Up the Real Rabbit Hole
"As I said, O'Neill, ours is the only reality of consequence."In fiction, especially the Trapped in Another World department, many characters have the curious habit of talking about their world (almost always Present Day Earth) as "the real world". This is justified when the world they're trapped in is a construct, such as a computer simulation or All Just a Dream. It gets far murkier when it's filled with sentient inhabitants. But even if the Magical Land is a place in and of itself, so many of the classical ones have been used as metaphors for something (for instance, Oz or Wonderland) that there is the faintest impression that this one just may be as well (especially if it's a Planet of Hats or otherwise thematically represents a subset of the diversity of "our" universe – is a Candy World with a Licorice King really as "legitimate" as the world in which licorice was invented?). As such, the "rules" on behavior are different in different worlds. Sure, you might have been fireballing the warlord's goons in that other world right and left, but using those powers on, say, a mugger in "the real world" would be wrong. Of course, this is sometimes justified due to the fact that it would break the Masquerade, but that doesn't cover a moral double standard. And even if the main characters treat everyone in the other world as people, there's still the stupefying habit of referring to their homeworld as "the real world". This seems like it would be incredibly rude, yet nobody ever calls them on it. Even more bizarre is when the natives themselves start doing it. Of course, the question of what to call either universe would be tricky, since the distinction had no reason to come up before the two worlds began interacting. A common solution is the Planet England naming convention, though that's still protagonist-oriented because it's arbitrarily based on the country they first visited (and it ought to sound to most natives like, well, "Planet England" or "The Johannesburg Universe" might sound to us). It also won't work if the "other" world is an Alternate Universe with all the same countries. Thus, confusion is left to a minimum as long as the other world's natives "correctly" recognize our universe as the primary one. A type of Creator Provincialism, one step above Earth Is the Center of the Universe. Compare Expendable Alternate Universe, Expendable Clone, Welcome to the Real World, The Time Traveller's Dilemma, This Is Reality. Contrast Down the Rabbit Hole.
open/close all folders
Anime And Manga
- Digimon has its protagonists refer to "the real world" so much that the commercials started making fun of it. In this case, it was more that "Digital" was a kind of Pure Energy as opposed to Matter, which was referred to as "Real".
- The very first thing that a Digimon tells the kids in Season One is "You're in the Digi-World". Apparently, Digimon don't think of their own world as the real one.
- This leads to a rather interesting case of Your Mind Makes It Real near the end of the second arc, when Taichi thinks that the Digital World doesn't have any consequences, and that nothing that was happening was real. So he acts really irresponsibly and almost gets everyone killed until he wises up. This seems to be a reoccurring problem throughout the various continuities.
- In the case of Digimon, though, it does make somewhat sense to call the Digital World that - the world is, in fact, digital. However, the "real" world would be more accurately described as the Material World, or the Protein Based World, as that is a more accurate description of what it is. Both worlds are "real", but one is digital and one is material. Considering in every show, manga, and in fact every continuity but Digimon Savers, the main cast are kids, it is justified that they would simplify it as "real".
- Magic Knight Rayearth has the Magic Knights having a curious discussion about this. They concluded that Magical Land Cephiro was "real enough" and the clincher was that if they died there, they would "die in the real world too".
- InuYasha: Kagome has often referred to her present timeline as "The Real World." Thankfully, the others just refer to it as "Kagome's world." Interestingly, nobody ever says "The Past" or "The Future", despite the fact that she got there through pure Time Travel.
- Subverted in Fushigi Yuugi; when Big Bad Nakago escapes the book-reality most of the series has taken place in and starts trying to conquer the real world, the heroes protest that he cannot do this because he is just a character from a book. Nakago responds that this only makes it more amusing for him to rule this "world of the gods".
- In Magical Girl Pretty Sammy, the heroine is finally deciding to do something about her best friend's Parental Abandonment problem, so tries to use her magic to fix the situation. It doesn't work. She's confused until her Animal Sidekick explains magic doesn't work so well against problems in the "real" world. She finally uses her powers to send a letter that her best friend has written to her father but couldn't find the courage to put in the mailbox. This is beginning of the turning point in the entire series.
