aka: Schroedingers Gun
In a nutshell: the world of a fictional universe isn't fixed beyond what the author has revealed to the reader
So, when faced with an impending Off the Rails
event, the author can subtly tweak the facts the reader hasn't discovered yet to suit the changed plot. Improvisation masquerading as planning, if you will. For obvious reasons, this kind of plot event is pretty much impossible unless the work in question is either interactive or is written at such a scale that the author can change plot events based on what (s)he hears in the fandom.
In the former case, the advantage to this trope is obvious- a Game Master
in a Tabletop Game
could be badly hamstrung by a sufficiently Genre Savvy
player anticipating the general direction of the campaign and being prepared for anything
. The subtle Retcon
this trope provides is essential to keeping things interesting. Likewise, if it's necessary for the plot in a Video Game
to have the Player Character
meet The Rival
early on but they're technically free to go anywhere they want
, this trope is essential to keeping the plot together.
The trope has also become increasingly important in more traditional fiction as of late because the Internet's technological revolution is such that an author's "twists
" could easily be predicted ahead of time if enough clever fans put their heads together
and talk things over
. (And over.
) Catching wind of this, an author might then avoid being predicted by "coalescing" Schrodinger's Gun into a sniper rifle
, or rocket launcher
as the situation requires. Since these cases involve more conscious improvisation, readers are more likely to consider the possibility that the writer doesn't actually know what they're doing and is just jerking them around
, if not making it up entirely as they go along
In interactive media such as video games, this trope can take the form of setting details retroactively warping themselves around the player's choices in ways that cannot be logically caused by the player character's in-universe choice — for example, when the real location
of an artifact
you seek throughout the campaign is dependent on the order in which you visit its possible locations. In effect, your choices in the game affect not where you end up, but where you began
A helpful way to look at this is how sometimes Mystery Fiction
authors will constantly feed the audience "clues"
supposedly narrowing down the possible suspects, only to select the "right" clue as a Chekhov's Gunman
by the denouement and fit the facts around it. Similarly, in movies it is common practice to write most of the story - and only then pick the ending that resonates the best with the test audience.
Also known as "Railschroding" (forgive the pun) because it can easily be used for Railroading
The larger principle behind Schrodinger's guns is Chandler's Law
Similar to the Ascended Fanon
as applied to world-building.
This can be a form of Cutting Off The Branches
. It May Help You on Your Quest
is related, but use of this trope doesn't necessarily imply the writers themselves don't know yet what's going to happen. A fictional character taking a similar approach to their master plan is playing Xanatos Speed Chess
. Contrast Retcon
(compare the Revision
variant). See also Multiple Choice Past
, where this happens when something gets different origins over a period of time and different writers.
Compare Writing by the Seat of Your Pants
, Schrödinger's Suggestion Box
. A subtrope is Schrödinger's Question
See also the Useful Notes
regarding Schrodingers Cat
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Anime and Manga
- In Sword Art Online, Heathcliff reveals that he had done this mid-game with the previously unused and unobtainable skill "Dual Blades", changing it into a player unique skill in order to designate which player would have the right to try and defeat him as the endboss. While granting the Unique Skills to special players was something he planned to do all along, his cover was blown prematurely, so he had to face his challenger a lot earlier than he had planned.
- A Batman Choose Your Own Adventure involves the Joker deciding to kill half of Gotham's population. Batman decides that involves piping poison from a utility. The Joker is always at the first utility one chooses to investigate.
- The villain of The DCU Crisis Crossover Armageddon 2001, the mysterious Monarch, was originally intended to be the superhero Captain Atom. After fans figured it out too soon, DC changed the story, and the Monarch wound up being a different superhero entirely. (However, the latest Monarch, villain of Countdown to Final Crisis, actually was Captain Atom (but he got better). You couldn't make this stuff up.)
- And it happened again at DC when they were publishing 52. The character Booster Gold and his robot buddy Skeets are from the future. In the first few issues, Skeets' records of current events become incorrect, which makes Booster suspect another time traveler is trying to alter history. Writer Grant Morrison balked at this, saying that the "fix the future" storyline had been done before. The editor would only allow him to change it if he could come up with an alternate explanation for Skeets' behavior. Morrison's response: "Because... he's evil?" — which wound up completely changing Booster's storyline and others in the series.
- Masterfully applied in the movie about the boardgame Clue. It has endings for several characters where they are the killer, and of course they Flash Back retroactively showing how only they could ever possibly be the killer. Each theatre showed it with one of three different endings. The VHS release showed all three endings straight through, and the DVD lets you do it either way, with a random ending or with all three. In the end end, Mr. Green reveals himself as working for the government and that "They all did it!" Take them away boys!
- The final ending is itself a parody of the game, in which the killer could win by exposing himself. Not like that.
- the 1995 movie "Mr. Payback" had the audience vote at several points to determine how the movie proceeded.
- Just about every Choose Your Own Adventure book does this heavily, in order to keep it interesting through multiple re-reads.
- Rampant in the Goosebumps Choose Your Own Adventure books. There'll at the very least be a major choice near the beginning that divides the book in half (say, try to give the magic book back or try to hide it), and the entire setup, the very nature of the situation you're in, will be completely different depending on which you choose. Then other decisions will cause the same thing to happen on a smaller scale. Worst, often there'll be a situation in which you have a single decision where both lead to a quick death and an unhappy end, but the nature of what was putting you in danger is not the same depending on which you pick.
- Chuck Palahniuk has mentioned in interviews that he got stuck at the ending of Fight Club until he read over what he had written earlier and found the line "paraffin has never, ever worked for me".
- Matthew Reilly said that, in Contest, the way to kill the Karanadon - with Swain's explosive wristband - came to him completely out of the blue.
