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Playing with a Trope
aka: Played With
An easy visual reference.

Even with tropes about tropes (metatropes) that describe how tropes tend to be used, it can be hard to pin down the exact relationship between a trope and a particular work.

This is a quick-reference guide of ways to play a trope, illustrated for clarity with two simple examples:

The typical forms of using a trope include:
  • Played Straight: The trope is simply used.
  • Justified: The trope has a reason In-Universe to be present. note 
    • The butler decided to get revenge on his abusive master. (This is the usual Justification.) Or, he did it because he's actually an assassin that took the job to be Beneath Suspicion.
    • Powerful weapons glow because the villains are sentient shadows. Or the weapons are powered by glowing Phlebotinum. (This trope is not normally Justified.)
  • Inverted: The trope (or its elements) are reversed and then used. Some tropes have more than one possible inversion.
    • The butler is the victim. Or the butler solved the crime. Or every suspect except the butler was part of the crime.
    • Only weak weapons glow. Or powerful weapons absorb light, creating darkness around them.
  • Subverted: A trope is set up to occur, but then the writer pulls a fast one on the audience, and the trope does not occur after all.
    • The butler is the prime suspect at the beginning, and is later found innocent. Or, the butler did do it, but it turns out it was an Accidental Murder.
    • A huge glowing bomb is assumed to be a superweapon, and is then revealed to not have any effective blast due to its inefficiency.
  • Double Subverted: The trope is Subverted, and then Subverted again so that it occurs after all.
    • The butler is the prime suspect at the beginning, but then eliminated as a suspect — except he did do it, and the exonerating evidence is false.
    • A huge glowing bomb is assumed to be a superweapon, and is then revealed to not have any effective blast due to its inefficiency. But the glow itself is super-effective.
  • Parodied: The form of the trope is twisted and used in a silly way, specifically for comic effect.
    • Butlers learn their trade at butler college where they are taught cleaning, cooking, and murdering.
    • The heroes fight with giant glowsticks, the kind that you have to snap and shake.
  • Deconstructed: The intentional use and exploration of the trope, played far straighter than usual in order to show the trope as poorly thought out, impractical, or unrealistic. The deconstruction is usually much less nice than the source trope, although not always.
    • The butler is a revolutionary serial killer, who purposely takes jobs as butlers to murder his rich masters. All the unfortunate implications of class warfare that this suggests are brought up and discussed.
    • The most powerful characters are all blind due to the brightness of their weapons.
  • Reconstructed: Reconstructed tropes are the new and improved Played Straight of an often deconstructed trope. A Reconstruction reassembles the Deconstruction into something that resembles the original trope, but that would still work in reality. In other words, this is the inversion of a Deconstruction.
    • The butler was defending himself from his cruel master who was about to murder the butler.
    • Vision damage is a risk that the heroes must take to defeat the Ultimate Evil.
  • Zig Zagged: None of the above, or more than one of the above; this category covers miscellaneous variations. Examples include a trope that gets triple subverted, both inverted and played straight at the same time, or, well, just done confusingly.
    • The butler did it, but he was under Mind Control at the time. And it later turns out that the one mind controlling the butler looked exactly like the butler. And then we find out that it was actually his Evil Twin, who was also a butler. But it turns out it was a conspiracy hatched by the Butler and his Evil Twin, one born of necessity because the victim was going to do something monstrous.
    • There's a fifteen-page-long chart explaining how effective weapons with different glow intensities are against one another. And the authors still manage to do a complete Ass Pull every once in a while.
  • Averted: The trope is simply absent from the work. It is not used, mentioned, or implied at all. As there are literally thousands of tropes, and many, many possible uses for most of those tropes, Aversions are generally not worth noting unless they are especially surprising, such as for a nearly universally-used trope or a trope that is very common in the genre.
    • The butler didn't do it. Or the victim does not have a butler at all.
    • The weapons do not glow. Or there are no weapons at all.
  • Enforced: The trope occurs solely because of outside expectations or obligations placed on the writer, such as Executive Meddling or censorship.
    • The producer hates butlers, so he ordered the writers to cast the butler as the killer.
    • The toy company handling the merchandising wants to make all the best weapons glow in the dark, so the producers have that incorporated into the strongest weapons on the show.
  • Implied: The trope isn't shown, but the audience is indirectly led to believe that it happened off-screen.
    • The detective rules out all the guests one-by-one, but in the end he fails to find the real killer. The astute reader notices he never bothered to investigate the butler.
    • A character on his way to judge martial arts try-outs carries a light meter.

