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Virtual-Reality Interrogation

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Cold-Blooded Torture within the center of the mind.
A person doesn't talk. You need to get a secret from him. So, you simulate conditions under which he does talk. You may convince him he is among allies, who depend on him telling the secret. You may convince him enough time passed that the secret is irrelevant now. You may convince him the need for secret keeping is All Just a Dream (The latter case may contain a healthy dose of Lotus-Eater Machine). In short, he speaks.

And then it turns out this was indeed All Just a Dream. Created by you.

Compare Mental Picture Projector and Schrödinger's Butterfly.

Warning, this trope is spoileriffic.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Lupin III: Part II: The episode "To Be or Nazi Be" had the gang capture an old German soldier and convince him he was back in the war, with Hitler himself wanting to know where he had hidden the treasures he had been entrusted with. As soon as he squeals, "Hitler" turns out to be Lupin in disguise, and the whole base is a movie set.
  • In Pacific Rim: The Black, Shane uses a modified drift engine to trick Taylor into revealing the location of Atlas Destroyer, making it seem like they're both in a normal interrogation room.
  • This is the plot of an episode of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets.
  • Toward the Terra: In the anime, Jomy is stunned and wakes up back in his house with his mother still with him. He starts telling her how he dreamed that he failed the adulthood exam and was taken to a spaceship, which she urges him to explain more. He eventually realizes that she can't be real, and unleashes his psionic power to blow up the machine he's been hooked up to.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Punisher 2099, Jake has captured Multi-Fractor, the underboss of his archnemesis Fearmaster. He puts him under a nasty look contraption with various blades in an attempt to pump him for more information on Fearmaster. After Jake gets what he wants, the machine disappears. It turns out that Jake was using his virtual reality room to interrogate Multi-Fractor.

    Fan Works 
  • In CyberTech: War of the Worlds, Dumbledore is captured by the good guys, manages to escape the prison, and, once he gets into Hogwarts, tells Snape to recover some prisoners from the Headquarters. Snape replies he can't get them all by himself, so Albus is forced to give Flitwick the location as well. Cue the illusion dissolving...
  • Tales of the Canterlot Deportation Agency: Jake Pelletier thought he was in one for months after his arrival.
  • In There's a Fine Line, Tails is subjected to this by Rebel Leader Nova, revealing his tormentor to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • To the Stars has Dream Interrogations, which are also used for situations where somebody wants to talk, but is physically and/or mentally unable, including therapy sessions and debriefing. After the MagOps operation, one is used on Ryouko as a way of double-checking her condition.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The 1965 film 36 Hours (1965), in which German agents use a Faked Rip Van Winkle on an American officer in an attempt to learn the details of the upcoming D-Day operation.
  • At the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, Cap thinks that this is happening when he realizes that the baseball game supposedly playing on the radio is one he'd already watched. He breaks out and discovers the truth — it's an inverted Faked Rip Van Winkle intended to protect him from the shock of finding himself in the twenty-first century.
  • Most of the protagonists of Inception are professional Virtual Reality Interrogators. The method they use allows them to snoop through the subject's subconscious mind, usually by pretending they are on the subject's side in some way. Sometimes it works, but being too bold with this tactic can easily arouse too much suspicion and expose them.
  • Not done with technology, but in a combination of this idea and 2 + Torture = 5, the British spy protagonist of The Ipcress File is captured and held by enemy spies in a secret location in London. As part of an attempt to break him mentally and physically, his captors try to convince him that he's a criminal and traitor being held in an Eastern European prison. This includes having him visited by a spy pretending to be a representative of the Foreign Office, and thus a friendly face.
  • In Ready Player One (2018), the heroes hijack the Big Bad's account and reroute his connection so he ends up in a virtual recreation of his office, held at gunpoint by Wade and Daito using skins that make them look like their real selves. They end up exposing their ruse because Wade forgets to close the door behind him when he leaves the simulation and removes the skin, allowing the villain to catch a glimpse of his avatar reflected on the surface of his rig.
  • In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Mysterio/Quentin Beck uses holographic illusions to trick Peter Parker into thinking he's exposing his fraudulent scheme to Nick Fury and Maria Hill. Then it turns out the building is empty, and Mysterio proceeds to mentally torture Peter with more illusions. After a while, Mysterio appears to have been shot from behind by a "real" Nick Fury, who then asks Peter who else knows about Beck's plan. It turns out that was just another layer of the illusion, and Beck now knows who to target.
  • In Virtuosity, the final battle between Sid 6.7 and Parker ends with Parker thrown off a building and dead...except that it's then revealed that they were able to trap Sid back in his VR computer and create a set of circumstances in which he would think he'd won. Though he still manages to almost actually kill Parker, when the hero finally escapes they're able to determine where Sid hid his last two captives from the events of the VR simulation.

