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Schrödinger's Player Character

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A game where multiple protagonists are available to choose from, with distinct back-stories and personalities as well as goals, but only the one the player selects is acknowledged as existing by the overall story. Much like Schrödinger's Cat, the protagonists both exist and do not exist until the player selects one of them.

For example, the game offers three characters to play as: Alice the Fighter, Bob the Mage, and Charles the Thief! Each character comes with a complete biography in the manual and the character selection screen. On top of explaining their stats, the game also gives each character their unique motivations answering The Call. Alice wants to save her son. Bob wants To Be a Master, and Charles seeks to avenge his Doomed Hometown.

So you decide to pick Bob. And as you play the game, you begin wondering... What happened to Alice and Charles? You keep playing the game, reaching 100% Completion, and you never see either. Looks like Alice, Bob and Charles are Schrödinger's Player Characters. In more generalized explanation: You are given a choice of characters, and once chosen, the game seems to go based on the assumption the selected character is the only one who exists. This trope is VERY common in games that give you a choice of pre-generated Player Characters, so much that it may come as a surprise when it is averted and the PCs you did not choose turn up as Non Player Characters. This can also be confusing when each character is given a different backstory. Did those events even occur?

The question is then: do the other characters exist? If not, then why not? If so, then are they the Heroes Of Another Story? If so how do their stories mesh with the one of the character we selected? Especially since they'd otherwise go through the same events, same levels, same bosses. etc.

If the other characters not only exist, but are also in the story in a different role, then it's a case of Static Role, Exchangeable Character, not SPC.

Often accompanied by Story Overwrite: if the selectable characters are stated to normally work as a team, chances are that cutscenes or the canon of later games in the series will depict them all working together, even if only the chosen character is ever present in gameplay.

Named, of course, after Schrödinger's Cat.


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    Action Game 
  • In Zombies Ate My Neighbors if you are on your own, and you pick, say, Zeke, Julie will be no where to be found.
  • The Player 2 character in the Data East arcade game The Cliffhanger: Edward Randy is a palette swap of the titular hero who wears a black jacket instead of the usual blue. The developers admitted that they didn't came up with a unique identity or backstory for Player 2 since he was only thrown in for the mandatory co-op mode (since games that allowed for multiple players were considered to be more profitable in the arcades than purely solo games).

    Adventure Game 
  • In Maniac Mansion, you have the task of breaking into a mansion and saving Dave's girlfriend, Sandy. At the beginning of the game, you pick two teenagers out of six to assist Dave. The manual indicates that he only called two friends, either due to time constraints, or because he felt a smaller team would go unnoticed. The sequel, Day of the Tentacle engages in some subtle branch trimming. Bernard is explicitly mentioned by the Edisons as having been in their house before, and Green Tentacle starting his band along with Weird Ed going to therapy for the hamster incident suggests Razor or Syd was a companion as well.

    Beat 'em Up 
  • Final Fight only allows up to two players simultaneously, meaning that at least one of the three main characters will always be left out of the action. This is particularly egregious in the SNES version, which was single-player only and came in two versions: one that that featured Cody and a second version which replaced him with Guy (providing the explanation that Cody is still training under Guy's sensei in Japan and couldn't return to Metro City on time). The opening intro in Final Fight 2 for the SNES establishes that all three of them fought the Mad Gear gang together, despite the fact that neither version of the first SNES game had the full roster.
  • Streets of Rage 3 offers a choice between four player characters. The cutscenes shows all four heroes working together, while the game itself only supports two players at most.
  • In The Simpsons arcade game, the whole family is shown in cut-scenes trying to rescue Maggie, but how many of them are in the actual game depends on how many people are playing. The game was released in a standard 2-player version and a deluxe 4-player version. This also applies to other Konami arcade games from the same period that were released with 4-player versions such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sunset Riders, which had the characters assigned by control panels.
  • In the Capcom beat'em up takes of Dungeons & Dragons, all of the playable characters are shown in important cutscenes (such as the Wizard doing research, or the Thief stealing a key). It's pretty jarring considering that only the two characters who are in play when the final boss is slain are shown in the epilogue.
    • The arcade version of the first game had the option for four players and no doubles, so that if a full team of four was playing, the whole party would be shown at all times. The second game still had four players as an option, but upped the party size to 6 available characters (adding the Magic User and the Thief) and allowed doubles (so you could have two Fighters, for example).
  • Double Dragon:
    • In the NES version of Double Dragon II, every cutscene in the game only shows Billy, regardless of how many players are actually playing. The only exception is the cutscene before the final battle, which shows Billy or Jimmy (or both) facing off against the last boss.
    • The arcade version of Double Dragon 3 features a third Lee brother named Sonny who never shows up in the opening and ending sequences and seems to exist only to provide the third player a character to control. Similarly, the other playable characters are grouped as teams of siblings (the Urquidez, Chin and Oyama brothers), but the ending only shows Billy and Jimmy plus a lead member of each of the other groups.
    • The NES version of Double Dragon 3 changes the opening intro depending on whether one or two players are playing. Hilariously, the opening intro of the 2-Player mode misspells Billy's name as "Bimmy" in the opening, despite the fact that the 1-Player mode uses the correct spelling. However, the ending plays this straight by showing all four characters (although in the Famicom version, only the characters who survived are shown).
  • The Polish Amiga Beat 'em Up Franko: The Crazy Revenge manages to be quite bizarre about this. That game is supposed to be about the titular Franko tearing drug gangs a new one to avenge his fallen buddy Alex. Except that not only does the game's title screen feature both two guys kicking ass together, the supposedly dead Alex is one of the playable characters. This could arguably be a hold-over from idea of the game having a 2-player mode before getting scrapped by the programmer who "had enough constantly rewriting the code".

