Temporal Consistency

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That the sequence of gameplay events that make up game instances match a sequence of diegetic events in the game world in which they are initiated.

The events that take place in games form a temporal sequence that when the games are finished can be seen as stories. While they may not exactly match up to how players played them since they may have taken pauses, these stories may in fact not consist of all play sessions either. This since possibilities of saving, including designed save points, in games let players discard sequences that are not satisfactory for some reason. Games that enforce that not sequences are discarded in this fashion have Temporal Consistency.


Unless players let their opponents take back moves, traditional Board Games such as Chess and Go have Temporal Consistency and this applies for most modern Board Games as well, e.g. Amun-Re, Ghost Stories, Puerto Rico, and Scrabble. Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons and the Basic Role-Playing system inherited this feature but it is typically not present in computer-based versions.

While many Computer Games do not have Temporal Consistency it is not uncommon. Arcade Games such as Asteroids, Gauntlet, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders have Temporal Consistency since gameplay continued without pause (except for short cutscenes) until players had lost all their lives. Many Racing Games, e.g. Out Run, the Sega Rally series, the Need for Speed series, and the Gran Turismo series have it - either from working like Arcade Games or by the fact that failures to get good positions do not negatively affect any gameplay statistics and can thereby be incorporated into game sessions without negative effects. Although Computer-based Roleplaying Games typically do not have Temporal Consistency, games with somewhat similar structures such as NetHack and Minecraft do, as does those with games with persistent game worlds such as Eve Online, FarmVille, Ravenwood Fair, and World of Warcraft.

Using the pattern

Designing Temporal Consistency is mainly a question of not letting the design support the ability to discard parts of the gameplay. On the most fundamental level this depends on who is facilitating the game state; although having Dedicated Game Facilitators does not in itself provide Temporal Consistency, it does in contrast to Self-Facilitated Games make the decision to have it or not up to game designers since otherwise the players can decide to break the consistency whenever they wish.

Several patterns may at first seem to not work together with Temporal Consistency. Game Pauses lets players have breaks and even plan what to do next in games but this does not have to be seen as gameplay activity, especially if the presentation of the game is hidden while the game is paused. The use of Lives lets players try the same challenges several times but as long as the Lives are Limited Resources each loss of one can be seen as a gameplay event and therefore maintain the Temporal Consistency. Cutscenes update diegetic events without player input, but as long as the game state is also updated in some fashion the Temporal Consistency can be perceived as being maintain with players having Downtime. Game Time Manipulation, as for example found in Braid, is another example of a pattern that does not need to break Temporal Consistency; this since those games typically rely on the previous gameplay events to create the situation for using the Game Time Manipulation meaningfully, and that the complete sequences of gameplay events can be seen as the "true" story just like in most time travel stories.

Two pattern that do conflict with Temporal Consistency are Extra Chances and Save Points. Extra Chances do this quite obviously since they let players see the outcome of a gameplay event and then let that outcome be superseded by a new one. Saving, either in the form of Save Points or letting players save whenever they wish, breaks Temporal Consistency whenever they allow Save-Load Cycles. Many games do this since they allow multiple save points or do not enforce saving when quitting, but games that do combine Saving with Temporal Consistency include NetHack, Minecraft and Dead Rising. Setback Penalties can also conflict with Temporal Consistency if a game's diegetic or narration doesn't acknowledge how many times players had to repeat actions or routes due to these Penalties. The use of Scenes may conflict with Temporal Consistency, but this is sometimes done for narrative purposes, Fahrenheit and the Assassin's Creed series do this for example.

Temporal Consistency is common for Multiplayer Games since discarding parts of gameplay without causing some players to feel that their Value of Effort is lost can be difficult. Examples that do this include Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and the Left 4 Dead series; here the two teams can vote to restart levels and thereby remove part of play sessions from what will become game sessions. Multiplayer Games with Persistent Game Worlds may wish to avoid breaking Temporal Consistency since this disrupt players' common experience. Instances makes this difficult by causing Non-Consistent Narration but may be necessary for technical reasons or to keep players in close proximity to each other for specific parts of the gameplay. In Live Action Roleplaying Games, the use of Contextualization techniques break Temporal Consistency as soon as they are used to stage Scenes of the future or the past.

For Persistent Game Worlds, having Events Timed to the Real World can be seen as a way of modulating Temporal Consistency since it links the gameplay quite directly to the flow of regular time.

Temporal Consistency do not have direct relations to either Diegetic Consistency or Thematic Consistency but may be relevant to consider simultaneously with Temporal Consistency since they can support each other in framing gameplay for players, and thereby provide a more consistent experience overall.

Narrative Aspects

Having Temporal Consistency does not force Predetermined Story Structures to be linear in how time progresses in them. Cutscenes and even gameplay can let some of the gameplay be in the form of flashbacks, but this does not break that there is a constant mapping of gameplay activity (even in it is in the form of Downtime) and development of a narration.


Temporal Consistency affects how Predetermined Story Structures in games can be constructed. It can be seen as a necessary but not sufficient component for games to have a Detective Structure since the point of view also needs to be restricted.

Since planned gameplay events can cause Surprises even if a game does not have Temporal Consistency, this pattern does not help create Surprises in games. However, it does modulate it since it can avoid that players easily can negate the Surprises by for example saving regularly and reloading before Surprises that negatively affected their gameplay performance; Temporal Consistency cannot in this way affect cases where players play a game several times but in long games, or those using Randomness, the intended Surprises can still continue to be surprising.

Given that Temporal Consistency does not let players try to repeat the exact same situation as many times as they wish (sometimes Temporal Consistency only allows one try and others as many as players' have Lives), the pattern can work against Smooth Learning Curves.


Can Instantiate

Detective Structures

Can Modulate

Predetermined Story Structures, Surprises

Can Be Instantiated By

Dedicated Game Facilitators, Persistent Game Worlds

Can Be Modulated By

Events Timed to the Real World

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Contextualization, Extra Chances, Instances, Non-Consistent Narration, Save Points, Saving, Save-Load Cycles, Scenes, Setback Penalties, Smooth Learning Curves


New pattern created in this wiki.