"The ultimate game show would be one where the losing contestant was killed."The Game Show Appearance from Hell. The characters are forced to compete in a dangerous contest where assault, battery, and even murder are either encouraged or actually the objective of the game. Tends to lend itself better to film than television, since a filmmaker can kill off characters with impunity. It's common for these stories to take place 20 Minutes into the Future, and under a corrupt government, in order to Handwave the fact that they're basically murdering people for sport. Usually, the game is televised to legions of bloodthirsty people hungry for Bread and Circuses, thus raising the question: Who are the real murderers? The contestants fighting for survival, or the spectators cheering them on? note A post-modern take on the Deadly Game is to frame it as Reality TV, à la Survivor, and a subtrope of Immoral Reality Show. A type of Public Execution. May contain a Duel to the Death or a Forced Prize Fight. Hunting the Most Dangerous Game is related, but generally lacks the "contest" element, and usually doesn't contain quite so much social commentary. A Blood Sport is a Deadly Game version of a modern spectator sport. Usually has a crew of Condemned Contestants. For an ancient counterpart, see Gladiator Games. Subtrope of Involuntary Battle to the Death.
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Anime & Manga
- Episode 2 of Weiß Kreuz does this with a game of "Human Chess" that doesn't particularly resemble chess, but which does involve forcing competitors to fight one another to death.
- Kabuto pulls this in one chapter of Naruto. Basically tells a bunch of random ninja in his prison to kill each other and whoever is alive at the end goes free. He was lying though, as his plan was to quickly find who was strongest and Orochimaru steals the winner's body.
- In the Three Tails arc, Guren does this with a group of Orochimaru's prisoners from a soon-to-be-abandoned hideout. She halts the battle after most of them are eliminated and takes a group of them with her, but kills all but a few of them when they turn on her; the remaining ones become the Quirky Miniboss Squad for the arc.
- The eponymous protagonist of Yu-Gi-Oh! has a Superpowered Anti-Hero side who has the power to turn any game at all into this. Early on, many villains use this on Yugi.
- The Death-T Arc in the manga is a series of Deadly Games orchestrated by Kaiba that he puts the heroes through in retaliation for his first loss to Yugi, but almost all of them are either blatantly rigged or tipped overwhelmingly in Kaiba's favor. For example, the first one is like Laser Tag, but while the heroes only have toy guns, their opponents are trained assassins with lethal version of the weapons. The only way they can survive is by Cutting the Knot when they can and outsmarting their foes when they can't. Kaiba himself doesn't cheat in the Final Battle, although his deck is much stronger than Yugi's from the start.
- Gantz. It's the entire point of the game.
- Not quite deadly, but Liar Game's titular game leaves most of its participants with crippling, 100-million-yen or more debts which must be repaid by any means necessary...
- Most of the matches in the Dark Tournament in YuYu Hakusho end with the loser's death. Similarly, Elder Toguro mentions that his wish if he wins the tournament is to kill the surviving members of Team Urameshi and all their friends, forcing the team to win or be massacred. Mostly averted in the Demon World Unification Tournament, as a result of Yusuke's insistence that they refrain from killing when they can.
- In the English translation of the manga version of Battle Royale (original novel listed below), the Program the students are forced into is apparently broadcast as a television show across Japan. In the novel and movie, only the winner is revealed to the public; how much of the game itself that gets revealed to the public is unclear.
- In the novel and real manga, it's ostensibly a "military experiment", so the Defense Forces of Greater East Asia will study the strategies and improvisations used by civilians under stress. Not much of the Program is revealed publicly apart from causes of death and the bloody, smiling winner; and parents are encouraged to view it as an unique form of military conscription and a patriotic duty. In the end, Sakamochi/Kitano says that this is all bullshit and the Program just a way for the dictatorship to terrorize their population into obedience.
- Deadman Wonderland is based around this.
- Played with in an issue of an early The King of Fighters manga by Tatsuya Shinjyouji. Kyo, Daimon and Benimaru have to battle Mai, Yuri and King in the streets of Osaka instead of any official KOF stadium, but in a variation it's not to save their own lives, but to save Kyo's kidnapped girlfriend Yuki, locked in an hotel room that contains a time bomb. The only way her kidnappers will tell Kyo and Co. where poor Yuki is, so they can rescue her before she's blown into smithereens is to have them win their fight in a certain time limit. And for worse, Kyo is forced to carry a cellphone that they'll use to send him the "coordinates"... and Rugal's envoys use it to "remind" him that he and his friends are running out of time. They win in the end, so they're given the instructions, manage to locate Yuki and then they bail her out of the room literally seconds away from the explosion, and Kyo even tackles her to the ground to shield her with his own body... but it turns out the bomb was actually a fake, and Yuki never was in life-threatening danger. The one behind the deal, KOF host Rugal Berstein, was just trolling Kyo and Co. For the Evulz.
- Underdog features a year-long tournament, wherein the goal is to be the sole survivor of the 200 participants that initially entered. In each round, a player wins by killing their opponent through indirect means only (meaning that they can't directly injure their opponent, confine them in a way that causes their death, or hire others to kill them.) Otherwise, anything goes.
- The manga Enigma. The characters involved have to utilize their respective super powers to solve the puzzles in order to save their own lives.
- The manga Doubt and its sequel Judge revolve around this.
- The manga Di[e]ce is about death games modeled after chess. Players are either on the white side or the black side, and are assigned the role of king, knight, bishop, etc. The games mostly consist of getting out of dangerous situations alive before the time limit is up, and slaughtering a ton of zombies, but the two king's "teams" are pitted against each other, too. The games will only end when one king kills the other.
- The main character of Bloody Junkie ends up in one of these when he tries to find answers to his brother's disappearance.
- In Eden of the East, Akira, along with 11 other people, become players in a game where the goal is to "become the savior" of Japan, armed with ten billion yen, a strange cell phone and a mysterious woman named Juiz who can make anything happen for a price. If someone uses their money in a way that is deemed "unfit" to saving Japan, they end up dragging their feet and being too passive, or if the player runs out of money, then they are "eliminated" from the game.
- Subverted when it's revealed the players aren't actually killed but have their memories erased. The Selecao that actually did die was a coincidence due to Death by Woman Scorned.
