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"Adventurers Beware: Do not begin unless you intend to finish.
The exciting consequences of the game will vanish only when a player reaches Jumanji and calls out its name."

A character is trapped in a game, and the only way to escape is to win. A Holodeck Malfunction may be involved.

The graphics of the videogame in question are usually either implausibly realistic or laughably primitive compared to those available in the real world at the time, depending on how out of touch the producers are.

Sister Trope to Trapped in TV Land, and a Subtrope of Your Mind Makes It Real and Dream Emergency Exit; almost always a feature of The Most Dangerous Video Game. Overlaps with Deep-Immersion Gaming in some ways. The main difference is that whereas Deep-Immersion Gaming is basically a variant form of an Imagine Spot, this trope involves the game becoming very real. Anyone trapped in a Portal Book may find themselves facing a variant of this (finish the story to exit).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Baldr Force EXE Resolution is made of this trope.
  • Bleach: Ichigo in the Fullbring arc gets trapped in Yukio's video game dimension fighting Ginjo Kugo.
  • Due to Holodeck Malfunction, at least one of the 50 children in the Virtual Console "Cocoon" in the Case Closed Non-Serial Movie Detective Conan Film 06: The Phantom of Baker Street need to Win to Exit, or else their brains will be literally fried.
  • Hunter × Hunter had Greed Island, where the only way to pause the game was to advance your objectives by a certain amount. There are people who have actually settled down to live in the gameworld because they couldn't get that Last Lousy Point that they needed to escape.
  • In Negima! Magister Negi Magi's Alternate Continuity manga Negima!? neo, due to a mischievous fairy, Negi and friends are trapped in Chisame's video game.
  • In Sword Art Online, unless the final boss of SAO is defeated, players will remain trapped in the virtual world until they die one way or another.
  • To Love Ru had the characters get stuck in an RPG during the Trouble Quest arc. Later on, they voluntarily place themselves in a board game.
  • An episode of The Tower of Druaga features a direct throwback to the game by the same name. Jil's party encounters the original 40 floor tower from the game buried inside the now much larger tower. Jil enters it and must be controlled like a video game character with a nearby console. He's trapped inside the original tower (and is constant respawned every time he dies in the Guide Dang It! game) until they can manage to maneuver him through all 40 floors.
  • Supposedly, this was the case in the "Legendary Heroes" arc of Yu-Gi-Oh!, where defeating the game would release Kaiba, Yugi, Jonouchi, Mokuba, and Mai from the virtual reality world; however, the villains kept trying to change that, both by sending a team of Mooks to unplug the VR pods and by rigging the game itself to make it much harder (they ultimately failed on both fronts; Honda and Anzu successfully guarded the pods in the real world long enough for Yugi and his entourage to defeat the villains' avatar in the virtual world and escape.)

    Asian Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: In the 7th episode, Adu Du traps BoBoiBoy and Gopal into the Papa Zola video game they were playing, and Probe, whose inside the game as well to give them trouble, tells them that they have to beat the game to get out, much to Adu Du's chagrin.
  • In Season 10 episode 23 of Happy Heroes, Big M. traps the Supermen in a video game. A sign within the game informs them that they must win the game to escape; otherwise, they'll be trapped there forever.
  • Mechamato: When Deep inserts a Zilator 1 game into Bitbobeep's disc player, the robot sucks Amato and MechaBot into the game. Under the control of the game's programming, Bitbobeep can only release them once they beat the game, with Deep and Pian playing them from outside.
  • In the Motu Patlu episode "The Game", Motu accidentally gets himself and others trapped in a game Dr. Jhatka was inventing, and they have to win the game to get out.

    Comic Books 
  • Happens to Ellie Dee is an issue of the Cherry Comics. She ends up derezzing the video game's main character by having sex with him.
  • The "VR in Deep Trouble" issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Saturday Morning Adventures has the Turtles trapped in a virtual reality game designed by Donatello after lightning fries the emergency kill switch, so they have to capture the flag guarded by their Rogues Gallery in order to leave before the game crashes. Ultimately, Michelangelo wins the game by figuring out that he didn't need to fight the villains, so he outmaneuvers them and grabs the flag.

