Two Gamers on a Couch are playing a video game, or the gang get together to play a roleplaying game. Instead of showing what goes on by showing us the screen or the characters themselves, the scene cuts "into" the game, where the gamers themselves have taken the roles of the characters they are playing. Any discussion the players have will be seen taking place between the characters. The characters will nearly always facially resemble the players, although they will often be altered to take on aspects of the player characters. This can be done with the intention of looking silly, such as the 7-foot-tall barbarian wearing his geeky player's signature Nerd Glasses or a male player shown crossdressing as his female character. A different art style may be used to show the gameworld; video game worlds may have something of a pixellated or cel-shaded appearance. Very rarely, one will see a series actually make the leap to using Machinima for this purpose. This is a Sub-Trope of Fantasy Sequence, some display of how "immersed" the characters are in the game; it's their imaginative perception of what's going on. This allows us to see events in-game, and is a lot more interesting than watching two guys tapping on their controllers. (Not to be confused with "immersion gaming," a form of live-action roleplay that lasts for more than 24 hours, takes place in and interacts with the real world, or both.) Compare Two Gamers on a Couch, RPG Episode, RPG Mechanics Verse, Separate Scene Storytelling.
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Anime & Manga
- .hack. The anime and the games are predicated on the idea of a MMORPG which is the literal embodiment of this trope. Note, however, that the appearances of the game characters do not necessarily correlate with those of the "real world" versions — characters of the same class and in-game gender look very similar. (E.g. Bear and Orca, Elk and Tsukasa, BlackRose and Mimiru, Suburu and another Heavy-Axe User, etc.) This doesn't stop some players from deliberately engineering their characters to look like themselves. In .hack//Sign, Subaru, Mimiru, Bear, and B.T. are all depicted with the same faces as their in-game characters. Kite is known to look a lot like his avatar while Orca, who is in middle school with Kite, looks like a large muscular man with little in the way of clothing. Other examples of the first type include Haseo and the second include Wiseman, who is a young boy despite being an old man in game.
- Konata from Lucky Star claims to be good at athletics by visualizing herself playing Track And Field. Cut to actual NES Track & Field graphics starring Konata's sprite, and a closeup of Konata's hand on the controller performing the famous coin and ruler tricks to win the game.
- The RPG Episode in Welcome to the N.H.K. has Satou deeply immersed in an MMORPG. He also meets a Cat Girl healer, who he falls in love with, who turns out to be his friend and next door neighbour, out to teach him a lesson.
- To Love-Ru's trouble quest arc actually has the characters getting physically sucked into an RPG.
- Chobits has an episode with the heroes trying to play a fantasy MMORPG with Chi. We never exactly see how the game works for the characters, but the viewers see it from a deep immersion point of view, with the regular characters all transformed into their fantasy counterparts.
- Serial Experiments Lain at first seems to function on this level, as characters who immerse themselves in the Wired seem to do so via high-speed web browsing rather than virtual reality, leaving their actual bodies gazing at a screen and pointing and clicking links while they're mentally exploring the Wired's virtual world. But then the deep immersion starts to get deeper... much deeper.
- While the game itself is a tactical wargame, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya gave us (really awesome) scenes of the SOS Brigade as star fleet commanders when they played the computer club. Haruhi gets really megalomaniacal here. There was also the nice touch of having their command ships' crews reflect their commanders (Haruhi's crew had varied aliens, Mikuru's wore cute animal masks, Itsuki's had henohenomoheji, Yuki's were copies of her; Kyon's crew is not shown except for a brief glimpse at the back of the heads of a few at a distance). The anime makes clear contrasts to highlight the Mundane Made Awesome traits of it all by cutting smoothly between ridiculously epic orchestral scores and dramatic speeches within the game and the tinny, 8-bit MIDI version in the 'real world'.
- Three Drama CDs of Axis Powers Hetalia, called Hetalia Fantasia, has an MMORPG made by America and Japan that several characters join in.
- The OPs of The Tower of Druaga seem to imply the series is somewhere between this Trope, Imagine Spot and All Just a Dream.
- Mythic Quest, like .hack, revolves around players of a fictitious MMORPG. Few characters are seen both on- and offline, but the dichotomy in personality and appearance with Tragic/John and Aramusha/Anaya are recurring themes.
