Follow TV Tropes


Schrödinger's Question

Go To

If I ask you, "what color is the dragon in my garage?" and your reply becomes true no matter what color you give, you just answered Schrödinger's Question.

This is a role-playing trope where you determine reality by answering a question whose answer you don't know. It reverses causality: instead of your reply being based on the correct answer, the correct answer is based on your reply. It's a way of letting players in on building the universe and, as such, is a subtle form of Breaking the Fourth Wall.

A mild version of this trope appears when an RPG asks you to name a party recruit. You may never have met her before but once you give her name, even her family refers to her so. Note that there are occasions where naming a character doesn't fit this trope: nicknaming a freshly caught Pokémon has a good in-game explanation, but naming your rival does not.

Occasionally, as an example of The Computer Is a Lying Bastard, this will be inverted, where every answer you choose is wrong.

More egregious examples can be found below.

Related to Schrödinger's Gun, where the game or Game Master changes reality but the player is not complicit.

See also Schrödinger's Player Character, another trope where player choices affect a game's reality.

Named after Schrödinger's Cat.


    open/close all folders 

    Video Games 
  • Hand Waved in Illusion of Gaia due to the psychic powers of the hero, Will. When he is asked to pick a card near the game's beginning, he finds the right one no matter which he chooses.

Eastern RPG

  • Chrono Trigger allows the player to name party recruits. It makes sense with some characters (Crono, the Silent Protagonist, or his childhood friend Lucca), less sense with other characters (Marle, whom you've never met before she appears), or no sense at all (Magus, who's mentioned by his default name numerous times before he joins your party). Furthermore, if you change your name mid-game, all the NPCs change their dialogue, which means you actually changed the way they remember you. Note that Robo does not fit this trope because Marle literally names him.
    • Marle's a interesting case because it's a nickname she gave herself on the spot. The royal court will still refer to her by her actual name of "Nadia". However, you are free to actually name her Nadia if you knew this beforehand, and watch as all the situations where her real name and her nickname come into conflict, despite it being the exact same.
      • In the original Japanese, the potential conflict with Marle's name does not occur. Marle's real name is simply her nickname plus a "dia" suffix. So if you name her Marle, it's Marledia. If you try to name her Nadia, she becomes Nadiadia, et cetera, so it's impossible for her nickname and real name to conflict.
    • In the case of Magus, that was the name he was given by the Mystics who took him in (his real name is Janus), so it is giving you the chance to refer to him by his real name from that point onward. Still a bit strange if you decide to give him a totally different name instead, though.
  • Final Fantasy VII lets you rename the characters, but one, who's given a fake name to start with, is referred to as "Nanaki" later on by those who actually know him, no matter what other name you give him (potentially leading to the wonderful line "Nanaki, who is 'Nanaki'?" on subsequent playthroughs). A better example would be in the reunion scene after the player has escaped from Midgar. Cloud recounts the details of events 5 years prior and at various points he will be interrupted by another character asking him if he did something or went somewhere and the player is given the option to decide yes or no, despite that the events hypothetically already have happened. This, however makes sense considering the fact that Cloud is not telling the truth about what happened.
  • A funny example in Final Fantasy IX occurs when Zidane, in attempt to be serious, calls Dagger by her real name. If you name her Garnet from the get go, it comes out as "Garnet. No... Princess Garnet."
  • Pokémon:
    • In Pokémon Red and Blue, the professor who delivers the opening monologue allows you to name your rival as he "forgets" the name of his own grandson. Parodied here.
    • In Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal, you run into a trainer who just stole his Pokémon from Professor Elm. When you return to the lab, the police ask you his name. Up to this point, the trainer was identified only as "???", even in his own dialogue where he says "My name's ???." (which resulted in people naming him “???” thinking you were supposed to correctly answer the police officer). The Updated Re-release (HeartGold/SoulSilver) works around it by calling him "Passerby Boy" in the meantime, and when he drops his trainer ID card while walking away, he reprimands your character for reading it, noting that "you saw my name" without revealing what his name is supposed to be.
    • In Pokémon Emerald, you can choose whether Latias or Latios appears by telling your mom what color Pokémon you saw on TV flying over Hoenn.
    • In the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, you get to determine what kind of Pokémon your partner will be, along with their name. Despite the fact that they, unlike you, existed before you entered the picture.note  In Super, they hadn't existed for long though.
