Created By: PsychoFreaX on July 26, 2012 Last Edited By: StarSword on November 17, 2012

Set Inside A Game

A game is used as the show's entire setting or part of it

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Finally got the possibility to overwrite the original. It's Up for Grabs, but I'll still be keeping an eye out for any progress -- Nazetrime

A quite popular setting, especially in recent years, has been to have the work Set Inside A Game, be it a Video Game or a Tabletop Game. In both cases, the Role-Playing Game (frequently a MMORPG in the case of video game) variant is quite popular, but other genres can be depicted. The characters may be Player Characters that are basically the in-game avatars of real people (e.g Deep-Immersion Gaming when it's a video game), Non Player Characters (no individual controller, yet personnalities of their own) or Player Characters that have a life of their own when they are not being played with (e.g Pixelface).

This trope tends to play out in two (or three) different ways :
  • As the setting of part or all of the show: The audience knows they're going to see real people playing games from the start, and that anything happening in a context that is not similar to Real Life is Set Inside A Game.
  • As a Plot Twist or a Twist Ending: Basically the "it was a game all along" option for a Nested Story Reveal. Putting a work in that category alone can be a major spoiler for it. Can happen to a RPG-Mechanics Verse, but also to a work from pretty much any genre, especially if it's revealed at the end of a story or subverted.
  • A little of both: The fact that it's a game is a First-Episode Spoiler. It may result in a Fake-Out Opening and the impossibility to describe the work without revealing that it's Set Inside A Game.

Gaming Webcomics that aren't an RPG-Mechanics Verse or strictly Two Gamers on a Couch will probably have this trope show up a lot.

The game can be a real one or a fictional one, the latter frequently used to depict a whole genre rather that several specific games or to avoid copyright issues. Some works cover sevral games at a time. Whatever the nature or number of games, they have high chances of being Serious Business for the characters.

Role-Playing Games, Tabletop RPGs and many Video Game Tropes tend to be used and, more often then not, played with. Lampshade Hanging tends to be a big favorite.

This trope can overlap with Cyberspace in cases where the game is used as a Viewer-Friendly Interface and/or Inside a Computer System if the game is entered by a virtual reality interface. There are plenty of cases of the players being in front of a computer or a contemporary console and games that are just the protagonist's means of entertainment for these two tropes to not always apply. This trope also differs from RPG-Mechanics Verse, that is meant to be a fictional "real" world that that happens to work like a Role-Playing Game. RPG-Mechanics Verse at best hints at the existence of players, but it turning out to be Set Inside A Game (making it the plot twist variation), doesn't always happen.

Cases of real people physically transported (or somehow trapped by the interface) in a game tend to end up somewhere between Set Inside A Game and Trapped in Another World. For the work to be close to the Set Inside a game end, the setting should be considered a game in-universe and have something along the lines of Win to Exit or the fact it's a game impact the plot in some other way. On the Trapped in Another World end, a game may be the medium trough wich the "other world" is introduced, but in terms of the plot may as well have been a book or a Tv show. Do not confuse it with the characters ending up in a Role-Playing Game Verse, where the game whose world is depicted in the work only clearly exists in Real Life.

Not to be confused with when characters show awareness of being in a game. For that, see Medium Awareness or Breaking the Fourth Wall.

Please indicate where the examples fit, or at least elaborate them enough so someone can guess without having to read the work's page.