    Fighting Game 
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl has this for the adventure mode. It is assumed that your current party is fighting all the enemies in the story but depending on the character limits placed as you progress, you will never see the other characters jumping in to help. The same can be assumed for the adventure mode of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • Borderlands:
    • At the beginning of the game, the four possible player characters (Mordecai the Hunter, Roland the Soldier, Lilith the Siren, and Brick the Berserker) are all riding into town together on a bus. Once you choose which of the four you are playing, you won't see the other three until the finale (unless you are playing multiplayer), but they are all present as comrade NPCs in the sequel.
    • In the sequel, it's assumed the other characters you didn't pick to play died in the train bombing at the beginning of the game; however, the in fourth DLC, Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep, all six of the new Vault Hunters are present and accounted for (with Maya turning up in a cut scene, Salavador being heard from during gameplay, and all six joining the surviving original Vault Hunters at Roland's memorial).
    • Averted in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!. While the game starts off with the characters in a rocket that crash-lands on Helios, the fact that the game is an Interquel and that the Vault Hunters would go on to be either bosses or NPCs in Borderlands 2 (one of which is even the narrator of the story) means that all characters are canon.
  • Hexen:
    • You pick as a class Warrior/Cleric/Mage and never see the other classes again, barring multiplayer.
    • Hexen II has four classes (Paladin, Assassin, Necromancer, and Crusader). In the expansion pack Portals of Praevus, it explains all four classes defeated Eidolon together.
  • Rise of the Triad offers another interesting variation on Doom's rejected player choice concept (unsurprisingly, as Tom Hall worked on ROTT). At the beginning, the player could choose one of the five members of the H.U.N.T. to control for the entire game. This would determine the player model, voice, and relevant stats like speed of movement and how much damage the player could take. Oddly enough, the cutscenes depicted the team as operating together through the game, but only the chosen character was visible in game, suggesting that they split up and regrouped during the levels' loading screens.
  • Similar to the Streets of Rage 3 example, Turok 3 makes you choose between two characters at the beginning, and show them working together in the cutscenes even though you're always alone in the actual game.
  • Far Cry:
    • Zig-zagged in Far Cry 2: some (but not all) of the other available player characters show up in the game as mercenaries that you can befriend.
    • Far Cry 3's co-op mode plays it straight, however - there are four possible characters, and while all four are only actually present in gameplay if there are four players, cutscenes and the like assume all four are all along for the ride.
  • Similar to Borderlands, Dead Island seems to assume that canonically all four characters are working together even if only one is chosen. All the characters are shown together in cutscenes and in Dead Island: Riptide they show up as quest-giving NPCs.
  • The only concrete timeline hints for PAYDAY: The Heist and PAYDAY 2 are that the original gang coming together in 2011 and that Hoxton got busted in 2012; other references to time assume that the heists take place when they were released (e.g. "Art Gallery" came out a year after the map was used for the first day of "Framing Frame", and Bain will mention having hit it a year ago for The Elephant). There's no timeline-based restrictions about who plays as what heister, only than that two players cannot be the same character - running through the port of the original's First World Bank with a team made up of people who weren't around for that is fair game, as is rescuing Hoxton from custody and then infiltrating the FBI headquarters with him while your regular team includes a second Hoxton.
  • In the co-op for Shadow Warrior 2, every player sees themselves as Lo Wang and every other player as a nameless mercenary.
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order forces players into a Sadistic Choice near the end of the first level: whether to sacrifice B.J.'s friend Fergus Reid, or young Probst Wyatt. Whoever you choose to sacrifice (and subsequently, who you choose to save) has an impact on how the rest of the game plays out: whoever you save will determine who joins the Resistance later in the game (Fergus is accompanied by neurotic mathemetician Tekla, and Wyatt is accompanied by aspiring rock star J). Furthermore, saving Wyatt implements a Lockpicking Minigame, while saving Fergus implements a hot-wiring minigame insteadnote .
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus allows players to re-choose who gets sacrificed, and this choice will also determine which heavy weapon is a permanent part of your inventory (Saving Wyatt gives you the Dieselkraft flame cannon, while Fergus gives you the Laserkraft laser cannon). Whichever weapon you don't get will become temporary pickups during missions.
  • In Forgive Me Father, you choose between either two player characters: The Priest or the Journalist. The one you choose will be the cousin that is contacted while the other is completely unmentioned.

    Hack and Slash 
  • The title screen of Gauntlet shows four heroes - the Warrior, Valkyrie, Elf and Wizard - charging monsters. You select one. This is the only hero that enters the dungeon. The only way to have all the heroes in play is if four players join up. Legends, Dark Legacy and Seven Sorrows have even more heroes and fewer possible players.
  • The Konami arcade game Devil World changes the ending depending on whether the player completes as Condor, Labryna or both. The game's U.S. release, Dark Adventure, adds a third player character named Zorlock, but only has one ending which shows all three characters (regardless of the number of people playing).

