2016: The year that time remembered

Two of my favourite quotes about physics come from what you’d probably call unscientific sources. One is from Lauren Child’s scatterbrained hero Clarice Bean – “Sometimes I think gravity is a pity” – and the other is often attributed to Albert Einstein but is more likely from Ray Cummings’ 1921 short story, The Time Professor: “Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.”

Games, I think, have long been inspired by the daydreaming sentiment behind Clarice Bean’s earnest musing. We are used to speeding, double-jumping and flying through space without the rigid pull of the Earth’s mass. And I think this year especially games have taken more notice of not-Albert Einstein, and given greater consideration to why things happen, when. What follows isn’t a grand theory of how time appears in games in 2016 – you’ve got the wrong guy for that, I’m the guy who just quoted a children’s book in an intro – but a survey of why, more than other years, 2016 had the tang of time about it.

One way time has imposed itself on 2016 is with the arrival of games previously caught in protracted development. I’m talking about the un-vapouring of The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy 15 in particular, though they both feel in some way related to our current wish-fulfillment crowdfunding culture, where sometimes just longing for something hard enough can make it real. Final Fantasy is, of course, a series locked into a constant process of self reinvention, its numbering sequence more like software versioning than a marker of continuation – it’s just that Final Fantasy 15 underwent this process on its own and unreleased. In the end, the finished game feels new, all traces of decade-old systems iterated away during production, even if screenshots and trailers of its evolution exist in the amber chambers of the internet.