Civilian version of the Training "Accident".
A group of characters take part in a game, for example, a murder mystery role playing game, then someone is apparently Killed Off for Real. One of the characters gets accused of the "real" murder, there is much sleuthing, then the truth is revealed — The Game Never Stopped.
Named after a quote from the Saved by the Bell episode "Mystery Weekend", where such an event was the entire plot.
A Sub-Trope Of False Crucible. Reverse it and you have And You Thought It Was a Game. Another common inversion involves one or more characters who think themselves Genre Savvy enough to spot this trope refusing to believe an actual death has occurred.
Not related to The Game, which you just lost. (Though it is related to The Game (1997), as noted below!)
Keep in mind that the titles alone in the following examples may constitute spoilers.
- The Genre Savvy title character of Haruhi Suzumiya is invited, along with the rest of the Five-Man Band, to a small remote island which seems perfect for a murder mystery setting, and despite there not being any suspicious people present, Haruhi tries predicting the first murder victim and the murderer's identity. Then her best candidate for murderer turns up dead. It turns out to be a game put on by Koizumi's organization, who are even more Genre Savvy than Haruhi and provided her with the murder mystery she desired so that her unconscious reality-warping powers didn't kick in and create a real murder mystery.
- Case Closed episode 57-58 has the characters at a Sherlock Holmes-related gathering, which will end with a mystery to be solved, the prize being a rare Sherlock Holmes book. But when the time for the test approaches, the owner's car drives him off the edge of a cliff. The body is unrecoverable. This is actually an aversion. It's a real murder, and no character ever suspects that it's just a test (although some think that the owner is alive but that other murders are real). The fact that the body is not recoverable is important to the mystery in a different way, not as a sign that he's not really dead.
- A variation happens in Glass Mask. main chracters Maya and Ayumi, in an audition for the role of the deafblind writer Helen Keller, are told to "wait as Helen" along with a group of other child actresses. Some time later, a fire alarm goes off and the girls react to it... except for Maya and Ayumi. Therefore, they're the only ones who pass the audition. Note that this is inspired in a true story: actress Patty Duke got the same role in a similar way.
- The Five-Man Band of Detective School Q are also sent to a remote island which was supposedly the site of a gruesome series of unsolved murders. Again, the inevitable occurs. But nobody truly died: it was a Test of Character coming from their seniors, who faked their deaths to see if the band was tough enough. They realized it and counterattacked by setting up a fake attack from the "murderers", who admitted their plan.
- Black Butler has a manga arc that plays with this trope, fittingly called the "Phantomhive Manor Murders Arc."
- In the "Castle of Wax Murder Case" (aka "House of Wax Murder Case") arc of The Kindaichi Case Files, this is how the serial murder case takes place in this arc. The contestants enter a castle and solve a make-believe murder mystery, only to find one of the contestants there being Killed Off for Real soon after said make-believe murder mystery is solved.
- One episode of Pokémon the Series: Diamond and Pearl had a completely unintentional example of this trope that the characters decided to run with. Ash and friends decide to enter a Pokémon mimicry contest, where they each submit a Pokémon who has to remain in-character as a completely different Pokémon, and the winner's Trainer receives a rare Pokémon egg as their prize. Halfway through the contest, Team Rocket decides to steal the egg, leading to a frenzy that ends with Ash and friends blasting them off and recovering the egg. However, instead of resuming the contest, the judges declare Brock and his Croagunk the winner, because Croagunk was the only one not to break character during the commotion.
- In the David Fincher movie, The Game never stopped, either.
- The pseudo-slasher fim April Fools' Day.
- eXistenZ pulls this off too possibly up to four times over the course of the movie, with the cast pointing guns at each other and wondering if they were still inside the game.
- Jim Henson's The Cube. The man, who has just attempted to commit suicide, is told that his time spent in the cube was a gag, a test of his sanity, if you will. After being taken to the Doctor's office, he talks about some moral he learned, about reality and illusion. To prove his point, he picks up a letter opener and stabs his thumb, exclaiming "Hey! I actually cut myself. But look! I bleed." The doctor bids him to taste it. It's strawberry jam. The walls morph back into the plain whiteness of The Cube.
