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Sudden Game Interface

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Heads-up, display.

Unseen Feminine Voice: -musical chime- Would you like to distribute abilities now? Yes/No
Harry: Um, Hagrid, what's that?
Hagrid: That's proof that yer a wizard, 'Arry. The Narrator. Ya see, life is like a game, no, no, life is a game, ya that's right and the wizards are the players. Now, don't go moving no points around til yeh know what yer doing, 'Arry.

You're living an otherwise normal life when weird things start happening. You find yourself hearing voices or seeing things you never were aware of before. You find yourself bound by strange rules and, when they come into conflict with what you had accepted as physical laws, it's often physics that break first. You're still in the same world and your friends and family are living out their lives. If you have a day job or a school schedule you may still have to show up, even if it means facing endless repetitions of what you remember. Congratulations, you're at the corner of a Game Mechanics Verse and a Broken Masquerade.

There's many ways your path can take and, even surrounded by familiar people, you might be forced to go alone.

Yes, you're in a subtrope of RPG Mechanics 'Verse. In most of those worlds and stories it's generally not surprising to the average denizen that physics works by die mechanics or that the tech/magic for Head's Up Displays and other forms of Augmented Reality and Stat-O-Vision exist, but this trope focuses on plots where 'reality' comes as a complete surprise to at least one character. It could be that they're seeing behind a Masquerade for the first time to the Character Sheet they've always had, or they're leaving behind their Muggle society for a more Genre Savvy one.

It could be an artificial intrusion of an apparently programmed interface that either acts as a barrier/overlay to the underlying reality or begins to rewrite it, such as a gameshow being enforced by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens or a pantheon's main god deciding one day to literally play with dice. It could be a freshly minted pocket universe populated by clones of 'real' people without their consent or a "Groundhog Day" Loop where the only way to break it is to play the game. The universe can even start acquiring updates/patches with or without an approachable system administrator.

While the main focus is on video games and the visual tricks they pull this is also open to statless board games and, in theory, there could easily be a character invaded by a pure Tabletop RPG. An intangible Dungeon Master could suddenly start 'following' someone around audibly narrating their actions and allowing them to ask for dice rolls that affect/overwrite causality.

Compare No Fourth Wall. Acts as a Game Changer. Often used as a framing device for a Fix Fic. Relative of Trapped in TV Land and The Game Come to Life. Sometimes appears in actual games as a form of Gameplay and Story Integration.

