A character is trapped in a game, and the only way to escape is to win. A Holodeck Malfunction
may be involved.
The graphics of the videogame in question are usually either implausibly realistic or laughably primitive compared to those available in the real world at the time, depending on how out of touch the producers are
to Trapped in TV Land
and a Subtrope of Your Mind Makes It Real
. Overlaps with Deep-Immersion Gaming
in some ways. The main difference is that whereas Deep-Immersion Gaming
is basically a variant form of an Imagine Spot
, this trope involves the game becoming very real.
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Anime and Manga
- The basic plot of Sword Art Online: everyone's minds are trapped in an MMORPG, and the equipment is set up so that dying in the game kills you in real life. However, if a player, any player, manages to beat the boss of Floor 100, then everyone goes free.
- BALDR Force.exe is made of this trope.
- In the Mahou Sensei Negima! manga, due to a mischievous... something, Negi and friends are trapped in Chisame's video game.
- To Love-Ru had the characters get stuck in an RPG during the Trouble Quest arc. Later on, they voluntarily place themselves in a board game.
- Due to Holodeck Malfunction, at least one of the 50 children in the Virtual Console "Cocoon" in the Detective Conan Non-Serial Movie Phantom of Baker Street need to Win to Exit, or else their brains will be literally fried.
- Hunter × Hunter had Greed Island, where the only way to pause the game was to advance your objectives by a certain amount. There are people who have actually settled down to live in the gameworld because they couldn't get that Last Lousy Point that they needed to escape.
- Bleach: Ichigo in the Fullbring arc gets trapped in Yukio's video game dimension fighting Ginjo Kugo.
- In Haiyore! Nyarko-san, the cast gets trapped in a Dating Sim and Mahiro (cast as the Player Character) has to choose a girlfriend by the end of the school year.
- Happens to Ellie Dee is an issue of the Cherry Comics. She ends up derezzing the video game's main character by having sex with him.
- In the Doc Samson miniseries, Tina Punnett is trapped in a VR game that's been modified to cause psychosomatic damage to the player. To get out, she runs herself through with a sword, causing lots of pain but also causing the game to end.
- There was this short series where this trope was inverted. Memory fails me, but the gist of it was, a super-hacker was forced to play against an AI in an old videogame. The AI rigged the game so there was absolutely no way it could ever lose... problem was, the game was fixed so the only way to end it was losing...
- Sort of, in With Strings Attached. Although the Vasyn quest takes place across several real worlds, it all turns out to be a giant live-action quasi-game engineered by Jeft. He fixes things so that after Shag and Varx discover the truth, they still cannot pull the four out; the computer ice in between them and the return program won't melt until they bring the third piece of the Vasyn back to C'hou. But by then things have changed so considerably that they can't rescue the four anyway....
- Arcade features a video arcade named "Dante's Inferno", where a new virtual reality arcade game called, boringly enough, Arcade is being tested. If you lose, you're trapped inside the game. Turns out the game is Powered by a Forsaken Child.
- Of course, turns out that the game also affects the real world. Even the console versions are able to interact with each other.
- In The Dungeonmaster, the hero and his girlfriend get pulled into a computer game. If the hero wins the game, they'll both be freed. If they lose, he forfeits his girlfriend's soul.
- In The Beach, Leonardo Di Caprio goes crazy and imagines the world as a blocky videogame.
- Spencer in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare gets stoned and sucked into a game and is promptly killed by Freddy and his custom "Power Glove".
- In TRON, computer programmer Flynn gets kidnapped by the Master Control Program into the computer system and is forced to compete in video games "until he dies playing". He escapes, not by winning, but by spotting a hole made when one of his opponents crashed into the wall and making a break for it. Probably best not to think too hard about that. TRON: Legacy (and the Tron 2.0 Alternate Continuity) kicks this up a notch or two with a different villain and such, but the premise stays the same.
- Almost all of the film Existenz takes place in a virtual reality gameworld with assassins stalking the main characters. It's only after the heroine exposes her partner as an operative who was sent to kill her all along and kills him instead that the game slowly unravels and she wakes up for real.
- In the Bishop Of Battle segment of the four-part film Nightmares, J. J. Cooney is trapped inside the eponymous video game, after failing to complete level 13 the game becomes real.
- In the film Stay Alive, a group of beta testers realize that they are slowly dying off one by one in the exact same fashion that their avatars in the game they are testing die. It is later revealed that playing this game summons the ghost of a sociopathic killer who delights in killing you in the most horrendous ways possible.
- In Inception, this is what the team realizes they have to do in order to escape Fisher's mind once they learn his subconscious has been militarized. Only by incepting Fisher and making him achieve catharsis can the team avoid being "killed" by the projections.
