Speculative Fiction Trope. RPG Mechanics Verse Subtrope. Might need a better title. Any webcomics or published works fit the bill? Thanks for those listed :)
-Note: I like what I've read at places like "The Video Game Plot" community on fanfiction.net . This would be where I make a Fanfic Recs Page, but there's no direct parent trope available. I believe that the common tag of 'Life is a Game' violates the No New Stock Phrases rule. Current title inspired by DAN 004. Open to more suggestions.
You're living an otherwise normal life when weird things start happening. You find yourself hearing voices or seeing things you never were aware of before. You find yourself bound by strange rules and, when they come into conflict with what you had accepted as physical laws, it's often physics that break first. You're still in the same world and your friends and family are living out their lives. If you have a day job or a school schedule you may still have to show up, even if it means facing endless repetitions of what you remember
. Congratulations, you're at the corner of a Game Mechanics Verse
and a Broken Masquerade
There's many ways your path can take and, even surrounded by familiar people, you might be forced to go alone.
- Diegetic Interface: You're being followed by something like a bodiless narrator, text boxes that hang in mid-air or a book that keeps rewriting itself. Whether you interact by thought or touch or voice command, you now have a personal menu, usually one only you and maybe certain others can perceive and interact with. If there's a 'Save-Load' feature, expect to start seeing checkpoints, justified or not, that you can scum from. You might have a weightless Player Inventory or an accurate Quest Journal. The world around you might politely pause during complicated interactions, to give you time to make up your mind. You may even unlock the great ability to affect the paused world and have those changes stick.
- New Game+: After reaching a milestone, usually your first death or the end of a life-changing adventure, you're pulled out of your personal narrative and forced back along your history. You might see a Title Screen bearing your name as well as your rank and score. If you reached enough objectives you might already have unlocked avatars to change who you are and where you came from. If you're lucky, you won't have to start from too far back. If not, baby food does come in interesting colors...
- Character Customization: You may find yourself following a Class and Level System. By meeting objectives or grinding, you might gain unique powers. If your 'normal' life already had magic these can appear on the surface to mesh with existing abilities but often, on closer inspection, they won't follow 'universal' rules, often being Vancian Magic implants. If you're able to form a party, this may allow your companions to level up as well.
Yes, you're in a subtrope of RPG Mechanics Verse
. In most of those worlds and stories it's generally not surprising to the average denizen that physics works by die mechanics or that the tech/magic for Head's Up Displays exist
, but this trope focuses on plots where 'reality' comes as a complete surprise to at least one character. It could be that they're seeing behind a Masquerade
for the first time to the Character Sheet they've always had
, or they're leaving behind their Muggle
society for a more Genre Savvy
It could be an artificial intrusion of an apparently programmed interface that either acts as a barrier/overlay to the underlying reality or begins to rewrite it, such as a gameshow being enforced by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens
or a pantheon's main god deciding one day to literally play with dice. It could be a freshly minted pocket universe populated by clones of 'real' people without their consent or a "Groundhog Day" Loop
where the only way to break it is to play the game
. The universe can even start acquiring updates/patches with or without an approachable system administrator
While the main focus is on video games and the visual tricks they pull this is also open to statless board games
and, in theory, there could easily be a character invaded by a pure Tabletop RPG
. An intangible Dungeon Master
could suddenly start 'following' someone around audibly narrating their actions
and allowing them to ask for dice rolls that affect/overwrite causality.
Compare No Fourth Wall
. Acts as a Game Changer
. Relative of Trapped in TV Land
and The Game Come to Life
. Situations where it might be a surprise to the audience that the world runs on video game logic, but not to the characters
better fit in with the supertrope
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Fan Works – Peggy Sue
- Harry Potter: Game of the Year Edition by Casey W has a Harry Potter Peggy Sue from his accidental death at the graveyard to a New Game+ of avatar statues. It takes him two tries to get all the way from his parents' death to his eleventh birthday, but he does unlock a secret 'wand select' menu and a pleasant print manual for the beta-test of his system.
- Harry Potter and the Train to Nowhere by Joshua The Evil Guy has a Harry Potter Take a Third Option at Kings Cross Station. "Harry Potter and the Arcade" has a slightly bugged avatar selection, an epically expanded interface and the theme music's nice. Even on Easy mode, the world is huge and full of secrets, Challenges, Creation Stations and a rigid checkpoint system that forcibly rewinds Harry when he fails Objectives. Fortunately he has a Pause function and boosts from his equipment and familiars. Battle is carried out Final Fantasy style and Harry builds his party from a selection of canon and crossover characters.
- The Adventures Of Harry Potter, the Video Game: Exploited by michaelsuave has a Harry Potter die in the Forbidden Forest and wind up in front of a Game Over screen. After going a bit nuts he winds up in a version of Surrey bounded by an Invisible Wall and full of quests and secrets like the very painful cat Arena. He quickly finds he can grind simple tasks by failing them repeatedly and that jumping costs no endurance, unlike walking, so he bounds everywhere as he does everything he can to make his level and stats climb higher and higher...
- Harry Potter: New Game Plus by brenco opens with Harry Potter watching his Good Ending scroll by as a text epilogue. After starting his New Game+ he finds that the Hogwarts staff has been shuffled. Many characters have been reduced to Stock NPCs, although Hagrid manages to override his static programming and hug the boy when Harry has a breakdown. Exploiting a clipping bug, Harry manages to escape into the 'real world' where he lives comfortably for a few years until he finds out about how games work and, after a lot of research, decides to go back in. One of the chapters is a Strategy Guide for a very variable SNES RPG starring our hero...