  • In Altered Carbon, Takeshi Kovacs is subjected to a virtual reality where he is sleeved in a female body and raped violently and repeatedly numerous times, however he recognizes the simulation from his time putting down a rebellion on an Islamic planet. And later he shows one of his interrogators the program they used on the insurrectionists — he creates a virtual doppelganger of the interrogator to torture himself for information.
    • Inverted in the follow-up novel, Broken Angels, where Takeshi makes it perfectly clear that the man is in a virtual software room. He then informs him that, if the man doesnt tell him what he wants to know, he will just leave him there with his stack plugged into the self-powered VR device. In a construct designed as little more than a very short term holding area, i.e. nothing happened, no other people are programmed in. Alone. For the relative centuries that the battery would keep the simulation running for. Worse than any other interrogation technique, really.
    • It becomes clear this is endemic to the setting; a more innocuous example involves job interviews being carried out in cyberspace to save time and travel expense - and save interviewer attention by using software doubles of the interviewers to do most of the actual work and make it unclear to the candidates how many of them there are.
  • In the BIONICLE novel Time Trap, Vakama attempts to recover the mask of time which had previously been lost but loses consciousness after a mysterious figure steals it from him. He seemingly awakens in an alternate timeline where he and his friends never became Toa and thinks that the mask is responsible. He eventually figures out that the Big Bad is using illusions to trick him into investigating the identity of the thief and confirms this by reminding the fake Nokama in the illusion of an event which never happened, but he plays along with the illusion for some time after that to find more clues.
  • In The City and the Stars, the heroes are questioning a robot which must keep silent until the end of time. The Master Computer simulates just that.
    • Later a virtual dream is used to cure Diaspar inhabitants of their agoraphobia.
  • Encryption Straffe has three entire chapters dedicated to such a process in a simulated hellscape, nicknamed by its author as the "hell arc".
  • In The Icewind Dale Trilogy, Bruenor is given a potion to drive him back into his childhood, and make him remember the location of his lost homeland. When he cannot tell it because it is secret, Drizzt enhances the illusion by pretending to be an ally coming with an army to help Bruenor. Unlike most examples, the whole thing was actually Bruenor's idea rather than an enemy's.
  • Judge Dee once had a prisoner who refused to talk even after torture, so he had his henchmen put on bull and horse masks, making the suspect think she was facing the judge of the dead (the Judge's resemblance to the Yama is repeatedly noted throughout the series), finally getting her to confess.
  • In MARZENA, Dr. Lauren connects Dr. Sam to a virtual reality created via the bio-feedback of his dreams, and then send a virtual avatar controlled by Kristen to steal his banking information. Crazy Dream Sequence full of Nightmare Fuel follows.
  • The Sobornost in The Quantum Thief have turned this trope into an art form. Whenever they need to extract information from a gogol (an uploaded mind), they simply make a backup and then subject it to wide variety of painful and pleasurable experiences in the matter of microseconds, and if it breaks down they make another copy and try again with new variation until they get the desired results. It's the most sophisticated form of Mind Rape imaginable.
  • Subverted in the Shadowrun novel Shadowplay, where the virtual reality used against the female protagonist just simulates plain old physical torture and rape. But when rescued, she initially fears it may be this trope (though she only expects it to be a Hope Spot and then back to torture, rather than a sneaky interrogation).
  • In The Stars My Destination, there is an attempt to get information from the protagonist by simulating for him a reality where he is rich and happy, and his adventures are All Just a Dream. He spots A Glitch in the Matrix (his own reflection) right before talking.
  • In the Star Trek Expanded Universe short story "Shakedown", Captain Harriman of the Enterprise-B has been captured by the Romulans and is being questioned by their finest interrogator. Eventually, the interrogator lets slip the names of Romulan agents in Starfleet, in order to encourage Harriman to talk, and Harriman immediately says "End program", and reveals they're on the Enterprise's experimental holochamber.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alias: Sidney's father suffered from a Tap on the Head and now thinks he's back in the 1970s with his wife and young daughter. So Sidney has to pretend to be her own mother, married to her father, in order to get her father to give up some secret codes. To make it extra-uncomfortable, her father, thinking she's his wife, tries to make out with her.
  • Altered Carbon: There are rentable clinics where you can put a prisoner in a VR simulation where they can be killed and revived over and over. Unlike other examples of this trope, Kovacs knows all too well he's in a simulation and not even death will make the torture stop. Worse, he doesn't have the information the interrogator wants so he can't even confess. It takes him mentally stopping his own heart to finally escape. Revenge for this experience is what convinces him to hunt down the criminal conspiracy, rather than any moral reasons.
  • The Avengers (1960s):
    • In one episode, Tara King is victim of such a ploy by villains trying to locate John Steed and whoever he was protecting.
    • Another has a fake "training seminar" orchestrated by enemy agents. British agents would not crack during the "interrogation simulations", but would later casually discuss the subject matter at the bar...
  • Done twice in Babylon 5:
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): Starbuck suspects this trope when she's shot and wakes up in a Resistance hospital. Turns out it's a Cylon Baby Factory.
  • In the Black Mirror episode "White Christmas", an electronic copy of a suspected murderer's mind is created and placed in a simulation of an isolated winter cabin, where time is accelerated to give the appearance that he'd been there for five years. Then, an interrogator inserts himself into the simulation and convinces the copy to confess.
  • Done to John Crichton at least twice in Farscape.
    • The first time, he appears to find a wormhole back to Earth and his friends follow, only to be held by the government, who dissect Rygel. Except it was made by the Ancients to determine if Earth would welcome alien immigrants.
    • The second, he wakes up from a coma and is told he dreamed the whole thing after the Farscape project crashed, except that all the aliens he knew are on Earth as well, and no one seems to care. Having been through something similar before, he's certain it's a fake even before Scorpius's neural clone reveals himself. It's actually a subversion - the point is not to trick him into divulging information, but just to psychologically torture him until he breaks - at this point things get really weird.
