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Real World Episode
aka: Welcome To The Real World
Jumping between worlds is nothing new in Speculative Fiction. Each week, the characters may face evil versions of themselves, worlds where the Big Bad has won, and even worlds in which they themselves are the villains. However, no amount of dimension hopping can prepare them for the subject of this trope — jumping through a portal and ending up in a world with no aliens, monsters, magic powers, phlebotinum, or threats to humanity. Furthermore, everyone they meet seems to think that they are fictional characters. People, you have just successfully broken through the Fourth Wall; Welcome To The Real World. This truly is the ultimate reality, and furthermore, it's the world in which you, the person reading this, live.

In short, this trope is when fictional characters cross over into (a representation of) Real Life. At some point, they often meet their author. If they wander into a fan convention, they will be told Your Costume Needs Work.

This trope is related to, but distinct from, Refugee From TV Land. In Refugee from TV Land, a character is pulled out of a Show Within a Show, whereas a Real World Episode concerns characters the viewers have been following for some time prior to this, and no indication had yet been given that they were in fact fictional (other than the fact that they, y'know, exist in a TV series, movie, book, comic, or video game). Also, while the Refugee from TV Land plot often hangs lampshades on everything, a Real World Episode plot rarely does.

Compare Mage in Manhattan, Up the Real Rabbit Hole and Tomato Surprise. Compare and contrast with Through the Eyes of Madness and Mind Screw, both of which overlap with this. Contrast Trapped in TV Land (basically the inverse of this).

Sounds like This Is Reality, but it's very different. Definitely not to be confused with an episode of The Real World.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Ed and Hohenheim towards the end of the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist; they never meet Hiromu Arakawa, but she has confirmed that they really did end up in our London, and World War One and World War II were at least partially the result of all the alchemy that was going on in their world.
    • This turns into the entire plot for The Movie, Conqueror of Shamballa. They end up in Germany in that movie.
  • Sonic X would probably count. At the very beginning of the series, Sonic, Robotnik and a whole menagerie of characters from their world are pulled into the explosion of Chaos Control (in the English dub) and end up in what is, for all intents and purposes, the real world. It gets progressively less "real" as the show goes on, however (for example, it turns out that the city Sonic and most of friends emerged in was Station Square from the Sonic Adventure Series, and later episodes had the two worlds merge in order to adapt both Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2).
  • Played fairly straight in most Digimon continuity— mostly Tamers, and subverted in Savers. The Digimon that appear in the "real world" often suffer a loss in power, but they somehow manage to exist despite being made of data. Also, they can still use special attacks and evolve.