Situations where it might be a surprise to the audience that the world runs on video game logic, but not to the characters, better fit the supertrope. For systems where life is as hackable as computer code and Magitek Power Pads and Remote Controls exist, but rule-based game elements don't appear, see Rewriting Reality. Overlaps with some of the stranger stories in The Game Plays You.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Fan Works – Peggy Sue 
  • There are at least two groups collecting this trope: Video Game Plot and The Video Game Plot.
  • Harry Potter: Game of the Year Edition by Casey W has a Harry Potter Peggy Sue from his accidental death at the graveyard to a New Game Plus of avatar statues. It takes him two tries to get all the way from his parents' death to his eleventh birthday, but he does unlock a secret 'wand select' menu and a pleasant print manual for the beta-test of his system.
  • Harry Potter and the Train to Nowhere by Joshua The Evil Guy has a Harry Potter Take a Third Option at Kings Cross Station. "Harry Potter and the Arcade" has a slightly bugged avatar selection, an epically expanded interface and the theme music's nice. Even on Easy mode, the world is huge and full of secrets, Challenges, Creation Stations and a rigid checkpoint system that forcibly rewinds Harry when he fails Objectives. Fortunately he has a Pause function and boosts from his equipment and familiars. Battle is carried out Final Fantasy style and Harry builds his party from a selection of canon and crossover characters.
  • The Adventures Of Harry Potter, the Video Game: Exploited by michaelsuave has a Harry Potter die in the Forbidden Forest and wind up in front of a Game Over screen. After going a bit nuts he winds up in a version of Surrey bounded by an Invisible Wall and full of quests and secrets like the very painful cat Arena. He quickly finds he can grind simple tasks by failing them repeatedly and that jumping costs no endurance, unlike walking, so he bounds everywhere as he does everything he can to make his level and stats climb higher and higher...
  • Harry Potter: New Game Plus by brenco opens with Harry Potter watching his Good Ending scroll by as a text epilogue. After starting his New Game Plus he finds that the Hogwarts staff has been shuffled. Many characters have been reduced to Stock NPCs, although Hagrid manages to override his static programming and hug the boy when Harry has a breakdown. Exploiting a clipping bug, Harry manages to escape into the 'real world' where he lives comfortably for a few years until he finds out about how games work and, after a lot of research, decides to go back in. One of the chapters is a Strategy Guide for a very variable SNES RPG starring our hero...
  • Hermione Granger: The Witching Hour (Harry Potter, The Gamer): Just before dying in the Bad Future, Hermione reaches the Room of Requirement while yearning for a new opportunity to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. Lo and behold, a parchment scoring her life suddenly appears, followed by an interface presenting her with a New Game Plus option and poping tutorials among other things. It's so unexpected and Hermione too unaccustomed to gamer culture that she first thinks the universe is mocking her.
  • Naruto: Game of the Year Edition by Majin Hentai X, has a Naruto Peggy Sue from his death at the Valley of the End to an arena of unlockable avatar statues. Each statue is a timeline in need of repair and the dedicated sysadmin staff may actually be Shinto gods. The amount of severe Game Breaking Bugs means that Jiraiya gets signed on as support staff. Too bad he's a target for assassins from soon after his birth... Each death before he receives his headband means he has to start over from the beginning and it takes him a long time to make it to that first checkpoint.
  • Naruto the Videogame by Chibi-Reaper is the Trope Maker. Thanks to free saving and, eventually, loading, the assassins targeting his baby self are defeated by trial and error. Besides Basic Naruto, the main avatar shown in use is the Jester which increases a lot of skills at the expense of needing to wear themed clothing.
  • Naruto: Ramen Days by Rathanel has Naruto Peggy Sue from his death at the Sand-Sound Invasion to just before the Wave Arc. The interface is supposed to be a lot more user friendly, but the Kyuubi has disabled the hint menu, so it takes him five lives to make it past the tutorial and reach the first checkpoint after the Chunin Exams, which means it's impossible for him to reload and save the life of the Hokage before he knew he was in danger. His unlocked teammates see the menus and retain memories through reloads as well.
  • Death's Favorite Game by TheSilentJackofallTrades has Master Chief complete Halo 3 on Legendary mode, unlocking avatars and a ton of perk-granting achievements, then Peggy Sue to before the Fall of Reach on Easy mode, where he dies almost immediately...
  • The very NSFW Per-Verse by TattleTail has Xander Peggy Sue from the Sunnydale Crater to the beginning of the series. He's offered a choice of different worlds to rebuild with the points earned from his last playthrough. The Alternate Universe where they're all superheroes is tempting, but he ultimately decides on the kinkiest one available. His Diegetic Interface is a nicely designed smartphone, which he puts to good use.
  • In The Life Is A Game Multiverse a shared cast of Reality Warpers try to save worlds by empowering characters. There is no free saving or loading, no resurrection of KO'd protagonists (other than controlled bouts in Marvel vs. Capcom) and all reality resets come at a great cost. That said, it gets pretty over the top. PCs unlocking harems is also a recurring theme.
    • One of their notable works, Mass Effect: Life is a Game by 117Jorn and its sequel by RebukeX7, has a Reality Warper offer Male!Paragon!Shepard a one-way trip from Mass Effect 3's endgame to the beginning of the series. Upon arriving in his past, Shepard realizes that a Female!Renegade!Shepard has accidentally fallen into his world as well, so he introduces her as his wife.

