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Ripple Effect Indicator
In many Time Travel stories in which a character in the past is changing the future, there will be an object, or sometimes a person, from the future that is directly affected as a specific consequence of the Time Traveler's actions.

The main effect is that this object, or if it's a photograph, the subjects on the photo, will vanish or reappear as changes are made to the timeline. This is done typically to show whether what the protagonist in the past is doing the right or wrong thing.

In short, a Ripple Effect Indicator is an object, originally from the future, that fades away or otherwise changes based on actions in the present changing the timeline.

See also Ret Gone, which can be an effect of this. See also Delayed Ripple Effect and Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory. This is usually seen in "overwriting the timeline" in the Temporal Mutability scale.

Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • The Divergence Meter in Steins;Gate measures the difference between the current timeline and the reference alpha timeline. However, major changes in the timeline can make it Ret Gone.

Comic Books
  • In the first story arc of Booster Gold Vol 2, Booster's JLA membership certificate changed to reveal alterations to the timeline, for instance becoming The Flash's death certificate.

Film
  • Marty's photo of himself and his siblings in 1985 serves as this in the original Back to the Future. As the time to get his parents falling in love draws closer, his siblings from the eldest on down vanish from the photo and reappear once he succeeds. Variations of this trope occur throughout the series enough that by Back to the Future III, Marty has gotten Genre Savvy about it, taking a photo of the grave of the person whose death he's trying to prevent before going to the past.
    • In the Telltale Games sequel, Marty uses newspapers and a photo of George for the same purpose.
  • In Frequency, Frank (John's father) needs to give an indication to John that he is still alive, and so burns a few words into his desk in the past. In the present, John sees these words appearing on the desk at the same speed at which Frank is seen burning them, as if they're being burned in the present. Other examples include events in the past triggering sudden, sometimes disorienting changes in John's memories and that of his peers, averting or causing people's deaths that would have been avoided before, and giving a new, nicer appearance to the decorations in the house.
  • In Men in Black 3, when K is "erased" from history, his apartment shifts to a regular apartment (no secret stash of alien weapons) and a different family is living there when Jay comes by the following morning.
  • In Looper, when Joe (as well as one other looper that we get to see) 'writes' on his arm with a knife in the main time of the film (when he's still young) so that the resulting wounds, after healing, show up on his older self's arm. The message told his older self where to meet to settle the situation. Later when young Joe sees that old Joe won't quit, he kills himself to prevent his old self from killing a child he's grown to care about; old Joe disappears, just like that.

Literature
  • In one of the Charmed tie-in merchandising novels the sisters battle an ancient goddess that's not restricted to a single time so she can hop from era to era, dimension to dimension. She starts messing with a few of the Halliwell Family's ancestors and the effects in the present are changes to the family house's interior decoration, changes in Phoebe's appearance (her hair becomes long and dark) and Piper's son, Wyatt disappears because he was never born. Phoebe also passes out after getting a barrage of visions of her family in the future and the past being attacked by the ancient god.
  • In the short story "Abe Lincoln in McDonald's" by James Morrow, the titular American president visits a version of the 20th century in which slavery remains legal in the South. His decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, made at the moment a slave is shot to death, causes that slave's body to be replaced by a robot.

Live-Action TV
  • Al often served this role in Quantum Leap. For the most part, he merely reported the timeline changes to Sam as relayed by Ziggy, however, one episode, "A Leap for Lisa," in which Sam had leaped into a young Al shows changes such as Al being temporarily replaced by another person entirely.
  • In Voyagers! Phineas Bogg's device showed a red light when history had to be changed and showed a green light when it was set right.
  • Another example would be the premise of Early Edition, in which a man literally receives tomorrow's newspaper today, and is expected to change the negative headline/lead story into something more positive before it happens. When he is successful, the headline/story changes accordingly.
  • The third season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation Yesterday's Enterprise pulled off a clever example: The Enterprise encounters a Negative Space Wedgie, and Worf is called to the bridge. The camera shows Worf at Tactical, beginning a sitrep to Picard. Camera pans to Picard, Time Ripple happens, and then the camera pans back to reveal Tasha Yar at Tactical, just as she's always been. Once the timeline is corrected, the camera pans back to reveal Worf at Tactical.
  • In MythQuest, it's possible for the characters to travel into a myth and act it out, including a different ending. If they change a myth, storybooks and textbooks in the real world change.

Video Games
  • In Mortal Kombat 9, Raiden's medallion cracks when he receives his first visions from the future. As the story progresses, the medallion shows only more signs of damage every time Raiden fails to prevent certain future events from happening...until the very end, when Shao Kahn is finally defeated for good.
  • Marle's vanishing and return early in Chrono Trigger is used to demonstrate both how past events are affecting the future and how you know you succeeded in repairing the time line.
    • Here's a few more: defeating Magus in the past results in the Mystic village statue of him replaced with Ozzie, and then said village finally not hostile to humans once you defeat Ozzie. Restoring Fiona's forest in the past (it appears, along with a shrine, in the present) and helping an NPC in Porre learn the value of sharing turns their descendant in the present, who is the Mayor, into a generous person.
    • A few more indicators are part of ending montages: Marle making a strange frog-like noise if Frog marries the Queen, the opening cinematic happens again but everyone's a Reptite, and Robo crashes into Atropos in a futuristic Millennial Fair.
  • In Chrono Cross, the Dead Sea replacing Chronopolis in Home World, reflecting a timeline where Crono did not defeat Lavos.
  • Achron uses various symbols on the timeline to indicate various events happening.
  • The Journeyman Project games have the Temporal Security Agency, which has one agent on watch at any given moment monitoring history for any ripples. In the first game, once such ripple was detected (which only travel forward in time), an agent was sent back to prehistoric times to retrieve the archive of the "correct" history in order to compare to the new history and determine the time and place of the interference. Later, this is Hand Waved by a new, easier, method of tracking and determining ripple origins. The game cutscenes show a holographic screen with a representation of the timeline on it with an actual ripple (reminiscent of an earthquake representation) spreading into the future. Naturally, the agents must act before the ripple reaches them.
  • In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers, the hero ceases to exist as a result of preventing the Bad Future they came from. One of special episodes in Sky expands on this by showing the effects on the future, with the sun's rise finally bringing an end to the eternal night, and the denizens of future ceasing to exist, as well. They all get better.

Western Animation
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "It's About Time", Twilight Sparkle herself is the Ripple Effect Indicator. After being (unsuccessfully) warned by a haggard-looking and supposedly battle-weary version of herself from the following Tuesday, the Twilight of the present day focuses her efforts to avert that outcome. As her exploits show the bad future goes unobstructed because her appearance grows to become that of her future self's until the fateful Tuesday arrives and she looks exactly the same. Ultimately it's all for naught as the "disaster" ends up being her worrying for nothing...so she tries to go back in time to correct her self from one week earlier not to make the same mistake...but can't get the message across, which sets into motion the whole affair and closes the Stable Time Loop.

Webcomics
  • In the General Protection Fault Surreptitious Machinations saga, the time traveling protagonist Todd uses himself as the Ripple Effect Indicator. With that, he's able to show that he has succeeded in breaking the Big Bad's Stable Time Loop.

Retroactive PreparationTime Travel TropesRipple-Effect-Proof Memory

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