A Need for Linearity

The main way in which I personally took an interest in timelines growing up was through the timeline of fictional events in The Legend of Zelda series, and by extension, similar such timelines of other fictional universes. The thing about the Zelda timeline specifically, however, is that there was no official timeline for the series until the end of 2011 with the release of the book The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia. Prior to that, an ongoing conversation and debate within the fandom was how exactly these games’ stories related to one another chronologically. That need for a timeline where none was provided played an enormous role in how I personally engaged with this fictional universe. My thinking and theorizing about the timeline led me to focus on what in the story was important. It was not, however, until the official timeline was released such that I could take it for granted that I could see more of the complexity of the stories given that context.

The phenomenon of the perceived lack of information through timelines and graphs has interesting implications for how we relate to this kind of presentation of information. On some level, we have a need to take information for granted to a certain extent. It can be easy to look at a timeline an unbiased and non-problematic in a large part because we want things to be that easy. We want to be able to simply have the information without having to constantly adjust our thinking for the bias behind how the information is (and can be) presented. I tend to view the Zelda timeline specifically through the lens of what it says being the intention of the writers, though others have criticized it supposing that Nintendo threw the timeline together at the last minute without the games themselves having any consideration for it.

One of the most confounding aspects of the Zelda timeline is the fact that it splits into three at one point in the series, representing alternate possible events based on how one specific game plays out. In this way, the series problematizes the linearity of timelines specifically with regards to hypotheticals. When the timeline was still unknown, a split timeline was a possibility some people explored because such a split best reconciled certain games’ stories. Only a double, rather than triple, split ever seemed to be speculated upon, however.

I typically found myself opposed to the idea of a split timeline, trying to reconcile the stories into one linear chronology. My intention was to replay the series at some point in event order based on the timeline. One of the realities of nonlinear media is that it must always be experienced in a linear fashion; I wanted the Zelda timeline to dictate that line for the series, which didn’t work with a timeline split.

With the official timeline, I had to accept the now triple split and the impossibility of playing the series in event order. This led me to the general standpoint that game/book/film/etc. series are best experienced in the order they were written, not in the order the events take place. The latter lends too much credence to timelines; while they can aid in understanding, a chronological presentation of events is not always the most useful framework. When working with nonfictional data, strict chronological presentation can block us from seeing the full significance of things.

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