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Your Mind Makes It Real

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Neo: I thought it wasn't real.
Morpheus: Your mind makes it real.
Neo: If you're killed in the Matrix, you die here?
Morpheus: The body cannot live without the mind.

You'd think that it all being just a dream would let you do lots of cool and risky things since it's not real anyway, and therefore you can't get hurt.

Not so.

There's an old wives' tale that claims that if you die in a dream, you die for real. Although a potential mechanism is suggested in "Real Life" below, it remains not exactly clear how anyone could have determined this, since the only witness would be unable to confirm it (unless you believe in spiritualism and he contacted you from the next life). Yet it persists, and a lot of people believe it.

So, if you're in a dream, hallucination, or VR simulation, death can be plenty lethal. By extension, if you're a hacker in a high-tech futuristic world where Cyberspace is navigated through a realistic simulation, intrusion countermeasures can kill you dead. To be fair, certain depictions of Cyberspace require users to link their brains to the network electronically, which would provide a relatively obvious threat to incautious intruders. However, even hackers who operate in worlds without such dangers may be vulnerable to seizure-inducing graphics.

Often, fictional cyberspace ICE (intruder countermeasure electronics) is said to work by channeling lethal voltages into the brain of the invading hacker, but it seems that any techhead with even an ounce of common sense would put at least one fuse, circuit breaker, or voltage regulator on any line connected directly to his brain. Presumably, most users do not know about such things, given their willingness to use an interface that could turn them into a vegetable or corpse at a moment's notice. Authors who put a little more thought into the matter may come up with some variant of the motif of harmful sensation, implying there's some kind of malicious out-of-band signal which triggers a nasty (usually fatal) seizure in its victims or blows up their computer.

Why would such a device even exist is rarely touched. Needless to say, the very first precedent of a machine-brain connection killing or maiming the user should result in public backlash and double or triple failsafes (plus lawsuits). Some stories work around this by stating that it's that very first time, or that it's a legally enforced rule, like, against hackers. In the latter case, seemingly the lawmakers were not aware that the most dangerous hackers could and would design or reverse-engineer safe variants of the device, making the whole idea pointless. The aspect of automatic capital punishment for something as trivial as stealing money from a credit card is also not touched.

Let us be very clear: there is no obvious or immediately compelling reason that dying in a dream or hallucination would actually kill you, unless you are really gullible and you live in a world where the Nocebo Effect is much more powerful than it is in real life. Maybe if the pain transferred is so real and intense that it causes you to die from the shock, but then again, it has to be designed that way deliberately. Obviously, magic spells can do as they like, but the only reason that you would be actually harmed by dying in a VR simulation would be if the VR simulator was intentionally and specifically designed to murder the operator. This makes sense if it's part of a Death Trap (insofar as a death trap ever makes sense), but usually this is some commercial, publicly-available system, often with no stated purpose beyond simply playing games.

As an extension, perhaps to justify this trope, such systems often propose that the user's mind actually is inside the machine, having been literally downloaded out of his physical brain. Thus, destroying the machine would leave the user's body comatose – but destroying the physical body might leave the mind intact to have a go at possessing someone else.

An increasingly common justification of this trope is Synchronization; directly wiring your brain to the machine gives you Technopathic Power at a Price of a potentially-fried brain. Most Cyberpunk games — such as Shadowrun — use this justification, and lampshade it with alternative safer but far-less effective interfaces which someone risking a Brain/Computer Interface can destroy with ease.

This tends to apply to video game levels that are All Just a Dream or a virtual reality simulation as a function of gameplay: If your character dies, it's still a Game Over.

When you are Talking in Your Dreams with someone else and they go to kill you — this may come into play. This may also come into play if, in a dream, a character dies, and that character dies in real life, however, this would be an overlap with Clap Your Hands If You Believe and I'm Not Afraid of You. The Master of Illusion might use this principle to make their illusions harm victims, like making Cold Flames actually burn.

Note that if you're talking about the mind making things literally real in general, that's Clap Your Hands If You Believe, not this. This trope is only about the dying.

Frequently pops up in a Holodeck Malfunction. The defining feature of The Most Dangerous Video Game. When your mind actually changes the physical world, it's Clap Your Hands If You Believe, or the much darker Reality Warping Is Not a Toy. Forget telling yourself not to think about the things you see — for it will become real here. If a computer generated or magical illusion changes the physical world, it's Hard Light. When you're trapped in a virtual world, and have to win or die, it's Win to Exit. The inversion may belong to Dream Emergency Exit, when you have to die to exit. For instances where getting killed in a dream actually can kill you for real, see Never Sleep Again.