- In chapter 251 of Mahou Sensei Negima!, Negi refers to "our" world as "the real world" (In the Magic World, it's known as "the old world"). He corrects himself immediately afterwards.
- When Fate tries to talk Negi out of getting in his way, he emphasizes the idea that Negi's "reality" is our world, and he has no obligation to bother with helping Mundus Magicus because it's "nothing more than a fantasy" to him and the girls that followed him over. Negi very nearly falls for it.
- Shockingly, there might actually be a good reason for this, as Magicus Mundus is actually a giant pocket dimension (on Mars), and it's implied that Fate's old boss may have created it, along with it's inhabitants, meaning that it might not be exactly as "real" as people think it is.
- Negi seems aware of this, but doesn't care (except as it drives Fate's actions), since the people are still real, regardless of whether they were created or not.
- Zegapain subverts this with the "real" world of Maihama Kyo comes from and the After the End world on board the Oceanus. The "real" world is a Matrix-like construct containing the remains of humanity's minds while the "other" world is the real world.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist The Conqueror Of Shamballa, Edward feels this way about being trapped in our world. In fact, the Alphonse of our world calls him out on this and makes him realize that both worlds are real, subverting the trope.
- Many characters in Bleach call Ichigo's world "The World of the Living." Granted, people from Ichigo's world have to die to go to Soul Society, but considering that there was a conspiracy revolving around who killed Captain Aizen, that in the same conspiracy they were going to execute Rukia, Yumichika ordered for preparations to be made for Ikkaku's funeral procession, etc.
- There's a bit of Lost in Translation in this one. The Japanese word used for this, "gense" (現世) is commonly translated as this for commodity when dealing with the world of the dead as opposed to that of the living, but "gense" has a more fundamental meaning as "present/real/material world", the last of which would make far more sense given shinigami are spiritual beings, as opposed to the material beings that living humans are.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 7, the villain's stand has the power to visit parallel worlds and bring people from said parallel worlds to his world. He constantly refers to his initial world (the world where the plot takes place) as the root world, he doesn't have any problems with killing people from the other worlds and every time he's killed he has one of his alternate selves take his place, abducting him from his original world and overriding his memories with the villain's (apparently, his alternate selves don't have any problem with this). He has a reason to think like that, since the Holy Corpse only exists in the so called root world
- Alan Moore (who also created "Earth-616") takes a playful swipe at this trope in Top 10:
"So, Grand Central is a parallel upon which the Roman Empire never fell?""No, your &%$£-hole world is some freak parallel where it did!"
- Inverted in the comic book adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere with this exchange between the Marquis de Carabas and Richard Mayhew while trying to explain London Below.
"The hand. The shadow. My world. Your world.""Naturally, you mean the other way around.""Your world is too thin to cast a shadow."
- In the crossover JLA/Avengers comic, during a dream-state where in The Avengers and the JLA regularly meet up, the heroes argue which Earth is Earth 1.
- In Infinite Crisis, the Superman of Earth 2 said they allowed the JLA to refer to themselves as Earth 1 out of politeness.
- Interestingly, DC's Golden Age comics were Revised as taking place on Earth 2, meaning that it came "first" chronologically.
- In The DCU, the main earth being called New Earth (and the real one) was justified in the fact that it forms the fulcrum/nexus of all the other Earths.
- In the JLA "Red King" story arc, the villainous Red King has access to six billion alternate Earths (one for every human soul) and they are identical except for his own actions. So he uses these "free second chances" to try every possible course of action, finds out which ones work for him, then obliterates the "failed" realities. In short order, he's become wealthy, influential, and has every super-power imaginable - all at the cost of reducing six billion universes to four. Including killing six billion versions of himself (who didn't count because they were "losers").
