Time Travel Games: Traversing Through Space & Dimension

Posted by Lisa Galarneau on August 6, 2013 in Editorial -- Share:

One of my favorite genres of science fiction is time travel, so I’m always excited to see a good inter-dimensional travel game. Part of the reason is that time travel is actually theoretically possible, within current understandings of quantum mechanics and other emerging thinking in astrophysics. Wormholes are the most likely answer to powering experiments like this, and they take a lot of energy to generate, but games are a great platform for playing with possibilities in this regard. We’re also pretty sure at this point that there are in fact 11 or 12 dimensions in our ‘omniverse’.

Unfortunately we live in a 3D/4D reality (3 dimensions of space and 1 dimension of time) and operate with 3D brains, so we struggle somewhat to imagine what other dimensions might be like. For instance, time as a construct might be limited to our experience of reality, with the higher dimensions flourishing in a cosmic soup of everything happening all at once. Perplexing, but these thought experiments are places where games can really shine.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of time travel games. But here are some that get my heart stirring…

Quantum Break is a cinematic-style masterpiece full of novel gaming experiences and fully emotive characters.

Gemini Rue is available for iPad. It combines film noir and sci elements, of which I am a big fan.

Portal 3 leans on its roots with more inter-dimensional travel and dimensional puzzles:

Rachet and Clank is a platformer, which isn’t my favorite genre, but like the lore and the time travel elements quite a bit.

Sly Cooper, Thieves in Time has a classic adventure game feel to it.

The SpaceQuest series was one of my favorites in the day, and used quite a lot of time travel tropes. There is a new one on the horizon, I hear! Very exciting to nerdy me.

Space Channel 5 is a bit of a classic at this point, but a good model for using dance moves as weapons.

Cut the Rope Time Travel lets you virtually visit a variety of exotic places in our colorful history. Abundant cuteness for the iPad.

Radiant Historia is a mobile RPG (Nintendo DS) with time travel mechanisms.

Mystery Agency: Visions of Time is an adventure/puzzle game available on Big Fish.

A list like this wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Jonathan Blow’s masterpiece Braid

What about the future? (In this case, next year!) With holodecks virtually on the horizon, time travel experiences seem like an obvious candidate for maximum fun. I’d like to see time travel used for both entertainment and educational purposes. What better way to learn about ancient Rome, for instance, than to actually spend some time there virtually? Perhaps a slightly more sanitized version for the little people among us, but some ‘here’s how it really was’ experiences, too.

There is also some sci fi lore to be mined. One of my favorite set of books as a teen were a dimensional travel series (the Mode series) by Piers Anthony, beginning with Fractal Mode. The books played with some really interesting concepts, like a character who experienced reality from the point of view of the future, then moving to past, discovering the past she hadn’t experienced as she experienced the future. I guess you have to experience this one to understand, and again games, as Sims creator Will Wright has noted, are an excellent generator of possibility spaces.

Another favorite time travel book is The Boy Who Folded Himself, a fantastic little exploration of time travel possibilities and paradoxes. I think the premise could work great as a video game: get the magic belt, explore your possibility universe and beyond, and get a really good sense for how everything is interconnected.

Please comment if you’ve played other games with time or dimensional travel. We’ll do a follow-up article with your input.

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Dr. Lisa Galarneau is a socio-cultural anthropologist, futurist and games researcher. She's been playing video games since 1981 (Pong!) and loves adventure-style games, RPGs, online games, simulations and anything novel. Her love for games has been passed onto her gamer kid, and she spends a lot of time observing and pondering the future of games.