Compare Puff of Logic and Magic Feather. Contrast with Visible to Believers. See also Self-Inflicted Hell and Through the Eyes of Madness.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 3×3 Eyes:
    • Illusion magic, obviously enough, works on this principle: as long as the victim doesn't know they've fallen into an illusion, they will experience and suffer the effects. When Sarlama uses such a technique on Yakumo though, the fact that his Healing Factor isn't working allows him to understand he's victim of an illusion.
    • Halfway through, Galga is tricked by Connery's illusion spell and is attacked by a nigh-unstoppable Connery who's kicking his ass all over the place: when Hahn sees him later, he can only see Galga moving around in midair and recoiling from the punches of an invisible attacker, much to his confusion.
    • Yoriko Kamiyama has demon blood in her veins and she can materialize the thoughts of herself and others, which means that her mind can make thoughts real and solid, in a way similar to Juuma/Fighting Larvae, except that she can conjure anything she (or others) can think of. She's even referred to as the "Mind Larvae User" by the villains.
  • Hagall from Ah! My Goddess has the power to project an illusion into her opponent's mind which becomes real to them.
  • Ayakashi Triangle: It is said that if you "truly die" in a dream (i.e. are killed by a Dream Walking ayakashi), your heart/spirit will be destroyed, and you'll never wake up.
  • The series BALDR Force .exe is based around this concept.
  • In Bleach, Rojuro "Rose" Otoribashi's Bankai generates music that causes the listener to experience illusions. These illusions feel solid to the listener and can harm them. However, being fully deaf makes one immune to the illusions.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Útgarða-Loki is a Master of Illusion, fitting for a mage based on the mythological giant illusionist. He's so good at this that he can make someone feel like he is on fire by showing him a picture of a fire.
  • Digimon:
    • Digimon Adventure: Towards the end of the second Story Arc, Local Boy Genius Izzy figures out the Digital World is a world made out of the data of Earth's network infrastructure and hence all the human protagonists are more than likely made of data in that world. Although he tells everyone to be careful in spite of this new development it doesn't sink in with The Leader Tai and he starts acting like a jackass under the flawed logic that he'll somehow survive regardless of what happens. It takes Izzy telling him that he would more than likely die in both worlds if he messed up to put a stop to his nonsense. Unfortunately, this happens just after a member of the team is kidnapped and they're about to cross an electrified gate to go after her. He loses his bravado right there and the kidnapper gets away more or less scot-free, leading to a short-term Heroic BSoD for Tai.
    • Digimon Tamers: While in the Digital World, Henry and Takato manage to cross a massive expanse of water without drowning by convincing themselves that they would only drown if they thought they would.
    • Digimon Frontier: Played with when Sixth Ranger Kouichi's consciousness was pulled into the Digital World by the would-be Big Bad Cherubimon. Because of this, he's technically not there, he only believes he's there. It begins to dawn on him that this might be the case when survives several curb stomp battles virtually unscathed while his friends get more and more roughed up. Although at the end, this turns out to be an even more convoluted usage when all of the hinting about the aforementioned results in Kouichi realizing that he is actually dead in real life; he thus makes a Heroic Sacrifice to combine his power with Kouji's to defeat Lucemon, under the justification that out of all of them, he's not really alive in the first place. The Power of Friendship saves him, in the end; this is Digimon, after all.
    • In episode 22 of Digimon Ghost Game, Intrepid Merchant Jellymon comes up with a "sleep therapy" business and enlists the aid of Dream Stealer Pillomon. Unfortunately, they get too many customers and Pillomon gets sick from eating all their dreams, accidentally inflicting its Nightmare Bubble attack on everyone which traps them in a Nightmare on Elm Street scenario in which they're chased by SkullGreymon with any injuries they suffer in the dream occurring in real life.
  • Doraemon: Nobita's the Legend of the Sun King has Doraemon and gang facing a new villain, Ledina's Master of Illusion, who tricks them into thinking they're attacked by gigantic stone monsters with his magic. Doraemon deduces they're fake when Gian tries attacking the monster with a flung spear only for the weapon to phase harmlessly, just as the monster stomps them down. Nobita complains that he still felt the pain even though they're unharmed, because the illusions are messing with their minds.
  • In Fushigi Yuugi, Tomo of the Seiryuu Seishi is the second-strongest of the group because his illusions are so convincing and complete, they can cause physical damage, even to people who are already aware that his illusions are just that.
  • Get Backers is fond of this trope, and used it in the IL and Divine Design arcs.
  • In the .hack series, characters hit by the Data Drain attack within The World are usually sent into a coma in the real world and are temporarily knocked unconscious at the very least.
    • Some characters eventually realize that somehow their minds are taken inside the game world, experiencing it with their character's own senses instead of being at home with a headset and gamepad. Naturally, they become deeply concerned about what's going on with their physical bodies, and what happens if their characters are "killed" in this state.
    • There's a bit of question in regards to whether the player stuck in the game and the coma victim are related in that manner. Word of God has dropped that the original coma victims were placed in a coma due to noise affecting their mental state, placing their reliance of the physical body explainable only under the conceit that Everything Is Online. In the latter anime and game series, ROOTS and G.U., the danger is a viral Wetware Body existence that uses Harald's original human observation algorithms to affect the mind directly.
  • In Gundam Build Divers, Tigerwolf tells Riku and Yukki that, since GBN is a virtual world, they run no risk of actually getting hurt and, with practice, can achieve great feats. Since they're newbies to game, though, it doesn't sink in immediately and it takes a few reminders throughout the series to understand that.
  • Apparently how Hunter × Hunter's Greed Island arc works, up until the eminently satisfying reveal that the virtual reality game can have such far-reaching real-world effects because it is taking place in the real world.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
    • In Stardust Crusaders, the Stand "Death 13" pulls its victims into a dream of an amusement park and then kills them while they're trying to figure it out, with anything happening in the dream world being transferred onto the victim in reality. This actually gets used against it - anyone who survives the dream has their memories of it deleted, but Kakyoin thinks to scratch a message to himself into his arm, which allows him to realize what happened.
    • In Stone Ocean, this is one interpretation of Heavy Weather. This ability creates subliminal messages which cause people to turn into snails, and those who touch these snails also get turned into a snail. It's possible that the transformation is just part of a mass hallucination, but it could also be that the ability causes a placebo effect so powerful that it can actually physically alter those affected.
  • Happens in Negima! Magister Negi Magi, during Negi's test to learn Black Magic. He has to fight a phantasmic version of Evangeline formed from his memories inside his head; meanwhile, Chisame has to take care of him, as wounds start appearing on his body as a result of the test, and a lot of Blood from the Mouth.
  • This trope kicks in proportionally to pilot Synchronization in Neon Genesis Evangelion, as a reflection of pilots' desperation causing them to cry out for their mothers. Contrary to early reassurance from the woefully misinformed Misato that "it's not your real arm, snap out of it", pilots can and do feel their Eva's pain, as Asuka would unfortunately find out after achieving an unprecedented 400% synchronization ratio. She literally cries blood from her eye socket after a Lance of Longinus replica impales her Eva through the face! As she and her Eva desperately reach out to Grasp the Sun in one last futile display of will, she and her Eva's arm is split clean in half by the first in a fatal spear barrage.
  • This trope is essentially the fuel for the phenomena in Paranoia Agent. It all boils down to belief. When there is enough belief in something (through numbers and/or intensity), it manifests. Such as with Lil' Slugger/Shounen Bat. More and more people believe in the legend that he comes for people on the brink of the Despair Event Horizon, and he thus appears more and more frequently...and all the victims are smiling afterward because they found release. Eventually, the late episodes show the manifestation of imagination beginning to intensify: Ikari's "ideal world" and Maniwa's half-crazed journey to discover Lil' Slugger's origins (the line blurs here because, despite them seemingly being delusions, he learns real facts).
  • Early in Rurouni Kenshin, during the final battle between Kenshin and Jin-e, the latter reveals that his technique Shin-no-Ippou works based on this principle: he projects a mental suggestion to his victim(s) physical body, which usually causes people to get frozen in place, but can be used in other parts of the body; he nearly asphyxiates Kaoru by paralyzing her diaphragm, and she managed to break out of it from her fear that Kenshin would kill Jin-e and become Battousai again. In short, enough willpower on the target's part renders the technique void.
  • Subverted in Scrapped Princess, when the titular character enters a VR program to save her brother from being brainwashed, only to be promptly impaled by him when he fails to recognize her. There is a moment of shock, and then she slaps him in the face and continues to shout at him with his sword still stuck through her.
  • In Sword Art Online, Virtual MMOs have pain inhibitors that prevent this from happening: if a player's pain inhibitor is turned down low or completely disabled, they can suffer actual bodily harm in the real world. The most extreme case is how the creator of the titular game deliberately turned his creation into a deathtrap by designing the virtual reality helmet to destroy the player's brain with microwave radiation if they die in-game or if someone else tries to remove the helmet from them.
  • The final battle in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann takes place in something called Super Spiral Space, the space outside the galaxies, where "recognition is given real form". In other words, whatever they imagine exists, exists. Ergo: Your mind makes it real.
  • Half of the Story Arcs in Yu-Gi-Oh! are about soul-sucking Virtual Reality games. The other half are about soul-sucking millennium items.

    Comic Books 
  • 2000 AD:
    • Judge Dredd: The powers of the Sisters of Death works this way. As they have no physical presence, they have to get inside people's minds to make them hallucinate truly horrifying stuff. This only works if you think they can hurt you, but it looks real enough that only experienced psychics like Judge Anderson can instantly tell the difference.
    • Anderson: Psi-Division: Varies from situation to situation. Sometimes entering another person's mind is quite harmless, but there are many occasions when a Journey to the Center of the Mind can result in death for the psychic who travelled inside.
  • Trauma was a mutant introduced during Avengers: The Initiative who could become one's greatest fear. It's presumed that Trauma only gains power if his opponent fears what he's turned into since he's been capable of turning into Thor, Hulk, Juggernaut, and several other people/creatures whose power levels are insane. However in a battle against the Hulk during the World War Hulk arc, it was discovered that if his opponents can control themselves during the fight and rein in their fears, he loses power.
  • In the Doc Samson miniseries, Tina Punnett is trapped in a VR game that's been modified to cause psychosomatic damage to the player. To get out, she runs herself through with a sword, causing lots of pain but also causing the game to end.
  • Robin (1993): The only reason Tim, a baseline human, can harm Johnny Warlock, a being that can easily shrug off the injuries caused by a pissed-off Kryptonian, is that Johnny cannot disassociate him with the remembered pain of losing his hand to his own exploding gun after Robin damaged it in a fight while Johnny was still human. His own fear of Rob turns his powers against him when he's fighting him, which Tim absolutely takes advantage of and encourages by acting as though he's impervious to Johnny's powers as otherwise he and his allies would have been killed by the magic user long ago.
  • In the graphic novel Shifter, the main character finds out that, when using a surrogate (a creature whose nervous system he has complete control over), the creature can be attacked and killed. If he doesn't eject in time, he will be killed, too.
  • In Star Wars: Legacy, Darth Andeddu conjures illusions of flames and lava and sends them at Darth Wyyrlok. Wyyrlok takes control of them and sends them back. Andeddu is killed, and Wyyrlok muses that Andeddu's own fear made the flames real to him.
  • In the Elseworlds tale Superman & Batman: Generations, the Guardians eventually reveal that the Green Lantern Ring's weaknesses are all psychosomatic: regular GL's are weak to yellow objects because the Lanterns are told they are, while Alan Scott assumed his ring (which here is a ‘standard’ Green Lantern ring rather than the Starheart) was weak to wooden objects after a thug clocked him with a baseball bat his first time using it. Hal Jordan, who figured this out on his own, can use the ring without any such hindrances.
  • X-Men:
    • In Uncanny X-Men #133: Cyclops and Mastermind have a sword fight on an "Astral Plane", concluding with Mastermind stabbing Cyclops through the heart. In the real world Cyclops' body slumps over and Nightcrawler loudly announces "Cyclops is Dead!" to end the issue. He got better by the next issue.
    • A similar occurrence happened during the "Muir Island Saga"; as they battled on the Astral Plane, the Shadow King crushed Professor Xavier's legs, rendering him crippled in the real world (again).
    • Danielle Moonstar, Mirage, has the ability to create illusions based on one's fears. When her powers were temporarily boosted she could make the illusions physical, with the images being more powerful if they scared the person more.
    • One issue of Generation X had the old wives' tale quoted at the start before the team had a slasher movie marathon. The rest of the issue consists of Jubilee in a semi-lucid dream trying to wake up before combinations of movie killers and villains she'd faced in her adventures (ex. Sabretooth with Freddy Krueger's outfit) killed her teammates.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Jackie Chan Adventures fanfiction Queen of All Oni, after Jade's astral form is subjected to Cold-Blooded Torture by Lung, her body is weakened, she grows claws, and her eyelids become transparent.
  • In Twist of Fate, Kurosawa the Nightmare Witch can create illusions of people's fears. The more afraid the target is, the more solid the illusion is.
  • In the Slender Man fic By the Fire's Light, the Slender Man wouldn't even exist if people didn't believe in it. This is unfortunate for people who ends up on the wrong side of its tendrils whether in waking or dreaming life.
  • In Child of the Storm, Sean grimly alludes to the possibility of this in chapter 66 and with good reason.
  • A variation of this occurs in the Farscape fic "In the Flesh" when Pilot and Aeryn swap bodies; where Pilot had trouble adjusting to Chiana and D'Argo's bodies the last time he experienced such a switch, the residual Pilot DNA in Aeryn allows Pilot to get a better understanding of her body.
  • In the My Little Pony fic Moonlight, while no one has actually died in the dreams, Scootaloo has experienced how injuries taken during her dream journeys will manifest on her real body as well.
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic This Means War!, Harry is capable of doing impossible magical feats (such as becoming a dual Animagus or casting certain spells without using all the movements and words) because he literally does not know that they are impossible. This backfires when he accidentally turns someone into a living bomb, using just a few lights while subconsciously thinking about doing it.
  • In the Inside Out fanfic Intercom, the protagonist Riley is able to enter her own Mental World while lucid dreaming. Though she's technically dreaming, she is able to access all parts of her mind, rather than just the part where her dreams take place. Because of this, her actions can affect her even after she wakes up.
    • Furthermore, in Chapter 13, the possibility of Riley actually dying if she falls into the Memory Dump, a large chasm where forgotten memories go to fade away, is mentioned, though it's never specifically stated that this would actually happen in that situation.
  • In The Elements of Friendship, Book IS: Bonds, it is eventually revealed that the Alicorn Amulet did not in fact boost Trixie's magic to Physical God levels. It merely amplified her usual illusion tricks to this level, making them impossible to separate from reality.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: If you're in Paradise, you can affect your surroundings just by thinking, though the more complex the thing, the harder you have to focus on it.