- The manhua 1/2 Prince is this trope. The MMORPG "Second Life" is playable anytime (even in your sleep!) and the character's looks are based off your real life appearance. The game prides itself on the "99% percent realism factor" which means if you get hurt you get hurt seriously.
- Oh, c'mon now. They only raised the pain level to 30%. Dying still hurts like a bitch, though.
- The actual game that shares the name of the MMO in question, of course, isn't like this.
- For a non-videogame example, Yu-Gi-Oh! plays with this; in general, they show holograms of cards. However, shadow games show the monsters themselves. Also, there are several more straight examples when characters get caught in the game. Duel Monsters does the same thing, but with no holograms.
- The Lord En/Online Gaming Arc of Beelzebub has the Ishiyama gang playing End of War 4 online and assuming avatar identities through several chapters of game play.
- Sket Dance has Bossun becoming addicted to the rpg Monster Fantasy and through roping him in to playing co-op, also gets Tsubaki addicted. The manga then switches between reality and their adventures within the game.
- In episode 8 Love Hina, Motoko ends up in a dream where she and the main characters are in an old school game Keitaro has. The characters are constantly Breaking the Fourth Wall and realize they're characters in a game, and constantly switch from their normal size and Super-Deformed sizes when in the "game".
- Whenever more than one person is involved with a game in Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, this trope is invoked, including one Dating Sim.
- Played with in one episode. Maria, the healer, had left to take a nap. Thus, her character stood idle during the climatic boss battle. After almost every character is killed off, Maria's character starts moving again. It was Kobato playing in her stead, though.
- In Yureka this is Justified as a legal requirement of MMOs (which isn't too far from existing Korean online laws) - your av's appearance defaults to your own, though it can be altered to a limited extent. The restrictions are looser in VR-space outside of MMOs, but everyone still looks somewhat like their real appearance.
- The King of RPGs does this half the time, but it's the "real life" characters who are over the top.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, there are two episodes where the heroes have to solve a video game duel puzzle; when this happens, a chibi-style avatar of the character appears in cyber-space using a Duel Disk (the first time) or a D-Wheel (the second).
- Somewhat enforced by Sword Art Online. Due to the creator's god complex each player is given their actual body dimensions and gender (resulting in a brief but funny scene where two players who were previously a seventeen-year-old guy and a young girl turn out to be a skinny, unattractive redhead guy and a short, fat, definitely not seventeen-year-old) and are outright told that if they die in the game, they're dead for real.
- Mekakucity Actors: The shooting game Takane plays near-obsessively, and the one she and Haruka design for their school festival.
- Inverted in Log Horizon. Originally a simple MMORPG where characters could customize their looks to themselves or radically different, a major update to the game effectively teleports all those logged at the time into an Alternate Universe as The Game Come to Life. We see brief moments of adventurers at their computers at play, before the transformation.
- Jason's online gaming is shown like this in FoxTrot.
Films — Live-Action
- This may very well have been started by TRON, where Programs were played by the same actor as their users. Subverted: The Programs are not the same people as their Users. The Programs in the first film just look like the User who created them, and it's implied by a line by one character that the appearance issue is because a part of the programmer's spirit goes into their creations.
- Spy Kids 3D: Game Over featured this, though it was justified as the game in question was a virtual reality game. However, each character's in game avatar was an idealized version of their real world equivalent. The strong character is weak, the cool character is a nerd, and the wheelchair bound grandfather could walk.
- eXistenZ. The virtual reality game has so many layers that the characters are never quite sure if they're back in reality or not.
"Are we still in the game?!"
- The Gamers and its sequel play this for comedy, switching between scenes of the roleplayers sitting at a table and the fantasy world inhabited by the characters as whom they roleplay. Taken to an extreme in the third movie when the party banters with the main villain while waiting for the DM, ending with him asking who is playing him.
- Games in Iain M. Banks's Culture novels can be this way. You can have them in your dreams, too.
- The Better Than Life game in Red Dwarf.
- The entire premise of Tad Williams Otherland series, except those plugged into the network does not necessarily resemble their real selves.
- Robert J. Defendi's free audiobook Death by Cliche has a unique twist on this trope. The main character is shot, fatally, but rather than dying his consciousness is somehow transported into the world created by a particularly poor DM (who, ironically, is his assailant). He becomes part of a ragtag party of adventurers, who are characters being played by real D&D players who are participating in a campaign run by his assailant. He eventually learns that he has some godlike influence over this world, and semi-intentionally alters the plot of the campaign, without the DM's intent.
