The general assumption that all of the unstated details of the setting of a work of fiction that remotely resembles Real Life can be filled in by the audience's knowledge of the world in which they live, except in areas where the fictional world explicitly or by necessary implication deviates from Real Life.
So, for example, if the characters note that they've just gotten back from Paris, the audience can safely assume that this is the capital city of France complete with Eiffel Tower, even if this is never made explicit in the narrative.
Such assumptions are still expected even if the setting has obvious deviations from Real Life, such as the presence of superheroes, vampires, aliens, or a fictional President of the United States. The setting, after all, is Like Reality Unless Noted; the obvious fictional elements are the part that's been noted, and In Spite of a Nail the rest of the world is still assumed to be identical to Real Life.
When it becomes explicit that the setting is Like Reality Unless Noted in some aspect, that's Truth in Television. On the other hand, the audience's subconscious assumption that the setting is Like Reality Unless Noted may be suddenly and obviously disproven for The Reveal that it is actually an Alternate Universe or Alternate History, which may serve as a Tomato Surprise.
Even when stories are not set in the Present Day, they are still assumed to be Like Reality Unless Noted with the necessary adjustments. Historical settings are Like Reality Unless Noted with regard to their particular time period. Similarly, stories set in The Future are assumed to have at some point in the past been Like Reality Unless Noted and moved on from there. Even completely fantastic settings that have their own fictional history, geography, and culture, are probably assumed by the audience to be Like Reality Unless Noted with regard to a number of biological and physical facts — or at bare minimum, how people can generally be expected to behave. For that matter, even Alternate History stories that are explicitly set in a world not like our own may feature people and events that happened in reality to a far greater extent than mere chance would lead one to expect.
Many movies deal with, for instance, an attack on the United States government as if it happened in the present day. We can't really have a movie where the actual current elected president is killed or kidnapped (the majority of citizens on both sides would likely consider it Too Soon while they are in office), so a No Celebrities Were Harmed substitute or an outright fictional one will be in place so the story can take place in Real Life with the rest of our current culture intact.
The accusation that a writer is guilty of Critical Research Failure or Dan Browned is entirely based upon the premise that works of fiction should be Like Reality Unless Noted, and that an incorrect fact is not meant to be correct within the context of the fictional world. For example, it's not uncommon for readers to assume that a superficially Medieval European Fantasy world has the same customs, values, etc. as Medieval Europe. But this fails the logic test for two reasons; one, historical Medieval Europe had no wizards or dragons, and was not on a planet with seven moons and a lavender sky. And two, Medieval Europe covers dozens of cultures evolving (and interacting with dozens of other cultures) over a thousand-year period so there was tremendous variation in the prevailing assumptions and values.
(Of course, if the book claims to be factually correct in some or all areas then it pretty much falls under Dan Browning.)
A work that is Like Reality Unless Noted has strong External Consistency. The Celebrity Paradox is an exception to Like Reality Unless Noted. See also Weird Historical War (it has the same wars as our reality, but with noted fantastical elements). Contrast Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit", where people may use the same terms as they do in reality, but to describe entirely different things. See also the Sliding Scale of Like Reality Unless Noted. Compare The Law of Conservation of Detail, where many things can be accepted as true but aren't mentioned or explained because they aren't really important to the plot.
- In Code Geass, Britannia invades Japan in order to get access to its vast natural resources. Some viewers called foul on this, since in the real world Japan is a fairly resource-poor nation. It takes several episodes before viewers discover that 1) the world of Code Geass is an alternate history set in our equivalent of 1962, rather than a future version of our own Earth, and 2) the resource Britannia wants from Japan is "sakuradite," a fictional mineral that can be used as an isothermic superconductor or energy source rivaling nuclear power, and its discovery in the middle ages caused technology to develop along a very different path. Also, later episodes reveal that the whole "invading for resources" thing was a bunch of bull. The real reason Britannia invaded was that the emperor wanted access to the witch's temple on one of Japan's smaller islands so he could complete the Ragnarok Connection.
- For most of One-Punch Man, it can safely be assumed the series takes place in Japan with all city names replaced with initials. Then we see the Earth from orbit when Saitama gets punched to the moon, which features a Pangaea-like supercontinent nothing like Earth.
- Ex Machina played with this to great effect in its first issue: the series is centered on the only superhero in the world, who retired to become mayor of NYC. Everything looks identical to our world until the Wham Shot at the end of issue #1 which shows one of the Twin Towers still standing, with the superhero lamenting on not being able to save both.
- Alan Moore's Neonomicon is a typical H.P. Lovecraft inspired detective work, aside from the massive domes over the cities, artificial limbs, war between Syria and the U.S. in 1995, a Louis Farrakhan day, and fax machine booths.