  • In Star Ocean First Departure, there's a PA where Roddick has to guess which of Ilia and Ashlay will win a drinking contest. Whoever you pick loses, and their alcohol costs 10% of your current Fol.
  • In Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World, Emil is asked to guess which of Lloyd's companions joined him at the end of Tales of Symphonia. Since it was based on Relationship Values there, any answer could be a correct one, and, indeed, no matter what Emil (that is, the player) guesses, Lloyd admits that he guessed correctly. Later scenes have Lloyd confide in that character in particular (with romantic leanings if the character chosen was female.)
  • In Fleuret Blanc, you need to figure out the various mysteries yourself by answering questions relating to the clues you've collected. However, there is one subplot (Nickel's) where answering the conclusion questions differently will still produce a correct answer but cause the nature of the mystery to change: it is possible for Nickel to be either gambling or investing depending on what you think the number slips mean.
    • Subverted in another conclusion. When Florentine confronts Aunty about the nature of FOIL, she will say something different depending on the personality traits you picked in the initial questionnaire. Aunty will confirm either, but they're all lies, and the true purpose of FOIL remains constant regardless of Florentine's assertion.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles X, the player can decide to make an effort to negotiate with Alex on behalf of Eliza, the former having possibly murdered a few innocent people and plans on doing nothing short of genocide in NLA. This decision affects the ending of the related mission chain; if the player does go the full mile with negotiation, Alex dies whimpering that he and Eliza used to see eye to eye, indicating that he wasn't always that evil before. If the player shows absolutely no mercy to Alex during negotiations, Alex spews out one more Hannibal Lecture before getting shot in the back (long story), implying that he's always been a xenophobic monster.
  • Actually happens in-universe in Persona 2: Innocent Sin due to Sumaru City being under the effects of a curse that makes rumors come true in reality. After the first boss fight against Principal Hanya, a student appears and asks you if he's dead or not. If you respond in the affirmative, he is Killed Off for Real, while if you respond in the negative, he actually survives his apparent death and returns later on to assist you.
  • At the end of Persona 3 Portable, if you are playing as the male protagonist on a subsequent playthrough or the female protagonist, and have established a romantic bond with at least one character, the ending consists of a cutscene of you on the school roof hearing someone's voice. The available options are any character you've made into a lover; whoever you pick turns out to be the person you hear and who gets to see you die due to the aftereffects of a spell that sealed Nyx away a few months ago.
    • Earlier (and less dire) in the same story, when choosing which Culture Club you join between art, music, and photography. Mitsuru will talk to you about her club, but says she cant remember which of the three Fuuka joined. The club she joined is always the exact same as whichever one you join.
    • Similarly, on the female protagonist route in Portable, Saori Hasegawa, the Hermit Social Link, happens to be part of whichever committee the protagonist joins, and Rio Iwasaki is part of the protagonist's sports team, which only changes a handful of lines of dialogue.
  • Shining Resonance: Who gave the music box to Yuma when he was injured in his Dragonshift form? As the player completes Kirika, Sonia, Rinna, Marion, and Excella's endings, each girl gets their own series of postgame events. Each series of postgame events reveals the chosen girl is the one who gave the music box to Yuma, and the song of the music box is unique to each girl.

Interactive Fiction

  • Inverted in Amnesia - To test how badly you have amnesia, you give yourself a test, and state what hair and eye colour you think you have... Then you look in a mirror, and find you couldn't have been more wrong, whatever you enter.
  • In the Infocom mystery game Moonmist, you are asked your favorite color at the beginning of the game. Your response determines the identity of the "ghost." (Adaptive puzzles are a common feature of IF games.)
  • Played With in Douglas Adams' Bureaucracy, where you'll be asked a number of questions at the beginning of the game. The program will then delight in having characters call you the wrong name, refer to you as the wrong gender, have wonderful objects appear in your least favorite color, and generally use the info you give to screw with you as much as possible.
  • Played with in Brain Guzzlers from Beyond!: the magazine quiz you take at the start of the game determines your hair color and the inventory item you're carrying (that can be used to bypass a specific puzzle) but some of its questions are obviously just meant to be silly, like the one that asks which ice cream flavor is your favorite with "Death-by-chocolate triple fudge" as one of the options, and have zero impact on gameplay.


  • In Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker, at one point, someone knocks on your door, and you get a dialogue choice to guess who it is. No matter which option you pick, you guess correctly.

