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And You Thought It Was a Game

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A character approaches a situation under the impression that they're dealing with a prank, a con, or a staged event. Unfortunately for them, it's all quite real. When they eventually find out, expect mighty embarrassment or even Fainting if the situation was dangerous enough. Sometimes this is a Magic Feather, and it's revealed that the character is far more competent than they realize.

Not always played for laughs, if the character realizes the reality of the situation before he succeeds (and especially if their oblivious actions have made things worse in the meantime).

In comedies, discovering that the situation is real often turns the poor shmuck Medium Aware.

This trope is a subtrope of Wrong Assumption. Sometimes goes hand in hand with Engineered Heroics. May occur after repeated instances of Crying Wolf have desensitised a character to the warning signs. Compare Real After All, Mistaken for an Imposter and All Part of the Show. Contrast The Game Never Stopped and You Just Ruined the Shot, where the character thinks events are real, but they aren't. Kansas City Shuffle comes into play when the character sees a con, tries to beat the con, and ends up taken for a ride by a second con (the real one). See also Mistaken for Badass, Not a Game and Fright Beside Them. Inverse of And You Thought It Was Real.

As many of these examples are plot twists, beware of spoilers ahead.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • BoBoiBoy Galaxy: In episode 11, BoBoiBoy and his friends must take the Toughness Test to qualify as members of TAPOPS, and are told that it's usually simulated. When they are teleported to Planet Volcania and find the danger to be very real and painful, Kokoci regretfully admits that they actually are on a volcanic planet. Admiral Tarung states that the test is better off done for real considering their desperate situation at the time.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Akagi, the insanely talented title character agrees to play Mahjong against Yakuza rep player Urabe only if his mild-mannered coworker Osamu plays first. As it turns out, Osamu is actually quite good and holds his own against the professional... until he hears that the game is being played for a wager of 32 million yen between two rival Yakuza groups. His emotions overwhelm his ability to play, and Akagi has to step in and save him.
  • Played straight by the Beelzebub delinquents through the entire premise of the FPS/online video gaming chapters. Furuichi and Lamia convince the Ishiyama gang to join in the search for Lord En by challenging him at online games. They agree to skip school and look for him - all under the impression that Lord En and his retainers are from a rival school that simply want to to beat the crap out of the Ishiyama students. Little do the thugs know that, while playing with En and his maids non-stop for three straight days, Behemoth's 34th Pillar Squads are assembling to annihilate humanity in Lord En's name.
  • The protagonists in Bokurano are told they're going to pilot giant robots as part of a game. This is a massive lie.
  • Darwin's Game: Sudo Kaname accepts his friend's request for help in the eponymous Darwin's Game through his phone. He assumes that it's just another phone-battle game, which are very popular in Japan. Of course, the reader knows that his friend was killed, the game is literally one of life and death, and there are others coming to kill him.
  • Digimon:
    • Digimon Adventure: Riding on the confidence he stems from Koushiro's discovery that the Digital World is, well, a digital world, Taichi believes that he's virtually invincible and if things go awry he'll respawn in the real world. He passes through an illusion of a gate of electricity believing that he won't die from it, but after Koushiro impresses upon him that he could still be harmed, he hesitates at the thought of going through it again, resulting in Sora being kidnapped. He still hesitates to go through again on the subsequent rescue mission.
    • Digimon Adventure 02: Ken Ichijoji has no problem with enslaving, torturing and killing Digimon because he thinks he's just playing a virtual MMORPG. When he is finally proven wrong with Wormmon's death he suffers a Villainous B So D, triggering his eventual Heel–Face Turn.
    • Digimon Fusion: Yuu Amano was lured into the Digital World by the promise of being able to play with real friends without the possibility of permanently hurting or killing them. That turned into him leading the forces of the Bagra Army in the war, believing no-one's actually dying. Near the endgame, because of this he even has no problem with the notion of killing his own sister Nene, one of the generals of the opposition; he even sees ending her as part of the game. When Taiki explains that it's actually not the case, he flips out; Tuwarmon recognises that it's important for the Bagra Army that Yuu continue to believe that it's all a game, and afterwards makes a point of reassuring him.
  • In Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE, team BUILD DiVERS are brought into what appears to be a new campaign mode within the virtual reality GBN, liberating a race of human-like animals from fearsome machines. However, as they push through the mission, things don't line up, ultimately leading to the team failing to stop a Kill Sat from obliterating an island where the Resistance was set up at and the team never gets a signal that they lost. They soon discover that the land of Eldora is actually an extraterrestrial planet that had somehow managed to connect with GBNnote , and all this time they had been fighting real battles in real bodies and Mobile Suits constructed on the world. This one breaks Kazami as he treated this as a game from the get-go.
  • Byakuran from Reborn! (2004) thought the whole world was just a computer program. Or it was just a metaphor. We will never know.
  • In Sailor Moon, the first hint that Ami is Sailor Mercury is when she tops the score at the Sailor V Game arcade machine, that was created specifically to train the Sailor Senshi. The manga also has a later example, again with the Sailor V Game: as she plays it, Usagi openly wonders why the character is using the Moon Stick, only realizing she was being trained in its use when Luna starts using the machine other functions to analyse objects and, later, the real Sailor V hacks the game to communicate.