    Mecha Game 
  • When selectable heroes are involved in the plot, Super Robot Wars tends to subvert, invert, avert, and do the tango with this trope depending on the game in question.
    • Advance averted this; Axel Almer and Lamia Loveless both exist at the same time, and they both belong to the villains. Whoever you select ends up joining the heroes (Axel loses his memories, and Lamia is The Mole who ends up Becoming the Mask), while the other remains a villain and becomes your rival.
    • The Alpha series played with this one a lot. The Alpha 1 heroes seem to play this straight, but every duo aside from Kusuha and Brooklyn apparently got retconned out of existence when Alpha 2 came around and made Kusuha's route the canonical one. The Alpha 2 heroes also mostly play this straight in regards to each other; Arado/Seolla, Ibis/Sleigh, and Kusuha/Brooklyn don't show up in routes that aren't theirs. Sanger, on the other hand, averts this; Alpha Gaiden established his existence in all of the routes by virtue of taking place in a Bad Future. In his own Alpha 2 route, he gets woken up by an explosion and becomes the main character, but in the other Alpha 2 routes, said explosion doesn't occur and he keeps right on sleeping until the Earth Cradle unseals itself in Alpha 3, where he appears in one form or another in every route.
      • That said, the game does play it somewhat straight, in that each route seems to come from one of the routes in the previous game, with that route's protagonist also appearing. Touma's route, for example, actually follows Sanger's with said attack on the Earth Cradle having occurred. As such, Sanger appears much earlier in Touma's route than he does in the others'.
      • Alpha does this another way: In Alpha 1, the player could assign one of four pre-set personalities ("Hot-Blooded with a strong sense of justice", "Logical but with an affinity for the opposite sex", "A little weird", or "Cool and nihilistic") to their character and their Love Interest, which influences their stats. When Alpha 2 canonized Kusuha and Bullet, it also established that they're Weird and Hot-Blooded respectively. The six unused Alpha characters eventually popped up in Original Generation, filling in the unused combinations of personality and gender (for example, Rio Mei Long is the Hot-Blooded female while Tasuku Shinguji is the Weird male).
    • Much like Advance, Z has Rand Travis and Setsuko Ohara existing simultaneously and even trading shots with each other a few times.
    • Super Robot Wars Reversal averts this by having your two choices of protagonist actually being the same person, just born as a boy or girl. Super Robot Wars: Original Generation, turned them into Half-Identical Twins, but had the brother Raul spend a good portion of his plot looking for his sister Fiona after she disappeared in a Time Travel accident. Super Robot Wars GC pulled the same trick, with OG once again turning "Akimi Akatsuki" into the twins Akimi and Akemi.
  • Robot Alchemic Drive plays it straight. You're given the choice of three playable characters, and the game manual refers to them as if they're siblings. But whichever you choose, the other two will never show up, or even be mentioned.

  • In Guild Wars 2, it is implied that no matter which race, backstory, and later, order you choose, all the other events still happen, except with someone else taking care of them instead of you; in fact, you later encounter some NPCs from those branches. Obviously, this does not apply to mutually exclusive approaches to solving the same problem that you choose from during your personal story.
  • Final Fantasy XIV has a few different cases of this in various forms:
    • You fight several bosses in the main quests that require the aid of other players. However, the cut scenes never show the other players except for yourself and the characters never address them. Towards the final dungeon, you're told to find other adventurers to help you take down the Big Bad and the other players are actually seen in the cut scenes. However, the other players are still not addressed by the other characters and when you beat the Final Boss, the other players are mysteriously gone.
    • Quests added in patches and expansions are more likely to avert and/or lampshade this. In Stormblood, for example, one NPC will state prior to a boss fight (requiring eight players to queue for) that the PC "does have an awful lot of adventurer friends. Maybe some of them decided to take a fishing trip to the Far East, and are surprisingly close by...?"
    • By the Shadowbringers expansion, players can uses Trusts in dungeons, which are characters from the main story under AI control. In cases where Trusts logically wouldn't be able to accompany the player due to certain circumstances, the player summons Warriors of Light (other players) from other worlds via Azem's crystal to aid them in the fight. Through this method, the devs can handwave how the player gets assistance in places where they logically wouldn't be able to get help.
  • World of Warcraft has had shades of this, but it's most blatant in the Warlords of Draenor expansion, where all NPCs explicitly consider your character to be commanding the entire Alliance/Horde, with the other players helping out on the side. Some dungeons have cut-scenes with the in-game engine. These always show your character leading and directing the rest of your party, even if you're the healer standing in the rear during actual game play.
    • Implied to be the case within the Dun Morogh Starting Zones for both the Dwarves and Gnomes: with the Gnomes' Starting Zone Experience leading to Gnome Player Characters using a powerful bomb in an underground cave to blow up a hole to keep Troggs from getting inside, meanwhile over with the Dwarves; that same explosion causes the tunnel leading out of the valley that their Starting Zone is located in to collapse and forcing the Dwarf Player Characters to take a Gyrocopter out.