    Films — Animation 
  • Paprika has a moment where the dreams and real life can't be told apart because of this trope... Both for the characters and the viewers.
  • Implied in Pooh's Grand Adventure. Skull Cave at first appears humongous and rather frightening; when Pooh and his friends exit the cave after Christopher Robin arrives, the cave appears smaller and not as scary as it was originally. Christopher Robin said its scary appearance might've been all in their heads, as he puts, can happen if they're alone, afraid, or someone's hurt. When the gang is heading home during "Everything is Right", we get to see what some of the other weird obstacles really looked like – the carnivorous plants were actually harmless roses, and that giant log over a ravine was only a tiny dip.
  • Toy Story 2: Downplayed: compare the first time Woody's arm is ripped to the second time. The first time it happens, after its decided to put him on the shelf rather than letting Andy take him to camp, Woody loses all use of his arm until it is fixed. The second time, after Stinky Pete intentionally rips it to try and force Woody into going to Japan, Woody can still use his arm, even after it rips more during the escape from the airplane.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Brainstorm, a character dies while hooked up to a tape that records thoughts and experiences. Someone else "watches" it, and has the exact same heart attack, dying in the process because they didn't disable the pain generators.
  • David Cronenberg's The Brood starts off with a doctor whose therapy involves making mentally ill patients make their illness a physical one, which he would then cure, hey presto reverse placebo! The titular brood is the result of a woman who, as a child, had been physically and psychologically abused by her alcoholic parents.
  • Dreamscape, which includes a guy entering the president's dream in order to kill him.
  • Gamer: This happens at the end. "See this knife? Picture me driving it into your stomach. Imagine it and make it real."
  • In Goosebumps (2015), the explanation for why all the monsters in R.L. Stine's books actually exist is that, when he was younger, Stine was so lonely that he would dream up monsters to terrorize those that bullied him until eventually his belief in them became so strong that they literally leapt off the page.
  • Both subverted and realized by Inception, where any physical damage in the dream world, even killing yourself, has no physical ramifications in the real world; but mental manipulation within the dream world has mental and thus physical ramifications in the real world.For Example 
  • In The Last Witch Hunter, both the memory potion and the dreamwalkers can make what happens to people in dreams happen to them in reality. This was exploited by the dreamwalkers of the past, as Kaulder calls them the Queen's "deadliest assassins".
  • The Matrix is the Trope Namer. Characters that suffer physical damage in the Matrix are shown convulsing and coughing up blood, followed by a Flatline as they suffer brain death. Even non-fatal wounds in the Matrix can cause some pain and bleeding in the real world. Judging from Morpheus's words (which incidentally make up the trope name and quote), this is presumably hand waved by the fact that the Matrix simulation overwrites reality for your brain, hence your brain shuts off because it's being force-fed the sensation of death. Whether or not it was purposely designed to do so is never stated, though either way, the Machines sure wouldn't want to change it.
    • However, in The Matrix Online, safeguards have apparently been put into place that when a redpill is killed in the Matrix, an emergency switch jacks them out of the Matrix, forcing them to re-enter at a hardline after some recovery time.
    • In the original movie, Neo subverts the trope. When Smith finally manages to kill him within the Matrix, Trinity reaches out to him from the real world proving that his mind is still intact and affirms his status as The One; now fully awakened his control is so powerful that he wills himself to life within the Matrix.
    • Also averted in the training programs, which are designed to show you that you can die but without actually killing you. For example, the "jump" scenario is considered impossible for a new red-pill to pass, as they cannot perform Roof Hopping yet. Fortunately, the ground below is made to absorb most of the impact, only causing the trainee a fair amount of pain and wounding them slightly in the real world.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy Krueger has the power to kill people in their dreams. Any damage that he inflicts on you in a dream crosses over into the waking world.
  • In 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.
  • Averted in Strange Days, where dying in a virtual reality clip is a popular form of Snuff Film. However, such clips are against Lenny's scruples, and he hates "the zap when they die".
  • In Surrogates, originally people could operate remotely-controlled surrogate versions of themselves without any risk – no damage done to the surrogate could have any lasting effect on the operator. Naturally, someone finds a way to subvert this rule, and this is when the problems (and the plot) start. This is different from the original graphic novel, where there is no way to kill a person via his or her surrogate.
  • The Thirteenth Floor was sneakier: you enter a virtual world by possessing one of its inhabitants and if killed in this state, your mind dies. And not only that, but the victim's mind takes over your body instead because it turns out the process is actually a complete mind swap. No one realized this because the real body usually remained completely unconscious during the process. Virtual death merely broke the connection and jarred the real-world body with the virtual mind inside it awake.
  • The Videodrome signal can induce the brain to make physical changes in the body.
  • Virtuosity is not a straight example – the system is designed to train cops in combat situations, similar to the US Army's Real Life Force XXI program. The problem is that different people worked on different parts of the system – and didn't understand how Lindenmeyer's maniacal AI could abuse it. The Dev Team Thought of ALMOST Everything – they programmed in non-lethal simulations of being shot, bludgeoned, and even bitten – but when Sid decided to try electrocuting someone, the poor chump's brain overloaded.
    Sid 6.7: Killing for real... It was a real rush.

