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Virtual-Reality Warper

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"When the Matrix was first built, there was a man born inside who had the ability to change whatever he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit. It was he who freed the first of us, taught us the truth: as long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free."
Morpheus, The Matrix

Much like real-world video games, it's common for virtual reality simulations to be bound by very specific rules for the sake of playability: you can't start the game with the best toys, you don't have the ability to sabotage other players' software, and everyone has to abide by the same laws of physics. It's not perfect, but barring the occasional Holodeck Malfunction, the program remains balanced and functional for the majority of users... except, of course, for the cheaters.

For a small, hardcore elite, the rules of virtual reality are at best polite suggestions. Essentially the Reality Warpers of the simulated world, they can be hackers twisting the system out of shape, rogue programs modified to act outside the rules, or administrators who've given themselves special privileges within the simulation.

Regardless of their motivations, regardless whether they're Playful Hacker types who just want to have fun or malevolent digital tricksters out to control everything in the simulation, the method is almost always the same: subvert the rules — or create new ones — so as to make things go their way.

May be a Domain Holder if they can only control their own private region of cyberspace. Will often be Weaker in the Real World, though exceptions do exist.

Contrast Dream Weaver and Master of Illusion, the non-digital variations of this trope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Digimon Adventure: Apocalymon's very existence warped the Digital World around him, an effect that expanded the longer he remained in existence.
  • In the anime adaptation of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the crux of the episode "The Day of Sagittarius" is a computer game battle. The opposing team wrote the game and uses this to cheat their way to victory, so Yuki, herself essentially a computer, reprograms the game while playing to level the playing field.
  • Sword Art Online:
    • Kirito himself has often displayed an uncanny ability to defy the system with his Heroic Willpower, which later was identified as an ability called Incarnation.
    • Any Game Masters with administrator privileges, such as Kayaba or Sugou, are this by design. Kayaba is capable of freezing the world around him as well as giving himself Complete Immortality so there is no chance of him being killed, though he later turns this off to fight Kirito fairly. Sugou is even more notorious, using his GM powers to be a Gravity Master who can summon items out of thin air, as well as subjecting Kirito to Cold-Blooded Torture by turning off the pain absorber. Kirito was only able to overcome this via Kayaba's Virtual Ghost revoking Sugou's admin privileges and giving them to Kirito.
    • In the Underworld, this exists as an ability of the world itself, where characters with strong enough willpower can reshape reality using their imagination, which ranges from materializing objects, converting objects, or healing damage.
    • Also exists in the sister series/sequel Accel World where Brain Burst users have codified the ability as the Incarnate System. Despite the ability of some who has mastered the Incarnate System to dominate over another player who those who first figured it out (and those trained by them) use if very sparingly as when it goes wrong it has the potential to produce things like the Chrome Disaster.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Noah Kaiba has full control over his personal virtual world, displaying powers such as warping between locations and magically petrifying his victims. Though it's established that he must defeat his opponents in a duel in order to steal their bodies, he later bends this rule and nearly takes over Yugi by force, only failing due to the latter's own magical abilities shielding him.
    • Also frequent in Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS, where Revolver has been shown to effortlessly control Data storms, alter Vrains to look like Hell for a duel and once claimed to be able to single handedly destory Vrains all by himself, and latter there are at least 3 characters that give themselves the ability to use Skills (something that is only suppose to happen in Speed Duels) in Master duels.

