Created By: Ambi Valent on October 17, 2009
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The Game Plays You

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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.
Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • October 15, 2009
    Nitz
    Specifically about characters who are somehow 'tricked' into a game, not a game which laters develops in a more real experience, right?
  • October 15, 2009
    DarkSasami
    Gonna be a whole lot of confusion between "Do you want to play a game?" and "Would you like to play a game?"
  • October 15, 2009
    Unknown Troper
  • October 15, 2009
    foxley
  • October 15, 2009
    Ambi Valent
    @Nitz: Yes, exactly. The character agrees to the game, but would not if he knew about the consequences.

    Ender's Game is probably a borderline case, as Ender is forced to play it, but the authorities couldn't really punish him, for then they'd damage the best strategist they had.

    I think Saw doesn't belong here - his victims basically had no chance. If I had to choose between adding either both Ender's Game and Saw or neither, I'd say neither.

    On the other hand, War Games is a good example.
  • October 15, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    In Jumanji the kids aren't asked to start, they just do it on their own when they find the board. However, it otherwise fits because they are unaware of the real life consequences until the game is in play and they can't stop.
  • October 15, 2009
    RhymeBeat
    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.
  • October 15, 2009
    dotchan
  • October 15, 2009
    Iron Salticus
    Liar Game is not this trope, as the stakes are made perfectly clear from the very beginning. Unless, of course, you count opening the package.
  • October 15, 2009
    random surfer
    The Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode "Move Along Home". Quark gets into a game, then discovers that his "pieces" are the senior officers and anything bad that happens to his game pieces happens to them. What will happen if he loses? Nothing. "It's just a game."
  • October 15, 2009
    Ryusui
    Call it Dangerous Games; what else?
  • October 15, 2009
    Assistant
    I could swear Zathura had the "Would you like to play" line in some form.
  • October 16, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Not sure if this qualifies: - in one Vampire The Masquerade scenarion, a pair of vampire elders is playing a game of chess in the Elysium. This coincides with a series of strange deaths across the city. as it turns out the victims are the elders' mooks, mind controlled into recreating the effects of the game. (for example one 'rook' is a track driver who would run over the pawns she 'beats' )
  • October 16, 2009
    Ambi Valent
    Move Along Home might count as inversion, as Quark agreed to the game before realizing the officers were the game pieces.

    The vampire chess game isn't this trope, but Human Chess.
  • October 16, 2009
    Ambi Valent
    Thinking about Nitz' comment again:

    I remembered the Truth or Dare game from a Doug episode, where Roger and his henchmen make the tasks increasingly embarassing. It could count as Roger proposed the game in the first place for this purpose.

    On the other hand, if a game started harmlessly, but the players themselves raise the stakes by making tasks harder and punishments greater it would be another trope (not sure if it already exists).
  • October 16, 2009
    Iron Salticus
    @Ambi Valent: How is Move Along Home an inversion? That's exactly how this trope works: people agreeing to games before realizing what the "game" really is. The Bokurano kids didn't know they were getting into a suicidal interuniverse war; the Jumanji kids didn't know the board game was magic; the hacker in War Games didn't know actual nukes were involved; and so on.
  • October 16, 2009
    Ambi Valent
    Well, I'll take that out - if there is consensus that it's an inversion, it will be corrected after launch.
  • October 16, 2009
    Ambi Valent
    By the way, is the current title OK, or should it be changed to Dangerous Games?
  • October 16, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    How about The Game Plays You?
  • October 16, 2009
    rjung
    If War Games is the trope namer, then to avoid a Beam Me Up Scotty, it must be Shall We Play A Game. Preferably spoken through an antiquated monotonic text-to-speech synthesizer, of course. ;-)

    And to nitpick, in War Games, the kids really were playing a simulation at first (with the only consequence being illegally hacking into NORAD and starting an unauthorized simulation in the command center). Things became Serious Business only when they started a second sim which got interrupted, which caused the WOPR computer to freak out and switch from "simulation" to "live"...
  • October 16, 2009
    Ambi Valent
    I think The Game Plays You makes the content clearer than the other proposed titles.
  • October 16, 2009
    rjung
    The War Games and Bokurano should have descriptions of how they fit the trope. As How To Write An Example teaches us, "If you don't explain how a show used a given trope, what have you really said?"
  • October 16, 2009
    Nasrudith
  • October 16, 2009
    random surfer
  • October 17, 2009
    Jallen
    Yu Gi Oh, the only card game that could cost you your soul.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=ktuzod4qfbglumfbuklby4f2&trope=TheGamePlaysYou