- Lampshaded in The Hobbit. From Chapter 8 "Flies and Spiders." Also justified as, at this point, Bilbo was in his 50s and little has been said of his hobbies or activities before being recruited by Gandalf.
...and even grownup [Bilbo] had still spent a deal of his time at quoits, dart-throwing, shooting at the wand, bowls, ninepins and other quiet games of the aiming and throwing sort—indeed he could do lots of things, besides blowing smoke-rings, asking riddles and cooking, that I haven't had time to tell you about. There is no time now.
Live Action TV
- Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined):
- The "Helo on Caprica" plot in the first season was like this. Favorable fan reaction to Helo upgraded him to Mauve Shirt, and a new plot was born. It's actually evolved to the point of being an entire series long affair, which in retrospect the writers may have never considered until the miniseries was over and done with.
- Likewise the four Cylons revealed in the Season 3 finale are practically Schrodinger's Hit-squad. All were perfectly plausibly human until the revelation, one even went through an "Am I a Cylon?" existential crisis and was told by an existing Cylon that he wasn't! But after the revelation, things still fit with them being Cylons. Though there are a few niggling plot details on how one managed to infiltrate colonial society for so long, the series kept its word that "anyone can be a Cylon". At this point, with one last Cylon left to reveal, the only people we know aren't Cylons are Helo and Cally (have a Half-Human Hybrid child with a Cylon), Roslin (flat out told by the only one who knows she's not), and Apollo (can at most be a half Cylon).
- And now with the final Cylon revealed as Ellen Tigh, the niggling details are explained. Cavil, the first humanoid Cylon they built, killed them, blocked their memories and placed them on the Colonies to witness the coming genocide. The "oldest" among them has been explained in official statements as not having served in the first Cylon war, Saul just thinks he did, a service record was probably forged by Cavil.
- They're still Schodinger's Hit-squad when you realize that two of the four were unplanned additions to the cast, which means that there is literally no way their reveals were planned out from the start of the show. They even had to Retcon that Nicki isn't a half cylon, Cally apparently slept with Hot Dog. The producers even admitted it was their biggest problem when picking Chief as a Cylon.
- They've since added a 13th (well, actually the 7th) Cylon named Daniel. His clones were "corrupted" by Cavil, meaning they're either dead or transformed/transplanted into someone else, bringing it back to "Anyone could be a Cylon".
- Word of God shot this theory down — Daniel's long dead, Schrodinger's gun was never fired.
- It still qualifies, the production team had to find a work around their earlier ad hoc numbering sequence that put the first few Cylons revealed as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8
- Which is one place where the writers really missed a golden opportunity to tie off some dangling plot threads by making Starbuck the daughter of the lone surviving #7.
- Babylon 5. During production, J. Michael Straczynski planned the B5 plot out for a 5-year arc. However, he also made plans for Real Life Writes the Plot. Indeed, the show didn't even end as he had originally meant for it to end, due to changing station commanders between seasons 1 and 2, changing several major plot points. And if you were just watching the show, you probably wouldn't have noticed (much).
- One particular noteworthy instance of a double-Schrodinger for the same plotline. Lyta Alexander was introduced in the pilot as a telepath who got to see and have mental contact with a Vorlon, thus establishing her connection with them and providing possible material for leveling her up later. However, because the actress had other obligations Lyta didn't make it to the first season. Instead, Talia Winters was introduced, also a telepath. And she was also given a plot arc that actually began the process of leveling her up. Then, the actress playing her proved too much of a prima donna (and went through a nasty divorce from Garibaldi's actor), so she left. But they got Lyta's actress back, so they just went on and did what was originally intended.
- The obvious actor/role substitutions: Jeffrey Sinclair/John Sheridan; Carolyn Sykes/Catherine Sakai/Anna Sheridan; Laurel Takashima/Ivanova/Lockley. Minor aversion with Ivanova, as she wasn't a straight substitution. Originally, Takashima was a traitor. Instead, it's Garibaldi's aide.
- Word of God is this was done because JMS let slip that Takashima would have become a traitor. So instead he gave that to someone else, and tossed in the occasional Red Herring regarding Ivanova for those who thought she was a straight substitution as subtle misdirection.
- Each season of 24 has lots of shots of various characters giving significant looks and suspicious glances, so when The Mole is revealed, no matter who it is the audience has already been given a lot of seemingly suspicious behavior to justify it.
- The reason why is that each season only starts with the first half of the season planned out. The rest is written on the fly.
- The new Doctor Who set one of these up with the Master. After his death and cremation, an unidentified hand reaches in and takes a ring he wears. The creators have said they have no plan for this, and have not assigned the hand to belonging to anyone in particular. It's meant as a hook that the next batch of writers and producers can retroactively fit into their own plot when they want to resurrect him again.
- As things turned out, they were the ones who ended up using it for the Tenth Doctor's finale.
- As a nod to the pre-written victory/concession speeches from Real Life below, The West Wing final season election had Santos' speechwriter do these, then additional permutations (won but lost home state, lost but won home state, etc.) were brought up for the contingency speech list...
- This was done frequently in earlier seasons, too, and tied into Toby's general paranoia about counting unhatched electoral chickens. During the blowout midterm election he reveals that he has prepared a concession speech just in case. And there's a dark echo in the beginning of season 5, after Zoey Bartlett is kidnapped. Toby is seen preparing two sets of remarks - one for use if Zoey comes back alive and well, one for ... otherwise.
- A campaign example for the Tabletop Game Pokéthulhu involves the players "choosing between four houses for shelter". The book explicitly says that no matter which house the party chooses, it will be the one which contains the plot devices.
- Included as an explicit character creation option in the Tabletop RPG FATE. When using this option, players start play with an essentially "blank" character sheet, and fill in skills as the play progresses. For example, if a character is stuck behind a locked door, the player can declare that his character has the lockpicking skill and fill it in in one of his skill slots.