     Audio Plays 
  • The Big Finish Doctor Who What-If episode "He Jests At Scars" features this as the ultimate plot twist: After the Valeyard replaces the Doctor, he does so much damage to the timeline that he's forced to retreat to the TARDIS full-time, remaining perfectly still so that he can't destabilize the ruined universe any further. Here, he is able to convert his TARDIS into a Lotus-Eater Machine; within the simulation, he possesses godlike powers over time, and is able to enslave the simulated peoples of the dream world to his whims and even create his own utopian capital at the centre of the time vortex. In the finale, he uses this power to easily defeat Mel... up until the TARDIS is forced to divert power away from the simulation in order to keep her passengers from moving; Mel and the Valeyard wake up inside the TARDIS, paralyzed for all eternity.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Free Guy: Early in the film, after Guy starts to break the limits of his NPC coding, Mouser goes God Mode to stop Guy from escaping. Later in the film, Mouser again tries to stop Guy's escape on Antwan's orders, but Keys counter-warps reality to assist Guy, because if Guy gets beyond the limits of the game world, he'll expose the lingering traces of Life Itself - which Antwan stole from Keys to build Free City.
  • The Matrix
    • The human "redpill" hackers who work within the Matrix are able to bend the laws of its "reality" to perform superhuman feats — within limits: empowering themselves with downloaded knowledge, making themselves stronger and faster than most human beings, and making absolutely impossible jumps appears to be the extent of their abilities.
    • Being programs empowered by the Machines to police the Matrix, Agents are able to perform actions beyond the abilities of any redpill: along with being strong enough to punch through a concrete wall and fast enough to dodge small arms fire, they have the power to take over the virtual bodies of ordinary human beings, making them essentially unkillable. Plus, they can also induce localized reality warps to cut off escape routes, usually signified by a sudden case of deja vu.
    • In the Train Station, the Trainman has Home Field Advantage: complete control of reality.
      Trainman: You don't get it. I built this place. Down here, I make the rules. Down here, I make the threats. Down here, I'm God.
    • The ultimate example is Neo: as "the One," he has the power to not only bend the rules of the Matrix but break them entirely. Normally, he only uses this for things like flying and stopping bullets in mid-air, though occasionally his powers extend to more impressive feats like telekinesis, phasing through flesh to retrieve bullets, restarting stopped hearts and even destroying Agents entirely. Lore indicates that his power extends to warping the very nature of the Matrix itself — to the point that the first One released the first pod-born humans from captivity through sheer force of will.
  • TRON: A human programmer trapped in a parallel world of sentient computer programs discovers that he can manipulate the flow of energy that animates the world around him, allowing him to exert telekinetic control of some objects and heal damaged programs. The programs, who venerate their human users as deities, accordingly regard his abilities as miraculous.

