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Ontological Mystery

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"You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, 'Well, how did I get here?'"

The characters are locked in a strange room, have no idea how they got there, why they're there, or how to get out, nor do they know exactly who is behind their predicament, if anyone.

The main thrust of such stories is the investigation of the restricted environment in which the characters find themselves, with the goal of mastering it, revealing its secrets, and eventually escaping. Often those approaching the truth are sharply yanked back.

The genre is usually a metaphor for the unknowns and Big Questions of Real Life: what is my purpose, why are we here, what can be done to solve the unsolvable?

May overlap with Small, Secluded World, World Limited to the Plot, Alternate Universe, Planet of Hats, Adventure Towns or Lotus-Eater Machine. Almost always employs Failure Is the Only Option and a veritable swarm of Schrodinger's Butterflies to obfuscate issues. There's usually a Straw Nihilist in the cast saying it's all pointless.

See also the Quest for Identity, where the main character doesn't even know who he is. A subtrope of the Driving Question. The simpler versions are You Wake Up in a Room. Often spawns an Escape from the Crazy Place. Some are examples of Beautiful Void. Some fans may want the various mysteries to be Left Hanging. See also Send in the Search Team, when the characters do know how they got there, and now they need to find out what happened. May have an Amnesiac Hero.

Compare Epiphanic Prison. Contrast Eerily Out-of-Place Object, for non-personal ontological mysteries. The Journal Roleplay community calls this a "spooky jamjar".


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: Humanity has spent the last century holed up within three massive Walls, protected from the Titans that appeared seemingly out of nowhere and devoured mankind to the brink of extinction. No one knows where the Titans came from, or even how the Walls that protect them were constructed — the cult that worships them claims they were a divine gift. Information on the outside world is strictly controlled by the government, and people with interest in exploring outside the Walls are labeled as heretics.
    • Oh, and there are Titans in the freaking Walls, too. Which is a hint as to this whole business, but still...
  • The Big O Roger Smith is a negotiator in a domed city (implied to be a futuristic New York City) where everyone came down with a case of unexplained Laser-Guided Amnesia forty years ago. The outside world is seldom referred to, but it's implied to be largely an unexplored wasteland.
  • Drifting Classroom: A school building and the students inside find themselves transported to a barren desert world, with no clue how they got there.
  • Eden of the East: A naked man wakes up outside the White House, holding a gun. Good luck figuring out what happened, chief.
  • Ergo Proxy has plenty of these, though only in individual episodes (e.g. 11, 14, 15, and 19)
  • Gantz involves people dying, and then waking up in an empty apartment with several strangers. A mysterious sphere in the middle of the room commands them to go out wearing special equipment and hunt aliens.
  • Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet: A teenage boy has been fighting a brutal race of space mollusks for literally his whole life, when he finds himself flung through a wormhole to Earth...which is now largely flooded and was thought to be uninhabitable. After some Breather Episodes of him settling into a relaxed civilian lifestyle, things start get getting foreboding.
  • In Gosick, Kazuya and Victorique end up on a ship that's pretty mysterious. Although they DO know how they got there (from a ticket given to a dead woman they didn't want to let go to waste) in flashback scenes the original children sent to the ship 20 years earlier was very much an Ontological Mystery. For Victorique it's solving the mystery again in order to survive.
  • Haibane Renmei: the precise nature of the town of Glie is left mysterious throughout, and although there is a way for the Haibane to leave, it's never clear where they go or how, leading to speculation among fans that Glie is an allegory for Purgatory, or that it IS Purgatory.
  • In Judge, a bunch of people who are strangers to each other wake up in an abandoned building wearing animal masks. Every four hours, they're forced to vote to decide which one of them is going to die.
  • Kemono Friends starts with an amnesiac girl in a savannah. There are several other girls with animal traits. Also blob monsters, robots, and semi-functional machinery. Slowly uncovering just what's going on is much of the series' appeal.
  • Log Horizon is a more direct instance of this trope as unlike other 'trapped in an MMORPG' series's, the Elder Tale game didn't use any kind of special VR-Interface (just a standard keyboard/mouse/microphone setup), leaving the characters at a loss as to how they got transported into the game at all, or how they might get home.
  • Several of these drive the story in One Piece, the biggest of which is the nature of the "One Piece" treasure itself. There's also the "Void Century", a hundred-year gap in recorded history that ended with the World Government coming into power.
  • Princess Tutu features a small village where an old fairy tale seems to be coming to life. The world outside the village is rarely referenced, and people seem to take the odd happenings as completely normal. There's also an old legend about the author of said fairy tale, who left the tale incomplete after his untimely demise....
  • The Promised Neverland starts in a peaceful orphanage that the children are only allowed to leave when they are sent to their "foster family" — i.e sent to be killed and eaten by monsters. The protagonists learn the truth about what their orphanage really is and they do have access to books and scientific knowledge, but they have no idea what those demons are, what happened to humanity, or what awaits them if they manage to escape.
  • Shadows House: Every shadow-doll pair starts their life at the mansion in their own rooms, with little to no knowledge of who they are and how they got there. Their rooms are connected but locked from the outside, and both of them have been provided with an instruction manual on how they are supposed to behave around each other.
  • Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer is built entirely around figuring out why the world keeps changing into increasingly improbable forms. It has something to do with dreams and the story of Urashima Taro...

