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Memory Gambit

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Vilos Cohaagen: You see, Quaid, none of my people could get close to Kuato. Fuckin' mutants could always sniff us out. So Hauser and I sat down and invented you: The perfect mole.
Douglas Quaid: You know you're lying. Hauser turned against you.
Cohaagen: Uh-uh. That's what we wanted you to think. Fact is, Hauser volunteered to become "Doug Quaid." It was the only way to fool the psychics.

A scheme involving allowing your own memories to be erased or altered in order to fool others or yourself, with a trigger set up to restore them. This can be used to trick the enemy into believing you're on their side, because even YOU think you are. It's also an effective technique against overconfident mind-readers. If a Magnificent Bastard or Chessmaster has the power to manipulate memories, they will certainly attempt one of these. This can very easily turn into a Gambit Roulette because The Plan is supposed to work without the chief planner conscious that there's a plan at all, let alone able to adapt it to account for unanticipated circumstances (see Neuro-Vault).

If you aren't careful, this can result in Amnesiac Dissonance and become far more complicated. Merely having a backup plan for if your memories are erased is Note to Self. A person who has an evil idea may not want to keep their memories at all. If they're gone forever, they don’t have to worry about giving it up accidentally, but more importantly, they don’t need to suffer through My God, What Have I Done? angst over having deliberately performed an evil act.

Compare Faking Amnesia, when a character only pretends to lose their memories in order to throw off others.

See also Kansas City Shuffle. May be paired with a Psychic Block Defense. Transferable Memory may be used to this end. Can be used by a Chessmaster to ensure that a lie told before the Memory Gambit is more convincing. May lead to a Tomato in the Mirror. Compare Double Think which can be used the same way.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Bleach, Ginjo has his memories altered by his partner so he can manipulate Ichigo into doing his bidding without any risk of letting Ichigo know his true motives, and lead him into a trap with incredible ease.
  • In A Certain Scientific Railgun, Misaki defeats Gensei in this manner. Gensei has gained control of Exterior, a clone of Misaki's brain that lets him use the same telepathic abilities as her. For his plan, he needs a code to release Exterior's limiters so that he can use its full potential. Misaki swaps her memories of the limiter release code and the self-destruct code, and erases her memories of doing so. As a result, when Gensei reads her mind and inputs (what he thinks is) the limiter release code, he instead destroys Exterior and knocks himself out.
  • Lelouch Lamperouge in Code Geass uses his mind-controlling power on himself to forget his real plan in order to save his kidnapped sister Nunnally from the mind-reading Mao. He goes as far as allowing himself and the audience to think his sister is dead (mainly to satisfy his scenery-chewing impulses) before his forgotten plan springs into action.
  • Light Yagami in Death Note allays suspicion by exploiting the rule that anyone who relinquishes the ownership of a Death Note also loses all memory of owning it unless that person later touches the same Death Note, even counting on his amnesiac self to genuinely join the side of good in tracking down the new owner of the Death Note. When he touches the Death Note again and restores his memories, eight episodes after putting his plan in motion, he gives a Psychotic Smirk and utters the iconic phrase, "Just as Planned."
  • In Devilman, it turns out that Ryo Asuka is in fact the avatar of Satan, who had his memories suppressed and turned into a human in order to infiltrate mankind and learn their weaknesses. This goes according to plan, except that Ryo/Satan falls in love with Akira/Devilman, his best friend who he had personally recruited to help fight the demons.
  • Takizawa Akira from the anime Eden of the East does this twice in the beginning of the anime and in the end (which is continued with the movie, in which the memory loss is one of the principal topics).
  • In Fairy Tail it was revealed that Doranbolt was actually a member of the titular guild who erased his own memories so that he could infiltrate the Magic Council. It worked right up until he forgot his entire plan, believed he was an actual Council member, and got the bright idea to infiltrate Fairy Tail.
  • In Future Diary, something similar is done, but with the future instead of the past. Yukiteru and Yuno are trying to break into a vault, but don't know the code to unlock it, and there isn't much time left. Yukiteru goes to apprehend someone who knows the code. He looks ahead an hour or so in his diary to find what the code is within seconds and without ever leaving the vault.
  • The Dark Continent Expedition arc in Hunter × Hunter involves a hunt for a spy suspected to be pulling one of these.
  • In part 8 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Josuke's second encounter with an enemy Stand is with Daiya Higashikata and her Stand, California King Bed. Its ability is to steal the memories of anyone who violates a rule Daiya sets, returning them only if Daiya steps in the victim's shadow. Despite Daiya being blind, this is much harder than it sounds, as she's memorized the layout of the entire house and the objects within it. Josuke, knowing he might be affected by Daiya's Stand before he can defeat it, sets a trap that counts on not knowing why he would do something like hide Daiya's phone in the refrigerator, which ultimately lures Daiya into stepping onto Josuke's shadow, cast by the fridge light.
  • Kagerou Project: One is set up between Shintaro and Queen!Mary at the end of an unspecified route, wherein Mary gives Shintaro the "Retaining Eyes" snake (to hide it from the Wide-Open Eyes Snake), so he can literally record events unfolding unknowingly while her time reset wipes his (and her) memories. His excess memories are then triggered by something (usually something to do with Ayano), and he, combined with Ayano's power, can give the memories back to Mary, so she, through knowledge of all of their previous defeats, knows how to defeat the Snake.
  • Law enforcement in Kaiba realize this trope can be used, though it never actually is. An officer is suspicious of Vanilla because he's stopped backing up his memories, noting that people have a tendency of doing this after they've experienced a life event that may cause them to seriously consider committing crimes.
  • In Naruto, it turns out that Orochimaru's Dragon Kabuto was originally a servant of the late Akatsuki member Sasori, and had a memory block placed on him in order to spy on his former partner Orochimaru. Subverted in that it turns out Kabuto was infiltrating Sasori for Orochimaru to begin with.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, there seems to be one of these, possibly accidental, going on when Kyubey makes a contract with Homura. Madoka's insane power level comes from Homura repeatedly traveling through time to save her. Kyubey doesn't remember making the contract, but he realizes why Madoka is so powerful immediately after he learns that Homura can time-travel and congratulates her, suggesting that he contracted with her because he hoped she would do this. His bizarre morals forbid outright lying, but since he genuinely doesn't know why Madoka is so powerful, he doesn't tell anyone, and Homura's time-warping continues unwittingly making the situation worse for Madoka and better for Kyubey.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! this is Yugi's strategy when he goes against Pegasus. Pegasus can read minds, but Yugi is possessed by the spirit of the Pharaoh, giving them two minds to work with. They come up with a "mind-shuffle" strategy, whereby any time one of them draws or plays a card they immediately switch minds. The other mind doesn't know what card the other one saw, so whenever Pegasus tries to read their mind all he gets is blank cards.