Platform Game

  • In A Hat in Time, the level "Murder on the Owl Express" is set up as a murder mystery, and you collect clues about the murderer's identity as you progress through the level. At the end, you must accuse someone of being the murderer, and the available suspects depend on how many clues you picked up. No matter who you accuse, they confess to the crime almost immediately, and launch into their Motive Rant. And then it's revealed that the "victim" is still alive, and the "murder" was all part of a movie the Conductor is filming.

Western RPG

  • Dragon Age: Origins:
    • Naming your dog in the Human Noble Origin. In every other origin, you first meet and adopt the dog during the course of the game, so giving him a name on the spot makes perfect sense. In the Human Noble origin, however, you've had your dog for most of your life, but are still asked to give him a name in the same manner.
    • If you go with the Mage Origin and play an elf, fellow elven mage Eadric will ask where you're from. You can choose the Denerim alienage, Lothering, or say you don't even remember your life pre-Circle.
    • Late in the game you may be captured by the villains and put in jail. You have the choice of busting out on your own or waiting for two of your party members to come rescue you. If you choose the latter, a character will ask which characters you think will come. Your answers will determine which party members mount the rescue.
  • The identity of the Human Councillor is made by the player about an hour into Mass Effect 2. Because the previous game's latest point of saving is the final stage of the boss fight, the Human Councillor choice made soon after is never actually recorded to be read in the sequel's Old Save Bonus. Hence you're asked, among other things, which person you picked early in 2 under the pretense of checking if Shepard's memories are accurate, but your answer is correct even if you directly contradict your choice at the end of the first game.
    • If you got the Genesis DLC comic (made for PS3 players since ME1 didn't release on it until 2012) you can make the choice there during the recap of the first game, which results in the Councillor question being removed. The Legendary Edition, which collects all three games and gives them a shiny new coat of paint, fixes it entirely by having the game save one last time after the decision is made, also removing the question.
  • The Elder Scrolls series:
    • Daggerfall generates a background for the Player Character based on your answers to a series of questions during character creation. These questions affect your starting skills, equipment, and reputation. Answering them in certain ways (you'll likely need to consult a guide) can make you a Min-Maxed powerhouse) and can hand you a Disc-One Nuke starting weapon. You can also choose to skip the questions, which has the game answer the questions at random. (This can be quite detrimental, however, as the game is likely to saddle you with buffs to skills you don't intend to use and can give you poor starting equipment.)
    • Morrowind:
      • During character creation, you will be asked to select your race. Once you've chosen, the camera angle will immediately jump from "average" height to match the height of your new race. This can be quite the shift up (for an Altmer or Orc) or down (for a Bosmer) depending on your choice.
      • Shortly after picking your race, you will choose your class and birthsign. Whatever you choose, even if you create a custom class from scratch and name it, will show up on the official documents you receive immediately after. The birthsign in particular is notable because part of the main quest's plot-driving prophecy requires that the Nerevarine be born "on a certain day". Presumably, that "certain day" falls under whatever birth sign you chose.
    • Oblivion also plays this one straight with the soon-to-be-assassinated emperor (voiced by Patrick we-could-only-afford-him-for-one-afternoon Stewart) quizzing your character on his or her star sign.
    • Skyrim has a downplayed example when, after you have chosen your race during character creation, the Imperial soldier recording your information will offer an explanation for why a person of your race may have been crossing the border into Skyrim. Downplayed because it has no real in-game effects (though your race may help you in a few cases, such as an Orc Player Character being allowed straight into Orc strongholds while a character of another race must first complete a quest to prove his/her worthiness to enter).
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, a doctor asks you a series of questions to evaluate your personality and memory. Which is fair, seeing as he just nursed you back to health from a bad case of 'Got-Shot-In-Headitis.' Doc also comments that he got the 'important bits' of your reconstructive surgery right, no matter how much you change your character from the default. Presumably 'important bits' just meant things like 'number of eyeballs' and 'amount of skull.' He also always says, when you give him your name, "It's not what I would've picked for you, but if that's your name, that's your name.", leading some players to question just what kind of name he would have picked.
  • The canceled game Fallout: Van Buren would have started with your character in a jail cell, and one of your first character-defining choices would have been if you were or were not guilty of the crime you were locked up for.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, an early conversation has the player determine their version of what happened at the end of the previous game, as well as the gender of its player character. A slightly later but still early conversation decides the color and type of your old lightsaber. At the end of the game, Atris was originally supposed to fight the player with their old lightsaber. Also, almost all of the Exile's backstory is revealed via dialogue choices like this, with the player shaping the details of what happened in the Exile's past.
  • Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide, your character engages in a pointless discussion with an evil spirit, who attempts to find out about your past. How you decide to answer the spirit makes no difference to the outcome; the only discernible purpose to the exchange is so that the player can give him/herself a cool backstory.
    • Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask Of The Betrayer has conversations with Bishop's spirit and Ammon Jerro that determine what happened to your party members from the previous campaign.
  • Inverted in Ultima VII; the leader of the Church of Happyology will ask you questions for a personality test. No matter what answers you choose, he will always interpret them as the "worst" choices, diagnosing you with a screwed up psyche badly in need of his cult's guidance.
  • In Planescape: Torment, the proper answer to the question "What can change the nature of a man?" is the one you choose.
  • Occurs at the end of a Zombie Slayer run in Kingdom of Loathing; you've spent the entire game thus far trying to fix the Zombie Apocalypse as an intelligent zombie with your own personal horde, and now that you've been cured (or realized it was All Just a Dream, if you dropped the path mid-run) you need to "remember" which one of the six normal classes you "were".
  • Tremendously common in Fallen London. There's plentiful quests where you grind a quality, be it progress in a hunt, duel training, progress in breeding a creature, how close you are to your destination on a sea voyage, how much you've cased a place to rob, among others. Only at the end of it all do you actually pick what you hunt/duel/breed/arrive to/burglarize/etc.
  • In Steven Universe: Save the Light, Steven sees one of the Crystal Gems on the beach from a distance. He's then asked which Gem he saw. The player can pick Garnet, Amethyst, or Pearl, and whichever one picked will be the one that's actually there and the first to join the party.
  • In Pyre, you only get to name one of your fellow party members: "the Moon-Touched Girl" who has forgotten her own name. All she remembers is that it ends in "-ae". Whichever name you suggest, she realizes that was definitely her name, and she even remembers the matching nickname (a different one depending on which name you suggest) that everyone in her hometown used to call her. This is also subtle foreshadowing that your player character is actually psychic.
  • In Cyberpunk 2077 Jackie Welles is V's best friend though the circumstances of their friendship changes depending on the Lifepaths that V chooses. For the Nomad and Streetkid paths, they met Jackie while on a Gig while in the Corpo path Jackie and V are already acquaintances at that point.