    Comic Books 
  • One of the DC Comics science fiction comics once had a one-shot story about a man stuck in his humdrum life who finds three discs. Each one, when activated, whisks him away into what he thinks is a particularly vivid daydream where he gets to play the role of the hero, and vanishes when the 'daydream' ends. The final 'daydream' takes him to his hometown where he thwarts a gang of bank robbers. When he returns home, he finds himself being hailed as a hero and he realizes that all of the 'daydreams' were actually real. He faints.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: A Donald Duck comic, Lost Valley, has him forced to become a tour guide in the Amazon. When he and the tourists come upon an ancient temple inhabited by evil sentient apes who kidnap his companions, initially he panics... until he finds a booklet that details the travel bureau's scheme of creating a fake ancient temple with costumed actors as an attraction for the gullible tourists. He then proceeds to spectacularly rescue the tourists and thoroughly kick the apes' asses. After they're all back to civilization, Donald angrily storms into the office to complain about being included in a fraud, only to be told that he came upon a real temple with real evil apes. He faints upon hearing this.
  • In an old Eagle story from the Thirteenth Floor, a bullied schoolboy is trained in Kung Fu by a computer using virtual reality, but he is still too afraid to fight the school bullies until the computer lures them into its VR suite and lets the little "wimp" spiflicate them thinking that they're part of the programme.
  • In one Knights of the Dinner Table story, Bob gives Crutch and Switch helpful advice on how to pull off a heist, under the impression that they're planning a gaming session rather than the real thing.
  • In the Lucky Luke "Nitroglycerine" story, Luke is escorting a shipment of nitroglycerine to a railroad tunnel site. The Daltons, spying on him, think the huge crate is filled with gold bars, being sent to the town of "Nitro". Hilarity ensues when the Daltons try to shoot the lock off, jump bridges on the train, etc. At the end, Joe demands to know where the gold was, and faints upon learning what was inside.
  • Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (1968): One day after completing a Death Course training exercise and joining S.H.I.E.L.D., Jimmy Woo is ejected from a crashing plane over the ocean, then retrieved from the water by some sort of genetically-modified creature. It's revealed to be the work of the Evilutionary Biologist Centurius, but Jimmy initially wonders if it's just another instalment of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s extreme training regime.
  • Rorschach (2020) had a double-whammy example for Jonathan Oates, a security agent-for-hire that got roped into a conspiracy to assassinate a presidential candidate. He became attached to the conspiracy after being approached by Frank Miller of all people for reference material on a presidential assassination "story", letting him know how to hypothetically carry it out to make it realistic. Oates eventually did come to realize that he was attached to a not-so-hypothetical plot against Governor Turley — the presidential candidate he was presently working for — but Turley ended up encouraging collaboration since he saw the assassins as hopeless loonies who can be stopped by Secret Service, and that the attempt against him would be excellent to blame on his opposition to cinch the election. But then Oates realizes too late that one of those "loonies" has astonishingly accurate aim with a sniper rifle, and that their crazy attempt would succeed.
  • Played around with in an arc of Superman/Batman, where Toyman (Hiro Okamura) creates a new Superman and Batman-themed game, not realizing that the "game" has become real via nanomachines, allowing him and his friends to control Superman and Batman. They quickly realize the game is real by having the events of the game come to them, but by this point, the true culprit of the game, Mongul, has made it available online, with 90 million people under the effects of mind-controlling spores now dictating the actions of the two heroes in a fight to the death, thinking it is all just a game, with Hiro and his friends now desperately trying to take charge of the situation by convincing the others that the game is real. However, some of the players simply don't care, wanting payback for injustices the superheroes cause on their everyday lives.

