The Nature of Time Travel
4.3 has thrown my whole schedule off; I was going to talk about Dead Island and Portal 2 today, but that’s just going to have to wait. Instead, I thought I’d go out of my norm today a bit and act like an expert on something that I am in no way an expert about: time travel.
One of my earliest memories was seeing Goonies in the theater. All I really remember was that I lost my first tooth during the movie. That’s not really relevant to the conversation, but the fact that in the same year I have another memory of actually seeing Back to the Future in the theater is relevant. One of my earliest memories of a shared story, a transmitted masterpiece of music (what a soundtrack!), culture (Marty’s vest is still super fly), and coolness (the fact that I used “super fly” proves my relationship with coolness) is Back to the Future.
Now, there’s no way to know for sure if that early memory had a major impact on my life, but I’ve always been interested in time travel, not from a “it’s going to happen – it’s real!” standpoint, but from a literary stand point. The concept of being able to change past events – or not – has fascinated me for as long as I could read. I read a ton of Hardy Boys books, but in the only one I remember, they teamed up with Tom Swift and had a time-travel adventure. In my younger and more idealistic years I wrote a good share, too, often about time travel. I’ll spare you the details, but I’ll say that I’m a fan of the consistent view.
The direction this is headed is, of course, WoW related, but before we get there, let’s discuss a little literary theory. Essentially there’s two “forms” of time travel: consistent and alternate. In the consistent view of time travel, you can’t actually change the time line because it was already changed in the past. If you went back to prevent JFK from being assassinated, you’d fail, not because some magical temporal force would stop you, but because you had already failed, last time. You’d always failed. 12 Monkeys is a good example of this, as was Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; the events had already taken place, had already been seeded earlier in the plot, and the later time travel was consistent with the earlier events.
The alternate view of time travel is more like Back to the Future; in it, you can spawn a new “branch” of the future by changing events in the past. Whereas Biff is a jerk and a bully at the start of Back to the Future, after Marty’s dad stands up to him in the past due to Marty’s conditioning, the future Biff is now a polite, deferential twit. In this view, your changes can ripple and have effects, frequently (though somewhat erroneously) referred to as the Butterfly Effect (another movie with the alternate view of time travel). Another great example of this is Quantum Leap, where Scott Bakula bounces around in time to “make right what once went wrong.” Our view from the present is that the events he participates in were always “right,” but their computer, Ziggy, can see an alternate future where the events went “wrong,” allowing Dr. Beckett to create a better future.
WoW’s time travel is fascinating because it assumes the alternate view but actually portrays the consistent view (so far). In the Caverns of Time instances, you go back to prevent the Infinite Dragonflight from disrupting the timeline, often participating in events that later led to horrors and tragedies that you might want to prevent. As my buddy asked me every time we randomly ended up in the Culling of Stratholme, “Why are we helping Arthas? Why don’t we kill him right now?” Well, the Bronze Dragonflight’s mission is to protect the time line, to prevent the infinite agents from disrupting it. The fact that they can disrupt it suggests that there’s an alternate view of time travel here, that they could in fact break the time line and change the future. However, the fact that we go back and protect the timeline means that they never do – they never did – which is consistent.
The addition of the End Time instance made the whole Bronze Dragonflight / alternate vs. consistent views even more interesting. I’ll warn you now there are minor spoilers ahead, but they’re pretty minor. In it, you travel to an “alternate future” where the mortal races of Azeroth failed to kill Deathwing. This obviously implies an alternate view of time travel, solidifying Blizzard’s approach. Still, it’s an alternate future, not an alternate present created by changes in the past, so I’m not sure how this ranks in the consistent vs. alternate debate. Since we as mortals have to see the time line linearly (unlike Nozdormu and the rest of the Bronze Dragonflight, who can see the whole thing, as is shown when you bring your Outlands orphan to the Caverns of Time and have the guard attack her until Zaladormu commands them to stop. He says,
WAIT! This girl had done nothing, and will not be held accountable for what she might do, or fail to do, in the future. Go in peace child.
Clearly he sees the whole timeline). I got way off track there. Let me start that sentence again: Since we as mortals see the time line linearly, having an “alternate future” might still be consistent since our actions eliminate the infinite possibilities presented by the future. I’m honestly not sure. That type of time travel is seem in literature that suggests you can only go to the future, not the past, because the past is “fixed.” Stephen Hawking is in this club, having suggested a time machine will be built someday, but has not yet been built, so the tourists from the future cannot reach this far back in time. In other words, you can’t go back further than the first time machine offers the chance to travel at all. Of course all of this gets into the free-will vs. fate debate, too, so perhaps we should just contain the philosophy and get back to WoW.
Back to the End Time instance, in fact. In the instance, the final boss is Murozond, a twisted, evil future vision of Nozdormu. If I have my lore correct, eventually the Old Gods show Nozdormu his death, and Deathwing convinces him to break the timeline and avoid it, creating the Infinite Dragonflight. It’s a masterpiece of time travel literature, honestly, and it also makes perfect sense. How can there be another dragon whose realm is Time? Each aspect got it’s own realm, so it makes sense that it would have to be Nozdormu that created a race of dragons who could screw up the time line. Honestly, it’s fantastic. The very enemies you’ve been fighting since BC were created by the same fellow who keeps sending you back to prevent them from screwing up the timeline.
Even more tragic than that is the fact that he must know it’s him. If the Bronze Dragonflight can see all the future timelines, then he knows. He knows what’s waiting for him if things go poorly with Deathwing. He knows that he will be the one to undo all that he’s stood for his entire immortal life. He doesn’t even get to die heroically fighting Deathwing; Nozdormu’s going to become worse than him. No wonder he wants us to get off our asses and fight!
However, there is a bit of paradox involved here, as is often true of time travel literature. If we do kill Deathwing, thus preventing the obliteration of Azeroth, thus preventing the Old Gods from again reigning, then we stop them from showing Nozdormu his fate and prevent Nozdormu from becoming Murozond and breaking the timeline. Killing Deathwing prevents the Infinite Dragonflight from ever existing, negating all those dungeons. I guess, then, that Blizzard not only evokes the alternate view of time travel, but also inter-dimensional travel where the infinite dragonflight from universes where Deathwing survives can cross over and screw up our timeline. The only solution to that is to close the Caverns of Time altogether, it seems, as there would be no need for them without a Murozond, and I’m pretty sure Blizzard won’t do that.
On top of the lore aspect, the Murozond fight itself has an awesome mechanic not seen elsewhere in WoW, a rewind tool. The encounter can be reset five times, giving you six opportunities to beat the beast who would – at current gear levels – be impossible to beat in a single go. Great thinking, great design, great work Blizzard.
Stubborn (and temporary. If you ever want a long list of time travel movies and literature, let me know.)
P.S. I’d still like Rades to do more lore on this; his voluminous intelligence on WoW lore could certainly produce a far better narrative than this. Consider it a a pro-bono commission (what an paradoxical term!).
P.P.S. I meant to ask about Morchok. Yeah, he’s easy, but at around 7 1/2 minutes he’s hitting me for 300k and one-shotting me. Is this an enrage timer that I can’t seem to find any information about? Yes my guild’s dps needs work. I get it. I’m still curious.