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The Game Come to Life

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"Ow! Your pixels are really sharp!"

"It doesn't even matter if there is no hope
As the madness of the system grows
In the database database
Just living in the database."

This trope, featured in stories which feature game-playing as an important element, occurs when the game the characters are playing becomes real. Either elements of the game start manifesting in reality, or the characters are drawn into the game. Winning the game is often the only way to escape, or to undo the changes the game caused. The Game Come to Life is usually a Board Game, a Collectible Card Game or a Video Game.

A variation on this trope involves children playing a video game which turns out to be a remote-control system for actual combat machines.

Compare The Game Plays You, when the game not only makes things real but is also sentient and hostile.

See also: Trapped in TV Land, Refugee from TV Land, Inside a Computer System.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Cardfight!! Vanguard: The titular card game has ties to a distant Earth-like planet called Cray where magic and a variety of mythical beings are real. Expect a game of Vanguard with the fate of both Earth and Cray on the line to be played at least once a season. The revelation that Cray is real is also generally met with confusion and/or skepticism.
    Kamui: Planet Cray? Isn't that the planet they made up to explain the Vanguard cards?
  • Yugi and his friends are sucked into a board game in the "Monster World" arc of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga. The anime had a filler arc where Yugi is forced to play Duel Monsters inside a virtual world.
    • In the manga, the first game of Duel Monsters that Yugi played against Kaiba was played as a Shadow Game in which the monsters on the cards were brought to life in front of the players. Kaiba then set out to reproduce this effect through holograms as part of his plan to get revenge on Yugi, and the resulting technology was used for the rest of the franchise.
      • While the monsters are usually just holograms, various magical artifacts can render them real, complete with the ability to injure the players. These artifacts also generally raise the stakes of the game to death and damnation.
  • The third Digimon series, Digimon Tamers, had the Mons from a Collectible Card Game come to life. The children's game cards, when scanned through their Digivices, would have real effects, too.
  • Bakugan
  • .hack//SIGN is about a kid who can't log off his virtual reality MMORPG.
  • Serial Experiments Lain has an online shooter mixing up with a bunch of kids playing tag. The results are definitely not pretty.
  • In Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation, Darkers are leaping out of the eponymous MMO and dragging unwitting victims in.

    Comic Books 
  • The core concept of Kieron Gillen's series DIE - six teenagers vanish into the game while playing a tabletop RPG. Gillen describes it as “Goth Jumanji.”

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Path to Godhood by Vexmaster (the author of The Swarm of War), a nerd gains the ability to hack the Warhammer 40,000 universe through his computer due to a Chaos ritual gone wrong. Since the guy is a psychopath and actively works toward becoming a fully fledged Chaos God, NO' hilarity ensues.

  • Jumanji and Zathura, mentioned below, have both been made into feature films.
  • In TRON, Flynn is forced to play various deadly games by the Master Control Program.
  • In Arcade, teenagers are trapped inside a virtual reality computer game run by a malevolent AI.
  • In the Nightmares segment "Bishop of Battle", when a boy beats the title arcade game, it sends out real versions of its opponents to give him a true test of his abilities. He ends up trapped inside the game.
  • In The Last Starfighter, Alex Rogan is recruited to be a real Starfighter when he breaks the record on a video game; the game was just a test to find someone with enough talent.
  • WarGames had a hacker playing "Global Thermonuclear War" against a military computer. Unfortunately, the computer had control of real nuclear missiles...
  • Stay Alive (2006).
  • In Pixels, alien invaders attack the Earth in the form of 1980s video game characters. The only way to thwart the invasion is to essentially play real-life versions of classic arcade games like Centipede, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.
  • In a segment of The Onion Movie, an arrogant pro gamer, after trouncing a club of younger gamers and gloating over his greatness, makes a wish and is transported into the world of a D&D-based tabletop game. He is smashed to death by a demon shortly thereafter.
  • At the end of The Gamers, the characters in the role-playing 'verse burst into the players' room and slaughter them all.
  • It happens again at the end ofThe Gamers: Hands of Fate, when the Shadow casts a spell to summon his "true" enemies - the players who'd been playing the D&D campaign.