    Comic Books 
  • Final Crisis Aftermath: Escape has a number of characters from The DCU's espionage community trapped in a dreamlike "Electric City" with no idea how they got there.
  • The Bowl-Shaped World arc in Nexus sees Nexus, Judah, and the Badger trapped in a strange extra-dimensional realm they don't understand, trying to figure out how to escape.

    Fan Works 
  • In Asuka And Shinjis Infinite Playlist, the titular characters find themselves in a strange reality with no memories of their past life. Whenever someone asks Shinji and Asuka something about their lives or mentions some past event, no matter how trivial, they struggle to answer, since their minds are trying to remember something which never happened. Finally, Shinji discovers they are in a dream which only began existing when he bumped into Asuka at the station.
  • In the world of Hybrid Theory, there is a myth of Susano-o and Orochi. The fact that there are now at least three Orochis running around, each clearly the inspiration for the original myth which contained only one Orochi, means something has gone horribly wrong somewhere... Only Aaron has heard the voice of the one who set everything in motion, Chris being too dead at the time. There are many educated guesses, but no-one really has a clue as to what is going on. The lack of a cohesive universal backstory is bad enough on Earth where most of the societies appear 'normal' until their stories really get rolling. Washuu wakes up to find that the galaxy she's traveled end to end as a citizen of the peaceful Jurai Empire is now half-full of planets that have always been under the cruel thumb of warmongering Sailor Galaxia.
  • Home with the Fairies presents Maddie's insertion into The Lord of the Rings as a mystery. The readers know that Maddie fell into Middle-earth, but Maddie does not. She only knows that she is in a field and not in her apartment. Then she walks to civilization, but finds a medieval village, where none speak English, and none know of America. Maddie discovers this fairy-tale world, but not why it chose her to come here.
  • Psyche Ward: Someone or something either sends an unconscious Taylor into the Psychonauts universe in the path of Sasha or Milla, or alters her memories to create a false past on Earth Bet before putting her in their path, and not even Taylor is sure which is the truth, or who would do it and why.
  • The RWBY Loops: Thoroughly discussed and played with. Due to the nature of the loops, the characters themselves know nothing firm about their pasts that RWBY fans wouldn't know; this has a number of results, especially when the core series reveals some new factoid about their past, and feeds into the plot repeatedly.
  • Asylum (Daemon of Decay): Though the medical staff do explain why Twilight is in an asylum, whether or not they can be trusted, whether or not Twilight is insane, and whether or not there are more sinister things happening in the world in which she woke are left to the reader to decide.
  • Peace of Mind, Piece of Heart: Averted. Since this takes place after Book 1 of Infinity Train, Catra and Steven are fully aware of the train's purpose and the meaning of the numbers thanks to One-One's introductory videos. However, they're still at a complete loss as to how to accomplish the "fix their problems" part of the equation, and Steven is flustered about how the train functions in general.

    Films — Animation 
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion: It takes a few scenes, but Homura eventually realizes that the world she and the other Magical Girls are in doesn't make sense because Madoka and Sayaka are there, alive and well when they're not supposed to be there. Much of the middle portion of the movie is Homura trying to figure out how they all got there.
  • Waking Life revolves around attempts by the protagonist to wake up from a possibly terminal dreamstate.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Chariot: Seven passengers wake up on an airliner flying high above the United States. The door to the cockpit is locked and no-one responds when they knock on it. No-one has any idea how they got there, but it has something to do with an Operation Chariot, designed to protect crucial people in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.
  • Circle: Fifty people regain consciousness in a dark room, arranged in a circle around a strange-looking mechanism that kills one of them every two minutes. The subjects range in age from single digits to near-centenarian, and not one of them knows how they got where they are. They quickly figure out the premise, however—not only must one of their number die every 120 seconds, but they are the ones who determine who gets whacked next. Zany—err, paranoid hijinks ensue.
  • Cube, its sequel Cube 2: Hypercube, and its prequel Cube Zero. A group of people of differing backgrounds and skill sets wake up in cubical rooms which connect to other cubical rooms (all of the rooms together forming a giant, you guessed it, cube). There are deathtraps. Have fun!
  • Dark City: The protagonist wakes up with Easy Amnesia and Telekinesis in a city with no exits and where day never dawns. Oh, and there's a dead hooker in the other room.
  • Eden Log. A man wakes up in the middle of a dark cave, does not know how he got there, and tries to find his way out.
  • Exam has the characters at a job interview in which they are presented with a 'test' that turns out to be a blank sheet of paper. They have to work out what the problem is and then solve it, and they're all rivals for a highly sought after job. If any of them leave the room, they lose the chance. Panic rises and things get violent...
  • The Fountain portrays Real Life as an ontological trap that can only be escaped through death. The Protagonist refuses to accept this and, having eaten from the bark of the mythical tree of life at the fountain of youth, becomes doomed to outlive the rest of humanity because he's trapped in a spaceship on the edge of a dying star.
  • Friend of the World: The protagonist wakes up in a chamber after a mass casualty event and is unsure who is behind it and how to get out.
  • Groundhog Day is less interested in why the loops started or ended and more interested in how its protagonist responds to it. The commentary notes the story is about him changing from 'a prisoner of the time and place to the master of the time and place'.
  • Horse Girl: The plot is driven by Sarah's quest to understand what is going on in the world around her, and why she has missing memories and keeps finding herself in strange places with no memory of how she got there.
  • For Inception, one of the clues that you're in a dream is when you can't remember how you got to where you are.
  • Mindhunters The characters know why they're on a secluded island: an FBI profiler training exercise. It doesn't take long before they're cut off from the outside world and it turns out that there's a killer amongst them who starts murdering them one by one.
  • Nine Dead. The protagonists all wake up in a cell chained to a wall. Their captor tells them that one of them will die every ten minutes unless they can tell him why they are there.
  • The first Saw movie. In later movies, it's already established who is behind all of it, but the trope still applies In-Universe to specific groups of characters.
  • Unknown (2006): A group of men wake up locked in a warehouse with amnesia, and their circumstances and injuries suggest that they've been fighting each other. They must figure out what's going on, who's on who's side and what's at stake.