- Grant Morrison wrote a JLA story where a heroic version of Lex Luthor arrives from a Mirror Universe and refers to the main DC world as "Earth 2."
- Done rather bizarrely in the case of My Inner Life - the author insists that the story documents a "second life" she leads while she dreams, a life which she insists is "very real" and seems to identify with more than her waking life.
- TRON has onscreen text at one point saying "Meanwhile in the Real World." In dialog, the world of Users is only called "the Real World" by the Master Control Program, who exists in both worlds.
- Enchanted: After one attempt to locate it, as far as Robert is concerned, Andalasia (a very real if Magical Land) is "fantasy", and This Is Reality. Nobody ever corrects him or acts as if this makes anything but perfect sense.
- Avatar: At one point, protagonist Jake Sully says "Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world, and in here is the dream." Sully spends half his time Brain Uploading to an alien body, an "avatar" which is just as physically real as his human body, and this alien body exists on the same moon ("out there" is the Pandoran jungles, "in here" a human military base). Therefore, neither "world" is actually less real than the other. The avatar experience does involve the human body entering a stasis, so in that sense it's a "dream", but the same case could be made the other way around, because the avatar body sleeps when the human one is awake.
- One of the ur-Trapped in Another World stories, Alice in Wonderland, was All Just a Dream. Thus, the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and the pointless executions didn't matter.
- Taken further in Through the Looking Glass. At one point Alice is pointed to the Red King, who is sleeping. She is told that maybe this is the Red King's dream and she is part of his consciousness. When she returns to the real world, she picks up the Red King chess-piece and asks Dinah if it was really true that she had entered the Red King's dreams. The paradox is that the Looking-Glass world is based on Chess Motifs and features a patterned landscape and characters like the White Knight, so Alice really did enter the Red King's dreams.
- The Faction Paradox book Dead Romance has an extreme version of this - the main character's world is just a small bottle universe sold to the Time Lords. Upon escaping to the universe "above" (outside the bottle), she begins to realise, that may be yet another bottle universe. So she starts a quest to find the uppermost universe - the true Universe.
- In the Wizard of Oz movie - one of the major influences on this trope - it turned out that Oz was All Just a Dream of Dorothy's. In the original books, on the other hand, not only is Oz real, but Dorothy moves there to become an immortal princess, and eventually goes back to bring her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry because living in the Dust Bowl sucked.
- Works both ways in The Chronicles of Narnia: Despite Narnia only being a country in another world, the characters refer to the entire other world as "Narnia" (which actually causes Jill some confusion on her first trip, as Eustace told her he'd been to "Narnia" — the world, not the country). Earth is "that other place" — fair, since both "Narnia" and Earth are just two of many, many worlds... none of which are, ultimately, "real." When the characters finally reach Aslan's Country, they discover that it is the only real world; everything else, including the physical world that we know, is just a cheap imitation.
- In the first Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Thomas persistently denies that The Land is real (giving him the title of "The Unbeliever", which somehow helps him defeat the Big Bad. Who is his Enemy Without. God of The Land is a part of him too, so it's possible he's right — never mind that the second series sucks someone else in too.
- In the Discworld books, the Nac Mac Feegle know that there are multiple worlds, and are able to cross the borders. However, they believe themselves to be already dead, for the Discworld seems like paradise (to them). They drink, fight and steal as much as they can to enjoy their afterlives. They don't suspend all morals, but do act as if the Discworld is a disposable "temporary" world.
- Yeah, but we're given to understand that that's how they would have behaved in their "real" world as well. That's just what Feegles do.
- Also, Archchancellor Ridcully, while heading out to battle elves (with million-to-one odds), is told that, because of the whole multiverse thing, for every one Ridcully that survives the fight, 999,999 other Ridcullys will die. He responds, "Yes, but I'm not bothered about those other buggers. They can look after themselves."
- In The Science of Discworld and especially the sequels, the wizards consider the Disc is the real world and "Roundworld" is an oddity that sits on a shelf in Rincewind's office. They respect that the inhabitants of Roundworld might see this differently, though.