- Similarly, Future Diary. 12 people have magic diaries that can predict the future. The winner gets to become god. The winner wins by being the last person standing. Anything is allowed.
- Basilisk is this trope combined with a Romeo and Juliet plot with ninjas.
- Real Account. 10,000 people on the titular social network are summoned to cyberspace, participating in a game televised across Japan. The key to surviving is the number of followers one has on the social network, so long as one has at least one follower; these followers can drop out at any time. Of course, that isn't a safeguard against death itself, and if one player happens to die with a positive follower count, his followers die with him. It separates itself from other "death games" by actually having the audience both be participants and murderers in its choice to stick with or leave the players.
- The entire premise of Kamisama No Iutoori. Japanese schoolchildren are forced to play supernatural life-or-death versions of common children's games.
- In Magical Girl Raising Project, the Magical Girls are forced to participate in this kind of game. The Magical Girls have to collect enough Magical Candy points by helping people. The girl with the lowest amount at the end of the week is eliminated and thus killed. However, the girls soon realize that even if you have the lowest points, so long as one Magical Girl dies every week, the others are safe.
- Along the lines of Liar Game, the titular game of Tomodachi Game leaves its losers with crippling debt.
- Side Two of The Firesign Theatre's Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him album includes a sketch of a game show called "Beat the Reaper", in which the contestant must identify the deadly disease he's been injected with in time to receive the antidote before it kills him.
- Sort of mentioned in a story arc of Wolverine by Frank Tieri. It featured a version of Survivor set in Alaska. When an ancient Francophile vampire wizard showed up and started killing the contestants, the network boss thought it made a great show that could boost the slipping sales. If only the vampire could contain himself and would only eat the people voted off...
- In Ultimate Marvel, Krakoa is an island where mutant criminals are hunted down as a televised (and/or online) series. The X-Men end up there twice, and one time Spider-Man gets pulled along with them.
- ...and, of course, Mojo's Mojoworld, where the X-Men ended up anytime somebody wanted to make fun of television. Arcade's Murderworld also fits the bill, usually involving some kind of giant pinball machine. For the record? Mojo is a morbidly obese blob with mechanical spider legs and Arcade wears a leisure suit. You decide which is more repulsive.
- The Lobo story "Unamerican Gladiators" features a deadly game show taking part on a planet that was a gigantic violence-themed theme park. The contestants had to complete a number of tasks, trying to kill each other while avoiding deadly traps... as well as answer some quiz questions to win valuable prizes.
- Judge Dredd:
- This showed up on at least three separate occasions; one early story featured an underground game show entitled 'You Bet Your Life' where stupid, greedy saps wagered the lives of their closest loved ones (and their own) on trivia questions. A later story had a failed game show host put his old rivals through a crazy contest with endless fatal results "Congratulations! You win a golden bullet!" BAM! A third story saw a quiz show where a contestant's correct answers would let him to pick a number between 1 and 10 which would spring a booby trap in his rival contestant's own city block, one of the numbers triggering a flesh disintegrator planted beneath their own seat; the show's host didn't particularly care if correct answers were actually given though and would let contestants pick a number, anyway.
- Actual wars between cities in Dredd are sometimes conducted as a Deadly Game between small teams of Judges representing each city, as a less-destructive alternative to nuking still more of the planet. Such wars are always televised, complete with running sportscaster-style commentary.
- Deadpool: Games of Death sends the merc with a mouth on a retrieval mission on an underground game show where contestants fight for their survival against the daily challenges, as well as the deadly traps contained within.
- The Simpsons Comic: Homer has landed in at least one of these.
- In Joker's Asylum, the Joker takes over an ordinary game show, with the intention of making it one of these, by killing anyone who gets the questions wrong. It turns out the Joker, for once, had no intention of killing anyone. He just likes terrifying the contestants, who believe he is going to kill them, and is actually recording the producer, who is ordering his people to keep the police out in the hopes the Joker will kill someone, as it will boost their ratings. The point was to show how messed up the producer and the people at home watching the show are for going along with him.
- The televised battles of downtown Chicago's "poli-clubs" serve as this in American Flagg!.
- The entire premiss of Avengers Arena has teen heroes off Marvel being forced into one of these at the machinations of the villain Arcade. The first few covers contain homages to several others series using this trope.
- The film adaptations of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.
- Series 7: The Contenders uses the reality show device.
- The 2007 movie The Condemned keeps the setting in the present day, and handwaves the legal issues of it by putting the proceedings on a deserted island, and broadcasting them via the Internet.
- Let's not forget the "Tryouts" that the Joker gives to those thugs in The Dark Knight.
- The Saw series is based entirely around "games" where people are forced to either torture themselves or die painfully.
- A voluntary version occurs in The 10th Victim.
- This is the premise of the Death Race.
- The 2009 movie Gamer starring Gerard Butler. Death row convicts can allow themselves to be implanted with Nanomachines that allow someone else to control their motor functions. If that someone else is good enough to make it through 30 battles with them, they are released. However, the true terrors are the others in the game, normal inmates who are stuck looping silly behaviors like sweeping up the battlefield or flashing their breasts to the audience. However, the movie focuses on something else after thirty minutes.
- Given the trailer, it seems this is what The Belko Experiment is. The movie starts where 80 white-collar Americans are locked in their office building located in Bogotá, Colombia; an unknown voice coming over the intercom says that if 30 of them are not dead in an hour, 60 of them will be killed. Given the other scenes in the trailer, it seems most are indeed willing to murder their co-workers to escape.
- The Tournament has world-class assassins competing for the top spot.
- 13 Tzameti features competitive Russian Roulette.
- The Running Man: See entry under Literature for details. It seemed the dystopian future setting had more televised games like the eponymous one; there was a commercial for another game called Climbing for Dollars a contestant climbing a rope over a pit filled with angry Dobermans while pulling money off the rope. Partway up a pipe would blast the contestant with gas to try and make him fall.
- The German TV movie "Das Millionenspiel" from 1970 is about a man who has to survive seven days while being hunted by a gang of killers. Prize if he survives: One million German marks. The population can help him or rat him out, as they like. Some people took the film for real and asked whether they could become either the candidate or the hunters. Unfortunately, for legal reasons the movie was forbidden to be broadcast for almost thirty years (had to do with being based on the Short Story "The Prize of Peril" by Robert Sheckley.)
