Playing The Player
Games tend to be very trustworthy—good guys are good, bad guys are bad. What you see and perceive is real. Sometimes characters are betrayed, but the player never is.The above quote from Ken Levine describes the standard relationship between a Video Game and said game's players. Games won't deceive you, Villains Never Lie (or if they do, it is obvious) and you're the one pulling the strings. Characters' expectations will be subverted but yours will not be. As such, the common relationship between the player and the game constitutes a trope. Therefore, it can be played with. Playing The Player is a Video Game plot device that occurs when this common relationship is played with in a manner designed to make the player uncomfortable. There are quite a few ways to do this. Most involve deliberate deception of the player (not just the player character). But it has to be a significant betrayal of the player's expectations in order to qualify, and this betrayal must be intended to make the player squirm. And this is not the only manner in which a game can do this. By definition, the game has to have a level of understanding about how players relate to it in order to pull this off. One example of an expectation gamers have is that achieving 100% Completion, if it does anything, will make the ending happier, or at least clarify it in some way, to reward the player for going deeper into the game. Thus, a game can play with that expectation by offering up a worse ending or by adding something that turns a previously understandable series of events into one big Mind Screw, or admonishing the player (either by proxy or by Breaking the Fourth Wall) for thinking all that grinding would matter. Seinfeld Is Unfunny also applies to this trope. To someone that has played, for instance, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty or BioShock, Final Fantasy VII does not seem to betray the player in a shocking way. Of course, to someone that has spent their time with only the earlier Final Fantasy games and no other games, Final Fantasy VII would come as quite a shock. In short, it partly behaves like a Meta Twist and depends significantly on a player's initial expectations. Arguably, as the "standard" (i.e. expected) relationship between a player and a game changes, there will be evolution in what a game has to do to qualify for this trope. This trope is frequently seen in deconstructions but in and of itself, it is not necessarily a deconstruction. Additionally, this is not the same as having No Fourth Wall. Also, this trope deals often deals with plot details, so spoilers ahead. Not to be confused with The Game Plays You. Compare Player Punch, You Bastard and Video Games and Fate.
— Ken Levine to GameSpot
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Creators known for this
- Designer Suda51 is fond of screwing with the player.
- Taro Yoko, aside from trolling the player is also known for this and for using deconstructions not aimed at any genre but rather against the player.
- As befitting the page quote, Ken Levine is very fond of this trope, and uses plot devices fitting it in several of his games.
- Hideo Kojima is well known for being a massive Troll to gamers, using many Metal Gear games to skewer the very nature of video games and the relationship between them, their creators, and their players.
- Shadow of the Colossus: players are used to being the good guy out to destroy the evil monsters. This seems to be the case at the start of the game, but as time goes on, the hero's appearance begins changing, becoming ragged and dark, and some of the monsters you defeat seem benign and even peaceful. Some won't even attack unless provoked. The player must confront their feelings of the morality of continuing to play the game. The big turning point comes after killing Phalanx (#13), a truly majestic creature that never once tries to attack the player. As this is also around the time the plot kicks in, it counts as somewhat of a Wham Episode.
- The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening hints at, then eventually flat-out reveals that all of Koholint Island is a dream of the Wind Fish and you are being tasked with waking it up. Doing so will erase everyone in the world from existence. Some of the later bosses beg you not to continue (their opposition is based on self-defence, since the success of your quest is tied to the end of their existence). The only way for the player to save Koholint and avert the annihilation of everything on it is to stop playing the game!
- Iji pulls most of its Player Punches by twisting player expectations for the genre. Iji isn't a stone-cold badass, she's a scared 20-year-old who has never been in combat before, and if you go One Woman Army on the aliens you'll do serious psychological damage to her. "Invaders have taken over this facility and you're The Only One who can stop them" is such a common plot, that it's a big twist when Iji (and the player) finds out that Mission Control has been lying and the aliens have already won, and your job is to ask them to leave. The reinforcements you call in to pull a Big Damn Heroes are even worse than the invaders you were trying to get rid of, and now you have to stop them. And if you think you're smart and use that special device you know is going to be important on an Inescapable Ambush you find yourself in soon afterwards, then bad things happen, because it turns out you actually needed to save it for later.