- The characters in Everworld refer to Earth as "the real world," although the series at least lampshades it when Senna mocks them about it. For their part, the inhabitants of Everworld refer to this world as "the old world" (lowercased), since Everworld is a colony dimension created by the gods who originally lived in our world.
- There's a slip-up in book seven where Athena follows this trope, though, despite being a long-time Everworld resident.
- Robert A. Heinlein's The Number Of The Beast has one character use "Earth-Zero" (to refer to the "real world") once. This gets jumped on immediately by his companions, arguing it implies an Earth-Zero-centric multiverse. He says it's just for simplicity, and admits any of the other worlds they're traveling to have just as much claim to being "the real world" as theirs. It's eventually subverted when the main characters' world turns out not to be our own, as a character named Carter is aghast that we have a president by that name.
- In Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, the interdimensional police agency uses labels for each dimension based on the first moon landing, that being understood as the "branching point". "Our" universe's designation is "One Small Step".
- In Roger Zelazny's The Chronicles of Amber series, Earth (where the action starts) is just one of the many Shadows cast by Amber, which is supposedly the "real" world. As it turns out, there's an uninhabited Amber that's even realer.
- Lampshaded and subverted in the German novel Dreizehn (Thirteen). Woosh, a talking bat from another dimension who gets caught in heroine Thirteen's world, complains that she wants to return to the "real" world. Thirteen tells her that this is the real world. Cue reply: "Says who?", leaving Thirteen to sputter a bit.
- Both averted and somewhat inverted in the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane. While none of inhabitants of all the different universes are treated as more or less morally important than any of the others, some universes are more metaphysically potent than others, and our universe just isn't that important when ranked metaphysically.
- Averted in the Suzumiya Haruhi novels. In later books, Kyon ends up in a timeline without time travellers, aliens or espers. He considers how selfish it is to want to change things back, that the people in the new timeline have just as much right to exist. He does it anyways, but often "wakes up late at night, with their faces in his mind."
- Averted in Larry Niven's "All the Myriad Ways", set in a world where travellers to parallel universes report worlds where the Cuba War was "a damp squib" (called the Cuban Missile Crisis) and return with different technology such as the stapler.
- Kinda played with in "Cowboy Angels". One version of America has developed dimension-jumping tech, and makes contact with all the other versions. The first one now refers to itself as "The Real".
- Played with in The Dark Tower books, where it is first implied that our world is not, in fact, the "real" one. In the real world, Co-op City is in Brooklyn, the Path of the Beam is visible in the sky, and there's a magical rose in an abandoned lot somewhere in Manhattan, among other things. In fact, that's only only partially true - that world is directly stated to be more important than ours, but the real world is All World. Maybe. It's kinda confusing. Keystone Earth does have the distinction of having unidirectional time, unlike All-World.
- The Never Ending Story, both the book and the movies.
- There's a moment in Sidhe Devil when the main viewpoint character, Zeb, apologizes to Doc for having taken the attitude that the fair world was "Less real than where I come from." He's changed his view after failing to completely prevent a terrorist attack; a little girl died of her injuries as he was carrying her to a doctor. Now It's Personal.
- In Brave Story there is the "real world" and the world of Vision. Everyone in Vision easily, and nonchalantly, accepts the seemingly unprovable fact that Vision is created from people's thoughts in the real world, and that their unique Vision, out of infinite others, is the creation of one individual (Wataru). Actually really confusing, since all of Vision was originally created by a Goddess, and it's suggested that the real world was created by the same, and that the two worlds are "like two sides of the same coin." So it's kind of like a semi-maybe-un-subversion?
- Played with in Flatland, where A. Square assumes that there may be more than three dimensions because of what he's seen on his journey, but the Sphere denies this possibility as emphatically as the Flatlanders refuse to believe in a third.