  • There was an episode of Galidor where one of Gorm's minions created a virtual reality simulation of Allegra's bedroom to convince her it was All Just a Dream, and get her to talk about her adventures. Nick managed to break the illusion before she revealed any dangerous information. And in the last episode, Nick seemingly wakes up in his bedroom back on Earth and suspects that Gorm is pulling this trick on him, but then his mother walks in and opens the window curtains to reveal that his house has been transported to Galidor.
  • The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries: "Sole Survivor", where Joe wakes up in a hospital room with no clue where he is or how he got there, only to be told that he's not only been in a coma for a year, but that his father and brother are dead. Cue fake newspapers, fake newscasts, and forged letters from all his surviving relatives and friends. Of course, Frank and Fenton are very much alive, and the whole thing is a Mind Screw to get Joe to reveal information on a defection attempt.
  • Himitsu Sentai Gorenger: In episode 49, the Black Cross Army wants to steal a design for a powerful robot and so they send the Monster of the Week to capture Peggy and Kenji and have them wake up in a fake EAGLE base with the equipment they need to build it. The trick ultimately fails because a painting in the lab had very obvious eyeholes cut into it for spying on the prisoners. In order to escape, Kenji fakes his death in an explosion and then disguises himself as the robot and then Peggy tricks their captors into letting them outside by claiming the robot needs sunlight to fully activate.
  • Legend of the Seeker: Season 1, Episode 12 "Home" is driven by this plot device. Darken Rahl has his pet wizard trap Richard in a dream about his home. Inside the dream, Rahl takes on several different characters to try and convince Richard that the goings-on of the series so far was All Just a Dream to learn the location of one of the boxes of Orden from him. Ultimately, The Power of Love combined with Rahl pushing too hard breaks the spell at the last moment.
  • In an episode of Metal Hurlant Chronicles the guy giving people virtual reality fantasies that become real turns out to be a prisoner being subjected to a virtual parole hearing. He fails.
  • Mission: Impossible: In "Operation Rogosh", an unbreakable foreign agent known as "The Monster" who specializes in mass murder is discovered in Los Angeles, the IMF team needs to break him (only to discover a planned biological attack on Los Angeles area water system). The team must trick him into revealing the location of his biological devices by convincing him that it is three years into the future, he is back in his own country, and he is on trial for being an American spy.
  • The Prisoner (1967):
    • In the episode "The Chimes of Big Ben", Number 6 escapes the Village and is transported to London, where he meets a former superior. As he's about to explain why he resigned, he hears the Westminster Chimes which match the time on his watch, still set to the time in the Village. Turns out he's still there.
    • In "A, B and C", Number Six is drugged and hooked up to a machine that controls his dreams. He meets several characters who try to get him to confess why he resigned. Eventually he figures out what's going on and manages to seize control of the dream.
  • In the Red Dwarf three-parter "Back in the Red", the Dwarfers are subjected to this by the newly resurrected crew to verify their story that it's three million years in the future and most of them had been killed by a radiation leak then reconstructed by nanites. While Lister, Cat, Kryten, and Kochansky are under, Rimmer tries to erase their memories of giving him access to the personnel files, which leads to the reveal of another layer of virtual reality.
  • Stargate SG-1 features "Out of Mind", a Clip Show in which the framing device is that O'Neill, Carter and Daniel awaken from stasis in what appears to be the SGC, almost 79 years in the future, and they need information for their incomplete records. They discover it is actually a Goa'uld hoax by Hathor.
  • In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Stratagem". Captain Archer tries to get information out of an alien by convincing him that they are now friends and that years have gone by. The alien ship they have supposedly stolen is actually set up inside a small shuttle in the Enterprise landing bay. The small touches making the simulation seem real include tattooing both their arms with prison barcodes.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • Subverted in the episode "Future Imperfect", where Riker thinks he is a victim of one (he is supposedly a couple of decades in the future, and suffering from amnesia, but his supposed wife is a woman of his dreams, that he knows never existed outside the holodeck). The Romulans reveal themselves when he calls them out on it. However, as it turns out the Romulans aren't real either — there is just one alien, highly psychic and very lonely, keeping Riker in a Lotus-Eater Machine to have some company and conjuring things from his mind — the whole espionage plot was the device's attempt to respond to Riker's realization that the first reality was fictitious, based on his own assumptions about what might really be going on.
    • Similarly, in "The Inner Light", Picard thinks this is happening to him when he finds himself reliving the life of a long-dead alien scientist before finding out that there's no deception at all.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Inquisition", Section 31 tries to probe Doctor Bashir for possible disloyal behavior by secretly slipping him in a holodeck simulation in which prominent members of the Dominion try to convince him that he's a Manchurian Agent and actually unsuspectingly working for them. It doesn't work and Doctor Bashir remains loyal to the Federation, despite all the mounting "evidence" to suggest otherwise, and in doing so impresses Section 31 so much that they later turn to him for some of their own covert ops.
  • In one episode of V.I.P., Val and Tasha are kidnapped and drugged after they hide a witness in a safehouse. In order to make them reveal the secret, the villain attempts to convince them they've been comatose for 40 years.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eclipse Phase:
    • This is commonly employed by various governments and covert entities. In a setting where one's consciousness can be virtualized, backed up, and forked, it is a relatively simple matter to capture a backup of an individual's mind and interrogate them in a simulspace... possibly repeatedly, resetting them to their original state each time.
    • It's also commonly used as a form of incarceration. No risk of escape, considerable savings on housing them, and Time Dilation allows a prisoner to serve a six-year sentence in one year. The more benevolent-leaning factions use it to rehabilitate criminals instead.
  • In just about any Cyberpunk setting this can be expected (Carbon 2185, Interface Zero, etc). With crime often being rampant, criminals can often be expected to experience a VR version of their sentence, to put less strain on overcrowded prisons.