    Comic Books 
  • The whole premise of Fables, in which Public Domain Characters from folklore and fairy tales have decided to emigrate to our world.
  • The DCU, prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, had Earth Prime, a world that is in fact our world, with no superpowers or anything. Superman and The Flash occasionally ended up here. Earth Prime got its own version of Superboy shortly before being destroyed in the Crisis.
    • Later, Earth Prime was recreated, and the aforementioned Superboy wound up being dumped there after he punched himself. He seemingly lost his powers and did nothing there other than reading the very issues you were reading, trolling DC message boards and making his parents cook for him. Even later though, the Blackest Night somehow managed to breach into Earth Prime; he regained his powers shortly afterwards.
    • He's stuck as a Basement-Dweller because people read about what kind of a person he was while trapped in the DC Universe.
  • An early issue of Grant Morrison's deservedly famous run on Animal Man builds to a climax in which the title character (a.k.a. Buddy Baker) freaks out because he can see the reader(s). At the conclusion of a long Mind Screw Story Arc (which involves one of the few characters who can remember Crisis on Infinite Earths, as well as the Silver Age version of DC continuity), Buddy has a long metaphysical conversation with Grant Morrison in person, who says that, at this point, he can't think of anything else to do with the comic than hand it over to somebody else.
    • It is heavily implied that the last issue of Morrison's run on Doom Patrol also takes place in the same world as his last Animal Man issue, i.e. the real world. Aside from the fact that the world seen in the Doom Patrol issue apparently has no superheroes, it also shares the same colour scheme with the final issue of Animal Man. And if we take into consideration Morrison's later DC comics, it seems the final issues of Doom Patrol and Animal Man both take place inside the infant universe Qwewq, which is revealed to be our universe in All-Star Superman. This also means that the final fate of our universe is to get speared by Frankenstein in Morrison's Seven Soldiers!
  • The comics of Marc-Anthonie Mathieu explore the (two-dimensional, black-and-white) protagonists occasionally becoming aware of such things as "three-dimensionality" or "four-colour offset". These are implied to be dreams of the protagonists.
  • The Doctor Who comic in Doctor Who Magazine had a story entitled "TV Action!", where the Eighth Doctor and Izzy travelled to our reality. Tom Baker, who had played the Fourth Doctor, defeats that month's alien by merely talking to him and rambling endlessly.
  • In 'World's Funnest', Bat-Mite and Mxyptlk fight across countless realities, briefly ending up in one made of photos, not drawings. Despite their God-like abilities, the weirdzo locales and POV's they've visited and the scores of mega-powers they've brought low during this fight, the place scares the crap out of them and they leave quickly by mutual consent.
  • In a metafictional sort-of inversion, one Marvel Comics Fifth Week Event was comic books based on what they would look like if published in the Marvel Universe itself. The writers there didn't know the secret identities of most characters, suffered from the Fantastic Racism against mutants, and could not do comics based on what the heroes are really doing, so most such comics were very different from the real versions.
  • At the end of Marvel Zombies 5, Machine Man and Howard the Duck go into a universe that isn't designated to collect information on zombies. They stumble across an actual Marvel zombie (that is, a giant fan of Marvel) who has become psychotic whom they kill. As the book ends, they comment on how the Zombie Apocalypse trope itself makes little sense, cutting to a copy of their own book.
  • Flirted with in The Sandman. Dream's normal home is, of course, the Dreaming, but he can visit the waking world (the "real" world) whenever he wants. The last book in the series is titled "The Wake" and it's narrated in the second person, implying you (the reader) are watching current events.

    Fan Fiction 
  • The Star Trek fanfic Visit to a Weird Planet had Kirk, Spock, and McCoy accidentally being beamed onto the set of Star Trek: The Original Series. A sequel had the actors beamed onto the real Enterprise. Indeed, this is a common plot for fanfiction.
  • Notably used in a Back to the Future fanfic, where accidental interaction with the creators and actors changes them to earlier drafts. Interference with Michael J. Fox's audition causes Marty's appearance to change to that of Eric Stoltz, flying past Bob Gale causes the DeLorean Time Machine to revert to a refrigerator, and tearing off a page establishing the almanac from the sequel's screenplay wipes out all the events stemming from Marty buying it in 2015.
  • The Xanadu storyverse, in which at a fairly large convention called "Xanadu" all of the costumes become real. While most stories focus on weirdness and some on furries, naturally a number of cosplayers were featured, with varying levels of mental change, from "Whoa, suddenly my costume is perfect!" to "Where is this place? Where did my True Companions go?" Two stories have characters and such from fictional fiction; Slinx, a Pokémon Expy, and The Perils Of Voice Acting, a pastiche of He-Man, She-Ra, and other cartoons from that period.
  • Way back in 2002, someone wrote a story called the Fanfic Lounge. It took place in a lounge made for fictional characters so they could relax between fanfics. While I'm not sure how many spin offs were made, this one was about the Lord of the Rings cast, along with Elijah Wood and Orlando Bloom, being gathered in the lounge in order to find a solution to the problems plaguing LOTR fanfiction. IIRC, this is where the LOTR cast discovers their fictional status, and Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood are just as weirded out at meeting their fictional counterparts. The story featured the culture shock scenario for the LOTR cast was, and contained such gems as: Boromir trying to open a can of Mountain Dew with a dagger, the cast becoming confused at references to future events in the books/movies (the cast was taken some time before the splitting of the Fellowship), and perhaps the best part, the cast being informed of the existence of Yaoi slash fiction, and being informed of who is frequently paired with who. The two Real Life actors also experience their own variant, when Elijah Wood is nearly torn apart when he accidentally walks into a room used to hold Mary Sues (and then later identifies Sailor Moon as being among them), and Orlando Bloom becoming horrified when he's told that the body he's currently inhabiting was pulled out of an NC-17 fic, explaining why he was missing his shirt (hard to explain, you'd have to read it).
  • Appears in Harry Potter and the Soul of the Hero, where the author and Harry have a conversation for the sake of heroic Deus ex Machina.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic My Little Dashie. An inversion of the fandom's usual Self Insert Fics, the story involves Rainbow Dash arriving into the real world (as a filly), and becoming essentially the narrator's adopted daughter.
    • Anthropology has Lyra end up in the world of modern humans for a while, her true place of origin.
  • The premise of The Book Keeper is that Wilson Bridges can meet characters from books. They briefly enter the real world, and Wilson comforts them, before they disappear back into their stories.