As (at least part of) the work's known setting

  • The .hack franchise (maybe not all works).
  • The light novel Sword Art Online and its anime adpatation start out with players getting trapped in a virtual reality MMORPG that centers arounf sword fights. The premise of the second part of the series has some of the players of the first game now trapped in another one and "playing" alongside players that can log off when they want.
  • Noob and its novel comic adpatations, follows one of the worse guilds that play a fictionnal MMORPG called Horizon.
  • The Guild mostly shows the life of the players, but Season 4 finale was partly set in the game they play that is hinted to be World of Warcraft clone, called The Game. Its comic prequel series aleternates between real life and in-game scenes.
  • The Noob first follows a MMORPG player that just got the game and than alternates between players, with seldom seen real life scenes.
  • Pixelface follows the off-screen life of video game characters and has portions in which their repective games are being played.
  • The Jumanji cartoon has the character be sucked into a board game and solve a riddle to get out.
  • The Gamers
  • The Simpsons Game (in the plot's context)
  • eXistenZ
  • Chainmail Bikini alternates between players playing a variant of Dungeons & Dragons (as opposed to straight D&D, in a failed attempt to keep the resident Min-Maxer from breaking the game), and the world as seen by their characters.
  • Dungeons And Dorks uses a similar arrangment with vanilla D&D.
(tell me if if should be in second or third category)

Plot twists and twist endings (spoiler warning)

  • Guilded Age first seems like fantasy story, but turns out to be a game people are playing in chapter 9.
  • Subverted in the "Back To Reality" episode of Red Dwarf, where the characters have an hallucination that starts with them emerging from virtual reality interfaces.
  • The 2002 The Twilight Zone episode "Upgrade" has the show turn out to be in a The Sims-like game.
  • The final story arc of Yu-Gi-Oh! at first looks like a case of time travel, but turns out to be an RPG-style Shadow Game between Yami Yugi and Yami Bakura.
  • Discussed and subverted in this The Order of the Stick strip, when Blekar misinterprets a hallucination telling him to "play the game". The works itself happens in a RPG-Mechanics Verse based on Dungeons & Dragons.

As a first episode spoiler

(nothing comes to mind)

Examples that need to be elaborated to be sorted :
  • The Grind is a World of Warcraft machinima set in the game.
  • Another machinima called Matchmaking is set inside Halo 3.

Community Feedback Replies: 32
  • July 26, 2012
    Subtrope of Cyberspace?
  • July 26, 2012
    Yep ^^
  • July 27, 2012
    Often (if not always) overlaps with Deep Immersion Gaming. Dot Hack leads to .hack franchise page.

    Noob (Tv/web series officially categorizend in Live Action TV) and Noob (comic book) for works.

    Also part of the comic prequel to The Guild.
  • July 27, 2012
    In the 2002 Twilight Zone episode ""Upgrade", the twist is that it was all inside a simulation family game. (Like The Sims)
  • July 27, 2012
    The games sections of Pixelface.
  • July 27, 2012
    What if the world is a table top rpg game, not a video game? I believe there are several webcomics that feature this, such as:
    • Goblins is set inside a game of DungeonsAndDragons. At least two of the protagonists, Minmax and Forgath, are clearly controlled by players.
  • July 27, 2012
    Tron is such an obvious an example, to me, that the fact that it isn't mentioned makes me think I've misunderstood. Could you explain why I'm wrong?
  • July 28, 2012
    Hum, not everybody knows about Tron. Besides, you just mentionned it, so it's been taken care of (by the way, yes, it qualifies).

    Besides, for example, I happen to know about Tron myself, but basically signed up to take care of Noob, making it the only thing I thought of when I first replied.

    @PsychoFreaX: Not to be confused with RPG Mechanics Verse, where a fantasy setting just happens to work like a RPG, with the possibility of Deep Immersion Gaming sometimes hinted at but never shown (with it being never made clear being part of the point).