  • An early example is Gillian Rubenstein's Space Demons Trilogy. The protagonists are able to bring into the real world the gun from the eponymous Japanese console game prototype, Space Demons. Shooting it at someone while feeling hatred transports them into the game. Similar things happen in the subsequent books Skymaze and Shinkei.
  • In the children's book Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg, the eponymous board game transforms the children's house into a jungle with each roll of the dice.
  • Van Allsburg used a similar device in a subsequent book, Zathura, which used an outer-space motif.
  • Killobyte by Piers Anthony has a paraplegic man trapped in a VR MMORPG by a hacker who has disabled the log out commands. He is in danger of starving to death. Even worse, the Game Over sequence could kill him by shorting out his pacemaker. The female companion he acquires along the way has diabetes, not being able to regulate her blood sugar when she too becomes trapped leads to more immediate problems.
  • In Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, Giannine gets stuck in a simulation game and must win to extract herself without doing major brain damage.
  • One thing that slips the mind of many people is that Through the Looking Glass is basically an entire game of chess put to writing. It's most obvious with the sentient chessmen but even characters like Humpty Dumpty or the talking gnat can be considered chess pieces participating in the game- Carroll even wrote out an exact move sequence for the pieces.
  • Only You Can Save Mankind (if not you, who else?), the first in the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy by Terry Pratchett features the young hero discovering that the aliens in a game are real, and are being killed by everyone who plays. Also features the now-extinct race of Space Invaders.
  • Played for laughs in Vurfing the Gwrx, a short story by Michael Scott Rohan.
  • Most definitely not played for laughs in another short story, Is This Real Enough by Lisanne Norman. It's set 20 Minutes into the Future, and the World of Warcraft stand-in presented uses virtual reality technology, so the main characters don't even know they're inside the game until they discover they don't respawn when killed.
  • Albion's Dream, essentially Jumanji before Jumanji, had a variant of this. The game, a highly surreal and metaphorical board game, didn't pull anyone in. Instead, each of the character cards looked suspiciously like someone the main characters knew, and what happened to the characters happened to those people. There was some degree of in-universe argument over whether the possibility of changing lives for the better was worth risking the wrath of the Random Number God, not to mention what would happen if anyone fulfilled the alternate win condition by reaching the never-explored center of the board. In regard to the former: bad idea, especially when they encounter the fellow who's on the Death card. In regard to the latter: PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER! However, getting to the center was a Luck-Based Mission, and was only managed by cheating, which turned out not to "count."
  • In Daemon, the Darknet is essentially an Absurdly High Stakes Massively Multiplayer Alternate Reality Game. Members wear augmented reality glasses; flyouts hover over other members showing their current class, level and reputation in the darknet community and other markers can show destinations, equipment status, etc. Successfully participating and/or completing projects beneficial to the community gets you darknet credits which are a combination of status and money. Said projects go from everything from using 3D printers to craft tools for community use, to hacking Predatory Businesses and mundane infrastructure in order to integrate it into the Daemon—bringing the game to life is the entire purpose of the Darknet.
  • In the Gamearth Trilogy one of the players who wrote the rules for the game teleports into it by a roll of the cosmic dice. He gets killed shortly after. The game characters rebel in the end, by teleporting up a bomb.
  • William Sleator's book Interstellar Pig plays with this: The title game, "Interstellar Pig", appears to be coming to life, especially when Barney finds what he thinks is a replica of a key piece from the game. However, the actual board game is described as a "simulacrum", used to dissuade non-participants from keeping the Piggy and therefore getting pulled into the real game themselves.