    Platform Game 
  • In Mega Man ZX, your plot only includes either Vent or Aile.
    • Advent continues this; if you play as Grey, you meet Aile and she saved the world in the previous game, and if you play as Ashe, you meet Vent and he saved the world, but you never meet the other two characters. However, in Ashe's game it's hinted at one point that Grey still went through his intro stage, and when in Grey's game you can see the remains of Ashe's intro boss in the background of the Oil Fields implying she went through her intro stage too, and a picture of both Vent and Aile is seen at one point in both stories, but otherwise the other characters never appear.
      • However, this takes a darker turn if you realize that the other player character than the one you are playing as in ZX Advent most likely died after beating their intro bosses; Grey falling to his death after the bridge he was on was destroyed in Ashe's game, and Ashe being killed by Prometheus in Grey's game.
  • The Mega Man X series had this for a while. From the numbered mainstream games:
    • X4 is the closest the series gets to playing the trope straight. You can play as X or Zero, but each have their respective sides to the same story, meaning you have to play the whole game with the character you choose. Aside from one battle, both characters fight the same Mavericks. Zero calling X's escape pod in X's ending is the only time they interactnote .
    • X5 and X6 have this to a lesser extent (individual missions as opposed to the entire game).
    • X7 and X8 avert it by letting you switch characters on the fly.
  • As for the classic series...
    • In Mega Man Powered Up, if you choose anyone other than Mega Man or Mega, he will not show up at all outside of the ending (the Mega Man you face when playing as the Robot Masters is an Evil Twin). And Proto Man, of course, doesn't show up at all if playing as anyone other than him.
    • Mega Man & Bass plays this trope straight. This puts an interesting spin on King's fate. In Mega Man's ending, he returns home to find a letter telling him that King survived and is now fighting for justice. In Bass's ending, although we learn exactly why Wily built King, no mention of what happened to him was made, and the player assumes King perished after all.
    • In Mega Man 10, if you play as Mega Man, the only time you see Proto Man is during the cutscene you get after defeating four Robot Masters. When controlling Proto Man, Mega Man appears during said cutscene, then after defeating all eight Robot Masters, Wily announces to the world that Mega Man is sick with Roboenza. But after clearing the first Wily stage, we see a perfectly healthy Mega Man running alongside Proto Man, and even stops to help the latter out when he himself falls sick. Mega Man stops appearing after that. If playing as Bass, neither Mega Man or Proto Man appear, and the only mention of Mega Man is during Wily's announcement to the world (again saying he fell sick).
  • Castlevania:
    • In Castlevania: Bloodlines, you have a choice to play as John Morris, the archetypal Belmont, or Eric Lecarde, his polearm-wielding best friend. Once you choose your character, you never hear from the other again, not even in the ending.
    • Same goes for Castlevania 64 and its Updated Re-release Legacy of Darkness, which posit three people — Reinhardt Schneider, Carrie Fernandez, and Henry Oldrey — that traveled to Dracula's castle in the same year.
    • A version of this occurs in the alternate modes of the post-Symphony of the Night games: After you beat the main game, you can choose to play it again as one of the side characters (usually by entering that side character's name for your save file). However, except in two instances (the Dawn of Sorrow "Julius Mode", where Julius, Yoko, and Alucard go into the castle to kill Dracula-Soma and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin where the Sisters try to investigate the castle before they go Brainwashed and Crazy), the normal main character and any of the other side characters will be nowhere to be seen (and, indeed, the story elements of the main game will be stripped out completely).
  • Some of the Super Mario games are like this. The manual will usually say that Mario and Luigi are working together to save the princess, but this is never the case if you are playing in single player mode. Same with Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D World, where the story implies Mario, Luigi, Toad, and the Princess are working together to save the worlds of Subcon and Sprixie Kingdom respectively, yet you can only play one character at a time per level (unless you're playing with friends in the latter game's case).
  • In Kirby's Return to Dream Land and its Deluxe remake, Kirby is always depicted with Bandana Waddle Dee, Meta Knight, and King Dedede at his side in the story scenes, even when he's traveling alone, accompanied by Yellow, Green, and Blue Kirbys, or teamed with a mixture of the palette-swapped Kirbys and the former three characters during actual gameplay.
  • In The Cave you pick three characters from a group of seven and the other four are never brought up again.
  • Subverted in the Konami arcade game Mystic Warriors. There are five characters to choose from, but only up to four players are allowed at a time. The odd character out ends up becoming a kidnapping victim whom the rest of the team must rescue from the bad guys. Otherwise, a random character will be chosen as the sacrifice instead if there's less than four players.
  • In Sonic Mania Plus's Encore Mode, the player as Sonic frees Mighty and Ray from a capsule, and the game has them choose one or the other. The one of the pair the player didn't choose turns out to be the Heavy Magician in disguise. The capsule is literally named "Schrodinger's Capsule" in the game's files. Averted in general, however, as the player will eventually be able to play as the unchosen character and even switch between them.
  • At the start of Balan Wonderworld the player can pick between Leo Craig and Emma Cole. While they have their own prologue cutscenes, once they enter the theater their roles become identical. Unless you're using the co-op mode, the other playable character doesn't appear again until the ending.

