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Anthropic Principle

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"What is wrong with you nerds?! Why do you have to nitpick everything?! If the premise of my situation is that I'm trapped, then I'm trapped! If you know what the definition of 'trapped' is, then logically you can infer that something is keeping me here!"
Mickey the Dick (when asked by multiple fans why he doesn't simply leave the show), Wacky Game Jokez, 4 Kidz!

For any given story, there exist basic elements that, no matter how improbable or impossible their occurrence, are required for the story itself to happen, or there would be no story.

The original Anthropic Principle is the hypothesis that there must be statistical limits to what observations we can make concerning the structure of the universe: any observation must be within parameters that permit the emergence of intelligent life, because if this was not so, we would not be here to observe them. Furthermore, this means it is impossible to extrapolate from our own universe any estimate of the probability of being in a universe where intelligent life is possible, because whether the chances are probable or not, it would look the same to us, as our universe by definition must be capable of supporting intelligent life in order for us to ask the question in the first place. The best we can say is that the probability of such a universe existing is greater than zero (because we exist). note 

The Anthropic Principle as it applies to fiction is similar: Every fictional universe has fundamental, axiomatic elements without which its story simply could not happen, and the reader must accept those elements in order to enjoy the work. The ultimate expression of this trope is Minovsky Physics — these elements are actually carefully planned in advance, ensuring a logical transition from real life to the fictional universe.

Take, for example, a story that features Humongous Mecha as a key plot element. For very good practical reasons, as well as plain old physics (like the Square-Cube Law), humongous mecha as portrayed in fiction do not exist. But, in this fictional universe, they do. Fiction is not reality. Getting hung up on the fact they do not exist in the real world will likely prevent you from engaging with the work at all. Writers can help audiences suspend disbelief with some Techno Babble or Applied Phlebotinum, but in the end one must simply accept that humongous mecha are possible within the context of the story, because without accepting it, there is no story.

When it comes to seeking out enjoyment in fictional works, the MST3K Mantra and the Anthropic Principle are diametrically opposed philosophies: The former says that some details don't need to make sense because they ultimately don't matter, while the latter says that certain details of the story do matter because they are the foundation of the story itself, and accepting those details on faith is critical to the audience's enjoyment of the show even if it doesn't make much sense from an outside viewpoint. Both, however, tie into the idea that in order to enjoy a fictional narrative, certain parts of that narrative must simply be accepted or at least tolerated by the reader in order to enable the story to be told.

This is why Fanfic Headers need to issue warnings about Alternate Universe Fic, and why Transplanted Character Fic is despised by many Fanfic readers.

Many Real Life theories about the Anthropic Principle rely on notions of The Multiverse and probable alternate universes (which do not need to actually exist to be considered alternate universes, since it makes little practical difference to our universe and us in it.) Such theories excite the Daydream Believer. Not to be confused with Transfictionality, where the author creates his own Alternate Universe by imagining the story.

This scenario is actually the one currently favored by a lot of physicists, since String Theory (apparently) requires the existence of something like 10500 different sets of physical laws.note  A similar argument explains why we find ourselves born onto the relatively congenial surface of a planet, rather than inside a star or deep space. (Looked at that way, it starts to seem less like rocket science and more like "and?")

In a sense, it can often be assumed that the events portrayed, however unlikely, are still occurring within the realm of conceivable probability. For example, if a plot initiates because a character experiences an incredible event; even if the probability of said event was relatively unlikely, it can be assumed that the character also experiences many completely mundane events where nothing extraordinary happens, and that this event was simply the reason that the episode has been shown to viewers (a.k.a. Conservation of Detail). In short, the events portrayed are not chosen at random from an arbitrary sampling of all existing events (nor even the characters, locations, etc.), they are simply the events which are deemed to be of interest. Unlikely events do happen in real life, just not all the time. Improbable does not mean Impossible. If someone were to select only the most interesting events that happened to the most interesting people, and write only about them, then even regular human life may seem extraordinary to the reader. It does not make those events any less believable.