- The Predespair Kids, a Danganronpa Character Blog, has advanced machines and artificial intelligences like Chiaki, it's mentioned in passing that 109 genetic diseases have been eradicated, the existence of genuine forms of magic, and The Reveal of the first successful human clone. However, they've also brought up real-world events, such as Brexit and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
- Quentin Tarantino sets most of his movies in a world he describes as "Realer than Real"; almost everything is just like ours, but the films themselves spell out the subtle differences.
- Django Unchained: in 1859 a freed slave violently murders almost every employee of one of the biggest plantations in America, then blows up said plantation for good measure with absolutely no visible repercussions in the present day.
- Inglourious Basterds: Adolf Hitler and most of the Nazi leaders are killed in one swift, bloody attack, presumably ending the European side of World War II earlier than it did in our world.
- Pulp Fiction is a crime thriller with some unspecified but obviously supernatural item in a briefcase which absolutely nobody questions the existence of. What is this mystical item, why does everyone already know what it is, and does this have any larger ramifications in the "Realer Than Real" universe? We'll never know.
- From Dusk Till Dawn and Kill Bill don't take place in the same continuity as the above, but they do exist as movies there, meaning that world has its own Quentin Tarantino who is either much less prolific or made different movies in the time that ours made his.
- The town in UHF. It's a normal city with normal people watching their normal Channel 8... but when you see the odd content being aired on Channel 62 and realize all these people and things must have been out there already before they got TV shows, it makes you wonder what anyone found weird or odd about George at the beginning of the movie.
- Very much the case in The Invention of Lying. A world where absolutely no one could lie would be certain to have a profound effect on history, but the only differences from the real world are that advertising is forced to be honest, there is no fiction entertainment, and religion doesn't exist.
- The Godzilla films have gradually built up a Fantasy Kitchen Sink universe (or rather universes, since there have been a few continuity reboots along the way) that by all means should be unrecognizable to us, but somehow manage to mirror reality pretty closely.
- In spite of dozens of monsters laying waste to it over the years, Tokyo always still exists and looks exactly like it does in the real world. Sometimes famous buildings destroyed in previous movies show up again later on, implying that someone is furiously rebuilding everything so that it stays a match for the real Tokyo. Same goes for other frequently targeted cities like Osaka.
- The Japanese Self Defense Force (or the UN in later films) has incredible technology at its disposal for fighting monsters, including tanks that can fire beams of plasma, Humongous Mecha, and flying fortresses armored with synthetic diamond, yet civilian technology is never shown to be any more advanced than the time period in which the films were made. This even applies to movies set in the future like Destroy All Monsters, where 1999 looks just like 1968 except humanity has an outpost on the moon.
- Similarly, space exploration is much more advanced than in our world, with casual exploration of a planet beyond Jupiter being possible in the 1960s.
- There are some fictional countries (Rolisica and Saradia), plenty of nonexistent islands, and even an extra planet in the solar system, but none of these things have significant effects on history.
- In one continuity, certain human beings are descendants of a race from Venus who have the ability to see the future, and in another, humans born with abilities like mind reading and telekinesis are just an unexplained fact of life. Neither of these seems to have altered history much.
- Frankenstein is not a work of fiction but an actual historical event that is common knowledge. The Frankenstein Monster turns up in Japan in the 1960s alive and well.
- John Wick lives in a world where assassins have enough of a professional subculture that there's a global chain of four-star hotels catering to them. And John's career is well-known to authorities who tolerate it implicitly. We aren't told how long this has gone on, but it's clearly several generations. Yet for the general populace, life goes on just like in real life.
- Bright is set in an alternate universe where magic is real and fantastic creatures like Orcs and Elves exist alongside humans in the modern day. There's also mention of a great war 2,000 years ago against a Dark Lord who tried to take over the world. But despite all that, its world seems to be fairly similar to own own — Los Angeles is the setting, and there are passing mentions of the Battle of the Alamo and Shrek.
- A more generous interpretation of Dale Brown's work involves this. After all, the setting has clear elements of Alternate History already, such as Wings of Fire predicting the deposing of Gaddafi way before it actually happened.
- In Anathem, the world presented seems to be a post-apocalyptic Earth. There are lots of mentions of Greek philosophy and mathematics with only the names changed. And there's even a reference to Spock during an early discussion about the different ways Extramuros (normal people) view Avout (people living in the monastery who only come out once every ten years.)
- Subverted when it turns out Arbre is NOT our Earth and the novel is set in a parallel universe.