    Psychological Horror 
  • In Layers of Fear 2, the final reveal of which one of the Burns siblings you've been playing as throughout the game will change depending on your actions in each key scene. If you mostly obeyed the Director you'll get James; if you mostly disobeyed the Director you'll get Lily. You can also Take a Third Option and balance obedience and disobedience equally... but this nets you the bad ending, with the Rat Queen ordering your (still unidentified) protagonist to go back and try again.

    Role-Playing Game 
  • Dark Souls:
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins: Averted. The game establishes that all other player origins actually happened (presumably including the potential player characters) but without Duncan in the right place at the right time, it's almost certain that most, if not all, ended up dead. Entirely certain, for some origins. Players familiar with alternate origins who are willing to poke around a bit can generally find a nod to the other origins somewhere — usually where a character of that origin would get extra dialogue. Such moments include:
      • If you're not a Dwarven Commoner, you'll run into the Commoner's friend in a gang jail cell, with a rotted skeleton in the next cell over. Sorry, alterna-me. Additionally, the circumstances for the Dwarven Noble origin form the basis of the Dwarven Commoner Origin plot, and the Dwarven Nobles (whose plot takes place one week later) can learn most of the Dwarven Commoner origin story by talking to the Proving Trainers.
      • Jowan escapes in the Magi origin and subsequently becomes partially responsible for the problems in Redcliffe. He could only do that with the PC's Help. Their fate after that is unknown, but even if they weren't sent to Aeonar or executed they would eventually be slain when the Circle was overrun. At the same time, this is the only origin that likely plays it straight. The mage can be either a human or an elf, with significantly different backgrounds to match, but the only change is flavor dialogue with Duncan and a minor NPC. If the player plays a human mage, there is no indication that the elven mage exists, and vice versa.
      • City Elf: A riot is invoked in the City Elf origin that leads the Denerim Alienage to be purged (and used as a slave-trading center) later. So the PC was executed for the attempted murder of Vaughan, or escaped the city, or was later sold as a slave.
      • Dwarf Noble PC: The succession crisis that occurs in the wake of the death of Endrin happens whether or not Duncan is present to rescue the exile. Bhelen kills or has Trian killed, and the second offspring of Endrin is convicted by the Assembly and exiled. The Dwarf Noble was probably killed in the Deep Roads by darkspawn, as making it to the outposts of the Legion of the Dead would have required incredible skill or luck. Endrin's "middle child" is mentioned in passing at least once.
      • The Dalish Elf PC died from contact with the tainted mirror, as explained in Witch Hunt, if the PC isn't the Dalish Elf themself.
      • There is no mention of the Human Noble specifically if you use any other origin, and it's the one time Duncan's presence wouldn't be required to see the character's survival. However, it is Duncan who convinces the Human Noble player character to escape rather than go down in a blaze of glory. Given this fact and an overheard conversation in Denerim that suggests the entire Cousland family was slain, the most likely fate of an NPC Human Noble seems to be dying alongside Eleanor Cousland.
    • Dragon Age: Inquisition is implied to avert this in much the same way Origins does. The description of the Inquisitor's background at character creation gives every race a completely different background and reason for being at the Conclave; the human mage was there as part of the Mage delegation, the non-mage human was there as part of the Chantry delegation, the elf and the dwarf were there to spy on proceedings, and the Qunari was hired as security. With the precedent set by Origins, it's implied that all four were there, and the player just chooses which one survived the Breach. The real variable that the player determines, revealed later in the game, is which one of the four overheard Justinia being attacked by Corypheus and his agents.
  • Mass Effect:
    • In the main trilogy, the player is given several choices of background for Shepard, each of which has them play specific and notable roles in certain historical events; only the one chosen by the player, however, is acknowledged as existing in the game. Was there a sole survivor of Akuze if Shepard is a hero of the Skyllian Blitz? The answer is "no". The other events simply did not happen. The game does however indicate that various backstory events happened regardless of where you were. For instance, while going through the Spacer background quest, your mother will refer to the attack on Mindoir ("You were in high school") which is the basis for the Colonist background. There's a subquest where you run into a survivor of Akuze who was held prisoner by Cerberus scientists — if you play a "Survivor" yourself, he'll say some clever lines about how "The holovids say you're the sole survivor of Akuze. Who am I to argue?" before committing suicide. If you're using one of the other origins, someone will comment that there were supposedly no survivors of the disaster on Akuze.
      • In fact, the Skyllian Blitz is a heroic battle in which War Hero Shepard fought. In response, there was the Battle of Torfan, where Ruthless Shepard made their name by continuing the fight until three quarters of their unit was killed, and butchered the surrendering slavers. The background events all happened from the attack on Mindoir to the Thresher Maw on Akuze.
      • Interestingly, dialogue with Joker in the third game indicates that Shepard fought in the Skyllian Blitz regardless of background. It's just that if you didn't choose the War Hero background, Shepard didn't perform a legendary holding action, and was presumably just one of the many soldiers in it.
      • A similar situation happens with the DLC; even if the player doesn't download and play the DLC missions, the events they depict still happen, just without Shepard's involvement. Other characters will refer to them and explain what happened if Shepard asks. They don't go as well if Shepard wasn't there, however. For instance, Liara's assault on the Shadow Broker's lair still happens, but she needs to hire "dozens of mercenaries" and one of her allies dies in the effort. If the Arrival DLC not played, it results in an entire Alliance marine battalion carrying out the destruction of the Alpha Relay and being wiped out in so doing.
    • Mass Effect: Andromeda: Averted, unlike in the original trilogy. The male and female versions of Pathfinder Ryder are a brother and sister pairnote . Whichever one the player does not choose remains in a coma due to a damaged cryo pod, putting them out of commission for the early parts of the game (and, by the time they wake up, the player character Ryder is the Pathfinder by virtue of being the one that was awake at the time a Pathfinder was needed).