In this way, it could even be reasoned that Truly Fantastical stories are conceivable within the defined universe. For example, Superheroes may seem to be continuously rescuing those in distress and foiling evil schemes, however these may very well not be everyday occurrences; they may even conceivably happen weeks apart, with simply nothing of interest occurring in between, and thus those events are the only ones the readers are told about. After all, who would be interested in seeing Superman taking a leak?

Compare Rule of Drama, Chandler's Law, Drama-Preserving Handicap, Acceptable Breaks from Reality, Adventure-Friendly World. The Law of Conservation of Detail serves as the "Doylist" counterpart to this trope's "Watsonian" perspective.

Inverse of MST3K Mantra. The Original Position Fallacy is a related trope where characters in-story assume they're far more important than they really are.

See also Just Eat Gilligan.


This will be for shows, games, etc. where the Principle is mentioned, invoked, or demonstrated particularly well.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Higurashi: When They Cry: Keiichi had a discussion about mysteries with his mother who pointed out that without a dead body, there is no mystery to kick off the story. This inspires him to commit a murder note  and hide the body before it's discovered. Unfortunately, this bites him in the ass later as he's unsure if he actually did commit the murder as he couldn't find the body.

    Comic Books 
  • In Marvel 1602, Reeds speculates on the Anthropic Principle, theorizing that the Thing can never become human again because he's more interesting this way.
  • The Scavengers in The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye are the secondary protagonists and travel in a spaceship called the Weak Anthropic Principle.
  • Lampshaded in Tank Vixens. A VIMP general asks Udda why they can't just nuke the Vixens firebase from orbit, and she's mighty offended because then they wouldn't be able to have gratuitous tank battles.

    Comic Strips 
  • In a strip of Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin notices that his existence depends on everything that came before him, and deduces that the ultimate purpose of history must be to produce himself. Armed with this grandiose and self-affirming philosophy, he goes and watches TV.

    Films — Animation 
  • All but named outright at the start of Rango, when the titular lizard declares that his character is undefined and that "the hero cannot exist in a vacuum! What our story needs is an ironic, unexpected event that will propel our hero into conflict!" No sooner does he say this than he is forcibly ejected from his owner's vehicle into the desert, at which point the story begins.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Crimson Tide flies in the face of all rules and common sense regarding ordering nuclear missile strikes, but those rules exist precisely to prevent the kind of Lost in Transmission confusion that drives the whole plot, so there is no choice but to ignore them.
  • The Day of the Dead (2008) remake illustrates an example common to many zombie films. It is explained that the zombie virus can be transmitted by air, in addition to being bitten by a zombie. When one character asks why all the main characters are uninfected, the scientist explains that "some people are just immune to the airborne aspect." Although it may seem like an incredible and unexpected coincidence, they would necessarily have to be immune to be main characters.
  • Planet Terrror: The main characters' immunity to the airborne zombie toxin becomes a plot point when they try and fail to synthesize a cure.
  • Necessary for any of the sequels to Jurassic Park to have viable plots. There MUST be dinosaurs created by humans, and they MUST escape from controls set by the humans. Hence a lot of Idiot Ball and Contrived Coincidence.
  • In Home Alone and its sequels, it may seem like a bunch of contrived coincidences to isolate Kevin from his family (especially when it keeps happening to the same kid), but those contrivances are necessary for the films to exist at all.
  • Pacific Rim: The unlikely scenario that Humongous Mecha are the most effective and practical defense against Kaiju is required to make a movie based completely on the concept of Humongous Mecha fighting Kaiju.
  • In the backstory to Star Trek Beyond, the planet where Idris Elba's character was stranded just so happened to have a breathable atmosphere. If it didn't, the character would have died long before ever encountering the Enterprise crew, and thus, there would be no movie.
  • The premise of Antebellum is modern day racists kidnapping black people to be slaves in a recreated cotton plantation. The racists are so committed to this roleplaying that, at a glance, the plantation is indistinguishable from a historical one which means it's located in the American South not far from the rest of society and there are no security cameras, tracking devices, fences or modern weapons or vehicles. Many viewers have pointed out that one of the kidnapped black people should have escaped and brought the authorities down on the plantation long ago, but then the protagonist's story of doing exactly that (long enough into the plantation's existence to make it seem like a whole different world) could never have happened.
  • Similarly, The Village requires the founders to somehow set up a massive No-Fly Zone that prevents the residents from seeing or hearing any modern aircraft flying nearby. Not to mention the logistical issues of somehow rerouting air traffic into or out of New York State without entering Canadian airspace or disturbing the village...
  • The Sacrament: As a mockumentary, everything needs to be filmed by someone in the scene for it to appear in the movie, so our heroes remain strangely committed to filming the events around them even when their lives are in danger, and the villains also decide for some reason to document their own actions with the journalists' cameras when they're not in the scene.
  • Everything Everywhere All at Once toys with the original Anthropic Principle in a scene where Evelyn and Jobu Tupaki both jump into a timeline where life on earth never evolved. Their forms in that universe are just rocks that share the same basic atoms that they're made of in all the other universes where they were born. Given that Jobu is connected to every single version of herself in the multiverse at once, including these dead timelines, she most likely knows the exact probability of intelligent life coming to be.
  • This exchange from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl lampshades it:
    It's the Pearl!
    Black Pearl? I've heard stories. She's been preying on ships and settlements for near ten years.
    Never leaves any survivors.
    No survivors. Then where do the stories come from, I wonder?

