Video Game Time

This deals with the issue of Gameplay and Story Segregation in video games where two actions that are meant to have vastly different timescales in real life occur at the same rate. So imagine you are playing a Real-Time Strategy game which tries to have a world map and global strategy. The problem is that a single war is being put on the same timescale as the rise and fall of a civilization. A city is expected to be built in the same time as you can deploy and engage with a single regiment.

Ultimately this is down to the fact that your city isn't a city and your regiment isn't a regiment. If you called them a smeep and a smerp and had them represented by geometric shapes, then there'd be no problem. But the game wants to give you a story, and wants several elements of the gameplay to merge in.

Another common version is one "day" cycle is standing in for a whole month's worth of actual days. As long as the timescales involved aren't too wildly different (for example, the "building a city in the same time it takes to fight a battle"), the Fridge Logic isn't too bad.

Compare to Comic-Book Time. That page deals with the problem of having long series with hundreds of issues lasting for decades but having no accurate reflection of the change for the characters. Essentially it is a conflict between the work and real life with inconsistencies creeping into the work when they try to update it piecemeal.

Supertrope of Ridiculously Fast Construction. In RTS games specifically, this would clearly be related to Units Not to Scale and Distances Not To Scale — here time isn't, either. May overlap with In-Universe Game Clock.


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     Real Time Strategy 
  • Age of Empires is a series of Real-Time Strategy games within which commanding an army and constructing a civilization are both very important aspects of gameplay. However, since the game is entirely in real-time, there are some peculiarities that pop up with how the different types of gameplay mesh. For example, a single person can build a church in the amount of time it takes for someone to walk from point A to point B. Also, the "Build a Wonder" gameplay mode focuses around defending a structure for "2,000 years", but a single year goes by in a second, implying that it can take a peasant hundreds of years to walk from one end of town to another (and that each unit has a ridiculously long life span). One could argue that the action on the field is just supposed to be a representation of more intricate actions that are occurring behind the scenes, but it's easier to just consider it Gameplay and Story Segregation.
  • The Total War series would at points explain each turn as a season. So four turns would be a year with typical establishing animations of snow or the trees shedding leaves taking place. Then the entire thing would have the first turn be at a certain date. However it throws up oddities. For instance say you wanted to move soldiers from Hastings to Edinburgh- four turns = a year. In the same time you could rebuild all of London's walls. Technological developments would take a hundred turns when they should be taking several hundred years and people would die a too little quickly while their armies would be on the move for decades.
  • This would be achingly obvious in Red Alert - what with things like Yak-9s ending up replaced by 60s-era MiG jet fighters with no progression in between, and Sputnik-style satellites quickly leading to a GPS - but the Anachronism Stew/Schizo Tech of the technology in general does muddy up things a bit.
  • Rise of Nations takes the example put forth by the above Age of Empires and turns it up to eleven. Because the game deals with advancing through ages of technology, it's possible to build an army of medieval-era swordsmen and send them to attack an enemy on the other side of the map, and then proceed to advance your civilization well into the industrial age before the army arrives. Even better, if you also purchase the appropriate unit upgrades, your soldiers will go from sword-wielding warriors to rifle-toting infantrymen by the time they reach their target.
  • In the original Empire Earth, this is drastically portrayed as you tech up from a neolithic culture all the way to a hyper-advanced "nano" age. Once you tech up to the next "epoch", you must individually research upgrades that move your units up the epoch ladder, so for a brief period of time you might have a revolution-era musketeer before he transforms — in field — to a WWI-style infantryman. What makes this egregious is that not all units have upgrade paths that take them through each epoch, so if you're not careful you can have the neanderthal-esque "Samson" unit hanging around your flying cars — about 45 minutes or more of gameplay at a breakneck pace.
  • Due to its nature of MMORTS, the time scale of Celestus might be less distorted than the other examples, but is nonetheless present: one day IRL is one year in-game.