- The "Gizmo" advantage in GURPS. This advantage allows the player to be carrying around an unspecified "gizmo", which he may at any time "pull out" and declare it to be whatever device he wants it to be (that he could have reasonably possessed). Additionally, the gizmo does not "enter play" until activated, so it cannot be damaged, lost, stolen, or uncovered in a search.
- The same is true in Toon — Steve Jackson games love this trope.
- This is essentially how Burning Wheel works: If you say that you want to kick a bowl of fruit into the guard's face to create a distraction, then there will be a bowl of fruit right there for you to kick. It wasn't there until you said it was. Essentially, the players all have Schrodinger's Gun, to an extent.
- Houses of the Blooded is similar. When a player rolls for something, it's generally the right to decide things about the scene or how actions turn out. The rules explicitly state that you can decide pretty much anything that hasn't specifically been established yet.
- There are several other games which allow the players to retroactively decide minor aspects of the current scene, such as Feng Shui and Exalted.
- Adventure! handles this with a game mechanic: players can spend points to perform a Dramatic Edit and declare that there is e.g. a convenient manhole cover in the blind alley they've run down. This is great when the players only need to use it to collaboratively make situations more awesome, but less great when, as it sometimes does, it becomes a sort of ablative defense against railroading (why would the GM decide it was a blind alley in the first place?).
- In Wushu, everything happens exactly as the players describe it. Additionally, the more complicated and dramatic a description is, the more dice the players receive, providing massive incentive to weave complicated and dramatic descriptions. To prevent complete insanity, actions can be vetoed by another player or the GM, and there's generally a "pool limit" maximum dice cap.
- Nobilis has The Monarda Law, which states that the answer to a PC's question should almost never be a flat-out "no". Additionally, in that game, prophecies explicitly work by the GM throwing out a lot of meaningless symbolism — when the PCs offer a plausible explanation, it is assumed to be true, and any action they take on it gains a bonus.
- The John Tynes Call of Cthulhu scenario In Media Res uses a very similar device: You're given a whole heap of weird symbolism to throw at the players, and whatever they decide it means, it means.
- And really, the whole idea of it is a pretty common Game Master trick: Throw out an ambiguous scenario with a lot of plot hooks, see which one the players respond to, and run with it like it's the baton at a relay.
- Exalted and its modern cousin Scion both rely on a Stunting system. Do it with style, and even if it is utterly ludicrous, it's more likely to succeed than if done boringly. For the most part, "stunts" involve pieces of the environment that the players make up as they go along. Asking if something exists in the scene should be met with "It does now."
- The DC Heroes RPG had a similar feature. A PC may spend a few of his/her Hero Points to decree the existence of specific objects in his vicinity, if the GM agrees to allow them.
- Then there's the Omni-Gadget, Omni-Connection, etc advantages. "Whaddya know, this 8 AP opmni-gadget in my belt is an 8 AP FORCE FIELD gadget!", or "Paradyne technologies? What luck, an old buddy of mine from college is the VP in charge of Marketing there!" and so on.
- It is explicitly written into the rules of Paranoia that anything the GM says goes. Anything. The GM is perfectly free to roll a 5 and declare it a 17. Similarly, players may discover that they had mutations they were unaware of, that the NPC they're assigned to kill suddenly belongs to their secret society now, or that their weapon was actually sabotaged by Communists, or that while they were fleeing from a renegade robot they caused an Ultraviolet citizen a twenty minute delay in his routine. If it doesn't contradict established fact, or if the GM can invent a justification for why it doesn't, then it's all good. (Although, considering that this is Paranoia, contradicting established fact is perfectly acceptable behavior.)
- In the new Czech RPG Střepy snů (Dreamshards), this is a mechanic given to the players — if you want to have done something in the past that could help you in the current situation (or if you simply want something to be a certain way), you can burn one of your dream points and it's part of the game now. Hiding in a basement and the only way out is besieged by zombies? One dream point later, you can leave through the secret door (that you most certainly installed) into the tunnels below.
- Spirit Of The Century is fond of this one. The languages that a character knows need not be specified at creation. A character can spend "Fate Points" in order to make declarations about the scene in their favor or create weird coincidences (e.g. "I declare that the guard holding us hostage was my college roommate"). Players can use knowledge skills to make similar declarations (so an expert in architecture can "create" a secret passage in a building by declaring that he or she learned such in his or her research). Furthermore, numerous stunts allow for Schrödinger's Gun situations, like Universal Gadget, which once per session lets the player create a better-than-off-the-shelf custom item on the spot and introduce it into the game just just when he or she needs it (the character may have had it all along or simply be really good at improvisation), or Master of Disguise, which allows a character to effectively stop playing, then later declare that any unimportant character "is really me in disguise!" The game also gives rules for on the fly character creation, which works similar to the FATE example above — unsurprisingly, as it's based on another version of the same system.
- Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies and other PDQ system games are fond of this one - there's usually a power currency (Style Dice, Hero Points) to let the players declare significant facts about the game, such as inventing useful NPCs or giving them new abilities. S7S even encourages players to make flat statements that something exists and tossing a Style Die down, as opposed to asking if it's so and having to pay the cost the GM sets (though the GM should ask for more dice on particularly large changes anyway).
- PDQ2 rules game Vox has a starting scenario to run character creation similar to a FATE game, where you choose what you can do as you need to do it until all your abilities are set.
- Pulp Hero has "floating prequisites" such as Floating Contacts and Floating Favors that a character can buy and leave undefined when they are purchased during character construction. These Contacts and Favors represent a character who is so widely traveled he potentially has friends who owe him favors everywhere in the world. The player can define who these Contacts are whenever he feels the need to call on one. Once the player uses them, though, they become regularly defined Contacts and Favors.