  • Timothy Grant a.k.a The Brain Child from Appointment with F.E.A.R., is a boy whose troubling nightmares are so realistic, they actually manifest in the real world. At one point the Silver Crusader battles a fish monster materializing from a fountain, which suddenly vanishes mid-fight, and remembered he has Timothy Grant as one of his case studies. He then personally visits the Grants, interviewing Timothy if the boy had any nightmares recently, to which Timothy replied "he had this really neat one about a fish monster coming out of a fountain".
  • In The Avatar Chronicles by Conor Kostick, toward the end, the bad guy is in Epic, and a vampire rips his character's heart out. His heart stops in real life as well. The "vampire" was actually an avatar of the game itself, as it has gained sentience, so that may have had something to do with it, but nowhere else in the trilogy do any games physically affect someone.
  • Awake in the Night Land has a character capable of creating stuff from people's memories. This is used in order to create weapons, equipment, and (unknowingly to him) most of his teammates.
  • The Book of Lost Things: Much of the world is derived from David's and Jonathan's fears. The Loups were created from the latter, so when Leroi finally kills Jonathan, he (as well as the rest of the Loups), falls apart and ceases to exist.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Breeds There a Man...?": Most of the people trying to help Dr Ralson don't believe in his "alien experimenters", but Dr Blaustein, his psychiatrist, points out that it doesn't matter if the aliens exist or not, so long as Ralson associates his suicidal tendencies with advanced science/technology.
    "But," said Grant, "he's dying of something imaginary."
    "All right. Say that he is. But he will be really dead just the same, no?"
  • Thoughtforms in Burying the Shadow are haunts created by strong emotion and they usually take the form of the local superstition. Essentially, if you believe your house is haunted, your house is haunted.
  • The Agatha Christie short story "Philomel Cottage" features this in a Mind Screw ending. Alix Martin has a whirlwind romance with a man named Gerald, and they are married within a month. She later discovers that Gerald is a serial murderer who kills his wives, with her as the next target. On the night Alix knows that Gerald plans to commit the deed, she desperately tries to stall him by claiming that she is a Black Widow who specializes in poisoning her husbands for their money. Gerald immediately suspects her of spiking his coffee, and Alix goes along with it...and her acting is so convincing that Gerald drops dead from the fright, even though the story was completely invented and the coffee wasn't poisoned at all.
  • In The City We Became, people have the power to unknowingly create new universes with their thoughts, either from cultural constructs or even just one person's imagination being strong enough.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows In Zamboula", Zabibi is trapped in a circle of cobras, that prove illusionary in the end, but the Evil Sorcerer assures her that forcing women to dance to escape until they collapse was a common form of Human Sacrifice.
  • The main villain of Stealer of Souls, Mordraneth the Master of Illusion, can summon illusions that look so real, they can actually harm victims. For instance, his illusory Snake Pit is perfectly capable of inflicting venomous poison on anyone that tried crossing it.
  • In The Cosmere, Hoid is a mysterious traveler who is unable to hurt anyone. The one exception is Kelsier in Mistborn: Secret History, who is a ghost. As Hoid points out, they don't have a body for him to hurt, but they're so used to having one that hitting their ghost makes them think they should be in pain.
  • Discworld codifies this trope to an extent, in that one of the explicit rules of the world is that belief itself is a powerful enough force that enough people believing in something can make it true.
    • In Maskerade, the villain is killed in a swordfight, but it was stage fighting, and the sword is just held under his arm. However, he (and everyone else in the opera house) has been so immersed in drama and fiction for so long that it kills him because he expected it to.
    • Using "Headology" (directed YMMIR) is a large part of being a witch. Granny Weatherwax makes liberal use of it and promotes its use in her pupils over the use of actual magic.
    • Susan uses this trope to its maximum effect, developing her wards' belief in a poker she uses to beat up the monsters that hide under the bed, rather than telling them these monsters don't exist. That is, while she realizes nothing will make them stop believing in monsters, it's much easier to make them believe she's enough of a badass to take them on.
    • In Equal Rites, Esk meets the Things from the Dungeon Dimension in her dreams, and they assure her they can kill her there.
    • Played with in Mort: when Mort questions whether humans can be shaped by belief in the same way as gods and Anthropomorphic Personifications, Cutangle points out that if a guard believed Mort was a burglar, that belief would kill Mort as surely as if he actually was one.
    • Inverted in Eric where the damned souls in Hell eventually realise that, as immaterial spirits, their eternal torture only hurts because they expect it to, and they can just decide it doesn't.
  • In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe short story "The Girl Who Stole the Stars" by Andrew Cartmell (in The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who) the eponymous girl warns Ace and Raine that if they die in VR, they die in real life. No further explanation is given, not even as much as the handwave given as to why hacking into a university computer in what appears to be the Present Day requires a VR space battle in the first place. Apparently, that's just how VR works.
  • Dragon Bones has a gruesome example. Re-living the traumatic event in your mind is a known part of PTSD. Oreg is a powerful mage, and when he re-lives past events, this is visible to others. Whether it is or is not real is not entirely clear, but it doesn't really make a difference, as Oreg obviously experiences the same pain as during the original event. Ward, who witnesses it, doesn't want to touch Oreg's bleeding body, either, and gently touches his head instead, as that's the only uninjured part.
  • Forest Kingdom: As seen in book 4 (Beyond the Blue Moon), in the Reverie dimension, peoples' thoughts (usually those regarding their appearance) can have an effect on their physical selves or surroundings. In Hawk's case, he unwittingly restores his lost eye, and it stays restored when he returns to the regular world.
  • In the third Hellgate: London novel, a demon used a device that made the target relive his/her past in the dream, which will go horribly wrong and kill them, or make them go crazy.
  • Hidden City features plenty of magical phenomena where characters' dreams and memories become reality.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series' fifth book, Mostly Harmless, Ford enters a virtual world in which some inhabitants carry laser guns. If they shoot you, you're dead, as you're "as dead as you think you are."
  • In Hyperion, a cyberspace hacker's head explodes when he is exposed to a section of cyberspace inhabited by AIs, which is normally inaccessible to humans. In this case, it's a completely real security system that causes his implants to boil his brain. When people are Mind Wiped during a network crash, however, that's the trope played straight.
  • In Stephen King's It the "it" is an Eldritch Abomination whose true form cannot be comprehended and uses the worst fears of its victims to kill them. "It" preys on children because adults are too closed-minded to believe what they see. However, this is a two-way street - if the victims of "It" can convince it something is real, or have strong belief that something can hurt "It", then it affects "It" exactly as it should. One character manages to deal "It" serious injury by declaring that an asthma inhaler is battery acid and spraying "It" in the face.
  • In the horror novel Jago, the villain has potent psychic powers that appear to include Reality Warping. It's ultimately shown that much – although not all – of Jago's reality-warping is all in the mind; his psychic power causes people to perceive reality as different, but the physical world is unchanged. At some points, individuals manage to temporarily see through the illusion to the more mundane reality beneath. However, when everybody present agrees that a thing is happening, and it's convincing enough that people die because they believe they've been killed, the distinction is largely moot, and Jago poses a genuine threat.
  • In The Kingdom Keepers, any injuries the Keepers suffer in their holographic DHI forms carry over when they wake up in their beds.
  • In King of the Water Roads the magic of "Seeming," which is based entirely on illusion and bending a person's perception, can be used to murder if whatever illusions are being used are strong or traumatizing enough.
  • In Kroniki Drugiego Kręgu very talented Illusion Weavers can create illusions so convincing that one's body feels it like a real thing. Kamyk accidentally burns Zwycięski Promien Switu, who was a jerk and Kamyk only wanted to scare him off with a fireball. Apparently frogs are too stupid to fall for this trick.
  • Russian cyberpunk literary classic Labyrinth of Reflections by Sergey Lukyanenko used a massive VR world... based on Doom. Considering the state of the nigh-post-Soviet information network in 1991, that makes some sense... The trick was a hypnosis program of sorts known as Deep that put the user in a trance-like state; the relatively limited visuals they were given were filled in by the brain's natural ability to add extra data (akin to limited side effects of sensory deprivation) and an immersive world was created. The trick was a very small, professional group of "Divers" who could bring themselves out of the trance state at will, and interface with the system as it actually existed. Also there has been made a certain virus in the Deep that actually kills the users. And one that traps divers.
  • The result of two separate spirit battles in Legend by David Gemmell. When the acolytes' avatar has its back broken and Nosta Khan's is beheaded, the same things happen to their bodies.
  • A Lullaby Sinister features this. Falling into REM sleep drags students and teachers into what they call the Surrogate School. Dying there means you inexplicably die in your bed, or wherever you fell asleep.
  • Magicnet falls somewhere between this and Clap Your Hands If You Believe, depending on whether you view magic as a shared hallucination or the product of an alternate reality that coexists with this one. Characters who truly believe that magic exists can and do get hurt by it, but a large amount of what occurs is shown to be just smoke and mirrors once characters deny it (e.g. a supposedly exploding plane engine turns out to be undamaged.)
  • Averted in MARZENA: Silly movies and video games, You can't die in a dream! Also if you die and fall in a coma, the Doctor can just bring you back to consciousness by stimulating your thalamus.
  • In the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, by Tad Williams, the Dream Road is a metaphysical realm that is touched on by all thinking beings while they sleep, but that practitioners of the Art can enter intentionally, bringing others with them. Things that happen to one's mind on the Dream Road can and do affect one in reality, and in the most benign of circumstances, it's possible for an inexperienced traveler to become "lost" and unable to return, leaving their body an Empty Shell. In less benign circumstances, there are ... things there that can actively destroy all but the most powerful minds. Such encounters are typically fatal (or worse) to the dreamer.
  • In William Gibson's Neuromancer, and other stories set in the same world, console cowboys interact with computing environments through virtual reality on a deep enough level that they risk brain damage or death from tangling with the wrong entities.
  • In James Herbert's Once, a glass jar, when opened by protagonist Thom Kindred, unleashes a seemingly infinite horde of spiders. While Thom's mounting terror increases their tangibility, disregard, encouraged by Rigwit the brownie, seems to weaken it.
  • One of the central mysteries in the Otherland series, by Tad Williams, is why this trope seems to be occurring. Brown Note effects are known to exist, but they require especially high-quality virtual reality interfaces, and yet the Otherland network somehow manages to deliver sensations that the users' equipment is incapable of generating, and keeping them trapped online even when they ought to be able to simply remove their VR gear. The answer is that the operating system has Psychic Powers.
  • In The Pendragon Adventure, the territory of Veelox has a virtual reality system called Lifelight. It is initially stated that if you die during a Lifelight "jump", you simply wake up from it. However, once the Reality Bug is introduced into Lifelight in an attempt to make it less perfect and addicting, this trope gets taken to absurd levels. Not only do you die in real life if you die during a jump, but any injuries you get appear on your real body, even damaging your clothing. And after the Reality Bug manifests in a jump as a giant shape-shifting monster, it is somehow able to enter physical reality by burrowing down through the ground. Bobby even admits that all this violates the laws of physics as he understands them.