    Video Games 
  • Death Come True: The COME TRUE system was created with the intention of treating brain disorders; however, it is also employed by the police as a method of interrogation.
  • Hi-Fi RUSH: After seemingly being captured by Korsica, Chai finds himself back in the hideout. It appears that he's being set up for one of these before he abruptly walks up, revealing that he'd simply fallen asleep while he was captured.
  • In SOMA, Simon and Catherine conduct one of these to obtain a security cipher from the digitized consciousness of a security officer. Some trial and error is required to create a simulation where he is willing to provide the information, forcing the player to tinker with the digital environment in between attempts while watching the man's consciousness be instantiated and then terminated repeatedly.
  • In Technobabylon, Latha puts a mook to sleep, enters his unconscious mind and then tricks him into giving away a door access code by making him believe he is at work.
  • There's a scene in Vagrant Story where Guildenstern is interrogating Hardin about the nature of the Gran Grimoire, when suddenly the room turns monochrome, everyone in the room except Hardin vanishes, and Hardin's mentor, Sydney, is standing in front of him. Convinced that his mentor has somehow teleported him to safety, Hardin freely tells Sydney everything he knows... only to realise too late that he's still talking to Guildenstern, who has disguised himself with an illusion.

  • In General Protection Fault, Nick gets kidnapped by Ki's counterpart from the "Nega-verse", who tricks him into getting into the MuTEX virtual reality machine on the night before his wedding to Ki, but instead transports him back to her dimension, where he is sedated on arrival and places him into her MuTEX in order to trick him, while sleep-deprived, into telling her how to make Project Velociraptor. Unfortunately, Nega-Ki makes a few mistakes, and Nick sees through her.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, a Gatekeeper officer who is refusing to tell the Fleetmind anything about the dark matter entities is captured for Mind-ripping. As he's being brought in he escapes, and while shooting his way out he starts to wonder if it's really worth it to protect those ungrateful younger races from the Paan'uri...
    Petey: Well, the simulation has him thinking along the right track.