- Deathrow Gameshow: Prisoners on death-row compete in deadly games for a chance at a reprieve.
- Slashers, about a Japanese game show producing an All-American special episode. Contestants entered a maze-like paintball course, converted for ambiance, to try to outlive three Axe-Crazy, crowd-pleasing professional maniacs. The one and only camera was also a character, the game show's cameraman, provoking a lot of Genre Savvy observations whenever the contestants became aware of him.
- The 2011 film Freerunner is a Deadly Game run for the amusement of bored plutocrats around the world who bet on the survival of the Freerunners.
- Panic Button
- Films set in the Roman Empire will often feature gladiatorial combat, which was Truth in Television for the era, although fighting to the death was rare among actual gladiators. Well known examples include:
- In one of the last cities in the frozen, dying world of Quintet, the people occupy themselves with a tournament based on the eponymous board game, for lack of anything else to do while waiting for humanity to die out.
- Video games in the TRON universe are where hapless Programs (and displaced Users) get sent to get killed for the entertainment of other Programs (and, as implied in the first film, for arcade players in the analog world, who have no idea what they are actually doing)!
- In 13 Sins, contestants are charged with 13 tasks of increasing deadliness with increasing rewards. Quitting at any time forfeits all of the cash. Contestants are observed via the ubiquitous security cameras.
- In Rob Zombie's 31 contestants have to kill their opponents or survive within a period of twelve hours to 'win' the game.
- The prisoners in Breathing Room are told that they're in a Deadly Game and that one of them will earn their freedom. It's actually a rigged training exercise for deep cover operatives.
- Rollerball: The highest number of deaths during a game is nine, according to a Rollerball statistics fan. This is before the rule changes introduced during the film.
- Ur-Example is probably The Most Dangerous Game (1924), a short story by Richard Connell, subsequently adapted as an eponymous film. It is a Trope Namer of Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.
- Robert Sheckley was probably a Trope Codifier. "The Prize of Peril" was one of the earliest examples, inspiring many later versions. The short story posits that shows where people literally risk their lives have become extremely popular, and one of the most popular involves the contestant being hunted by criminals who have been given permission to kill. Viewers can call in to offer advice and help to the contestant—or to his hunters!
- Even earlier is his short story "The Seventh Victim", adapted into film as "The Tenth Victim" (and subsequently novelized as such by the same author).
- The short science fiction story Survivor, by Walter F. Moudy, is set during the 2050 Olympic War Games between the US and Russia. The games are designed to make clear the horrors of war to the public, and are therefore televised. 100 soldiers on each side, with rifles, machine guns and mortars, are placed in a large camera-laced arena with battlefield terrain such as forests, hills and a lake, and must fight it out until all of one side is killed. The titular survivors are hailed as heroes, and the loser pays restitution to the winner. The broadcasters use color commentary, closeups, and special tech, much like sports. "Here's Private John Smith of Columbus, Ohio, a graduate of Johnson High School, running towards base — ooh, he just got shot! Let's watch on slow-motion — yes, you can see the bullet going into his throat, and our super-microphone confirms that his heart is no longer beating. Any comments, Jim?" "Well, it's obvious the Russians have slipped a sniper team in on the left flank, Bob, and that could be bad for Squad Two..."
- The creepy part is what happens to the "Survivor". His reward is to be not bound by any of the laws of his country, but he's still protected by them. The story ends with one of the viewers hearing his daughter will be another casualty of war.
- The short story "All the King's Horses" by Kurt Vonnegut centers on a group of 16 POWs and family members. The group's captor forces them to play chess for their lives, with themselves as the white pieces; every "piece" captured during the game is immediately dragged away and executed.
- Richard Bachman (a pen name for Stephen King) has a couple of examples:
- Both the book and the movie The Running Man are centered on a deadly game, though the game itself is very, very different between the two. (The book presages the Reality TV form of the trope; the film version is American Gladiators with death.)
- An earlier novel (The Long Walk) also centered on the Deadly Game trope.
- More or less the point of the book Battle Royale and the film and manga based on it, in which randomly-selected junior-high-school classes were singled out by The Government, brought to an isolated island, and forced to fight each other to the death. Although this is less of a game than a government procedure.
- The Pendragon Adventure does this with its eighth book, the Quillan Games, in which Bobby has to participate in the titular games. If he doesn't win, he dies.
- In The Hunger Games, as can be inferred by the title, this is the main plot. 24 teenagers aged 12 to 18 are drafted to compete in a televised fight to the death. The titular Games started out as a government intimidation tactic by the hand of the wealthy Capitol, to repress the rebellion efforts of the outlying Districts. The Capitol spun this as a form of entertainment for the Capitol, and it eventually evolved into a game, complete with interviews, spotlights and publicity.
- The basic plot is more or less similar to Battle Royale (but it's a coincidence, as the author only learned of the Japanese one as she delivered it to the publisher). And the Games are televised and popularized and seen as big entertainment by the public, whereas in Battle Royale it's a secretive program to suppress the nation's youth.
- In the Geronimo Stilton book "Watch Your Whiskers, Geronimo!" the main character goes on a late-night game show called The Mousetrap, where contestants are strapped to a large mouse trap that snaps shut whenever they give a wrong answer. Since this is a children's series, the worst that will happen is Geronimo might lose his tail, which is still a pretty bad outcome, as far as Geronimo's concerned.
- Goosebumps has one of the most bizarre examples ever: The Beast From the East, in which human children play a twisted game of "tag" against giant alien bear monsters, where the loser gets eaten. Rules include (but are not limited to):
- Stepping on a "Free lunch square" means you're an instant snack. (You can escape if a cloud happens to cast shade.)
- Touching a "Penalty Rock" gets you locked in a hanging cage, and you can only get out by eating a tarantula.
- Getting bitten by a snake actually gives you points.
- Friday The13th The Jason Strain, which has several Condemned Contestants put on a Southern island, with the winner getting a reduced sentence and transfer to a cushy minimum security facility. Along with Jason (a "special guest") the roster includes the framed main character, a mass murderer, a white supremacist, two serial killers, an Angel of Death nurse, a black widow, a serial rapist, a mob boss, and three street gang members.
