Setting is important in story telling, especially when you want to tell what time period that story takes place in. The easiest way to do this is to simply state what year the story takes place in... however, being too exact may sometimes narrow down flexibility. So in order to pinpoint the time and keep it vague at the same time, writers like to give the century number, but replace the year and decade with X.
It also renders the setting somewhat resistant to the flow of Real Life time, since Real Life will take longer to cross that date and make fans start wondering why the future doesn't look anything like fiction depicted it. Of course, as the list below shows, years like 199X and 200X have been used and passed, and even 20XX will pass eventually. Inevitably, Time Marches On.
Commonly seen in Science Fiction, but not limited to it.
Not to be confused with Exty Years from Now, which is about future dates or intervals being nice round numbers, often based on the work's own release date. Compare Spell My Name with a Blank, which is similar but with names or locations.
- Wangan Midnight is set in the year 20XX to allow for the introduction of newer cars that at the time of the first publishing (1992) did not exist.
- Ichigeki Sacchu!! Hoihoi-san is set in the year 20XX.
- Zero In is set in 20XX.
- Digimon Xros Wars starts in 20XX.
- Future Diary's dates are all shown in the form "29 JULY 20XX"
- New Mazinger: The action in this Mazinger Z spin-off begins in 220X.
- Crystal Triangle is set in the year 198X. The funny thing about this is that the show was made in 1987. They were really hopeful for those next two years.
- Fist of the North Star is set a few years after a nuclear war destroyed the world in "199X". Series protagonist Kenshiro was born in the similarly vague year 197X.
- In 3-gatsu no Lion, the year is revealed to be 20XX on Nikaidou's New Years postcard. Averted in the anime, where it's indicated to be 2007 and 2008 via background calendars.
- Fairy Tail: The story takes place in "X784". X791 after the first Time Skip, and X792 after the second.
- Initial D is set in 199X. Its successor MF Ghost is set in 202X.
- Orange Marmalade starts in "Autumn, 20XX".
- In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, the setting's year is referred to as 20XX. All Might's car was only manufactured in 198X and the old Beebo cartoon ran in the 19XXs. It's implied that the story still takes place in the 21st century, as the Justice Society of America formed with the blessing of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
- Invasion of Astro-Monster took place in 196X.
- The Last Days of Disco was set in "the very early 1980s."
- Time Changer When someone from the 1890's came over 100 years in the future and looked at the newspaper, the last two years of 20xx were obscured and when he yelled the date out loud the 20xx was cut off by a car honk. Also, at end of the movie, they are attempting to send a bible in the future but it will not go if the end of the world already happened by then, so he keeps on changing the date earlier to see when the end of the world takes place, and the movie cuts off somewhere in the 2000s.
- In the Brazilian classic Captains of the Sands, the only temporal reference is the death of protagonist Pedro Bala�s father, said to have been killed during the 191... strike.
- John Barth's "Lost in the Funhouse" sets the date as 19__. This is after giving the main character's home as B____ Street in the town of D____, Maryland, then lampshading it, then lampshading that a young protagonist would be Genre Savvy enough to point this out. This is Postmodernism after all.
- In Frankenstein, in Robert Walton's letters to his sister, the date is given as "Dec. 11th, 17—," making this trope at least Older Than Radio.
- Treasure Island also takes place "in the year of grace 17—."
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde happens in 18**.
- In Life, the Universe and Everything, Ford and Arthur time travel from the prehistoric past to the year 198—.
- Kim Newman's "Richard Jeperson" stories (part of the Diogenes Club series) are all mostly set in the 1970s, but are fairly ambiguous as to the precise setting (although careful reading can give a few clues as to roughly when each one is set), and every time a specific year is mentioned it is presented to the reader as 197-.
- Vanity Fair often refers to dates in 18—.
- Gate begins in summer of the year 20XX.
- Doctor Who: "The End of the World" takes place in "5.5/Apple/26", although this may be another term for exactly 5 billion years after the characters had left.
- Power Rangers RPM was set in 20XX (between late 2040 and 2096).
- Servant of the People features a subtle version of this, with a small poster that has the year on it, but the part with the last digit is torn off. The show is basically set in 201X.
- 19XX, part of the 1942 Shoot 'em Up series by Capcom.
- Shin Megami Tensei:
- Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne is set in Tokyo, 20XX.
- There's also Shin Megami Tensei 20XX, which happens to takes place during the year 20XX.
- Persona 5 doesn't give us the exact year other than "20XX", in contrast to the previous Persona games, but the in-game calendar is identical to the 2016 calendar, meaning the game takes place 4 years after the end of Persona 4. The nonspecific year can be likely attributed to Atlus originally intending to release Persona 5 in 2014 and presumably have it take place in 2016, which would fit the Next Sunday A.D. time frames of Persona 3 and 4. Schedule Slips led to 5 not actually releasing until 2016 - the year it takes place, rather than shortly in the future like previous games.