- Played with in Fine Structure, as each universe's inhabitants assigns their universe some name like "Prime" or "Earth-1" when they discover interdimensional travel. It doesn't stick, though, as they soon realize that it would be extremely confusing to continue like that, especially given the stupidly large (but not infinite) number of universes. Since universes are arranged in a straight linenote , designating a universe becomes a matter of "how far from this universe, and in which direction." There is one universe that insists on using the name "Universe +1," although they at least have the justification of being at one end of the chain.
Live Action TV
- Related: Holograms in Star Trek are mostly programmed not to realize that they are programs and not to recognize characters referring to the Real World, and will become depressed and/or ticked off if a malfunction results in them becoming aware of this. Which it does. Often.
- In a not-dissimilar way, in Life on Mars, nobody from 1973 ever appeared to take Sam Tyler seriously if he mentioned being back in time, or anything relating to his pre-car-crash existence. In Ashes to Ashes, Alex Drake is quite sure that the whole experience of being in 1981 is a hallucination, and repeatedly says so out loud, but, again, nobody bats an eyelid or suspects that she's deranged.
- In Sliders, Earth Prime refers to the original Sliders' homeworld. Inhabitants of the other dimensions don't generally use this name, though.
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Power of Three", Amy Pond referred to her life on Earth as "real life," as opposed to her life gallivanting about time and space with the Doctor.
- Since the characters in Once Upon a Time have both fake memories of growing up in mundane reality and hearing versions of their Enchanted Forest lives told as fairy stories, and the knowledge that their old world was recorded in Henry's book by the Author, other "realms" have similar books, and the non-magical world doesn't work like that, they become quite comfortable referring to it as "the real world".
- A standard trope to appear in the Planescape Dungeons & Dragons setting, among other things. It's practically expected of any clueless prime who wander into Sigil to assume that their home plane is the most central and most important place in all of the Multiverse, and that everyone should know of it and follow their rules and customs. (Conversely, some Sigilians claim the same thing about Sigil - proving that you don't have to be a Prime to be Clueless.)
- In the Portal 2 Perpetual Testing Initiative, Cave refers to his Earth as Earth-1 or Earth Prime. One other Cave also refers to an Earth-1, but since there are multiple test subjects from other universes in there, it's unexplained if he means your character or someone else. Dark Cave also refers to the first Cave as Cave Prime, though this might be for the purposes of avoiding confusion. Interestingly enough, the world this Cave is talking about wouldn't be the "real" world from the perspective of the player, since that Cave has an assistant named Greg instead of Caroline and he also shuts down the GLaDOS project after hearing the ramblings of an AI Cave.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, the entire game takes place inside a dream, and the ultimate goal is to wake up the dreamer. Doing so will essentially result in the death of every inhabitant of the dream. The humans helping you on your journey? They just don't know any better. Those monsters trying to stop you? They're motivated purely by survival. You've gotta Kill 'em All to win the game.
- Eternal Sonata: The premise is that the fantasy world in which the game takes place is a figment of Chopin's imagination created on his deathbed, and that the characters and events of the game are allegories for his own life experiences and personality traits. Chopin himself, being a smart guy, quickly figures all this out. But suddenly, in as big a Gainax Ending as there ever was, Chopin suddenly realizes — after attempting to murder all of the party members — that "it's not a dream!" Don't get it? Well, this is a game that ends with a tête-à-tête between a caterpillar and a snail after all.
- The plot of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance involves the world being transformed overnight into a world similar to fantasy games played by the kids who opened a magic book, with the changes seeming to revolve around fulfilling their desires. The main conflict of the story involves the question of which reality is "real", and which one should remain.
- Early in Brave Story: New Traveler, after the protagonist has wandered into his fantasy land he meets a young girl who says "Travelers only come from the real world". That's a downer.
- Played with in Touhou. The fantastic beings are aware that their reality is just a phantasm and there's a real world out there. And they're OK with that, taking things and customs that drift from the outside, for example the sport of soccer. However, it's a serious problem with humans: only humans that reject the "real world" can stay in Gensokyo.