Tropes can also be played differently in terms of tone and style:

  • Played for Laughs: The humorous elements of a trope are played up. Differs from Parodied by being a straight use. Normally only applicable for serious tropes, but can show up for any trope.
    • The butler did it, but it took him three hundred and seventeen tries (of which we're shown twelve), all of which his master escaped without realizing anything was happening (including the time when he walked up and shot his master, which the master passed off as "you could've hurt someone, mistaking that gun for a lighter.").
    • The hero's glowing sword occasionally starts to flicker and go out, and he has to smack it a few times to get it working again.
  • Played for Drama: The serious or melodramatic elements of a trope are played up. Normally only applicable for comedic tropes, but can show up for any trope.
  • Exaggerated: The trope is used to an extreme. Please note that this does not necessarily have to be used humourously — a trope can be exaggerated yet still played completely seriously.
    • All the butlers in the city go on a killing spree, and nobody suspects a thing.
    • The strongest weapons completely obscure the screen by their glow.
  • Downplayed: The trope is used to a far lesser degree than typical.

Specific characters (or the narrator) can also play with tropes:

  • Lampshaded: A trope is Played Straight and explicitly pointed out by one or more characters.
    • "So the butler did it! I Always Wanted to Say That."
    • "Why are glowing swords more powerful? I mean, it just doesn't make much sense."
  • Invoked: A character is Genre Savvy, and/or uses their knowledge of a trope as a reason for their own actions, hoping that the effect will come through as it does "in fiction".
    • Ex-butlers are employed as assassin trainers because of their experience as potential murderers.
    • The heroine does everything possible to enhance the brightness of her weapon, seeing how brightness is power.
  • Defied: A character recognizes a trope is about to happen, and takes steps to avoid it.
    • "We have to lock all the butlers up before they can kill!"
    • "Try not to make the sword glow. We don't want the enemy to know which one to take if they capture us."
  • Exploited: A Genre Savvy character, aware that a trope will occur (or is occurring), uses it to their advantage. If the trope is not yet in effect, the character who Exploits it may Invoke it in the process.
  • Discussed: The trope may or may not be used, but it is explicitly discussed by Genre Savvy characters in a relevant situation where it could occur.
    • "Unlike what you may read in detective stories, the butler is an unlikely suspect in any murder investigation of this sort."
    • "I don't care what anime has taught you: in the real world, a glowier sword is not more powerful."
  • Conversed: A conversation about tropes the characters have seen in another work, such as a Show Within a Show. Differs from a Discussed Trope mainly in either its sheer irrelevance, or being used purely to lean on the fourth wall.
    • "These murder mysteries are too predictable. The butler always does it."
    • "In a bad movie like this, the more powerful swords always glow."

Here are two rarer transformations:

  • Untwisted: Sometimes, a Subversion is expected. In an Untwist, the audience expects a trope to be Subverted, but it is Played Straight instead. The Inversion of a standard Subversion. Highly subjective; any plot development can become The Untwist to a sufficiently paranoid reader.
    • The butler is shown early on as the suspect with the flimsiest alibi, like a typical Red Herring with a Big Secret, but after a series of twists and turns the detective reveals to everyone's surprise that it was old Alfred, after all.
    • The "glowing" weapons appear to not glow at all. However, it turns out that they emit ultraviolet light. So they do glow, just not in the visible spectrum.
  • Unparodied: This can mean one of two things: a Parodied Trope is either Subverted into a straight use, or simply used seriously.
    • There is an evil butler suit that brainwashes the wearer into committing murder. Someone dumb puts the suit on and, next thing he knows, he has committed 100 murders. He then ends up serving a Longer-Than-Life Sentence.
    • The glowing weapons look like giant glowsticks, but it turns out that they are real weapons after all.

And finally, two special cases:

See our Playing With Wiki, an entire subwiki dedicated to doing this to every trope in The Catalogue, and in particular PlayingWith.Trope Name, which is a reasonably concise version of this list.


Our Monsters Are DifferentConsistencyVile Villain, Saccharine Show
Perverse Sexual LustMeta-ConceptsPop-Cultural Osmosis
Played for LaughsTrope TropesSister Trope

alternative title(s): Meta Trope Intro; With A Twist; Playing With Tropes; Played With; Played Straight
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