    Film 
  • This is the premise of the live-action Fat Albert movie.
  • The Rocky and Bullwinkle movie did this.
  • And the Woody Allen movie The Purple Rose of Cairo.
  • Enchanted as well, also doubling as an Affectionate Parody of the Disney Princess films.
  • An early (and fortunately rejected) Sam Hamm script for a film version of Watchmen written in 1989, ended with Dan, Laurie and Rorschach inadvertently finding themselves in real-life New York City, where a young kid recognizes them as characters from the comic book. Of course, in the real 1989, children generally didn't read Watchmen.
  • Inverted and lampshaded in Galaxy Quest, wherein the cast of the title Show Within a Show is transported to the spaceship of a race of aliens who believe the show is real and have based all their technology off of it. Naturally, they expect the hapless actors to save them from a genuine alien threat.
  • The Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero is chock-full of both Refugee from TV Land and This Is Reality.
  • The movie Wes Craven's New Nightmare uses this trope straight, but turns the Antagonist into the one doing the world-crossing. In this, the real-life cast of the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies (including Robert Englund, who played Freddy) are attacked by a demon who takes on the persona of the fictional Freddy Krueger.
  • The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse.
  • This also occurs at the end of the short film The Gamers. The roleplayers are all killed by the characters they are roleplaying.
  • The premise for the movie Stranger Than Fiction. The main character, Harold, is a real person and hears a narrator narrating his life. He eventually ends up meeting his narrator.
  • The Live-Action Adaptation for The Smurfs have the title creatures entering a portal that sends them to New York, and they need to find a spell to go home. In a Smurfs comic book which depicts them more as historical legends than just fictional creations.
  • The Garfield Movie Garfield Gets Real is based on the premise that every Garield strip we've ever read has ben made using props in a studio, and Garfield has never actually been in the real world the comic strips makes it look like he lives in. And then he travels there.