  • Given a Shout-Out in one BattleTech novel, where it's revealed that Vladimir Ward firmly believes in a personal version of this—that is, he's earnestly convinced that the Star League fell and the Clans came into being just so that he could be born at just the right time for the invasion and go on to conquer the Inner Sphere. To him, that's actually the simplest and most logical explanation for everything in his life up to that point.
  • The Discworld series have this as a major theme in general: Discworld is a world of stories. The world often conspires to get the people in the stories to play their roles, no matter what the consequences. The people often aren't happy with this. One book mentions the Unseen University Professor of Anthropics, who has created the Extreme Anthropic Principle: the theory that the universe is here solely for the Unseen University Professor of Anthropics. It is further mentioned that everyone, with a few changes of the Insert Name Here variety, secretly believes the same thing.
    • The prologue to Men at Arms explicitly invokes this trope. After the villain of the story, Impoverished Patrician Edward d'Eath, spectacularly fails to rally the other nobility of the city-state Ankh-Morpork to enthrone the King Incognito he'd stumbled upon, the Lemony Narrator waxes philosophical for a paragraph about how the story ended in "millions of universes" with d'Eath becoming a harmless shut-in and then-Corporal Carrot having a career of no particular note ending with him dying in an incident involving an anteater. The next paragraph mentions the millions of universes where Contrived Coincidences from later in the book didn't happen, or where the City Watch simply failed. The paragraph after that sums up the main issue at hand:
      In a million universes, this was a very short book.
    • Some of the "About the Author" blurbs state that Terry Pratchett writes the Discworld books in accordance with the Very Strong Anthropic Principle, which states that the universe we live in is the way it is so that it is a universe that can support the existence of a guy who writes Discworld books.
    • And, in a very meta twist, characters on the Discworld who are well-versed in those stories can predict the future and act with imperfect knowledge because they know the Discworld will ensure that events unfold according to the story. More of a mythropic principle. On the other hand, it is very easy to cast yourself in the wrong role and have it rudely turn around on you. Are you the plucky tailor who kills the troll with luck or one of ten peasants the troll has killed before the knight arrives and slays it?
  • The Finnish Young Adult novel James Bondén ja kuuhullut (roughly "James Bondén and the Lunatics") by Kaarina Helakisa has an odd and complicated relationship with this trope in one scene. Given the situation the plot is at, for it to advance to one of its major points, two characters have to happen to type the same semi-random thing on their new Moonmad consoles, activating their special power. When they do, the improbability of it is lampshaded, but it's Hand Waved with an analogy that is incorrect for anthropic reasons—well, this may have been unlikely, but so is the fact that, out of all the possible children your parents could have had, they had you. (But, anthropic principle, of course assuming they were going to have some child, all options of "who" it was going were equally unlikely but they added up to 100%, whereas most random typings wouldn't activate the special power.) As for whether this trope applies in the straightforward sense,note  well... it does to the amazing Virtual Reality powers of the console existing, but the author could have avoided the Contrived Coincidence in activating them by changing small plot details.
  • A common joke in China is wondering why Sun Wukung from Journey to the West (a demi-god who can jump over continents in one bound and carry half a mountain on his back) can't just carry Xuanzang straight to India.
  • This is such a fundamental and Omnipresent Trope that it even appears in something as barebones as A Million Random Digits With 100,000 Normal Deviates. I mean really, what are the odds of these one million digits appearing in this order on these specific pages? The whole thing is highly improbable, but hey, it needed to happen, or else we wouldn't have the million random digits with 100,000 normal deviates needed to make this book.
  • S. M. Stirling's Emberverse series features a couple of main characters musing about their own luck in surviving (and thriving after) the Change. Of course, if they hadn't survived, they wouldn't be the main characters and we'd be reading about people who had instead!
  • The premise of "The Cold Equations" is that a character finds himself in a situation where he has no choice but to Shoot the Dog. Thus, a requirement of the story is that it is set up such that there is no Third Option.
  • In The Twelve by James K. Burk, the city-state of Valtierra is governed by a council of people chosen to represent and act as certain archetypes. Why? Because it makes an interesting premise, that's why.
  • My Father's Dragon calls up this trope to subtly reassure its young readers. The protagonist is a very young child, and we're told from the start that he became the narrator's father, therefore we know from the beginning that he must escape the island alive and well in the end.
  • From the New World is narrated by a roughly 40-year-old Saki; since she's not anywhere near that age until the very last scene, we know that she can't die. The story eventually has multiple instances of Everybody's Dead, Dave, so this is pretty important.