    Western Animation 
  • In the second season of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, after a prolonged period of torturing (off-screen) for information without success, Captain America's Skrull captors have his next interrogation "interrupted" by a rescue by the other Avengers (actually shapeshifted Skrull). It doesn't work though, as Captain America sees through it immediately.
  • An episode of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command uses the Faked Rip Van Winkle variant; he's convinced a Negative Space Wedgie transported him into the future and destroyed Zerg. In reality, the "museum pieces" are his actual armour, the kids he's telling stories (and weaknesses) to are robots and Zerg is alive, well and showing Buzz's captive crew the whole setup to taunt them.
  • In Futurama, Mom wants to get Fry's bank information. Since his PIN was related to his old job in the twentieth century, her sons set up an elaborate hoax to convince him that coming to the future was All Just a Dream and he was back in his old life.
  • In the 11th episode of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the heroes need to get a code for an ancient Cool Gate from a prisoner. First, he gives them a code. Then, the bad guys capture them, and he gives them another code. Then, he is released, flies away, gets to the gate, and uses a third code (that one works). Then, the Properly Paranoid heroes remove his VR helmet.
  • A variation is present in an episode of Invader Zim. Zim puts Dib in a virtual reality where he gains ultimate power and uses it to defeat the Irken and become a major celebrity just so he could get Dib to confess that he threw a muffin at him during lunch.
  • Rick and Morty has subjected Rick to this a couple of times. It tends to go poorly for the perpetrators.
    • The first time, aliens trap him in a multi-layer simulation and try to make him reveal his recipe for "concentrated dark matter" once he thinks he's escaped; but he figures it out and gives them a different formula that blows up their entire ship.note 
    • He gets locked up by the Federation for his many crimes at the end of season 2. The next season opens with another attempt at this trope, but he doesn't fall for it, so it turns into a normal interrogation... though still in the virtual dreamworld. He pretends to give up and offer the dimension-hopping equations they wanted, but instead he gives them a virus that takes over the simulation and lets him body-swap into the interrogator.