    Literature 
  • Occurs in The Dark Tower by Stephen King. In fact, Stephen King himself appears in a later book in the series.
  • Happens briefly in the first Discworld novel.
    • Then in The Science of Discworld spin-off, the wizards at Unseen University manage to create a planet called Roundworld, a world free from magic and narrativium; it is, of course, Earth. In the second and third SoD books, the wizards discover that the elves and the Auditors respectively have interfered with human history, requiring them to set things right by influencing the writing of A Midsummer's Night's Dream and The Origin of Species.
    • The early Terry Pratchett short story "Final Reward" has a barbarian hero, following his death, arriving in the hall of his "creator"; that is, the fantasy writer who invented him.
    • The fan film Run Rincewind Run! - created for the opening of Nullus Anxietas (the 2007 Australian Discworld convention) - features Rincewind being hit by a spell that sends him to "meet his maker." (Which he does, at the convention.)
      • For a fan film, they should have done more research. Rincewind never looks behind him while running (it slows you down).
  • The end of the novel Sophie's World involves the characters realizing that they are characters in a book and deciding to escape to the real world. which is still within the book and therefore not our real world.
  • Bernard Werber's Le mystère des dieux also ends like this: the characters actually hit the end of the universe... which turns out to be the page of a book.
  • In the novel My Hero by Tom Holt, fictional characters clock out between chapters and negotiate with their agents for choice heroic roles, all the while actively bitching out their authors for shoddy plotting. Much of the book revolves around the misadventures of characters pulled into the real world, but since this vision of the real world is one in which mad Cornishmen build footballers from body parts and a literary agent turns out to be planning the End of the World, the "this is reality" effect is rather diluted.
  • Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. The sequel pulls it in reverse, where characters from the real world enter the fantasy world.
  • Older Than Steam: In Part II of Cervantes' Don Quixote (published in fact many years after Part I) the title character meets fans of Part I, and even takes the opportunity to bash another Part II of dubious authorship that had been published before the real thing. In fact, Don Quixote swears that he precisely will NOT go to the tournament in Aragon described in "Avellaneda's" Quixote, even though this had been foreshadowed in Part I.
  • Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series pulls this all the time, in as many ways as you can think of. It starts with Thursday Next's reality being the "real world" for the fictional characters she meets when she ventures into fiction (kind of like the Inkheart sequel that way). It's even possible to go behind-the-scenes in any work of literature (to the backstory, the frontispiece, etc) which makes it seem even more staged. Then it gets more bizarre when Thursday is offered a way to un-eradicate Landen by hopping along to another world, which sounds even more suspiciously like our world. She eventually decides against it, since the price for both her and Landen being alive was that they would not remember or have ever met each other.
  • A senior-citizen Gamer in Dream Park tells the other Gamers a story about how, back in the days of Tabletop Games, her adventuring party opened a door in a dungeon full of magical portals, and found itself in the living room where her gaming group was playing. One of the heroes shot the Game Master with a crossbow bolt, and the entire dungeon disappeared.
  • Inverted in Roger Zelazny's The Chronicles of Amber novels, in which Amber is the only true world. All other realities (including our own) are just imperfect reflections of Amber.
  • After an unusual incident involving a storm, a fire drill, and a cowbell, Wayside School is shut down and the kids are sent to different schools. When they eventually return to Wayside, all the kids recount their horrific tales at the other schools. Todd, however went to the worst school of all: YOURS.
  • A short story in the anthology Fantasy Gone Wrong features a writer struggling with a unicorn to get it to save a centaur from a dragon. The writer and the unicorn ahem discuss variations and reasoning.
  • The Red Shirts in Redshirts travel to the real world to get the show they're appearing in cancelled. Subverted in that they later discover that the "real world" was just as fictional as their own.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The final episode of Eerie Indiana, "Reality Takes A Holiday", has this as its plot. Marshall is sent a script of the episode, and suddenly his home turns into a movie set. His family and friends are actors, and everyone starts calling him Omri Katz, the name of his real life actor. Dash X (who is aware that he's just a fictional villain) tries to have Marshall killed by writing his death into the script, but Marshall prevents it in the end by secretly writing his death out at the last second. After he yells "Action!" his life returns to normal.
  • An episode of Diagnosis: Murder had Amanda Bentley, played by Victoria Rowell, win a trip to the set of The Young and the Restless, in which Victoria Rowell also starred. Other regular characters from within the show and real actors from The Young and the Restless playing themselves, plus actors playing fictional The Young and the Restless crew, commented on how much Amanda Bentley looked like Victoria Rowell.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Far Beyond the Stars", where Sisko wakes up as a Science Fiction writer in the 1950's, and Deep Space Nine is just a story he's been writing. Of course no one wants to read a story where a black man commands a space station...
    • Additionally, there's the Star Trek: Voyager episode which throws the crew back in time to 1995 which essentially operates as a real world episode having them land in the then present.
  • In an episode of Growing Pains, Ben Seaver wishes his life were more like TV, and wakes up to discover his entire life is a television show called Meet the Seavers. All the actors are referred to by their real names, and members of the production crew feature prominently. At one point Kirk Cameron, who usually plays Ben's older brother Mike, confides to Ben that he actually is Mike, and has been trapped in the real world for years.
  • Happens to the video game characters in Ace Lightning.
  • The premise of the Red Dwarf Reunion Show. Unlike most examples, several of the people they run into in the "real world" fairly easily works out what they are, and don't find it especially outlandish that a group of fictional characters might pop out into the real world. Of course they ARE Science Fiction fans. As it turns out, the "real world" is a drug-induced hallucination. (Strictly, it's not the real real world; it's one where the series is still going, and is more popular than ever.)
    • And where people stopped using DVD and went back to VHS. And where Coronation Street is a real place.
  • A meta-version takes place in the finale movie of The Famous Jett Jackson: Jett, an actor in the show's world, switches places with Silverstone, his character on the Show Within a Show.
  • In the Supernatural episode "The French Mistake", Sam and Dean Winchester get blasted into the real world where everyone sees them as Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, stars of the television series Supernatural. It gets very meta. Among the things that the Winchesters discover is that Bobby is named for a show producer, Jared got married to the actress who played Ruby, Supernatural is filmed in Vancouver, and Sam and Dean CANNOT ACT. Misha Collins (Castiel) and series creator Eric Kripke get Killed Off for Real.
  • One of the final episodes of UFO has Ed Straker finding himself in an alternate reality where he is an actor filming a TV series called UFO, with other characters from the series using their actors' real names.