  • The Castle. A surveyor is summoned to the town surrounding a tremendous castle of Obstructive Bureaucrats, and nobody is sure why; the protagonist thinks he knows who he needs to talk to so he can find out, but first he has to get an appointment with the undersecretary and convince him to give him an appointment with the regular secretary... and so on. He is inexplicably appointed two childish assistants that mostly just make fun of him. The book was never finished, so it's not clear if there ever was an ending.
  • Cordyceps Too Clever For Their Own Good opens with one of the main characters waking up in a hospital room with no idea how he got there and no idea who he is. As the story's summary puts it, "This turns out to be the ideal state of affairs, and is swiftly ruined."
  • The Divine Comedy begins with Dante lost in a dark forest with too little memory to explain how he got there beyond being extremely tired when he left the true path. He only escapes the forest thanks to the intercession of Beatrice, who reveals that Dante's deviations came as a result of seeking to replace his dead love with lesser, counterfeit goods.
  • Dungeon series: beings from all times and spaces are brought to a nine-leveled artificial prison called the Dungeon. At no point in the series is the Dungeon's origins, masters or purpose made clear, only speculated on.
  • Scott Sigler's The Generations Trilogy begins with a group of young adults who have no memory of their past waking up trapped in coffins engraved with their names. After breaking out of the coffins, they find themselves in dimly-lit and unimaginably vast ruins, full of skeletons and dust at every corner.
  • In the Fredric Brown short story Hall Of Mirrors, a 25-year-old man suddenly finds himself fifty years in the future. In a locked room, with a letter addressed to him on the desk. Reading it, he learns that he is actually 75 years old, but has just de-aged himself, which erased his memory of the last fifty years. The letter is from his older self, and it includes the horrifying explanation of why he has done this. And may have to do it again, fifty years from now.
  • The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin. Several people wake up in rooms connected only by a chat-like computer system; each room opens into a labyrinth. Some labyrinths are real, some metaphorical, and one is accessible only through dreams.
  • One of the many themes in House of Leaves. It's also one of the less Mindscrewy themes, which should give you some idea of what the book is like.
  • William Sleator's House of Stairs: five teenagers wake up in the titular House of Stairs. It's a giant complex of interlocking stairs and platforms, but none of the stairs lead out; they only connect to other parts of the maze.
  • Illium: Spans three planets rather than a room. The mystery is just what has happened between our time and this imaginary far future to make the latter so bizarre. For a start, where did all those Greek gods using advanced technology and living on Mars come from? The characters on Earth in particular take their condition as a mystery to be solved and try to escape the definite confines that are set upon them even as they are able to teleport around the world freely.
  • Issola: A couple of people our protagonist considered completely indestructible have gone missing. Not even Sethra Lavode, who very much deserves her Shrouded in Myth status, can find them by herself. She knows how to get Vlad there, and he arrives to find his two friends stuck in unbreakable, seamless chains in an empty room with no exits that appears to be on another planet. The plot hinges on figuring out how the hell the bad guys managed it, and why.
  • The Maze Runner Trilogy:
    • The Maze Runner has the main protagonists trapped in a maze.
    • The Scorch Trials is about them trapped in the deserts of a future Earth.
  • Piers Anthony's Mercycle. The characters are not locked in a room, however, they are compelled into the task of riding bicycles under the ocean with no idea who hired them and for what purpose. It's pretty much Cube in the sea.
  • More Than This begins as the protagonist wakes up in an abandoned town after he dies and has no idea why.
  • In "The Outsider (1926)", a man has lived his whole life in a dark castle beneath an all-enclosing forest that blocks out the sky. Yet, he feels strangely that he has not always been there...
  • Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke, starts with the title character, an Amnesiac Hero, living — essentially trapped — in a gigantic, possibly infinite, house full of huge statues and only one other living person. References and small items suggest a connection to our world; Piranesi gradually discovers the truth, as best he can.
  • In the Robert Sheckley short story "Potential", the protagonist awakens to find himself alone on a spaceship that was apparently hastily constructed and launched at the last minute, just before Earth was destroyed. He has no memory of anything, even his own identity. The ship is automated and has no controls; it is searching for a planet, but the protagonist has no idea what kind of planet or what he's supposed to do when he gets there. A hastily scrawled note tells him where he can find a video recording that explains his mission. He finds that it's been destroyed.
  • Riverworld has apparently everyone ever born trapped between an unclimbable mountain range and a river, with their intact memories from birth to death in our real world. If you happen to die again, you wake up again in a different spot along the river. Later books provide an unconvincing rationale for this.
  • The Trial: "Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K., for one morning, after having committed no real crime, he was arrested." In the end, he finds out that he is guilty of life and original sin. Once he realizes the nature of his crime, he submits willingly.