    Comic Books 

DC Comics:

  • Batman examples:
    • During Justice League of America: Tower of Babel, it is revealed that Batman has his computer set to speak mnemonic trigger words to him at preset times. Though he doesn't know why he set it at first, hearing the word unblocks the subconscious memories of his secret project to develop countermeasures to the rest of the Justice League members. When he is finished working, or if certain mind readers come within a hundred miles, another trigger is used to suppress the memories until the next session, so that said mind readers would never be able to accidentally glean this information from him. Typical Batman. Unfortunately, it also served as the perfect cover for Talia stealing all those countermeasures — she simply programmed the computer to speak the amnesia keywords if Batman ever discovered it had been tampered with.
    • When Hugo Strange re-emerges in the Transference storyline following the events of Prey in which he learned Batman's Secret Identity, Batman enacts a plan to activate a whole alternate personality as the buffoonish Bruce Wayne to throw him off the trail, and is only restored to his usual self when Nightwing recites the pledge which Batman swore with him on his first night as Robin as a Trigger Phrase.
    • Batman does this again during the events of Batman (Grant Morrison) when Dr. Hurt attempts to convince Batman that he's insane with a nested alternate persona, revealing the method in the madness of the "Batman of Zurr-En-Arrh" personality; this persona was intended as a backup for Batman should he be mind-wiped, still permitting him to act in something resembling his usual persona.
  • Green Lantern: Hal Jordan repeatedly used this trick against the Old Timer. He used his power ring to send SOS messages to Guy Gardner and then later to the other Guardians and then used the ring to erase his memories so that the Old Timer wouldn't know what he did.
  • During the Silver Age, Superman pulled one of these, using mind-altering and shape-shifting technology to infiltrate a planet filled with his most dangerous enemies, who had banded together into the ultimate Legion of Doom, The Superman Revenge Squad. Their security, of course, included mind-reading machines. The Man of Steel ended up with a nasty case of Amnesiac Dissonance courtesy of the Squad for his trouble, and was only just barely saved by The Power of Love. Awww...
    • Lex Luthor also tries to pull one of these in the Bronze Age. It backfires horribly, as his erasing of his memories of the scheme causes him to actually fall in love with a woman whose life was going to be sacrificed by the scheme. When she gets irretrievably dimension dumped in a futile attempt to get rid of Superman, Lex completely breaks down.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Circe hides herself as a (criminal) mortal in order to get close to Diana, which requires creating new memories for herself of her life as a mortal and forgetting her true identity in order for her disguise not to be seen through by Diana or Ares. This backfires as she ends up befriended Diana and reforming, and even after she is forced to face the truth of her identity and become Circe again she still cares for her greatest foe.

Marvel Comics:

  • In Journey into Mystery (Gillen), this is The Reveal. Loki devised the whole Kid!Loki thing to set himself up with a new life free of the baggage of his past and arranged events so that his child self would have no choice but to restore Loki's original memories. Kid!Loki does so, but he mocks Loki's desire to turn over a new leaf: by enacting such a scheme in the first place, Loki had already proven that he could never change.
  • In the first The Sentry miniseries from Marvel Comics, the eponymous hero has suffered amnesia for years, AND nobody remembers he existed either. He sets out to find out who did this. It turned out it was himself, since, for some reason, knowledge of his existence allowed a dark force known as The Void to exist. He ends up erasing his memories away again at the end.
    • This was then retconned in the character's later appearances, to the point of becoming a Continuity Snarl.
  • In the X-Men, a diary of future events was hidden, and the location then wiped from the memory of the person who hid it so that enemy telepaths would be unable to pry its location from an unsuspecting mind. Of course, a needlessly elaborate double-blind keyword system was established to restore the memories when required.
    • Also in Uncanny X-Men Vol 3 31, Xavier makes himself forget what happened when a mutant from the future required his help to Ret-Gone an unbeatable mutant.
      Tempus: You can do that?
      Xavier: I have done it before. (I think.)
    • Xavier told Beast everything about the Illuminati and the Infinity Stone they keep. Then erased his memory, but a specific trigger will make him remember.


  • In The Invisibles, deep-cover Invisibles sometimes erase their own memories to make them truly convincing moles, only recovering them when reaching their target situation acts as a trigger. Notably, this included at least one member of Division X. One arc suggests that Boy may be an Archon agent who tried the same thing, but it turns out to be a False Crucible test.
  • In Locke & Key, Tyler suggests to the Big Bad that he has hidden the Omega Key and removed his memory of the hiding place using the Head Key. How he intends to find it again himself has yet to be revealed...
  • In the Lucifer series, it seems that when Fenris has nothing else to destroy he must turn on himself. So he fed his memories and potency to a number of other gods, and comes back to collect them after Creation starts falling apart.