- A musical based on The Mystery of Edwin Drood stops the action at the point where Charles Dickens' death left the novel unfinished and then uses audience votes to determine the villain, lovers and true identity of Dick Datchery.
- Shear Madness allows audience members to question all the suspects and vote on the identity of the murderer.
- Some computer games (especially Interactive Fiction, given that it is just one step away from a table-top RPG) can do this. For example, in Peasant's Quest, at one point, there are four bushes with a trinket hidden in one of them. No matter what order you go to the bushes, the trinket is always in the fourth bush you look in.
- Plenty of Interactive Fiction games use this to let the player configure his character.
- The classic Infocom game Leather Goddesses Of Phobos does this, where you have to go to the bathroom, and whatever room you choose — ladies' or men's — ends up being the correct one.
- A less known IF game called Enlisted pulls it off for the same reason, where you get your uniform out of a dispensing machine, and what settings you set it to (short, tall, etc), turn out to be the right ones.
- In an even less known IF game called Amnesia the main character closes his eyes and visualizes his appearance, to check how badly he's affected by the titular condition: your choices of features turn out to be completely wrong. Dude be whack.
- Moonmist does this with your favorite color — which color you choose determines how your bedroom is decorated, and also (no causal relationship) who the villain is.
- Aisle type one-move games take this to the logical extreme: you get only one move and the world need not be internally consistent since each world instance ends after that single move. For example, in the parody game Pick Up The Phone Booth and Aisle, climbing shows you to be a mountain climber, whereas entering the titular object reveals that you're a spy.
- Some IF designers call this the Magician's Choice, and it's a very good way to turn an initially wide-open map into a small one. Whatever direction the hero goes, that's the right way to go. See Adam Cadre's Photopia, for instance.
- Sierra Adventure Games. If the programmers can't kill your character off with something because you noticed it, they may not bother with it at all. Your car only has a fault if you don't perform the safety inspection. (Police Quest 1). The policeman's only there if you're indecent. (Leisure Suit Larry). There's only a car coming if you don't Look Both Ways. (The Dagger Of Amon Ra). The biggest example is in the latter: giving the wrong item to a speakeasy doorman would make the game Unwinnable, so it also causes a completely random person to walk in from offscreen and stab the protagonist to death. The game then quotes knife crime statistics.
- In the horror RPG/adventure game Elvira 2 - The Jaws of Cerberus, there are three places where Elvira may be hidden. No matter in what order you reach them, the first two Elviras will be fake and transform into monsters.
- In Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, there's a plot choice point of which main character to follow. Excluding the main character, you get all the current secondary characters and the same new characters (with a few exceptions) appear in each chapter. Your chosen lord will even have the same encounters with the Big Bad and the Big Bad will always take the Sacred Stone from whichever lord you picked.
- That being said, there is a difference in the routes, at least storyline wise. In Eirika's, Lyon's spirit is subsumed and killed by the demon king's. In Ephram's, Lyon's spirit unites with the demon king's and does a full (if very sad) Face-Heel Turn.
- In Seiken Densetsu 3, the player can choose three party members for the whole game: one main character and two support characters. Whoever the player picks as the main character becomes the only one who can wield the Mana Sword, and it also determines which of the three evil factions wins the race to the Holy Land, and which of the three final bosses the player ends up fighting.
- Seen in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga in a boss battle at Joke's End. When Jojora asks the Mario Bros. which of her friends should come (and beat the crap out of them, presumably), the player is given the choice of four different names, which seem to refer to four different possible enemies. However, no matter which one you pick, Jojora's friend will look and fight exactly the same. The only thing your choice really affects is what name the battle display refers to her as.
- Used extensively in Illusion of Gaia, due to Will's ability to guess any question correctly. It is demonstrated at the beginning of the game, where Will is asked to pick a card. No matter what the player picks, it is the right one. It resurfaces much later for a Wire Dilemma, where the player simply has to remember that Will is psychic and make a decision quickly.
- For the Wire Dilemma, it might be subverted as the bomb doesn't explode at all if the bosses are defeated. Maybe it's some kind of boss-powered device?
- Indigo Prophecy has a tarot card reading about half way through. No matter which card you pick or in what order, you get the same ominously creepy message. I guess You Can't Fight Fate.
- In Tactics Ogre, there's a branching off point at the end of the first chapter of the game. You have to choose whether to kill a group of prisoners in order to frame the Big Bad. (It's complicated and political). If you choose to kill the prisoners, your best friend will reveal himself to be incredibly noble and oppose you and all governments, and throughout the game form La Résistance until you become The Atoner. If you choose not to kill the prisoners, your best friend will reveal himself to be the biggest asshole ever and side with the killers just to gain power.
- In a way, this is a bizarre [Sadistic Choice. You cannot be a spotless hero and at the same time have your best friend be a good guy (and alive) by the end of the game.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II, you can answer various questions about past events, such as Revan's fate in the first game and the color of the lightsaber the Jedi Council took away from you, and the answers retroactively determine what happened.
- As well, depending on which side you pick on Onderon, an opposing NPC will either be a mercenary or a patriot.
- In the Star Ocean games, in order to keep some kind of weird Arbitrary Headcount Limit, you can only pick certain party members; which prevents you from getting others, who just aren't available anymore.
- Or, in one particularly egregious case (Bowman), just not interested in traveling with you anymore.
- Drakengard has what might be the most strenuous version of this. Depending on which ending you get the very fabric of reality functions differently. Your Dragon might be the only thing that can save the world, or you may be destined to destroy her lest she destroy the world.
- At one point in Fable, a key is hidden in one of three books. No matter what, the key is always in the second book you pick.