  • The book Escapist Dream takes place in a virtual reality world where geeks can cosplay as their favorite fictional characters from anime, comics, video games, and movies. A person could take control of the virtual reality world by the use of viruses that can hack through the system. If ever a person gets to hold these bugs, they not only gain godlike power to warp the whole world, but also the ability to trap everyone inside (potentially forever). In the sequel Otaku Girl, certain artificial intelligences/non-playable characters are capable of having this powers as well.
  • Divergent: Divergents are capable of manipulating the simulation tests used to place kids into factions. The first time Tris is put through the Drowning Pit sim she tells herself it's not real and simply breaks the glass with a tap of her finger.
  • The Nannies of Idlewild are powerful programs with the ability to create entire virtual environments within the simulation in order to accommodate the wishes of either the students or Maestro — though fortunately this is almost always for the benefit of the students. Almost.
  • Featured throughout The Night Mayor. Within his simulated Film Noir City, Truro Daine is essentially able to write and rewrite the rules as he sees fit: when protagonist Tom Tunney tries to shoot him, Daine just turns his gun into a water pistol, then brainwashes him into becoming part of the narrative. VR designer Susan Bishopric fares a little better by trying to beat Daine at his own game, warping the simulation in increasingly grandiose ways; however, even she ends up getting overwhelmed and transformed into a serial killer in another narrative. It's not until Tunney and Bishopric are freed by Yggdrasil and join forces that they begin to undermine the Night Mayor's control of the City — and they have to because Daine is out to extend the City over the entire Internet with the aim of taking over the world.
  • In Ready Player One, the founders of OASIS have characters that can do literally anything within the simulation. After winning the contest, Wade Watts gains these capabilities and complete control of the OASIS — and some of his new powers explicitly violate clear rules of the virtual reality, such as being able to enter a private room without the knowledge or permission of its operators.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Black Mirror:
    • "White Christmas" features digitized copies of human brains known as "Cookies," commonly used as AIs in smart homes. Matt, as an employee of the company that makes these Cookies, can interact with them in virtual environments — but only so he can break their willpower and render them down into willing servants. To that end, he uses his interfacing device to mute them, accelerate their perceptions of time, and even alter their environment. The twist is Matt's been using the same powers to pull a Virtual-Reality Interrogation on Joe for the entire episode: Joe is just a Cookie, the outpost is Matt's virtual creation, and the five years that Joe has spent there was just seventy minutes.
    • Robert Daly of "USS Callister". As the creator of the best-selling sci-fi VR game Infinity he has access to a developer build of the game... but he's modded it to resemble his favourite TV show and granted himself special abilities within the game, from superhuman strength to the power to alter character models at will. Unfortunately, he mainly uses this for twisted power fantasies: having copied the minds of real people into the game, he forces them to participate in his attempts to play space hero, erasing Nanette's face when she refuses to willingly participate and transforming repeat offenders into monsters as punishment. His only weakness is that he needs to be in close proximity to a target for his powers to work. Also, his developer build is an illegal mod, hence why it's been kept offline; the moment his slaves manage to connect it to the Internet, Infinitys firewalls delete the game — taking Daly with it.
  • Caprica: Zoe and Tamara are anomalies in the New Cap City virtual world. Because they're really Virtual Ghosts with no body in the outside world to return to, they cannot be killed in any way. They gain even more control over the environment later on, turning New Cap City into a mountain fortress. Zoe even boasts to Sister Clarice that she's the new god.
  • Doctor Who:
    • While on the trail of the President's killer in "The Deadly Assassin", the Doctor plugs himself into the Matrix in an attempt to follow the trail back to the eponymous assassin. He's instantly plunged into a virtual reality simulation in which the assassin attacks him through a variety of methods: biplanes strafing him from above, a Deadly Doctor trying to drain his blood, a Monster Clown looming from a mirror, a samurai tossing him down a cliff, and a train trying to run him over. However, the Doctor is eventually able to lure the assassin into attacking him face to face on a level playing field, allowing him to both unmask him and get the upper hand.
    • During "Forest of the Dead", Donna finds herself teleported out of the Library and into a virtual reality scenario which seems to be under the control of Dr Moon; during their time together, Moon appears to be able to fast-forward Donna through her life via jumpcut and erase her memories if she happens to notice anything unusual or upsetting. In reality, Dr Moon is just a support program for the Library's central computer, CAL; while Moon has influence over things, CAL has full power over the simulation — as evidenced when she has a panic attack and accidentally begins deleting people from the simulation, even deactivating Dr Moon. Fortunately, once the Doctor saves the day, CAL and Dr Moon are able to rebuild the simulation so as to provide a comfortable Artificial Afterlife for the now-digitized River Song and her friends.
  • In the Farscape episode "John Quixote," Crichton tries to turn the tables on Scorpius by dragging him into the buggy VR game he was playing earlier in the episode. Unfortunately, Scorpius sees right through the simulation's fabric and can manipulate it in ways that ordinary players can't even attempt: within seconds, he turns Crichton's pulse pistol into a banana, dissolves Gilina into meaningless equations, and nearly manages to shut down Crichton's lungs in the real world before Aeryn saves him. And then it turns out that Crichton never stopped playing the game at all, and everything that's happened since he "quit" the first time — including Scorpy's breakout — was set up by Avatar Stark to frell with Crichton's head.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • "Better Than Life" gives the Dwarfers complete control over the virtual environment while playing the eponymous game, as it's meant to fulfill any desires the players have. However, towards the end, Rimmer's subconsciousness takes control of the game and begins directing it in ways that technically break the rules of the simulation — namely by punishing Rimmer and everyone around him. For good measure, it even tricks the crew into thinking that they've escaped the game, before suddenly unleashing the hammer-wielding Outland Revenue man on Rimmer.
    • In "Gunmen of the Apocalypse," Kryten is forced to do battle with a sentient computer virus in a Western-themed virtual reality dreamscape. Here, it takes the form of a deadly quartet of gunslingers known as the Apocalypse Boys, all of whom are empowered far beyond the level of Kryten's lone Sheriff (especially during the adaptation featured within Backwards). In an attempt to help, the rest of Dwarfers enter in the form of characters borrowed from a Western VR game — only for the Apocalypse Boys to cheat by spreading their virus to the VR console. As a result, Lister, Rimmer, and the Cat all lose their characters' special skills right before the climactic battle begins, and find themselves sealed in the game for good measure.
    • "Stoke Me A Clipper" features Lister getting so desperate for sex that he resorts to cheating in an Arthurian-themed VR game just so he can win a marathon shagging session with Queen Guinevere, using codes to turn his opponent's horse into a pony for an easy win and cause Guinevere's chastity belt to spontaneously disengage in mid-step.
    • Early in "Beyond A Joke," Kryten takes great exception to Lister turning down his home-cooked lobster dinner in favour of joining Kochanski's VR journey to Pride and Prejudice World, and tries to sabotage the experience by plugging in elements from other games. After taking out several of the Bennet sisters with blowpipes and rope snares (plus one failed attempt at a log trap), he goes so far as to import a battle tank from a WWII game, just so he can annihilate the remaining Bennets at the gazebo with a single medium-range shot.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "The Thaw", a virtual reality simulation shared by Human Popsicles has been hijacked by a Monster Clown residing within the system — the digital manifestation of the users' subconscious fear. Now in complete control of the simulation, the Clown is capable of doing almost anything if it allows him to make his prisoners suffer: he can conjure up items, age or regress users at will, and even read the minds of people connected to the simulators — albeit with a slight delay. Worse still, he even has the power to kill the users by exposing them to enough stress to cause heart attacks.