    Fan Works 
  • Adopted Displaced: Nightmare Moon was displaced into the world of Wreck-It Ralph. Upon her return to Equestria, she initially assumes that she's still in a game, just in the one she originated from, confusing the locals with her game-based terminology. When she eventually realizes the truth, she suffers a Heroic BSoD from the shock.
  • Dairantou Saint Zearth runs on the rules of Bokurano; namely, it's powered by the lifeforce of whomever's piloting. None of the pilots are aware of this little detail at first, thinking they're in more of a straight Super Sentai, color-coded masks and all.
  • Designation Miracle: Kagami only watches Sports channels, so while the Miracles made international news, he'd only heard about them through word of mouth and presumed they were some kind of elaborate hoax or prank.
  • Star Wars vs Warhammer 40K: In Season 3, the Kaminoans (under Tarkin's direction) put Omega and a team of prodigal clone cadets through a "simulation" in which they are commanding a massive Republic armada in a space battle against the Imperium of Man to liberate Axum, a major Republic City Planet which had recently fallen under Imperial occupation. Unbeknownst to Omega or her team, they are actually coordinating a real battle between the Republic Navy and the Imperial Fleet; the Kaminoans lied to them that it was a simulation so they wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice the lives of the men under their command in order to attain victory.


  • You Belong to Me: Mint mistakes the ChalkZone for an elaborate video game, a mentality Scrawl gleefully encourages and exploits in order to keep Mint as The Unfettered.

The Loud House

  • In What You Wish For, when Lori is in the alternate reality where Lincoln is Carol's brother instead of hers, she initially thinks everyone is just pretending not to know him as a prank.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