- It’s not that much of a problem considering that most of Gensokyo’s human population have lived there from birth and have never even seen the real world and probably have no interest in ever going there.
- Cross Edge mentions a number of worlds; including "the Fantasy World, the Demon World, and the Real World." As per this trope, said with a completely straight face from natives.
- To the Moon features Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts talking to a virtual construct based on Johnny's personality. Problem is the construct doesn't know he's a construct and is understandably terrified when the protagonists delete his friend from the memory. At one point Watts begins explaining to the construct that it doesn't exist. Rosalene calls him on it, saying that if the construct doesn't exist, why does it matter if it knows that.
- This is referenced in Folklore when one of the faeries mentions that the term "netherworld" was created by the humans to refer to the space being like them occupy, and yet most inhabitants of the place have taken to calling it by the title as well.
- Defied in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. While some of the 4 dimensional race (including Big Bad Luther) disregard the "created" Eternal Sphere is a false reality, the inhabitants disagree and are steadfast in their position that their universe, though artificial, is equally real and valid.
- Jump Leads takes the assumption of infinite parallel universes to its extreme conclusion: agents visiting parallel universes need not worry about anything except fulfilling their missions and self-preservation, because "We have, bluntly, universes to burn."
- In Erfworld, Parson initially believes that it's all a hallucination, and later he notes the various odd parallels between Erfworld and Earth as supporting evidence. His reluctance to accept Erfworld on its own terms might have something to do with his being stuck in an apparently hopeless situation. Later, the viewpoint is inverted by Wanda's statement, "You didn't wish for this world, Parson Gotti. It wished for you."
- Parodied in xkcd by referring to "real life" as separate from Canada.
- In The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, not only the Mario Brothers, but the Princess and other characters native to the Mushroom Kingdom, called Earth the "Real World".
- Captain N: The Game Master had this same phenomenon.
- Subverted in Futurama. When Dr. Farnsworth's "dimension in a box" experiment ends up creating a gateway into an alternate universe, the inhabitants of both universes instantly proclaim the others to be Evil Twins. After much debate and a rereading of the New Testament, it is decided that no one is evil and the universes are named "Universe 1" and "Universe A". Even stranger, at the end of the episode, the portals are rearranged such that each universe contains a box containing itself.
- Nicely Lampshaded when Fry sits on "this" universe's box and the screen image appropriately squashes down.
- In Cyberchase, the residents of Cyberspace interchangeably refer to Matt, Jackie and Inez's world as either "Earth" or "the real world."
- In Danny Phantom, Danny and the others talk about the 'real world' and the 'ghost world'. Even some ghosts (who should identify more with the ghost world) refer to the human world as the 'real world'.
- Averted in the Dexter's Laboratory episode "Jeepers, Creepers, Where is Peepers?". Deedee's Not-So-Imaginary Friend Koosalagoopagoop tries to enlist Dexter's aid in saving his home dimension, the Land of Koos, but Dexter initially doesn't care because, as far as he's concerned, the Land of Koos isn't real. It's not until he sees some of the more adorable locals get carried away as the land falls apart that Dexter is moved by their plight.
- In American military slang, the "real world" is used to refer to the Continental U.S. Might have something to do with all the mayhem and fighting they deal with on a regular basis not existing back home.
- In gamer lingo, RL refers to Real Life, and is used when something outside the game is mentioned or requires attention ("BRB RL"). So far so good. However, some gamers have taken on to use the term to describe different portions of their actual lives, as if one part of their lives is more real than others.
- This can get especially odd if they refer as "real world" to the non-work, non-school time of their lives, which is often spent playing the aforementioned games.
- In general, many people use "real world" to refer to life as a full working adult (as opposed to being in school).
- On many Internet forums, people refer to "Real Life" as any part of their lives that does NOT involve the Internet, as in, "smokesmadbluntz420 is the only forum member I've met IRL". Others invert this trope by referring to the non-Internet disparagingly as "meatspace."