  • Pokémon:
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura allows you to create your own character or pick from a group of pre-generated ones. When the game starts, the Zeppelin crash site is littered with the bodies of whichever pre-generated PCs you're not playing as.
  • Fallout:
    • The first two games offered pre-generated characters with mini-biographies. Whoever you did not choose never appeared. In the original, this could be taken to mean that whoever you pick wins the raffle and has to leave the Vault in search of the water chip, while any characters you didn't pick remain in the Vault and thus are never seen.
    • Fallout 2: Deconstructed in the Cafe of Broken Dreams special encounter, where you can meet all the other player characters who were pre-generated for Fallout, but not "chosen" by the player or even included into the final game.
  • Same thing for Torchlight. Unchosen PCs are never seen. However, in the sequel, all three are involved in the plot.
  • Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos: The player has a choice of four champions, each of whom has a little blurb about why he's the best choice and how the others will fail. It seems as though they are in competition. However, once the choice is made, the other three are never mentioned again. One wonders why, if the kingdom was in such great peril, they didn't just team-up. In the sequel, it is stated that the character Kieran has been "credited" with defeating Scotia, lending itself to the interpretation that the other three champions were also questing.
  • Played with in SaGa Frontier — You can run into (and recruit) the other playable characters, but their stats don't carry over when you play as them. Justified in that Word of God states that all seven quests are occurring simultaneously, meaning that each storyline crosses over with the others.
  • Played straight in both Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance games.
  • Persona:
    • A variation in the original Persona. There are five possible party members — Brown, Ayase, Yukino, Elly, and, if you jump through the right hoops, Reiji. You get to recruit one of them (possibly two if you take the Snow Queen path, if you replace Ayase with Nanjo, the latter of which is a prerequisite for the SEBEC story). The rest? Well, who knows what happens to them? It's worth noting that Persona 2 clarifies that everyone did everything together, more or less.
    • With the Updated Re-release of Persona 3, Persona 3 Portable, if you choose the male protagonist, the female never appears, and vice versa. This makes some sense, as the game was originally written with the male PC in mind; Portable even recommends picking the male MC for a first playthrough for this very reason. Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth included both the male and female protagonists from P3, but reveals that the female protagonist is from an alternate reality and heavily implies that the two characters are actually one in the same. The stage play does a variant where its versions of the protagonists are brother and sister, but one sibling's absence in the showing that features the other is explained by them dying in the same accident that orphaned the protagonist.
  • The Spirit Engine 2 allows you to choose a party of three characters from a total of nine, and only the three you pick ever show up in the main story.
    • The exact same thing is true for the first game, though in that game the chosen characters are physically chosen/abducted by a fairy. The others presumably continue their boring lives.
  • Averted in Star Ocean: The Second Story. You start the game given the choice between two player characters, Claude and Rena, and whichever character you don't choose ends up in your party from the outset of the game, still has a chunk of the plot dedicated to them, and can even become the main love interest of the character you did choose if you steer their relationship in that way; later games confirm that they are each other's canonical love interest.
    • And, played totally straight later on when recruiting certain extra characters. If you recruit Ashton, Opera and Ernest never appear or play any role in the story, and if you wait to recruit Opera, Ashton is never seen or heard from.
      • They aren't entirely absent, at least. Ernest still appears briefly regardless, as his PA can appear long before Ashton is even mentioned. Ashton is still mentioned if you go to Salva at the appropriate time (they'll mention the fighter who went down to challenge the dragon) but he'll be permanently missed if you don't actually go and watch him fight. It's implied that he succeeded, since no one was there to distract him, and once you come back to Salva the dragon is gone.
  • You can pick one or two of the six Pure of Heart characters in Darkstone to be your avatar(s). The other four apparently go off to have a beer together and laugh at you.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • In Dragon Quest IV, you choose either the male hero ("Solo") or the female hero ("Sofia"). Oddly enough, when later games reference IV (such as the Bonus Dungeon in the DS version of Dragon Quest VI), both of them show up.
    • Dragon Quest VI has another odd case regarding Schrodinger-esque characters in its Bonus Dungeon, this time referring to Dragon Quest V (again, the DS versions of both). In V, you choose between multiple women to marry and later have kids with, with the kids being the same no matter which wife you chose (except for hair color). The VI reference includes not only all three potential wives, but three nearly identical sets of kids!
  • Final Fantasy VII features two optional party members, Vincent and Yuffie. If the player skips recruiting them, they don't get brought up at all in the main game, though all future spinoff material averts this by making the two canon party members.
  • Jade Empire: You choose one of six pre-generated characters to play as, and whoever doesn't get picked is effectively a nonentity, never being brought up in-story.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: You begin the game with the choice of 14 playable characters (a male and female alternative for each of the seven playable vampire clans). Twelve of the thirteen you don't pick effectively don't exist in your play-through, while the opposite-gender member of your clan briefly appears in the intro as your character's sire before getting killed off.
  • The Ultima series plays oddly with the Warriors of Virtue, the eight recruitable companions appearing throughout the series. In Ultima IV, you have a party limit of eight, and have to pick one person representing each Virtue - but you yourself take up one slot, with a Virtue matching your class, and the companion belonging to the same class cannot be recruited. I.e. if you're a Bard, you can't recruit Iolo, and if you're a Druid, you can't recruit Jaana. But later games (in which you're canonically the same protagonist) imply that you befriended and recruited all eight, which would have required a party size of nine.