- Naruto: Game of the Year Edition by Majin Hentai X has a Naruto Peggy Sue from his death at the Valley of the End to an arena of unlockable avatar statues. Each statue is a timeline in need of repair and the dedicated sysadmin staff may actually be Shinto gods. The amount of severe Game Breaking Bugs means that Jiraiya gets signed on as support staff. Too bad he's a target for assassins from soon after his birth - takes him a ''long'' time to make it to the first checkpoint.
- Naruto: Ramen Days by Rathanel has Naruto Peggy Sue from his death at the Sand-Sound Invasion to just before the Wave Arc. The interface is supposed to be a lot more user friendly, but the kyubii has disabled the hint menu, so it takes him five lives to make it past the tutorial and reach the first checkpoint after the Chunin Exams, which means it's impossible for him to reload and save the life of the Hokage before he knew he was in danger. His unlocked teammates see the menus and retain memories through reloads as well.
- Death's Favorite Game by TheSilentJackofallTrades has Master Chief complete Halo 3 on Legendary mode, unlocking avatars and a ton of perk-granting acheivements, then Peggy Sue to before the Fall of Reach on Easy mode, where he dies almost immediately...
- In the Life is A Game Multiverse a shared cast of Reality Warpers try to save worlds by empowering characters. There is no free saving or loading, no resurrection of KO'd protagonists (other than controlled bouts in Marvel vs. Capcom) and all reality resets come at a great cost. That said, it gets pretty over the top. PCs unlocking harems is also a recurring theme.
- One of their notable works, Mass Effect: Life is a Game by 117Jorn, has a Reality Warper offer Male!Paragon!Shepard a one-way trip from Mass Effect 3's endgame to the beginning of the series. Upon arriving in his past, Shepard realizes that a Female!Renegade!Shepard! has accidentally fallen into his world as well, so he introduces her as his wife.
Fan Works – Standard Overlay
- Harry Potter and the Munchkins by Schwepcn has Harry Potter gaining video game powers on his eleventh birthday. In this Alternate Universe, all wizards are players so discussions of maximizing feats and stats are everywhere, but Harry is the only empowered protagonist alive (owls are his justfied save points). Keeping his reloading abilities secret he takes Save Scumming to epic levels with at least one time-turning raid on the Ministry and entire years of alternate timelines spent at Brazil and New Zealand wizarding schools. Solo adventure although Luna is apparently living through all branching paths at once.
- Harry Potter the Game by Lord-Drakos has an invisible, enchanted Skyrim manual teleport into ten-year old Harry's room under the stairs. He immediately respecs his bloodline for the racial bonuses and puts a bunch of skill points into DADA.
- Naruto: life is a Game by RebukeX7, part of the Life is A Game Multiverse, has Naruto read further down the forbidden scroll than the Kage Bunshin and transform the world. Killing him will end the nuttiness of the game overlay, which becomes at least one character's motivation.
- A chapter in dogbertcarroll's Flickering Lights has Cordelia wishing that Xander's Karma would catch up with him. While the actual memory is quickly repressed, he gets some quality time with a Shadowrun Character Sheet that lets him use his accumulated experience, aka 'Karma', to respec his Flaws and Edges, boost his stats and resources, and Awaken as a Shaman.
Film – Live Action
- When Shirou stumbles into the "Heaven's Feel" ritual and becomes a master in Fate/stay night he's gifted with a viewable Character Sheet that explains about the Heroes, their skills, stats and abilities, all in RPG Mechanics Verse terms, even how many turns an area spell lasts for. More than once the characters quantify mana in dialogue, and then spend the rest of the scene treating it literally like MP. This does not get him, or much of the main cast for that matter, out of going to school.
- It should be noted, however, that Servants' abilities are something that every master views differently based on what feels natural to them. The whole 'RPG Character Sheet' method is simply Shirou's subconscious way of quantifying the information.
- Persona3 has the protagonist stumble into what amounts to a pocket universe that's merging with the real world. Awakening his Persona allows him to feel when his stats go up, usually in town or at school, and the Social Links he makes enhance his affinity for the Suits of Tarot cards he uses in patterns on a Fusion Table to summon entities.
- CLANNAD has a mundane town being influenced by an "Illusionary World" that gives orbs whenever people meet certain acheivements. The protagonists start employing Peggy Sue methods to collect them all. Viewing the Visual Novel and the anime as a linked timeline, work done in the first makes for a a happy Reset Button Ending for the family.
- As shown in the page image, Han Jee-Han wakes one morning to find he can see tags floating above the heads of everyone, including himself, because he's become The Gamer. He soon stumbles into a secret world of fighters and martial artists who can create and break instant dungeons. Han's abilities are uniquely aspected among 'natural ability users', in that he can see stats, his body and mind grow through pop-up quests and exercises, and he has a Grid Inventory. While it allows him to interact in new ways, his view of the world isn't more 'real' than anyone else's.
- When Dongtae accidentally rolls one of the Dice: The Cube That Changes Everything he allows a nebulous Game Master access to his phone. The Objectives provided give him more dice which he uses to boost his previously hidden Character Sheet which had unluckily been all ones. It's apparent from one of the sequences that all souls in his world roll for their permanent stats before starting a new life, but forget everything on being born.
- Subverted by Homestuck. No-one, besides possibly John, seems surprised that Sburb creates and manipulates physical matter. Programming languages like ~ATH can alter reality anyway. The class and tier system are game elements, but the countdown doesn't create the meteors. They were already there.