Real-Time Strategy

  • Starcraft II:
    • The Hanson missions features this. If you choose to assist the Protoss by clearing an infestation in the final mission over the protests of your resident sexy scientist, the infested areas cover large sections of the map and the scientist deliberately infests herself in despair at not finding a cure. If you fight off the Protoss, trusting the colony's main scientist to find a cure (the canon option), only a few infested people are seen in a quarantine area.
    • The final mission of Tosh's arc depends on whether you side with him or with Nova (who claims Tosh is continuing the same abduction of psionics and forced indoctrination the Ghost prgram used for his Spectres). If you go with Tosh, the mission is a jailbreak and you're told that the prisoners were political cases, if you go with Nova everything she said was true (Tosh's version is canon).

Simulation Game

  • In the Animal Crossing games, the Player Character's face and starting outfit are determined by your answers to Rover's (in the original, City Folk, and New Leaf)/Kapp'n's (in Wild World) questions at the very beginning of the game. The name of the town and in New Leaf, its layout, is also determined by Rover/Kappn asking where you're headed.
  • In Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer, the player character is about to arrive at Nook's Homes for the first day on the job, and Tom Nook has lost the hiring forms. He asks Lottie for the new hire's name, and her answer is determined by the player. Nook then has to remember if the new hire is a boy or a girl, as well as what they look like. His mental image is again determined by the player, and it becomes the player character's actual appearance.
  • I Was a Teenage Exocolonist:
    • Sol's full name and Bio-Augmentation (or lack thereof) are decided via player input and become what was there all along.
    • An early event involving Tammy has the player choose what her relationship with Sol was growing up between a playmate, a study partner and someone to whom they were mean. Their answer impacts what Sol is offered to do with her.
    • Some of Sol's birthdays have the player pick Sol's favorite gift among several, with said gift becoming the only one that is converted into a card for the Deckbuilding Minigame.
    • Sol's biological sex isn't established until right before they start puberty, via asking the player what aspect of a past sex ed lecture was relevant to them, four years into the game.
  • Yes, Your Grace: At some point of the game, Asalia's friend Maya gives Cedani a toy that looks like a small animal. The fact that the toy is something typical of the nation preparing to invade the player's kingdom is more relevant to the plot than what it actually looks like, so the player is given the choice between three small animals while asking Cedani about the toy. Whichever animal is picked will be what the toy looks like, and change Cedani's remark about how well a real, live, member of the species would work as an agent of the crown.