    Fan Works 
  • Sort of, in With Strings Attached. Although the Vasyn quest takes place across several real worlds, it all turns out to be a giant live-action quasi-game engineered by Jeft. He fixes things so that after Shag and Varx discover the truth, they still cannot pull the four out; the computer ice in between them and the return program won't melt until they bring the third piece of the Vasyn back to C'hou. But by then things have changed so considerably that they can't rescue the four anyway...

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Arcade features a video arcade named "Dante's Inferno", where a new virtual reality arcade game called, boringly enough, Arcade is being tested. If you lose, you're trapped inside the game. Turns out the game is Powered by a Forsaken Child. Also, by winning, the protagonist ends up releasing a Sealed Evil in a Can (in the revised ending). Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
  • In The Beach, Leonardo Di Caprio goes crazy and imagines the world as a blocky videogame.
  • In The Dungeonmaster, the hero and his girlfriend get pulled into a computer game. If the hero wins the game, they'll both be freed. If they lose, he forfeits his girlfriend's soul.
  • Almost all of the film Existenz takes place in a virtual reality gameworld with assassins stalking the main characters. It's only after the heroine exposes her partner as an operative who was sent to kill her all along and kills him instead that the game slowly unravels and she wakes up for real.
  • Spencer in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare gets stoned and sucked into a game and is promptly killed by Freddy and his custom "Power Glove".
  • In Inception, this is what the team realizes they have to do in order to escape Fisher's mind once they learn his subconscious has been militarized. Only by incepting Fisher and making him achieve catharsis can the team avoid being "killed" by the projections.
  • All versions of Jumanji have this trope in effect.
  • In the film Nerve, groups of teenagers enter a "truth-or-dare"-styled game on their smart-phones. However, the players must win the game or else they will lose everything. For those who attempt to report the game to the police, they have "snitched" in the game, causing them to become a prisoner to the game unless they win.
  • In the Bishop Of Battle segment of the four-part film Nightmares, J. J. Cooney is trapped inside the eponymous video game, after failing to complete level 13 the game becomes real.
  • The game in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over requires this.
  • In the film Stay Alive (2006), a group of beta testers realize that they are slowly dying off one by one in the exact same fashion that their avatars in the game they are testing die. It is later revealed that playing this game summons the ghost of a sociopathic killer who delights in killing you in the most horrendous ways possible.

  • Magical Girl Raising Project: In the Restart arc, sixteen magical girls are trapped in a VR game designed to test their aptitude as magical girls. They spend three days within the game (which is essentially nothing in the real world), then 3 days in the real world so as to not forget what they have. While they could just hang around in the safe starting area indefinitely, in order to permanently escape they must defeat the Evil King, so they set out to defeat monsters and clear the areas to make their way to the final dungeon. Of course, death in the game means death in real life, and they're not allowed to contact others for help. The win condition is a bit more complicated than beating a final boss however, as one of the players is the Evil King, and their goal is to kill the other 15 players, which is unknown to anyone else. Ultimately the Evil King is exposed and kills herself, but not before all but 3 other players die.
  • In Nyaruko: Crawling with Love!, the cast gets trapped in a Dating Sim and Mahiro (cast as the Player Character) has to choose a girlfriend by the end of the school year.
  • The basic plot of the first arc of Sword Art Online: everyone's minds are trapped in an MMORPG, and the equipment is set up so that dying in the game kills you in real life. However, if a player, any player, manages to beat the boss of Floor 100, then everyone goes free. Ends up played with, when the protagonist manages to free everyone after floor 75 instead, by uncovering the identity of the game master and beating him in a duel.
  • During Galaxy of Fear, the Arrandas visit a theme park and go to see something called "The Nightmare Machine", a sim purportedly using mind-scanning and Hard Light technology to bring visitors' fears to life. It would start with relatively minor things and progress to worse fears, and the visitor won if they could make it through their worst without bailing out. Of course, they get trapped in it, the Failsafe Failure doesn't work, and the kids finally realize they have to just skip to their worst fear - one of them dying and leaving the other alone. It then ends and they're both able to walk out of it.