- In the second NES Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers game, the player faces a Wire Dilemma when defusing a bomb. Any choice turns out to be the right one, though one causes the screen to flash white with a boom, then revert back as one character says "Just kidding!"
- The "It's War" chapter of Conkers Bad Fur Day has a pair of levers near a soldier strapped to an electric chair. Whichever lever Conker pulls first will electrocute the soldier, and the other lever opens a door.
- The Blade Runner Adventure Game had several plot points (such as whether characters were replicants or not) decided either at random in each game, or depending on the choices the player made.
- Dead Rising: Did Barnaby manage to bite Jessie when he started turning into a zombie? Only if you start case 8-1. If the truth vanishes into darkness before then, no he didn't.
- At two different points in Persona 3, you can join one of three clubs. No matter which club you choose, the characters for the related social link will always be members of that club. It's most obvious with the Culture Clubs, as Yukari says Fuuka is a member of one of them, but can't remember which — it turns out to be whichever one you end up joining.
- To a lesser degree, the Athletic Club in Persona 4 — you're still hanging out with Kou and Daisuke — only difference is which one is the focus character.
- At the end of Persona 3 Portable, if you're playing as the female protagonist, or the male one on subsequent playthroughs, and have romanced at least one character, then you will hear a voice and the game asks you to specify whose voice. Whoever you pick dictates which character reaches the roof just in time to witness your final moments of life.
- In Riven, the passcode near the end of the game which unlocks Catherine's prison is randomly generated the first time you see it, retroactively setting the lock to that code. It is impossible to open the lock without having first seen the passcode. This prevents a medium-aware player from saving the game early, finding out the code, loading the saved game, and then opening the lock much earlier in the game, which would have required the designers to come up with a completely different ending. (Note that the other randomly-generated passwords are not Schrödingified, so you can use this trick to unlock them ahead of time.)
- In Cave Story, choosing to avoid speaking to an injured old man A) determines whether or not his injuries are fatal (they are only fatal if you talk to him) and also B) determines whether or not there is a vitally important rope among the junk on the floor of a room entered later, which appears to have been sealed for many years. (The rope is only there if you didn't talk to the old man.)
- You finally bring down a Yellow Squadron bird in the "Stonehenge" mission of Ace Combat 4. No matter which one gets shot down, though, it's always Yellow 4 who bites it.
- In the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy text adventure game, there are 12 or so Chekhovs Guns to collect. The bad news is you'll need one at random at the end of the game or you'll die. The other bad news is the "random" one you need is always one you don't have unless you have them all. It's a cruel game.
- inFAMOUS examples:
- The game employs this to make its Sadistic Choice even worse. Your girlfriend Trish is always on the tower you didn't save, regardless of what the Big Bad says. Justified as Kessler is actually Cole from the future, which means he can predict what would Cole do in that situation.
- Both games also include an optional series of Dead Drops that flesh out the story. Their locations are fixed, but no matter what order you visit them in, you'll always find the first Dead Drop at the first site you visit, the second at the second, and so on. This means the story itself will always make sense, but where you find it may not. (For instance, some of John's messages are recorded during the part of the story where travel between the three boroughs is difficult or impossible, but if you wait till late in the game to pick them up, they may be scattered all over town.)
- Baldur's Gate II has a sidequest where one of your companions returns home to find his sister has been murdered, and an investigation is still in progress. His father is convinced it was a hit from a rival and tells you to kill him in revenge. If you kill the rival, you later find out that he was innocent; if you spare him, he was guilty all along.
- In Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Emil is asked to guess which of Lloyd's companions joined him at the end of Tales of Symphonia. Since it was based on Relationship Values there, any answer could be a correct one, and, indeed, no matter what Emil (that is, the player) guesses, Lloyd admits that he guessed correctly.
- In Batman: Arkham Asylum, at one point Batman must search three body bags in order to continue. No matter what order he opens the actual bags in, the result is always the same. His dad's body, his mother's body, and then Scarecrow. (Justified, as it's a hallucination) Also, no matter what order you collect the audio logs in, they are always the next in the set, as are the Spirit of Arkham messages.
- An experience while playing Déjŕ Vu seemed like a literal Schrodinger's Gun: trying to shoot the gun-toting mugger resulted in him firing first for a game over. Restarting and giving in to his demands the next time around let him escape while claiming that the gun wasn't even loaded. Of course, that could just be the mugger kicking you when you're down.
- In Dragon Age: Origins you may end up with plot-relevant fights halfway through traveling, no matter where you are, and there are dozens of them. Even if you meet a bunch of elves defending themself against some darkspawn in the far northwest near the dwarven home, while the elven woods are southeast and the darkspawn isn't actually rare on the surface that far north.
- The origin stories always end with Duncan bailing your ass out of trouble, which every origin you choose will be the place Duncan decided to recruit a new Grey Warden. It is implied if you go back to those places as a different origin that what happened happened but without Duncan saving that would-be hero. The Dwarven Noble, the second child of King Endrin, was framed for murdering his brother and killed on the Deep Roads; the Dwarven Commoner died in jail, refusing to eat; the human noble was killed by Tim Curry, etc.
- Awakening is an aversion if you don't import a Warden; there is a default outcome for everything that the Orlesian Warden Commander will arrive to (Alistair is king, etc.)
- Assassin's Creed II does this with The Truth. No matter what order you find the glyphs, the segments of the video and puzzles will always be found in the same order.
- Averted in Heavy Rain. The eventual set of reveals rely heavily on fourth-wall shenanigans and mess with the player's expectations from the standpoint of someone playing a game as much as from the plot itself similar to Knights of the Old Republic II, so it's likely that this was a deliberate decision intended to give more value to the first playthrough.