Survival Horror

  • Silent Hill: Shattered Memories: the answers the player gives during Dr. Kauffman's therapy sessions not only help to determine Harry's past, but some features of the actual town as well.

Third-Person Shooter

  • In the Splatoon 2 DLC campaign, Cap'n Cuttlefish will sketch out a "missing" poster for Agent 3, with the player getting the opportunity to customize Agent 3's appearance how they see fit.

Visual Novel

  • In the common route of Little Busters!, after completing Refrain and gaining access to the Ecstasy heroine routes, a new choice is added that asks whether or not Riki sees Kanata as hostile or friendly. Her behavior towards the rest of the cast will reflect whatever choice is made, and picking hostile locks the player out of her route.


  • On two separate occasions in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, at the start of a mission one of your wingmen asks you for your opinion on "that song", with your yes or no answer determining which of two possibilities your next mission or two will be. The thing is, in-universe, the choice is actually determined by a coin-flip, but the results of it depend on your answer to that question - which is foreshadowed by the possible names of the song. Say you liked it and it's "Face of the Coin"; say you didn't and it's "Back of the Coin".
  • Inverted in the demo for The Stanley Parable HD Remix; at one point the Narrator asks you to press one of several dozen buttons on a wall to demonstrate what choices reveal about the player. No matter which button you press, the Narrator will always say that 94% of all players who pushed that particular button are sexual predators, and then calls you a pervert under his breath. At face value it's Played for Laughs, but knowing that which button you press makes no difference only further drives home the game's themes about the illusion of choice.

  • Parodied and subverted in To Be or Not to Be: early in Ophelia's route she hears a knock at the door and the reader is asked who they want to be there, with options including Hamlet, Polonius, and Dromiceiomimus. However, regardless of who you pick, Hamlet is there. If you chose him, the narrator is startled and wonders if the player is psychic, but if you picked either of the other two options, he chides you for thinking you can control reality just by thinking something.
  • Shows up in a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books. A particularly bizarre example in Space and Beyond: if you end up attempting to treat a plague-ridden planet, you get the choice to either go down in person, believing that your Bizarre Alien Biology protects you, or to remain on the ship to avoid infection. If you pick the former, you really *are* immune to the disease. If you pick the latter, the infection spreads to the ship, infecting you and the rest of the crew. This leads to another story branch which can potentially take you back to the infected planet in search of a cure. At that point, the book explicitly asks if you think there's a cure: If you say "Yes," the natives have already found it and are happy to treat you; if you say "No," you're quarantined there until your inevitable death.

    Non-Video Game Examples 
  • Commonly inverted in tabletop RPGs where players ask Game Masters leading questions in hope of changing reality to suit their characters' needs. It's actually an explicit part of the rules in a number of games, including Exalted, Feng Shui, Adventure, and the FUDGE System. For instance:
    Player: Is there a chandelier hanging from the ceiling?
    GM: Sure.
  • Actually encouraged in some types of (sometimes called 'narrativist') tabletop RPGs, such as Lady Blackbird, where the Game Master sends questions back to player characters, letting them build the world themselves as they speak:
    Player: What does the imperial guard look like?
    GM: Well, you've been working as an imperial guard yourself five years ago. So tell me, what does the guard look like?
  • Just before the end of the play Shear Madness, the action is paused, the house lights come up, and audience members are allowed to question all the suspects and vote on the identity of the murderer. The audience is always "correct" - That is, the play has multiple endings and whoever the audience chooses always turns out to have been the killer.
  • Lampshaded for humor in a season 2 episode of Girl Meets World:
    Farkle: A buffalo nickel... That's what you're putting in the time capsule?
    Lucas: Yeah, my grandfather gave it to me for— Anyway, my grandfather gave it to me.
    Maya: No, no, no, no, no. For what? Pappy Joe gave it to you for what?
    Riley: (to Maya) Don't call his grandfather "Pappy Joe"!
    Lucas: (embarassed) It actually is Pappy Joe.
    Riley: You knew that?
    Maya: Well, it would have been anything I said.

Alternative Title(s): Schroedingers Question