- It should be noted that dying in a dream usually throws you out of the dream. If the dream is multiple-layered, it kicks you to the higher-level dream. However, if you take a powerful sedative, getting killed in a dream will send you to the deepest level possible - the Limbo, which directly taps into your subconsciousness. Since dreams in this film compress time, you can spend decades in Limbo in a span of five minutes of real-time.
- The game in Spy Kids 3D requires this.
- In Vivian Vande Velde's Heir Apparent, the main character is playing a virtual reality game at a sort of VR arcade, and becomes unable to quit when anti-videogame protesters damage the equipment — interestingly, it has the opposite message from most trapped-in-a-videogame stories (i.e. instead of being harmful, videogames are harmless fun and the people who think they're evil are misguided and possibly even dangerous).
- A rare boardgame example occurs in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione take the part of pieces on a chessboard and win to get to the next test protecting the stone.
- The Jumanji game works that way in the Jumanji series.
- Ditto for Zathura, from the same author.
- In the Piers Anthony novel Killobyte the protagonists become stuck in a virtual reality MMORPG due to the interference of a hacker.
- This is how the action gets started in Tad Williams' Otherland series. Kids around the world end up in mysterious comas, and the protagonists start to suspect that it has something to do with an online playground. Then they get caught themselves, and it becomes apparent that they only way to escape from the virtual world is to solve its mysteries (and possibly destroy it from the inside). The story contains no moralism whatsoever on computers and computer games; the Meta Verse is simply another arena for human virtues and vices to take place.
- In Sergey Lukyanenko's Labyrinth of Reflections trilogy, the Deep program puts a person into a state of hypnosis, during which he or she will perceive a poorly-rendered image on the screen as reality. The first person to use this was a man who randomly found the Deep program online and ran it. The program played a ten-second fractal-like video, after which the man started up Doom. To his horror, he found himself walking the corridors, shooting weapons, fighting monsters. No matter what he tried, he could not get himself to "awaken". After many hours of playing, he finally beat the game, at which point his subconsciousness allowed him to "exit". He found a nearly-broken keyboard and his own bloody hands (his own blood).
- During Galaxy of Fear, the Arrandas visit a theme park and go to see something called "The Nightmare Machine", a sim purportedly using mind-scanning and Hard Light technology to bring visitors' fears to life. It would start with relatively minor things and progress to worse fears, and the visitor won if they could make it through their worst without bailing out. Of course, they get trapped in it, the Failsafe Failure doesn't work, and the kids finally realize they have to just skip to their worst fear - one of them dying and leaving the other alone. It then ends and they're both able to walk out of it.
- In the novelisation of Red Dwarf, the video game Better Than Life is essentially a Lotus-Eater Machine; only by rejecting the perfect universe offered by the game could players "win" and be allowed to exit. (The series' version was harmless to anyone but Rimmer, and could be exited at will; the novels changed it from an expensive toy to a lethal drug.)
Live Action TV
- The Stargate SG-1 episode "Avatar" featured Teal'c having to fight his way out of a virtual combat scenario. His subconscious, unfortunately, kept making his job harder.
- Specifically, the game reset the scenario every time he lost, and adapted so that he couldn't rely on information gained from the previous run. It had a built in safety exit (getting to the elevator ended the scenario), but since Teal'c considered giving up equivalent to losing, the game would not let him escape without winning. Also, because part of him believed the Goa'uld would never really be defeated, the game kept cheating every time he should have won. Cardiac arrest would have eventually killed him in reality.
- "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" had an episode The Tale of the Renegade Virus where a VR game goes awry and if the main character doesn't beat it, the virus will literally invade his brain and take him over.
- Subverted in the episode The Tale of The Pinball Wizard. A kid gets trapped in a pinball game, and he believes that to escape, he needs to win. Turns out, he's not quite so lucky, and it's implied that he's trapped there forever.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "A Fistful Of Datas", the only way the holodeck would shut down is if Worf, Troi, and Alexander were able to win a wild west shootout. As the name suggests, it's a shootout against copies of Data, with all his android abilities to make them superior to any living opponent.
- This is subverted in the Deep Space Nine episode "Move Along Home." After being cheated by Quark, a group of aliens from the Gamma Quadrant decide to show him "an honest game" that involves four playing pieces trying to make it "home" down a tiered board. Meanwhile, Sisko, Dax, Kira, and Bashir find themselves in a maze-like series of rooms, with strange puzzles and scenarios in each room and a figure of one of the aliens telling them to "move along home." They (as well as Quark) quickly realize that the four crew members are trapped in the game and assume that this trope is in effect. After several narrow escapes, they reach the last room- a shaking, cliff-filled cave. As they cross they fall and rematerialize in Quark's, where the aliens say that Quark has lost and laugh when they discover the "players' " terror- after all, it was only a game!
- Also subverted with the Deep Space Nine episode "Our Man Bashir." At the last minute, Bashir goes Off the Rails and deliberately loses, invoking a Non-Standard Game Over that the program hadn't accounted for, confusing it long enough to save both himself and his friends.
