Virtual Reality Interrogation
A person doesn't talk. You need to get a secret from him. So, you simulate conditions under which he does talk. You may convince him he is among allies, who depend on him telling the secret. You may convince him enough time passed that the secret is irrelevant now. You may convince him the need for secret keeping is All Just a Dream (The latter case may contain a healthy dose of Lotus-Eater Machine). In short, he speaks. And then it turns out this was indeed All Just a Dream. Created by you. Examples (Warning, a Spoilered Trope):
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Anime and Manga
- This is the plot of an episode of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman / Battle of the Planets.
- "To Be or Nazi Be": An episode of the Lupin III (Red Jacket) series had the gang capture an old German soldier and convince him he was back in the war, with Hitler himself wanting to know where he had hidden the treasures he had been entrusted with. As soon as he squeals, "Hitler" turns out to be Lupin in disguise, and the whole base is a movie set.
- In The Punisher 2099, Jake has captured Multi-Fractor, the underboss of his archnemesis Fearmaster. He puts him under a nasty look contraption with various blades in an attempt to pump him for more information on Fearmaster. After Jake gets what he wants, the machine disappears. It turns out that Jake was using his virtual reality room to interrogate Multi-Fractor.
- In CyberTech: War of the Worlds, Dumbledore is captured by the good guys, manages to escape the prison, and, once he gets into Hogwarts, tells Snape to recover some prisoners from the Headquarters. Snape replies he can't get them all by himself, so Albus is forced to give Flitwick the location as well. Cue the illusion dissolving...
- The 1965 film 36 Hours, in which German agents use a Faked Rip Van Winkle on an American officer in an attempt to learn the details of the upcoming D-Day operation.
- In Virtuosity, the final battle between Sid 6.7 and Parker ends with Parker thrown off a building and dead...except that it's then revealed that they were able to trap Sid back in his VR computer and create a set of circumstances in which he would think he'd won. Though he still manages to almost actually kill Parker, when the hero finally escapes they're able to determine where Sid hid his last two captives from the events of the VR simulation.
- Not done with technology, but in a combination of this idea and Two Plus Torture Equals Five, the British spy protagonist of The Ipcress File is captured and held by enemy spies in a secret location in London. As part of an attempt to break him mentally and physically, his captors try to convince him that he's a criminal and traitor being held in an Eastern European prison. This includes having him visited by a spy pretending to be a representative of the Foreign Office, and thus a friendly face.
- Most of the protagonists of Inception are professional Virtual Reality Interrogators. The method they use allows them to snoop through the subject's subconscious mind.
- Brutally and realistically done twice in the Tom Clancy novel The Cardinal of the Kremlin. The first time is when they place a young female spy into a sensory-deprivation tank, and then leave her there for hours. The experience is so traumatic that she breaks totally, and it actually succeeds in making her entirely forget both being a spy and the fact that she was even interrogated. The second is when the KGB dress up a junior officer as the eponymous mole's gunner from WWII, which guilt trips him into confessing.
- In The Stars My Destination, there is an attempt to get information from the protagonist by simulating for him a reality where he is rich and happy, and his adventures are All Just a Dream. He spots A Glitch in the Matrix (his own reflection) right before talking.
- In The City and the Stars, the heroes are questioning a robot which must keep silent until the end of time. The Master Computer simulates just that.
- In The Icewind Dale Trilogy, Bruenor is given a potion to drive him back into his childhood, and make him remember the location of his lost homeland. When he cannot tell it because it is secret, Drizzt enhances the illusion by pretending to be an ally coming with an army to help Bruenor. Unlike most examples, the whole thing was actually Bruenor's idea rather than an enemy's.
- Subverted in the Shadowrun novel Shadowplay, where the virtual reality used against the female protagonist just simulates plain old physical torture and rape. But when rescued, she initially fears it may be this trope (though she only expects it to be a Hope Spot and then back to torture, rather than a sneaky interrogation).
- The Sobornost in The Quantum Thief have turned this trope into an art form. Whenever they need to extract information from a gogol (an uploaded mind), they simply make a backup and then subject it to wide variety of painful and pleasurable experiences in the matter of microseconds, and if it breaks down they make another copy and try again with new variation until they get the desired results. It's the most sophisticated form of Mind Rape imaginable.
- In Altered Carbon Takeshi Kovacs is subjected to a virtual reality where he is sleeved in a female body and raped violently and repeatedly numerous times, however he recognizes the simulation from his time putting down a rebellion on an Islamic planet. And later he shows one of his interrogators the program they used on the insurrectionists, it cuts out after several doppelgangers materialize.