    Live-Action Roleplaying Games 
  • The "amnesia game" is one of the most common types of theatre-style live-action roleplaying games. Only the Decadent Court is more popular.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 4400: In the fourth season episode "No Exit" Tom Baldwin, Diana Skouris, Meghan Doyle, Marco Pacella, Brady and P.J. wake up to find themselves locked into the NTAC offices in Seattle where they work joined by Tom's son Kyle and oldest nephew Shawn Farrell, Diana's adopted daughter Maia, as well as Jordan Collier and Isabelle Tyler. During the episode they have to fight the building itself as it turns on them, cooperate, find out why they're there and find a way out.
  • The characters in Beyond the Walls know how they got into the House, but that's about it. Julien has a vague idea about finding a red door to be able to leave, but he has been in there for the better part of a century, without much progress, despite mapping the place. As it turns out, the only way to leave is a rather difficult combination of interpretation of scripture, having a very specific epiphany and the balls to journey into the deepest bowels of the house, where the zombie-like inhabitants crawl around in the hundreds.
  • Black Mirror:
    • "White Bear", Victoria Skillane wakes up with amnesia in a room she does not recognise. She then starts to experience terrifying encounters in what appears to be some kind of strange post-apocalyptic world and an apocalypse she has missed. She later finds out that she is and has for an unknown amount of time been trapped in a creative method of punishment for crimes she committed before having her memory repeatedly wiped, with members of the public being invited to watch her be tortured and then paraded through the streets every day.
    • The series' Christmas special starts with two men in an isolated outpost and one of them has no idea how he got there...
  • Both Buffy and Angel did this in one episode each: "Tabula Rasa" for Buffy and "Spin the Bottle" for Angel. In both cases, a spell intended to affect memories went wrong and resulted in the entire main cast losing their memories. In "Tabula Rasa", they got complete Identity Amnesia. In "Spin the Bottle", they got Identity Amnesia removing all memories since their teenage years. In both cases, there were many logical but amusingly wrong deductions made about what was going on before they managed to undo the spell.
    • "Spin the Bottle" was particularly hilarious given that the dour, contemplative Angel was once the hard-drinking thug Liam. Oh, and he doesn't remember he's a vampire.
  • Castle: "Cuffed" opens with Castle and Beckett handcuffed together in a locked room with no memory of how they got there.
  • In 1969 NBC aired The Cube, an hour long teleplay about a man trapped in a cube, wondering what was real and what wasn't. It was written and directed by Jim Henson, of all people, in a very un-Muppety not-played-for-laughs kind of way.
  • Dark Matter (2015) is a paradigm of the trope: six people awaken from hypersleep aboard a spaceship with no idea who they are or what they are doing there, and the series' plot is driven by their attempts to find out.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Mind Robber" starts when Salamander's interference crashes the TARDIS outside time. Venturing outside, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in a nightmare of impossible happenings and literary characters come to life.
    • "Bad Wolf", where the Doctor, Rose and Jack all wake up in Deadly Game Shows with no idea who brought them or why.
    • "Amy's Choice". The Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves being transported between two realities, forced by the Dream Lord to choose which is real and which is a dream. When the Doctor realizes that the Dream Lord is a manifestation of his own dark side and can manipulate events in both worlds, he correctly concludes that both scenarios are dreams.
    • "The God Complex" with a nightmarish hotel that has a room for everyone and no apparent exit. The Doctor even lampshades it.
      The Doctor: Big day for a fan of walls!
    • "Time Heist" begins with the Doctor answering the phone and then suddenly he, Clara, and two people they have never met before are in the most impregnable bank in the galaxy, having agreed to rob it on behalf of a mysterious benefactor, recorded a message to themselves explaining that they have accepted this mission, and then erased their own memories of doing so. Half the episode is them carrying out the heist, the other half is trying to figure out who orchestrated this whole thing and how they seem to have infiltrated the bank already yet still need help robbing it.
    • "Heaven Sent" has the Doctor be transmatted by unknown parties to an enormous castle, deserted except for a Grim Reaper-like monster.
  • Dollhouse plays with this trope in "Needs", in which the Actives wake up in their sleeping chambers with their original personalities before they were mind-wiped, but with no memory of how they came to be there.
  • The I-Land: Ten people wake up on a tropical island, with no memory of how they got there or who they are. Their only clue is a random sign saying "Find your way back".
  • Life on Mars has Sam Tyler... who is less concerned with investigating the world than he is with trying to adjust to it. He actually rather likes his new world. In fact, after weighing his options when he leaves, he commits suicide to return.