    Live-Action TV 
  • How I Met Your Mother has the narrator (Bob Saget as, presumably, an older Ted) telling the long and convoluted story to his kids on... how he met their mother. Therefore, sometime during the series, Ted will, presumably, meet the kids' mother. Over the course of the series, a few other rigidly defined rules get put in to place by Future Ted: for instance, Robin is definitely not the mother, as he refers to her as "Aunt Robin", and it's a common way of providing a plot twist when Future Ted refers to individuals in the contemporary story in the present tense.
  • Jane the Virgin is about Jane... a virgin. Thereby, she cannot have sex, and the plot sometimes has to take dramatic action to stop her. Examples include someone pulling a fire alarm, and someone shooting her husband on their wedding night.
  • An in-universe example appears in the Community episode "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps"; after Abed objects to the overly cliched horror story about an insane murderer that another character tells, he tells his own "improved" version of the story wherein the characters demonstrate Genre Savvy about being in a horror story about an escaped mental patient and avoid any and all examples of Genre Blindness that such characters typically fall victim to. The result is simply a boring story about two characters who end up standing back-to-back in an easily-defensible part of a room armed with knives not dropping their guard for an instant, wherein nobody does anything and the killer doesn't even show up. Turns out all those things Abed dismissed as Genre Blindness were actually necessary for telling an engaging story.
  • The greatest danger to the main characters in The Walking Dead (2010) is not the zombies, or the predatory humans. It's the genre of the show they exist in. No matter how smart or skilled they are, how far they go, or how hard they work to find or build a sanctuary, they will never be safe, because they are in a zombie show with a team of special effects and make-up artists to employ, whose viewers expect a certain amount of gore and violence per episode.
  • Cobra Kai has several seemingly improbable parts of its set-up and storytelling nature, such as Johnny Lawrence having retained his 80s high school bully beliefs and attitudes for forty years to allow the rivalry from the first film to be rekindled, police and adults being useless or characters almost never going to them to force the characters to solve all their problems with karate fights, and most of the teens being naive enough to accept all their teacher's questionable lessons without question to allow for more conflict and stress the overarching moral about being a good mentor.