- In an Anthony Horowitz short story, there was a reality quiz show where contestants had to answer trivia questions. If you got one wrong, you were killed in a rather gruesome way. The "winner" is ultimately killed at the end by contestants on another show whose task is to steal a million pounds - so they just shoot him and take his prize money.
- The Big Question, a book written by Chuck Barris, is about a game show where a group of people are asked questions about their chosen area of expertise, and when it comes down to one contestant, they're asked the titular Big Question; if they get it wrong, they are killed via lethal injection. The premiere is heavily rigged, because nobody's going to watch it if they don't immediately prove they'll actually kill someone. The questions are favored towards a little old lady named Vera Bundle, and after missing the final question (an unanswerable open-ended one about the length of the Great Wall of China), she's killed. The show sparks widespread outrage and is canceled two weeks later.
- Kim Newman has an Epistolary Novel-styled short story called Going To Series. The backstage memos of a company gearing up to produce a show called It's A Madhouse! are laid out in such a way that you can tell that a Deadly Game is exactly what the organizers are hoping will happen, and see the lengths they are prepared to go to to ensure killer ratings. It was written and published before Big Brother or Survivor first aired. Newman later consulted for a few days on a Channel 4 show called Regency House Party and showed the story to the production team; he claims "they endorsed its surprising accuracy".
- In "A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts" by Charles Birkin, Nazi officers running a concentration camp challenge some of the Jewish prisoners to a "game". The prisoners have to score points by throwing steel balls at dummies representing the enemies of Nazi Germany, and the winner will be given a job in the kitchens where they will be able to steal scraps to give to their families. However, the dummies turn out to be the severed and papered-over heads of the prisoners' loved ones, now horribly disfigured from the steel balls. One prisoner tries to attack the guards and is shot in the crotch and left to die in agony since they refuse to "waste" a bullet by putting him out of his misery. The others are just taken outside and shot so they can't talk.
- Deconstructed in Wicked Bronze Ambition with the Tournament of Swords, a secret competition in which hidden Operators compel twelve young members of the sorcerous Hill families to fight to the death. Even Garrett can see how ridiculous it is; none of the six previous Tournaments came off as intended, as the contestants' families always united to subvert the process and hunt down the Operators instead of risking their children's lives on a one-in-twelve shot at victory.
- Government-sanctioned ones on Neshi's homeworld in The Wandering, usually consisting of a convict and a very heavily-armed robot. It is during Neshi attending one of the matches that he meets up with someone who passes along some important information leading to the mysterious Jerusalemites.
- Doctor Who has done most versions of this, from actual kid's games to the Immoral Reality Show:
- The story "The Celestial Toymaker" saw the cast forced into children's games, failure in which would mean their eternal enslavement.
- In the serial "Vengeance on Varos", the Doctor and Peri land on a planet where executions are televised as part of a Bread and Circuses system.
- The episode "Bad Wolf" did this with parodies of popular British Reality Shows set in 200,100 AD, including a version of Big Brother where a contestant who is voted out of the house actually gets disintegrated, and a version of The Weakest Link with the same punishment for elimination — or so it seems; it turns out to be a Fate Worse Than Death (being killed and having your genetic material used for Daleks). Although these have been interpreted as Deconstruction by fans, creator Russell T. Davies is known to be a fan of reality TV, and the episodes are more of an Affectionate Parody.
- In "The Wedding of River Song" the Doctor is briefly shown playing "Live Chess" (the pieces are electrified and are charged when moved) with an agent of the Silence and has manipulated his opponent into a situation where his only possible move is with a Queen that has accumulated a lethal charge. But the Doctor is willing to concede if he gets the information he wants.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- Subverted in the episode "Move Along Home". The crew seems to be trapped in a Deadly Game played by Quark and an alien. In the end, the entire crew is killed and removed from play to Quark's horror. Then they rematerialize back on the station, and the aliens who created the game are mystified by the fact that anyone would even consider that the people trapped in the game might be in real danger: it's only a game, after all.
- Played straight, however, in "Our Man Bashir", in which the main crew's transporter patterns are sent into the James-Bond-esque holosuite program Bashir and Garak are enjoying, and Bashir must keep all the characters alive to prevent the program from erasing them from the game.
- In an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Seven and Tuvok are captured and forced to do gladiatorial combat, which is broadcast across space to numerous locations. Particularly jarring in that until they see Seven fighting, the crew of Voyager is enjoying these matches. Said episode features a cameo from The Rock. To be fair, though, only some of the matches were to the death. The Rock's cameo was a non-lethal bout which Seven lost, called a blue match. The red match she is put in later is lethal.
- The season two Hyperdrive episode involving 'Death Game'.
- The episode "Judgment Day" in the The Outer Limits (1995) series did a version of this with a reality TV show in which convicted criminals are hunted down on camera as their punishment.
- The Year of the Sex Olympics features the titular games being pre-empted for "The Live Life Show", in which a family is taken to a Scottish island and murdered brutally - in this world, even non-stop pornography is less popular than snuff, apparently.
- The Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "Upperclass Twit of the Year" features a contest where various upper-class twits (it's a straightforward title) race to finish an obstacle course with challenges like unhooking a bra from a mannequin or running in a straight line. The last challenge? Shooting themselves in the head.
- An interesting twist was seen in an episode of The Prisoner with members of the Village taking part in a giant chess game with themselves as the pieces. It's not meant to be fatal, but one 'piece' who decides to move on his own initiative is subject to forced brainwashing.
- The Twilight Zone (2002) featured an episode promptly titled "How Much Do You Love Your Son?" in which a reality show kidnaps a woman's son and said mother has to track down the kidnapper before it's too late. The twist is that the woman's ex-husband was the kidnapper and was in on the whole thing. The trauma she suffered from the game prompts her to shoot him, causing her to win but now have to use the prize money for an attorney.
- Saturday Night Live:
- The Digital Short "The Tizzle Wizzle Show" combines this with Subverted Kids Show. It involves giving the kid show hosts knives, drugging them, turning off the lights and then fighting to the death until one is left standing. Apparently, the hosts enjoy and willingly play the game.
- Another SNL skit featuring Chris Farley parodied Japanese game shows. It seemed to be just a Japanese counterpart to Jeopardy, with three contestants being asked questions by a host. However, it turns out that if you get the question wrong, you have to kill yourself. Farley's character, a Fish out of Water American who doesn't understand whats going on, blunders his way to the final round, where getting the questions wrong gets him electrocuted.