    Fan Works 
  • In Backward With Purpose, a Harry Potter Peggy Sue fic, the characters become aware of another time-traveller, nick-named "Merlin", who seems to be orchestrating one of these on the entire cast, though they have no idea how or why. It's Harry's son.
  • Death Note Equestria, being Death Note with ponies, naturally has Twilight eventually carry one out against L. Due to the Gambit Pileup in this story being even more complicated than in canon, the Memory Gambit is similarly more complicated than the canon one. It still results in L's death and Twilight's victory.
  • In Empire Snape obliviated everyone who learned of Harry's abuse on Dumbledore's orders but added an additional enchantment so that those obliviated will regain those memories if a Trigger Phrase is uttered.
  • In Extra Life, Izuru organizes one of these with Chiaki. Since his plan to enter the Neo World Program runs the risk of him emerging with Demonic Possession, he chooses to temporarily repress his memories of her to protect her in case that happens, then gives her a Trigger Phrase to undo the memory loss if it doesn't.
  • Littlepip uses one against the Goddess in Fallout: Equestria.
    • Hilariously enough, she eventually can't resist activating the device to uncover what the plan is.... only to find a recording of her past self berating her for nearly ruining the entire plan.
  • In "Game of Doctors" Chapter 16: Master-World the 9th Doctor erases his memory as part of a plan to download information on the Master's Cyberman planet into a memory stick in his head.
  • In Geas of Gryffindor by Kirinin, Draco Malfoy uses this tactic for a Gringotts heist, with Snape's assistance. Kirinin is fond of memory manipulation tropes — arguably this is the "final move" in one of their other fics, Game of Chess.
  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality obliviation is commonly and effectively used against Veritaserum.
  • Haruhi pulls this off on themselves in Kyon: Big Damn Hero. She also altered her thought processes slightly, changed how her powers work and still left room to give herself some power to play freely.
  • In Mass Effect: Human Revolution VK Scanners are very good at lie detection, so one really has to be Believing Their Own Lies in order to fool them. Or one could just do this, as at least two characters on Noveria, Ken Ruger and Corto Riviera, prove.
  • The Big Bad of Pokéumans is running a global one of these: every time someone witnesses a transforming Pokeuman or anything relating to their secret war, a Psychic type is sent to delete the memories of any witnesses.
  • In Prophecy Smophecy a Pensieve memory reveals that Hermione altered her memories to make herself think that she Obliviated her parents and sent them to Australia. In actually, they've been spending the wizarding war in Florida with their memories untouched.
  • The Swarm of War has Alena pulling it off with a fake personality and a bit of shapeshifting.
  • There Was Once an Avenger From Krypton: As part of the Miraculous team's Batman Gambit to discover Hawk Moth's identity in Chapter 22 of To Rule Alone, To Build Together, Rose agrees to get herself Akumatized in order to lure Hawk Moth out of hiding, then allows her memory of the conversation be erased so that he won't pull that thought from her head and realize that he's being played.
  • Two Letters: Past-Marinette did this as part of her plan to screw everyone that had made her life so hard, lying to her future self in a letter in order to ensure the latter would follow on with the plan while remaining convinced of the righteousness of it.

    Film — Animated 
  • Batman Ninja: Batman and Red Hood come across the Joker and Harley Quinn working as farmers, having been restored to sanity after losing their memories. Over Red Hood's objections, Batman decides to leave them be as the couple happily celebrate the sprouting of their first flower. Turns out the flower sprouting was the hypnotic trigger for their previous evil personalities to reawaken. Knowing that Batman would Never Hurt an Innocent, the Joker and Harley hypnotized themselves into forgetting their past.
  • Steven Universe: The Movie: The villain Spinel has a scythe called a rejuvenator that can give Gems poofed with it Identity Amnesia. Steven manages to get the weapon and hit her with it, before he learns what it does. It's implied that she may have let him do it as she's the only one who can remove her Doomsday Device, something amnesia would obviously prevent her from doing.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Arnold Schwarzenegger film The 6th Day has an interesting variation on this. The villains have the ability to scan the memory of a living or recently-deceased person, and thereby see what that person has seen. In order to get around this problem, Adam and his clone (both played by Schwarzenegger) concoct a plot together in which real-Adam carefully avoids falling into the field of vision of clone-Adam. That way, clone-Adam can run into the evil laboratory as a distraction, disarming the security cameras along the way, but when he falls into the clutches of the villains, their scan of his recent memory does not reveal that real-Adam is waiting just outside, planning to enter unseen while the security cameras are still disabled. The villains eventually do figure out what is going on, but it buys the hero enough time to accomplish his main objectives. It's all a little tough to follow in writing, but it is fairly cleverly done in the film.
  • Johnny Favorite pulled this one to beat the Devil in Angel Heart. It didn't work.
  • This is a major plot point in the film Cypher. The hero is a corporate middle-manager who volunteers to become a corporate espionage spy and finds himself undergoing suspiciously brainwashing-esque "training". It becomes clear that a notorious Diabolical Mastermind called Sebastian Rooks is somehow involved. The final revelation is that the hero actually is Sebastian Rooks, who erased his own memory as part of a complex scheme to rob the company.
  • An unwilling example is Leonard Shelby in the film Memento, who suffers from anterograde amnesia after a burglar attack, preventing him from forming new memories after the attack. Through conditioning and a system of messages, he guides himself along a path of revenge to kill the man he believes killed his wife in the attack. He also occasionally manipulates himself in other ways, such as hiring a prostitute to help relive the night of his wife's murder.
  • Men in Black II: Kay can't remember where he stashed away the MacGuffin, and reasons that he must have neuralized himself to avoid disclosing its location, after placing clues that would lead him (and only him) to it.
  • Paycheck is an example of the Note to Self variant: the protagonist knew his memory would be wiped at the end of his current job, and built a plan to lead himself to the needed information after the wipe. With the added help of a machine that can see the future.
  • In Push, the only way to evade Watchers is to get your memory wiped, since they track you by your intentions. Kira evaded them this way in the beginning. In the climax Nick plans another one by writing on letters, giving them to the secondary characters, and tells them not to open the letters until a certain time. He them gets his memories of those letters erased, so that way nobody really knows what they're doing.
  • In the original Total Recall (1990), Quaid finds out that he is actually the villain's henchman, Hauser, and had intentionally subjected himself to memory alteration to fool the telepathic leader of La Résistance. Of course, it didn't exactly go as planned, as the persona Quaid has developed in the meantime doesn't like the idea of becoming the evil Hauser again. Not only that, but the plan nearly fell apart right at the beginning with Quaid going to Rekall and accidentally activating his memories too early.
  • Total Recall (2012) has the same, except Hauser actually did make a Heel–Face Turn before being captured and mind-wiped. However, Cohaagen was willing to replace Quaid's personality with an old recording of Hauser's prior to the Heel–Face Turn.