  • Andrey Livadny's Phantom Server trilogy has an avid VR gamer named Xander get bored with all the mainstream games out there and find out about this bleeding edge game called Phantom Server that's still in alpha testing. He pays an exorbitant sum to an acquaintance of his to sign him up for the game. However, playing the game requires an implant that allows the simulation to be extremely realistic. Luckily for Xander, he had a similar experimental implant put in him a few years ago in his thirst for greater realism in games. After logging into the Phantom Server, he finds out that the game might as well be Real Life, if real life had players in a remote, hostile star system with dangerous enemies. Any pain Xander's character experiences, Xander feels too, thanks to the implant. In addition, certain locations or states automatically disable the logout button, so he can't even cut the connection if things get too hot to handle. Now, the company developing the game makes sure that every player's physical body is plugged into a life support system, so they can't starve or die of thirst. Still, Xander starts finding bodies of people he initially assumes to be NPCs, except they don't fade and actually undergo a realistic decomposition process. He realizes that the sheer realism of the game, coupled with the pain might very well result in player deaths. He recalls his acquaintance telling him that many gamers went into the game, but few came out. Back then, Xander dismissed the warning, assuming the game was simply so cool that no one wanted to leave. Now he realizes people may have been actually dying in the game. There's also the very real threat of going insane, especially in certain locations that continually kill and respawn players, only to kill them (very painfully) mere minutes (or even seconds) later. Then alpha testing ends, and the developers decide to remove any testers, who are still alive and sane (i.e. haven't turned into NPCs), as witnesses.
  • The titular monster of Brian Jacques' book The Ribbajack is created when someone thinks hard enough to bring it into existence. It will then seek out that person's worst enemy and kill them.
  • In The Saint short story "The Darker Drink", Simon Templar encounters in the High Sierras a man named "Big Bill" Holbrook who claims to represent the dream avatar of Andrew Faulks of Glendale, California. Holbrook notes that Faulks had started to have an increasingly vivid recurring dream, such that smell and tactile sensation emerged. It appears that the personages in Faulk's dream (such as a woman named Dawn Winter) had started to manifest in the waking world. Templar notices curious phenomenon which seem to support Holbrook's claim: Simon sees his own reflection fine in a small mirror, but Dawn's features are "blurred, run together, an amorphous mass"; when every single character repeats the same cluster of honorific catch phrases when they first meet the Saint; and the phenomenon of time compression that Holbrook identifies as an aspect of dream (a group of thugs searching for Holbrook and Winter say they will travel a long distance to fetch their boss from the town return in less than thirty minutes). Though one of the thugs opens fire on Templar, he has no wounds in the morning. However, when he visits Glendale, California to look up Andrew Faulks, Faulks has died after slipping into a coma.
  • One of Dumbledore's famous quotes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seems to address this trope. "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
  • In Tek War, failing to hack a computer system results in real injuries ranging from brain damage to death. Fortunately, most hackers can spare the brain cells lost in minor skirmishes.
  • In a case of "Someone Else's Mind Makes It Real", in Anne McCaffrey's Tower and the Hive, it was first thought that Prime level talents suffered from debilitating vertigo (known as Travel Sickness) if they attempted interplanetary travel. Then along comes Jeff Raven, an untrained Prime from a frontier colony who could bounce around with no ill effects. It was later discovered that the only one of the six known Primes that did have that condition was Siglen, who had an inner ear condition that really did cause her to fall ill. Siglen's giant ego ascribed this to "the burden Primes must bear for their power," rather than have herself checked out. Since Siglen trained or trained with all the rest of the Primes, she mentally pushed her condition on the rest. The Rowan was the only one of the original five young enough to train herself past her conditioning. And then, preferred staying on her home base of Io, Jupiter's moon, unless she had to travel.
  • The fourth Sorcery! book has the Archmage's chamber, which is guarded by a corridor full of flames, that instantly incinerates anyone who tries to cross... unless they're told by Naggamanteh, the torturer, of the truth. The flames are actually an illusion; by believing it's fake and ignoring it entirely, one can walk through the corridor unscathed.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, a psyker can use their power to broadcast a mental image of a physical attack into the mind of another pysker, potentially causing the wounds to manifest in the target's body. This is the eventual solution to the mystery at the core of the third Shira Calpurnia novel, Blind.
  • The Afterlife in both the book and movie versions of What Dreams May Come.
  • The Wheel of Time books include Tel'aran'rhiod, a special dream world that can be accessed through special artifacts, training, or blind luck. Injuries and death carry over. It even explains people dying in their sleep for no apparent cause as them accidentally dreaming themselves temporarily into the dream world long enough for something fatal to happen to them.
  • In G. A. Effinger's When Gravity Fails, eight people lie down at a Virtual Reality couch, and only seven get up. One of them figured a way to make one of the others fail to go back to their body, causing their "soul" to be purged when the machine shuts down.
  • The Chronicles of Dorsa: In the Shadowlands, people can still be harmed due to this, but also harm others. Conversely, dream walkers also can heal, and change other things through the realization it's just a product of people's minds. The exception is Joslyn's sword, which can harm someone in the dreamworld equally as while waking due to its magic, no matter their power.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the 30 Rock episode "The Break-Up": Liz tells Jack that her allergies are getting to her after her boyfriend left her. Hence, this line from Jack:
    "Allergies are all in the mind, Lemon. I used to have a wicked peanut allergy, and now... witness. [Pops a peanut into his mouth from a bowl on his desk.]"
  • On The 100, people who enter the City of Light have their minds downloaded into its virtual reality. This lets them continue existing in the City of Light even after their physical bodies have passed away. However, it also means that if they're killed inside the City of Light, they'll die in the real world, too.
  • In 1000 Ways to Die, there is a story about a woman who had persistent nightmares of a small, demonic imp strangling her. While she thought she was being strangled in her dreams, her physical heart raced to the point of a heart attack, killing her in her sleep.
  • An episode of The 4400 features all of the main characters being trapped in a shared dream where they had to escape from a building that was trying to kill them. This trope is brought up in that the characters don't know whether it's going to be subverted or played straight. It's subverted; after Shawn is killed by an exploding window and Meghan is electrocuted, both wake up fine at the same time that the others are released.
  • Better Call Saul has Chuck McGill, who claims to suffer from "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" – essentially, any kind of significant electromagnetic radiation, whether it be a lightbulb or a battery or whatever, causes him to suffer an apparent sensory overload or even a seizure. While he's right that he suffers from the condition, he's wrong about how it works. He insists it's a real physical condition with no cure, but it's actually a psychosomatic condition that happens to be able to manifest physically because he believes in it so strongly. In a number of episodes, it's shown that if Chuck isn't aware of a source of electricity, he doesn't suffer his symptoms because he doesn't realize he's supposed to be doing so. Much of the reason he sticks so fervently to this is that he doesn't want to be seen as "crazy"; he would rather be thought of as laid low by an incurable illness than a mental disorder, so he lies to himself and refuses to see treatment or diagnosis for his condition, even though it's clearly not what he claims it to be.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: What causes the Monster of the Week in the Season 1 episode "Out of Mind, Out of Sight".
  • Played for Black Comedy in an episode of El Chapulín Colorado. The title character is called by a nurse in a hospital, where she's taking care of a couple of crooks who were involved in a shootout with the police. One of the crooks is fully recovered while the other isn't expected to make it past the night. Chapulín however swaps the medical records and begins messing with both crooks, telling the healthy one to just accept his death while trying to get the dying one to eat and do some exercises. At the end, Chapulín reveals he switched the medical records intentionally so as to try and convince the dying crook that he was healthy so he would get healthy for real. It works, but in turn, the healthy crook becomes convinced that he's dying as well, and ends up dropping dead.
  • An episode of Charmed featured a man who could enter dreams, and when women rejected him he killed them there.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Mind Robber" establishes that the inhabitants of the Land of Fiction are, well, fictional... unless you believe in them, in which case your mind makes them real and they are able to harm you. Strangely, though, in order to get rid of a menacing fictional character, all present must vocally disbelieve. The Doctor and Zoe are able to make a Minotaur vanish this way, but Zoe's inability to disbelieve in Medusa forces the Doctor to use a mirror to defeat her, even though he knows she's fictional. Later, Zoe is forced to fight Karkus, whom she knows is fictional, because the Doctor has never heard of him and thus cannot disbelieve.
    • "The Three Doctors": Time Lord Omega is essentially the god of an antimatter world he's imprisoned in within a black hole. Despite having been destroyed by the singularity's energy, he still exists because of his belief and desire for himself to still be alive.
    • "The Deadly Assassin": The Gallifreyan Matrix works like this, as death in the virtual reality overloads the person's mind. (In "The Trial of a Time Lord", on the other hand, the Doctor and his opponents physically enter the Matrix. Don't ask.)
    • "The Time of Angels": Amy believes her hand is stone thanks to the Angels getting inside her head, so it is stone. The Doctor bites her hand to snap her out of it.
  • In Dollhouse, if, while in the Attic, you are killed in your mindscape, your body dies. Used as a means to escape the Attic by Echo, by dying and using the time being unplugged to get out.
  • Subverted in Eureka. During an episode of shared dreams, one Red Shirt died in reality and in the shared dream at the same time... but it turned out to be coincidental.
  • Fear and Faith, a Derren Brown special, uses a placebo coined as Rumyodin that is said to inhibit fear. It was eventually revealed that the participants overcome their fear because they believed they could (with positive reinforcements from the placebo). It was even lampshaded, The Reveal reveals that Rumyodin is a Significant Anagram of Your Mind.
  • Fringe had an episode where a man was killed when a drug convinced him that an assassin was slicing his throat, causing a slash through his neck to appear in real time.
  • In the Haven episode "Lay Me Down", what happens to a member of the Benson family in their dreams happens to them for real, though this stops if they can conquer their greatest fears. The evil William and his thugs modify Carrie Benson so that her Trouble becomes contagious, resulting in several townspeople getting injured or killed in their dreams. Fortunately, when Carrie conquers her fear, everybody she affected is cured as well.
  • In a recent episode of Heroes, Matt telepathically enters Angela's mind to free her from her comatose state. Arthur uses HIS telepathy to put an image of Daphne in Matt and Angela's shared mind world thingy. This imaginary Daphne stabs Matt in the stomach. When this happens, the real world Daphne, who's right next to Matt, realizes that Matt has a stab wound right where mind-Daphne stabbed him. However, when Angela (trapped in her own mind) convinces Arthur (who personally entered her mind near the end) to free her and Matt, Matt awakes and the stab wound is gone.
  • In the season three episode of House called "Airborne", Cuddy becomes sick during a flight from Indonesia to the US, having rashes, nausea, and a fever, all because she believes she's been infected with meningitis from another passenger. Who turned out not to have meningitis at all.
  • The I-Land: The island is just a simulation, but getting killed in there causes your body to die for real. The warden mentions something about the experience being too traumatizing for the brain to handle.
  • Legion: The Astral Plane functions like this. While inside it, your mind can create anything you want.