  • Danger Than Fiction: When Moondancer accidentally tells Alice that she's a character in a story, Alice decides that they must be in a play that she somehow forgot she was participating in. A play with incredibly impressive special effects.
  • Ponies and Dragons: Gilda deliberately invokes this by using one of the new computers brought to Equestria from the human world to play SimCity. Thing is, she was recently made the Queen of Griffinstone, and is using both her experience with the game and her requests for advice on how to play to help teach herself how to run her new kingdom. Little does she realize that one of the people she's asking for help is none other than Celestia herself, who drops hints that she knows exactly what's going on and is enjoying their mentorship.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Zig-zagged in Bowfinger. When Jiff has to film a scene where he runs across a busy freeway, Bowfinger tells him that all the cars have stunt drivers who will miss him. Inverted when they secretly film scenes with Kit, leading him to believe he really is being followed by aliens.
  • Used initially for scary effect, but increasingly for comedic effect as the franchise went on, in the Child's Play saga. Seed of Chucky even takes place partially on a movie set...
  • In the movie Erik the Viking, the title character borrows Princess Aud's cloak of invisibility and bravely attacks Halfdan the Black's crew, not realizing that the cloak only makes its wearer invisible to Aud's father. (Not a Magic Feather because he wasn't misled about the powers of the cloak; he took it into battle before Aud could explain its limitations.) Since he thinks he's invisible, he gets confident enough to be able to fight with reckless abandon, which stupefies Blackdan's crew enough for him to beat several of them, and also inspire several of his own crew to fight.
  • Tim Allen's character in Galaxy Quest orders the destruction of a threatening enemy spacecraft, believing himself to be shooting a promo for the fans of his show.
  • The entire premise of The Game (1997) is the millionaire protagonist working out whether he is taking part in a Live-Action Role-Playing adventure game, or are there actually people trying to kill him? Or is he really just going insane and having paranoid delusions?
  • Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz being called about an "escaped swan". "And who might you be? P. I. Staker? Right. 'Pisstaker'? Come on!" Cut away to Nicholas taking Mr. Staker's statement.
  • In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Willie spends her first proper night in the jungle jumping and panicking at every sound and critter that appears, a tendency not helped by a tamed elephant's over-friendly tendency to lay its trunk on her shoulder. Then, after a particularly exhausting scream-a-thon and subsequent argument with Indy that wears her out, a deadly snake slithers down from a tree onto her shoulder. Whilst Indy himself is paralyzed with fear, Willie — fed-up and assuming it's just the elephant — yells "Cut it out!", grabs the snake and hurls it very far away without even looking.
  • Played with in The Killing Room (2009). An NSA psychiatrist is recruited to observe tapes of an experiment, and is shocked to find it's a lethal Mind Control experiment inherited from the MK Ultra program. We can back and forth between her and the experimental subjects, who are eventually wheeled into the room where she is, and she's informed that the tapes she's been viewing were filmed earlier that day.
  • This is the entire plot of the classic sci-fi film The Last Starfighter. The main character is a teenager who is the best in his town at a video game that involves defending the Star League against the Kodan Armada, with him eventually becoming the first and only person to be able to completely win the game. Once a recruiter from the Star League shows up in response, you can guess what happens next.
  • A good 2/3 through Malibu's Most Wanted, the main character B-rad finds out that the "thugs" who kidnapped him were actually just actors hired by his father to try to scare him straight. Instead of revealing that he knows what's really going on, he decides to play along and have fun with it. When actual thugs kidnap him and the actors, however, he doesn't realize anything's wrong, and his fearlessness puts him in terrible danger but also lets him become the ultimate gangsta.
  • In The Man Who Knew Too Little (which used to be the Trope Namer), Wallace Ritchie believes himself to be taking part in an avant-garde street theatre experience, when he has actually embroiled himself in an assassination plot. A similarly contrived set of circumstances results in everyone else connected to the plot thinking that he's a cold-blooded assassin. Unusually for how this trope usually plays out, Wallace doesn't figure out that it was all real until some time after the end credits start rolling.
  • In Mortal Kombat: The Movie, Johnny Cage has absolutely no idea what he's getting into. He has only been told that Mortal Kombat is an invitation-only martial arts tournament, and leaps at the chance to prove that he is a legitimate martial artist rather than a Wire Fu actor. When he realizes what the stakes and the opposition are... he doesn't take it well.
  • In My Name is Bruce Bruce Campbell (playing himself) is kidnapped by a fan who wants his help fighting a monster that's killing the townsfolk. Bruce believes that he is there to star in an unscripted movie. Bruce realizes that the monster is real when he leads an attack on it, and he promptly turns around and flees.
  • The Naked Gun:
    • In one rather painful scene, Frank Drebin tries to "expose" an impostor, eventually going so far as to sand off the "fake" mole on his buttocks.
    • And an inversion in the first movie - he saw five men stabbing someone in the park and shot the assailants, only to be disciplined later for having killed actors in a production of Julius Caesar. The hundred-strong crowd probably should have been a tipoff.
  • Lassard in Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach, when being held hostage, he thinks it's a simulation for the festivity. In fact, it turns out that it was the bad guys who should have been worried, as Lassard disarms their leader the moment he finds out the truth.
  • In the movie Problem Child, Ben Healy (John Ritter) encounters a bear at a campsite, and, believing it to be a friend in costume, acts playfully towards it. He soon realizes that the bear is an actual animal. During the ensuing panic, the bear retreats and the actual friend dressed as a bear arrives, whom Ben hits over the head with a skillet.
  • In Sleuth the line between game and real life thread becomes blurred more than once.
  • In the sequel to the French comedy The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe, the hapless everyman is recruited by a high-ranking intelligence officer to help discredit another. They set up a gauntlet of encounters in which our hero, pretending to be a spy, "beats" or "kills" a series of bad guys, while under surveillance by that other intelligence officer. At one point, our hero turns left down an alleyway instead of turning right, meets a burly workman, and assumes this is the next guy he's supposed to fight. The workman gets annoyed at this skinny loser whacking him with fake karate chops...
  • In the film ¡Three Amigos!, three movie stars who specialize in rescuing-Mexican-peasant-villages-from-marauding-bandits movies are invited to come and rescue a real Mexican peasant village from real marauding bandits; they assume the whole thing is staged until one of them finds out the hard way that their opponents are using real bullets.
  • Occurred quite a bit in The Three Stooges shorts, usually with Moe assuming the person behind him is Larry or Curley or Shemp bugging him rather than the threat of the episode about to do him harm. Another instance of the trope happens in What's the Matador? when the boys are hired in Mexico to do a mock bullfight act. Curley plays the Matador while Moe and Larry are in a bull costume. Because plot, they've managed to incur the wrath of a jealous husband, who bribes the arena attendants into releasing a genuine bull into the ring. Moe and Larry see the bull and scamper over the fence as soon as possible, but Curley doesn't notice, and for a few minutes thinks it's Moe and Larry… until he sees them frantically gesturing from the sidelines...
  • Played with in the original TRON. Kevin Flynn has been digitized into the computer system and captured by the Master Control Program's forces. They take him to the Gaming Grid, where Ram, who thinks he's just another captive program, tells him that he'll be forced to play video games. Flynn laughs it off, boasting that he plays games better than anyone... and then the poor guy finds out just how differently things work in the Electronic World.
    Kevin Flynn: On the other side of the screen, it all looked so easy.
  • Tropic Thunder:
    • This is the premise of the film. Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. (as a method actor who has been surgically altered into a Black man) get dropped into a real war zone while still thinking they're filming a movie about the Vietnam War. Robert Downey Jr. almost immediately realizes the mistake (yet still never breaks character). The others... take a little time.
    • In a rare zig zag of the trope, Jay Baruchel's character, an unknown yet serious actor, is actually prepared for the tribulations the troupe goes through, because he actually attended the training courses everyone should have attended (but didn't, making him the only competent "soldier"). He knows what's going on - or at least indicates that he suspects it - but still finds time to make small talk about trivialities "between takes", and still seems to not be taking the danger seriously. The others treating it like a game use him as a pawn to manipulate the events of the plot, which helps them survive, but their motivations were to save the film from each other.
  • The plot of WarGames is kicked off by a teenage hacker accidentally breaking into a US military supercomputer and playing a nuclear warfare simulation with it. The problem is, even after he stops, the supercomputer keeps playing — and it doesn't know the difference between a game and real life.
    David: Is this a game or is it real?
  • The first two victims in Westworld assume the androids will let them win their duels as they have been programmed to do, not realizing that A.I. Is a Crapshoot.
  • At the end of What About Bob? Bob thinks he is undergoing "Death Therapy" although Dr. Leo Marvin is actually trying to kill him.
  • In Would You Rather, everyone realizes this around the time that one guest attempts to leave the party - and is shot dead.
  • In xXx, Xander Cage wakes up in a diner where a robbery is going down. Xander quickly figures out it's all just a test and is knocked out again. He and two other men are dumped into a South American jungle and taken hostage. Xander naturally assumes it's all another test when a man threatens him, laughing on how bad the guy's accent is and he's overplaying the part. It's when the guy shoves a machete up to his face and Xander smells the blood on it that it hits him this is all for real.