  • Accelerando: Glasshouse begins with the protagonist waking up after having wiped his own memory, so that he would be allowed to infiltrate the eponymous experiment.
  • Anno Dracula: Daikaiju: Harold Takahama is a well-meaning nerd who awakes in Daikaiju Plaza to discover a memory-eating vampire working for evil terrorist Jun Zero has wiped most of the previous decade from his memory. At the climax of the book, it transpires that he is Jun Zero, who arranged to have his own memory wiped in order to get past Christine Light's test of purity, with his real personality stored in his bionic hand, ready to upload and seize control of Christine's ascension. Unfortunately for Zero, Harold isn't down with that.
  • Artemis Fowl trades his memories about the Fairies' existence for their help in The Eternity Code, but leaves himself plenty of triggers to bring them back. All but one of them are dummies, however, which he actually intends for Faeries to discover, because he knows they know he'd try to leave himself triggers. So after they find over a dozen of dummies, they are lulled to believe that that is it, and Artemis happily regains his memories in the next book, The Opal Deception, using the only real trigger.
  • An elaborate one is pulled off in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Tie-In Black Widow by the eponymous spy herself. In order to protect her younger brother Alexei from the Red Room, Alexei was given Fake Memories of being an Ordinary High-School Student while Natasha had her own memories of her brother erased so that Agent Coulson was the only person who knew her brother's location.
  • In Children of Dune, Ghanima Atreides hypnotizes herself to believe that her brother had been successfully assassinated.
  • Played with in Danganronpa Zero. Yasuke Matsuda erased his girlfriend Junko Enoshima's memories when Hope's Peak Academy asked him to interrogate her about the deaths of the Student Council members she caused via mind scan. However, Yasuke keeps Junko amnesiac to protect her and keep her from spreading more despair. But it turns out Junko knew he would do this thanks to her Super High School Level Analysis abilities, and let it happen so she could experience the despair of murdering her boyfriend.
  • A minor but still valid example in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is Snape bottling key memories in the Pensieve to keep Harry from seeing them during Occlumency lessons, though this backfires. And though Dumbledore claims to use the Pensieve to organize his thoughts and free up space in his head, he may have been misdirecting, with hiding dangerous memories being a greater motivation.
  • The Culture by Iain M. Banks: Look to Windward is built around a Memory Gambit. The character Quilan's memory returns to him in stages during a genocidal and suicidal undercover mission, alternate chapters take the reader through the past events he has forgotten, slowly revealing both what the mission is and what kind of a man would agree to do it.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Set Piece, the Doctor wipes his mind of his plan to stop the Big Bad, so that the Big Bad can't work it out. Unfortunately, he also has to wipe his mind of the trigger to restore his memory.
      Ace: You've finally done it. You've even bamboozled yourself.
    • In the Bernice Summerfield novel The Mary-Sue Extrusion, Benny does this to themselves as part of a Memory Gambit to rescue her cat from a planet of mind-controllers.
  • One of these is key in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Debra takes advantage of the short-term memory wipes caused by re-uploading to concoct a scheme to get Jules out of the way just long enough so she can conquer the Hall of President. When she returns based off of earlier memories, she has no idea what she's done. And she would have gotten away with it, too, if Dan hadn't decided to spill the beans.
    • Note that in this setting every human being can easily pull off a Memory Gambit and most people consider it an obvious step to take after committing a crime.
  • The Dresden Files: In Ghost Story, it is revealed that Harry's murder in the end of the previous book was this mixed with Thanatos Gambit: before accepting a Faustian Bargain with the Winter Queen Mab, he contacted Kincaid to kill him a few hours later, then persuaded Molly to erase his memories of the arrangement to fool Mab.
  • The Emily the Strange novel The Lost Days features Emily waking up to find herself in the middle of one of these: She's in a strange town called Blackrock, she has no idea how she got there, and she doesn't remember anything about herself. Near the end of the novel, it's revealed she received a posthumous letter from her great-aunt Emma, asking her to come to Blackrock to collect her inheritance. The letter also warned her about a young psychic in the employ of Attikol, her rival for the inheritance. In order to keep the psychic from learning what she knew, she temporarily erased all of her memories, but not before making sure that she'd have backup in place in the form of an android named Raven. She later has to repeat the process when her accomplice in the plan uses a Trigger Phrase to restore her memories before the right time. Finally, she does a variant of this by erasing the memories of the accomplice (with her permission) and causing her to assume the identity of "Earwig" (Emily's amnesiac persona) for a short time because she was about to make a bet that would result in her having to join her enemy's traveling show, but she couldn't actually go herself.
  • The Kleptomancer in Frances Hardinge's A Face Like Glass does this, regaining various memories at different stages of his elaborate plan to control Caverna.
  • In John C. Wright's Forgotten Causes, Marshall Lamech finds he's done this to himself in order to judge a situation without prior prejudices. He then spends the rest of the story bumbling from one frying pan to another, and cussing himself out for being too clever by half.
  • In Forgotten Realms novel Extinction one funny creature thought constantly reading the mind of Gromph Baenre, the Archmage of Menzoberranzan, menacing him with a weapon and its own powers and keeping him slowed is enough to keep him under control, but it was dead wrong—and then just dead. He knew many critters and mages can read thoughts, so he keeps one more dirty trick up his sleeve just for this case, and even himself doesn't know which trick and which sleeve. High-status drow as well as high-level wizards tend to be both Properly Paranoid and Crazy-Prepared.
  • Zaphod Beeblebrox of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy purposely fiddled with his own brain in order to keep his involvement in a conspiracy to find and possibly replace the Ruler of the Universe from being telepathically uncovered. He never actually regains full awareness of his prior self, and is trying to get as far away as possible from his past plans; he keeps fulfilling them anyway due to subconscious commands and blind chance (which, thanks to the improbability drive on his ship, isn't really blind at all).
    "It's not what you've done they're worried about," said Roosta, "it's what you're going to do."
    "Well, don't I get a say in that?"
    "You did, years ago. You'd better hold on, we're in for a fast and bumpy journey."
    "If I ever meet myself," said Zaphod, "I'll hit myself so hard I won't know what's hit me."
  • In Inheritance, all who visit the Vault of Souls have their memories wiped to protect what's in it. There is a spell in place to restore all of the memories when (and if) Galbatorix is defeated.
  • Lensman: Used in Gray Lensman. Kimball Kinnison has his friend Worsel impose false memories when Kinnison infiltrates Boskone headquarters Jarnevon toward the end of the story. It becomes crucial to remove a thought screen to let Worsel restore Kinnison to himself (Neuro Vault).
  • The entire plot of The Licanius Trilogy kicks off because Amnesiac Hero Caeden pulls one of these. The rediscovery process is far more painful than he anticipates.
  • Used again in homage in Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories, in the form of the King's Messengers, who receive their messages orally, then have the memory of the message locked away by magic so that even they themselves are not aware of what the message is. Only the proper triggering situation restores the memory. Trying to extract the message in any other way results in the messenger's immediate death.
  • In book 5 of the Magic 2.0 series, one of the Brits does this to herself in the end. She's pissed at Phillip for both real and perceived slights and decides to not only break up with him but to also prevent a future version of her from ever getting back together with him. So she implants a memory of Phillip cheating on her and then erases the memory of performing the implantation. So now, any time Phillip tries to explain the truth, Brit just shakes her head and tells him to stop it, as she "knows what she saw".
  • The Nightmare Academy books have this (in a roundabout way). The Hags are monsters who eat memories like candy. Of course, since the Hags are Vain Sorceresses, emphasis on the vain, the heroes can flatter them until they give the memories back.
  • Pandora's Star has a character who wipes his memory in an attempt to get away with murder. It doesn't work.
  • A Practical Guide to Evil: Catherine and the rest of the Woe utilize this tactic at one point in the story where they must contend with a seer called the Skein, as well as leaving clues for themselves that point them each into different plans, with only one of those plans being the real one. This works because seers in this setting can only foresee things that are already in motion and as such cannot accurately predict a ridiculous Gambit Pileup where no one knows what the actual plan is but is instead just blindly following instructions left by themselves.
  • Revelation Space Series: In Chasm City, the main character believes he is bounty hunter Tanner Mirabel, when in fact he's not. He suffers from severe Amnesiac Dissonance.
  • In Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov, the telepathic villain known as the Mule is hunting the Second Foundation. As several of his mentally dominated servants have lost their minds the Mule chooses Bail Channis, someone he knows is a Second Foundation spy, to help him find them. He doesn't dominate Channis because he's afraid Channis will lose his mind. Channis is tricked into leading the Mule to the Second Foundation, and everything falls apart. This is one of the most complicated memory gambits ever. Indeed - the climactic scene consists of repeated "but I planned that" banter.
  • A subversion in Shaman of the Undead. Karev has his memories partially erased after his wife and child's deaths, and everybody thinks this is because he killed them and don't want memory-readers to prove it. Not really. His child died of sickness and his wife committed suicide and turned into a tree, so Karev, suffering from massive depression, asked a friend to erase his memories of them. Only it had Gone Horribly Wrong and as he started to remember tree-wife, he also stated to sacrifice her lookalikes to feed her... long story.
  • The second book of The Stars Are Cold Toys Space Opera duology by Sergei Lukyanenko seemingly opens with a new protagonist, until about halfway through the reader learns that it is actually the protagonist from the first book who has been brainwashed to think he is an alien pilot and infiltrate the enemy planet. His memories return when triggered by TheSymbiote hiding within his body. And the story is narrated from a first person perspective.