  • A rare boardgame example occurs in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione take the part of pieces on a chessboard and win to get to the next test protecting the stone. Ron masterminds a victory for our heroes' side, but actually has to allow himself to be captured to allow Harry to make the checkmating move. Fortunately, this does not prove to be fatal, only knocking him out - although Ron actually had no way to know this at the time.
  • In Vivian Vande Velde's Heir Apparent, the main character is playing a virtual reality game at a sort of VR arcade, and becomes unable to quit when anti-videogame protesters damage the equipment — interestingly, it has the opposite message from most trapped-in-a-videogame stories (i.e. instead of being harmful, videogames are harmless fun and the people who think they're evil are misguided and possibly even dangerous).
  • The Jumanji game works that way in the Jumanji series.
  • In the Piers Anthony novel Killobyte the protagonists become stuck in a virtual reality MMORPG due to the interference of a hacker.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Labyrinth of Reflections trilogy, the Deep program puts a person into a state of hypnosis, during which he or she will perceive a poorly-rendered image on the screen as reality. The first person to use this was a man who randomly found the Deep program online and ran it. The program played a ten-second fractal-like video, after which the man started up Doom. To his horror, he found himself walking the corridors, shooting weapons, fighting monsters. No matter what he tried, he could not get himself to "awaken". After many hours of playing, he finally beat the game, at which point his subconsciousness allowed him to "exit". He found a nearly-broken keyboard and his own bloody hands (his own blood).
  • This is how the action gets started in Tad Williams' Otherland series. Kids around the world end up in mysterious comas, and the protagonists start to suspect that it has something to do with an online playground. Then they get caught themselves, and it becomes apparent that they only way to escape from the virtual world is to solve its mysteries (and possibly destroy it from the inside). The story contains no moralism whatsoever on computers and computer games; The Meta Verse is simply another arena for human virtues and vices to take place.
  • In the novelisation of Red Dwarf, the video game Better Than Life is essentially a Lotus-Eater Machine; only by rejecting the perfect universe offered by the game could players "win" and be allowed to exit. (The series' version was harmless to anyone but Rimmer, and could be exited at will; the novels changed it from an expensive toy to a lethal drug.)
  • Zathura, from the same author as Jumanji.
  • In the Animorphs side-story The Ellimist Chronicles, Toomin's mind is kept alive by an entity known as Father that has absorbed the minds of many dead people. Toomin is forced to play games that he has no chance of winning against Father's extensive knowledge until he wins a game based on creativity (Father has no real creativity and can only mimic what he has seen and heard). After defeating Father at music, Toomin begins to grow too intelligent for Father and defeats him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?:
    • In the episode "The Tale of the Renegade Virus", a VR game goes awry and if the main character doesn't beat it, the virus will literally invade his brain and take him over.
    • Subverted in the episode "The Tale of The Pinball Wizard". A kid gets trapped in a pinball game, and he believes that to escape, he needs to win. Turns out, he's not quite so lucky, and it's implied that he's trapped there forever.
  • Estate of Panic: The show's winner is the only one seen actually leaving the house. Three of the losers are left trapped in the rooms, and the other three are escorted to some unknown place in the mansion by the butler.
  • Exit and the Japanese show that inspired it are game shows where teams have to solve challenges to move onto the next room or be "killed" by that particular rooms death trap. They of course aren't killed but the show likes to pretend they are.
  • The "John Quixote" episode of Farscape had VR "game blobs". Dying inside of the game only returns you to the start of the level. The real problem was getting out of the game, as the exit trigger had been sabotaged. Chiana does mention, though, that brain damage resulting from the games is not unheard of.
  • Goosebumps (1995): In "The Haunted House Game" episode, two kids are sucked into a magical board game inside a creepy abandoned house. The only way to get out is to win the game while not getting killed.
