A character knows that they are in a false, constructed reality and that nothing around them is real. Once discovered, leaving is a matter of determination and willpower. The illusion is broken, they're free.
Yet they choose to stay.
There are many reasons for this. It may be because life is good in the Matrix or Lotus-Eater Machine, and the character realizes they are truly happy there. Maybe they prefer the safety of delusions to bleak reality. Or it could be that to them the false reality seems more real than the alternative, if it's impossible to tell the difference between what is real and what isn't. Who's to say that something isn't true, if they choose to believe it is?
In works where reality is treated as painful and complex, this may become a Downer Ending, especially if there is an Anti-Escapism Aesop. Characters may or may not be successful in their choice to stay. Other characters may try to "save" them from the false reality, or the truth of their fantasy may become too much to bear. In contrast to this trope, I Choose to Stay has a positive connotation for helping others or resolving ongoing conflicts in an equally real setting. However, the "fantasy" is usually another world rather than a false, constructed reality.
Compare Longing for Fictionland when characters prefer to live by the rules and expectations of fictional stories rather than Real Life, without actually going to a false reality. See also Preferable Impersonator for a single fake personality than an entire reality, and Shattering the Illusion.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: in the episode "Tachikoma Runs Away; The Movie Director's Dream—ESCAPE FROM", Section 9 acquires an computer programmed with a simulation created by a Mad Artist. The simulation is just a movie theater playing the artist's final film on a constant loop. Everyone who enters the simulation becomes so engrossed with the film that they don't want to leave—the audience never sees any of the film, but it's apparently just that good. Even the normally-stoic Major Kusanagi is moved to tears by the film, but she ultimately has enough willpower to stop watching and shut the simulation down.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the ending involves protagonist Shinji Ikari having to choose between staying with all of humanity in the sea of LCL or returning to Earth as a singular being. He chooses the latter, but since no one appears alongside him at the beach except Asuka, one interpretation is that the rest of humanity preferred to stay in the "perfect", unthinking, unfeeling LCL sea.
- In a Naruto filler arc, Tenten figures out she's stuck in the Infinite Tsukuyomi and does everything she can to get out. However, after saving the day, she realizes maybe it's not so bad and decides to stay.
- The ending of La Quête de l'Oiseau du Temps. It turns out the Action Girl was a kind of holographic projection created by the Sidekick Creature Nuisance. The hero, who had been led to believe she was his daughter, prefers to keep the creature (and therefore his daughter) alive rather than face the fact that her mother manipulated and betrayed him.
- Batman in Dark Nights: Metal. He's Mind Raped by the demon Barbatos, who tells him that not only is the nightmarish army marching into the universe entirely his fault (he opened the door for them against all advice and reason, thinking he could handle them, and said monsters are literally based on his own fears and regrets), the entire Batman mythos is a fabrication of the demon's to raise spirits and hopes so when the time came, it could drag them all into the darkness by tearing down the very idea of Batman. A terrified Bruce begs to return to the Lotus-Eater Machine he barely escaped from the first time.
- Mister Miracle (2017) manages to play this in one of the most simultaneously depressing yet strangely hopeful ways possible, which has to do with the nature of the illusion itself: by the end of the series, it's revealed that Scott Free (aka Mister Miracle) is trapped in some kind of false reality as a direct result of succumbing to the Anti-Life Equation, whose sole existential purpose is to break people into giving up on happiness, hope, and life itself. However, despite the traumas of the warped realm Scott's forced to endure —from the truckloads of unrecognized PTSD born from his past relationships to his mundane fears of becoming a father— he manages to at least tentatively overcome his demons and salvages genuine solace within his newly born son and loving relationship with Big Barda. He ends up giving up on trying to escape this reality even knowing it's possibly fake, if only because the happiness he's managed to claim for himself is real enough to him.
- One of the possible endings of Brazil has the protagonist retreat permanently into his Happy Place as a means to escape his torture. Oddly, this isn't as heartbreaking as you'd think considering the Crapsack World he lives in.
- In The Matrix, Cypher sides with the machines because he prefers the Matrix to the After the End reality of Earth.
- This is the one danger of falling into Limbo. Because the time dilation causes a dream to last for decades, the mind will live out an entire lifetime that becomes the dreamer's new reality. By the time the dream ends and they wake up, they'll have either lost touch with reality or have lost their mental faculties to begin with.
- Early in the movie, we're introduced to a group of people who, dissatisfied with the real world, have chosen to live the remainder of their lives in a dream.