- Interstellar Pig snaps into and out of this whenever combat starts and ends. The game's actual mechanics for resolving battle are never revealed, but if the presentation of the fights is any indication, they're somewhat like the battle mechanics in the anime of Yu-Gi-Oh!.
- Lisanne Norman's short story Is This Real Enough? starts with an MMORPG player preparing for a raid with his guild, but slowly moves into this as the raid goes catastrophically wrong. Then the players start to realize how strange it is that they're feeling pain when their characters get hurt, and the plot goes somewhere else entirely.
- In Sword Art Online this is part of the premise - when the villain traps 100,000 players inside an MMORPG, he also changes their avatars to match their real-life appearances. Survivors who later join other MMOs choose avatars resembling themselves out of habit, though other players rarely do so.
- Ready Player Ones OASIS system is this, combined with Virtual Reality Technology.
- Used in the cold-open of the House episode "Epic Fail".
- Happened once on How I Met Your Mother, showing Ted meeting "Blahblah" (by the time of the retelling he has forgotten her name) in World of Warcraft. They use actual game animation, though, so it gets funny for the non-gamers out there when you find out that Ted is playing the female human and Blahblah is the huge male draenei.
- Used in an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Penny got addicted to "Age of Conan". Partly subverts the trope in using realistic game footage, but also plays it straight in having no visible interface and blatantly obvious user handles. (Queen Penelope? With no numbers or guild tag?)
- Done in an episode of Spaced, where an argument between Tim and Daisy is choreographed to a game of Tekken. Every verbal smackdown corresponds to a blow landed in the game and Daisy mimics the victory pose of her game character. "Nina Williams Wins! Daisy Steiner Wins!"
- Averted in Community, in which everything they do is them sitting around the table talking about it.
Narrator: And so did the group describe themselves walking, and so did Abed confirm they walked.
- Not technically gaming, but roleplay, in Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas the characters are shown as the stop motion figures that Abed believes everyone has turned into. Averted in a later "clip show" episode containing solely new footage that showed the rest of them sitting around the table uncomfortably playing along with Abed's Christmasland fantasy.
- Played straight in "Digital Estate Planning", where the gang play an 8-bit platformer and most of the action takes place within the game. Abed, naturally, takes things further, falling in love with one of the game characters and raising a family, who come in handy when the time comes to defeat the Final Boss. At the end, Abed saves the character in a flash drive, saying "I told you I'd come back for you."
- The Total-Immersion Video Games on Red Dwarf.
- The V-World on Caprica includes some of these.
- The video for Operation Ground and Pound by DragonForce shows guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman playing a fighting game on a TurboGrafix 16, with their own bodies inserted over those of the in-game characters.
- The Last Journey Home might be an example of this as well.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers' video for Californication makes great use of this.
- The video for Architecture In Helsinki's song 'Do The Whirlwind' turns the band into 16 bit style sprite characters and ends with them in a version of Pac-Man — all thanks to the art of Paul Robertson.
- The Dragon column "Dungeon Mastery" was occasionally illustrated by a comic strip that used the trope. The "real world" of the players was in a more realistic art style than the world of the game, but they were recognisably the same people.
- Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes takes this to its logical conclusion: playing a tabletop video game is equivalent to, and has the same mechanics as, entering a hypnotic trance. Lilli even encounters a personified hypnotic suggestion in the game (much to the confusion of the DM, who finds himself describing a character he didn't create.)
- Invoked in DLC Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep in Borderlands2. While you're using your characters, in-game it's represented as Tiny Tina hosting a game of Bunkers & Badasses, and the game is being played by Lilith, Mordecai, and Brick. They will all comment regularly throughout the story missions, and during some of the sidequests as well.
- A Variation: In Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze , it's possible to seenote Donkey Kong either playing Mario Kart 7 or playing Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D on his 3DS, both games that include Donkey Kong himself as a playable character. Because of this, he plays as himself in both games.
- This trope is used in the Touhou web video Patchouli Plays Super Mario Bros.
- Game Grumps has made a few flash videos of themselves as the characters they play as (with identifiers like Arin's long hair and Jon's beard and hat) using audio from their episodes. The fans picked up on this and have made several, several, SEVERAL "fanimations" of their favorite Game Grumps moments.
