timeline (a la Radiant Historia) is not something they’re terrible interested in. Of course, they’ve had six summer events now, and we can guess the game is five or so years along. And some events have characters that can only be present at certain times in the main story (like the recent Fastiva event…). I have my ideas, but that’s all they are – ideas.

But I was thinking about this in terms of, say, the Elder Scrolls games (including Elder Scrolls Online). We can guess what year they take place in (I think they’re actually explicitly stated somewhere, actually, even in-game) – or rather, the year they start. But how long do they take? In these sorts of games, you can’t even decide which events are canon, since there is the element of player choice, let alone what order events take place in, let alone when the events take place. (It was worst with Skyrim, which is perhaps at least part of why ESO takes place an age before any of the other games.)

Maybe I’m just being too big of a giant nerd about this.