John: "Turn us loose"? You mean this is only a game?
Slightly: Sure! When we win, we turn them loose.
Two or more characters or groups are involved in a "conflict" that they at first glance seem to take very seriously. Yeah, there's a huge war going on here. They really hate each other. Well, except that they don't. It's just a game, and there's actually no hard feelings involved. They simply fight each other because they know they all enjoy it and are comfortable to trust that no one gets hurt for real. They might even have a Safe Word. It can also apply to rivals or enemies in wrestling, as in real life, the relationships between two wrestlers can be different in comparison to what it seems, the way they act torwards each other may just be because of the script.
If everyone involved makes sure no one gets hurt, it can be narrowed down to a Harmless War. However, not all friendly fighters are so considerate. If they are in it For the Evulz, the collateral damage might be considerable. (For the other kind of "Harmless War", see Nonlethal Warfare and Nobody Can Die.)
Can lead to Abuse Mistake, as people don't understand that the whole thing is actually friendly. If any of the people involved are lovers, then this "conflict" is very likely to overlap with Casual Kink. Outsiders might view it as The Masochism Tango or Belligerent Sexual Tension, and in the latter case it might be entirely intentional: the lovers keep their relationship secret behind a role-played façade of constant bickering.
- Plenty of the battles in Negima! Magister Negi Magi read as this, as characters who are on the same side and often very good friends throw shockwave-producing punches, gravity orbs, warship-sized swords and violations of the laws of thermodynamics at each other. And that's just the training! Even in more serious conflicts, characters often acknowledge to each other that while they can't betray their ideologies, they bear each other no ill will, and usually Defeat Means Friendship.
- Dog Days: The "wars" in Flognyard are televised competitions that resemble a mix of grade school field days, Ninja Warrior, and LARP (with a touch of Lyrical Nanoha thrown in). Nobody suffers permanent injuries; Mooks are temporarily reduced to "Beast Balls" when defeated, while named characters are taken out by destroying their weapons or armor (with their clothing usually getting shredded too). Since it involves actual combat, this serves the dual purpose of keeping the military and militia in fighting form so that if a real threat (like a rampaging demon) shows up, they're ready for it — and because the nations are all on good terms, if one gets in trouble they don't even need to ask for help, since their neighbors are most likely already on the way.
- Happens at the end of Episode 12 in Hyperdimension Neptunia the Animation. Neptune declares that she and the other goddesses/CPU's have become True Companions, due to all the trials and tribulations they went through together during the show—therefore, the treaty of friendship signed at the very start of the anime is rendered null and void as it is now unnecessary, and competition starts anew, now to be a friendly rivalry. The goddesses then put on an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny for fun and as a show before retiring to a meadow to rest together.
- In Boarding School Juliet, the sides fight with real swords only on very specific, prearranged occasions, and fiercely punish "war crimes" committed by their own people. Their motivation for fighting at all? Their parents did it, it's fun, it makes internal politics simpler, and none of the students want to actually attend class.
- Calvin and Hobbes:
- Calvin and Hobbes are often at each other's throats, but it's usually only in good fun.
- Calvin and Hobbes also gives us Calvin vs. Susie Derkins. After a shouting match, Calvin Breaks The Fourth Wall and says, "It's shameless how we flirt!" Could be Belligerent Sexual Tension if they weren't 6 years old. Then again...
- This is the payoff of the DC Comics oneshot Superman and Batman: World's Funnest, a fight across realities between Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyptlk.
- In Doom 2099, it is ultimately revealed that this was the cause of Doctor Doom's amnesia: His 'lover' had erased his memories as part of their "game". Subverted in that he was not happy about it afterward...
- In Peter Pan, the Lost Boys and the Indians take turns attacking each other as a game. It turns serious when the Chief accuses the Boys of kidnapping Tiger Lily, who was actually taken by Captain Hook for the purpose of trying to get the location of Peter Pan's hiding place out of her.
- In Razor Blade Smile, the heroine is a vampire who have spent the last 50 years fighting a conspiracy led by another vampire, who is assumed to be her ex-husband. In the end, after they have killed most of each other's minions, it is revealed that they are still lovers and that the entire conflict was just for fun.
- In Attenberg, it is likely that much of the conflict and cruelty between Marina and Bella is actually neither conflict nor cruel.
- In Good Omens, this is how Aziraphale and Crowley (an angel and a demon, respectively,) tend to view the war between Heaven and Hell. Of course, then things get serious.
- In the novels about Bill Bergson ("Kalle Blomkvist" in the original language) we have "Röda Och Vita Rosen": The main characters have divided themselves into two teams that constantly oppose each other just for the hell of it. Often they fight over some destigated treasure, which they only want because they don't want the other side to have it. Of course, they don't let this struggle get in the way of the actual plot.
- In Peter Pan, the Lost Boys and the Indians take turns attacking each other as a game.