- Cry_Wolf is a highly warped version of this. The murders were all revealed to be fake when the protagonist kills the supposed murderer. It's later revealed that this was the entire point of a Kansas City Shuffle by another of the main characters, who had also been responsible for the actual murder that inspired the pranks.
- The mind games in Inception pretty much invoke this trope. In the beginning of the movie, a character is pointed out that he is dreaming, and awakens, realizing (as the dream-inducers intended) that the dream was an attempt to extract information from his memories. Only when the perpetrators try to interrogate him the old-fashioned way and make a blunder, he realizes that he is still dreaming — the second layer of dreams was a part of the plan.
- And at the end. Does the top fall?
- In Kingsman: The Secret Service, the first Kingsman test ends with a girl named Amelia drowning. This convinces the candidates that the tests they are undertaking really will kill them if they screw up. The second and third tests both initially seem potentially lethal but are immediately revealed not to have been; the final test is for Eggsy and Roxy to shoot their companion dogs, and it's only after Eggsy refuses and fails the test that it's revealed the gun was loaded with blanks. Not only that, Amelia was a Kingsman employee and merely faked her death so the candidates would think they were in real danger, when they were actually safe the whole time; the whole thing was just one Secret Test of Character after another.
- Zigzagged in Fear, Inc.. First of all, Joe believes that attacks are part of a game organized by Fear, Inc. Then he finally comes to believe the attacks are real, and kills one of the Malevolent Masked Men. Then, Lindsey tells him that it was just a game, and he has just murdered an actor. He and Lindsey take the body out to the desert to bury it, but Fear, Inc. catches up with them. Fear, Inc. kill Lindsey and leave Joe in the desert. He eventually finds his way to a diner and tries to call the police only to discover it really was all a game and everyone is still alive. But, in a final twist, Fear, Inc. announces they are horrible people for having played the game, and murders them.
- Ted Dekker's book Skin turns out to be this, and does it AGAIN in the end. Dekker likes to mess with his readers' heads sometimes.
- Happens in Apprentice Adept when the unicorns play against the giants in a game of capture the flag. The unicorns use a false flag and play the sound that indicates the end of the game to trick the giants into leaving their post.
- Subverted in Joan Hess's Murder at the Murder at the Mimosa Inn, in which the designated murder victim of a mystery game is Killed Off for Real. This trope is suggested by a minor character who assumes it's yet another contrived plot twist, but only until the real cops show up.
- Hive Mind (2016): In Candidate, Eli gets sent back to teen level due to a system failure in his Lottery result. He's actually getting one final Lottery evaluation, in which he is kidnapped and has to rescue someone, to see if he's a suitable candidate for a Strike Team Leader imprint.
- As noted above, they did it on Saved By the Bell in one of the few episodes not set at the school or summer beach camp.
- Seen on The Golden Girls: "The Case of the Libertine Belle"
- Also seen on an episode of The Jeffersons where the Jeffersons take a mystery cruise with a group of mystery authors. One of the authors drinks poisoned wine, throwing suspicion on his compatriots. No one takes George's attempts at detecting seriously... until he figures out who the "killer" is.
- This episode is also a rare example where George isn't the show's Butt-Monkey.
- Monk: Played with in "Mr. Monk Gets Drunk", when Monk and Natalie visit the place where Monk honeymooned with Trudy. The owner brings up a Noodle Incident, which Monk apologizes for again, and the owner explains that they had a mystery weekend where some actors were brought along to act out a little murder mystery that was to take three days, and Monk solved the case in twelve minutes. The details, from what Monk mentions, apparently involved an alibi being broken because of someone claiming to have met Winston Churchill before Churchill was knighted, and two lovers plotting to assassinate a sultan.
- An episode of Stargate SG-1 had a group of four trainees taking part in a training exercise to see if they could qualify to be part of an SG team. Just as they believe they've failed, they are suddenly embroiled in an Goa'uld plot where the Goa'uld have infiltrated the SGC. However, it turns out that "foiling" this plot was the true exercise, as was the sudden Stargate malfunction that takes place at the end.