    Fan Works – Standard Overlay 
  • Overlaps heavily with The Gamer's Fanfic Recs page.
  • Often happens in Continuation Fic when people like Frisk and Captain N: The Game Master return to their familiar human civilization with their powers intact.
    • In The Golden Quiche by Sophtopus, a story of the monsters rejoining humanity following a pacifist run and facing the consequences of rampant time travel, Frisk's battle screen is metaphorical. The SAVE screen isn't.
  • Harry Potter and the Munchkins by Schwepcn has Harry Potter gaining video game powers on his eleventh birthday. In this Alternate Universe, all wizards are players so discussions of maximizing feats and stats are everywhere, but Harry is the only empowered protagonist alive (owls are his justfied save points). Keeping his reloading abilities secret he takes Save Scumming to epic levels with at least one time-turning raid on the Ministry and entire years of alternate timelines spent at Brazil and New Zealand wizarding schools. Solo adventure although Luna is apparently living through all branching paths at once.
  • Harry Potter the Game by Lord-Drakos has an invisible, enchanted Skyrim manual teleport into ten-year old Harry's room under the stairs. He immediately respects his bloodline for the racial bonuses and puts a bunch of skill points into DADA.
  • Harry Potter & the Game by Concept101 has Harry Potter gaining video game powers few months before his eleventh birthday. In this story, Harry proceeds to go to Hogwarts with those Gamer abilities. There are no save points, and the author's version of the Game feels like a mere skin over reality, rather than a complete overhaul of it, making Harry seem less overpowered and more humanized. The author has also stated his intentions to extend this story to a full scale reimagining of the seven books, of which currently one is complete.
  • Harry Potter: Monster Girl Quest (a quite NSFW fic by Demeristraz) has a reality shift in the summer before the second year, where suddenly, all the female magical creatures are much more humanoid and attractive (including Norberta), and experience (along with feats) is mainly obtained through... well, you can guess the type of "conquest" involved.
  • Naruto: life is a Game by RebukeX7 has Naruto read further down the forbidden scroll than the Kage Bunshin and transform the world. Killing him will end the nuttiness of the game overlay, which becomes at least one character's motivation.
  • When Signing a Contract, Always Read the Fine Print by gentlemankitsune has Naruto's mission to Wave be interrupted by the appearance of a leveling guide, a long-forgotten experiment of Tobi's that had never been under anyone's control. Naruto quickly specs into business, learning production skills from Tenten and Ino. Anko becomes his friend and mentor. The guide lets him acquire bloodline powers, so he mixes and matches, allowing him to communicate with a very intelligent pet fox by way of Kiba's family. When Fu, holder of Chomei, is invited to town for the chunin exams, along with a host of other jinchuriki, she's soon inducted into Naruto's swiftly growing gaming party.
    • There is a full-fledged epilogue including exploration of other game modes and what mortality really means to those in loops.
  • Shinobi: The RPG, a Self-Insert Fic by Fulcon, grants the protagonist a Fallout: New Vegas character manual to help him max out his stats in the world of Naruto. His outside perspective at first allows him to kill for experience points without remorse, but fulfilling one of the main quests of his personal arc brings a harsh perspective on the consequences and meaning of his own actions and the world around him...
  • Spidey's Life is a Game by RebukeX7 has a Reality Warper bring a large number of Capcom fighters into the Marvel universe for a game-based tourney complete with the Street Fighter announcer and instant healing after every match. Spiderman, Chun-Li, and X-23 are Team Amazing and together they take on heroes and villains, until they're ready to face down gods.
  • Percy Jackson and the Game by I'mjusttryingtofindmyway gives the son of Poseidon an upgrade direct from the Fates. Among the many crossovers, influence from The Gamer stands out strongly as Percy receives assistance and challenges from the organizations of the Abyss. The often dysfunctional personalities associated the Greek pantheon show true in Percy through unexpected moments of callousness - such as when he 'dusts' not only the man who'd been abusing his mother (something he does reflect on later with at least some regret) but all his presumably innocent poker buddies without a second thought - but he does grow as hero. The power curve is strong and apparently justified as Gaea who, ironically, was the apparent power granter for the original Gamer is the main backer of the waves of Titans forcing themselves back into the lands of the living.
    • Not only does he gain access to the mythical Mobile Maze, his sublime grinding reaches a point that his own Instant Dungeons are able to give a goddess like Artemis a proper workout.
