One or more characters are asked to play a game (or find a game), and are given a short description of the game. The characters agree, either because the game sounds interesting or because "everyone is playing", or just because they fear ridicule. At that point, the worst possible punishment for not playing is being called a coward.
When the game is in full swing, the players realize that there are consequences in Real Life
, and that either they or their loved ones are game pieces. The stakes have been drastically raised, and the players will have to fight to get out alive and sane.
This trope is often used to deliver An Aesop
about considering the consequences before rushing into something, even if it looks harmless at first. And in many cases, the players are indeed tweens and teens, the potential targets for the aesop.
Compare Be Careful What You Wish For
for a similar aesop. Contrast Escalating Game
(not sure if that trope exists) where the game was
harmless but the players themselves made it more dangerous.
Example works containing this trope:
- In Bokurano, the children explore a cave and find Kokopelli, who says he's developing a Super Robot game and asks the children to sign up. As they do, they are transported back to the beach, and later find the robot they have to pilot. Only when a rival robot appears, they learn the fight is real - and it takes them even longer to realize that they're fighting for their world's survival and will die doing so.
- In Jumanji and its Spiritual Successor Zathura, the children find the game boards and start playing. It is possible to stop playing, but that means you have to live in the altered reality. Only when you finish the game the original reality is restored.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Move Along Home", Quark gets into a game, then discovers that his "pieces" are the senior officers. But even though Quark lost pieces, the officers got out unharmed in the end.
- In The Game, disillusioned businessman Nicholas van Orten gets a gift certificate for a potentially dangerous game from his brother, and signs up.
- In The World Ends with You Neku agrees to the game but does not fully understand it. Then he learns that the whole game is a way to get Back From The Dead.
- In WarGames, the Playful Hacker David hacks into a supercomputer and finds games offered there, among them "Global Thermonuclear War". His actions cause images of Soviet missiles to show up in the real defense computers. While the military doesn't retaliate because they found out it's not real, the supercomputer tries to restart the game - with real missiles.
- The games in Yu-Gi-Oh! are like this. In this case, the villains are tricked into playing the games, and punished for losing or cheating.