Yep, I'm bringing back the Limit discourse. May God forgive me.
So yesterday, I watched the Netflix Original movie, Next Gen. Overall, I was pretty disappointed: its message is simultaneously hamfistedly obvious and hopelessly obfuscated; its Relationship Throughline is just... bizarre/gross; its Overall Throughline has really weird stakes; and its nonchalant abuse/murder of thinking, feeling robots is pretty disturbing, even despite the robots' early insistence that they take no issue with their own obsolescence. But I don't want to talk about any of that. I want to talk about the closest thing the story has to a Limit: the Influence Character's memory storage.
So here's the sitch. Early in the story, the Influence Character's, Experiment 7723's, memory transponder is damaged, leaving him with only 72 hours of memory storage before critical memory corruption. Okay, sounds kinda like a Timelock, right? But here's the catch: he's free to delete/disable any of the files in his memory whenever he wants, with the caveat that any "core modules" such as his weapons interface will be permanently disabled until he performs a total factory reset. So his filling memory is directly correlated with the amount of time left until critical overflow, and vice versa.
Now, I know everyone else will immediately jump on me and say this is a Optionlock Limit, but I want to make my case for something more interesting going on here. 7723's options are always limited by time; each night, he's forced to purge as many of the happy memories with the MC that he can stomach deleting, but as the story progresses, he finds himself more and more unwilling to do so, leaving him with less wiggle room in his memory. We're told somewhat early into the story that deleting one of the core memories is possible, but it's rejected as something he "couldn't possibly do" because of the heavy cost it would require. The moment when he does so is perhaps one of the most interesting and well-motivated scenes in the movie (which the movie completely squanders, but I digress). Yet simultaneously, it's kind of an "Option ex Machina," to use an incredibly goofy pun.
It reminds me of, say, poker. You have a finite amount of money, and your goal is to have all of the money at the table by the end. You're limited in your ability to bet by your current amount of money, but also by the minimum bet and raise each round, which goes up over time. Also, in a good betting story, characters often win and lose money, meaning their options increase and decrease throughout the story. But the more they win, the more their number of options simultaneously become more varied and yet more fraught. At the very end of the story, the last opponent goes all in, and the MC/Protag goes all in as well, throwing everything they've got into One. Last. Hand.
I'm not sure how to capture the idea I have in my head. I personally call it the Wager, after my original model of it, which is actually not the poker example above: imagine you have a genie lamp, and the genie will grant your wishes. Now, it's not a Timelock, where he will only grant wishes until the sun rises, or an Optionlock, where he'll only give you three. He'll give you as many as you want, but with a condition: each time, he'll make you a pay an increasingly more gruesome price. So each time a problem comes up that seems like only the genie can answer it, the character must ask themselves: is it worth the nasty price--as well as the fact that, should I need it again, it will be that much more gruesome because I used it now? There's nothing stopping them from using it as much as they want, save for their own conscience/stomach for the price.
Maybe this is just an Optionlock; I don't know. But it seems to me like the vagueness of the consequences and the lack of a solid limit give it a different appearance to or reception from the reader. There's something about the encroaching limit of an untenable cost that makes me say this is something different, somehow.
...In writing this, I've kinda convinced myself that 7723's Limit is probably an Optionlock. Yet I just can't help but feel that original line, "72 hours," held something meaningful to me. 7723's limit was always time, but he was able to push it back with his options, like those closing walls in ancient temples. Granted, I know one of the first things he does in the movie is delete a bunch of memories and give himself extra time, but it just seems so weird to me that a story that leans so heavily on time ends up becoming an Optionlock. (Of course, just about everything this movie does is weird and ends up not working, but I guess that was me being hopeful that at least one thing was interesting. )
I dunno. What do you all think?