- Heavy Rain does this to the player regarding the identity of the killer. The killer is one of the player characters that you control and said character's thoughts do not directly allude to his deeds except in hindsight. You control the character under the assumption that his actions are to solve the mystery, when in reality he's trying to find his Jack the Ripoff and collect and destroy any remaining evidence.
- The promotional material for Resonance tells the player straight away that at least one of the four Player Characters is not trustworthy, leaving the player to speculate out of the gate who it might be. A bit into the game, Detective Bennett drops a letter that implicates him as the traitor, but at the The Reveal, it turns that it was a Red Herring, and that it is actually Eddings.
- Stray Souls Dollhouse Story: The protagonist is the wife of a Distressed Dude, and she drives after him. She crashes in a weird town full of dolls plagued by a serial killer... the killer's gonna have a doll theme, and the protagonist will have an epic showdown with The Starscream, right? Wrong. The killer is the evil half of the Distressed Dude, who has a Literal Split Personality.
- In Ghost Trick, the one thing you think you know is what Sissel looks like, since the corpse is so blatantly obvious in the first ten seconds of the game and is also the picture on the box. But the yellow-haired man in the red suit isn't Sissel. Sissel was actually the man's pet cat (who was in the box right behind the man's corpse), and the red-suited man is the game's Big Bad. Sissel just assumed he was the red-suited man since it was the first corpse he saw.
Alternate Reality Games
- The early Alternate Reality Game Majestic was marketed as "the game that plays you". As an ARG, it presented itself as part of Real Life, sending the player phone calls, emails, instant messages, and faxes (why yes, it was 2001) with clues to solve the mystery. The game began with the player receiving news that the developers had been killed, and it only got worse from there. Since the game was based on Conspiracy Theory material (specifically, the Majestic-12), the player being constantly lied to makes sense. Many of the people that played the game reported being rendered completely paranoid during the time they played it, and indeed, "messing with the guy that plays 'Majestic'" became an office hobby during the brief time the game was operating. Unfortunately, it suffered from absolutely dreadful timing — it launched only a month and a half before 9/11, and due to both its subject matter and its use of the phone network, Electronic Arts temporarily suspended it, later canceling it outright in April of 2002.
First Person Shooter
- BioShock does this brutally, as part of a Genre Deconstruction of the Shooter-Role-Playing Game hybrids such as System Shock, System Shock 2 and Deus Ex, all of which claimed to offer unprecedented player freedom. You actually have very little at all and this game makes it quite clear. Your character is under mind control the whole time and has false memories, Mission Control is controlling you with a trigger phrase. Death Is a Slap on the Wrist because the vita-chambers are wired to your genetic code (as the son of Ryan). Notice This is a byproduct of the mind control. It essentially takes usual video game Acceptable Breaks from Reality and then repapers the fourth wall to explain in-game why Jack is doing everything this guy he barely knows and has never met orders him to do.
- Haze attempted to play this trope straight. The game has you as a trooper for the Mantel Corporation, jacked up on a performance-enhancing supplement called "Nectar" and fighting a guerrilla-terrorist army led by a madman that wears human skin. Of course, Nectar is really an hallucinogenic mind-control Psycho Serum that blinds you to the fact that you're really a mass-murderer drug-junkie treating war as if it were a game of Halo. This might have been a shocking twist and a highly effective deception of the player... if it weren't revealed on the back of the box and in all the game's publicity for months before release, and if the supposed good guys weren't basically carrying around giant signs saying "hey, I'm a totally evil bastard" in flashing neon. Not a bad idea, but the execution was lacking, and it didn't help that the gameplay doesn't hold up terribly well.
- In the campaign of Call of Duty: Black Ops, the player is encouraged to identify with the main protagonist, Mason, and almost all the missions take place from his POV. Throughout the game, you constantly see and interact with Reznov, one of the main characters from Call Of Duty World At War, as he encourages Mason to take out the three main villains at any cost. The player, who can only see what Mason observes, unless they are playing as Hudson, simply take Reznov's word for it, like Mason. However, there are subtle hints throughout the game that not all is as it appears, as no one else, minus the interrogator, who is Hudson, even acknowledges Reznov's presence. One even asks what is wrong with you. As it turns out in the big reveal, Reznov was never by your side. He had instead hijacked a brainwashing attempt on you in order to take revenge on the three main villains, hence his constant quote, "Dragovich, Kravchenko, Steiner. All must die", whenever he appears, and why only you acknowledge his presence. Indeed you were just simply following his commands.