- In the second Dragon Age novel, The Calling, all of the Wardens and Maric are trapped in the Fade, within separate dreams designed to keep them from wanting to leave. One by one, they break free of their prison. Except for Nicolas, who chooses to stay in his little cabin in the woods, reunited with his recently killed lover, Julien.
- In the novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World the protagonist almost escapes from his Epiphanic Prison, but turns back at the last minute, choosing to stay in the town, committing mental suicide.
- Lucien Mulholland of Mary Hoffman's City of Masks chooses the reality in his head to the one where he's dying from cancer.
- In The Pendragon Adventure, this is the reason that Saint Dane wins his first territory. The people of Veelox refuse to abandon the virtual reality world Lifelight, which gives users a chance to simulate living a perfect life. Eventually, so many people give up their real lives that society collapses and millions die when workers stop maintaining the Lifelight pyramids.
- In a Witch World short story by Andre Norton, the protagonist, severely disfigured and disabled by a magical accident, chooses to live in a permanent dream and forget his harsh reality.
- In the second Deltora Quest series, some of the Auron refugees created an illusory copy of their idyllic, sophisticated homeland on the underground island they fled to. To preserve the (emotional aspect of) this illusion, they forced all dissenters off the island and magically sealed its borders. A millennium or so later, only one person still lives on Auron- he killed everyone else to keep the illusion 'pure', as they couldn't deny reality or their traumatic memories of it. The exiles, in comparison, adapted to the ocean's "strange, wild beauty" and thrived.
- In Arthur C. Clarke's novella "The Lion of Comarre", the protagonist discovers an automated city of people living in virtual reality. When he tries to "liberate" two of the inhabitants, one is utterly confused by the return to reality and another understands what happened and tells him to go away and let him resume the fantasy. He leaves them to their dreams.
- In The Silver Chair, when faced with the Lady of the Green Kirtle's claim that Aslan and Narnia are simply things they dreamed up, Puddleglum answers that if that's true he prefers them to reality.
- Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers ends with Lister, having discovered they're in Better Than Life, made an attempt to do something about it, and returned to his life in Bedford Falls, reflecting that he couldn't leave his family on Christmas Eve. "But in Bedford Falls, it was always Christmas Eve". The sequel, describing Rimmer's more extreme fantasy world, notes that he's now well aware it's not real "and quite frankly, he couldn't give two hoots".
- In Star Trek: The Original Series, this is the ending of both the original unbroadcast pilot "The Cage", and the two-part episode of the main series it was re-edited and expanded into, "The Menagerie". In "The Cage", Captain Pike's love-interest Vina turns out to have been left severely disfigured and disabled by a spaceship crash and the well-intentioned but ignorant medical treatment she was given by a species of aliens with no prior experience of humans. She prefers to stay in the virtual reality created by the aliens where she is beautiful and able-bodied. In the ending of "The Menagerie", Pike, who has been left almost completely paralyzed by an accident since the past events, decides to join her for the same reason.
- Subverted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "Homeward." A group of relatively primitive people are tricked into thinking that they are still on their home planet—simply traveling to a new region—when in fact they are inside a holodeck, and are the only survivors of a cataclysm that destroyed their world, in transit to a new one. When one discovers the truth, he's offered a chance to remain on board the Enterprise. Instead, he commits suicide.
- The episode "Symbiosis" has a variant with additional moral implications. The peoples of the neighboring planets Ornara and Brekka are in a symbiotic relationship with each other: Ornara is suffering from a deadly plague, and Brekka grows the only plants that can be used to make medicine called Felicium to cure it. As a result, Brekka has all of the power, and Ornara is willing to do and pay anything to avoid the crippling pain and suffering that comes from not taking the medicine. A suspicious Dr. Crusher notices that Felicium's effects look a lot more like drug-induced euphoria than actual healing, and her tests confirm that the supposed plague hasn't existed in decades—the first batch of Felicium wiped it out, but the stuff is a powerful narcotic which hooked all of the Ornarans, leaving them desperate for more (the apparent continued symptoms of the plague are actually withdrawal from not taking continued dosages). The Brekkans eventually confess that they know the truth, but can't give up the sale of Felicium without destroying their economy. Crusher wants to reveal the whole story to the Ornarans and synthesize a new medicine that will ease the withdrawal pains, but Picard reminds her that the Prime Directive won't allow them to interfere with interplanetary trade. In the end, Jean-Luc finds another option by exploiting the Directive for himself—he explains that while they can't stop the Brekkans from selling the Felicium, they can refuse to give the Ornarans the parts they need to repair the freighters that transport the drugs as part of the same non-interference clause. Crusher remarks that both groups would have likely much preferred to stay in their illusory relationship with each other, and Picard adds that hopefully, once the withdrawal passes, both groups will be able to begin a new, healthier relationship.