  • Lexx: "Patches in the Sky". We're told, offhand, that "If you die in a dream, you die for real," as if it's obvious.
  • Logan's Run: In "Futurepast", Ariana subjects Logan and Jessica to dream analysis. She tells Rem that the process has four levels and subjects can die if they reach D Level, "d" standing for "death." As the City of Domes' culture is obsessed with death, their dreams are particularly strong. Logan has nightmares about being forced to abandon Jessica while she dreams about being pursued by Death and her birth mother rejecting her. Had Rem and Ariana not managed to revive them, the sheer anxiety caused by their dreams would have killed them.
  • Lois & Clark:
    • There was an evil genius who traps the main characters in a VR system. In the end, the system is shut down while he is still hooked up (and "downloaded in"), resulting in his mind being separated from his body, and the last shot is him screaming inside a computer screen.
    • Another episode had a master hypnotist (the second master hypnotist, not the first one) whose hypnotic illusions were so real that Jimmy bumped his head on an imaginary desk and got a real-life bruise. The hypnotist used this power to cause people to die from illusions.
  • M*A*S*H: The camp runs out of painkillers. All the doctors get together to convince the pain-wracked patients that these "sugar pills" are very new, very effective painkillers. It works — after all, that's the placebo effect in a nutshell.
  • An episode of Medium has Alison suffer the same injuries in real life as she had in her dreams, making her afraid that she would die in reality if she were to die in her dreams. It didn't help that she was dreaming of a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In the episode "Mindreacher", scientists invent a new device that allows people to share dreams and cure people's mental problems. The protagonist and her boyfriend use the machine to enjoy a romantic dinner. However, after that, he goes into a coma. The machine is blamed, and the project is shut down. However, she accidentally messes up an implant injection (it latches on directly to her brain instead of a nerve in the palm), which allows to her mentally interface with anyone she touches. She interfaces with the boyfriend and finds out that he's allergic to strawberries, so when they ate them in the vivid dream, his body reacted as if he actually ate them for real. She "cured" him by convincing him that she has a cure in her hand and feeding it to him in the dream.
  • Probe's "Black Cats Don't Walk Under Ladders (Do They?)":
    • Austin insists that magic isn't real, it's merely the power of suggestion that will cause people to act out a curse.
    • Austin uses the killer's own knowledge against them, causing them to believe that they've been affected by the same poisoned tea that was used to kill Marty Corrigan.
    • Austin claims to be immune to the power of suggestion, so Mickey challenges him, then reveals that she's already tricked him (the dinner she served is actually mackerel, not trout).
  • Sliders did an episode that ripped off Nightmare on Elm Street, but with these evil nerds that called themselves "The Dream Masters". The nerds were defeated once the characters banded together, realizing that it was all just a dream, and overpowered the nerds' minds, resulting in an inability to be harmed. There was a moment where Rembrandt is cornered by the nerds and is about to be killed. He goes, "I wish I had my gun right now." The gun materializes in his hand, and he blows a few nerds away. Strangely, when we last see the nerd who tried to hit on Wade, he is walking into the room with his sleeve on fire. It's not clear how that happened. Maybe he was sitting near a candle and jerked his hand.
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1 episode "Avatar": Teal'c gets trapped in a VR simulation that shocks him every time he dies in the game. While the simulation itself can't harm him, the continual shocks force his body to produce extra adrenaline, which eventually can kill him. He's trapped because in real situations Teal'c would never quit, and so the simulation disables the abort option. It turns out to be even worse than that: the simulations aren't pre-programmed but work off the sim runner's mind. Teal'c will never quit, never surrender... He also believes, at the time, that no matter what, they can never fully defeat the Goa'uld. Meaning not only can he not just hit the off button, but whenever it seems like he's going to win something new pops up, kills him, then the sim restarts and gets harder still.
    • Stargate Atlantis episode "Doppelganger". Dr. Heightmeyer dies in her sleep after dreaming that she fell off a balcony onto a pier below. There were other factors involved in that death...
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • The classic episode "Spectre of the Gun" has the landing party trapped in a surreal nightmare that recreates the Shootout at the OK Corral. Spock realizes the whole experience is an illusion that is only as real as their minds accept it to be, but, as McCoy says, only someone as emotionless as a Vulcan could have the iron-hard certainty required – even a shadow of doubt would be lethal. Spock mindmelds with the others to make them just as sure of the illusion as he is, making them invulnerable to it.
    • In "Shore Leave", the planet creates whatever the crew thinks of - whether it's an old Academy nemesis, a Japanese warplane making a strafing run, or a Samurai warrior. Kirk realizes this and orders the crew to come to perfect attention and focus on nothing but standing absolutely stock-still and staying that way, depriving the planet's mechanisms of patterns to replicate, at which point the "keeper" walks up, along with the crew members thought to have been killed, and explains what has really been going on.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • The episode "Interface" has Geordi controlling a probe with his VISOR. When a fire suddenly engulfs the probe Geordi's hands are burned by the interface suit he's wearing.
    • In an earlier episode, "Remember Me", Beverly Crusher becomes trapped inside a warp bubble, with her thoughts determining the scenario she experiences. At one point, a guest character tells Wesley that within the bubble universe, Beverly's thoughts control reality to such an extent that she remains alive "so long as she believes she is alive". Presumably, then, if she believed she died within the scenario, this belief would actually cause her death. Fortunately, it doesn't come to that.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Things Past" several members of the crew were in danger of this, and Garak even got a bloody nose.
  • In Star Trek: Voyager, in the episode "The Thaw", the crew of the Voyager finds a machine where the surviving members of a species whose planet was struck by a natural catastrophe were placed in stasis, and their brains were wired into the machine, which created an artificial paradise inside it. Unfortunately, when the crew looks inside the program uploading Harry inside it, they find out that inside there is an... entity, called "The clown", who keeps the dreamers trapped inside. When the crew tries to disconnect them from the machine, it threatens to put one of them on the guillotine. He does, and the dreamer's body dies of a heart attack.
  • Supernatural did this twice. The first was a demon born out of a Deadly Prank and who kept existing because of people believing in him and the second was this dream-trope in a nutshell.
  • Series 2 of Torchwood had a villain who only existed in the altered memories of the staff. He faded from existence when they used the humorously named drug retcon to erase their memories of the time he'd been interacting with them (all of two days, though he himself had retconned the staff's memories to include him further back. It only required 2 days' erasure to get rid of him, though, because obviously the memories he put in or stirred to the surface were only that much fresh).
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • In "Perchance to Dream", Edward Hall, who has a rheumatic heart, dreams in chapters like an old Film Serial. He has been dreaming about a strange woman named Maya at a carnival who has been trying to scare him to death by bringing him to a funhouse and for a ride on a roller coaster. As a result, Edward believes that he will die the next time that he goes to sleep. It turns out that he is right.
    • In "Shadow Play", Adam Grant doesn't die from his dreams of being executed but the fear and pain that come along with the whole thing feel very real to him, no matter how many times they happen.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985):
    • In "Nightcrawlers", Price is a Vietnam vet who suffers from severe PTSD as a result of deserting his unit, the Nightcrawlers, while they were under attack from the Viet Cong in order to save himself. He has the ability to manifest anything that he can imagine. The first indication of this is when he briefly turns his cup of coffee into a Budweiser. Price later demonstrates his ability to the other people in Big Bob's diner when he makes a T-bone steak appear on the counter. He says that he has met four other vets with the same ability and that one of them speculated that their powers are as a result of being sprayed with a strange Soviet chemical by the Viet Cong. While he is awake, Price's creations last only a few seconds but they last far longer when he is asleep. When he fell asleep at a motel, he had his recurring nightmare about his unit hunting him out of revenge and four people were killed. Trooper Dennis Wells knocks him unconscious with a ketchup bottle after he tries to escape. As a result, the Nightcrawlers unit again manifests from Price's thoughts and attacks the diner, killing Wells and Price in the process. With Price dead, the Nightcrawlers disappear.
    • In "The Toys of Caliban", an intellectually impaired boy named Toby Ross has the ability to manifest any item after he sees a picture of it by saying "Bring!" As a reward, his parents Ernest and Mary show him a picture of a donut every night after dinner. Ernest is worried when Toby is able to create two donuts for himself without looking at the picture, something which has never happened before. That night, Toby is suffering from a severe stomach ache after manifesting dozens of donuts. His parents reluctantly take him to an emergency room where he has to get his stomach pumped. As a result of Ernest and Mary's odd, evasive behavior, a social worker named Miss Kemp calls on them before they leave the hospital the next morning. She becomes extremely concerned about Toby's welfare when Ernest angrily prevents her from giving Toby a magazine. Although Toby only got a glimpse of the magazine, he is nevertheless able to bring it later. He sees a diagram of a heart and accidentally kills Mary when he removes her heart from her chest. Sometime later, Miss Kemp visits the Ross household, convinced that Toby is being horribly mistreated. Ernest is forced to demonstrate Toby's ability for her. As Miss Kemp leaves, Toby sees an old photograph of his mother. Mary's decomposing corpse then appears in her armchair, traumatizing Toby. After burying Mary's body in the backyard, Ernest believes that he has run out of options. He shows Toby a picture of fire. When Miss Kemp returns with the police, they find the house in flames.
    • In "Dream Me a Life", Roger Simpson Leeds burns his right hand on one of the many candles in Laurel Kincaid's room after he enters her dream, causing him to wake up. He immediately realizes that he has a large burn mark.
    • In "Many, Many Monkeys", Nurse Claire Hendricks' blindness is psychosomatic, having been caused by her guilt at treating patients with coldness and indifference for many years. She never contracted the plague of blindness.
  • The Twilight Zone (2002): "Placebo Effect" featured a doctor dealing with a chronic hypochondriac patient. Normally keen on giving him placebos, she's horrified to find he actually IS showing signs of a terrible, previously unheard-of disease. It turns out that the disease was fictional, and after reading about it in an old sci-fi novel, the hypochondriac somehow "made it real" by believing he suffered from it. Soon, everyone in the hospital has caught the disease and appear to be near death. The doctor manages to cure him, and thus everyone, by telling him that a meteorite crashed which contained an antidote for the "space virus." By believing her, he is cured. However, pessimistic thoughts overwhelm him, and he believes the crashed meteorite will create a new Ice Age and destroy humanity. The final shot shows the nurse motioning the doctor outside, to see the city besieged by a massive blizzard.
  • In VR.5, dying in VR does not kill you, but it leaves you brain-dead. (In fact, it's claimed that dying in something as primitive as a flight simulator will have this effect!)
  • War of the Worlds (1988): "Totally Real", the loser of the VR game lost his life – though this turned out to be the entire point of the simulator's design.
  • The X-Files:
  • A more serious version is the episode "Pusher", where a man has the ability to talk people into killing themselves in various ways. Most of the time, it's by making them do something self-injurious, but at least one of his victims dies from being given a graphic verbal description of a heart attack and then suffering the same.
  • Another example was in "Scary Monsters" in the final season. A young boy causes several people to kill themselves when his illusions are made real in their minds. Luckily John Doggett is too stubborn to believe and tricks the boy by using his imagination against him.

