Assume you have a game in which there are many (many many) entities serving some functions, not all of which are constantly needed or need to be considered in every frame. The concrete problem I am working on in which this issue is present is a detailed simulation of a body including its organs.
In the game each creature has its own body which is separated into smaller parts (torso, legs etc.) and sometimes these parts contain organs, which serve a specific function within the body. Whether or not an organ currently serves a purpose or is active is never actually clear. After all, an animal might have an empty stomach which therefore does not need to digest anything. It would be quite ridiculous to check or simulate every object in each frame and very costly as soon as you have many creatures in the world. So I was thinking about a way to smartly differentiate between objects that need to be updated and those that don't.
What I came up with seems like an at least ok solution. It creates a simple queue/stack (essential is that each element gets removed as soon as it's read; the order is irrelevant) called the "attention stack" where objects that need to be simulated reside. Objects that need attention would simply put themselves onto the stack or are put there by other objects. These objects would probably implement a simple interface with a simulate()-function.
Applied to my previous digestion example this would mean:
The player chooses something to eat (assume it's bread) from the inventory and puts it into the mouth of his character and the mouth is put onto the attention stack. In the next frame the the mouth is taken from the stack and its simulate()-function is called. Since it's a mouth it would be reasonable to simulate chewing here. This could go on for a few frames in which the mouth keeps putting itself onto the stack until it decides the food is ready to be swallowed. In this case the mouth puts the chewed bread into the stomach (I know it doesn't go there directly, but the esophagus is left out for simplification), which is then also put onto the attention-stack. In the next frame the simulation of the digestion-process is started. And so on for the rest of the necessary organs.
A foreseeable problem with this are idling objects. A sleeping animal is a good example of this. It could be done as previously described by keeping the sleeping animal on the stack and checking each time if it needs to wake up, but that seems wasteful since that's the only thing being done. To make idling objects more efficient I was planning to add a sort of schedule which stores jobs to be performed at a specific time. If an animal goes to sleep it would put a job on that schedule which would be scheduled for a certain amount of time after the animal went to sleep. This job would then take care of putting the sleeping animal onto the attention stack again. Now, you could say that a sleeping animal that isn't on the attention stack could miss being attacked by something because its A.I. is not simulated, but this is prevented if the attacking object takes care of putting that animal onto the stack again.
Now, I honestly don't know if this is even close to an elegant solution to this problem due to a lack of experience. Am I close to something usable? How is this usually done or does anybody have any suggestions or better solutions?