    • Life on Mars's sequel, Ashes to Ashes (2008): Modern day detective Alex Drake is transported to a strange new 1981 world when she is shot. Using her psychological training, she must examine if she is in her own mind, undergone time travel, etc. in order to return to her daughter back home. note  The mystery is examined from every angle.
  • Lost: A plane crashes on an island and weird things start happening. Beyond that, what happens is a matter of debate within the fandom because the mystery about the nature of the island is mind screwy.
  • The Outer Limits (1963) offers two examples.
    • "Demon With a Glass Hand" opens with Amnesiac Hero Trent wandering through a city while fending off attackers. He reflect on his predicament in an Internal Monologue.
      Trent: I was born ten days ago, a full-grown man born ten days ago. I woke on a street of this city. I don't know who I am, where I've been or where I'm going. Someone wiped my memories clean, and they track me down and try to kill me. Why? Who are you?
    • "The Probe", the last episode of the original series. A group of plane crash survivors find themselves in a mysterious closed environment full of lab equipment, stalked by a grotesque monster, with no idea how they got there or how to get out. It turns out that they were brought aboard an alien space probe, the monster is a huge, mutated microbe, and they're released when they manage to communicate with the aliens.
  • The Prisoner (1967): Number Six woke up in The Village, with no idea why he's there, and who's really in charge. Even the very possibility of escaping it is an open question.
  • In Quantum Leap, each time Sam leaps into a new leapee, he has to figure out whom he has replaced, where he is, when he is, and why he is there. How much Sam can figure out by himself, and how much Al or Ziggy is needed to fill in the gaps, differs from episode to episode.
  • Red Dwarf: In "Thanks for the Memory", the characters wake up with no memory of the last four days. Lister and the Cat each have a foot in a cast. Four pages have been torn out of Lister's diary, the ship's black box is missing, and the jigsaw puzzle Lister had been working on is finished. They have to track down the black box and play back its recording to find out what happened.
  • Stargate Atlantis: "Tabula Rasa" begins with a confused, amnesiac Rodney McKay coming to in his lab to discover he's tied to the table he's sitting at, with a tablet in front of him displaying a picture of Teyla and the message "FIND THIS WOMAN". When he gets out of the lab, he discovers a situation where Atlantis' military personnel, led by Major Lorne, are rounding up the civilians, with repeated escapes. The fact that everyone seems to be having memory problems only makes McKay's quest to try and figure out what is going on that much harder.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • "Clues": The Enterprise crew is revived by Data after having been rendered unconscious by a Negative Space Wedgie. It quickly becomes apparent that they were unconscious much longer than they had thought, that Worf has somehow sustained a major injury, ship's records have been tampered with, and that Data is desperately trying to cover up whatever happened during the lost time.
    • "Conundrum": The characters' memories are erased and they are left with no contact with the outside world. They need to figure out the purpose of the ship, their roles on it, and the validity of their apparent mission to destroy a planet. Their only initial clues are their positions on the bridge and the design of the ship.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): "Five Characters in Search of an Exit": An Army major, a ballerina, a hobo, a clown, and a bagpiper wake up in a cylindrical grey room, with no memory of their lives before that moment, and a deafeningly loud, gonglike noise occasionally makes the room shake wildly. All make guesses about where they are and why. Limbo, a dream, space, and hell itself are mentioned. Where and what they are is revealed -and turns out to be entirely unexpected.
    Ballerina: We don't know who we are, we don't know where we are. Each of us woke up one moment, and here we were in the darkness. We're nameless things with no memory — no knowledge of what went before, no understanding of what is now, no knowledge of what will be.
  • WandaVision: Wanda and Vision find themselves living in Westview, an idyllic sitcom world, a Stepford Suburbia. However, unlike most examples, it doesn't appear that either Wanda or Vision want to know how they got there or how to get out, being perfectly content to live (semi-)normal lives as part of a sitcom world. However, reality seems to be encroaching, showing that people outside of Westview want to know what's happening.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Cthulhu City, a setting for Trail of Cthulhu, is about a set of characters trapped in an impossible city which is best described as a mix of all of the fictional cities in H. P. Lovecraft's work, ruled by the forces of the Cthulhu Mythos. There are several possible explanations for this; figuring out which one is true in a given campaign and escaping the city are two of the main long-term goals for the PCs.