- Inverted in the follow-up novel, Broken Angels, where Takeshi makes it perfectly clear that the man is in a virtual software room. He then informs him that, if the man doesnt tell him what he wants to know, he will just leave him there with his stack plugged into the self-powered VR device. In a construct designed as little more than a very short term holding area, i.e. nothing happened, no other people are programmed in. Alone. For the relative centuries that the battery would keep the simulation running for. Worse than any other interrogation technique, really.
- It becomes clear this is endemic to the setting; a more innocuous example involves job interviews being carried out in cyberspace to save time and travel expense - and save interviewer attention by using software doubles of the interviewers to do most of the actual work and make it unclear to the candidates how many of them there are.
- In MARZENA, Dr. Lauren connects Dr. Sam to a virtual reality created via the bio-feedback of his dreams, and then send a virtual avatar controlled by Kristen to steal his banking information. Crazy Dream Sequence full of Nightmare Fuel follows.
- In the Star Trek Expanded Universe short story "Shakedown", Captain Harriman of the Enterprise-B has been captured by the Romulans and is being questioned by their finest interrogator. Eventually, the interrogator lets slip the names of Romulan agents in Starfleet, in order to encourage Harriman to talk, and Harriman immediately says "End program", and reveals they're on the Enterprise's experimental holochamber.
- Literature:Judge Dee once had a prisoer who refused to talk even after torture, so he had his henchmen put on bull and horse masks, making the suspect think she was facing the judge of the dead (the Judge's resemblance to the Yama is repeatedly noted throughout the series), finally getting her to confess.
Live Action TV
- In one episode of V.I.P., Val and Tasha are kidnapped and drugged after they hide a witness in a safehouse. In order to make them reveal the secret, the villain attempts to convince them they've been comatose for 40 years.
- There was an episode of Galidor where one of Gorm's minions created a virtual reality simulation of Allegra's bedroom to convince her it was All Just a Dream, and get her to talk about her adventures. Nick managed to break the illusion before she revealed any dangerous information.
- In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Stratagem". Captain Archer tries to get information out of an alien by convincing him that they are now friends and that years have gone by. The alien ship they have supposedly stolen is actually set up inside a small shuttle in the ''Enterprise'' landing bay. The small touches making the simulation seem real include tattooing both their arms with prison barcodes.
- Subverted in another Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, where Riker thinks he is a victim of one (he is supposedly in the future but his supposed wife is a woman of his dreams, that he knows never existed outside the holodeck). The hostile aliens reveal themselves when he calls them out on it. However, as it turns out the aliens aren't real either - there is just one alien, highly psychic and very lonely, keeping Riker in a Lotus-Eater Machine to have some company and conjuring things from his mind - the whole espionage plot was accidently created by Riker's own fears.
- The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries: "Sole Survivor", where Joe wakes up in a hospital room with no clue where he is or how he got there, only to be told that he's not only been in a coma for a year, but that his father and brother are dead. Cue fake newspapers, fake newscasts, and forged letters from all his surviving relatives and friends. Of course, Frank and Fenton are very much alive, and the whole thing is a Mind Screw to get Joe to reveal information on a defection attempt.
- Alias: Sidney's father suffered from a Tap on the Head and now thinks he's back in the 1970s with his wife and young daughter. So Sidney has to pretend to be her own mother, married to her father, in order to get her father to give up some secret codes.
- To make it extra-uncomfortable, her father, thinking she's his wife, tries to make out with her.
- The Prisoner
- In the episode "The Chimes of Big Ben", Number 6 escapes the Village and is transported to London, where he meets a former superior. As he's about to explain why he resigned, he realizes that the situation has been faked to trick him and discovers he's still in the Village.
- In "A, B and C". Number Six is drugged and hooked up to a machine that controls his dreams. He meets several characters who try to get him to confess why he resigned. Eventually he figures out what's going on and manages to seize control of the dream.
- Legend of the Seeker: Season 1, Episode 12 "Home" is driven by this plot device. Darken Rahl has his pet wizard trap Richard in a dream about his home. Inside the dream, Rahl takes on several different characters to try and convince Richard that the goings-on of the series so far was all just a dream to learn the location of one of the boxes of Orden from him. Ultimately, the power of love combined with Rahl pushing too hard breaks the spell at the last moment.
- Stargate SG-1 features season 2, episode 22, a Clip Show where the framing device is that O'Neill, Carter and Daniel awaken from stasis in what appears to be the SGC, almost 79 years in the future, and they need information for their incomplete records. They discover it is actually a Goa'uld hoax by Hathor.
- In The Avengers, Tara King was victim of such a ploy by villains trying to locate John Steed and whoever he was protecting.
