Chrono Trigger and a Green Legacy

"Chrono Trigger: Culture shock [Chronicles of Time]" | Art by LightningArts. Used with permission.

In How I Met Your Mother, there’s a system by which Ted and Marshal defer difficult, painful or boring decisions and tasks: they leave it to future Ted or future Marshal. I have adopted this language in my own life. Sometimes when someone asks why I’m just watching TV rather than cleaning up and I say, “that’s future Dustin’s problem.” It’s also future Dustin’s problem when I choose to see a late-night movie but have to get up early, when I buy something with credit, or when I leave sermon-writing to the last minute. And then future Dustin shakes his fist in the air and curses past Dustin for putting me in this situation.

It’s often difficult to make choices with the future in mind. Our society prioritizes immediate gratification. We buy for the feeling now regardless of the payment plan. We build things to maximize profit without thought of sustainability. We make things to be discarded without considering the waste it will create. That’s ‘future humanity’s’ problem. As a Millennial, it’s easy to see the extreme housing costs, exorbitant grocery prices, mediocre job prospects, asbestos, and coal powerplants, shaking our fists at ‘past humanity’ for putting us in this situation. It would be nice to go back there and slap those people.

We are going to have to stop dumping things in “future humanity’s” lap and make changes now.

In Chrono Trigger, you have a chance to do that. The future is a bleak landscape of starving people who are sustained through technology. The sky is polluted and the world is a wasteland, deserted and lifeless. But you can travel back and forth in time. You can go back and smack the people of the past and tell them to stop killing all the trees. Except you can only go back to a few fixed times when the wasteland has already begun, the world already damaged by industry. The space in-between lush forest and desert is lost to you and you’re stuck with disaster. It would take 1,000 years of back-breaking labour to restore the forest and save the future.

Lucky for you, one of your travelling companions, Robo, is a robot (so not the most original name but it was the 90s). He agrees to stay behind and till the land, plant the seeds, nurture the sprouts and restore the forest. Armed with seed and time he will endure the weather, the labour, and the 1,000 years to provide hope for the future. So, the rest of the crew hop in the Epoch and zip to the future, to 1,000 years later in a couple seconds and behold, forest! And deep in that forest, leaning against a tree, a robot, rusted by time and worn, sitting in a state of suspension.

When you revive him, he marvels at the year and confesses there were times it felt like the future would never come, but he endured. In the end, rather than succumbing to the directive of the other robots to wreck vengeance on the humans for destroying the world, he has saved the world and the humans. He’s become a hero. You get him all patched up and discover in his core he’s preserved a bit of sap, a thousand years of memory, and with it you unlock a special move for him with some of his friends. This forestscape also becomes a place for another party member to achieve something really important to them, so Robo, with his sacrifice, changes the world for the better.

Chrono Trigger concept art.

Over the past 200 or so years, humanity has done a lot to our planet. We’ve contributed to a two degree increase in average surface temperature. The oceans are warming. The pollutants have mutated animals—some for the better, some for the worse. Ice is melting, plants are dying, heavy rain areas have become flood areas, forests are receding as fast as ice caps, oceans are rising, the world is changing and not much for the better. It’s easy to look back and say, “past humanity, you’ve really screwed us,” but that won’t change anything. In a recent lecture by Kathrine Kayhoe, she said that if there were a giant switch to turn off all our carbon emissions instantly, it would take another 1,000 years to see the temperature come back down to where it should be. 1,000 years, and we have no time-travelling robot to save us.

It’s often difficult to make choices with the future in mind.

So we are going to have to do it ourselves. We are going to have to stop dumping things in “future humanity’s” lap and make changes now. It falls to us to look forward 1,000 years and decide that we will do the hard labour, the seed planting, the life changing stuff so that the future will still be green. It means delaying some gratification indefinitely so that 10 or 12 generations from now will experience it. Some days I don’t know if I can do that. Some days I don’t even care about ‘future Dustin’ enough to help him out, so I’m not sure if I can help out future-future-future Dustin’s grandchildren.

But in those moments of weakness, I think about Robo and that future where mankind huddles in the ruins of civilization, gasping out a meager existence; I’ve seen the future of deferring the cost and I don’t like it. And as a Christian I think about God creating mankind to care for the planet and giving us the responsibility for making a place for humanity to live and be happy and I try and change. I remember the story of Abraham, to whom God made promises and it wasn’t until generations later that they started coming true—and I choose to live for the future. I hope that because of choices I make now there will be hope and trees in the future. 1,000 years starts today.

Dustin Schellenberg

Dustin Schellenberg

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Dustin spends his time exploring the far reaches of space, understand the ancient ways of might and magic, and wandering the post-apocalyptic wastes. If it has a reasonably open world, a crafting system and some way to sneak around, he'll be there. When not gaming, he's probably planning his next D&D character (because his DM keeps killing off the old ones). He is a competent bass player and guitarist, mediocre mid laner and outright awful FPS player. He is father of two, husband of one, a sometimes theologian, and all-times pastor of Crestview Park Free Methodist Church in Winnipeg, MB.
Dustin Schellenberg