  • Christopher Stasheff's one-act play "The Actor's Nightmare" features a hapless accountant named George Spelvin waking up in the nightmare that all actors experience: No idea what play he's in, what character he plays, or what his lines are — and the curtain is about to go up.
  • The second half of the fourth Bottom Live show has Richie and Eddie inexplicably falling into a steel dome and thus the two of them have to figure out how to escape and get back to their show for the second act.
  • Jon Mandarin's one-act play "Self-Titled" features five contrasting characters with identical outward appearances and one disembodied voice interacting and philosophically pontificating inside a dark purgatorial environment (that may-or-may-not be a fourth wall breaking stageplay).
  • Waiting for Godot: While Vladimir and Estragon know where they are and why they're there, they don't know if it's the right place or even who they're waiting for is, other than his name is Godot.

  • BIONICLE. Although the characters themselves don't ask questions relating to how they, a bunch of sentient cyborgs, came to be living a primitive lifestyle on a tropical island, Word of God has stated that this was a major source of the series' appeal in the early years, as the viewer would be curious as to how this situation came about. The Matoran were unaware that they were suffering from mass amnesia, so they were just as surprised as the viewers were when their origins were slowly revealed over the next few years of storyline.

    Video Games 
  • This style is one of the oldest computer games: Adventure, originally copyright 1973; Adventures in 4 dimensions, originally copyright 1979, updated in the early 90's; and The Count which was originally written for the TRS-80, which was only sold from 1977 to 1981.
  • The prologue of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. The rest of the game is about rediscovering your past identity and past actions. Which are far from pleasant.
  • BioShock has your character narrowly survive a plane crash, seeking shelter in the underwater city of Rapture. Which has gone completely to hell. Similar to System Shock 2, you have a Mission Control who is not entirely honest with you. Its sequel BioShock 2 and its DLC The Minerva Den, has two Big Daddies that can strangely use Plasmids.
  • In ATLUS' game Catherine every one of the sheep in the Nightmare World start off completely oblivious, including Vincent. Many conversations on the landings involve trying to discover who the rumored witch is, why they are there, and whether or not there even is an exit. The only sure exit from these nightmares is death. The trials themselves are highly symbolic of maturity, dealing with Vincent's unwillingness to take responsibility.
  • 5 Days a Stranger from the Chzo Mythos series. Trilby's perfectly innocent attempt to rob a deserted mansion turns into a nightmare when he and several others are trapped inside by an unknown force.
  • Countdown by Access Software opens with the protagonist waking up in a mental asylum without memory.
  • A genre of web games, the "escape-the-room game," is based on this. The player is trapped in a room and has to search the place for items in order to get out. It typically starts with some Easy Amnesia to explain why the player doesn't know how they got into the room. Examples include Crimson Room and its sequel Viridian Room, and Mystery of Time and Space.
  • Each main game in the Danganronpa series focuses on a group of elite high school students who wake up trapped in a Closed Circle (in the first game, it's a school; in the second game, it's a cluster of deserted islands). Though much of the plot centers around solving murder mysteries as a result of the killing game they've all been unwillingly recruited into, the students (especially the Player Character) are simultaneously striving to learn about their surroundings, unmask the mastermind and find alternate ways to escape.
  • Devil Survivor: One day, the protagonist and his two friends find themselves receiving new computers from your cousin Naoya that allow you to summon demons while receiving emails that predict the future. Within hours, the entire Yamanote Line is completely cut off from the outside world, all electronics aside from your new computers stop working, and people with their own computers are demanding answers as they begin to fight for survival. Worst of all, numbers counting the days left to live appear over everyone's heads, and none will survive the week.
  • In Eternal Sonata, Frederick Chopin views all of the events that transpire in the game as nothing more than a dying dream. Finding out whether or not that's true is a major element to the story.
  • eXperience112 (The Experiment in America), the player is trapped in a control room with no memory how he got there. Notable in that you do not leave the room — you use its controls to manipulate another character into solving puzzles for you.
  • Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon is a variation of this. It can be summed up as "the last man on earth went outside."
  • FromSoftware's Soulsborne series frequently uses elements of this, as part of its minimalist style of storytelling that relies heavily on Story Breadcrumbs. Most of them do start with cutscenes that vaguely describe what's going on in the world, while leaving out many important details that are up for you to discover.
    • Out of all of them Bloodborne plays this the most straight, since it has no such expository cutscene. It simply begins with your character receiving an injection of mysterious blood and then waking up some time later to find the clinic abandoned and city overrun with beasts and mad hunters, with no immediate explanation of how things got that way. You'll have to rely on the Story Breadcrumbs to find out.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, if you press the islanders on how they arrived on the island or the outside world, they're unable to respond and get migraines.
    • The beginning of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: Link is sent into a parallel world after being transformed into a Deku Shrub and finds himself in the middle of a strange town, unable to escape because there are guards in every exit blocking his path. He needs to find out exactly where he is, what is going on and how to return to normal in three in-game days' time before the world ends. Afterwards, the game plays like a regular Zelda game.
    • At the start of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Link wakes up in a strange cave called the Shrine of Resurrection with no knowledge of who he is, how he got there, or why he's being guided to specific locations. While you eventually get a chunk of exposition at the end of the tutorial section explaining the basic gist of the backstory and Link's role, there are still lots of recoverable memories, old diaries, and NPC interactions that give you a much more complete picture of what happened.
  • The main characters of Level Up! are a girl with no backstory and a guy with no memories who lands on her fence.
  • Myst. Interestingly, the first game has the 'who am I and where I am' set up but the the rest of the series does not because the player is expected to retain this knowledge from the first game, or get the crib notes of it. The exception is Myst V: End of Ages.
    On starting the game you are confronted by a single question that follows you for the duration of the play: "What is going on?" This is in no way a bad thing. The compulsion to explore and learn more about the world in is the game.
    • Obduction, a spiritual successor and also made by Cyan, has a pretty clear entry: you're teleported to a piece of Arizona on an alien world. Thing is, there's nobody around, and you're on a piece of Arizona on an alien world. Why you've been teleported here and where everyone else is drives the rest of it... and the local cantankerous old man doesn't offer all the details.