- The Sliders episode "Rules of the Game" finds our heroes competing in a dangerous adventure-quest-type game show where the losers die.
- The Tokusatsu show Kamen Rider Ryuki was all about this: An unwilling Hero, an Anti-Hero, an Action Girl and a bunch of Jerkasses are drawn into an alternate dimension populated with maneating monsters. Then everyone gets a Power Armor, a Mechanical Monster as a Bond Creatures and... a deck of cards. And these guys are all more or less adults. With this equipment, they get to fight each other to the death, with the last survivor being granted a wish by the mysterious host of this Deadly Game called "Rider War". It turns out that the host has no intention on keeping his word. He has all those people fighting for their lives and killing each other so that he can use his overpowered Kamen Rider Odin, actually a puppet who is an extension of his will (sucks to be the poor sap who put on the suit) in order to win the wish, using it to save his sister. Considering that Kamen Rider is normally a franchise of Superhero shows, Ryuki was received as a case of Deconstruction; an attempt to make an already pretty Dark and Edgy series even Darker and Edgier.
- Ironically, the American adaptation Kamen Rider Dragon Knight is more true to the genre than it is to its source material, reverting back to the "Henshin Heroes fighting monsters to save the world" theme. It also keeps one of the best aspects of Ryuki - each Rider having his own story and each desiring to gain something different by participating. What each one thinks the battle between Riders really is differs from Rider to Rider. (At least one thinks he's Fight Clubbing.) In truth, the bad guy has almost all of the Rider decks. Each only works for its designated user, so he has to get the Earthen doubles of the Riders of his dimension to fight for him, usually by either trickery, or messing with their lives behind the scenes and then sweeping in to offer them the only way out.
- Kamen Rider Ex-Aid has a video game theme and a medical theme in one. The villains are basically both kinds of virus at once, programs based on in-universe video game villains arising from humans suffering from the 'game disease.' It turns out the mysterious "Kamen Rider Chronicle" game the main villains want to create is very much this: it allows you to become a Rider-like warrior called a Ride Player and battle the Mooks and monsters in the real world. There are two catches they don't tell you: one, "Game Over" means you die. Two, from the moment you first transform you are infected with the game disease, and so must win or die anyway!
- Two episodes of Blake's 7 featured these.
- The episode "Gambit" includes a game of chess, where the players are strapped into electric chairs during the game, and when it is over the loser gets fried. The winner, of course, wins an obscene amount of money. Needless to say, Vila and Avon can't resist the prize and elect to cheat, after they've already scammed the casino out of a fairly substantial sum with the help of Orac.
- The episode "Death-Watch" features a one-on-one duel to the death conducted between representatives of two planets who use the duels as a substitute for all-out interplanetary war. The events are broadcast widely, and of course nobody could possibly want to interfere with them for their own political gain.
- "The Tale of the Forever Game" in Are You Afraid of the Dark?.
- The Murdoch Mysteries episode "The Artful Detective" has an early 20th century version, minus the wide audience. A group of people who are desperate for money (and one Egomaniac Hunter) agree to attempt to kill each other for the entertainment of a bookmaker and his clients. The results are published in a local racing paper, disguised as a non-existent race. When Murdoch starts getting too close, a new "horse" is added to the listings: the Artful Detective.
- The entire premise of Inquizition.
- Theoretically, the real life game show Downfall could have been played off like one (they managed to get Chris Jericho to host too!), had they not tried to avert it as much as possible and point out they were not trying to be evil.
- However, what ABC put into the "post-Wipeout slot" one year later, 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show, is a lot more justifiable as a deadly game, or at least something that's so overly ridiculous that it can easily be played off as one.
- Invoked by the French made-for-TV documentary Le Jeu de la Mort, which performed Stanley Milgram's famous peer influence experiment with the added element of Reality TV. The test subjects were supposedly being paid to participate as contestants on a Game Show pilot, La Zone Xtrême. As with the original experiment, they were to administer increasingly powerful shocks to someone else (who was a trained actor, much like the original) as punishment for answering questions wrong; ranging from from "mild buzz" to "lethal". But this time, the subject was prodded on by both the host and a Studio Audience to deliver the shocks. Out of the 80 people who auditioned, 64 of them, or 80%, went all the way to the highest level of shock, as they were instructed.
- The Japanese game show DERO! was played off as one, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek — contestants who lost a round were talked about as if they had just died, but the "deaths" were blatantly fake (and this was quite clearly intentional), and everyone would appear back on camera after the round without so much as a scratch (except for the Water Room leaving players soaking wet). Each game had its own way in which contestants could "die" and lose the round, such as having the Malevolent Architecture dump them into a Bottomless Pit made of Conspicuous CG, or cutting the wrong wire in a Wire Dilemma and being "blown up" with a blast of CO2 smoke effects.
- Several Sci Fi Channel and Syfy game shows, including Exit (an American version of DERO! that plays itself off even more seriously than the original), Estate of Panic, and Total Blackout, have emulated this trope, subjecting losing teams to simulated death traps or dropping them into unlighted pits "never to return".
- The 2002 Fox game show The Chamber was probably the closest thing to a legitimately and potentially deadly game in real life. Contestants had to answer questions while locked inside a torture chamber, where they endured extreme heat and cold that got worse with each level. Unaired episodes included electricity, fire, and insects. The kicker? The cold Chamber's winds at Level 4 and up could cause extreme frostbite — and there were seven levels. Fortunately, the show was canceled after only three episodes (a total of six were filmed), before any contestants could get seriously injured, though Game Show Garbage reports that at least one contestant sued the show's producers after he was hospitalized from it.
- Another Fox show, the 2001 reality game show Murder In Small Town X, did this in kayfabe. It featured its contestants as investigators trying to solve a series of murders in small-town Maine. The method of getting Voted off the Island? Getting "murdered" by the killer. Ironically, the winner of the show, FDNY firefighter Ángel Juarbe, Jr., died on 9/11 — just one week after the final episode aired.
- Hellevator on GSN, a show in which a team of three contestants must complete three challenges themed around horror movies, all while being stalked and chased by masked maniacs who "kill" them if they fail the challenge.