- System Shock 2 is infamous for doing this. The game begins with you waking up from cryo-sleep with cybernetic implants stuffed into your head and throws you into a spaceship overrun with aliens. Sounds relatively standard so far. Until you discover that Mission Control is really the Big Bad of the first game and lied to you by assuming the identity of someone else. Oh, and said villain tampered with your memory restoration. Said villain remains as Mission Control, declaring that your only chance to survive is to destroy the alien infestation with her help. So you go along with the plan, as she creepily dotes on you and declares you to be her "avatar" (or more correctly, pawn).
- Several critics noted that the Modern Warfare series's habit of including "shocking moments" during their respective campaigns were often so shocking precisely because they played with the player's expectations of video game conventions. In the first game, a nuclear weapon explodes, killing the player character, who spends several agonising minutes dragging his body around before succumbing to radiation poisoning. Early in the second game, the player briefly plays as an undercover American agent in a Russian terrorist cell, who is forced to watch/participate as the terrorists mercilessly gun down an airport full of civilians. As Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation put it:
What made [the nuke sequence in Modern Warfare] even more interesting for me was that it played with the expectations one has of a game. You do not expect the character you are playing as to bite it in such a drawn-out, hideous way. The one thing you're usually sure of in a game is that whatever happens to everyone else, you are going to survive. There's no game otherwise. Even while watching your arms and legs getting sawn off half-way through Quake 4, or getting thrown clear of a crashing vehicle in every fucking shooter in the universe, you know there's no possible way you won't live on. Even better, moments before that moment in MW1 your lads had just gone back into the danger zone to rescue a comrade, which you'd think would give you a double layer of plot armor. [The second game] finds a different way to play with our expectations of a player character by having us participate in a massacre of innocent civilians. It gives us the usual nose-leading mission directive but simultaneously, within the context of the world, condemns us for following it. It brings to mind that one science experiment where members of the public continued electrocuting a prisoner because an authority figure told them to. How much would it take to persuade an average person to commit an atrocity?
- Part of the reason the first game is so widely praised is that it uses typical gaming conventions as non-verbal storytelling for the plot and characterisation. The short length and gimmicky premise leads one to assume that it is a straightforward Puzzle Game with the amusing, slightly-glitchy computerised Mission Control serving as nothing more than an excuse for a Justified Tutorial of sorts. But someone who would put a trapped human being through arbitrary dangerous tests for seemingly nothing more than their own amusement is prime villain material in any other context, which she eventually proves herself to be, as once the testing is over she has no more use for you, and tries to dispose of you. At the same time the player character, someone who is inventive and determined enough to survive and beat all those tests, isn't going to take that lying down and escapes to wreck havoc on her captor.
- Portal 2 pulls the rug out from under the characterization halfway through, turning the game from a straightforward "defeat the villain" plot into a case of Evil Versus Evil.
- Antichamber: "The most tenacious, infuriating obstacle you’ll face throughout the game is yourself." The game is all about the player being Wrong Genre Savvy. The exit that you see from the first moment you start playing? You reach it quite soon. It's a wall with a poster. Except when it's not.
Role Playing Game
- Neverwinter Nights 2 attempts to convince you that the tattooed man who keeps appearing in cutscenes is the Big Bad. Turns out, he's not even The Dragon; he's actually a Well-Intentioned Extremist working against the Big Bad, and eventually joins the party.
- While Unreliable Narrator is in full effect for what we are told and what we can read in The Elder Scrolls games, the experiences of the player characters are assumed to be as reliable as they can be when told through the medium of a game - your character might have been misled by illusions or lies, but you can be sure those illusions or lies were there (and if time breaks, you can be sure that your character did what he or she seemed to do, just alongside mutually contradictory things). Except for the Thieves' Guild storyline in Oblivion, where late in the story we are told by a reliable source that the player character misremembers a lot of incidents in the storyline - and even potentially some outside it - Corvus Umbranox outright told you who he was, several times, but the curse of the Gray Cowl meant that you forgot it as soon as a little time had passed.