  • The Neverhood begins with our hero Klaymen trapped in a room (see above) with no information, and goes from there. Justified in that you later find out he had just been created and doesn't have any backstory.
  • Operator's Side begins with your character mysteriously waking up in a space station's control room after a monster attack, not knowing how he got in there or where his girlfriend is, with his only link to the outside world being a cocktail waitress named Rio.
  • Planescape: Torment begins with the amnesiac Nameless One waking up in a mortuary in the otherworldly city of Sigil. Piecing together who the Nameless One is makes up most of the story.
  • Portal is an all-puzzle Gaiden Game. The protagonist has no memories nor any idea how they arrived at the Enrichment Center and the plot is driven by her attempts to escape.
  • The goal in Rule of Rose is to learn of Jennifer's past and come in terms with it.
  • Second Sight: The player character wakes up in what looks like a hospital room with amnesia and is trying to find out who he is and why he is there.
  • The 7th Guest:
    Ego: How did I get here? I remember... Nothing.
  • Silent Hill 4: The Room — the only chapter in the series in which the protagonist didn't willingly enter.
  • The Spectrum Retreat begins with the protagonist waking up at the Penrose hotel, having apparently been there for almost a month (if not longer), and the game is concerned with how he came to be there and how to get out.
  • The Starship Damrey, for the 3DS you wake up from Cold Sleep with amnesia, you can't get out of your box, and you need to explore the eponymous ship using remote controlled robots. It uses a lot of Nothing Is Scarier.
  • Submachine, a point-and-click adventure series has infinite layers of complexities and strange dimention-warping room-escape-esque games. Even when in a literally infinite open space, you still cannot escape.
  • System Shock and the sequel, System Shock 2, both begin this way. In the first game, you awaken from a coma aboard Citadel Station. In the latter game, you are brought out of cryo aboard the starship Von Braun. While you are initially left to piece together clues in the first game, the second game starts you off with being in contact with Mission Control from the word go. Of course, you don't know who is actually on the other end of the radio, and she's not telling you everything.
  • Theresia: Dear Emile for the DS fits this perfectly, with the main character slowly regaining her memories throughout the game, and the house is filled with deadly traps.
  • the white chamber: You wake up in a coffin on a space station. You can leave, but you'll die of asphyxiation.
  • The Witness: The player starts at the end of a dark metal tube shelter underground, opening doors to climb up onto a castle's patio. The normal ending returns the player to the same spot, undoing all of the work they have done. The hidden Golden Ending as well as hidden in-game audio reveal this area to be the starting point of an elaborate virtual reality simulation.
  • A lot of the plot in The World Ends with You revolves around Neku, the main protagonist, trying to find out why he woke up in Shibuya, what is the Reaper’s Game, and how he died in the first place.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa:
    • Makoto Naegi, the devoted, optimistic teenager of a secretive, unbiased wit, is invited by a lottery to Hope's Peak Academy, labelled as the "Ultimate Lucky Student". Right after he enters the facility, his consciousness begins to warp into something incomprehensible. As soon as he returns from his light state of catatonia, he finds himself in a classroom that he doesn't know if it's truly inside the academy he just entered, or if it's a different classroom. After visiting the entrance of the academy and finding the Ultimate students residing there, Monokuma summons them all to the gymnasium. By Monokuma's announcement, he follows suit, and after reaching the intended area, Monokuma announces the Killing Game concept.
    • Hajime Hinata, someone who admires Hope's Peak Academy in a similar vain to Makoto, transitions from outside the entrance to the academy by randomly having his consciousness fizzle between where he currently is to an isolated door that leads him into a locked classroom containing students presumed to be from the academy. Usami, their teacher, bounces up from behind the pedestal, lifts down the classroom walls and announces the field trip. Confused, Hajime goes catatonic and is woken up by Nagito, who expositions everything and introduces the cast to Hajime. Usami then summons everyone to the beach for a gift and an opportunity fror all to swim with one another. Monokuma's sudden appearance interrupts everyone, and he demands them to go to the centre island, where he announces the Killing Game and usurps Usami's role, renaming her "Monomi" and then executing her with a Monobeast unit.
    • Kaede Akamatsu, a hopelessly average female student who doesn't have a rich family, or a talent of any class, exits and falls out of a locker, finding herself in an awkward classroom she doesn't recognise. Shuichi Saihara falls out of the locker next to her with as much confusion and as little specialty as she does. When leaving the area, they encounter a series of Exisals that lure then into the gym, where they find 14 other normal people, making up 16, the number Rantaro makes a point about. The Exisals that chased the duo into the gym are revealed to be Monokmua Cub units. They proceed to give the students outfits so they're less normal, and give them their "first memory". A light is shone on the cast and their memories are returned to them, Kaede and Shuichi returning to the lockers. Both of them introduce themselves to the rest of the students, and are ordered to visit the gym again by the Monokuma Cubs, where Monokuma announces the Killing Game.
  • Nageki's situation in Hatoful Boyfriend. He has no memories, is restricted to a handful of rooms, and most people are "ignoring" him.
    I feel uncomfortable. Where did I come from? Where was I born? The fact that I am trapped in here is the least of the mysteries plaguing my mind. Nervous. I'm nervous.
  • Zero Escape:
    • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, you wake up in a 3rd class cabin of a flooding ship (a recreation of a flooding ship, anyway), and must escape in under 9 hours (through a mysterious "Nonary Game"), after which the floodgates will reopen and the ship will do its submarine impression.
    • The same goes for the sequel, Virtue's Last Reward. You wake up in a mysterious facility in a base on the moon, and are forced to play the "Nonary Game: Ambidex Edition" in order to escape.
    • In Zero Time Dilemma, the last game of the trilogy, you wake up imprisoned in another underground facility, and are forced to play yet another deadly game. However, this game takes place before VLR chronologically, and the setup suggests that only three people can escape alive. Yet four of the participants in this game appear in VLR, and a fifth is confirmed to survive by Word of God. How this is possible is one of the most salient plot questions. Also, while most of the characters do know how they got to the facility this time, some of the details aren't revealed to the player until much later, and (as in the previous installments) there's one character who has no prior memories at all.
  • Jim Henson's Tale of Sand has a guy start a race in a small town with no idea how he got there. The ending is extra weird, coupled with the fact that it basically is Book Ends back to the same small town with the man having no memory.