    Shoot 'em Up 
  • This trope is normally in effect for games in the Touhou Project series: the characters the player didn't select presumably still exist somewhere, they're just nowhere to be found in the story.
  • Time Crisis 3's alternate Rescue Mission mode, where you play as Alicia Winston (an NPC in the normal storyline), plays the trope straight in at least one instance: While most of the levels that she shares with the normal storyline's protagonists has her handle other threats than the ones they deal with, her part in the first boss battle inexplicably changes several important details:
    • The boss's plane is lacking any sign of its side weapons (not even flaming wreckage to imply that the other protagonists shot them out like they should have).
    • You have to destroy the engines (they never get touched in the original fight).
    • The boss himself acts differently from his normal storyline self at several points (he throws away his gatling gun considerably earlier than in the original fight, and at you [thus you have to quickly duck or lose a life] rather than to the side, for one).
  • While the rest of the Alien Breed series play this straight (especially The Horror Continues, which is the only entry in its series to actually feature four selectable characters), Tower Assault has a way around it: the game begins in a crash landing, and if the single player mode is chosen, whoever would be controlled by Player 2 wouldn't survive the crash.
  • While Metal Slug (which only allows up to two players) usually plays this straight by having a roster of four playable characters, there are two aversions: the first game (where only Marco and Tarma are playable) and a part near the end of the third game where the currently selected characters are abducted and their counterparts (Marco for Fio and Tarma for Eri, and vice versa) have to take over to rescue them.
  • While both "Jacket" and "Biker" exist in Hotline Miami no matter which one you play, eventually the two of them have a fight to the death before continuing on with the story, with the winner being whoever the player is controlling. The sequel reveals that the two managed to survive their encounter with one another and both of their stories are canon to an extent.

    Simulation Game 
  • A few examples exist in the Rune Factory series:
    • In Rune Factory 2, the second intro, which plays after having a child, imply that first-gen protagonist Kyle's children, Aaron and Aria, are siblings. However, Kyle only ever has one child, depending on whether you say you want a son or a daughter. A third option chooses one at random. The other child is never born.
    • Rune Factory 4 both plays this straight and contains an interesting subversion. Player characters Lest and Frey (and in the second opening, their children Noel and Luna) appear together in the opening video; however, only the chosen gender character appears. Later, when the player makes their way to the Forest of Beginnings, the protagonist not chosen appears. This heavily implies the two protagonists are ancestor and descendant. This trope is played entirely straight for your children, however.
  • The creatures you don't pick in Black & White and its sequel.

    Sports Game 

    Survival Horror 
  • Resident Evil:
    • The original Resident Evil contains a strange example. Both scenarios start the same way: Chris, Jill, Barry and Wesker are attacked in the woods, and run towards the mansion. In Chris' mission, Barry goes missing in the game (explicitly mentioned in the intro) and Chris later encounters Rebecca of Bravo Team, who escapes with him and Jill; Barry never resurfaces. In Jill's mission, Chris is the missing person, but he's found later in a cell; Rebecca doesn't show up at all in any capacity. Yet, the storyline for the sequels holds that all four of them survived the mansion incident with the help of pilot Brad Vickers. Later games averts this with more clear-cut Another Side, Another Story setups.
    • Resident Evil: Outbreak offers eight playable characters throughout a total of ten scenarios (between the original edition and the File #2 expansion) who are all more or less interchangeable, although using certain characters will trigger exclusive events depending on the scenario. Some scenarios, particularly where they relate to a character's backstory, will have that character show up as an NPC if they're not in the player party (either as a player or AIPC). Characters making such appearances invariably die, but their presence is usually a hint to come back while playing as them to find something hidden.
    • Resident Evil 6 has three main campaigns, each with its own protagonist (Chris Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy, Jake Mueller) and a sidekick character (Piers Nivans, Helena Harper, Sherry Birkin). The unlockable fourth campaign, starring Ada Wong, was originally designed strictly as a solo campaign, but co-op support was later added through an update patch. The second player in Ada's campaign controls a masked soldier known only as the Agent who plays no actual role in the game's story and only exists so that the second player could have someone to play as.
  • Michigan: Report From Hell puts an unusual spin on this: the name and personality of the cameraman you've been playing through the whole game actually changes depending on what actions you've taken.
  • World of Horror:
    • Regardless of which of the potential protagonists you opt to play as, your chosen character always lives in the same apartment complex, and is acquainted with their neighbor Kana. If playing as Kana, Yashiro becomes the NPC neighbor.
    • Certain potential player characters can only be unlocked after encountering them and performing certain actions, proving that they, at least, exist regardless of whether or not you choose them.