- At the beginning of Jade Empire, there is a lot of talk about how you are Master Li's favourite pupil, how Gao the Lesser feels slighted by the extra attention you get, how there's a flaw that isn't a flaw in your style, which makes it really special, and you're sent off to get a hold of the usual Plot Coupon and so on. All pretty conventional for an RPG. After Li's betrayal you realise that everything was true. You were the favourite pupil, and everyone else was grudgingly admitted to the school, so their tuition fees could fund your training. Gao the Lesser had a legitimate grievance against you (even if his reaction was a bit over the top). Li rigged your duel with Gao the Lesser and set him up to overhear your conversation, knowing that the chase would lead you out of the village at the time of the attack. The flaw in your style was a flaw, enabling Li to kill you and take aforementioned Plot Coupon for himself, which was his goal all along.
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy VII is one of the earliest examples. While it doesn't take place in first person, the player is represented by Cloud Strife, initially presented as an Escapist Character. As the game continues, it turns out that Cloud is a pathetically-insecure kid that is desperate to impress his girlfriend and deludes himself into thinking that he is a Bad Ass Super Soldier. In short, Cloud's relationship with Zack Fair (the man Cloud is basing his Bad Ass personality on) is basically the relationship that the player is having with Cloud. Not only that, but Cloud is constantly deceived and manipulated by the villains during the course of the game.
- Final Fantasy X. The Hero Tidus washes up on a beach, meets the White Magician Girl who is the next chosen person to defeat Sin, and agrees to help her on her pilgrimage, fighting off the Corrupt Church and their pet Nietzsche Wannabe. Standard RPG plot. Wanna know the ending? Tidus isn't real — he was created by the people who used to work for the false God, to free them of their job forever. The reason this was the first Final Fantasy game to get a direct sequel was because, after all of this, they needed a way to clean up the mess.
- Final Fantasy XIII-2: Noel & Serah run around the timestream in an attempt to stop Caius from causing all of time to merge into a single point. Defeat him in the Final Boss, and he tries to manipulate Noel into stabbing him through the heart. Cue a QTE where the player can choose to do so or show mercy; kill him, and Noel & Serah return to Academia in 500AF, and all is well... Right up until Serah sees a vision of the future & promptly dies, before it's revealed Caius's plan has come to fruition. Clearly, the correct choice was to spare Caius... Except doing so prompts Caius to grab Noel's arm & drive the the blade in himself, the ending being the exact same as if Noel had willingly killed Caius. Then, the end credits roll, and the player gains the ability to replay certain events & see new consequences, the implication being that a way will be found to stop Caius once all possibilities have been seen. Defeat the Final Boss after doing seeing every possibility, and you are rewarded with the exact same ending as before. Oh, except now after the credits, The Stinger plays, and Caius proceeds to mock the player for trying so hard to find a way to stop him when Failure Is the Only Option.
- In the Tales Series games the first few hours are usually a Cliché Storm, before providing a Wham Episode.
- First time one plays through, it is a typical Eastern RPG. Fight the monstrous Shades, save your daughter, defeat The Shadowlord and Happy Ending ensues. But then, you start your second playthrough with the ability to understand the Black Speech of the Shades. Suddenly the entire tone of the game shifts. It turns out most of the Shades are innocent victims who are just trying to defend themselves, many of the game's antagonists are seriously provoked, and to them you are the monster. You're cutting them down, killing their children, invading their homes... You did this on your first playthrough too, but your limited perspective kept you from realizing.
- If you're a completionist and willing to collect every single weapon, you'll earn a fight with the True Final Boss and unlock the last two endings, where you're given the option of sacrificing everything to save one of your companions. And by "you" we mean "the player," and by "everything" we mean "everything you've accomplished to get this far." Every item you've collected, completed quest in your quest log, it erases your save files and plays the ending. After the cutscene and credits roll, all you'll have to show for your dozens of hours of effort is a flower on the starting screen. And an Achievement.
- Baten Kaitos:
- You don't play as the main character, Kalas, but as a Spirit Guardian who guides and empowers him. Kalas often has conversations with you, and your responses affect the level of power you grant him in battle. At the beginning, it is touched upon that you (the Spirit Guardian) have amnesia. You assume this is a standard plot device to allow infodumps on the world. In actual fact, Kalas is The Mole and orchestrated your memory wipe because you disagreed with his plans, but he needed your Plot Armor.