  • Star Wars Legends: Inverted in Solo Command. Kirney Slane is about to infiltrate a hated enemy, pretending to work for them. She brings along her astromech droid Tonin, but she knows the droid's memory will be scanned when she arrives at her destination. To get around this, she makes a side trip to an abandoned hideout, backs up the memory and personality of Tonin in an isolated memory core, then wipes the droid's primary memory. At the first opportunity, she activates Tonin's backup memory with a Trigger Phrase. She immediately apologizes for the treatment; Tonin doesn't seem to mind too much.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An involuntary one in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: One of Coulson's current drives was to find out who supervised Project T.A.H.I.T.I., since, after The Reveal that S.H.I.E.L.D. was infiltrated by HYDRA, Coulson suspected that HYDRA might have had a hand in resurrecting him and possibly using him as an asset. But then, May manages to get Coulson the file that reveals who supervised the project... and it was Coulson himself, under Nick Fury's orders. T.A.H.I.T.I. was a project designed to resurrect a fallen Avenger if worst came to worst, but Coulson not only recommended cancellation of the project, he even handed in his resignation because of it. Coulson revealed that the only apparent way to be able to survive Project T.A.H.I.T.I. sane was through Fake Memories, since the process was so traumatic it'd drive the subject insane. And that's exactly what they did.
  • The first half of season 3 of Alias centers around the show's main character, Sydney Bristow, having lost two years' worth of memory (the season 2 cliffhanger had her wake up in Hong Kong two years after the events shown prior to that, with no memory to what had happened in the intervening time). Turns out she had her own memory erased after engaging in some super-complicated undercover operation to make sure the bad guys don't find out where she hid some important artifact. Too bad the bad guys find the artifact anyway, and eventually she is informed about the events of those two years, just so she knows what the bad guys are actually up to.
  • Blindspot is built on Remi / Jane erasing her memories through ZIP in order to carry over Sandstorm's plans. The problem is that this ends up giving her redeeming qualities.
  • An episode of Buck Rogers had Buck put on trial for causing World War III. In fact, he had allowed himself to be brainwashed in order to infiltrate a conspiracy in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent World War III.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood": To hide from the titular Family, short-lived aliens who want to steal his life-force and become immortal, the Doctor uses a Gadget Watch called a Chameleon Arch to hold his memories and Time Lord nature, temporarily becoming human with Fake Memories.
    • "Utopia": The Master, known in the old series for his frequent use of the Paper-Thin Disguise (even when disguising himself wasn't necessary), makes a grand departure from his past habits and proves to have been hiding as a human via a Chameleon Arch, just like the Doctor did. Far from having a plan to restore his memories at just the right moment, he is an old man when Martha Jones (not knowing who he is) accidentally makes him curious enough about this watch to open it. What's worse than your old foe returning? Your old foe returning — and having gotten rather more cunning since last time around.
    • "Time Heist": The Doctor, Clara, Psi and Saibra have their memories voluntarily removed with memory worms in order to get into a bank protected by a telepathic creature.
  • Dollhouse, Dollhouse, Doll-freakin'-house! The entire show is built on this premise. Most of the characters are kept as blank slates until programmed with the knowledge and abilities they'll need to carry out the task (though naturally, the wipe isn't perfect.)
  • In The Good Place, the main characters must help a new group of characters to get to the Good Place. But Chidi discovers that one of the new characters is a woman he knew during his lifetime, which would contaminate the experiment. To avoid that, Chidi agrees to have his memory erased.
  • In Heroes, Mr. Bennet forces the Haitian to wipe his memories of sending Claire away for her safety so that, no matter what the Company does to torture him, he'll never be able to reveal her whereabouts.
  • Killjoys: "The Green" holds the collective memories of the Hullen, a parasitic species that infects humans. Khlyne removes memories from Aneela to conceal the existence of Dutch from The Lady. In a later season Dutch and D'avin remove the memory of Jaq's location before entering The Green for the same reason.
  • An episode of Legend of the Seeker had a spy of the Big Bad kill a bunch of rebels and then use a magical orb to plant false memories of the murders into the minds of others, including Richard. This was mostly done to fool the suspects into falsely admitting their guilt during Confession. One ended up being hanged for murder.
  • In "The Spy", one of the weaker episodes of Mission: Impossible, Jim Phelps has himself hypnotised to forget his actions immediately after he's done them until a specific cue is given, allowing himself to be captured by the enemy without risk of divulging the I.M. Force's plan.
  • Rumplestiltskin in Once Upon a Time provided the Evil Queen Regina with the Dark Curse that allowed her to transport everyone from the Enchanted Forest to our world with their memories altered (except her own), without letting on that he was manipulating her to fulfill his own goals. While his Storybrooke persona Mr Gold was originally as amnesiac as everyone else, he had set up a trigger to restore his real memories when he heard the main character Emma Swan's name in the pilot episode.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Back to Reality" parodies this when it is revealed that Rimmer was actually a hand-picked special agent for the Space Corps who had his memory erased and was programmed to behave like a complete twonk so no one would suspect he was on a mission to destroy Red Dwarf in order to guide Lister to his destiny as the creator of the second universe, but had never noticed the trigger. Except that this was all part of a group hallucination.
  • In Severance (2022), being employed on a “severed” floor at Lumon requires the permanent division of 'outies' (who you are outside of work), and 'innies' (who you are at the office) though an invasive surgery.
  • Stargate SG-1: In one episode, Vala's memories are altered so that she can get close to Adria in order to make her drop her guard. It's strongly implied that the alterations are permanent, so she has to learn to just ignore the fake memories to be able to trust her teammates again.
  • A variant occurs in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled "Clues". The crew discover that their memories have been altered and that Data, whose memories are intact, has been lying to them. They eventually discover that they consented to the memory erasure, because the inhabitants of a newly explored planet don't want anyone to know of their existence. They weren't supposed to have figured it out, but they do anyway; at the end of the episode, they decide to try again, and it works.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • The Cardassians did this on occasion so their agents could infiltrate more fully and without even knowing what they were doing, though we never actually meet anyone who did this. However, in "Second Skin", Kira is kidnapped and led to believe that she was such an infiltrator.
    • In the episode "A Simple Investigation", Odo falls in love with a woman who's employed by a crime syndicate and is trying to break away. At the end of the episode, it's revealed that she was a deep-cover agent who had her memory erased and a false backstory implanted so that the syndicate couldn't find out the truth.
  • In Star Trek: Discovery, the Klingon Voq is surgically transformed into a human, with his DNA and memories spliced with those of Ash Tyler, a dead Starfleet officer, and his Klingon memories suppressed. This backfires when his Trigger Phrase is used to bring the Klingon back to the surface but his two personalities clash, with the only way to save him being to merge the two personae, leaving "Tyler" dominant but still with Voq's memories.
  • In Supergirl (2015), when Major Haley is telepathically scanning DEO agents to see if they know Supergirl's secret identity, Dox is able to temporarily separate the portion of his mind that knows. Until he retriggers the memories, he doesn't even believe Alex when she tells him. Alex herself (along with the rest of the DEO) agrees to a more permanent erasure of the knowledge, via J'onn J'onzz.
  • In Tokusou Exceedraft, Hayato is told that he is a spy for an evil syndicate who has his memories erased, and actually "regains" his memory with the help of a sinister machine. Subverted in that the memory is fake.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • One of the main uses for Thought Bottle item, including at least once in a novel (see above).
    • In 3.5, pulling this off is entirely possible using the Autohypnosis skill.
  • In Exalted there is a Sidereal of the Maiden of Secrets known as The Green Lady. In various guises, genders and names she serves Heaven, both Sidereal factions and 4 Deathlords. The reason she has not been found out is because she has hidden her true allegiance from even herself. For the curious, her true allegiance is to Heaven, according to the Underworld book. Her ultimate goal is to learn some singular weakness that will lead to the defeat of the Deathlords once and for all. Making any attempt to pull this off intentionally, though, is going to tip somebody off who will in turn tip everyone else off and completely screw the plan. Making herself mostly crazy and hoping to stumble onto it more or less by accident is the best she can do. However, there's a chance she may unintentionally help the Deathlords destroy Creation before she succeeds.
  • In Mage: The Awakening there is a rote which allows you to set up one of these by literally removing the memory from your mind until a later time. There is a Legacy which can grant this same benefit as a magical ability with the addition that when it expires, you can use it again to suppress the same memory without actually remembering the memory you want to hide.
  • In the story for the Ixalan block in Magic: The Gathering, Vraska realizes that Nicol Bolas means her home plane harm, but that Bolas will use mind magic to check her memories on her return so she can't betray him. She asks Jace to remove or alter all her memories of everything that happened to her on Ixalan since they met up, and restore the memories whenever Jace thinks he'll be able to defeat Bolas. This is all represented with the card Induced Amnesia.
  • Escape Tales The Awakening: The end requires giving an item, representing a memory - in exchange the keeper will revive Lizzy. Giving a picture of the wife causes you to forget her, etc. Some of the chosen items are dangerous, such as giving a too precious memory means you won't be able to return to the real world.
  • Very possible in Shadowrun. There's specialized equipment to program individuals through simsense, and some of the fiction in the 20th anniversary book even goes into a Shadowrunner using this as a way to gather information inside a nightclub by impersonating one of the staff right down to their personality. You can even take an advantage that makes you already programmed before the game starts, and as such you can switch into and out of your "deep cover" persona with a code word - handy if your character's been captured.
  • In Transhuman Space, this is easily accomplished for A.I.s or people who have uploaded themselves into computer code. Memories can be erased, copied, stored, moved, sold, or simply invented wholesale.
  • The callidus assassins in Warhammer 40,000 have been known to use this trick to sneak up on psykers.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade saw the Malkavians, hundreds of years before the present, agree to join the Camarilla, and in the process performed a ritual that removed their Dementation discipline and replace it with Dominate. This even removed their memory of the discipline. But as it turned out, it didn't actually erase Dementation - in 1998, the Malkavian antitribu in the Sabbat pulled "the Great Prank" and reversed the ritual, bringing Dementation back in a big way.