    Third-Person Shooter 
  • Mercenaries:
    • You can pick one mercenary out of three to play as in either game. The other two are never seen or heard from again after you select one in the first game; apparently ExOps thinks that they only need to send in a single One-Man Army to do the job.
    • In the sequel, the other two show up shortly before the player goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge for the Big Bad's You Have Outlived Your Usefulness moment, but all they do is mock the player in a cantina. Apparently, their colleague getting stabbed in the back (metaphorically) and shot in the ass (literally) isn't enough to spur them to action.
  • Alien Swarm has this trope even if there are 4 players in the game. There are 8 characters to play as but only 4 at a time can be played, leaving you to wonder what happened to the other 4 characters.

    Turn-Based Strategy 
  • Played with in Eternal Poison. Thage, Olifen, and Ashley never encounter each other within Bezek, with the latter two being the sole owner of the Librum Aurora in their stories. Rondemion appears in their stories, but when unlocked as a protagonist, has a completely unique story in which he is the wielder of the Librum Aurora. Then Duphaston merges all the timelines together and brings all the protagonists together as part of The Plan.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • In the second part of the fourth game, Genealogy of the Holy War, the player takes control of either the children of characters from the first part, or, if a character never got married, a set of expies that bear no blood relation to anyone from part one (aside from Linda and Amid, who are the niece and nephew of Tailto, born to her and Bloom's youngest sister Ethnia). While it's obvious why offspring don't appear if their potential parents never got hitched, it's unclear where the replacements are (or if they even existed at all) if they did actually marry. note 
    • In both Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates, when the Player Character gets married, he or she will have a child named Morgan (Awakening) or Kana (Fates). In both games, Male Avatar will have a daughter while a Female Avatar will have a son.note  DLC for both games avert this, in Awakening, the Future Past DLC implies that both Morgans are different individuals that exist at the same time, while for Fates, the Heirs of Fate DLC features both genders of Kana, albeit as alternate universe counterparts (which is also done by Fire Emblem Heroes).
    • A slightly downplayed example, as she doesn't have a huge impact on the plot, but Nyx from Fire Emblem Fates is the only Nohrian character to never make an appearance on the Birthright route of the game. In fact, she's the only character, period, who never shows up on the "opposite" path (this in spite of joining fairly early on in Conquest). This is probably because, due to her Dark and Troubled Past, she doesn't actually want to leave her life as a Fortune Teller unless she absolutely has to.

    Visual Novels 
  • Monster Prom and its sequel Monster Camp give you a choice of four protagonists (eventually increased to fifteen with all DLC in the second game, though the core four remain the defaults). The differences are mainly cosmetic and you can change the name, pronouns, and (with the first game's mod tool) even the appearance of your character. Those you don't pick are never mentioned during the course of the current run. However, it's clear from the ending CGs and supplementary material that at least the four original PCs exist together in-universe with the other characters, and indeed are all close friends with each other.
  • Seven Kingdoms: The Princess Problem lets you choose between 6 origins who are all one of 7 delegates from 7 kingdoms. Not all 49 delegates are named, so one would think there would be room for your unplayed origins in the background, right? Wrong; observing the Arland delegation while not playing as the Arland Princess has your Player Character note the Arland hasn't sent a princess this year.
    • Also notable is that if one takes a character from the Revaire Widow's subplot as canon outside of her route, there really isn't room for her in the Revaire delegation if you aren't playing her.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York opens with a choice of three protagonists: a female Ventrue named Amanda, an Asian-American Brujah named Eric, and a gay African-American Toreador named Lamar. Their default names can be changed, but their individual backstories give you access to a few unique quests for each character. The fact that each character is in some way marginalised — either due to sex, race, and/or sexual orientation — is important for drawing all the elements back together towards the end of the game, though ultimately who you picked makes no difference to the game's outcome. Just like in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (see above), the two you don't pick effectively don't exist in the chosen character's version of the game.
  • In the Magical Diary series, the games take place during the same time period, with the same NPCs and roughly similar event progression until the chosen protagonist's presence causes storylines to change. In the first game, the female protagonist is the roommate of Ellen and Virginia. In the second game (featuring a male protagonist) Ellen and Virginia do not have a third roommate, although one scene mentions their room looking like it was set up for a third person who never arrived. It's also clear that no such character as the male protagonist existed in the background of the first game, because his presence would have disrupted other events (especially involving William). Hanako Games has clarified that the two games take place in different universes.

Non-video game examples:

  • Gamebooks have this, too.
    • One of the Fighting Fantasy books "Legend of Zagor" does it. You pick one of four characters. Whichever you pick is the only one present in this adventure.
    • Also used in the reissues that let you pick a pre-generated character.
    • Also used in The Fabled Lands books, though its possible the others are adventuring.

Alternative Title(s): Schroedingers Player Character, Mutually Exclusive Player Character