- Toyed with briefly in Robert Harris' Fatherland, set in an alternate 60s in a Nazi-ruled Europe. There are a couple of mentions of a President Kennedy (who one naturally assumes to be John F. Kennedy), but his unlikely characterisation and issues with the timeline are allowed to build up before a minor Reveal that it's actually Joseph Kennedy, his father.
- In Stephen King's novel, The Long Walk, the setting appears to be America in the 1980s, except for a few blink-and-you'll-miss-it details dropped in the narrative, namely that the "German air-blitz of the American East Coast during the last days of World War II", and the existence of April 31st and a 51st state.
- Andrzej Sapkowski (of The Witcher fame) wrote in his essay Pirog that critics once attacked him for the "anachronism" of placing batiste panties on an ex-princess he mentioned in one of his novels. And added that once that tempest in a teacup subsided, one young author still reacted with cold haughtiness, showing his research on such a subject in his heroine's disrobement scene — but the effect was "hopelessly spoiled by the description of intercourse that followed, ludicrous beyond any measure and imagination".
- Inverted in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, one of the books in increasingly inaccurately-named The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. An incident is described in which a reader of the Guide (which more-or-less purports to be a sort of encyclopedia) sued the publishers over one of the more outrageous bits of inaccuracy contained within the guide. The publishers stand by the disclaimer that when reality contradicts what is written in the Guide, then it is reality that is in error. To defend their case, they hired a lawyer who argued that what was written was more beautiful than the "correct" version and truth is beauty.
- The Thursday Next series plays fast and loose with this. Because it's set in an Alternate History (later becoming an Alternate Present Day), some things happened while others didn't, and vice versa. The problem is that some of the events and books that were "changed" are so obscure, especially to non-Britons, that many readers will have no clue which is which half the time.
- Some are obvious, of course, such as the presence of the People's Republic of Wales and cheese being a controlled substance with prices in the hundreds. Also the cloned Neanderthals and other extinct species.
- Interestingly though, it seems that as the series progresses, it moves slowly into our reality. For example, Neanderthals can't breed so will soon all be extinct again, and time travel no longer exists. However, there is mentioned in one of the books an "alternate universe" that has been discovered, which sounds just like ours, implying that the whole series is actually set in a different universe anyway and has nothing to do with us.
- Used explicitly in Jack Chalker 's "Wonderland Gambit" trilogy, which is about alternate histories created within some gargantuan virtual reality game. To save computational space, all elements of reality not explicitly changed by the premise are Like Reality Unless Noted—but if magic exists or people are unisex centaurs, an awful lot of Reality may be Noted.
- The Earth's Children series, which purports to be about humanity and Neanderthals just before the last ice age. Nevertheless, it has Ayla display intermittent psychic powers and precognition, and Creb is so revered because he's got psychic powers as well; in one scene, he gives other Neanderthals a sacred drink, then guides their thoughts back to the earliest Neanderthal ancestor and then forward in time until they're mentally tracing their own family trees and finally has them finish when they get to themselves.
- Manifestation: Despite being in a fictional world, the level of technology is similar to that in real life, and Gabby's brother Frankie plays on his college football team.
- Dance of the Butterfly takes place in our world and only slowly begins to show differences as the story progresses, revealing an underlying, supernatural context that gives an entirely different complexion to the tale.
- The remake of Battlestar Galactica runs on this trope despite being set in an extrasolar system partway across the galaxy.
- The average man's technology and culture remain just like reality in Power Rangers despite humanity having made First Contact and developing hyper advanced ranger technology. The only noted exception is that the ludicrously rich can afford anti-gravity craft and such (but never use them in public) and universities now have majors in areas like "Galactic Myths and Legends". Military and law-enforcement agencies also have regular access to advanced cybernetics, cloning technology, power armor, mecha, and exotic weapons and vehicles due to near-constant proliferation of alien and extra-dimensional technology.
- In at least one episode of The Twilight Zone (1959), an otherwise normal-looking world turns out to be an almost-perfect duplicate.
- All works set in the Stargate-verse are set in the same year the episode aired and for the most part life on Earth is exactly the way it is in real life. There are some minor differences (Our Presidents Are Different, for example, and the fact that there's about $80 billion in the defense budget that nobody without clearance can really account for).
- The Mighty Boosh is constantly referred to in-universe as taking place on a version of Earth in a parallel dimension. However, the only difference ever portrayed is that Britain uses the Euro as currency.
- Shows with magic are almost always this; magic is generally known to a small minority who go out of their way to keep it secret.