  • The The Librarians 2014 episode "And the Point of Salvation" has a twist on this. The Librarians are trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop created by a malfunctioning magic-powered computer; eventually it turns out that the malfunctioning computer is overwriting reality with video game tropes, and Ezekiel is stuck in an Escort Mission to get the other three out alive. Interestingly, he only has to get them out. If he himself dies in the attempt, it's fine as far as the game is concerned. He accepts that and performs a Heroic Sacrifice. Luckily, Cassandra is able to "restore" him, although he loses all memory (and Character Development) of the events.
  • The Halloween Episode for Power Rangers Ninja Steel, titled "Grave Robber", sees the five main Rangers trapped playing a Halloween-themed board game the episode is named for, controlled by the antagonistic Game Show Host Cosmo Royale. In a slight subversion of the trope, the Rangers play the game in reality but are repeatedly drawn inside the game's world to fight monsters they had already defeated (this subverts Clip Show by using footage from the Sentai, Shuriken Sentai Ninninger, that had not been adapted into the Ninja Steel episodes its episodes resulted in). They escape when the Sixth Ranger, Levi the Gold Ranger, counters Cosmo's Screw the Rules, I Make Them! with his own My Rules Are Not Your Rules, shooting and destroying the magical hourglass that had trapped the Rangers in the game (and making everyone wonder why they didn't just try that to begin with).
  • Red Dwarf has the episode "Back to Reality", in which the crew think they've just been booted out of a game for dying, but have actually survived and are now suffering a hallucination which is designed to make them suicidal. Their hallucinating behaviour maps into real-world actions well enough that they almost kill themselves simultaneously in both worlds before the ship's computer pulls off a literal Deus ex Machina.
  • The Stargate SG-1 episode "Avatar" features Teal'c having to fight his way out of a virtual combat scenario. His subconscious, unfortunately, keeps making his job harder. The game resets the scenario every time he loses, and adapts so that he can't rely on information gained from the previous run. It has a built-in safety exit (getting to the elevator ends the scenario), but since Teal'c considered giving up equivalent to losing, the game will not let him escape without winning. Also, because part of him believes the Goa'uld will never really be defeated, the game keeps cheating every time he should have won. Cardiac arrest would have eventually killed him in reality. The only saving grace is that the simulation can't move beyond the "base attack" scenario, so after Teal'c takes out two otherwise invincible Kull Warriors, two Goa'uld moles, and dismantles the self-destruct in time (with some help from Daniel after he joined the game), the game finally recognizes he won.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • The episode "The Royale" has Riker, Data and Worf stuck in a alien simulation of a casino, based on a (bad) book. They manage to escape by gambling and winning enough money to pose as foreign investors, buy the casino and then leave (which was the ending of the book).
    • In the episode "A Fistful of Datas", the only way the holodeck would shut down is if Worf, Troi, and Alexander were able to win a wild west shootout. As the name suggests, it's a shootout against copies of Data, with all his android abilities to make them superior to any living opponent.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • This is subverted in the episode "Move Along Home". After being cheated by Quark, a group of aliens from the Gamma Quadrant decide to show him "an honest game" that involves four playing pieces trying to make it "home" down a tiered board. Meanwhile, Sisko, Dax, Kira, and Bashir find themselves in a maze-like series of rooms, with strange puzzles and scenarios in each room and a figure of one of the aliens telling them to "move along home." They (as well as Quark) quickly realize that the four crew members are trapped in the game and assume that this trope is in effect. After several narrow escapes, they reach the last room- a shaking, cliff-filled cave. As they cross, they fall and rematerialize in Quark's, where the aliens say that Quark has lost and laugh when they discover the terror of the "players" — after all, it was only a game.
    • Inverted with the episode "Our Man Bashir", in which several crew members, to save their lives after a Teleporter Accident, are turned into holodeck characters in a program Bashir is playing — Bashir has to keep them alive and specifically not win, as if the program ends, they will also die. At the last minute, when Bashir has reached the final scene and can't stall the program anymore, he goes Off the Rails and deliberately loses, invoking a Non-Standard Game Over that the program hadn't accounted for, confusing it long enough to save both himself and his friends. (Specifically, he had his heroic protagonist pull a massive Face–Heel Turn and activate the villain's Earth-Shattering Kaboom device himself, something that the game's dev team obviously did not think of.)