    Video Games 
  • The six students in The Bridge Curse: Road to Salvation spend almost half the game assuming the ghosts they're encountering are just other students pranking them. The fact you die if they catch you is a pretty big tell that this isn't the case, but since this doesn't happen story-wise (since you avoid getting game overed) it takes the students a while to realize they're really being menaced by dangerous ghosts.
  • Since the Holy Grail War in Fate/EXTRA takes place in Cyberspace, many of the participating Masters initially approached it as a game. The full impact of just what they'd signed up for and the conditions for winning (namely that the losers have their body and soul erased from reality, no one but the surviving contestants remembering they ever even existed) doesn't sink in until the first round ends. This is particularly driven home by Shinji's reaction.
  • A dropped concept for Half-Life 2 would have involved citizens of the dystopian future playing a supposed game at the "Manhack Arcade" where they piloted flying buzzsaws in pursuit of criminals.
  • In Mortal Kombat 9, Johnny Cage initially assumes the Mortal Kombat tournament is some kind of elaborate roleplay and that all the participants are just actors like him in some very convincing costumes. He starts to realize that it isn't when Shang Tsung orders him to kill Baraka after their fight, but it takes an encounter with Sonya and Kano for it to fully sink in.
  • Nira Oni: After the group group gets trapped in West Nira Hospital and the Oni starts stalking them, Ryan thinks that it's some kind of fake haunted house. Hiroshi goes out of his way to keep her believing this.
  • In Opus Magnum, the noble Houses have engaged in low-conflict "wars" where the two sides will put on a show of fighting, bluster at one another, and finally the "loser" will cede a few streets of territory. House Van Tassen treated the assault from House Colvan as more of the same even as losses mounted up. It took a letter from Taros expressing his intent to conquer Van Tassen for them to realize the danger they were in.
  • When the Mecha-Bowser appears in Pinna Park of Super Mario Sunshine, the Noki Director thought it was another tourist attraction.
  • In Super Robot Wars: Original Generation downplays this because of the actual controls for one of the series's original mechs, the Gespenst, were used as the basis for the simulator game. The problem is no one told the gamers that the data from the simulation would be used as an aptitude test for potential recruits/draftees.
  • Touhou Project antagonist Tenshi Hinanawi never did cotton that Gensokyo's Incidents aren't a game, so she contrives to engineer one herself because she was bored.
  • Until Dawn: The mastermind behind the events of the evening, Josh, didn't expect actual, flesh-eating monsters to show up.
  • Virtual-ON: The first few stages in the game are actually training simulations. After completing them, the game reveals that it's not actually a game, and proceeds to give the player remote control of a mecha on a lunar base.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: While the others trapped in Despair Academy quickly figure out that Monokuma's game is horribly real, Yasuhiro continues to insist it's just an elaborate prank being staged to welcome them to Hope's Peak. It's not until someone dies that he realizes the truth, and mentally shuts down for a bit from sheer shock.