     Simulation Game 
  • In RollerCoaster Tycoon, a guest could be a the park for months, although in real time, he's just been there for 10 minutes.
    • One year in-game time is roughly an hour in real time.
    • Even more confusing is that if you look at a guest's statistics, it will displayed the time they've been in the park in real time.
  • In SimCity 4, where you could see people do their day to day business, it could take a few days to cross town, where as it was only a few minutes.
    • SimCity 4 actually has an explicit separate timescale for cars traveling and your My Sim's day (and, if you choose, the day-night cycle) visible by hovering your mouse over the date. This cycle always advances at the same rate regardless of game speed, and continues advancing when the game is paused.
    • This dual timescale is even more explicit in the 2013 SimCity game. The "normal" clock ticks off hours and minutes, and a day can last from a few minutes to an hour or so of real time depending on what speed the user chooses. Taxes are collected and bills are paid according to this clock. However, for measuring long-term trends, each "day" is regarded as equaling a full month—hovering the mouse cursor over the clock will show the current month and year, which advances by one month per day, with the day-of-the-month not being represented.
  • In the Harvest Moon series, One real life second is equal to one in game minute, making time management important.
  • The Sims games are big offenders in this regard. A minute of in-game time passes for every second of real-life time, so something as simple as walking from your bedroom to your bathroom can take half an hour, up to an hour if two people meet at a door and one has to step away. On the other hand, activities which in real life would take months if not years, such as building up strength through physical training, can happen over the span of a few days in-game. So, a Sim can learn to play the piano quite well in a few hours, but it takes him almost an hour to drink a coffee.
    • Taken to almost comedic extremes due to engine limitations in The Sims 2. Specifically, time only passes for the household you're currently playing. It's possible for an entire neighborhood, save one person, to go through (to take a completely random number) three generations during the time it takes that one person to have a cup of coffee, and yet they'll still be able to interact with those three generations without aging a second.
    • Not to mention that it's always The Present Day in Simsland. This results in a bizarre "timeless" world in which the great-grandparents of the current generation grew up with exactly the same technology.
    • Going out of town also effectively freezes time at the household. This allows for an exploitation. If you build a place with beds, showers, food, and bathrooms, you can bring all your mood points back up to full green in what is literally no time. You go back home completely refreshed and ready for school/work.
    • The Sims 3 allowed multiple families to age in real time, avoiding the issue of one family going through three generations, and the others being stuck in an ageless limbo. There's still the issue of one second equals one minute, so walking to the bathroom still takes an hour.
    • This issue is now fixed via Game Mod
  • Transport Tycoon and it's descendants feature this trope strongly. A day passes every few seconds, so trains take weeks to travel from one town to another. Because of this, we have the oddity that passengers will pay through the the nose for the privilege of travelling a couple of miles in "only" 10 days.
  • The instruction manual for Railroad Tycoon 2 lampshades this by saying that sure, it may seem unrealistic to only deliver two loads of cargo a year, but at least you won't be staring at your computer screen for half a day when one of the trains breaks down.
  • Monster Rancher games use a timeframe based on years. But while your ranch can run for well over a hundred years, the characters stay the same. In fact, in MR Advance 2, your assistant, Holly, will always say that she was a representative of the monster league FIMBA until "last year"—even if she's been your assistant for decades!
  • Dwarf Fortress fits this to a T, at least in Fortress Mode. Dwarves work for months at a time and then sleep for weeks, and it can take a year for them simply to haul a few dozen things from one end of the fort to another. There has been some interest from the creator in finding some way to balance this later and improve the level of detail, but that's far in the future. Adventure Mode averts this, however, as time moves quite slowly, and traveling and sleeping take appropriate amounts of time.
  • The characters of The Simpsons: Tapped Out occasionally comment on the mostly-arbitrary times the various tasks take. "Go to school", for instance is 6 hours, but "Go to Sunday School" is 12, despite it logically being shorter.

    Four X 
  • The years pass by in a strange way in Civilization: In the beginning, a turn ranges from 50 years to a couple of centuries, depending on the game speed, but in later eras, less years go by per turn until one turn = one year. This would mean that it would take years for a unit to cross several spaces, whereas it would probably only take several days or maybe months. The "slowing down" effect over the course of the game corresponds to the idea that units can move faster as technology improves (independent of infrastructure upgrades which let units move more spaces per turn). Battles are where this trope kicks in full gear, as they last several of these turns. At the end of each turn, a forest could (by chance) appear in a square that troops are defending in, giving them an unexpected defensive bonus mid-battle.

  • Similarly to The Sims above, some time-minded Sandbox Games scale one second of real time to one minute of game time. Otherwise, waiting for time-dependent missions in Grand Theft Auto or classes in Bully would be an exercise in boredom. Oddly, though, some timed missions were timed in real-world minutes and seconds, so even though the mission's clock had marked three minutes, the game had gone through three hours.
  • A day in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is only 48 minutes long. This was presumably done to ensure they player would get to see all the neat weather effects.
  • In the Pokémon starting with generation II, the in-game clock and, ergo, time, is based off of the system clock. Played straight in Black and White with the introductions of seasons, which cycle monthly, meaning you'll go through three year's worth of seasonal cycles over one real-world year. Admittingly, a 1:3 scale of time is a pretty mild example of this trope. That said, you can still shove two Pokemon into the day care, get an egg and hatch it in about 20min riding your bike around and carrying a Magma Armor or Flame Body mon in your party.
  • In Shattered Union, turns have a different time scale depending on whether or not player is in combat. In battle, turns represent days, and on the campaign map, they represent weeks. It gets weird when battle can last two weeks, but with no time advancing on the campaign map.
  • In Minecraft a full day is 20 minutes. (8 of day, 2 of sundown, 8 of night (seems a lot longer...) and 2 of sunrise.) If you have two of one type of animal together, you can bop them each with their Trademark Favorite Food, they breed and pop out a baby version in half a (in-game) day.
  • The Jak and Daxter games have this to some extent with how quickly the day/night cycle takes to execute; a clock in the Hip Hog Heaven Saloon reveals that one minute in the game world is one second in ours. Despite this, characters still refer to our timescales for missions that have time limits, such as two minutes for the Strip Mine Eco Bomb mission. This is even Lampshaded in the second game:
    Krew: Now get out! I need my beauty nap!
    Daxter: Trust me brother, there aren't enough hours in the day!
  • In Top Shop, each round represents an entire month, despite the actual rounds only taking a minute or so.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask tasks you with saving the world from a falling moon that will make impact within 72 hours, which is roughly 54 minutes in real time. You'll be traveling back in time to the first day over and over in order to retry and be able to progress in other areas once you get the appropriate items. There's also a song in game you can play that will slow down the flow of time, allowing you to play for about an hour and a half before you have to go back in time to restart.
  • The Animal Crossing games avert this by being based on real life time through the system's internal clock.
  • Final Fantasy XIV has time flow in a way similar to Grand Theft Auto where hours passed is just a few minutes in real time. The passage of time will halt in certain duties for the sake of a thematic setting (for example, one dungeon will always have a sunset as the backdrop), even though the in game Eorzea Clock still ticks ahead.