- In the FMV-based adventure game Ripper by Take 2 Interactive, the titular serial murderer has four possible identities, depending on how the player pursue the investigation (one of them being the main character's girlfriend).
- At the end of The King of Fighters '95, returning villain Rugal announces his plan to destroy your team for foiling his plans last time. At the end of The King of Fighters '96, Chizuru reveals that she lured your team there because she needed the help of those responsible for defeating Rugal. In both cases, this speech is made regardless of which team you are playing, and whether or not they actually won or were even in the previous game. (Aside from Geese/Wolfgang/Big, whom even she refuses to acknowledge.) This is additionally in spite of both victories over Rugal in canon being attributed to Kyo Kusanagi (his win in '94 is even specifically noted on SNKP's official website chronicling the series' history), who'd go on to win the '96 and '97 tourneys.
- A quest in Guild Wars requires the player to help the prince find a gift for his beloved. There are three items you can show him; the first two will always be rejected, no matter the order you try them in. An alternative option is to find only one of the items and hand it directly to the birthday girl, who gets pissed that the prince hired someone else to choose a gift for her.
- Guild Wars 2 makes extensive use of this trope, from personal storylines (which affect instances) to dynamic events (which alters the state of the world players share).
- The Master Sword in the The Legend of Zelda Oracle games can come from two conflicting sources depending on which game you play first.
- The games also include a Schrodinger area of the game map: at a certain point in the game, you can earn a flute that will eventually allow you to summon one of the three animal companions. Each of them have skills that allow you to reach places Link can't reach alone, and depending on which flute you get, part of the map ends up being an area that requires that companion to get through.
- Late in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Link must revisit each of the previous areas in order to collect the parts of the Song of Heroes. These can be done in any order, but no matter when you choose to do Eldin Volcano you always arrive just as it erupts.
- In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, three different chests can contain the magic lamp: the one in the house Link wakes up in, another one in a tunnel under the castle, and the last one in Princess Zelda's cell. There's only one lamp; the second and third chests are backups for the first one in case you somehow didn't notice it; so, the lamp will magically appear in whichever chest you open first (if you open the other two, you find only 5 Rupees).
- In Contra: Hard Corps, Colonel Bahamut's plan for the Alien Cell depends on which path you take through the game. Either he wants to use it to power a Kill Sat, turn it into a bio-weapon, merge with it, or load it on a missile and launch it into civilization.
- From the same game, Bahamut's base is either right next to your current location, a train ride away in the jungle, or a boat ride away on an island.
- In Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising there is a traitor in your party. And you really don't know who it is, as it's affected by your actions in the game. However, the treachery began long before the game, so the "choice" of traitor is retroactive.
- The choice is determined by your Corruption rating, defaulting on Martellus on a perfect play. But really, he's the last person you want as a traitor. While others all have their starts of darkness and motive rants prepared, Martellus is just a plain generic boss, and a hard one at that.
- The sequel trims down possible traitors to three characters: the Force Commander, the Devastator sergeant Avitus, or the assault sergeant Thaddeus. All others are loyal and playable. Turns out it's Avitus
- Each Mass Effect game has an instance in the beginning; regardless of what Shepard's background and military reputation are, he or she is the perfect candidate for the first human Spectre. Likewise, when Mass Effect 2 begins, regardless of whether the imported save file flags the council as saved, lost, or lost and replaced with an all-human council, Shepard "did everything right." Justified in the latter case, as no matter the outcome, it is perfect for Cerberus. Although the degree and specifics of it vary, any of the endings puts humanity in an unprecedented position of power and influence, which is exactly what Cerberus wants.
- Mass Effect 3 reveals that all of 2's DLC missions happened whether or not you bought them, but the details changed without the PC on hand. Cerberus resorted to nuking Project Overlord, Liara needed a whole team of mercs to take on the Shadow Broker (and couldn't save Feron), and Arrival took a whole team of marines (none of whom survived).
- A more minor form in Mass Effect 3, on one side-mission, you are looking for someone and they are in one of two rooms on the presidium. They are always in the second one you go to, no matter which order you choose.
- In the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, you are to choose between two guns, one loaded and one not, and duel Ocelot with them. No matter what you choose, you and Ocelot both survive. If you grab the loaded gun and purposefully miss, there is a hole in the wall, but if you shoot him or grab the gun with no bullets and he shoots you, it turns out the bullet was a blank.
- Which is odd as the bullet Ocelot keeps around his neck the whole game is a blank; you can notice that if you zoom in on it.
- In the FMV game Terror T.R.A.X. - Track of the Vampire (played by Spoony here), one of the Bad Ending paths has one of your agents getting captured by a Mad Scientist vampire. When the second agent finds the first, Mission Control orders her to shoot him preemptively. If you don't, he springs up as a vampire and kills the other agent. If you do, the vampire calls to taunt you with the fact that the agent was still human so you killed him needlessly.
- Done several times in Portal 2, with an actual gun. With some of the puzzles, the player needs to fire the portal gun quickly to not die, but if they fire the wrong portal, they end up dying anyway. To fix this, the programmers fixed it so that whichever portal you fire is the right one and it retroactively changes the portal you had already placed.
- In XIII, the player must enter a locked cabin to obtain a fuse. There are several guards in the area, but the last one who gets killed is always the one holding the key.
- In Dragon Quest V, it doesn't matter whether you decide to marry Bianca or Nera, either one will turn out to be descended from Zenithian blood, and will give birth to the legendary hero. The original game plays this straight, but the remake justifies it a little. The new character Debora is Nera's sister, so they share the same fate, and it's hinted that all three girls are secretly related anyway.