- Meanwhile, in Russia, a tech millionaire named Yevgeny Pyatkovsky made headlines in 2016 by announcing a show called Game2: Winter. Essentially a hardcore version of Survivor, the show would've seen thirty contestants dumped into a 50,000-acre tract of Siberian taiga and left to survive for nine months, each of them provided with only a knife, a video camera with rechargeable batteries, and wilderness survival training from ex-Spetsnaz operatives. There would be no film crew or medical staff, only two thousand cameras rigged up to film everything remotely, though each contestant would have a "panic button" they can use for rescue via helicopter (at the cost of forfeiting the game).
The premise alone was enough to put it on this list, with all contestants signing waivers absolving the producers of any responsibility for injuries, trauma, or deaths. However, what really pushed it over the top was Pyatkovsky's explicit promise that everything would be permitted, including fighting, rape (the contestants would be evenly split along gender lines), and murder. He did backtrack when pressed on the matter of such things being against the law, reminding people that the laws of Russia would still apply, and that the authorities would prosecute any crimes committed by the contestants. In the end, it turned out that the show didn't exist and was actually a publicity stunt that Pyatkovsky had carried out for market research, leaving many people who'd signed up to participate feeling that they'd been duped and that Pyatkovsky had done little more than fuel negative Russian stereotypes (ironically, he mentioned anti-Russian sentiment as one of the reasons he'd pitched the show, as he figured that everybody would believe it).
- Whodunnit has this in its premise, as it's a Ten Little Murder Victims scenario with The Mole ",urdering" last week's eliminated contestant in a way that the contestants have to solve, with the worst being the next Victim of the Week.
- GWAR: With a battle cry go forth which is "Give the people what they want." And what the people want could only be the senseless slaughter of the gutter-slime that litters this nation for cash and prizes. Yes, this is the show where people bet their lives to win something big. 'cause when your life is shit, then you haven't got much to lose on Slaughterama!
- In the Modesty Blaise arc "Those About to Die", elite athletes and combatants (including Modesty and Willie) are kidnapped by an insane millionaire and forced to compete in gladiatorial games for his amusement.
- The titular game The Splinter is one of these.
- Suerte y Muerte is a Deadly Game television series broadcast out of Aztlan in the Shadowrun Verse. Other Blood Sport programs certainly exist, but S y M is noted for making killing out the other contestants mandatory to win.
- XCRAWL is an extensive supplement for 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons, in which the base game meets Smash TV. The party crawls through dungeons, slaying monsters, collecting loot, and saving non-combatants (like "Princesses" hired to act out the roles) for the ratings. And yes, it's televised. And your DM is perfectly justified giving out a year's supply of car wax as a prize (along with actual stuff you can use-the book advises this). The Deadly part comes in where if you die, not only do you die, but you lose points.
- The entirety of Ratchet: Deadlocked is a deadly gladitorial game.
- Smash TV has the players blasting their way through a maze filled with hordes of Mooks and gigantic cyborg bosses, all in the name of earning mountains of cash and fabulous prizes. Yay, a new VCR!
- One level of Sanity: Aiken's Artifact has the main character forced to compete on a gameshow called "Trivia Insanity", where "One Wrong Answer, and You're Dead!". Two of the four contestants (the main character himself being one) are obviously there against their will, but the third one is actually determined to win the game, and is there of his own will. The fourth is the magician you get to meet at the end of the boss fight, and he's given easy questions.
- The last level in Banjo-Kazooie for the Nintendo 64, Grunty's Furnace Fun, has a lethal board game motif. The sequel, Banjo-Tooie, had a quiz show motif with Gruntilda and her sisters playing against the heroes; the losers got a weight dropped on them.
- Dead Rising 2 features Terror Is Reality, a pay-per-view game show which is essentially American Gladiators or Takeshi's Castle is all the events revolved around killing zombies. It's also the name of a multiplayer mode based on said game show where players can transfer their winnings to their save files.
- The World Ends with You has the Reapers' Game, where recently deceased teenagers have to complete seven tasks over seven days in order to win a shot at resurrection. Failure means that their existence is erased. Meanwhile, the Reapers try to hunt the players down in order to gain points for themselves and extend their lifespan.
- This is the Excuse Plot in The Ship: Murder Party, an online multiplayer FPS. Basically, you're on a ship and a crazy guy in a mask pays you to kill your shipmates while being hunted down yourself.
- Also present in Spiritual Successor Bloody Good Time, with the Director having actors "compete" for the lead role.
- In Blast Chamber for the PlayStation, the 'players' have bombs strapped to their chests. The objective is to run down the clock on the others' bombs before they do the same to you.
- In Jets'n'Guns, there is a level in which the player has to fight through a level full of enemies to entertain the viewers of Carnage TV. There is a scene in which the announcer says that 100 viewers had won the special opportunity to be slain by the hero; when the player ship meets them, they even cheer and wave signs reading "Kill me".
- The premise of MadWorld, centering around an ultra-violent deathmatch game show.
- Unreal Tournament series revolves around Liandri Corporation gathering world's finest mercenaries, freaks, robots and aliens to duke it out on old battlefields, orbital bases, factories and other interesting locations. Unreal Tournament III, set in the same continuity and being more serious in tone, applies gadgets from the tournament like respawners and Field Lattice Array Generators to conventional warfare.
- The Killing Game Show, whose premise is All There in the Manual for those who know it as Fatal Rewind.
- Saints Row: The Third has Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax, where you run through various deathtraps shooting guys in mascot costumes and various targets for bonuses. Don't shoot the Pandas however. It's not ethical.
- Present as a gag (in the form of a radio commercial) in Grand Theft Auto III:
"Tonight...the TV event that will make history...Liberty City Survivor! This takes reality TV to a whole new level! We'll take 20 recently paroled guys, equip them with grenade launchers and flamethrowers...and let them hunt each other down!! It's the reality show where you...just might be...part of the action!!"
- The heroes of Wild ARMs 5 are offered a chance to be on TV, unfortunately it turns out to be on this sort of show. Surprisingly, the executive in charge has stated his distaste for the whole thing, but you can't argue with those kind of ratings.