  • King Lear has been criticized for the implausibility of a king dividing up his kingdom among his children without any contingency plan for the maintenance of his own status. That, however, is the necessary precondition for the story to occur at all, and, well, it's not like the story makes it look like a good idea.
  • Pilot Program is about a modern Mormon couple is called to serve in the restoration of polygamy. In interviews, the playwright has said:
    Playwright: People often ask me, they're like, "Why don't you spend more time on why she says yes and not no?" And I'll tell you straight up: from a dramaturgical perspective, her saying no makes this a very short play.
  • Romeo and Juliet requires that the titular characters make reckless decisions at every turn, from their meeting up until their tragic death; even their very relationship is built upon a flimsy rationale. Not only is this necessary to establish the story as A Tragedy of Impulsiveness, but also for it to work at all: Romeo would've never met Juliet in the first place had he not snuck into a ball hosted by his own mortal enemies.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Combat created its entire alternate universe, Strangereal for this very reason. The two defining factors are that nuclear weapons were completely prohibited and that the landmasses and geography make it perfect for the large-scale conflicts the series is famous for.
  • Assassin's Creed uses this to do away with a traditional video game trope. The plot of the first Assassin's Creed game involves a man named Desmond Miles forced to relive the memories of his assassin ancestor named Altaïr using the Animus, a special machine that reads genetic memories. What would be a Life Meter in most games is called a Synchronization Meter, explaining how in synch he is with the historical events. Performing actions that are badly out of character (like killing innocents) or just plain inaccurate (like dying) lower the Synch Meter. Incidentally, it was made by Ubisoft, the same team behind the Prince of Persia series, mentioned later. Logically, this implies that Altair was an incredible badass, since being hurt at all lowers synchronization- thus he never got hurt (except in cutscenes). In turn, we also know that Altair and Ezio must at some point have children, since they eventually become Desmond's ancestors. So when we meet Sofia in Assassin's Creed: Revelations, it is even more obvious than usual that she is the Love interest of Ezio.
  • If you fall off the level early in Bastion, the narrator says, "And then he fell to his death... I'm just foolin'." You magically reappear as if you never fell; you haven't met the narrator yet, so dying isn't an option.
  • BioShock. Near the end of the game, it is revealed that every action the hero has taken was the result of post-hypnotic suggestion compelling him to act. If you attempt to defy the mind control earlier in the game, not only do you not progress, but you never even get to the point where you can discover the true reasons behind your actions. Of course, if this happens, the plot stalls. There is only an interesting game in the first place because the plot proceeded the way it was meant to—you are playing it only because it happened that way.
  • In Martin Wakeley's Games Done Quick commentary for Blast Corps, he noted that nuclear truck was necessary to provide the game any real purpose: while the gameplay is centered around "knock[ing] down buildings", the developers discovered that "buildings were quite static" and didn't provide any incentive themselves for the player to do so. Therefore, they implemented a "constantly moving object" which the player must clear a path for in order for there to be a "real gameplay thread". This shows how even a silly Excuse Plot about preventing The End of the World as We Know It can be more beneficial than no plot at all.
  • The gameplay aspects of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger are the memories of Silas Greaves as he relates his life to a group of saloon patrons—his memories dictate how you have to play. Unusually this is crossed with Unreliable Narrator, as Silas will sometimes change his mind about a memory and you have to play it again differently. Of course he, and therefore the player, didn't die, otherwise he wouldn't be telling his stories in the present.
  • Cry of Fear: The whole story turns out to have been written by Simon as a form of therapy after the car crash in the opening cutscene. If he had not lost his ability to walk in the crash, he wouldn't have had suicidal thoughts, wouldn't have needed therapy, and the story would never be written in the first place. This is demonstrated effectively in the alternate "Co-op" and "Doctor" modes; the playable police officers get sucked into the book (now transformed into some kind of grief spawned Eldritch Abomination), and the only way for them to get out alive is to go from the end to the beginning and prevent the accident from ever happening. Dr Purnell however, enters Simon's mind willingly to destroy the book.
  • In the Chzo Mythos, as the game "Trilby's Notes" is a recollection of the main character, it only makes sense that he must survive to write them. Should he die at any time during the game, the game mentions how the notes "mysteriously end" at that point, and perhaps were not actually written by the protagonist.
  • The Elder Scrolls: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion warn you if you kill an NPC vital for the story to continue, the threads of fate have been severed and the world is going to hurtle towards certain doom. You still have the option to continue if you want, or you can go back as if you'd died.
  • Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star reveals the entire Nasuverse operates on the fact that conflict must be happening in order to create possibilities for humanity and the protagonists by proxy; timelines where no conflict is happening and ergo nothing to challenge the protagonists or humanity are designated a waste of space and are permanently deleted from the multiverse.
    • Fate/Grand Order revisits this idea in Part 2 of the main story. The Lostbelts actually are said deleted timelines trying to reassert themselves, several of which are (seemingly) Utopian worlds where humanity has become stagnant. Ironically, the plotlines for these Lostbelts often end with those worlds being given a chance to finally progress by the protagonists (usually, due to Chaldea vanquishing whatever was keeping them stagnant in the first place)... but they end up being erased again in the end since their existence is a threat to Proper Human History.
  • A variation happens in Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist. The story is told by a local old coot, and would on a proper playthrough be about how Freddy saved the town. If you die, however, the Have a Nice Death message is the coot ending the tale of how Freddy died. "And that's how Freddy Pharkas drowned in the swamp."