  • The Mummy Monster Game: The trilogy features computer or video games that do this in all three books.
    • The Mummy's Revenge / The Mummy Monster Game: The game revolves around finding the pieces of a mummy, each of which turns up in the real world as they're found. Scarab beetles, scorpions and mummy monsters turn up as well.
    • The Mummy's Tomb / The Mummy Tomb Hunt: The game revolves around solving clues that will ultimately lead to a real tomb.
    • The Mummy's Trap / The Mummy Rescue Mission: The game revolves around solving clues in order to rescue a female archaeologist. In both of the latter books, the action in the game is reflected in the real world.
  • The History of the Galaxy:
    • A recruitment method like this is used in 13th Battalion. Earth Alliance military sets up VR booths for piloting realistic Humongous Mecha in an MMO environment. The most creative individuals (mostly teens) are forcibly recruited for a critical mission. They don't make it.
    • A short story of the same series also describes virtual space combat played by several passengers of a transport ship. The ship is also transporting actual Space Fighters for the Confederate military. The ship is ambushed by Space Pirates, forcing the captain to gas the players and put them into the real fighters to fight off the pirates. Not all make it back.
  • Guardians of the Flame: This is how the series starts. Five college students play a Dungeons & Dragons like game and then find themselves inside the game world, having been turned into their characters. It turns out their professor and the game master is a wizard who hails from that world, so he based the game on its features. Since they got so into it, he'd decided to send them inside, thinking this would be fun, with a standard quest. Boy, do they suffer for it.
  • Log Horizon is about many players of a regular 2D MMORPG called Elder Tale all over the world suddenly and mysteriously being pulled into what appears to be a Virtual Reality version of such game and unable to log out. Contrast with its Spiritual Antithesis, Sword Art Online, which involves many players being trapped in a VR MMORPG, in which they must learn to survive until they can manage to beat the game. However, SAO was merely The Most Dangerous Video Game and a high-quality virtual MMO, while the players of Log Horizon are truly pulled into a new reality similar to their game, with dramatic changes in the former non-player characters, enemies and themselves.
  • Overlord (2012) plays this very similar to Log Horizon. Interestingly, the world that Satoru Suzuki (now Overlord Momonga/Ainz Ooal Gown) finds himself in is not actually the world of the video game YGGDRASIL. So only part of the game came to life (Ainz and the rest of the Great Tomb of Nazarick, a lot of things in the Slane Theocracy) while the rest of it is a completely different and for the major part vastly weaker fantasy world.
  • This is the basic plot of My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!. A high school otaku known only as "the monkey girl" is killed in a traffic accident and reincarnates as a character from an otome game she was playing just before she died. More specifically, she ends up as the villainess, an Alpha Bitch by the name of Catarina Claes, who is either killed or exiled in every route she appears in. The experience causes her to sympathize with the game's Catarina and makes her want to file a complaint to the game's production company.
  • In My Brother is a Superhero, Luke and his dad made a silly, superhero-themed card game when he was a kid, which included one character, Gordon the World-eater, so ridiculously over-powered that Luke admits that his card was a Golden Snitch. Then he's brought into their world through an Imagination-Based Superpower.
  • Endo and Kobayashi Live! The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte: Endo and Kobayashi originally played this round of Magikoi as commentator practice, so they aren't even intending to play it—they just left the game run on autoplay. But after they confirmed Siegwald can hear what their commentaries through the screen, several oddities with the save file, especially this save file does not allow Save Scumming, causes them to realize they're probably in an interface to another equally-real dimension, and the Magikoi cast are real people. They are right.