- Baten Kaitos Origins does something similar. As before, you don't control Sagi, but his Guardian Spirit instead. At the beginning, you can overhear that Sagi's guardian spirit is a bit different from other spirits. This is forgotten... until a few dozen hours later, where it's revealed that Sagi's guardian spirit is a piece of a dead god implanted into his heart, and the personality is that of Marno, a man who died a thousand years ago. The bizarre flashbacks Sagi has been experiencing are him reliving Marno's memories in flashback form, showing how he came to be.
- Last Scenario lies to the player in the opening Info Dump, so as to make The Reveal all the more shocking.
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance reveals rather early on that there is a mole in the player's party, but who they are is ambiguous. Potential candidates include Volke and Nasir, based on the timing of the reveal, and Sothe, based on the timing of his appearance and his seemingly-flimsy excuse for stowing away on the ship, but when Soren confronts Nasir over the possibility during a mid-game conversation, Nasir basically shrugs him off and implies that Soren is hiding something. It turns out to have been Nasir all along, but the game does a really good job of making it ambiguous as to who the real one is: to the extent that you may not be using either of the playable units under suspicion until it all clears up for fear of them backstabbing you mid-chapter. It doesn't help that Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones had exactly that happen, so people who played that game knew that the developers weren't above such trickery.
- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona:
- The first Persona has this revelation pretty early on: Kandori's machine is not only manipulating your reality, but another one as well, and one of your party members is the other world counterpart of your sick classmate, which explains her apparent amnesia and sudden recovery. Then, later on, there's another one: Kandori's machine created the new reality from the dreams of your sick classmate, and her other world counterpart is actually a shadow of her.
- In Persona 3 you're told early on by Mission Control that you must find and destroy a certain group of Shadows, which emerge every full moon. There's confirmation in the form of a videotaped message from one party member's deceased father, which states that destroying these Shadows will stop a particularly powerful Eldritch Abomination from breaking free. Once you kill the last one, Mission Control drugs the entire party and tries to kill them. Turns out not only was he lying, he actually altered the videotape to support him. Killing the full-moon Shadows frees the Eldritch Abomination, and that's exactly what he wanted to happen.
- Persona 4 plays a rather cruel one when the protagonist's young cousin Nanako (who the player has had plenty of time to get attached to) is kidnapped by the apparent Big Bad, Nametame. After proceeding through a Disc One Final Dungeon to rescue her, you find out that you were too late, as being in the Midnight Channel too long ultimately kills her when she's brought to the hospital. The player then gets the opportunity to exact revenge on the kidnapper by throwing him into the Midnight Channel to suffer the same fate, but doing so nets the player the worst ending and ensures that she stays dead. Turns out that Nametame is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who thought he was saving his victims, and he was just being played like a fiddle by the real murderer.
- OFF pulls this off masterfully, with one of the main characters successfully tricking you into destroying the world. If you manage to find this out in time, it'll be too late, with you also finding out he may not even be human in the first place, and the plot of the game is so rife with Mind Screw that whether the Batter is an Omnicidal Maniac Villain Protagonist or a Well-Intentioned Extremist Anti-Hero is completely up to the player's perception.
- It's pretty clear in Chrono Trigger that, due to his Heroic Mime status, the fact that he's who you start the game as, and the fact that you can't remove him from your party, that Crono is meant to be both the protagonist and, more importantly, the player stand-in. Then he gets killed off about 2/3rds of the way through the game. And his resurrection is entirely optional. I guess it wasn't Crono's story after all, but more the story of the entire party.
- Near the end of Mother 3, the player finds out that the seemingly-basic goal they've been trying to accomplish, saving the world from destruction at the hands of the Big Bad, is impossible. And it's not because of anything the Big Bad did, but because of the nature of the world itself: the game is revealed to take place After the End, and the human race just doesn't have enough people left in it to survive more than a few generations. There is the possibly for a Reset Button, but even then, the game doesn't make any promises.
- Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, like nearly every RPG, has a level up system where the player gets stronger as they defeat enemies, and, like similar games with an interactive party, a Relationship Values system where party members' beliefs and opinions can be changed to more closely align with your own. These are both unique in-universe abilities of the player character, draining the life from foes to add to their own strength and twisting the minds of those close to them, which terrify others so thoroughly when they learn this they consider the player to be a Humanoid Abomination equal to the main villain.