  • A Video Game of Thrones by Temairine has Jon Snow open a book found in the wintry woods by Ghost, which throws him into a very bewildering interface. The first main shock, besides the floating text? Finding out who his true parents are... As he increases in experience and skills, the quests he face rise in difficulty, but seem to be geared towards having him be in the right places at the right times to steer his world in a better direction.
    • I'mjusttryingtofindmyway's A Game of Ice and Fire has Jon find an ancestral tomb containing a bracelet of Old Valyrian Magitek that may very well have been the key to the building of the Wall. Tracing its roots appears to be one of his prime and and early motivations now that he's figured out his own.
    • errobotter's Stargaryan Ring has the introduction item be an exquisitely carved heirloom ring. Jon's tutorial includes figuring out the Fallout-based S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system. Fortunately he has a handy high-statted Maester who not only helps him through some of the trickier abbreviations but provides him with skill books able to open up pocket narratives that teach by simulating rough, variant future scenarios.
  • A chapter in dogbertcarroll's Flickering Lights has Cordelia wishing that Xander's Karma would catch up with him. While the actual memory is quickly repressed, he gets some quality time with a Shadowrun Character Sheet that lets him use his accumulated experience, aka 'Karma', to respec his Flaws and Edges, boost his stats and resources, and Awaken as a Shaman.
  • Twilight's Life is a Game by ilbgar - a reset version of his Twilight: The Gamer with hopefully a less exponential power curve - has the popular purple pony have the power of The Gamer from birth, although it takes Celestia's acceptance to complete the Tutorial.
    • The original T:TG has Twilight pull a Peggy Sue following her death and her mastery of features such as the Arena and the Avatar selection section lets her out into the wide world of Kingdom Hearts.
  • Gamecraft by Halt.CPM has Prince Arthas of Warcraft's unlucky royalty awaken as The Gamer from a young age. To his deep shock, he soon finds he's not the only Player...
  • Working as Intended by Darchiasq has Taylor Hebert of Worm express as a Admin able to buff and nerf the capes in the world around her as if they were Player Avatars in an MMO. Most of the story is told through her Patch Notes to the local Parahumans Online Message Board and numerous comment threads about her attempts to reinforce Competitive Balance.
    • For most people, the 'visible interface' is strictly limited to them being able to appeal to the Admin through the message board for new content and rebalances in future patches. Apparently they're also gaining something close to XP as the more often a power is used, the easier it is for the Admin to moderate.
    • No official word on what interface effects, if any, are visible to the Admin, beyond that the Patch Notes are simply how she communicates the changes to the world, and the actual process for her is probably something quite different. The main things explicit in the text are that she maintains a constant awareness of all superpowers active nearby and seems to spend most of her day seated at her home computer.
  • Issei: The Gaming Gear by SeerKing has this happen to Issei Hyoudou of all people through him receiving a unique Sacred Gear known as a Gamer's Gear.
  • My Hero Playthrough gives one of these to Izuku Midoriya. Anyone he invites into his party gets a more limited version, for as long as they are a party member. Izuku's version also includes a Heads-Up Display, which he frequently turns off as he finds it distracting and a bit morbid.
  • In Level Up (MHA) Gamer Izuku can add stat points to himself and his party, increasing charisma, strength and other stats. He can also cook Power-Up food to the same effect, which he does to heal and replenish the stamina of victims/helpers at the aftermath of a natural disaster, he also uses this to stack the odds of the final battle The Heroes of Japan vs All For One and every villain on I-Island..
  • Greg Veder Vs The World has the eponymous minor character wake up with the ability to upgrade himself through game mechanics. Among other aspects of the genre, it explores how dehumanizing it can be to see the world as a game, including one segment where Greg is enraged because Gamer's Mind keeps derailing him from properly grieving by identifying the grieving as a negative mental condition and clearing it.
  • New Game, New Life, written by Adudefromthesea is a self insert Massive Multiplayer Crossover Fusion Fic. Set in the 90s at the start of Ranma ½, a young man finds himself in the body of a teenager named Ōe Hiroshi and seeing floating boxes reporting his status. Now in a new world, that is a mixture of Japanese media of all kinds he must try to survive.
  • I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What?: After waking up as a dungeon, Taylor is given the "Helpful Info Box" to explain to her what she can actually do as a dungeon and to help her keep track of her mana and other resources. This is stated to be at least in part an abstraction to make the functioning of the dungeon system easier to undestand.