  • In Golden Sun, Isaac has the option to turn down the quest. If he does, however, the game's story cannot happen, so the dialogue tells you that the world is now doomed, the screen fades to sepia, and you're booted to the title screen.
  • Hideo Kojima really likes this trope a lot:
    • In Metal Gear Solid, Mantis comments on how many traps Snake has fallen into—the traps are instant-death pits, suggesting Mantis is able to see Snake's Game Overs.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3, the death of Naked Snake or Ocelot both result in the infamous "time paradox" game over screen. The future course of the story depends heavily on these two characters, so it just wouldn't do for them to die in the prequel.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 4, doing suicidal stuff to kill Snake and looking closely reveals invisible threads connected to him, as if he were a marionette. Much later in the game, he faces an enemy that can control others and uses the very same effect, implying those out-of-character suicides were actually because he was under mind control.
  • The King of Fighters fighting game series exists in Comic-Book Time where nobody ages despite that the eponymous King of Fighters is an annual event with at least a year-gap between each installment, so that alone requires suspension of disbelief. But what pushes the logic beyond the boundary is that no mather how many times the KOF tournament took a turn for the worse in every installment (whether be it being run or hijacked by Monster of the Week, a ritual of resurrecting ancient god, a test ground for clone army, and more), no one ever considers boycotting or banning the KOF altogether, which would've saved a lot of hassle for them. However, if characters actually do that, much of the drama and even KOF as a fighting game won't exist. Therefore, the justification of the KOF itself is never questioned, and the series just throws in lampshading jokes about it and brushes it off.
  • The Last Guardian is a story being told by the nameless protagonist as an adult while the actual gameplay and plot occurred when he was a child. Naturally, we know he eventually got out of it all okay since he's telling us the story and all, and is also explains the hints that appear when the player becomes stuck at a particular part of the game: they're told by the adult player character, explaining his thought processes as he solved puzzles and found his way around the setting of the game.
    Terry (after defeating a mid-boss in KOF XV): Another mysterious monster butting in? Wouldn't be KOF without it!
  • In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, there's no way to die in the game, except one time where Guybrush is disintegrated in a vat of acid if the player take too long solving a puzzle. The game then cuts back to the present, where Guybrush is telling the story of How We Got Here to Elaine, and she snarkily points out that he couldn't have been disintegrated in acid as he is right here telling her the story, looking very integrated indeed.
  • Persona 4 goes to an unusual amount of effort to justify its anthropic principle. The moment you discover the TV world, it's obvious you'll be going there and fighting monsters, but the characters react realistically to this discovery rather than rushing in, with the result that gameplay doesn't fully open up until about three hours in.
    • Persona 5 is similar in that the main character deletes the phone app that brings him to the Metaverse several times before the app activates accidentally/of its own accord and traps him and another future party member in the Metaverse, thereby necessitating their meeting and subsequent escape with cat-guide Morgana. This has to happen before meeting any other party member or even the first villain.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time lampshades this. The story's Framing Device is the Prince himself telling the story of How We Got Here, with gameplay proper being the Whole Episode Flashback. Whenever you get the Prince killed, we hear him tell us, "Wait, no, that wasn't how it happened. Hold on." After all, if the Prince had died, not only would the game's story not be told, but he wouldn't be here at this very moment to tell it.
  • The game Sacrifice features the same conceit as the Monkey Island example above, with almost the same line: "Of course, that's not what really happened." The protagonist is explaining the story to one of the acquaintances he met during it.
  • The premise of Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball is that Robotnik decided to guard his base with a Pinball Defense System, which, if you think about it for half a second, is a really dumb decision to make when you have a mortal enemy whose signature move is curling up into a ball. But if he hadn't made this really dumb decision, you wouldn't have a cool pinball-platformer, so you'll let it slide.
  • In Space Quest V: The Next Mutation, Roger Wilco must keep his love-interest, Beatrice Wankmeister, alive, or else get a game over. Why? Because the fact that she and Roger eventually have a son is part of the premise of the time-travel laden Space Quest IV, as the son saves Roger in the opener of that game. If Beatrice does not survive, Roger Jr. will not be born, cannot travel back in time to save his dad, and thus Space Quest V can not happen!
    Narrator: Bea is dead. In an alternate future, she would have borne your son. In the future past of Space Quest IV, your son would have saved your life. But she didn't... so he couldn't... therefore, you aren't.
  • Part of the Interactive Fiction game Spider and Web: You're interrogated in a flashback, but with an audience, and if you do something unbelievable in the flashback, he'll stop you and insist you tell the truth. This is eventually subverted as the main puzzle of the game is to give a a plausible explanation for the starting conditions of the game, while at the same time hiding what you did prior to capture that will allow you to escape.
  • In most MMOs, the player will have limited options to change how quests play out, only really getting to decide which quests to pursue or not. As a result, the player is an incredibly passive character who typically only does what other characters around them tell them to do. This has a side effect of a lot of characters sending the character to do things they should really be doing themselves and yet still making all of the decisions for the player character. As part of this Anthropic Principle, this is really about the only way a game like this can work due to the limited ability to have multiple game states like a single-player role-playing game could manage.