  • Captain SNES: The Game Masta:
    • In the 2008 Halloween series, Alex refused to believe that the murders around him were real initially (they were in a "murder mystery" simulation) but even then, it wasn't REALLY real as it was All Just a Dream.
    • Earlier, he'd been fearlessly facing his trials in The Desert and dealing with Zeromus, believing that if he did die he'd simply be able to reset to the last save point and try again. When he is able to later talk it over with Bob, he learns that, due to the rules of the save points, the danger was very real and he was quite capable of dying for real. Naturally, he freaked out.
  • In Clan of the Cats, the main character is a Involuntary Shapeshifting witch, who can transform into a black panther. After an incident during a vacation with her ditzy half-sister, she runs off into the woods in a distressed state. Shortly after, a black panther is found hiding in a crawlspace under the house they're staying in, and The Ditz crawls in there to comfort her half-sister. After spending most of the night trying to cheer up her half-sister, she finally finds out that it's a REAL black panther, who has just escaped from a private zoo...
  • In the Gunnerkrigg Court chapter "From The Forest She Came", Annie is trying to convince Kat to talk to her by staging contrived situations in which they must work together to defeat a threat, and Kat isn't buying it. When an Eldritch Abomination emerges from the water tank, she's quite impressed and wonders how Annie created it. Then she notices that Annie is terrified. Luckily, it turns out to be Lindsey, their new guidance counselor.
  • Killroy And Tina: When an enemy of Killroy's shows up while he's training Tina, Killroy lets Tina believe it's part of the test.
  • In Sabrina Online, Sabrina and her boyfriend are attacked in an alley. Sabrina (an anthropomorphic skunk) sprays the mugger and they run away; when she gets home, she recounts the event to Amy in a tired voice, then suddenly jumps and shrieks, "OH MY GOD, I COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED!"
  • Kent from Sluggy Freelance, who believes he's facing vampire- base LARPers rather than actual vampires, although in his case it endures in the face of all evidence because his Weirdness Censor is incredibly strong - which in the Sluggy universe is another way of saying Too Dumb to Live.
  • The Wotch: Anne mistakes an actual attack for a training exercise.

    Web Original 
  • Taken literally in One Hundred Yard Stare when Macy threatens to punch everyone if it is just a game...Unfortunately it is much more than that.
  • The participants in Suburban Knights start their quest off believing that it's just some pseudo-LARP adventure. by the end of Part 2 they discover that there really are supernatural beings standing in their way, and don't take it too well.
    Spoony: "Suddenly I've decided that I'm terribly afraid of you."

