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 or Bio Shock 1, 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. Naturally full of Wham Episodes. Compare Player Punch, You Bastard and Video Games And Fate.
— Ken Levine to GameSpot
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Creators known for this
- Designer Suda 51 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.
- 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, including some characters who you have gotten to know quite well, from existence. Note that the Wind Fish not waking up would not be a calamity; no one is depending on it awakening, and - to the best of anyone's knowledge - nothing is lost by having it continue to sleep. Some of the later bosses even beg you not to continue (in a sense, 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! (Or, at the very least, don't fight the final boss). But that means Link will never be able to continue his journey.
- 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. He was separated by orphanage director James Morgan, who killed his parents to take him away, before splitting him by accident. He was the killer's first victim. She puts him back together, then burns the clown doll that killed the Hunts. The demon escapes and destroys the town, but half the living characters (all the humans) escaped.
- 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
- Bio Shock 1 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. Considering that the game was marketed as offering unprecedented levels of player choice, this was a pretty mean thing to do to the player.
- Doubly clever, since the player mindlessly follows Atlas' orders under the assumption that they're the only way to progress in the game, as one does in nearly every video game. However, the game takes a usual video game Acceptable Break 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.
- The campaign of Call of Duty: Black Ops could also count as an example. While the main protagonist, Mason, isn't silent or faceless, the player is still encouraged to identify with him, as 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 interrogater, 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, not unlike the protagonist from Bio Shock 1, when you thought you were in complete control. It's quite a Mind Screw.
- 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). Her plan just happens to involve using you to gain control of some reality-warping technology and then discarding you afterwards.
- A particularly disturbing part of this is how SHODAN actually had you rendered unconscious and then stuffed your cranium with implants without your consent. Combined with the dominatrix overtones of her characterization, you get a situation where the game is metaphorically raping the player. The advertising of the game even has a picture of her with the caption "she doesn't need to use her body to get what she wants... she's got yours."
- 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 it 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?
- Eversion at first seems like a cutesy platformer game where you just have to get to the end of the stage. But then you have to start Everting into darker, less cheerful worlds, and each is worse than the last. Everting in any world after world 3 will most likely result in nightmarish landscapes with large amounts of blood. Oh, and Jump Scares every so often.
- Braid: The player is led to believe that Tim is trying to Save the Princess, but the ending heavily implies that she's actually running away from him or is a metaphor for something else.
- Portal 2 has fun with this by setting up the player's expectations and then messing with them. Storywise, by pulling 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. Gameplay-wise, by forcing you into a Violation of Common Sense to get several achievements and correspondingly mocking you for doing whatever you're told, no matter how likely it is to be a trap. This despite the fact that the game is purely linear and you have no choice but to do these things.
- A particularly clever yet frustrating instance near the end: The Big Bad tells you that you're getting too close to their lair, and asks you to jump into a crusher trap so you can die on your own volition instead of dying when you get to the lair. In two instances prior to this, falling for the traps got achievements, so, naturally, you think it works the same here. Nope. For entering the crusher trap and dying, you get nothing but a bemused response from the Big Bad.
- The original Portal pulled this off masterfully. The first people to play it assumed, given the short length and gimmicky premise, that this was 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. Then she tries to Kill Them With Fire, and suddenly everyone realises she's the Big Bad.
- 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.
- Jade Empire does this masterfully. At the beginning of the game, 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. Mind Screw Royale, dudes.
- 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 (If this sounds vaguely dirty to you, you are not alone). Not only that, but Cloud is constantly deceived and manipulated by the villains during the course of the game.
- Final Fantasy X, too. 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 follows suit, and does it twice.
- After having 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.
- NieR, at least on subsequent playthroughs. 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 - the game gives you plenty of warnings and confirmation prompts before 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 is an example where 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 actually 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, but when Soren confronts the latter 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.
- Another possibility for the Mole is Sothe, based on the timing of his appearance and his seemingly-flimsy excuse for stowing away on the ship - and his guilty expression when Ike catches him.
- 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.
- It also doesn't help that Soren actually is hiding something: That he's half-laguz.
- 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.
- Persona 4 plays a rather cruel one as well 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 beat Nametame and rescue Nanako, you find out that you were too late, as being in the Midnight Channel too long ultimately kills Nanako when she's brought to the hospital. The player then gets the opportunity to exact revenge on Nametame by throwing him into the Midnight Channel to suffer the same fate, but doing so nets the player the worst ending and ensures that Nanako 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.
- And before that, 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. You've spent the entire first half of the game following the orders of a complete psychopath.
- 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.
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.
- Assassins 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.