    Web Animation 
  • The Strangerhood: Everyone wakes with amnesia in a mysterious town, and only a scary faceless voice seems to know what's going on and won't tell anyone. This being a comedy series, we never find out either.
  • The framing device of Televoid! A man finds himself in a room with an old television set, dimly aware that he has to produce videos for an unseen audience for unknown purposes.

  • The Artist is Dead!! begins as one. The answer just complicates things.
  • A Beginner's Guide to the End of the Universe. You are alone in a house which is floating in a void. Also, you have godlike powers. What the hell?
  • Blank It takes place entirely in this scenario, with the two main characters appearing unexplainably in a blank white void.
  • The Complex opens with:
    You wake up in a room. You don't remember where you are, or anything really. Except that your name is Tim. And you like video games.
  • The Ends has as a central plot element the question of whether the inhabitants really exist or are simply living out a self-inflicted hell created when they blew themselves up in a nuclear apocalypse.
  • Fleep: one person, in a phone booth, sealed in concrete.
  • Homestuck: A young boy starts a multiplayer video game and finds himself and his house are suddenly Trapped in Another World, while back on Earth meteors are destroying civilization. That's only the beginning...
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, the arc titled "The Island And the Idol" sees Bob, Jean, and Voluptua kidnapped by a weird spaceship and then awakening in a flat, featureless void where the laws of physics don't make sense. They spend most of the arc trying to figure out what the place is, how it works, and how to get out of it.
  • The Seedlings from morphE wake up in crates with no idea how they got there and are made prisoners of a rich and beautiful mage who wishes to train them in the art of magic (or kill them, whichever is more convenient). The first moment the survivors get alone they begin comparing notes to find out how and why they got in this situation. Best they could manage is that all but one of them were local to Chicago.
  • Problem Sleuth starts off with the three protagonists stuck in a locked room, but rapidly grows to encompass an imaginary universe, demonic mafia kingpins and a army of courtesan angels. In the end, the goal of the three main characters is to escape the office building they are trapped in and reach the streets of the Real World.
  • Superego has ten individuals trapped in an Abandoned Hospital in the middle of an abyss, and they have to work together to get out.
  • White Rooms: None of the characters appear to know how and why they ended up in the eponymous white rooms, although Rits and Claire may be hiding their true origins.
  • Featured in xkcd strip #505 "A Bunch of Rocks".

    Web Original 
  • All three games on Addventure begin with the protagonist finding himself in a void or in a strange room.
  • The blog Ontological (part of The Fear Mythos) begins when the main character wakes up in a house without doors...instead all the windows and places where the doors should be are bricked up and he is unable to escape.
  • Stuart Ashen and the fictional "retro" video game (and board game) Vinnie Vole's Existential Nightmare. Vinnie the Vole is trapped in a bare empty room. What do you do? Nothing. The only way out is suicide, which Vinnie eventually opts for in spite of the player's protestations.
  • The SCP Foundation has the rewritten file for SCP-031. When checking the database, a researcher found that, unknown to her or her predecessors, the Ryugyong Hotel was not only hosting SCP-031, but also SCP-1427. Wondering if the Koreans were using the hotel as a detention facility, it soon transpired that any team sent in would only see evidence of the anomaly they were looking for, and absolutely no trace of the other, including other investigation teams. The Korean branch of the Foundation had no idea either SCP was being kept at the hotel, and they couldn't find traces of either SCP or either team. Just as soon as the researcher begins pushing for an explanation, she unceremoniously leaves her post due to health problems.

    Web Videos 
  • This happens a lot in Marble Hornets, what with the amnesia gotten from Slenderman and ToTheArk.
  • "Hi I'm Mary Mary" begins with the titular character awakening in her parents' house, or a copy thereof, with no memory of how she got there or who she is beyond her name.
  • The mystery plot of season two of Drawtectives is kicked off by all three player characters waking up on a strange train flying through space with no memory of how they got on or why. They still retain their memories of life before, just not the immediate time before boarding. The other passenger in the car, later dubbed Eugene, is not so lucky; he has no memories of his life before the train car, including what his name was, and barely remembers certain basic concepts like what the moon is.

    Western Animation 
  • 12 oz. Mouse: As near as can be said with any certainty, the character Mouse himself almost definitely realizes he is one when memories of appears to be a wife and family prompt him to reflect that he really doesn't remember anything from his own past much before the series.
  • The premise of Season 1 of The Hollow is that Adam, Kai, and Mira find themselves in a bizarre world full of monsters and strange people with no idea who they are or how they got there. It turns out that they're voluntary participants in a virtual reality game. Their memories being blocked is part of the challenge.
  • In Animaniacs (2020), the Pinky and the Brain segment "Reichenbrain Falls" opens with Brain waking up aboard the International Space Station, with no memory of how or why he came to be there.
  • Infinity Train follows a girl named Tulip, who finds herself trapped on a bizarre train full of puzzles and pocket dimensions, trying to find her way home with the help of a robot named One-One. By the start of the pilot episode, she'd already been stuck there for a week, with no idea how she got there or why there are glowing numbers on her hand.
  • In My Life as a Teenage Robot, the "Enclosure of Doom" episode starts with Jenny and Killgore regaining consciousness inside a high-tech structure, complete with Death Course, with no idea how they got there. It turns out they're trapped inside Armagedroid, Killgore's Humongous Mecha.
  • Over the Garden Wall opens with the two main characters already lost, and neither of them ever bring up the exact circumstances that got them lost, though the audience finds out in the penultimate episode.
  • The plot of the The Simpsons episode "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind." Homer spends the episode trying to regain his memories of the previous night. Invoked because he accidentally learned about a surprise party the town was holding for him, and asked Moe to concoct a Gargle Blaster that would un-spoil the surprise for him.

    Real Life 
  • Congratulations. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you are part of the very, very large Ensemble Cast who was born into one of these.