  • Adventures in Odyssey: This seems to apply to all of Whit's virtual reality inventions, the Imagination Station being the most frequently used. At least, if a hacker got a hold of the controls and changed the adventure to put you in the crossfire of cannonballs, the threat was very real, just like threats during the adventure from, say, a ruler who would have you executed for refusing to bow to false gods.
  • The Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure "The Mind's Eye" is a textbook example, with the local flora putting Erimem and Peri into a dream-like state (the Doctor isn't ultimately that affected), where they will die for real if they die in their "dream".

  • The entire universe is the creation of the human mind according to Buddhism, that's why Buddhas obtain Enlightenment Superpowers, because they can control the Universe at will. A little like Neo in The Matrix (and yes, the movie is heavily based in Buddhist lore).
  • Certain Indigenous Australian tribes have a death curse for criminals that involves wrapping a piece of the cursed person's hair around a kangaroo bone and performing rituals over it. A special shaman hunter then finds the person and points the bone at them.
    • Similar claims have been made of some believers of Vodoun in Haiti and Africa. It is believed by some that Christianity has affected some people strongly enough to cause psychosomatic stigmata to form on their palms, as well (the real wounds of crucifixion would be on the wrists, by the way).
    • It's no coincidence that two of the most common "curses" that folklore alleges can be inflicted via supernatural means are "breath stealing" and impotency. Directed against someone with even a minor predisposition to allergies, asthma, or active respiratory infection, the sheer anxiety of believing their breath has been "stolen" could bring on an attack of breathing difficulty. Likewise, performance anxieties exacerbated by an impotency "curse" may impair a male believer's capacity to relax, to such a degree that the parasympathetic reflexes of erection can't take place.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Beast: The Primordial: While a Beast's Nightmares are technically only hallucinations and don't physically exist, they are entirely capable of inflicting real injuries, and even death, on their victims.
  • C°ntinuum: roleplaying in The Yet. When two characters meet while Dreaming, any combat between them is usually harmless – any character who is knocked unconscious or killed just wakes up. However, if one or both of the dreamers uses Telepathy during the combat, the damage inflicted is real and can result in nerve damage (and paralysis when the victim awakens) or death.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has several illusion spells (most notably of the Shadow sub-school) that function this way, e.g. Shadow Conjuration and Shades. These spells create illusory constructs or facsimiles of spells from other schools and have reduced effects on characters that successfully "disbelieve" them. Naturally, they always have this reduced effect on objects and creatures with low intelligence, such as constructs.
    • Some Phantasm spells, such as Phantasmal Killer and Weird, make you save or die upon failing the roll to disbelieve, doing nasty damage even on success. Annoyingly, Death Ward, which protects against other spells that make you save or die, won't protect you against this because it's an illusion based on fear since Death Ward protects only against direct, external magical energies that cause death, while these illusions essentially rely on tricking the target into killing itself. 5th edition alters both so that, while they're not instant death, their torment lasts longer, Frightening the target(s) and damaging at the end of each round until it's over or they finally make their save to disbelieve it.
    • 5e also throws in more personalized illusions (focusing on fooling one target extremely thoroughly rather than many at once), like Phantasmal Force and Mind Prison, that deal Psychic damage to the target if it crosses the "boundaries" of its illusion into something that would do it harm if it were real, and which the target perceives as appropriate. As an example, if you made Mind Prison manifest as a giant ring of flames, if the target tried to walk through it (after failing the Intelligence save) it would take huge amounts of Psychic damage that it would think was severe burns.
    • One of the first Dragonlance game modules had the player characters travel into a living nightmare to end its hold over an elven kingdom. Many of the monsters the players encounter are in fact creations of the dream and can be made harmless if players state they don't believe in them. Unfortunately, quite a few of those monsters are very real and will attack the players anyway, and it's very difficult to tell the difference.
    • Some D&D-based literature describes the physical threat of illusions. Trollshead (in The Dragon, #31), describes how some people ran through the illusion while others were burned alive and left charred.
    • A level-up feat for Wizards specializing in Illusion allows them to do this in non-lethal ways as well. Basically, they could (for instance) create the temporary illusion of a bridge that appears so real, people can walk on it.
    • The psionic powers "Recall Agony" and "Recall Death" cause the target to see into the future – specifically, to witness a possible future in which the target dies horribly. This can cause the target to die horribly.
  • GURPS: The "stigmata" enhancement to the Illusion advantage from GURPS: Powers can cause small amounts of damage to the target, but only to the point that he falls unconscious from the wounds.
  • Mage: The Awakening: This can happen to you in with the Astral Realms. Under normal circumstances, attacks in the Astral Realms don't harm health, but instead reduce Willpower (a person's reserve of mental and emotional strength). If a person loses all of their Willpower (not necessarily from being attacked) they return to the waking world, unable to maintain their Astral self and completely emotionally drained, but otherwise unharmed. There are however ways in which the person can be damaged or destroyed mentally. For example, being attacked by an ideology until the person's identity is completely buried beneath fanaticism, being drawn into the hold of an insanity realm until one's personality is utterly destroyed from that insanity, or going to the Dreamtime unprotected, where one's mind will be completely washed away by a consciousness which is incompressible to and uninterested in human perspective or individuality (essentially, your sense of identity is lost among the thoughts of something which has existed before there was life). In these cases, the body becomes a completely healthy vegetable. There are also beings capable of inflicting actual damage from the Astral Realms, though this is more to do with magically being able to target your body directly rather than because Their Mind Makes It Real.
  • Pathfinder: If a creature's dreaming self dies within a dream under the control of a nightmare dragon, then its material body also dies.
  • Shadowrun uses the "lethal biofeedback" version in its cyberspace; however, a hacker can avoid the feedback by using what's referred to as a Cold ASIST interface (as opposed to the Hot ASIST interface that most deckers use). However, not only does Cold ASIST forgo all the massive bonuses to your die rolls that Hot ASIST grants, (which is why hackers use Hot ASIST, despite Cold ASIST being the default user mode for all legitimate users of neural interface technology), but all the other deckers will mock you viciously before they Curb Stomp your Nerfed tuchas. One of the major events of the metaplot had the Matrix crashing, which resulted in people either dying or suffering irreparable brain damage when their cyberpersonas were cut off from their bodies. Considering the fact that deckers directly connect their brains to the Matrix, this is at least somewhat more acceptable than other reasons.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Warp is made up of the thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and feelings of everything. It's said that every strong emotion forms a daemon in the Warp, and daemons who are strong enough can join The Legions of Hell to attack realspace. Enough belief can actually bleed over into reality and start changing things – the Orks use this to amazing effect. Lastly, psykers can astral project themselves either deep into the Warp to predict the future or into the shallows to spy on reality; getting attacked by daemons in this state will most certainly kill you in the most painful ways the mortal soul can imagine (as well as several ways that it can't).