  • Ender's Game: Ender Wiggin believes that the simulated battles at Command School are training him and his subordinates to fight against the Third Invasion of the Formics. Only after they win the final battle do they discover that they were the Third Invasion, and in the final battle they wiped out the Formic homeworld and with it the entire Formic species.
    Live-Action TV 
  • The UPN series Deadly Games had an explosion bring the villains from a programmer's homemade video game to life, and he is forced to play his own game for real.
  • Star Trek used the holodeck for this in a number of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes.
  • Stargate SG-1 had an episode in which Teal'c and Daniel are trapped in a VR combat simulator. Each simulated "death" brings them closer to having real heart attacks.
  • SeaQuest DSV had an episode in which mecha fighting in a post-apocalyptic future were controlled by kids playing video games.
  • In Weird Science, Gary and Wyatt get Lisa to conjure up an amazing video game for them, and then order her to keep making new levels for them while being thankless about the whole affair. Irked, Lisa makes the game come to life and is later captured by the game's villain. How do the pair free her? With live-action Pong.
  • The Librarians 2014 episode "And the Point of Salvation". A Magitek quantum computer overloads due to one of the scientists playing a survival-horror game, and the building becomes a game level, with Ezekiel as the player, the rest of the team as Non Player Characters ("Oh no, it's an Escort Mission!") and the building's inhabitants as the monsters.
  • Ace Lightning revolves around this concept. A BBC children's show, it told the story of a British kid's video game coming to life after his house is struck by lightning. The characters play the game out in the real world, while our protagonist Mark deals with the burden of Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World. While mostly serving as a both a comic look on superhero tropes and aesops about heroism, Ace Lightning had compelling characters who grew beyond their initial programming, becoming involved in storyline surprisingly complex for a British kid's show. Game-wise, the characters played their respective roles as the heroes and villains, gaining power ups, getting into boss fights, searching for the magic MacGuffin, the villains respawn when defeated, and new characters are "unlocked" when pieces of the aforementioned macguffin are pieced together.
  • In Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, the Monsters of the Week are actually antagonists from in-universe video games brought to life by the "Bugster Virus". Since the virus incubates in humans, the four main Riders are all doctors of one type or anothernote  whose Transformation Trinkets draw upon the power of those games' heroes in order to defeat the Bugster and cure the patients.
  • Ultraman Dyna: One Monster of the Week called Demagorg was this, having been brought to life by aliens called the Chern from a video game they developed called Monster Coliseum. The aliens' plan was to sell copies of the game to children, who would be able to develop their own monsters and use them to fight each other to level up until eventually the highest leveled monster would be brought to life to destroy Ultraman Dyna.
  • Memories of the Alhambra is a Korean miniseries in which the protagonist, Jin-woo is drawn into an exceptionally realistic Augmented Reality game involving the wars between Christians and Moors in 15th century Spain. Things start getting too real when Jin-woo kills his rival in a duel in the game, only to soon find out to his horror that his rival is dead in Real Life. Then things get worse when his dead rival appears as a Non-Player Character in meatspace and actually hurts Jin-woo in real life.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Like the comic it's based on, DIE is a game-within-a-game, with characters from a modern, mundane world ('Personas') drawn into the fantasy world of DIE to become heroic Paragons. It's a parasitic world that feeds upon their conflict, unresolved issues and emotional baggage, though - so the foes they face will be rooted in elements of their normal lives. To win and escape, they surviving Paragons just need to gather and unanimously agree that they want to go home. The world will, of course, make that as difficult as possible.