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!:
    • In “The Vacation Goo” Francine mistakes a real vacation for a fake one, after finding out that most family vacations have been faked using a Lotus-Eater Machine (though less malicious). Thinking she is hallucinating the whole thing, she kills people, sinks a boat, and wreaks havoc before finding out that this is all really happening.
    • In “Home Adrone”, Steve and his friends stumble upon the controls for a CIA fighter drone in Stan’s study and play with it assuming it’s an advanced flight simulator game. (At one point, they nearly blow up the plane that the rest of Steve’s family is on before Snot says they should save the ammo). They only realize it’s a real drone when Steve flies over the house and sees it out the window.
  • The Beatles episode "Please Please Me" had a similar scenario. In this case, a bullfight's bull, El Taco, is knocked unconscious, so the boys set things up with John and Paul in a bull costume and Ringo as a matador (with George as his picador). John and Paul are delayed because of a jammed zipper, and El Taco regains his consciousness. He barges into the ring to face Ringo, who thinks it's John and Paul.
  • Happened thrice to Bozo: The World's Most Famous Clown. In the first instance he thinks the circus tiger is a little kitty painted to look like a tiger, then the lion he's ordered to perform with he thinks is Butchy Boy in a lion costume. The third time he's in Hollywood to be a star and drives a gang of bank robbers' getaway car thinking it's part of a movie shoot.
  • One episode of Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers has the Rangers stage a spy game for Dale; he figures out it's all fake early on, but what he doesn't realize is that a group of real bad guy spies have gotten into the mix. Later, the leader of the spies catches on that Dale doesn't know it's not a game anymore; he gets the idea to tell Dale that the "game" is over to make him surrender, but this inadvertently causes Dale to destroy the microfilm they're after.
  • A Donald Duck cartoon has Donald manhandling a mountain lion thinking it was his nephews in disguise.
  • In DuckTales (1987), "Where No Duck Has Gone Before", it takes "Major Courage" most of the episode to realize that he's really in outer space with real aliens instead of on a set.
  • In the DuckTales (2017) episode "Double-O Duck in: You Only Crash Twice!", Launchpad and Dewey are playing a VR spy game when they get confronted by Steelbeak and taken to an actual F.O.W.L. base. Dewey is delighted that they've finally reached the next level. Launchpad realises the truth when he's hit with the Intelli-Ray, but forgets it once his intelligence goes back to normal. Dewey never does.
  • The Fairly OddParents!:
    • Timmy, Chester, and AJ end up in The Most Dangerous Video Game. Chester and AJ remain oblivious that they're in a deadly game, thinking it's all fun. Unlike most examples, they never learn the truth.
    • In another episode, Chester and AJ remain oblivious that Mark the Alien is a real villain, thinking the whole thing is a pretend game.
  • The Flintstone Kids: Freddy and his friends once went camping. Rocky Ratrock and his gang did all they could to sabotage them. One of their plans was dressing up like a monster to scare Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty away but Freddy and friends learned of the plan and ended up unwittingly scaring a real monster and only then learned it was real.
  • In one Goofy short, Goofy demonstrates to his son how he would deal with a mountain lion if one should attack, not realising that he has grabbed hold of an actual mountain lion in the process.
  • Kim Possible:
    • The episode "Larry's Birthday" featured Professor Dementor kidnapping Kim's geeky cousin Larry by telling him that he's taking part of a LARP set up for his birthday. Larry buys it, and ends up almost putting Kim and Ron through a deathtrap, before revealing he had seen through it. (Dementor's plan, that is, not the fact it wasn't a LARP.) Kim and Ron, along with Kim's father Jim, decide to let Larry and his neurotic mother keep thinking that so as not to result in the latter going into a panic.
    • Drakken's plan in "Clean Slate" was to set up a fake engine overload on a train in order to trigger an evacuation. After he and Shego boarded the train, and Kim and Ron showed up to stop them, he realized that he'd forgotten about the "fake" part....
  • In one episode of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, "The World According to LARP", June's brother Dennis is kidnapped by monsters (as opposed to the intended target, her other brother Ray Ray... the orders given were something to the tone of "the one who can see monsters"), but believes this to be his LARP (live-action role-play) group's new adventure. Since his "props" are real magical items that he stole from June's room (which also happen to make him able to see monsters like Ray Ray), he defeats his kidnappers and escapes the dungeon with no idea that any of it was real.
  • Looney Tunes short subject "Picador Porky" (1936) has Porky and his two vagabond pals scheming to win some prize money at a bullfight with Porky as a matador and his buddies dressed in a bull costume. The two buddies get drunk off of some wine and their hiccupping causes them to escape from their cage. The bullfight staff replace with a real bull, which Porky thinks is his friends. He's quite fearless, up until he sees the two in a drunken revelry singing "La Cucaracha."
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "Stranger Than Fan Fiction", Rainbow Dash and Quibble Pants get kidnapped by Dr. Caballeron, taken to an ancient tomb, and rescued by Daring Do. Quibble Pants thinks this is a LARP (to be fair, the Daring Do convention had earlier been offering customers a chance to go on a LARP) and spends most of his time nitpicking everything and insulting Caballeron as a bad cosplayer. He's finally convinced it is real when they are attacked by a monster.
  • The Owl House: In "Yesterday's Lie" when Camila Noceda's daughter Luz appeared on her smartphone to spin a wild tale of having been trapped in a demonic realm for the last few months and ask her help in rescuing the shape-shifting creature which stole her life the woman who had been worried about how much her child had changed since returning from summer camp was relieved enough to play along with the silly 'LARP'. That lasted until she arrived in the back room of a local museum, got a good look at the true form of a gagged and caged Vee, and realized there was absolutely no way this was anyone in a costume.
  • An episode of Pinky and the Brain had Brain staging a victory over a giant monster by having them grow to giant sizes and having Pinky dress up as one. Brain then finds an actual giant monster he at first believes to be Pinky.
  • In Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, the gang are burnt out on Scooby-Doo Hoaxes and assume that the titular island is just another such hoax. It isn't.
  • In Scooby Doo! Pirates Ahoy!, the gang crack a whole series of staged mysteries on a "Mystery Cruise" on the first day of their vacation. When an actual mystery turns up, it's hardly surprising that they initially complement the cruise director on its realism.
  • The Simpsons subverts this in the episode "Paths of Glory", combining it with And You Thought It Was Real. In order to train Bart and the sociopaths to become military pilots, they are put in military battle simulations, where they drop bombs in the Middle East. Bart gets the highest score out of everyone, but is horrified when he is told that the simulations were real. Bart refuses to join the military, and it is then revealed to him that the real battles were indeed actually simulations, and Bart is sent home due to being unfit for both the military and as a sociopath.
  • In the Sponge Bob Square Pants episode "I Had An Accident". Patrick dresses up in a gorilla suit and tries to kidnap Sandy in an attempt to get SpongeBob to come out of his house. SpongeBob can easily tell that it's just Patrick in a gorilla suit... only for Patrick to suddenly walk into frame. Subverted when the gorilla costume is unzipped to reveal that the real Patrick is indeed inside it... then the fake Patrick unzips their costume to reveal an actual gorilla.
  • In the Talespin episode "Bullethead Baloo", Baloo gets his friend, eccentric inventor Buzz, to make him a Jet Pack like the superhero Bullethead, and dress up as a robot for Baloo to defeat in front of Kit and his friends. Instead, he ends up fighting a real robot that was trying to kidnap Shere Khan. And then Buzz's confused explanation to the police leads them to conclude that he and Baloo faked the kidnapping.
  • Happens a lot on Total Drama. Owen manhandles a bear, thinking it is his insane girlfriend Izzy in a bear costume. In a later episode, Gwen thinks she's encountering the show's co-host in a generic movie-slasher costume. It's not. Despite Gwen's newfound friend being white and the co-host being black, it takes the appearance of everyone else on the island before she realizes what is going on. Then, she beats him up.

    Real Life 


Video Example(s):


Not a Simulation (BBB Galaxy)

BoBoiBoy's team initially think the Savage Trial they must take to qualify as TAPOPS agents is just a simulation, but later find out that the threats are very real.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / AndYouThoughtItWasAGame

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