    Video Games 
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent: With Amnesia right in the title, you should've seen this coming. Daniel drank the Amnesia Drink himself to forget the horrible things he has done, in order to give himself the strength to confront and kill Alexander since he was too broken by the memories to muster up the will to do it himself despite his Heel Realization. He makes sure to leave behind notes explaining the relevant facts so his amnesia-afflicted self will have the knowledge of what to do but be distant enough from the trauma to make sure he doesn't break again.
  • Batman: Arkham Knight: This one is more like "Personality Gambit", but works similarly. Throughout the game, Batman is under the constant threat of the Joker's personality taking over his body, due to being injected with Joker's infected blood back in Arkham City. Each time Batman receives a dose of Scarecrow's fear toxin, the Joker personality gets stronger, since Batman's greatest fear is that he's similar to his enemies. At the end of the game, when Batman is at Scarecrow's mercy, he manages to beat him by letting the Joker personality take over. Joker, of course, can't resist taunting Scarecrow, who responds by injecting "Batman" with more toxin, only this time, since Joker's in charge, he's the one who is affected by it, which allows Batman to have a Battle in the Center of the Mind with him and seal him away forever, since Joker's greatest fear is being forgotten.
  • Nene pulls a rather complex one in Blue Dragon Plus. He creates a Morality Pet for himself, with memories of him dating years back, then gives himself memories of her, then erases his memories of fabricating her or the memories, all to ingratiate himself with the heroes. He also set things so that the memories would return at a certain location, effectively turning himself into a Manchurian Agent.
  • A key part of The Reveal in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is that Dracula allowed himself to be nearly killed, and the resulting memory fragmentation allowed him to conceal The Plan from his enemies long enough for the Batman Gambit it was part of to succeed.
  • The entire population of Lostime in Chocobo's Dungeon has their memories sealed to prevent the Big Bad from returning.
  • Discussed in Disco Elysium. You wake up after a massive bender with no memory and a murder to solve. Some dialogue options with your new partner allow you to speculate that you are the killer and you intentionally got blackout drunk to forget the murder and pull this trope, your partner dismisses these ideas because of how outlandish they are and the legal disaster it would cause if they are true. In the end you really did have nothing to do with the murder, and the motivation and cause of your memory loss is left to speculation.
  • This is the plot of Flashback: The Quest for Identity. Until it's resolved immediately after the first level to make way for the actual plot — Conrad had a good reason to do it, after all.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots:
    • It was Liquid Snake's soul possessing Ocelot through his arm... Hang on, it's just Ocelot and really good hypnotherapy. Hey, it fooled the Patriots And a nanomachine cocktail! The MGS Database reveals it WAS Liquid in 2, But Ocelot got the arm removed so he could continue acting like Liquid so he could enact his plan without risk of Liquid taking over again.
    • The player even has to pull this in order to fight an enemy in the first game.
  • Happened again in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, where Ocelot hypnotized himself into believing that the (unwitting) Body Double Venom Snake was the real Big Boss, to ensure that he would not accidentally let the truth slip to Venom before the time for him to know it was right.
  • Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. At the very beginning you're taken captive by a mini army headed by various types of psychics, and another prisoner reveals to you that you've gone through the same training, and then had your memory wiped so that you could sneak in.
  • The protagonist loses his memory often in Planescape: Torment. Because he has to die in order to do so (and the present incarnation is immune to it), neither he or any of his previous lives appear to have done so intentionally. One character does tell this story, though:
    • A man suddenly finds himself sitting on a bench with no idea where he is or how he got there — in fact, he has no memory at all. There is an old crone sitting next to him. She says, "Well?" The man looks confused, and the old woman explains, "I gave you three wishes. Your second wish was to undo your first wish, and you still have one more. What will it be?" The man says, "I wish I knew who I was!" The crone laughs and says, "That's funny! That was your first wish!"
    • Though the memory loss wasn't intentional, some personalities devised gambits for others to recover memories; journals and recordings, personal contacts, body parts which when absorbed by Nameless would grant some memory and aptitude, and the tattoos created by a magical artist.
  • In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red/Blue Rescue Team, the main character agreed to both become a Pokémon and have his memory erased so that he can find out if he is worthy to save the world.
  • In Rune Factory, the protagonist has his memory wiped as one of these to awaken Terrable - a powerful dragon.
  • In The Spectrum Retreat, it's eventually revealed that though Alex has recovered his memories several times in the past, he chose to wipe them out over and over as an attempt to keep himself from leaving the Penrose and killing people.
  • Star Wars Legends: In Knights of the Old Republic, one mission features your party to be caught and your ship confiscated and searched. One escape plan (there are several options, one for each party member except Carth, Bastila and the main PC) features T3-M4 getting a backup chip, so after the regular memory wipe, it can restore its memory and rescue the party. In the sequel, it is suggested that Revan might have been running one of these all along, with the Jedi Council unwittingly playing directly into the plan.
    • The novel Revan reveals that this is not the case and that Revan and Malak really were forced into the Dark Side by The Emperor after failing to kill him, although Revan still can't recall those memories until he gets his mask back.
  • Emil from Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World could fall under this category, albeit in an 'unintentional-but-we'll-roll-with-it sort of way. Really, he Created a fake version of his dormant state, merged it to the first person he came across, the proceeded to take on the identity of another random person who had just been killed, and the appearance of the best friend of the reason he was in this mess, who he killed himself, all for his own protection until his powers could recover.
    • Then again, since Tenebrae was fully aware of this the whole time, and took every opportunity to make fun of Emil (i.e. Ratatosk) while he had the chance, it could conceivably be classed as his gambit.
  • Wing Commander III revealed that Hobbes' defection to the Confederation was a Memory Gambit. (The hologram explaining that was removed from the PC version, but remained in a console version and the novelization.)