- In Catherine, the differences between the "Bad", "Good", and "True" version of each ending are supposedly determined by how well the girl can sense your feelings (that is, your position on the Karma Meter), but other events happen differently seemingly independently of your feelings about relationships. If you choose Katherine, Jonny, Orlando, and Boss don't show up to corroborate your story in the Bad ending. If you choose Catherine, her father doesn't show up in the Bad ending. And the difference between the Good and True freedom endings is whether or not Feather wins the wrestling tournament, which Vincent should have no way of influencing.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution has this at least on an occasion: when you rescue the three scientists at Omega Ranch, the third one will always have the virus Sevchenko built, regardless of the order you visit them.
- StarCraft II includes three levels where you can choose one of two possible methods to take. While two aren't one of these (merely determining if you strip the Zerg of their primary Zerg Rush generating unit or of their flying units), one is. In the Colonists story arc, the climax is to either fight off the Protoss to try and see if the Zerg infection amongst the colonists can be arrested and perhaps cured, or to side with the Protoss and mercilessly burn out all of the infected. Your choice is always the correct one: Choose the former, and the game reveals that there were only a few infected colonists, who are easily contained, and Dr. Hanson leaves the ship to work on researching a cure. Choose the latter, the infestation is far more widespread, and Dr. Hanson goes insane and infects herself, turning into a monstrous human/zerg hybrid that Raynor has to kill.
- Used extensively by Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, primarily for purposes of Mind Screw.
- In Fear Effect, two of the player characters continuously are at odds over whether or not a girl they are helping is a legitimate Damsel in Distress or secretly the Big Bad playing Evil Plan. Right before the final battle the player must decide who is correct and that choice will determine the final scene of the game. If the player decides innocent it will turn out she is innocent, if the player decides she is lying it will turn out she has been lying throughout the whole game. So in essence the girl is paradoxically telling the truth AND lying throughout the story until the scene when the player makes their decision.
- In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the player is recruited by an old Haitian woman to help out her son in an upcoming gang war. This mission involves assisting a group of a dozen Haitians as they fight off wave after wave of Cubans. This raises the question of exactly which of the dozen Haitians is the son you are trying to protect, as mechanically and graphically they are all identical. However, the mission is a failure only if ALL the Haitians die, which means that 11 of the 12 are "expendable", i.e. NOT the son you're supposed to protect. Thus one can conclude that the son will always be the final Haitian killed, regardless of the order in which the Haitians go down.
- While we're at GTA, in the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas mission "Green Goo", it's always the third box that contains the eponymous green goo you're looking for.
- Brain Lord: In the first town, there's a small sidequest you can do involving rescuing a pair of kids who wander down into a cave below the city. However, they only get lost in the cave if you actually talk to them - ignoring them or simply not talking to them will mean you don't need to rescue them.
- Escape Velocity Nova has a few - mainly, the fact that you with little doubt is the universe incarnate in two of the storylines, certainly isn't in one of the storylines, and has some question-marks regarding that status in the remaining three storylines. Other than that, Frandall either set up the Rebellion as a trap or is genuinely, if for selfish reasons, opposed to the Bureau, and someone shows up in the Auroran storyline that has what would have been your role and backstory in the Pirate storyline.
- In the Pokémon games, the player's rival Trainer always gets whichever starter Pokémon has an elemental type advantage over the player's starter; while this is usually by virtue of the player choosing first and the rival second, in Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 the rival is known to already have their starter Pokémon long before the player acquires theirs (having raised it from an egg) - the Mon's specific identity is simply not revealed until the player selects theirs and faces their rival in battle.
- Similarly, the opposite-sex player character Lucas or Dawn plays a recurring role in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. S/he always has the starter that loses to yours (s/he isn't your real rival), and always remarks that you could have matched if you'd picked a different starter (which of course never happens.)
- In Pokémon Emerald, in the post-game content, a TV reports on a flying Pokemon. Your character is asked what color the Pokemon is. The response you make your character give determines whether it's Latios (blue) or Latias (red). In the original Ruby and Sapphire this depended on the version you got.
- Both Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 feature missions where the player is searching through multiple houses for one specific person. And, in both cases, you can search the houses in whatever order you want, but your target is always in the last one you search. It's less noticeable in the first case, as one of the safehouses is much further off than the rest of them are and getting between them isn't exactly easy, so you're likely to just naturally end up there last unless you go out of your way to visit it early.
- On one path in Corpse Party: Book of Shadows, Mitsuki ends up facing ominous approaching footsteps, with a choice to wait or run away. If you wait, it's Yoshikazu, who kills her with an axe. If she runs, it was Taguchi, and she ends up running into Sachiko needlessly fleeing from him.
- Clock Tower: Your friends are only considered dead by the game if you see proof of it. It has actual gameplay implications, in that the only way to get the A and S-endings (where one of the other girls is still alive) is to actively avoid investigating strange noises or places where a body could be found, because if you do, the game will take the chance to declare one of your friends dead.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
- The various shouts available to the Dragonborn normally are learned by visiting Word Walls dotting the landscape of Skyrim. However, the text of the word walls will change depending on which word in the shout you have, so you will never learn the second or third word in a shout without knowing the one before it.
- Two dragons that you must fight in the main quest do not have unique models. While they are semi-locked into specific Dragon forms, if you are high enough in level (possibly by putting off the main quest for quite a while) they can change into different species of dragons.
- In Super Mario Bros. 3, there's two slightly different Boss Rooms in Bowser's Castle, with both having a holding cell behind them. No matter which one you go to, you'll always face Bowser there and find Princess Peach in the room behind.
- In Minesweeper, the very first square you click will never have a mine.
- In The Last Remnant, a side quest features an amnesiac named Jorgen who asks you to bring him three items that will help him remember his past. There are more than three items that can be used for this quest, and depending on which ones you bring and in which order, the character's past (and his class) will be different.