- In Ally McBeal, one of the clients at Ally's firm is a sad, lonely, but very wealthy spinster. She has sequential dreams of a life where she met a man, got married, and raised a happy family. She is petitioning the court to put her in a chemically induced coma so she can sleep forever and live the life where she's actually happy.
- In the Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams episode "Real Life", we are presented with alternating versions of reality: a slightly more advanced 21st century and a stereotypical "flying cars and holograms" distant future. George (living in the former) and Sarah (living in the latter) are suffering from a trauma and are using experimental VR tech to dream about each other's lives. Eventually, both start thinking that their VR simulation is the real world, and they're just sleeping. Sarah turns out to be the real person, but she opts to stay as George due to her Survivor Guilt subconsciously forcing her to desire punishment.
- In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "The Refuge", Raymond Dalton, a journalist with wanderlust, falls in love with a kind, lovely nurse named Gina Beaumont in what turns out to be a virtual reality environment which he experienced while cryonically frozen. He is revived once a cure for his brain tumor is found. One of the other people in the environment, Sanford Vallé, has the ability to alter the others' personalities at will. As such, Raymond is relieved to discover that the "real" Gina has the same personality as the first version of her that he met, the only difference being that she is a doctor in the real world as opposed to a nurse. Gina cannot be taken out of stasis as she is suffering from the Osaka virus (which she caught as a result of her work as a doctor) so Raymond elects to re-enter stasis to be with her. He helps Gina and the others defeat Vallé, who dies in the real world as a result. Gina attempts to convince Raymond that he is missing out on his life by staying in the virtual reality environment with her. He replies, "Out there is the dream. In here with you is the reality."
- The 4400: In "Gone, Part II", after Maia is kidnapped and transported back in time to 1832, Alana creates a fantasy world for Diana so that she can come to terms with her loss. However, Diana decides to remain in this illusion because she can't bear the idea of living the rest of her life without Maia. As a result, her health is severely affected. She develops an intercranial hemorrhage and there is a significant rise in her metabolic rate. Her life expectancy is about two months. When Tom and Alana enter her mind and explain the situation to her, Diana still refuses to leave as, given that time passes differently in these fantasy worlds, she and Maia will still have a lifetime together.
- The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Dreams for Sale", Jenny decides to remain in the "Country Picnic" program created by the Dreamatron in which she is happily married to Paul and has two daughters instead of returning to her real life as a worker in a sterile future world. She tells Paul that she wants to stay with him forever. The Dreamatron burns out and she dies with a smile on her face, though her mind seemingly survives in the machine.
- WandaVision: Pietro Maximoff, or at least a version of him, tells Wanda she acted the most ethically she could in creating the sitcom version of Westview and approves of its existence. Since he's dead in reality and being mind controlled by Agatha Harkness, it's difficult to know how much he really approves of the situation.
- In Shadowrun, SimSense (or just Sims) are virtual reality devices which allow the viewer to experience all of the 5 senses (actors appearing in Sims tend to be very good at controlling their emotions). This has lead to this trope on a massive scale, with Sim addiction being more common than chemical addictions. Made even worse by "Better Than Life" (or BTL) chips, which have the limiters illegally removed, making them even more vivid and "real" than the original recordings.
- A truly heartbreaking example occurs in A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche DuBois has constructed an elaborate fantasy world for herself, in which she's a young, pretty, wealthy Southern belle. It's all to deny the harsh realities of her life—her first husband killed himself after Blanche saw him having an affair with another man and unthinkingly revealed she knew the secret in the middle of a crowded dance hall, terrifying him when they were both extremely young, and as a result, she spends all of her days at home having sex with every young man who comes her way in a desperate bid to replace him. She flees to her sister Stella's home after losing the family estate and being driven out of town as a social pariah...only to encounter Stanley Kowalski, Stella's husband and a crude, simple man. Much of the show's conflict centers on Blanche's increasingly-panicked attempts to maintain her fantasy and Stanley, who represents the "real world," attacking her illusions. After Stanley rapes her, Blanche completely loses her mind and permanently retreats into her fantasy world, and Stella is forced to institutionalize her.