    Film – Live-Action 
  • Free Guy: From Guy's perspective, Free City acquires various elements that exist for the benefit of the players, but don't exist from a Non-Player Character perspective, when he puts on sunglasses stolen from a Player Character. He can now see his own Character Level, businesses now have extra, much more visible, signs pertaining to their use in gameplay and he can now pick up healing items that used to be outright invisible to him.
  • In the film adaptation of Jumanji, the classic example of The Game Come to Life, shortly after Alan and Sarah start to play, each roll of the dice unleashing scores of animals and Hostile Weather on the town, Alan gets sucked in and Sarah flees. Years later, she finds out that the game has been running very quietly in the background of her entire adult life. Subverted in that Alan and Sarah only Peggy Sue back to their childhood after the game is over and the damage is undone. They use their adult memories to make better choices this time through.
    • Possibilities include the game rewinding time or it creating a simulated copy of the Earth in a pocket reality and running it for years.
    • As opposed to Zathura; while it's quickly apparent to the characters in that movie that they're Trapped in TV Land, Sarah has no idea that she still is too.

  • In The Adventure Zone: Balance's Live in San Diego! show, the Tres Horny Boys suddenly see a Life Meter with three hearts and a life counter in the top right corner of their vision, as well as a chat feed in the bottom left. Justified, as they were inside of a simulation.

    Video Games 
  • When Shirou stumbles into the Heaven's Feel and becomes a master in Fate/stay night he's gifted with a viewable Character Sheet that explains about the Heroes, their skills, stats and abilities, all in RPG Mechanics 'Verse terms, even how many turns an area spell lasts for. More than once the characters quantify mana in dialogue, and then spend the rest of the scene treating it literally like MP. This does not get him, or much of the main cast for that matter, out of going to school.
    • It should be noted, however, that Servants' abilities are something that every master views differently based on what feels natural to them. The whole 'RPG Character Sheet' method is simply Shirou's subconscious way of quantifying the information.
  • Persona 3 has the protagonist stumble into what amounts to a pocket universe that's merging with the real world. Awakening his Persona allows him to feel when his stats go up, usually in town or at school, and the Social Links he makes enhance his affinity for the Suits of Tarot cards he uses in patterns on a Fusion Table to summon entities.
  • The bottom screen in Shin Megami Tensei IV doesn't even exist until you get your cyber-gauntlet, as part of the hero discovering that his quasi-medieval society is simply the surface. It provides mapping functions, Augmented Reality for icons to appear in dungeons, and a menu screen for controlling your demons.
  • Worldof Warcrafthas a questline where this happens for the player character. While it's perfectly normal for NPCs to refer to things like "quests"and "mana", they don't usually refer to themselves as "questgivers" or otherwise talk like they know they are in an MMORPG. However, if you level through the undead starting zone you eventually get a quest to be a questgiver. You sit on a horse, and for some mysterious reason are unable to move (even though most horses in the game are perfectly capable of at least walking forwards slowly). You even get a yellow exclamation mark over your head. Three erm...eccentric characters who break the fourth wall constantly come to you after a few minutes, and you give them instructions. You do so, in exactly the same way that NPCs do. Though the AI-controlled "players" are not silent the way your character is typically represented. Although unlike you, these three blockheads can't seem to actually complete the quests you give them and need rescues. Still, the point is that at least some people in this world seem to realize they're in a simulation. Justified, given that Azeroth has been through three world wars, a world-ending threat and a global natural disaster in just 35 years (which makes the real world look idyllically peaceful by comparison). Surely some of them are realizing that the only logical explanation for all this crap is that they're living in a game world.

    Visual Novels 
  • CLANNAD has a mundane town being influenced by an 'Illusionary World' that gives orbs whenever people meet certain acheivements. The protagonists start employing Peggy Sue methods to collect them all. Viewing the Visual Novel and the anime as a linked timeline, work done in the first makes for a a happy Reset Button Ending for the family.