- Happens in Radical Dreamers the so-called "prototype" to Chrono Cross. Depending on which room you entered first and what you did; Magil is either a time-traveling guitar playing rockstar detective from Mars who plays with hand-puppets, the forgotten lover to Ridell, or a demon from hell. Likewise Kid is sometimes else raised by a nunnery that Lynx killed off, raised by Lynx's daughter Shea, or a gigantic berserk magic-wielding sunflower. Lynx himself is a nobleman, a ghost, a Humongous Mecha, or a giant space octopus.
- Virtue's Last Reward basically runs on this concept. Whether or not Akane dies depends on which story branch you choose, and sometimes your selections in the AB game will change your opponent's... This turns out to be a plot point. Yes, it is this kind of game.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, the Game Master has the option of doing this in the middle of an ongoing game. However, creating logical inconsistencies will have severe consequences, and cause an automatic loss.
- In Hate Plus, if you choose not to invoke Old Save Bonus by using a completed Analogue: A Hate Story as a base for a new save file, you'll answer a survey for your employer asking you to describe the AI you salvaged, from which AI it was to their personality, among other things. How you answer the survey determines which AI you'll play the game with and, if you have *Hyun-ae rather than *Mute or both at the same time, whether she sees you as just a friend or a lover.
- In The Spoony Experiment's Let's Play of the FMV game Phantasmagoria2, Spoony mocks how the game tries to get around this—that the protagonist Curtis could experience the various supernatural death threats in a different order—by having him seem newly surprised in each clip, as though every one was the first (which it could be, depending on what the player does). In the finale of the Let's Play, Spoony is trapped in a similar setting and actually gets more exaggeratedly shocked every time something supernatural happens.
- The Season Two premiere of The Venture Bros. is a veritable Schrodinger's machine gun. The writers deliberately took all the fan speculation about how the cliffhanger at the end of the Season One finale would be resolved, and made it all true. A partial list follows.
- With Hank and Dean dead, the title would now refer to brothers Rusty and Jonas Junior — as seen in the episode's opening credits.
- The boys would be raised from the dead by Doctor Orpheus.
- Dr. Venture would clone the boys.
- It would be revealed that the boys were always clones.
- Total Drama has an alternate ending each season where the runner-up (in slightly different circumstances) actually won the prize. In fact, for the second season, it was declared that both endings were the possible "real ending", since each country voted differently on which of that final two they wanted to win. Unfortunately, the first and third season endings ended up very contrived by comparison.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a veritable font of minor Schrodinger's Guns (Schrodinger's Derringers if you will), with all manner of nods towards its unexpected older fanbase. The most obvious is Derpy Hooves, who was an animator's joke in the first episode, but started getting inserted into episodes after the creators noticed the internet had latched onto her, and has even had a (rather controversial) voiced appearance.
- Many of a stage magician's illusions rely on some form of this. The Other Wiki has more details.
- Politicians facing elections usually have their victory and concession speeches prepared well in advance. Similarly, newspapers pre-write articles and obituaries. Hilarity Ensues if they jump the gun and publish a wrong article.
- Similarly, Nixon had a speech ready in case something happened to Neil Armstrong and crew during their lunar soujourn.
- The items (from newspapers with banner headlines to caps and T-shirts) that get waved around during post-game celebrations at the Super Bowl, World Series, and other championship sports events featuring the team that was just victorious seconds earlier are also prepared in advance in versions for both teams. The merchandise/items proclaiming victory for the losing team are quietly disposed of or donated to charity programs in third-world countries so they'll never see the light of day in the US. When it looked like the New England Patriots would become the first NFL team to go 19-0 in a season with a Super Bowl win, a number of merchants jumped the gun and allowed customers to pre-order corresponding commemorative merchandise, only to sheepishly have to backtrack/refund it when reality didn't play along and the Pats lost the game in a shocking last-minute upset.
- To avoid a portrait subject having to spend weeks sitting still, portrait painters used to do a subject's body, clothing, and furniture before the customer actually paid for a picture. Then they'd just add on the appropriate head (which is why some portrait figures have oddly long necks).
- The creators of South Park create each episode within six days in order to keep turnaround times for major events and trends quick and stay as current as possible. In fact, they completed an episode on the 2008 Presidential Election the day after the event by making some tactical assumptions on the outcome.
- Reportedly, General Eisenhower late in 1944 found a note in his jacket pocket which was the speech he had written regarding the failure of Operation Overlord (i.e. the Normandy Invasion).
- The November 5, 1996 (US election day) New York Times crossword puzzle had two seven-letter words with the clue "Lead story in tomorrow's newspaper (!)" - which could be answered with either "CLINTON ELECTED" or "BOBDOLE ELECTED." The seven down words crossing the first word worked with either set of letters; for example, the clue for the word crossing the first letter was "Black Halloween animal," which could be either BAT or CAT. More details.
- Newspapers often keep obituaries on hand for celebrities who are sick or seem to be going off the rails.
- Bob Hope survived the writer of his obituary in the New York Times.
- Some university professors use a variation of this in-class. The class plays a game of 20 questions. A subject is selected and sent out of the classroom while the other students ostensibly pick a person, place or thing that the subject must guess, The subject is brought back into the room and can pick students to ask a single question to each. After the 20 questions, whatever the subject's guess, they are told they are correct. At least, they should be "correct". The students in the class were actually instructed to not pick anything, and give any answer they like as long as it could be consistent with all previously answered questions for at least one thing.
- In a word-game example, a player writes a letter on a piece of paper. The other player writes another letter either before or after the first letter. Play continues with each player being allowed to play or challenge. If they play, they write an additional letter either in front of or after the previous letters. If they challenge, they win if the other player cannot add additional letters to make a word from from a previously agreed upon dictionary. They lose if the other player can make a word.