- In the ending to Drawn to Life 2, the villain, Wilfre, had discovered that the whole world was All Just a Dream created by a boy in a coma. Rather than allowing the boy to wake up, thus ending the world as they knew it, he conspired to keep him in his coma so as to continue their existence. He also briefly convinced Mari to help him, but she later decided it'd be more noble to sacrifice their entire world so one boy could wake up back in his.
- In the second Neverwinter Nights expansion, at one point the illithid Elder Brain may force you into a Lotus-Eater Machine illusion. You can break out, or you can choose to stay for a Non Standard Game Over of your body tolling away as a mindless slave.
- Within The Matrix Online, there's a group of people called "Cypherites" who argue that Cypher was right and that Neo and the people of Zion had no right to decide for the rest of humanity. After all, who would want to live in a dead, post-apocalyptic world that humans themselves were largely responsible for?
- Eternal Sonata is set in the Dying Dream of Frédéric Chopin — or, perhaps, a Dream Land that he's lucky enough to enter. Whether or not it's real, in the Bittersweet Ending, he comes to believe in it and chooses to stay while his physical body dies; otherwise, he wakes up... on his deathbed, with tuberculosis.
- In the manga version of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Link is horrified to learn that Kokolint Island is an illusion and tries his best to find a way to leave the island while avoiding waking up the Wind Fish for a while to avoid a Dream Apocalypse. He has to be convinced by the Owl that it's worth waking the Wind Fish up, even if the island dies.
- This is a big part of Lunarosse. Corlia knew from the start that Lunarosse was her own creation and not her home, but wanted to stay because of how much fun it was. Channing briefly grapples with this at one point in the game when she sticks him in a quickly-made trap of her own, but he breaks out with some help. However, one ending has the entire party willingly agree to this in a Dream Within a Dream scenario.
- Early in 1/0 Ribby leaves their world for his dream bubble. Near the end, when the comic universe is being unraveled, he is pulled out and describes the dream world as "the most horrible thing ever".
It's... at first, you think it's real. But everything... everything is in your mind.It's literally impossible to surprise yourself. If you don't like something, it fades away.
- In the Alter horror short "The Dollmaker", this is the reason the dollmaker warns against spending more than one hour a day with his dolls which can project an illusion of a deceased person. Spend too much time with the doll, and you'll forget that it's not actually the real person and find yourself living a lie. In the end, when the husband remembers that he had commissioned a doll to replace his deceased wife he takes the doll back into the house to restore the illusion.
- In a What If? episode of The Simpsons Homer is shown what his life would have been like had he won Student Council President in high school. He's shown this in a pot of magic spaghetti sauce. At one point he shouts "I want to live in the sauce!" and jumps in. He is conked by the chef who prepared the alternate-universe-showing sauce, who says "If you could live in the sauce, don't you think I'd live in the sauce?"
- The finale for Gravity Falls shows the only reason Mabel hasn't freed herself from Bill's bubble prison by the time Dipper, Wendy, and Soos break in to rescue her is because she's aware of the nature of the bubble and has decided she'd rather stay. Leaving the bubble would result in facing the next year without Dipper, she believed he intended to stay in Gravity Falls when she returned home for school. The bubble lets her live in a world filled with glitter and rainbows, populated with talking stuffed animals and a cooler, more supportive version of Dipper (a.k.a. Dippy-Fresh). It takes a lot of convincing on Dipper's part to get her to leave the bubble, which she eventually does.
- In the Adventure Time "Islands" mini-series, Finn and Jake discover an island whose inhabitants have spent their whole lives hooked up to virtual reality devices. When Jake "frees" them by disconnecting the mainframe, the people find themselves unable to cope in the real world. Seeing this, Finn decides that they're better off living in their virtual realities.
- At the end of the first color Looney Tunes film "The Hep Cat," the title feline snogs the girl cat puppet the dog used earlier. A random bird flies in:
Bird: Gee whillikers, mister, that's not a real girl.
Cat: (imitating Jerry Colonna) Well, I can dream, can't I?
- In the Futurama episode "Game of Tones," Farnsworth places Fry in a dream state that allows him to relive his last day in the 21st century so that he can gather some forgotten information. Although Fry never loses his awareness that it's just a dream, he gets sidetracked from the mission by the chance to spend even an imaginary last evening with his family, whom he Never Got to Say Goodbye to.