- In the Anne of Green Gables series, Anne and Gilbert's academic rivalry is played up as this, as least on Gilbert's side. Anne, though, takes it very seriously.
- In Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch (Series), the Night and Day Watches respectively represent the interests of the Light and Dark Others. The two have been working to undermine and discredit the other side for the entire series, with the non-aggression Treaty apparently being the only thing preventing them from breaking into all-out war. But eventually the main character realises that it's all little more than counting coup, and that they're both working together against anyone that might upset the balance.
Anton: You're not hacking at each other with broadswords, you're fencing with blunt sabres...
- In Robert Reed's second novel, The Hormone Jungle, the protagonist is part of a pseudo-Luddite micronation, Yellowknife in northern Canada. The Yellowknife and a number of other similar nations engage in ritualistic "wars" using less-than-lethal weaponry; stun guns, martial arts, tear gas, and a variety of bizarre gadgets. The wars are serious business.
- Becomes somewhat tragic in the Dragonlance novel Doom Brigade. Kang and his draconians are in conflict with a neighboring village of dwarves, with each settlement raiding the other for booze or sheep as needed. While earlier raids were taken dead seriously, Kang decided to take a chance and initiate one raid with only wooden training weapons, making sure to only use lethal force if necessary. To his delight, the dwarves responded in kind when they conducted their next raid, causing the casualties to be reduced to concussions and bruises over lacerations and dead bodies. While not naive enough to view the dwarves as friends, Kang is willing to believe this has resulted in a certain amount of tolerance between the two, so when he and his people leave to rejoin the Army of Takhisis, he's willing to leave behind the village they've made for the dwarves, hoping they'll make use of it. When the draconians return after the army doesn't go as planned, he's horrified to discover that the dwarves have instead decided to raze the place to the ground instead, unwilling to tolerate even the memory of their former neighbors.
- Moongobble and Me: Discussed in book 4, where Fazwad the Mighty explains that if the Queen of the Mischief Monsters (a race of notorious pranksters) thinks her daughter's being held hostage, she'll start a "Mischief War", and "You don't know the meaning of 'annoying' until you've been caught in a Mischief War." It can be inferred from his remarks that said war is more irritating than harmful.
- Kitty Cat Kill Sat: Lily's station is attacked by a remnant drone from "the Polite War," when megacorps fought using extremely strict rules and regulations. For example, the reason she identified it is because it waited until they were finished with their meeting before attacking; it would be rude to attack during a meeting.
- The prank wars between the Winchester brothers of Supernatural are not so harmless at times, but certainly friendly.
- Out of universe example: The regular 'wars' between factions of the Forever Knight fandom. They're essentially round robin style fics that include the fans and the characters and factions kidnapping items and characters and things like that.
- Dungeons & Dragons adventure EX2 The Land Beyond The Magic Mirror: The PCs can encounter a huge lion and a gigantic unicorn fighting each other. They're actually having a contest to see who will receive a valuable crown.
- The Outer Plane of Ysgard is a Warrior Heaven that's pretty much a stand-in for Valhalla, where anyone who "dies" in combat returns to life after 24 hours.
- In GURPS Banestorm, the land of Sahud recognizes two kinds of "war". High war is essentially a tournament between two noble families disguised as warfare. Low war is actual life-or-death fighting. The book notes that sometimes a high war can turn into a low war, but hardly ever the other way around.
- This is the basic state of Ork society in Warhammer 40,000. Orks are Blood Knights who were literally created to wage war, and so will happily fight each other over clan divisions, tribal rivalries, or things like which of their War Gods is the "cunningly brutal" one and which is "brutally cunning." These wars are still brutal affairs with belligerents trying to kill each other, but Orks don't have any fear of death and believe in reincarnation, so there's no hard feelings involved. If another race shows up, Orks will happily unite (after a power struggle to sort out who's boss) to take the fight to them, and may come to view non-Ork enemies as Worthy Opponents. In short, Orks see war as Bloody Hilarious whether they're killing each other or conquering other races' planets, which makes them the comic relief faction in a setting full of Absolute Xenophobes and Omnicidal Maniacs.
- In Runescape, the neighboring island nations of Miscellania and Etceteria are in a state of perpetual war, despite neither side having an army and nobody ever actually fighting.
- Emperor Doviculus takes this approach to warfare in Brütal Legend, full of one-sided Foe Romance Subtext. This quote of his sums it up:
Doviculus: Enough! Succoria! Why? You disrupt my industry, but I understand. You tried to make me look bad so you can strip me of my power, a very commendable sabotage. You destroy my servant's colony, but I do not blame you. It was an abomination which we permitted only to keep the human warlord obedient. [...] Let us wage war, Succoria, a terrible and beautiful war!