- Star Trek: Voyager get into the act with "Worst Case Scenario," where it turns out that Seska has reprogrammed one of Tuvok's programs to kill Tuvok and Tom Paris. Janeway helps out by playing Deus ex Machina.
- The X-Files: Episode "FPS" is built of this trope. One guy who is an ace of a gamer and an exquisite programmer doesn't make it. Mulder almost loses, but Scully saves his butt.
- The "John Quixote" episode of Farscape had VR "game blobs". Dying inside of the game only returns you to the start of the level. The real problem was getting out of the game, as the exit trigger had been sabotaged. Chiana does mention, though, that brain damage resulting from the games is not unheard of.
- In the War of the Worlds episode "Totally Real", the loser of the VR game lost his life. This turned out to be the entire point of the simulator's design.
- Red Dwarf had the episode Back to Reality, in which the crew think they've just been booted out of a game for dying, but have actually survived and are now suffering a hallucination which is designed to make them suicidal. Their hallucinating behaviour maps into real-world actions well enough that they almost kill themselves simultaneously in both worlds before the ship's computer pulls off a literal Deus ex Machina.
- Inverted in one SyFy movie (anyone remember the name?) in which a malfunction causes the video game boss to animate the motion-capture exoskeleton in the real world and go on a murderous rampage.
- Estate of Panic: The show's winner is the only one seen actually leaving the house. Three of the losers are left trapped in the rooms, and the other three are escorted to some unknown place in the mansion by the butler.
- Today's Special: Thanks to Waldo's "automatic wishing machine", the gang gets trapped in an 80's era video game called Monkey Maze. Averted in that they fail to make their way through but escape by wishing to be on the moon instead.
- Exit and the Japanese show that inspired it are game shows where teams have to solve challenges to move onto the next room or be "killed" by that particular rooms death trap. They of course aren't killed but the show likes to pretend they are.
- Metal Gear Solid Mobile, with the flimsiest of justifications.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Falsebound Kingdom subverts this. You beat the VR game's main villain about a third of the way through, only for the creator of the game to take over, delete the villain, and attack you from behind. In order to actually win, you need to break out of the game and enter the computer itself.
- Inverted in the adventure game Gateway - there is a Virtual Reality casino that is actually a ruse set up by the Big Bad, who intends the player to always win and keep playing - therefore, the player must force themselves to lose. Folding in poker does the trick.
- In Persona 4 there's a dungeon based entirely on blocky classic Dragon Warrior-type graphics... since the characters are going inside the collective subconscious as represented by television and dealing with people's internal imaginations, comforts, and insecurities, this is pretty justified.
- An optional side-quest in Knights of the Old Republic involves some Schmuck Bait in the form of an alien artifact. Opening it traps you with the prison's occupant whose mind is trapped inside, and whose body died long ago. However, your body is currently unoccupied. He challenges you to a game of riddles to see who gets dibs on the body.
- The base setting of Kid Chameleon, where the game boss of a new arcade in town has kidnapped several other players that have played it and it's up to you to enter the game and put an end to it.
- Assassin's Creed: Revelations: After the events of Brotherhood, Desmond is trapped in the Animus, his mind shattered. He must complete the game's missions to piece his consciousness back together.
- In Catherine, the protagonist has a reoccurring nightmare where he and others must climb a slowly collapsing tower of blocks. Anyone who falls off the tower or is killed by a trap or a falling block dies in the waking world, and the only way to wake up is to either get to a sanctuary and wait until morning or make it to the very top of the tower.
- The "Tranquility Lane" simulation in Fallout 3. The only way directly presented to you to exit the scenario is to play along with the Overseer's increasingly evil and sadistic games with the other inhabitants of the simulation, until he's satisfied and lets you leave, but keeps the others around to play with for eternity. There's another way to exit with good Karma, though, if you hack the simulator from inside and change the scenario to one where a Chinese invasion kills everybody.
- This was the central idea behind Reboot.
- An episode of Danny Phantom had their goal being to prevent the villain from winning and thereby escaping to the internet; however, they still needed to win several of the levels to catch up with him.
- Bizarrely, "access to the World Wide Web" was the game's reward.
- In Darkwing Duck, the gizmo that turns real objects into video game objects breaks after letting DW and Quackerjack in, so they must beat the game to reach the default "exit door."
- Fairly OddParents once did a plot of this sort as a result of one of Timmy's wishes. Bizarrely, he specifically asked for "a game you can't wish yourself out of," for no apparent reason other than so this trope could happen (the concept of wishing oneself out of a video game being utterly meaningless in any other context). It was perfectly possible to leave the game by, uh, quitting... but none of them actually did this because Timmy couldn't warn the other players and he wouldn't abandon them.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: This is how the comic book world works in "Power Ponies".