- Twisted Metal is about the eponymous competition, which thrusts drivers of heavily armed vehicles into urban combat with the prize of having a single wish granted, no matter how impossible. In reality the competition is merely a system of collecting souls for Hell, be they drivers that don't survive or just the innocent bystanders who get caught in the crossfire. The host himself is a Literal Genie who frequently doesn't honor the spirit of the wish, instead granting an ironic outcome.
- The original Manhunt is a snuff-reality show combination that thrusts a prison convict into a city full of murderous thugs whom he must execute to escape alive. The ending brings it full circle, with the protagonist inflicting a gruesome fate upon the director who put him through hell on Earth.
- In Metal Gear Ac!d, Teliko was kidnapped by The Dragon La Clown and locked up in a giant board game room at the top of a tower. When Snake stumbles across her, he is trapped there as well, and they battle to the death for the right to leave, using special abilities given to them by certain squares on the board game.
- In Flashback there's Death Tower, prize for which is a trip to Earth. Forms one of the levels the hero Conrad must pass through on his mission.
- Penarium has a variation on this: the player is forced to perform for a sadistic Ringmaster who thinks nothing of complicating the tasks he assigns with a wide variety of deadly traps.
- Tales from the Borderlands has one in "Zer0 Sum", where Vaughn and Fiona get caught up in a Death Race run by Bossanova.
- Geer'AH from Vangers hosts a ritual sports festival, which is not shown, but described in lush, juicy details. Participators are usually Valorins (aka Heroines), energetic and violent beeboorats originating from Ogorod escave. Nearly all those games feature said guys killing themselves in twisted ways. The most interesting part here is that you can end up as a participant of those games. Just try and bring Geer'AH something he does not like, more than one time, and you'll be sure to regret.
- Your first encounter with Mettaton in Undertale has him forcing you to answer increasingly difficult game show questions, on pain of having half your health taken away for a wrong answer. Fortunately it's all part of Alphys and Mettaton's act; if you do badly enough Mettaton will skip to the last two questions, which are impossible to get wrong.
- Idol Death Game TV has the In-Universe 10th Anniversary Milestone Celebration Game Show within a Video Game for Dream of Dream, Dream or Death, where idols participate against one another in an idol competition (in a game promising Multiple Endings depending on the idol you're playing as, and which idol dies), hosted by a pink psycho tapir named Doripaku. The last place contestant in each round has to participate in a 'Death Concert', a Dangan Ronpa-esque execution where the idol will 'shine for the last time in her life' (read: perform their song while the DanganRonpa-esque execution occurs). Some deaths include having a muscular Doripaku throw a baseball through your chest, getting boiled and somehow surviving... then getting electrocuted, and getting mauled by a bear.
- And for a Game within a Show within a Game example, we have Dream Russian Roulette, where Death Concert victim Rito Karasuma plays an Unwinnable by Design variant of... well, Russian Roulette, with 5 Doripaku-esque tapirs where all the sandwiches are poisoned. It ends with the tapirs and Rito dead, the latter eating the poisoned sandwich.
- Averted in the D.o.D Chapter, where everybody, except Chiharu, the only playable character for this mode (and yes, that includes anybody who was mauled, blown up, incinerated etc during the course of the game), comes back to life to call out Doripaku, who goes mad and accidentally runs off the roof off the building and dies, leaving the contestants to form their own pop group, 'Perfect Live'.
- Fire Emblem Fates has a DLC series that can be seen as a version of this. The Heirs of Fates stages are based in alternate universes where the Greater-Scope Villain Anankos has destroyed several worlds following one or another possible story path (some are based after Conquest, others after Birthright), plus at least one Revelation world. Each world has a Second Generation child as its Sole Survivor, and Anankos dumps them all in the Revelation world to pit them against each other. All for his amusement. Fortunately the Revelation world's Shigure manages to keep his wit despite all the crap he's been through and, with a bit of help from Azura's soul, does his best to set himself up as the Big Good and reunite the remaining kids so they can turn the Deadly Game on its head and fight back...
- The main games of Dangan Ronpa are these. The characters are accepted into a prestigious school, but upon arrival find out that it's been converted into a prison of sorts and they're locked inside. The... "headmaster"... informs them that they may leave only if they can murder a fellow classmate and not get caught.
- This is a staple of the Zero Escape series. In each game there's a Deadly Game with different rules, mechanics, participants and masterminds. Specifically:
- Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, the very first installment, has the Nonary Game. Nine people have to risk their lives to explore a ship so they can find the exit, a door with a number 9 on it. Possible ways to die involve drowning when the time limit for the game is up, being killed by other participants, and the detonators in the bracelets triggering an explosion inside a hapless rulebreaker... in the bombs implanted in the bowels of all the players. Flipped on its head come The Reveal — only two of the nine players actually have bombs, and the game is designed for all players to make it out alive while saving Akane from an actual Deadly Game in the process.
- The Nonary Game makes a reappearance in Virtue's Last Reward, and is deadlier than before. The participants find the number 9 door right off the bat, but in order to open it they need to rack up 9 bracelet points, which are obtained through a variation of the Prisoner's Dilemma... And this little game is what can kill off the partcipants if their points get down to zero. Considering how the characters don't really trust each other, seems like it's impossible for all 9 people to escape... but once again, the game is designed for everyone to make it out alive. Even if one person escapes through the number 9 door and strands everyone else, they can still take the elevator to warehouse floor B and open that door.
- At its deadliest in Zero Time Dilemma's Decision Game, where at least six people must die for anyone to escape. And there's no trick this time around to circumvent these deaths — the game shows how the exit really only opens with six deaths. However... the characters make it out alive of Dcom by not getting trapped behind the X-Door in the first place. Yes, the only way for everyone to live is for Zero to release them at the very beginning of the videogame.
- In usr/bin/w00t, Sarah leads one of those in a Dream Sequence, featuring people who are "asshats" to computer techs.
- Last Res0rt centers around a Reality Show of the same name.
- Word of God says that players' deaths, while advertised as a selling point, are merely "encouraged" by the rules of the show (which specify that anyone who survives the season will be pardoned of all their crimes, including those committed during the show).
- Domain Tnemrot is set around one of these. The battles are to the death.
- In Dead Winter, a large group of rich people is apparently behind a game of world-renowned assassins hunting each other for sport, with the assassins and their sponsors getting the bounty when they kill on of the other participants. Apparently not all of the assassins are in the game because they want to be.