    Visual Novels 
  • The difference between Doki Doki Literature Club! and DDLC Plus shows a case of trying to explain away the element that was originally just something that needed to be assumed for the story to work. The original game is written like it's an ordinary Visual Novel Romance Game except that it's possible for characters to gain Medium Awareness and go off the script. Plus overrides the inexplicability of this element by introducing a boatload of hints that it's actually a simulation with AI's that are basically human. Since the original story was not written that way, this raises a lot of further questions and requires some Hand-Waving in the new material. Of course, some "Why?" and "How?" questions about the new story can also be fairly said to be excused by the Anthropic Principle — but if you do that with all of them, that still means there are more unanswered questions than in the original story, in spite of it maybe looking like the other way around.
  • In Snatcher, while the Continue function works as standard, the Chief will shout at Gillian after the factory opening if he dies during the attack of the Insectors. "Do you hear me, Seed? No more Game Overs!"
  • In Policenauts, Jonathan will complain if you get too many Game Overs, and then suggest hints (and if you carry on failing, simply say "I'm going to get him this time.")
  • A very mind-screwy version happens in Remember11. When first starting the game, the viewer only has access to Kokoro's route and learns about Satoru even though he is never seen. After completing Kokoro's route, Satoru's side of the story is activated. It is implied that due to an extradimensional entity note , Satoru's reality is warped based on what was previously known in Kokoro's route. Event flags in Kokoro's route affect Satoru's and vice versa.
  • In Zero Time Dilemma, successfully escaping the Rec Room with C Team causes Akane to talk about how the Anthropic Principle applies to their situation. The probability of having succeeded in their final task in the escape room was only 1/216 or 0.46%, but despite those odds, the only way for them to be there, in that situation, is if they succeeded. In gameplay terms, this means that the chance to succeed in the task is indeed that low on the first two attempts, but on the third attempt, assuming you haven't reloaded your save file upon seeing the failure on the first two times, you'll automatically succeed in it. Fittingly enough, Akane also mentions that succeeding in the task within three tries is far more likely to happen, which is what'll happen to most players. And yes, you can still succeed in the first two tries, it's just extremely unlikely you will.