- This is a staple for any Webcomic about video gaming (and it's not like there are many of those), so:
- Happens in 98% of VG Cats strips.
- Has happened at least once with the characters of Ctrl+Alt+Del, when they were trying to cure Ethan of his addiction to MMORPGs.
- Happens occasionally in Penny Arcade.
- Frequent story arcs from the no-longer-updated Angst Technology (shame Barry T. Davis stopped making it. It would have been great to have seen what he'd have made of Team Fortress 2.)
- After the end of Mac Hall, notable for its rich and colorful illustrated style, Mac Hall's creators started up another comic called 3-Panel Soul. TPS' art uses a much simpler black & white sketch style, except for strips set inside computer games, which are drawn much like Mac Hall.
- Happened in a few Megatokyo strips.
- Happens a lot in PvP.
- The IM program in El Goonish Shive. The author actually Lampshaded this trope the second time it was used.
Tensaided: You roleplayed. You paid perfect attention, and yet you pictured our game as an actual wizard duel so vividly that you cried out after Justin took a bad hit.
- Also the semi-canonical game of Black & White in the NP strips.
- The storyline "Duel of the Discs" does this with a Magic: The Gathering style card game. Mr Tensaided is very impressed with how immersed Grace gets.
- "Squirrel Prophet" is set at another tournament of the same game, and does the same thing, especially with Sarah being The Roleplayer.
- Happened in one panel in The Wotch, and it used magic.
- Used more frequently in a later chapter, about a role-playing session.
- In Something*Positive, all game characters qualify.
- Chainmail Bikini neatly fits this description, as the scene shifts back and forth between chararacters-in-gameworld and players-at-table views. Recently, a newcomer took over one of the characters in the RPG, and that character's face changed to represent the new player.
- DM of the Rings and Darths & Droids are based entirely around this concept with the images taken from Lord of the Rings and Star Wars respectively, but with all the speech being comments made by the players of a tabletop RPG following that story.
- The Fantasy and Space themes of Irregular Webcomic! are this. Space tends to go a lot deeper, to the point where it's a major surprise when Paris drops out of character after being so disgusted by A Wizard Did It. And it's even more of a surprise when she gets no response, possibly because Me had been killed some strips earlier. There's been no follow-up in the Space theme about this. (Though it had once been declared that DMM from the Me theme isn't the same as DMM as the GM, the fact remains that neither GM has been seen since.)
- Several strips of Loserz, starting with this one.
- Weregeek uses this throughout.
- Dork Tower does this with RPGs
- This happens in the "Years of Yarncraft" story of Sluggy Freelance. Everyone's characters look almost exactly like them, with adjustments by fantasy race played, and act like people capable of a full set of normal actions, and some non-player characters also act as if sapient.
- Real Life Comics plays this trope straight in whatever game the cast happens to be interested in at the time.
- My Roommate Is an Elf has this when the character play 'Offices And Businessmen', a tabletop Dungeons & Dragons parody.
- The World of Warcraft comic Hammer of Grammar played with this when a character, represented by her in-game avatar, is seen seated in front of a computer at the character creation screen, rolling a new character, who then features in the next several strips.
- The Unspeakable Vault (of Doom) is weird about this. Almost all the time, the events of the strip are presented "as-is"—Cthoolhoo eats someone, for instance, and we have to take it for granted that such is a canonical occurrence. Every once in a while, an event involving supernatural investigators turns out to be an example of this trope, usually right after everyone's character gets eaten. And on one occasion, the roleplayers themselves got eaten by Cthoolhoo.
- Speak With Monsters initially focuses on the game world, but quite blatantly uses Negative Continuity, and often has elements that don't quite fit together from a Watsonian perspective. Later strips sometimes show the people playing the game, and demonstrate their personalities and how said personalities affect the game world.
- So far Original Life has done it with Gears of War, Mass Effect, and Fallout: New Vegas. In the latter two cases it's somewhat justified.
- The previous series that led to Original Life, Better Days featured a chapter in which Lucy joins her boyfriend's D&D group, and in a single afternoon manages to complete the story arc that was supposed to last them months.
- There are several smaller arcs in Sequential Art that show Pip as he appears in Realm of Lorcraft. There was even an arc in which the whole gang played the Lorcraft board game, with Pip as the Evil Overlord, Art as an Elemental Mage, Kat as a Shadow Assassin, and the Think Tank playing as a single Knight.