- Essentially, they had a test within a test within a test, with the third test existing solely because they suspected one of the test subjects had realized the second test was the real test...
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, this was used by a sentient hologram known as Moriarty—yes, the Sherlock Holmes Moriarty—when he pretends to step outside the holodeck. His plan was to make them think it was possible, so they would attempt to do the same thing for his wife, but for real, thus allowing him to duplicate the experiment for himself. The main characters caught on, however, and used the same method to make him think he'd already left the holodeck, but was really in a computer simulation. And just to mess with the audience, they muse about how their entire world could be running in a box on someone's table.
- The entire series might count as this, with the first episode being a trial started by Q, and in the last episode Q returns and tells Picard "The trial never ended." Or it might be another one of Q's Mind Screws.
- Done during the start of series 8 of Red Dwarf. The cast is secretly put into a VR simulation so that their actions could be observed and used to determine if they were guilty of a certain crime. Rimmer starts screwing with the VR to erase evidence of his own crimes, causing it to break down and free the others... except this series of events is also part of the simulation, of which Rimmer was also trapped inside. Amusingly, their actions within the simulation prove their innocence... but reveal that they are guilty of an unrelated crime that carries the same prison sentence.
- In Derren Brown's Apocalypse Reality TV special, the victim, Steven, was told that he did not qualify to partake in the special when in fact he has been chosen. This was done to prevent bias and to ensure that he doesn't get suspicious and catch on when the gaslighting, and later, the elaborate con, starts.
- Actually technically true for the volunteers of many of Derren's experiments, done to throw off suspicion when the gaslighting and elaborate con starts, and to prevent bias.
- Can happen in Among Us, when you thought you've found out who the impostor is, kicked them out, And There Was Much Rejoicing ...but wait, where's the victory screen? You've got the wrong person, dumbass. The actual impostor is still here to kill you.
- In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Raiden is performing a complicated operation with the goal of rescuing the president from terrorists. As the story progresses, he realises the operation is actually a very complicated training exercise-cum-social experiment by an organisation called The Patriots, with only Solid Snake and Otacon's involvement as an unplanned-for element. In the final scene of the game, we overhear a conversation between Snake and Otacon in which Otacon discovers that their biggest contributor shares a name with a member of The Patriots, implying their involvement was part of the simulation after all.
- The tutorial of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter ends with your training instructors getting kidnapped by Jaeger Corps. soldiers (a criminal mercenary group who bear a grudge against the Adventure Guild the player belongs to). They hole up in a nearby training facility, but when you defeat them it turns out the jaegers were actually your instructors in disguise: the raid was the final exam for the training and no actual jaegers were present.
- In Umineko: When They Cry in EP6 it turns out that the victims were only playing dead to play a prank on Erika. And then it turns out that as the detective, Erika took the liberty of 'ensuring' the bodies were dead by sawing their heads off.
- A more sinister version happens in the Creepypasta "NoEnd House". A man attempts the challenge of the titular NoEnd House, which promises a $500 cash prize to anyone who can make it through all 9 rooms. Each room is more terrifying and Mind Screwy than the last, but eventually he finally completes Room 9, returns to the entrance of the house, and collects the $500. But when he returns home, he sees a number 10 scratched into his front door.
- Totally Spies!:
- The episode "The Get Away". The girls are sent on a vacation, but get involved in a madman's plot to cause volcanoes all over the world to erupt (a la Dr. Evil). During the episode they find out that it was all a test set up by their WOOHP boss Jerry, who tells them they failed. Then a volcano really explodes and they have to save everyone, and Jerry decides they passed the test after all.
- "Déjà Cruise" is like this too, having them go through a faux "Groundhog Day" Loop in which a terrorist tries to take over WOOHP's luxury cruiser, and every attempt they do to foil him ends up with the girls thrown into the sea then waking up in their room as if time had rewound to earlier that day. In the end, when they decide to ask for the other agents' cooperation, it is revealed this is another of Jerry's insane tests.
- "What's New, Scooby-Doo?" episode "E-Scream" — Velma gets a false mystery inside a VR machine during E3. She spots some errors dealing with other members of Mystery Inc. revealing she was in a VR machine.