    Video Games 
  • The Final Destination stage in the Super Smash Bros. series is said to travel between the fictional world where the characters live and the real world. This is evidenced as the scenery changes as the time passes along the level, from space, to a wormhole, to a realistic sea.
  • The "Game Over" scene of the Sega Genesis game Comix Zone shows a comic book villain, having successfully traded places with his author, go on to do comic book villainy in the real world. (The game itself follows the adventures of the author, who is Trapped in TV Land and has to be the comic book hero.)
  • Late in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, the protagonists discover that the creators of their world are going to destroy it, so they go up a level in reality to 4D space, and find out their world is a video game, and their creators are the company that developed it. Inverted in that the world where this game company exists isn't the world of our Earth- the game world is.
  • In Morrigan's ending in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, she travels through the dimensional rifts caused by the main villain... and ends up outside the video game.
  • In Drakengard's fifth ending, Caim and Angelus follow the Queen Grotesquerie to Japan 2004, and end up causing a Class 3-4 cataclysm that is followed by Nier.
  • Used in rather bizarre fashion in the good ending to Chrono Cross: after discussing the fact that the Chronoverse consists of infinite parallel realities, Schala (or some alternate-dimension variant of her) is seen wandering the streets of a real-world city in her search for the amnesiac Serge - the implication being that our world is one more of the infinite potential realities, and that the player himself might be an alternate-world version of Serge.
  • This is where Leisure Suit Larry 3 and Space Quest 3 ends.
  • The Matrix video game Path Of Neo takes Neo and Seraph's fight from the second film and has them suddenly transported into a movie theater playing the actual clips from their fight in said movie, even as the two continue to battle it out in the game.
  • Super Mario Fusion Revival has a representation of the real world, dubbed Terra Alternata, as World 2. Metal Slug Rebels serve as the primary source of conflict in that world.
  • The ending of the arcade version of Golden Axe depicts various enemies escaping from the arcade machine to the streets, with the three heroes also escaping and chasing after them.
  • The final level of Hard Head 2 takes place in China for no apparent reason, complete with a portrait of Chairman Mao thrown in for good measure.