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • The premise of Date A Live Ars Install is that Shido gets trapped inside the game after trying out the new game the Fraxinus crew made.

  • In the webcomic Erfworld, Parson is transported to a Magical Land in Another Dimension — which operates under the rules of turn-based tabletop wargame. This doubles as Be Careful What You Wish For, because Parson is a huge gaming enthusiast and brilliant strategist, but doesn't find it nearly as fun when winning means slaughtering thousands of people capable of holding philosophical debates, falling in love, and feeling pain. It doesn't help that the man who forcibly recruited him is arguably the setting's Big Bad.
  • Although not a representation of an actual Dungeons & Dragons campaign, the world of The Order of the Stick is governed by the rules of Dungeons and Dragons (3.5 edition).
  • Half the main cast of El Goonish Shive played a boardgame like this in a non-canon arc starting here. Since it was out of continuity it was Played for Laughs and spoofed Jumanji.
  • The power of the Tempestar ends up bringing the characters from Void's video games to life in L's Empire. Of course, L's Empire is already a video game comic, so it leads to some confusion.
    Void: We're under attack by video game characters!
    Mr L: How is that any different from normal in this comic?

    Web Original 
  • The AVGN experienced several games come to life:
  • Paw Dugan's King's Quest V Let's Play finale, due to The Tetris Effect.
  • SCP-2424 is a boss from a Mega Man style game, somehow brought to reality. Interestingly, while he's not aware he's in "the real world", he's fully aware that he's a video game character.
    SCP-2424: I'm the first, the easiest, I'm supposed to be. I've been destroyed more times than I care to remember. And each time it hurts. I'm not happy about my existence, but I've come to accept my demotion.

    Western Animation 
  • Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
    • In an episode, Electro traps Spider-Man inside a computer and forces him to play Pong.
    • In another episode, a video game creature called Videoman escapes from his arcade machine and then traps Iceman within it.
  • The players in Chaotic can travel to the monster world of Perim, where the In-Universe VR-style game is based on. There, they can scan the characters and their abilities, items, and even locations, and all can be used for the game.
  • ReBoot:
    • In this CGI-animated series, the User's games would descend on a part of Mainframe, and the sprites in that area would be forced to compete. If the User won the game, that area of the city would be destroyed, and the sprites would turn into mindless Nulls.
    • In a more proper sense of the trope, when Mainframe starts to crash the characters from the games appear in the system. This is given a quick Handwave so we can move on to seeing our heroes beat the crap out of every User Character.
  • An episode of Ben 10 had Ben and Gwen transported inside a video game by a combination of Upgrade's powers and lightning.
  • One episode of Darkwing Duck had DW trapped inside a video game.
  • The Fairly OddParents! The episode "Power Mad".
  • The Back to the Future The Animated Series episode "Bravelord and the Demon Monstrux" had Doc accidentally zapped into Verne's favourite video game of the same title, and the characters from the game transported into 1992 Hill Valley.
  • In an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Meatwad plays a video game that, like The Last Starfighter, is a test to find the person who can defeat the Gorgotron and save all of the moon's craps crops. Of course in reality it's just a ploy by Ignignokt and Err to find suckers for their MLM scam.
  • The plot of the Glitch Techs series revolves around a tech support group, whose real task is capturing video game characters that wreak havoc after "glitching" out from of various consoles and arcade cabinets.
  • The cast of Futurama become characters in a Dungeons & Dragons game world in the direct-to-DVD movie Bender's Game. (Since it was a world imagined by Bender, it was sort of a video game too.)
  • In the Kim Possible episode Virt-u-Ron, the characters enter the MMORPG "Everlot," an Everquest parody.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • In "Fight Fighters", Dipper uses a secret code (that might or might not reference the Konami code) to bring Rumble McSkirmish to life to beat Robbie up for him. This being an anomaly of the town, things go From Bad to Worse.
    • "Soos and the Real Girl" has a character from a Japanese Dating Sim become sentient and go Yandere for Soos, eventually controlling the animatronics of a Suck E. Cheese's to Murder the Hypotenuse.
    • "Dungeons, Dungeons, and More Dungeons" has a non-video game example, where a magic "infinite-sided die" brings to life a tabletop role-playing game's flagship villain, Probabilitor the Annoying.
  • In the Rated "A" for Awesome episode "Never Judge A Mutant By It's Slobber", the Awesomizers' attempt to play their new game in virtual reality inadvertantly brings the characters into the real world.
  • In the Christmas Episode of Mike the Knight, Mike's dad brings home a board game based on the castle. When Evie casts a spell to make the pieces look more like the family, she instead sends them all into the game.
  • This is the origin of Danger Mouse relaunch character Megahurtz. He's a video game character who (somehow) escaped into the real world, but still operates on video game logic.
  • In the Wishfart episode "What's Up, P. Buddy?", Puffin wishes from Dez for his favorite video game character, Major Abs, to come to life and be his best friend. However, Major Abs instead hypnotizes Puffin and a bunch of other characters as part of a plot to kidnap Dez and use his leprechaun wishing magic to take over the world.
  • The Fangbone! episode "The Kat of Munching" sees Venomous Drool bring to life the eponymous character of Munchie-Kat when Fangbone becomes addicted to the game, and Munchie-Kat proceeds to drive Fangbone crazy with its endless demand to be fed.