Stealth Based Game
- Assassin's Creed:
- The final scene of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood pulls a nasty one. After having used the Apple of Eden successfully as Ezio Auditore in the Animus memory sequence, both the player and the protagonist (Desmond) expect that he will be able to use it in the present day. Not so. On picking it up, he is promptly dominated by Juno, told that he must learn more if he is to be of use to her, and then forced to stab his girlfriend. Worse, the game pauses before the fatal moment and tells you to "press any button". So not only did Desmond kill her, so did you.
- Assassin's Creed III pulls off a huge plot twist by virtue of toying with the player's expectations for the game. Throughout all four previous games, you have always played as an Assassin, and the character you're playing in this game uses Assassin skills and seems to be a fairly decent, if somewhat ruthless person. This serves to mask the foreshadowing that culminates in the reveal that you've spent three memory sequences... playing a Templar. Even Desmond and company are shocked.
- Nearly every Metal Gear game has the main exposition character/s lie to the player character, and thus the player, turning what is usually reliable sources of information in most video games into yet another barrier to the truth.
- In Metal Gear 1, Mission Control is not only actively malicious, giving you false information that will get you killed, but he's also the main villain. This was a pretty big twist back in the day, and sets the trend for the series where Mission Control acts as their own characters with their own agendas, which sometimes are directly against yours.
- The plot of Metal Gear Solid 2 is a deconstruction of how some people played its predecessor as a power fantasy, explained in detail in the Analysis page. Oh, so you wish you were just like Solid Snake huh? This is the villains' plan, to manipulate events near-identical to the first game as part of a mind-control experiment designed to turn Raiden/the player (it's deliberately ambiguous) into Solid Snake. Even that is merely a front for the villains' true goal; to prove that they can manipulate someone into doing exactly what is told of them simply by presenting the right context for one to accept orders. Thus, Raiden/the player end up following everything that the villains' tell them to do, even at the end, when they are revealed that they are being played. That neither Raiden nor the player has any choice but to follow their instructions is one of the major points.
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater does something similar to Sons of Liberty, as part of its overall theme of deconstructing James Bond and Spy Fiction in general. The main hero, Naked Snake, is sent on a mission to assassinate his mentor, The Boss, who had defected to the Soviet Union. He joins forces with the typical Bond Girl Eva, defeats both his fallen mentor and the Big Bad, alongside his Weapon of Mass Destruction, and is hailed as a hero. All's well that ends well right? Nope. Turns out in the big reveal, The Boss was actually a Fake Defector who had been implicated by the U.S. government as a scapegoat for them to retrieve a huge sum of money, Eva is actually a Chinese spy who had been manipulating Snake's emotions, and the entire operation was just a way for the government to save face, with The Boss, an agent who was like a mother to Snake, and who loved her country, forever known after this as a traitor of the worst kind, when the truth was the exact opposite. Both Snake and the player find out about this at the same time, which greatly contributes to the depressing tone the game ends on. No surprise then that Snake later becomes Big Boss.
- Silent Hill:
- Silent Hill 2 starts with the player character receiving a letter from his wife, who has been dead for two years, telling him to come to an abandoned monster infested town to find her, which you must explore. This is all typical video game stuff designed to move the plot along, because in real life this guy would have serious problems. That's because he does. Turns out his wife only died a few weeks ago, because he murdered her, and the whole game is a karmic beatdown he well deserves. The player and character discover this at the same time, leading to horror for both alike.
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories has you playing as a man named Harry Mason as he searches for his lost daughter Cheryl, alternating between his exploration of the eponymous town in the past and first person psychology sessions in the "modern" time. In a major plot twist, it's revealed to both Harry and the player that Harry (or at least the one you play as) doesn't even exist, and he's only a delusion in Cheryl's mind. The real Harry died many years ago in a car accident, and it's actually Cheryl having the sessions.
Table Top Games
- Any Game Master worth a damn in any table top role playing game with a horror, mystery, or similar theme. Since the players are often Genre Savvy, the levels of metagame in something like this can become downright recursive. It can also occur if the game strays into the Fridge Horror of certain aspects of High Fantasy or Low Fantasy, or if the Game Master broaches and plays with many dark and "taboo" topics. While almost any game can do this, a short list of games famous for this include: The World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu, Dark Heresy and spin-offs, Unknown Armies, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, Unhallowed Metropolis, Kult, Ravenloft, Over the Edge, Planescape, Deadlands, Shadowrun, and many more.