  • Tarquin exploits this in The Order of the Stick: For a "hero topples an evil empire" story to take place, the evil empire has to exist, and have existed for quite some time, and be in a position that they'll continue to exist if no hero topples them. And that all requires someone to rule the empire, with all the benefits thereof — so why not him? As he puts it, the Evil Overlord gets to live like a god for decades, and while the last few minutes were pretty bad, you can't have everything in life. Later events in the comic demonstrate that while Tarquin might have a point in broad terms, he may have cast himself in the wrong role...
  • In Homestuck, Terezi is able to weaponize the Anthropic Principle. When fighting an enemy that can steal and manipulate luck, she makes sure that the only outcome that preserves the "Alpha Timeline" (essentially the main narrative) is the one where she wins.

    Web Original 
  • Though it is never mentioned explicitlynote , the anthropic principle is the entire premise of The Hero with a Thousand Chances.
  • Readers of "Nothing Like The Sun" wondered at first why, if the main character is omnipotent, she couldn't just turn her Glowing Eyes off by force of will if it bothers her so much. Then the second chapter has her discover she is a fictional character at the mercy of her authors and the third chapter explains that nothing actually stopped her from using her powers that way, except that her authors did not allow it because there would be no story if she did.

    Web Videos 
  • After watching the movie Cyclone on Best of the Worst, Rich points out how nonsensical it was for the evil corporation to murder the titular motorcycle's inventor to get their hands on it, when he was working for them, and as such they already had full ownership of the technology. Jay flatly explains that they did it because otherwise the rest of the movie wouldn't happen.
  • In one Counter Monkey video, Noah "Spoony" Antwiler discusses the concept of Railroading in tabletop RPGs as a necessary evil. Sometimes the plot hook for an adventure requires your character to walk into an obvious trap, drink some wine that's clearly been drugged, or something along those lines. As annoying as it might be, in these situations the players have to swallow their pride and go along with it, because that's the only way that the adventure is going to start; the alternative is everyone packing up their stuff and going home.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Story Existence Failure


Leaving the Sanctum

Two seventeen-year-olds are tasked with saving the world of Weyard, and have a choice whether to respond realistically or not, and the townsfolk understand if they do. But if they do, then the rest of the plot couldn't happen, so the game ends.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / AnthropicPrinciple

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