  • Han Jee-Han wakes one morning to find he can see tags floating above the heads of everyone, including himself, because he's become The Gamer. He soon stumbles into a secret world of fighters and martial artists who can create and break instant dungeons. Han's abilities are uniquely aspected among 'natural ability users', in that he can see stats, his body and mind grow through pop-up quests and exercises, and he has a Grid Inventory. While it allows him to interact in new ways, his view of the world isn't more 'real' than anyone else's. This is the Trope Codifier, hence why many fanworks that utilize this plot device refer to their characters as "The Gamer" in the description and/or story itself.
  • When Dongtae accidentally rolls one of the Dice: The Cube That Changes Everything he allows a nebulous Game Master access to his phone. The Objectives provided give him more dice which he uses to boost his previously hidden Character Sheet which had unluckily been all ones. It's apparent from one of the sequences that all souls in his world roll for their permanent stats before starting a new life, but forget everything on being born.
  • Subverted by Homestuck. No-one, besides possibly John, seems surprised that Sburb creates and manipulates physical matter. Programming languages like ~ATH / Til De Ath can alter reality anyway. The class and tier system are game elements, but the countdown doesn't create the meteors. They were already there. The Peggy Sue loop only happens when they're already Trapped In Game Land.
  • In Infinite Leveling Murim, When Yuseong passes the entrance exam he originally failed, he is offered the choice of different rewards ranging from a Cool Sword to a special medicine that will boost his Gi permanently. However, thanks to Gihu Jang knocking him off-balance when selecting his reward, he accidentally selects the 'Third Eye' ability, which grants him this. It allows him to see people's true names, level of strength relative to him, and as he further levels it up, their strength, agility, and Gi capacity. Despite not directly aiding Yuseong's physical performance, it proves to be arguably the most useful ability once he's able to start leveling it up with repeated use. For instance, it allows him to identify the locations and numbers of a large gang of hidden bandits waiting to ambush him during a caravan protection job, even if he can't yet discern their precise stats and names, and forward his allies in time. Another time he meets with a bunch of high-level illusion-proficient Murim warriors, he can tell they're nearby even if he can't see anything about them by the '—' displays hanging in the fog.
  • A Not So Portable Comic, by Not-A-Hazard, is a fan comic based on Persona 3 Portable. The narrator immediately declares the (originally featureless) Author/Audience Avatar to be a girl because they played the original on the PS2, and so the change of pace is the only thing that will keep the game interesting. It shuttles up and down the Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness at breakneck speeds, allowing for cool Genre Blindness jokes to exist along everything else.
  • Lab Assistant Elliot Torres plays with this in Blood Stain. When she falls asleep on the autoclave on her first day of work, she hallucinates that she's wielding the Magic Staff and wearing the tiara from her Moonstone Gate character. Several comedic moments are punctuated with elements such as Critical Hits and stat boosts for successful actions.
    Elly uses bad breath on boss. It was super effective.
    Status Inflicted: poison | slow | sleep | zombie | confuse | darkness | silence | petrify
  • Return to Player has a video game interface imposed upon the world by the Gods/Game Masters. Not everyone gets the "honor" of being a player.
  • Invoked and heavily downplayed in MoringMark - TOH Comics, when Gus gifts Ayzee a I-stone for her birthday that is programmed to display the HUD from her favorite video game Coven Quest III. While it does update in real time to reflect things happening to her (refilling her MP when she drinks something, listing objects she's has in her pockets as part of her inventory, showing damage as numbers over her head, etc...), it has no actual effect on the world around her beyond looking cool.

    Western Animation 
  • In "The Console" episode of The Amazing World of Gumball, Gumball's late birthday present from the Awesome Store is a handheld game system which turns all of Elmore into a heavily-troped RPG. His friends are immediately aware that they're under a curse and blame him for it, but they're generally bound by the rules of the game. As the PC, he's the only one allowed to step outside the system and do weird things like using a dialogue box as a Ninja Prop weapon. Beating the game returns reality to normal, much to the relief of his friends, but they're not able to stop Gumball from resetting the game in hopes of 100% Completion...


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Life Is A Game


The stats

Sung Jin-woo examines the RPG stat screen that he can only see after he takes out a lone Kasaka snake in a dungeon that took over Seoul Metro's Hapjeong station.

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