- Wraith The Oblivion makes other players do this, as each player also plays another character's Shadow, a sort of self-destructive internal "devil on your shoulder." And yes, they were supposed to outright screw with you.
Third Person Shooter
- Spec Ops: The Line starts off by doing its best to convince the player that it is a standard military shooter; everything from the trailer, the demo, the cover art to even the first 40 or so minutes of gameplay is engineered to make the game appear as nothing more than a typical America Saves the Day, kill-all-the-bad-guys shooter. However as the story unfolds, it slowly reveals itself to be a Genre Deconstruction of military shooter games, criticizes the genre for providing players an unrealistic and immoral escapist fantasy through the glorification of violence. The game straight up calls out the player for using the game to act out a power fantasy, calling into question the morality of playing games which simulate killing people for fun. The game's protagonist, Capt. Martin Walker, transforms from a strait-laced, no-nonsense soldier into a vicious, bloodthirsty maniac as a result of his experiences and the increasingly barbaric actions he is "forced" to carry out. At the end of the game, it is revealed that he had been hallucinating large parts of the game, including the existence of Col. John Konrad, the alleged "villain".
- Ever17: You can play as Kid or Takeshi. It's in first-person, but you can see one character while you play as the other, no problems there. Except it turns out what the main characters you play from the perspective of even look like is false. And Takeshi's route and the Kid's route are actually two separate incidents with the same setup, taking place 17 years apart. The Takeshi and Kid in Takeshi's routes are the real ones, while the Takeshi in Kid's route is a fake and the Kid in Kid's routes is a completely different amnesiac boy. Did you think they were the same incident? Good, because that's exactly what the character wanted.
- Ace Attorney:
- The most shining example is the final case of the second game: apart from your assistant being kidnapped, its set up like a petty formulaic case, all the evidence points to your client, but they really don't look the type to commit murder. Meanwhile you have a witness who seems to know a lot more than she's letting on. There's a dark secret hidden behind everything, which could form a plausible motive for her. Pretty typical, you'd probably be thinking. Except your client really is guilty this time, and that witness is completely and utterly innocent. But you've done such a convincing job of revealing her frame-up, (the thing you've been doing for the last game-and-a-half) you've utterly convinced the court that she's the prime suspect! And you have to keep it up, otherwise your friend will be killed. To further drive the point home, late in the case, Phoenix is given a choice of whether to plea guilty or innocent for his client. He is interrupted by a Big Damn Heroes either way, so the choice doesn't impact the plot at all. So the Sadistic Choice is posed to the player: would you rather have a villain go free and an innocent woman convicted, but save your friend, or would you see justice is served but effectively condemn said friend to death?
- Turnabout Samurai (Ace Attorney): The victim was actually the one with the motive, not the killer. It was a case of self-defence.
- Turnabout Big Top (Justice For All): The killer was the most sympathetic figure in the entire case, and the only one in the series to actually feel legitimate guilt over what they've done. Rather than having an over-the-top villainous breakdown, he just bursts into tears. You feel pretty heartless for pursuing him.
- The Stolen Turnabout (Trials and Tribulations): Congratulations! You've managed to prove your client was somewhere else when the theft occured, and implicated someone else. Unfortunately, that places him at the scene of a murder at the exact time it was commited, and you've just given the real killer a perfect alibi! Needless to say, that was his plan all along.
- The Imprisoned Turnabout (Investigations 2): The whole case seems like a total mess, until Edgeworth finally discovers a clear trail leading to a certain someone. You confont him, and... he totally didn't do it. Later on you find out he was the victim of a very good frameup, but by that point, you're actually wishing he WAS guilty. Your suspicions have now fallen on the warden, but both Edgeworth, and likely the player, are having trouble figuring out their motive. And you should be, because she had none! She was just driven to near insanity by Ryoken, the previously mentioned inmate's, constant threats towards her family, and she had become so paranoid that on merely seeing he and the victim played chess togeather, she concluded the victim MUST have been sent to kill her. Her Villainous Breakdown basically consists of her screaming it's Ryoken who's the evil one and that she didn't do anything wrong. It's a little... unsettling to the player. And it gets worse, in the game's final case, you find out there's more to this incident than meets the eye. Specifically, the sweet, timid, wrongly-accused suspect your Defence Attorney friend had been trying to get off the hook? Turns out he's not entirely innocent. Far from it.
- Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors:
- The first game, unlike many visual novels, is narrated in third-person, not first-person. Turns out, it is a first-person narration. From another one of the players. In the past.
- The sequel Virtue's Last Reward is a "screw you" to the Japanese players' narrow-minded thoughts on player characters. The game creator wanted to make an adult hero, not a slightly older teenage hero. Japanese gamers don't like the idea of playing as old men because they can't be awesome (basically). So the game has you play as an old man but tricks you into thinking he's college age.
- Also in VLR, you can choose to ally or betray characters, like in the Prisoners' Dilemma. Ally with a character who betrays you and you would understandably realize you should have picked betray as well. Going back to betray will, on a few occasions, cause the other character to pick ally, and the characters deride you for betraying someone who was willing to ally with you. Your character even questions this, but isn't really sure why he's questioning it until later. In one specific example, the game switches roles, and this time you're allying with a character who has already been betrayed by you in a different timeline, who is taking revenge on you on HER subsequent playthrough.
- The featured romance in Magical Diary is with a 'bad boy' character who is actually playing on the trope expectations of the target audience to lull the character, and the player, into doing exactly what he wants. Many players recognise the manipulation on a character level and laugh about playing out the "cheesy romance", but don't realise that they themselves are being tricked as well. There are YouTube videos of horrified shrieking from players suddenly discovering that they were being played all along.
- Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi seems on the first playthrough to be a standard love story for a romance game, with a hint of something else going on. It is on the second playthrough that it reveals its deconstructive what-if scenario: what would happen if the love interests in a visual novel became aware of their status, kept their memory of earlier playthroughs and manipulated the game itself to their own preferred end? What makes it qualify as this trope and not just metafiction is that the player's ability to restart the game or load a save, the usual escape route from bad choices, are disabled at this point.
- The Central Theme of Fleuret Blanc is materialism and obsession — two things that video games, by their nature, tend to encourage. This makes for a very interesting choice of medium, and the dissonance is played up for all it's worth. The mechanics encourage you to reduce your co-workers to Relationship Values and hoard their prized possessions — which don't even have any meaning to you! — all while characters wax philosophical about the meaning of objects in our lives and if we can really gain happiness just through having enough possessions. One of the characters is an avid gamer obsessed with virtual achievements and the like. Gaining an item results in a cheerful Item Get jingle, while losing one results in a sad trombone noise, even when it's part of a scripted sequence. This makes many players have a kneejerk negative reaction to losing items, even when it makes perfect sense and is the smarter option. The gold placard is a particular Troll in this regard; it's only ever added to the inventory in cutscenes, because Florentine always discards it again by the end of the scene. You never keep it permanently, even though it looks like a legitimate item. The game also dramatically tallies up Scoring Points at the end of every day over a background that says "Everything is collectible"; these points do absolutely nothing. While there is never any explicit betrayal of the player on the level of some other examples here, the game is carefully crafted to make the player uncomfortable and reevaluate their behavior.
- Tower Defense game Gemcraft: Chapter Zero is a fairly mild version. The Player should be wary of the premise of the game (a sorcerer seeking the ultimate MacGuffin) since it's a prequel, and the boss-fights are named ancient guardians, but overall the player identifies with the main character, wanting to beat all of the levels. Then you get to the very last stage and have to free the MacGuffin from a seal. Destroying the seal unleashes the Sealed Evil in a Can that possesses you and necessitating the character of the original Gemcraft game to come along and clean up the mess you made. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!
- A Dark Room toys with you a lot, and just as you're getting used to it, you begin to find the evidence that you're not human at all. You're a survivor from an alien invasion fleet. Those soldiers attacking you are the good guys.
- From the archives of the SCP Foundation is SCP-1633, a PC game that starts off as a normal game but uses "tactical heuristic algorithms" to adapt to the players tactics and eventually the player themselves. For example they were able to trigger an epileptic seizure in a photosensitive epileptic player by using "dayflash" spells against the player's character in a stroboscopic pattern.