- This showed up again when Pip and Art played Minecraft. Granted, the game lets you customize your own skin for your avatar, but not to the extent they did (you cannot add glasses, ahoge, or eyebrows to your character, for instance).
- Dissonance: Gen is introduced this way, shooting a teammate for not following instructions.
- Deconstructed in Critical Miss: Erin often interacts with video game characters, but they're hallucinations brought on by trauma from a car accident. It's frequently shown that she's really talking to nobody.
- Dumnestors Heroes follows a campaign this way.
- Homestuck takes this to an extreme, not only is the game total immersion, it destroys the universe to create a new one.
- Happens occasionally in Full Frontal Nerdity. Usually, the group refuse to do anything sufficiently in character for Deep Immersion Gaming to be appropriate.
- The in-universe MMORPG crossover segments of the webcomics Sunstone and Blood Stain use this for the reader's benefit in determining what the protagonists' avatars look like. Dr. Stein in particular is said to intentionally customize his character to look like himself.
- Most of The Guild's season 4 finale is presented this way, with the live-action cast appearing dressed as their avatars, like they did in the "Do You Want To Date My Avatar" music video.
- Video Game High School is practically built on this trope.
- Parodied in Suede's review of Pokémon: The First Movie. He, Linkara, and Jew Wario are given access to a Pokemon MMORPG. When they enter, Suede and Linkara look like animated versions of themselves...and JW looks like himself but female. This horrifies the other two, and he begrudgingly switches to male.
- The Onion uses this in their report on World of World of Warcraft, a fictional game which itself is an aversion.
- Noob happens mostly in the MMORPG all the characters are playing.
- In Casper Scare School episode Bands On The Run Jimmy plays Guitar Hero. His avatar resembles him with long hair and dressed as a rock star.
- In The Simpsons episode Marge Gamer, all characters in an MMORPG Bart and Marge played were clearly fantasy versions of other Springfield residents. Apparently, everyone in town plays on the same server, by some Contrived Coincidence. They all managed to create characters who look exactly like themselves, except for minor details (Marge's character is basically her with elf ears, for example.)
- Everlot in the Kim Possible episode "Virt-u-ron". Ron recognizes the villain in-game (it's an MMORPG, and the villain's been capturing all the other players) from his voice and mannerisms in the real world. The villain then reveals himself by removing the helmet of his in-game avatar. And the Tunnellord actually has Rufus' face under his helmet.
- South Park did this with the actual game of World of Warcraft. As they used machinima footage from the real game, they couldn't put the character's heads on the in-game characters, but the characters still looked similar: Stan and Kyle wore clothing the same color as their hats, Cartman was a short, fat Dwarf in red, and Kenny wore orange.
- In "Good Times With Weapons," the boys pretend to be ninjas, and the show flips back and forth between what is really going on and what is happening in their game. Their game is presented in an anime style, and each boy appears as a musclebound, adult ninja, with vague resemblances to his actual appearance and clothing.
- The cast of Chaotic do this literally.
- Happened in an episode of Danny Phantom; played straight with Danny and Tucker, but subverted with Sam, whose online Avatar looked nothing like her real-world appearance.
- Until she disabled a holographic mask to reveal her real face. Her size and build was still completely different though. Plus, you could see her ponytail...thing...even before the big reveal.
- In ReBoot, the User is never seen except through their avatar in whichever game they are presently playing, as the entire story takes place within a computer, and, you may not know it, but in the ReBoot-verse, every time you play a game, you're endangering the computer people.
- Jimmy Neutron literally invents a machine to go inside any video game.
- Phineas and Ferb do almost the same thing in an episode.
- Played absolutely straight in the American Dad! episode Dungeons and Wagons, where Haley, Steve, and their friends obsess over a computer game similar to Dungeons & Dragons. All events in the game are drawn in a completely different style from the main show, but all the characters speak with the voice of their player. Downright hysterical when Steve's massive warrior speaks with Steve's scrawny voice.
- Adventure Time had fun with this, and old-style Atari graphics.
- The entire point of Captain N: The Game Master.
- The Duck Dodgers episode "MMORPD (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Duck)" does this too. Justified as being a Virtual Reality game in the future.