- Xbox game Zombies and Pterodactyls 20XX.
- PS2 game Seven Samurai 20XX.
- Mega Man (Classic) is a strong example of this trope, starting in 200X and later moving into 20XX (though Mega Man Powered Up posits that it's always been 20XX since the beginning). The spinoffs are all set relative to this ambiguous date; the X series takes place in 21XX, and drags on into 22XX, while Battle Network is in an alternate 200X. The later games in the main timeline starting with Mega Man Zero (which was assumed to take place in 22XX before Mega Man X: Command Mission came out) have abandoned this & don't specify any dates, possibly because the world has suffered so many successive apocalypses by this point that people don't even remember what year it's supposed to be. According to the ''Perfect Memories'' sourcebook, the Legends series takes place around 6000 years after the end of the X series (which would put it circa 82XX), but that's about all we know.
- Hamumu Software's Robot Wants Series game Robot Wants Puppy had an Opening Scroll about rebels in the year 20XX plotting to liberate Zeta Sector from the iron-tentacled rule of the tyrannical Morgox the Unborn.
- EarthBound is set in 199X. If you borrow a map from the library and then talk to the librarian again, you are told you don't have to return the map until the year 2002, much to the amusement of modern-day fans.
- The early Double Dragon games are set in a post-apocalyptic New York after a Nuclear War occurred in 19XX.
- The WarioWare games take place in 20XX.
- Half-Life takes place on May 16, 200X (though it is commonly agreed among fans to be set in 2003).
- Metroid is set in 20X5. Like Mega Man, the other games in the series all take place relative to the ambiguous date of 20X5 in the original.
- The Streets of Rage games are set in 199X.
- Bomberman Generation takes place in "cosmic year 200X".
- Falsion, a 3D Shoot 'em Up by Konami for the Famicom, is set in 21XX.
- Godzilla: Monster of Monsters takes place in "2XXX A.D."
- The events of the first Metal Gear was originally placed in the year 199X before the sequels decided to give it a specific year. The manual for Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was inconsistent as to whether the original game was set in 1995 or 1996 (with the in-game dialogue placing the events of the sequel three years later), but ultimately Metal Gear Solid went with the 1995 date.
- According to the intro cinematic of Pikmin 3, the game takes place in "Galactic Date 20XX".
- Five Nights at Freddy's takes place in Year XX, according to the PC's pay check. The sequel subverts this, taking place in 1987.
- EDF Earth Defense Force takes place in 20XX, except in the SNES localization which is set either in 4129 (by the manual) or the 23rd century (by the blurb).
- Parodied with 19YY, a Shoot 'em Up Mini-Game from the Neo Geo CD ADK World.
- A popular in-joke about Super Smash Bros. Melee describes the year 20XX, where everyone plays Fox (the top-tier character, yet incredibly difficult to play well) to TAS levels of perfection. Because of this, the only way to decide matches is through port priority which can only be decided by rock-paper-scissors. A somewhat popular Game Mod of Melee is even named after this joke, called the 20XX hack pack.
- The opening cutscene of Undertale states that the year is 201X.
- While not using "Xs", Kirby Super Star 's final subgame in the original takes place in the year ??? (or some time after it). The Updated Re-release has it take place in ???? instead.
- River City Ransom takes place in the year 19XX. The sequel, River City Ransom: Underground, takes place after a Time Skip of 25 years... in the year 19XX. Which pretty much just puts the first game in 1974 or earlier.
- 20XX goes so far as to put it in the name, just in case anyone didn't look at the blue platforming robot and think of Mega Man.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2 subverts this trope with several destination times. Whenever Serah and Noel change the future, the destination year is marked with X's in place of zeroes in the Historia Crux. However, this is because the player retains access to the unchanged futures, and serves only as a differential. So 400 AF and 4XX AF take place in the same year; they're just in different timelines.
- In Rudolph's Shiny New Year, the new year is "19-Wonderful".
- In the Philippines the colloquial phrase "19-kopong-kopong" generally indicates "a long time ago". Precisely when is usually unspecified, but some online sources will make a more specific case by pointing out that kopong is an Old Tagalog word for "zero", hence, the year 1900.
The Scottish phrase "nineteen oatcake" (or sometimes "nineteen canteen") means much the same thing. The non-number words seem intended to create the sound of "190X" or "191X".
In Brazil there is a similar phrase, "mil novecentos e guaraná com rolha", roughly "19-soda with a cork".
- The Extended Date Time Format used by the Library of Congress uses X to denote unspecified digits. The upcoming revision of the international standard ISO 8601 will also incorporate the same notation.