- In Jix, Lauren is abducted by the Amblians (a race similar to Jix's race, the Ambis) for a galactic show called "The Gauntlet" where the contestants are unwilling aliens captured from various planets and hunted down by the hosts. The show was cancelled when Jix came in to rescue her friend.
- This is how Morph E starts. The losers die. The winners turn into something a little different...
- This is the main plot vehicle in Hell(p). Every five years Hell's government hosts a big game where multiple teams compete for a chance to return back to life. The story is set during one of the special games where the main prize is a ticket to Heaven instead. This being Hell, the games are as brutal as it gets.
- In Nodwick, there are the Hench-Games, an annual event run by the Adventurers Guild, which are actually perfectly safe for the contestants. However, the games are played using henchmen as equipment, and it's not so safe for them. (Suffice to say that, while this attracts a lot of spectators, those with heart conditions are not advised to watch the javelin toss.) It includes such events as hench-vaulting, synchronized looting, high seas pillaging, dodge curse, trapped-chest handling, and the 200-meter dash-with-cash-a-thon. (The villains try to win by using a henchman shaped golem, which unfortunately, is not considered cheating by the Guild, who encourage dirty tricks in this reality.)
- The Survival of the Fittest program in Survival of the Fittest, which is very similar to that of Battle Royale but with slightly different rules. For example, no time limit as long as there's a death every 24 hours, the names of killers are given on the announcements, and there's a different collar design.
- Quite a few Original Character Tournaments are based around this sort of game show. The tournaments themselves are actually quite similar to this trope in some respects.
- SCP-024 is a mysterious game show whose losers are never seen again. There's also SCP-263, a TV set that forces whoever turns it on to play "Cash or Ash", which requires them to answer obscure questions about other SCPs or else spontaneously combust. It will also burn anyone it catches coaching the contestant or otherwise cheating.
- The podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour has the Punishment Soccer, a deadly take on soccer and a parody of The Hunger Games in which Pemily Stalwark fought and won.
- Journal Roleplay has "murdergames," short-term games in which an assortment of characters from various worlds are trapped in some setting and informed that the only way out is to get away with murder. The genre began with Dangan Roleplay, which was based on the Dangan Ronpa franchise.
- The Adventure Zone's Suffering Game arc is entirely one of these. It doesn't end well for anyone involved.
- The entire premise of Celebrity Deathmatch.
- The Justice League episode "Wild Cards," in which The Joker hides time bombs all throughout the Las Vegas Strip and uses hidden cameras to film the League racing to find them while simultaneously fighting the Royal Flush Gang.
- Spiderman And His Amazing Friends: "Seven Little Superheroes" sees the Chameleon try to eliminate each of the various Marvel superheroes in brutal fashion, one-by-one. He uses drones disguised as each of the good guys in a "kill or be killed" game both for his own amusement and to wipe out those who would prevent him from achieving his goals. However, he finds that he can't kill off another little superhero that came along: Miss Lion! Apparently, changing his shape doesn't change his scent and this allowed the heroes to get the drop on him.
- In the Looney Tunes short "The Ducksters", Porky is on a rather sadistic radio quiz show called Truth or AAAAHHH!! (a parody of Truth or Consequences) hosted by Daffy Duck, where Porky has to answer some rather impossible questions, like "Who, mind you WHO, was the referee for the New Zealand heavyweight championship fight in 1726?" (oddly, Porky actually knew it was "Arbuckle Dreen,"). Failing to answer the other questions required Porky to "pay the penalty" (for instance, when Daffy asks who was the father of his country, Porky states that the answer is simple, but his stuttering prevents him from answering "George Washington" in time). These penalties include Porky being crushed by the Rock of Gibraltar, rained upon by Niagara Falls, tied up and blown up with dynamite, pounded with a mallet, threatened by a buzz saw, crushed by a safe, and other forms of abuse. (And Daffy eggs him on with snide lines like "listen, Mac; You got 32 teeth, would you like to try for 16?", Finally, after Porky gets really mad and threatens Daffy with physical violence after surviving the bonus round(Tricked into walking into a room containing a 600-pound gorilla), Daffy awards him the grand prize of 26 million dollars and three cents. Porky quickly calls the broadcasting company and buys the show with the winnings - meaning he's now Daffy's boss - and proceeds to put Daffy through the exact same torment.
- In Tiny Toon Adventures, Pluck and Dizzy compete on a game show called That's Incredibly Stupid, where the idea is to complete tasks you'd have to be incredibly stupid to attempt. Round one is to compete in a demolition derby (without a car), and round two involves finding a needle in a haystack (which is set on fire and has fireworks planted inside). Plucky survives those by putting the brunt of it on Dizzy, but when told the last round is simply to judge a beauty contest, he insists on doing it himself. The host neglects to tell him that the contestants are all of the Amazonian Beauty type, and all are horrible Sore Losers. (Plucky doesn't complete this one; he was a little too stupid.)
- In The Real Ghostbusters episode "The Devil to Pay", the heroes were conned by a demon named Dib Devlin into competing in a game show with their souls on the line. Unfortunately for Dib (who was clearly a devil behind on his quota) he underestimated their intelligence, and had no faith in human nature, seeing as the last part of the three-part game could be won by one of them admitting to doing something bad. (Which Ray eventually did.) Even worse, he was a Sore Loser who tried to kill them after he lost, but proved a complete wimp once Peter actually got his hands on him.
- Slugterra: The Shane gang is subjected to this by the Game Master in "The Thrill of the Game". The Game Master's modus operandi is to lure unsuspecting slingers into a far off cavern called Lands End Cavern. There, he forces them to play "game", made up of dangerous obstacles and puzzles.
- The gladiatorial matches of Ancient Rome, of course. Outright death was uncommon, though, with only about one in five fights ending this way (a well-trained gladiator is an expensive investment, so it cost a lot to "give the people what they want"), and some gladiators even made their careers on victories that did not draw any blood. Still, most gladiators did die in the ring eventually, usually after no more than ten matches, and the average life expectancy for a gladiator was 27.
- The Mesoamerican ballgame, in a sense. While not fundamentally deadly in itself, there's evidence that the game had a lot to do with the selection of human sacrifices in some civilizations. Historians are still debating on who gets killed, the winning team or the losing team.