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa:
  • In Virtue's Last Reward, this trope is curiously combined with Mental Time Travel. Zero Sr., the mastermind of the third Nonary Game, had his entire consciousness transferred decades back in time so the participants of the game wouldn't discover that he was Sigma, the player, all along. When another consciousness of his arrived from the past at the start of the game, he didn't remember anything of The Plan because, well, he hadn't planned it yet. Sigma's realization that he was Zero without his memories comes as The Reveal.

  • In Captain SNES: The Game Masta, Proto Man set one of these up, and (being a robot) he is aware of it: there is a segment of his memory that he cannot access until a Gamemaster who has been deemed both willing and capable of defeating the Sovereign of Sorrow appears. And, to the frustration of all involved, he still cannot access it, because he doesn't deem Alex capable enough.
  • DICE: The Cube That Changes Everything: Mooyoung has inflicted amnesia on Taebin, specifically about the volounteered possession, so Taebin out of paranoia avoids sharing the Dice with strangers, then assmbles a team of A-Rankers when Dicers do inevitably appear, from whom Mooyoung would steal the A-Dice for himself with ease.
  • The titular amorph of Schlock Mercenary does this using his Bizarre Alien Biology when the protagonists have to submit to having their memories wiped to avoid being killed by the bad guys, storing a bit of himself (amorphs evolved from an artificial biological memory storage system) with the relevant information, hidden in an eyeball.
  • In Zap!, Zap himself pulls off such a gambit by way of potent precognitive abilities - thus avoiding the Gambit Roulette aspect of the trope. He essentially searched the possible paths of the future for the desirable outcome, and then reached for it - even though it meant abandoning his memories and personality on the way...