    Webcomics 
  • In the guest story "The Sluggite Koan" in Sluggy Freelance, Bun-bun, after being thrown out of time itself in a previous canon story, emerged from the computer screen of a fan of the comic. Being who he is, he proceeded to thrown the guy in in his place and left to menace his own creator.
  • Planescape Survival Guide implied that the "Firstworld" (Earth) was a real place for several chapters. In the 4th chapter, many of the characters ended up there, and also discovered D&D campaign settings depicting the very Multiverse they just came from. How or why has not yet been explained.
  • In Real Life Comics this occurred during the Plot Hole Arc. It was played for laughs due to there being No Fourth Wall and solved relatively quickly.
  • Sinfest has the Reality Zone. The art style changes and Real world physics apply. The Devil steers clear.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Spider-Man, towards the end of The Nineties animated series. Peter met Stan Lee, voiced by Stan Lee. A few episodes earlier he ran into a "Peter Parker" from an alternate reality who was actually an actor portraying him in a Spider-Man movie.
    • Speaking of Marvel, the title Earth-1218 was used to designate our world.
  • In Darkwing Duck episode 'Twitching Channels', Megavolt invents a device that allows him to travel through electrical wires, appliances, and broadcast signals. He proceeds to use television sets as warp gates to enable easy theft and getaway on a crime spree, which Darkwing must of course put a stop to. In hot pursuit, the two go on a chase scene across the channels of TV Land, and ultimately stumble out of a television set into a world where St. Canard is merely the setting of a popular TV show, and the locals are weird beakless mutants human beings. It seems a corrupt animation executive has a device that lets him see alternate universes, from which he steals plots for his own shows. Darkwing is (after a little comical blackmail) welcomed with open arms and made a star of the stage, but he ultimately grows bored and wants to go back to where he has real villains to fight. Eventually he goes home, but the device gets damaged. When the animated executive inspects it, it is now fixed to the world of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers.
  • A Simpsons Halloween Special had Homer being sucked into The Third Dimension (dun-dun-dun!). He eventually destroyed that universe and wound up in our world.
    • Specifically the erotic cake store at 13567 Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles.
  • The third season finale of Super Robot Monkey Team Hyper Force Go had The Dark One opening a wormhole that lead to his next meal: Earth. Neither him nor the Hyperforce actually land on the planet though.
    • In fact, one of the glimpses we get of the planet shows a billboard advertising the show.
  • In Chaotic, the episode Chaotic Crisis involves the Underworlders reverse-engineering human technology to create portals linking Perim, Chaotic, and Earth. (It was All Just a Dream, however.)
  • About half of the episodes of DiC's The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 had the characters visiting Earth in some way. In this continuity, Mario and Luigi are plumbers from "the real world" who discovered the Mushroom World on a plumbing job, and Earthlings are drawn with the same art style as the Marios. Yet Bowser and Peach and Toad refer to Earth as "the real world" even though the Mushroom World is as real to them as the real world.
  • The tv series (blending CG I with live action) Ace Lightning featured a group of videogame characters trying to exist in the real world.
  • In Family Guy Peter does Acid in an episode which results in a live-action hallucination.
    Peter: Everything got a little too real.
    • In the episode the Road to the Multi-Verse, Stewie and Brian get transformed into Live Action versions of themselves in one universe.
  • An episode of KaBlam! had Henry and June attempting to break into the real world and eventually doing so because there just happened to be a door on the studio set leading outside. They briefly become live-action kids, but end up returning to cartoon form quickly when they find that real pain hurts.
  • An episode of Superjail! ends with the Warden waking up as a homeless man wearing the same purple suit after the twins overload his dream machine.
  • An episode of The Smurfs has the in-universe fictional character Don Smurfo (a Smurf Zorro expy) enter into the real universe of the Smurfs.
  • In Duck Amuck Daffy Duck argues with his animator, who erases and redraws the situation. And Daffy into a flower.
  • The 2013 Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse has Mickey and his friends in a hand-drawn black-and-white cartoon go through the movie screen and into the real world, which is rendered in CGI.


Rage Against the AuthorMetafiction Demanded This IndexRecursive Reality
Recursive RealityOtherworld TropesRefugee from TV Land
Rags to RoyaltyWish FulfillmentRight Makes Might
Prison EpisodeEpisodesRoad Trip Episode

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