- Metal Gear Solid 2. The plot of the game is a deconstruction of how some people played its predecessor as a power fantasy. Oh, so you wish you were just like Solid Snake huh? Well, Be Careful What You Wish For barely describes what this game does to the player. First; for the majority of the game, the player doesn't get to play as the badass Solid Snake, but rather is forced to play as as a character deliberately made to be the series scrappy, Raiden. After hours of having the player proxy Raiden humiliated, beaten up, and annoyed by his girlfriend, the player eventually gets their Wish Fulfillment... during a segment of the game that takes place in wireframe with the specific purpose of reminding the player that they are playing a video game rather than actually kicking ass. And then, the game reveals that every event preceding this was actually part of a mind-control experiment designed to turn Raiden/the player (it's deliberately ambiguous) into Solid Snake; explaining why several areas and sequences within the game are copies of parts from the original game. Basically, the game shows you exactly what it would be like to be a deceived, manipulated, backstabbed and controlled Blood Knight Super Soldier. It would not be fun.
- It gets better than that. The ultimate goal of the villains is to demonstrate that they can control human thought and behavior. Thus, they created a scenario very similar to that of the previous game in the series and placed Raiden in the middle of it, hoping to prove that by putting someone in the middle of an extreme situation and providing the appropriate context for his actions, they can make him do whatever they want. Thus, for most of the game Raiden (and by extension the player) believes that he is a member of a FOX-HOUND sent in to resolve a crisis very similar to that of the first game, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary - they have only the villains' word that this is the case. Even after it's revealed that Raiden has been acting under the orders of the villains for the entirety of the game, he still goes along with their instructions - and so does the player. The fact that neither Raiden nor the player has any choice but to follow their instructions is one of the major points of the game.
- Silent Hill: Shattered Memories has you playing as a man named Harry Mason as he searches for his lost daughter Cheryl. 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.
- It's also worth noting that the game markets "playing the player" as one of its features, "reading" the player's psyche through their actions in the game (as well as in a number of flat-out therapy sessions with an in-game character), and aspects of the game change according to the player's behavior. In actuality, though, it's really more of a subtle "choose your own adventure" system, where different types of behavior lead to different versions of the game's events, including the Multiple Endings.
- Silent Hill in general is a Mind Screw, what with all the horror and Paranoia Fuel.
- Silent Hill 2 plays this trope straight, while the other games in the series (aside from Shattered Memories) do not. In Silent Hill 2, the protagonist, a sad bloke the player usually has significant sympathy for, is revealed to have murdered his wife and is receiving a karmic beatdown he well deserves. The player and character discover this at the same time, leading to horror for both alike.
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: 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 made the other players do this. Each player also played another character's Shadow, a sort of self-destructive internal "devil on your shoulder." And yes, they were supposed to outright screw with you.
- Another means to create this discomforting introspection is, in a High Fantasy or Low Fantasy game, play the bad guys - and then let all the Fridge Logic decisions of the players' cartoonish evil come back to haunt them.
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. You are Blick Winkel, a fourth dimensional entity who the characters are trying to trick into coming down to the third dimension by making him/her believe that history is repeating itself. And that's why people say "I shat bricks in Coco's Route".
- Being of the mystery genre, it's no wonder the Ace Attorney series pulls this from time to time.
- 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. You confront him in prison and he taunts you by casually revealing everything, but also saying you'll never get him because he had your friend taken hostage. Meanwhile, that witness? Completely and utterly innocent. Not only that, but she has some pretty crippling co-dependancy issues, making her all the more of a Woobie. 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? The case is one big Heroic BSOD for Phoenix, even though it ends well.
- 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 pretty much 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. Read on and you'll see why. 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: Unlike many visual novels, the narration is third-person, not first-person. Turns out, it is a first-person narration. From another one of the players. In the past.
- That isn't even getting into what the sequel "Virtue's Last Reward" does. To make it even funnier for non-Japanese players the whole thing was a "screw you" to the normal 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 what does this game do? It has you play as an Old Man but tricks you into thinking he's college age. The moment when the player is revealed to be an old man is not only shocking to players in general, but a very well thought out Take That to Japanese gamers. Plus the fact that the main character from the first game is also a badass old man in this game really shows the creators want to shake that narrow-mindedness. Another aspect of this twist is that the game actually casually implied the truth about the player character several times, but almost all players are likely to dismiss these lines as oddly-worded throwaway lines.
- 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. To really hammer it in, one of the characters is an avid gamer obsessed with virtual achievements and the like. 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.
- A particular example of this: 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 in fact 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.
- 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.