    Video Games 
  • Exaggerated in Azure Striker Gunvolt 2: Teseo has the ability to turn physical matter into computer data, which he can then reprogram. This allows him to not only create a vast cyber space which he has full control over but also to warp the fabric of reality itself, enabling him to create wormholes and bring holograms to life.
  • BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm: The game world is Cyberspace and hackers like Anonymous can change other people's avatars and perform Weather Manipulation, for example.
  • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair: The events of the story turns out to take place in a VR simulation called the Neo World Program, which explains some particularly over-the-top things that happen in the game, like some of the weirder executions or Nekomaru getting a new robot body after being mortally wounded. However, because Monokuma/AI Junko worked their way into the program by usurping the role of Observer from Usami/Monomi, there are limitations on what they can do, hence the need to start a new Mutual Killing Game instead of directly killing the students.
  • The Evil Within: As the game takes place in a simulation, Big Bad Ruvik isn't actually telekinetic or capable of superhuman speed, nor is he actually subjecting the world to reality-warping transformations; he's simply in control of a virtual environment. He doesn't even have a body in the real world — he's just a Brain in a Jar connected to the STEM machine.
  • In Fallout 3, a visit to long-lost Vault 112 reveals that the legendary "sorcerer-scientist" Dr Stanislaus Braun has been immersed in a virtual reality simulation for the last two centuries; here, in the idyllic neighbourhood of Tranquility Lane, he is in complete control of everyone and everything in it, having given himself exclusive privileges as Vault Overseer. Over the course of your visit, he regresses the player into a child, transforms other residents into animals or inanimate objects, and even erases the memories of anyone in the simulation at will just so nobody can get used to the torture he regularly subjects them to. Worse, he's also in control of who gets to leave the program, forcing you to either play along with his sick games or find some way of subverting his control.
  • Mega Man X4: Cyber Peacock is described as an artificial intelligence that has corrupted the cyber space and filled it with bugs. When the protagonists visit his stage, they find out he has altered the network to create a series of trials for intruders to overcome.
  • Matt Miller of Saints Row: The Third dominates his Tron-styled cyberspace, using it to empower his otherwise unimpressive self to godlike extremes. For good measure, the Boss ends up getting transformed into a toilet during this particular mission.
  • Saints Row IV:
    • Emperor Zinyak is running an entire array of Mind Prisons in which he's imprisoned his enemies from around the galaxy, and has administrator-level control over each one. On top of stacking the deck against the imprisoned Saints well in advance through brainwashing, unwinnable puzzles, and flat-out trolling, he also has the power to create and destroy elements of the simulation at will, ensuring that the Boss doesn't even have the benefit of a home base when they escape into the Steelport simulation. In fact, Zinyak's only real weakness is his own monumental arrogance and his need to break the Boss instead of killing them.
    • Thankfully, Kinzie is a decent version of this trope, proving more than able to hack the simulation enough to break the Boss out; from then on, the two of them work as Virtual-Reality Warper duo, with the Boss subverting the simulation to gain superpowers and breaking the rest of the Saints out of their prisons, and Kinzie serving as Mission Control while hacking the fabric of the simulation in the Boss's favour. Over time, she also gains the support of CID and Matt Miller, who both have their own talents for tweaking the simulation to their own ends and even creating scenarios within VR, but Kinzie remains the Boss's main source of VR-altering backup throughout the game.
    • In the Enter The Dominatrix DLC, the simulation's AI gains sentience and takes the form of the eponymous Dominatrix in an effort to seize control of everything. With similar rule-breaking powers, she not only easily imbues herself with superhuman abilities, but divides herself into dozens of replicas — each new iteration growing progressively stronger for each one the Boss kills.
  • A Very Long Rope to the Top of the Sky: At the end of the game, a cyberspace is the Final Boss, New Dimension, and inhabitants of that cyberspace can manipulate its features, create Artificial Intelligences that reside in it as well, and possibly override others' control of the space.
  • Viewfinder:
    • The game takes place almost entirely in a VR environment in which the player has the ability to warp the structure and laws of the simulation by superimposing photographs and artworks on top of it, allowing you to bridge gaps, explore areas that didn't previously exist, and even duplicate otherwise one-of-a-kind items - including yourself.
    • The scientists who built the simulation were even better at it than the player character: not only did they create the various areas as their laboratories and even homes, but the levels are littered with post-it notes on how they've managed to improve the sensations associated with actions and foods to the point that they've become virtually indistinguishable from the real world.