  • Star Trek: Voyager get into the act with "Worst Case Scenario", in which it turns out that Seska has reprogrammed one of Tuvok's programs to kill Tuvok and Tom Paris. Janeway helps out by playing Deus ex Machina.
  • Inverted in one Syfy movie (anyone remember the name?) in which a malfunction causes the video game boss to animate the motion-capture exoskeleton in the real world and go on a murderous rampage.
  • Today's Special: Thanks to Waldo's "automatic wishing machine", the gang gets trapped in an 80's era video game called Monkey Maze. Averted in that they fail to make their way through but escape by wishing to be on the moon instead.
  • The U.K. kids' game show Trapped had six contestants competing to see who would win the game and escape a tower.
  • In the War of the Worlds (1988) episode "Totally Real", the loser of the VR game lost his life. This turned out to be the entire point of the simulator's design.
  • An episode of Warehouse 13 had Fargo from Eureka program a virtual reality game and use an Artifact to help make it more real. The artifact caused players to become trapped in the game which manifested their greatest fears. They couldn't get out until those fears were conquered.
  • The X-Files: Episode "FPS" is built of this trope. One guy who is an ace of a gamer and an exquisite programmer doesn't make it. Mulder almost loses, but Scully saves his butt.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Used for the Climax of the Mutants & Masterminds adventure module, "Toys Will Be Toys".
  • The Splinter runs on this. Players are only allowed out of the game if they complete their objective and, if a Player's Avatar dies, the Player dies on Earthside. This isn't a side effect of the VR technology being used, rather it's because the Mega Corp. in control of the VR technology will give you an immediate lethal injection if you lose.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed: Revelations: After the events of Brotherhood, Desmond is trapped in the Animus, his mind shattered. He must complete the game's missions to piece his consciousness back together.
  • In Catherine, the protagonist has a reoccurring nightmare where he and others must climb a slowly collapsing tower of blocks. Anyone who falls off the tower or is killed by a trap or a falling block dies in the waking world, and the only way to wake up is to either get to a sanctuary and wait until morning or make it to the very top of the tower.
  • This is the premise of Death end re;Quest; female protagonist Shina Ninomiya is trapped in an unfinished, buggy MMORPG and must defeat Heaven's Messenger to trigger the game's ending and return to her body. It's ultimately Subverted; every party member except Shina (who are real people playing the roles of NPCs) dies in the last area but are rescued by Werner Glock. Shina defeats Heaven's Messenger alone but, as she is Dead All Along, simply disappears until her data is recovered for the real final battles.
  • In Dicey Dungeons, the contestants are put on an Immoral Reality Show hosted by Lady Luck herself, and must fight through a dungeon full of monsters and get to the end, where they must spin the wheel to win whatever their heart's greatest desire is. They just have to not land on the single whammy spot on it, but this being a game ran by Lady Luck means the wheel lands on the whammy every time. The intended way to win the game is for the contestants to reject the game and its prizes and rebel against Lady Luck using The Power of Friendship.
  • The "Tranquility Lane" simulation in Fallout 3. The only way directly presented to you to exit the scenario is to play along with the Overseer's increasingly evil and sadistic games with the other inhabitants of the simulation, until he's satisfied and lets you leave, but keeps the others around to play with for eternity. There's another way to exit with good Karma, though, if you hack the simulator from inside and change the scenario to one where a Chinese invasion kills everybody.
  • In the backstory to Gamer 2, an NPC says Hailey needs to do this to escape the virtual-reality machine. However, she ends up escaping by killing the AI who's keeping the game world running.
  • Inverted in the adventure game Gateway - there is a Virtual Reality casino that is actually a ruse set up by the Big Bad, who intends the player to always win and keep playing - therefore, the player must force themselves to lose. Folding in poker does the trick.
  • Heroes of Jin Yong sees you being inexplicably transported into the works of Jin Yong, meet various characters from the novels, must re-live the events of Jin Yong's stories and complete a martial arts tournament in order to return to the real world.