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventure Time episode "The Real You", Finn did it in using some magical glasses that make him smarter. He makes a bulleted list of what will happen for the rest of the episode, and the last few things happen after Princess Bubblegum takes off the glasses (which he also predicted).
  • This is the work of The Rooters in Ben 10: Omniverse. They used Manny, Helen Pierce, Alan Pierce and Kevin as an army of mutant children called Amalgam Kids to hunt down Ben. And when Ben removed the Omnitrix, they erased the children's memories about their past experience with The Rooters and implanted false memories in their heads to make them believe they have alien blood. They also tricked Max into watching over them by implanting a false backstory about Kevin's father being Max's old partner.
  • In Code Monkeys, Dave uses this in The Drunken Office Party episode, utilizing the fact that Jerry doesn't remember the night before to get him to take the blame for several things that Dave actually did himself and get Jerry to give him the ticket to Hawaii he won because Dave promised to help him fix everything. Also, Jerry feels bad for breaking Dave's arm, something else he didn't really do.
  • In the Paramount cartoon "Disguise the Limit", an elephant witnesses a bank robbery by quick-change criminal Mike the Masquerader. The elephant is kept in a hotel room under police protection as Mike tries time and again (failing each time) to off him. When they meet again later, the elephant doesn't recognize him. Mike asks "Don't you remember me bumping into you when I robbed that bank?" The elephant doesn't, to the shock of the police. Turns out the elephant had such a lousy memory he keeps them all on a tape recorder, which was on when Mike made his bank robbery statement.
  • An entire episode of the Legion of Super-Heroes uses this, with people pretending to be people when they don't know they're that person.
  • In The Simpsons episode Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind, Homer, of all people, executes an intentionally impossibly convoluted plan to make his own spoiled surprise party a surprise again by taking a drink called a "Forget-Me Shot", a drink so strong it would wipe the past 24 hours from his memory. It involves such things as predicting exactly what he would do, what fragments of the past 24 hours he would end up remembering, when and how these memories would be triggered, how he was going to wrongly interpret them, that said wrong interpretations would drive him to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, and even the exact time he was going to jump. It resulted in him safely landing right in the middle of his party (which was on a boat), right on top of the Moon Bounce he specifically requested to cushion his fall and save him from his predicted suicide.