    Edit : A good way of telling the difference between the two tropes : (to me at least)
    • RPG Mechanics Verse: The existence of player behind the characters is at best hinted at, probably by them slipping out of character or speaking about their stats in Role Playing Game Terms.
    • Set Inside A Game: The presence of players is acknowleged, usually by having them talk about their real life like it's no big deal.
  • July 28, 2012
    I know Tron took place inside a computer, but was it actually inside a game? Seems more of a Cyber Space case to me...
  • July 28, 2012
    • Guilded Age takes place inside a computer game created by sorcery. The Big Bad is actually a company exec/programmer trying to "crash" the game so he can rescue five Deep Immersion Gamers trapped inside. Trouble is, it's strongly implied that the gameworld has its own, real existence, and that the Five have actually become their characters.
  • July 28, 2012
    The final story arc of Yugioh has Yami (and later other characters) seemingly go back in time to when Yami was Pharoah Atem. However Yami discovers at one point that he hasn't gone back in time at all, but is actually playing a RPG-style Shadow Game against Yami Bakura.
  • July 28, 2012
    More to be edited soon.
  • July 29, 2012
    Tip for adding people's examples: just hit the pencil button on the chosen comment, then copypaste the stuff in the edit pane. That way you capture all the markup and don't need to re-add it.
  • July 29, 2012
    • Subverted in Order Of The Stick - the story just happens to take place in a world that runs on D&D rules, not in an actual D&D game (though there are references to D&D in-story).
  • July 29, 2012
    The Community episode "Digital Estate Planning".
  • July 29, 2012
    I think its a good idea to move the "Not to be confused..." part up to the main text and out of the examples.
  • July 30, 2012
    The Order Of The Stick is actually a concrete example of RPG Mechanics Verse. In a way, this trope can be the equivalent to All Just A Dream for what seems like RPG Mechanics Verse is some cases. In that perpective, the mere mention of some the works here may be a spoiler.
  • July 31, 2012
    Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego. Each episode begins and ends with a shot of the kid playing the game.
  • July 31, 2012
    Existenz has so many virtual reality games-within-games that it's unclear which is the real world.
  • July 31, 2012
    The Dungeons And Dragons cartoon from the 80's was this.
  • August 1, 2012
    You mean like Jumanji? Or using Inside A Computer System as with Spy Kids 3D

    Or if I interpret it completely differenly, I've always wondered what it would be like to do a parody live-action movie of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. (For example, I would do an instant cut from my character holding one gun in his hands to another gun, just as when you scroll down mousewheel on the PC for weapons. Or, I would have the character speak cheat codes into a telephone and then a tank would spawn in his house, etc...)

    Sorry if these are all off the mark.
  • August 2, 2012
    @Jonnhy B : I don't think the Dungeons And Dragons cartoon is an example. It's more like Trapped In Another World that happens to be a RPG Mechanics Verse.

    Jumanji (the cartoon version, at least, don't remember the movie well), is a example of the tabletop variation.

    Now, the actual reason I came back : The Noob
  • August 2, 2012
    In Code Lyoko, the characters are transported to something like a Video Game Once Per Episode, though it affects things in the real world.
  • August 2, 2012
    @Omicron, it kind of looks like this trope is already covered by Inside A Computer System. Jumanji is more when the game invades the real world (unless the original book sucked you into the game). Also, only a select couple of tropes offered here wouldn't be included in Inside A Computer System, such as Order Of The Stick and the Dungeons And Dragons cartoon.
  • August 4, 2012
    @Psycho Frea X : I'd like to give rewriting the trope idea considering the examples and similar tropes offered a try. Would you mind ?
  • November 4, 2012
    Yes if you're still around. I'm sorry I haven't been here for a while but I think I did all I can for the idea like a few other YKTTW. I'll leave it up for grabs.
  • November 4, 2012
    I might be misunderstanding the definition here, mind you.

    Web Comics
  • November 5, 2012
    Actually, you were taking so long to answer that I gave it a try.

    I mostly took examples from yours, but people lost interest and I ended up putting it up for grabs beacause I got busy in real life and was still taking care of other things. Still busy now, but guess I could dicard mine and move everything here.

    EDIT: Did what I described above.
  • November 5, 2012
    Thanks, sorry for not replying for a long time though.
  • November 5, 2012
    Re Boot is a cartoon set inside a computer where the characters occasionally have to take part in games that are uploaded.
  • November 5, 2012
    Batch edit of namespaces, grammar, spelling, and italicization. Zero Context Examples still need to be fixed.
  • November 6, 2012
    Took care of zero context for the works I know.