  • In El Goonish Shive, Sarah's simulated time stop spell effectively allows her to be this inside her head given that it is accurate unless she wills it not to be. However she doesn't have complete control over this; stuff she changes will fit in with her preconceptions, even if that wasn't consciously what she changed. (The example given is checking people for magic marks; if she wishes someone's clothes off, she might see a mark just because she expects one. If she manually undresses them, she hasn't messed with the simulation and it should still be accurate.)

    Web Animation 
  • Caine from The Amazing Digital Circus has complete and absolute control over the titular world, able to teleport anywhere in an instant, track the movements of the humans trapped there, reshape the world, trigger events at will, create artificial intelligence creatures, can create music, and can cure the glitching effect caused by abstracted people. He's not entirely omnipotent though, as he had no clue about the damage caused by Kaufmo until he returned to the circus and witnessed it first-hand and, by his own admission, the only thing he doesn't have control over is the minds of the people trapped within, as he has no clue why none of them can remember their original names nor can he do anything about it other than help them come up with a new one. Presumably he also can't cure abstraction itself, despite Ragitha suggesting he might be able to cure Kaufmo, as all Caine can do is trap him in The Cellar with several other abstracted people.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!: In "I Ain't No Holodeck Boy", Stan is trapped in a virtual simulation that causes him to relive his old memories. Steve decides to mess with his dad by mixing the program's code with a horror game's, causing a zombie to spawn and attack Stan.
  • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "What Is Reality", the Riddler traps Commissioner Gordon in a virtual reality environment, forcing Batman to head in there after him. As expected, the Riddler has full control of the simulation and can warp it any way he pleases, even duplicating himself to prove the point... but as Batman has power over himself in the simulation, he duplicates himself to show that the Riddler's power isn't absolute. This leads to a showdown where the Riddler breaks his own mind and his control over the virtual environment trying to out-double the Batman, thus releasing his trapped prisoners. Batman then pulls himself together and goes to capture Riddler, who is now ironically trapped in a hell of his own creation.
  • Ben 10: Upgrade's technopathic abilities allow him to rewrite the code of any virtual world, as demonstrated when Ben and Gwen get trapped in a video game. Unfortunately for Ben, the Omnitrix can still time out, rendering him normal (by video game standards) until he could regain Upgrade and escape.
  • Code Lyoko:
    • The virtual world of Lyoko can be warped by X.A.N.A. at will. The malevolent program has been shown flipping the landscape by 90 degrees, generating dense fogs, submerging entire sectors under the Digital Sea, creating zero gravity zones, and turning portions of the world invisible.
    • Aelita can use her Creativity power in Lyoko to reshape parts of the virtual environment at will, such as creating walls or bridges. She can also enter the towers, "behind-the-scenes" areas where she can input Override Commands that perform administrative actions, such as taking control of a tower back from XANA or outright deleting a section of the world in season 3.
  • The Rick and Morty episode "The Rickshank Redemption" features a recently-incarcerated Rick being subjected to a Virtual-Reality Interrogation at the hands of Gromflomites hoping to learn how his portal gun works. However, though the Federation agents apparently hold all the power over the simulation, Rick demonstrates an early ability to warp things in his favour by somehow conjuring a human anus from the interrogator's coffee cup and having it repeatedly fart in his face. By the end of the interrogation, Rick has extended this ability to creating fake memories, hacking internal communications, and even taking over his interrogator's body in the real world to break free.


Dr. Sheridan

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