- The Walking Dead: It's not entirely clear just by watching the show (or reading the comics) but Word of God is The Walking Dead is set in an alternate universe where George Romero's works never existed, and so the idea of zombies never entered mainstream culture, justifying the characters' initial Genre Blindness and Not Using the "Z" Word. That aside, the world seems to be more or less identical to our own before the apocalypse started.
- This was the starting point for Parallel Earth in the New Series Doctor Who story "Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel." Aware that the typical conception of a parallel world is steeped in fascist imagery, series showrunner Russell T. Davies instead outlined an only-slightly-exaggerated version of our world, where the wealthy fly in private zeppelins, where technology has evolved at a faster pace than on our world...and where Pete Tyler is still alive.
- Ace Combat does a variation. The series is set on an alternate Earth, the proper name for which is Strangereal, where the continents and countries are, to say the least, different.◊ History is similar, but often times, events anywhere from Strangreal's 1995 to 2015 have obvious parallels to real history; Belka is blatantly World War I and then World War II style Germany, for example. Other nations have clearly visible similarities to the cultures and geography they are based on, e.g. characters from Estovakia or Yuktobania are easily mistaken for Russians/Eastern European nationalities. Many fighter planes featured in the series are real planes (licensed from their real-world manufacturers by the game developers, no less) but with twists; the SU-47 Berkut was built as a proof-of-concept machine. On Strangereal, the Berkut went to mass production and became a high-end fighter jet for several militaries before 1995.
- Also, nuclear weapons are significantly rarer in this universe, given wide scale military conflicts are much more common, without that pesky M.A.D. getting in the way.
- Assassin's Creed as a whole is historical fiction with some science-fiction elements, mainly that there was a First Civilization which engineered humanity and, in the wake of their extinction, the Assassins and Templars emerged and have been at war ever since. That said, the general history of this world is virtually identical to the real-world with a few exceptions, such as the assassination targets in the first game—most of whom are real historical figures—dying in 1191 instead of when they actually did. Internally, this is reasoned by the Templars meddling with historical records to hide their actions (and the Assassins probably did the same) and by using a Framing Device: you don't actually see history exactly as it happened for the most part, you're seeing the memories of an ancestor rendered as a computer simulation, which could mean some level of Unreliable Narrator is in effect. That said, outside of the assassinations, there are only a few major discrepancies such as the Boston Tea Party in the third game being a massive riot rather than being conducted in complete silence. As the series progresses, more and more historical characters really do die when they did in real-life, just under different circumstances (from Assassin's Creed III again, Charles Lee is killed by player character Connor Kenway in Monmouth at the very end rather than dying of a fever in Philadelphia, which can still be attributed to the altered historical records established by the Framing Device). Most of the inaccuracies are addressed by the in-game encyclopedia.
- Doubly-subverted in Custom Robo: At one point, you are asked whether the world is flat or round. If you answer "round," your teammates scold you for joking — revealing that you've actually been on a flat world the whole time — and the prompter asks the question again. When you answer "flat," though, the prompter then reveals that you had been lied to your whole life and that the supposedly flat plane you'd been living on was actually a closed-off portion of a round planet the whole time.
- The fact that the main character can give the "wrong" answer to this and a similar question is actually justified, despite how that makes it sound. The main character's Disappeared Dad was one of the few who knew the truth and is established to have been opposed to keeping it a secret. It's implied your character learned it from him at some point.
- There's some weirdness here with the Fallout series. According to canon sources, our world and the Fallout world split at the end of World War II, with the first significant divergences beginning in the late 1950s, resulting in the microtransistor never being created while nuclear power was perfected. Fallout's world became a world of Zeerust, essentially what America thought 2050 would be like in 1950. Then the bombs dropped. This is just compounded by the fact that the games take place quite a bit After the End.
- In Fallout 3, you can meet an American History fanboy who honestly believes that the Declaration of Independence was created by the Second Judgemental Congress and sent to King George by airplane.
- Makes sense in that region, there were few intact pre-war books left in the D.C. Ruins, much less history books. Places like New Vegas both have more pre-war books available and accurate information on history.
- In Fallout 3, you can meet an American History fanboy who honestly believes that the Declaration of Independence was created by the Second Judgemental Congress and sent to King George by airplane.
- Mega Man Battle Network has an alternate Earth with odd country or region names like "Electopia" for the Japan-equivalent, "Netopia" ("Amerope" in the original Japanese) for an America-Europe equivalent etc. Of course, the main difference is in the series premise, with the different way of browsing the 'net and all.
- The Metal Gear series can be quite confusing with this. About half of the past events that is referred to in the games actually happened and the other half is made up.