- Another had a fake "training seminar" orchestrated by enemy agents. British agents would not crack during the "interrogation simulations", but would later casually discuss the subject matter at the bar...
- In the Red Dwarf three-parter "Back in the Red" the Dwarfers are subjected to this by the newly resurrected crew to verify their story that it's three million years in the future and most of them had been killed by a radiation leak then reconstructed by nanites. Lister, Cat, Kryten, and Kochansky are subjected to two layers of simulation, so they could catch Rimmer attempting to erase their memories of him stealing the crew's confidential files.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003). Starbuck suspects this trope when she's shot and wakes up in a Resistance hospital. Turns out it's a Cylon Baby Factory.
- In an episode of Metal Hurlant Chronicles the guy giving people virtual reality fantasies that become real turns out to be a prisoner being subjected to a virtual parole hearing. He fails.
- Done to John Crichton at least twice in Farscape.
- The first time, he appears to find a wormhole back to Earth and his friends follow, only to be held by the government and Rygel gets dissected, except it was made by the Ancients to determine if Earth would accept them.
- The second, he wakes up from a coma and is told he dreamed the whole thing after the Farscape project crashed, except that all the aliens he knew are on Earth as well, with different names but still the same species, and no one seems to care. So he's pretty sure it's fake too, especially since there's two Scorpius, one is a drummer at a club, the other is trying to convince him that he's hallucinating but John thinks he's the one doing it so he doesn't listen. Then Scorpius explains that he's a neural clone implanted during John's interrogation, and a Scarran is making him hallucinate in order to break his mind, and then things get really weird.
- Much loved by Mission: Impossible.
- This is commonly employed by various governments and covert entities in Eclipse Phase. In a setting where one's consciousness can be virtualized, backed up, and forked, it is a relatively simple matter to capture a backup of an individual's mind and interrogate them in a simulspace... possibly repeatedly, resetting them to their original state each time.
- It's also commonly used as a form of incarceration. No risk of escape, considerable savings on housing them, and Time Dilation allows a prisoner to serve a six-year sentence in one year. The more benevolent leaning factions use it to rehabilitate criminals instead.
- There's a scene in Vagrant Story where Guildenstern is interrogating Hardin about the nature of the Gran Grimoire, when suddenly the room turns monochrome, everyone in the room except Hardin vanishes, and Hardin's mentor, Sydney, is standing in front of him. Convinced that his mentor has somehow teleported him to safety, Hardin freely tells Sydney everything he knows... only to realise too late that he's still talking to Guildenstern, who has disguised himself with an illusion.
- In Schlock Mercenary, a Gatekeeper officer who is refusing to tell the Fleetmind anything about the dark matter entities is captured for Mind-ripping. As he's being brought in he escapes, and while shooting his way out he starts to wonder if it's really worth it to protect those ungrateful younger races from the Paan'uri...
Petey: "Well, the simulation has him thinking along the righ track."
- In General Protection Fault, Nick gets kidnapped by Ki's counterpart from the "Nega-verse", who tricks him into getting into the MuTEX virtual reality machine on the night before his wedding to Ki, but instead transports him back to her dimension, where he is sedated on arrival and places him into her MuTEX in order to trick him, while sleep-deprived, into telling her how to make Project Velociraptor. Unfortunately, Nega-Ki makes a few mistakes, and Nick sees through her.
- In the 11th episode of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the heroes need to get a code for an ancient Cool Gate from a prisoner. First, he gives them a code. Then, the bad guys capture them, and he gives them another code. Then, he is released, flies away, gets to the gate, and uses a third code (that one works). Then, the Properly Paranoid heroes remove his VR helmet.
- A variation is present in an episode of Invader Zim. Zim puts Dib in a virtual reality where he gains ultimate power and uses it to defeat the Irken and become a major celebrity just so he could get Dib to confess that he threw a muffin at him during lunch.
- In the second season of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, after a prolonged period of torturing (off-screen) for information without success, Captain America's Skrull captors have his next interrogation "interrupted" by a rescue by the other Avengers (actually shapeshifted Skrull). It doesn't work though, as Captain America sees through it immediately.
- In Futurama MOM wanted to get Fry's bank information. Since his PIN was related to his old job in the twentieth century, her sons set up an elaborate hoax to convince him that coming to the future was All Just a Dream and he was back in his old life.
- An episode of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command uses the Faked Rip Van Winkle varient; he's convinced a Negative Space Wedgie transported him into the future and destroyed Zerg. In reality, the "mueseum pieces" are his actual armour, the kids he's telling stories (and weaknesses) to are robots and Zerg is alive, well and showing Buzz's captive crew the whole setup to taunt them.