- This trope is part of the very foundations of Gensokyo. Created originally as a refuge for fantastic creatures, the Great Barrier cuts off Outside World beliefs and superstitions (which could change the nature of the residents), enabling them to naturally develop their own thoughts and personalities without interference. The Spell Card system present in the games is actually a way for youkai to sustain themselves by "attacking" humans without actually harming them or risking their own lives. There are still a few things they have to grow out of before they can ever dream of returning, though...
- In The Order of the Stick, there are three desert empires that always struggle against one another. However, they are secretly allied with one another. The official rulers are unaware of this. The conflict among them is merely an excuse to take over other nations, as well as a safeguard to keep the other peoples from uniting against them. The whole thing is orchestrated by six friends who were previously an adventuring party, who act as a collective Man Behind the Man to a series of puppet rulers.
- According to Scandinavia and the World, Canada and Denmark are fighting an epic battle for Hans Island. The weapon of choice; flags. (See also below under Real Life.)
- DSBT InsaniT: In 'Store Story', Bear, Duck, and Balloon have a "toy store war", which they treat as a completely serious life-or-death situation.
- Hermitcraft has these so often that it's lampshaded when one has the chance to break out.
- Ponibooru had Gif wars.
- Red vs. Blue, though it later turns out that the whole thing is actually a training simulation for Freelancer agents.
Grif: Let me get this straight. We're in the middle of an intergalactic struggle for control of the universe... and you guys are taking a few days off to go on vacation?
Church: We'll be back in a few days, guys. We can start the war back up then.
Grif: Okay; have fun.
Church: And while we're gone, don't drive our tank.
Church: And no parties!
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: Much like the Valhalla example above, Billy finds himself in the Asgard world after being transported via an electrical discharge on Grim's scythe (switching places with a norseman, no less). He enjoys the feasting, but tries to convince Thor that they didn't need to fight. They both die on the battlefield, but only for a few moments.
Thor: You see, Billy, there's no need to worry. We fight for fun in Valhalla. And if we are slain, we end up back here in the feast hall.
Billy: Cool! Let's eat!
- Humans vs. Zombies is a LARP that involves humans and zombies duking it out in games that can persist for hours or days. Some players can get a little too serious about it, but most of it is in good fun and it's just a big friendly game of extra complicated tag. Human and zombie players will eat together on breaks, and often indulge in hugs, singing, trading war stories, and general camaraderie when the zombies are stunned and temporarily unable to kill.
- Paintball, airsoft and laser tag are about as close as Real Life has to examples of this, though the first two are debatable as you're in for stinging pain should you be unprepared.
- Some military training exercises make a game of paintball look like children making guns with their fingers and yelling, "Bang, bang!" While not all training maneuvers are so elaborate, when they go all out, they can use actual armored vehicles, warships, aircraft, infantry on maneuvers, Hollywood-quality fake injuries, civilians hired to play civilians in the theater of operations, fake cities complete with secret passages, paratroopers making combat jumps, forward operating bases, artillery simulators, full tactical operations command centers...really just about every toy in the toy box. Including live rounds, artillery shells, and more. Modern militaries make sure the risks in such exercises are minimized and acceptable; it's never truly safe jumping out a plane or piloting an aircraft, after all.
- The War of Conch Independence was a conflict fought between the United States and the Conch Republic, formerly the Florida city of Key West, in protest of a US Border Patrol roadblock. It consisted entirely of hitting an off-duty but uniformed American sailor with a loaf of Cuban bread, then surrendering to same sailor.
- While most border disputes between nations can be incredibly acrimonious (and occasionally result in actual fighting), some of these disputes are conducted mostly to keep up appearances. For example, the Canadian-Danish dispute over Hans Island (a speck of Arctic rock containing exactly nothing) mostly involved Danish and Canadian coast guards taking turns visiting the island, replacing the current flag and leaving a case of alcohol for the other side to find.
- Sometimes nations can find themselves at war without really wanting to be, and this can get interesting. There was a lot of sympathy on Britain for Finland in 1939, seen as the underdog in the Winter War with Russia - there was even mad talk of declaring war on the USSR as well as on Germany, the argument being that Finland was in exactly the same position as Poland earlier in the year, only with a different aggressor. Things changed when Finland re-entered the Second World War in the Summer of 1941. By then Britain was allied to the USSR against Germany - and Germany's allies. Unfortunately these now included Finland, which had allied to Germany against the USSR. The realpolitik of the situation meant Britain had to declare war on Finland. Four virtually aggression-free years of war followed. There were one or two situations where carrier-borne British aircraft attacked German airfields in the far Arctic north. British planes on long runs to Russia over-flew Finland but very carefully dropped no bombs and engaged in no actual combat. And that was it. There is also an apocryphal story that a Royal Navy pilot, shot down over Petsamo whist attacking a German air base, apologized to his Finnish captors for the inconvenience, and sincerely hoped no Finns had been hurt, only Germans. And that was it...