- It's interesting to note that some of this comes from most of the games' being set 20 Minutes into the Future, and the present day continually catching up to it. Metal Gear Solid released in '98, takes place in 2005. Sons of Liberty released in 2001, takes place in 2007 and 2009. Guns of the Patriots released in 2008, takes place in 2014.
- The beginning of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is a perfect example of this trope: it starts off as a skirmish between two groups somewhere in a destroyed city in the Middle East. Everything looks pretty standard for modern warfare...then giant robots hop out of nowhere and start stepping on people!
- Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance continues the trend with references to The War on Terror The Man Behind the Man's plan is to restart it, this time pulling Pakistan in, the Occupy movementnote and the Tea Partynote .
- At first, The Sims looks very similar to real life.... until you find out that over the various installments of the series and their expansion packs, the games have featured vampires, robots, time travel, magic, alien abduction, werewolves and the Grim Reaper. Why? Rule of Cool, that's why.
- In the Halo universe, Star Wars, Full Metal Jacket, and King Kong are remembered 500 years in the future, and it seems that human history between 100,000 BCE and 2000 AD largely stayed the same, except that Bungie apparently never made games (so no Marathon or Halo itself).
- Although most of the Touhou series occurs on the inside of the Great Hakurei Border, there is a very obvious Outside World that is believed to be a parallel of our own time line alongside the All Myths Are True wonderland, consistent chronologically until at least the moon landing. Of note: the strange college majors of the two popular outsiders are Maribel Han, Relative Psychology, and Renko Usami, Super Unified Physics. Bonus "alternate reality" points if its sister series Seihou is the same Outside World.
- ULIL implies that the stories Renko and Maribel are part of take place 20 Minutes into the Future. Besides anything related to Great Hakurei Border and the Moon, the Outside World currently IS reality, or at least that's how it seems.
- Contagion takes place in the Roanoke town and the surroundings, derived from a Roanoke colony that grew and flourished as opposed to simply disappearing like it did in Real Life. Aside from that, the setting pre-zombies is identical to our world.
- If you write down the latitude and longitude coordinates provided in Homestuck and put them into Google Maps, they are in fact real places. This makes the fact that the Trolls created our universe all the more unsettling...
- Questionable Content lives in a world where up-to-date indie music references coexist with sentient, anthropomorphic personal computers. The town that it takes place in, Northampton, also appears accurate to modern day save for a few eccentricities.
- Darths & Droids is about a tabletop RPG game taking place in a world where Star Wars never existed but otherwise the same. Semi-subverted when they point out the other logical consequences of Star Wars not existing (such as Star Trek: The Original Series remaining an obscure TV show)
- The comic takes it a step further (to the point of silliness) by explaining that, in the Darths and Droids universe, the comic creators exist but are creating a screencap comic based upon Harry Potter, complete with example page. This in turn features an explanation that in that universe, the creators are working on a comic based upon The Sound of Music. Every 50 comics, they add another layer. At the time of writing, they are up to the 30th layer of recursion. And, as an added joke, Comments on a Postcard treats our world as the "fictional" one in the Postcard universe, based on this strip's commentary.
- The same is true with the series it's a spiritual successor to, DM of the Rings in regards to The Lord of the Rings.
- In Beyond Bloom, the setting takes place on a completely fictional rural island, while it is still implied that the real continents still exist outside of it. The protagonists seek to understand how supernatural events came about, as the world is said to be "without magic".
- The Nostalgia Critic points out in his review of Thomas and the Magic Railroad that the world in which Thomas is set is just like the real world with the exception of the trains talking, thus making the movie's "multiple universe" theme unneeded.
- For the first couple of chapters of Pyrrhic the story seems like it could easily fit in our world, until the mention of things like the Hydra, vampires, and telekinetics bring this story firmly into this trope.
- Lampshaded in Dragonball Z Abridged. The dialogue includes references to Twitter, M. Night Shyamalan, and other things meaningful to the viewers. However, the weirder elements of the DBZ world are still present, and the characters appear to be aware that something is "off" about the whole thing.
Tien: Yeah, right? Dinosaurs are still a thing. It's odd how we never talk about it... And the king of the world is a blue cairn terrier.Piccolo: It's bullshit!Tien: I think it's pretty progressive.
- Ugly Americans is set in a modern version of New York where nonhuman "creatures" (demons, giant apes, etc.) exist as minorities. Spattered throughout the series are hints of how this has created an Alternate History, such as a human-zombie war having taken place in The '60s (possibly in a nod to '[['Night of the Living Dead (1968) Night of the Living Dead]]'').
- The non-human characters in Bojack Horseman are essentially just humanoid animals, and history and society is mostly the same, except for some awkward aspects surrounding meat and dairy products. Oh, and animal-related puns everywhere.