  • The base setting of Kid Chameleon, where the game boss of a new arcade in town has kidnapped several other players that have played it and it's up to you to enter the game and put an end to it.
  • An optional side-quest in Knights of the Old Republic involves some Schmuck Bait in the form of an alien artifact. Opening it traps you with the prison's occupant whose mind is trapped inside, and whose body died long ago. However, your body is currently unoccupied. He challenges you to a game of riddles to see who gets dibs on the body.
  • Metal Gear Solid Mobile, with the flimsiest of justifications.
  • In Moon: Remix RPG Adventure the protagonist is sucked into a videogame and told to save its resident god, with the implication that he'll be free once he wins. But you cannot possibly beat the final boss, and in fact, by choosing to try again, you get the bad ending where the protagonist remains trapped in the game. Ultimately, the main character (and you) can only exit the game by choosing the most obvious solution: not playing anymore.
  • NeoQuest II, but the entire game is a simulation of a computer, with bosses being viruses and the like...
  • One Shot had its title for a reason. In its initial release, closing the game before it's finished would result in Niko's death. The game would actually modify your computer so that it could only be finished once. Averted as of version 1.003, in which the player is given a second chance if they do kill Niko this way. The updated re-release removed this death-by-closing mechanic, instead saving the player's progress. However, Niko still feels uneasy with each closure of the game.
  • In Persona 4 there's a dungeon based entirely on blocky classic Dragon Warrior-type graphics... since the characters are going inside the collective subconscious as represented by television and dealing with people's internal imaginations, comforts, and insecurities, this is pretty justified.
  • Ratchet & Clank: Going Mobile! has this, thanks to Ratchet and Clank being trapped inside a Secret Agent Clank vid-comic. Unfortunately, achieving this is also the plot of the vid-comic's own villain too.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Falsebound Kingdom subverts this. You beat the VR game's main villain about a third of the way through, only for the creator of the game to take over, delete the villain, and attack you from behind. In order to actually win, you need to break out of the game and enter the computer itself.


    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: In one episode Jimmy shows off an invention that allows you to go inside of video games. The only way to exit is to win, although Jimmy was planning to fix that. Jimmy and Sheen both go into an Ultralord video game, but end up being trapped due Carl messing the controls, not realizing that Jimmy and Carl were actually in the game.
  • The The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Game" is centered around Dodj or Darr, a game that forces its players to do humiliating or dangerous challenges, even if they leave the board alone. As Gumball states, "You don't win. You survive."
  • The 101 Dalmatians: The Series episode "Virtual Lucky" saw Cruella and the dogs trapped in a video game, with Lucky having to defeat Cruella in every stage before they could escape.
  • In the Danny Phantom episode "Teacher Of The Year", the protagonists have to prevent Technus from winning a computer game and thereby escaping to the internet; however, they still need to progress through several levels to catch up with him. Bizarrely, "access to the World Wide Web" is the actual reward for winning the game.
  • In Darkwing Duck, the gizmo that turns real objects into video game objects breaks after letting DW and Quackerjack in, so they must beat the game to reach the default "exit door."
  • The Fairly OddParents! once did a plot of this sort as a result of one of Timmy's wishes. Bizarrely, he specifically asked for "a game you can't wish yourself out of," for no apparent reason other than so this trope could happen (the concept of wishing oneself out of a video game being utterly meaningless in any other context). Unusually for this trope, it was perfectly possible to leave the game by quitting, but none of them actually did this because Timmy couldn't warn the other players and he wouldn't abandon them.
  • An episode of Johnny Test has Johnny, Dukey, and his sisters getting trapped in a Pokémon expy, and the only way out was to win a tournament.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: This is how the comic book world works in "Power Ponies".
  • This was the central idea behind ReBoot - the heroes are periodically trapped in the User's games, and must win in order to both escape and prevent the game cube from damaging the sector of the city it had landed on.
  • Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase: After being beamed into a game based on them, the gang had to play through all ten levels (clearing each one by finding a hidden box of Scooby Snacks), only being able to leave once they beat the game. Beating the game also deleted the living computer virus they'd been dealing with.

    Real Life