    Video Games 
  • An odd example in Bloodborne. Certain enemies gain extra attacks when you have a high level of Insight because you can understand them. Below the Insight threshold, the attacks won't appear as you Weirdness Censor them out of existence.
  • Catherine: Half of the story and gameplay revolves around a series of dreams where you have to constantly climb a tower that is slowly collapsing from the bottom up. If you fall off (or die in any of the other myriad of possible ways), you die in real life.
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn: in the final cutscene for the Nod campaign, a group of hackers are shown plugging themselves into machines that send them into a virtual reality world, where they try to hack into GDI's ion cannon control system in order to gain control of their orbiting Kill Sat. Two of the hackers get zapped by the defenses in the virtual world and are shown dying in the real world too, but the third one manages to succeed.
  • In Don't Starve, if your Sanity Meter drops too low, your character will start hallucinating... and their hallucinations will begin to affect reality. Sets of shadowy disembodied Night Hands will try to snuff out your campfire at night, rabbits will turn into hairy little monsters named Beardlings that drop Beard Hair instead of Morsels of meat, and eventually the flickering shadowy creatures you sometimes see start spawning as Crawling Horrors and Terrorbeaks.
  • Dreamkiller, a game set in Dream Land where you travel into the dreams of your clients and hep them purge their nightmares. Unfortunately their nightmares all manifests as gigantic monsters, and if you die in a dream world, you die in the real one.
  • Central to the gameplay in Dystopia, where players work with each other between Meatspace (the solid world) and Headspace (Cyberspace). Headspace obstacles such as encryptions, passwords, or ICEs (Although the regular ICEs don't damage the player, and GREEN ICEs only forcibly jack the player out with an EMP) are physical to the player's avatar and entire fights wage on in Headspace. If one dies in Headspace, they are yanked back to their physical bodies with disorientation and bodily damage (HP loss). It is also possible to sneak behind a jacked-in player in Meatspace and kill them. The player's avatar is told that their Meatsack (body) is taking damage, and death simply deletes the Headspace avatar in the middle of whatever it was it was doing.
  • All dreams in Elona have some effect on your character in the waking world.
  • Eternal Darkness gives you a Sanity Gauge that, when low, will cause hallucinations that are often freaky, but ultimately harmless. However, when your Sanity Gauge has run out entirely, anything that would normally only reduce your Sanity will start taking chunks out of your health instead, most likely due to this trope.
  • Fahrenheit does this so many times you'll lose count. It's never quite explained why, but Lucas hallucinates enemies and other supernatural threats like sentient wind at least once every two levels or so. Failing to escape them generally ends with him going into a coma-like state.
  • Mostly averted in Fallout 3. The "Tranquility Lane" quest takes place in a virtual simulation where a Mad Scientist tortures the other inhabitants of the simulation, frequently killing and resurrecting them without serious harm to their bodies... aside from the crippling physical atrophy acquired after decades two centuries in virtual reality. However, the player can turn off the "fail safes", allowing the scientist's victims to die for real and thus be put out of their misery. No such luck for the scientist himself.
    • Played straight as an arrow in the DLC, Operation: Anchorage. If the Lone Wanderer dies in the Anchorage simulation, his/her body goes into fatal cardiac arrest in the real world. Justified by the Brotherhood of Steel being unable to re-enable the safety features in the simulation. As for why a stated training sim would have lethal settings, it's repeatedly hammered in that the head of the dev team was a nutcase.
  • In Fatal Frame III: The Tormented: Rei, Miku, and Kei travel into the House of Sleep when they dream. If they lose all their spiritual health in the dream-world, they are confined there forever; leaving nothing in the physical world but a bunch of scorch marks.
  • Final Fantasy VI has a sidequest that occurs within the mind of party member Cyan Garamonde; several unique and powerful enemies are fought inside. By the time the party has completed the quest and returned to the real world, somehow those same enemies can now spawn on the Veldt as random encounters, complete with Rages available for the Wild Child Gau.
  • According to the original story Gamer 2 is based on, the virtual reality machine has been rigged so Hailey will die for reals if she loses a level. In actual gameplay, you simply respawn at the nearest checkpoint.
  • According to Heroes of Might and Magic 4 flavor text, this is how the Create Illusion spell can summon illusionary units indistinguishable from real ones in terms of damage and health.
    If the mind believes something is real then it is real in every sense of the word – except that it still may not have physical form.
  • In Iji, you can "crack" computers and enemies with your nanofield, but if you fail the crack you are booted out by your target's security system with negative effects depending on the difficulty of the crack. Especially odd since it's not virtual reality. Presumably, the computer interface is just that realistic. On the other hand, you are standing right next to whatever thing you're trying to hack and, in fact, probably touching it, so it could just be zapping you. Also, doors mostly just increase their security, and supply crates will break or explode as retaliation, and enemies mostly just realize you're standing there and stop standing around in a peaceful manner. And maximizing your crack level removes all harmful effects of failure.
  • Immercenary is set in a virtual reality game where much of humanity is trapped, with the player character being somehow projected into it from the past. Being crashed in the VR game is not immediately fatal, but apparently it does cause shocks to the system that eventually can result in death (as is shown to a predecessor of the player in the opening cinematic). Whether this is an intentional feature of the system or whether it is a side-effect of the time-projection technology is never stated. Late in the game, the player learns of an arguable inversion: characters crashed by the player are, due to the player's unorthodox presence in the system, misread by the controlling AI as having been disconnected from the game; the AI then responds by shutting off life support. Thus, characters crashed by the player die because the AI's mind makes it real.
  • inFAMOUS: When heading into a tunnel to destroy a tanker of tar, at one point you begin to hallucinate, seeing enemies fading in and out of reality and much larger than they should be. But they aren't just hallucinations, as their bullets still hurt you and can still kill you.
  • In Mark of the Ninja, the enemy ninja in the final level show up as the same kind of Mook the player has spent most of the game killing due to the main character's hallucinations: due to this trope, their nonexistent machineguns have the same degree of range and lethality as genuine article. Then again, since the main character never actually fights other generic ninja during the game, it's hard to say how their normal abilities would match up to their counterpart, although it's pretty safe to say that they don't have access to any equipment that'd duplicate the effectiveness of a sniper rifle.
  • The Matrix: Path of Neo. Since it's a Matrix game, this is in effect full force.
  • Max Payne and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne have "dream sequences" which can kill you. Inverted somewhat in that they're caused by various No One Could Survive That! poisonings and injuries, so surviving them is your mind making it real.
  • In Mysterious Forum and Seven Rumors, any rumor posted on the titular forum becomes reality. This is what caused the titular seven rumors to come true.
  • Perimeter: Exodus' severely disciplined society is traced back to first attempts of humanity to explore the worlds of The Chain. The violent reaction of the worlds themselves (termed "The Scourge") was tied to chaotic and fearful thoughts of inherently flawed humans, so the ritualistic practices, networked meditations and other means to keep reins were put in place. Without those, a high concentration of people (which Frames are) could never hope to survive. Other factions abolish this, one remains under the radar by going cybernetic hybridization way instead, the other embraces The Scourge.
  • In Perfect Dark Zero, Zhang Li's custom Deathmatch VR rig kills the defeated player for real, unless they are disconnected before in-game death, as with Mai Hem.
  • In Persona 5, you and your friends carry model guns that do nothing in reality. But because of the nature of the Palaces, they become real guns with live ammunition, able to inflict damage on the Shadows.
  • The plotline of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. The box contains some hallucinogenic gas that makes people experience what they expect, including death. This was the whole illusion of Folsense, as Luke and Layton had seen pictures of 30-year-old Folsense beforehand, and so perceived it that way when they got there. Truth was, it was pretty decrepit.
  • Psychonauts 2.
    • Parodied during one boss battle (which, like much of the game, takes place in the psychic landscape inside someone's mind), one of your fellow interns, who has been taken hostage, shouts that you need to save them because if you die in someone's mind... you pee your pants.
    • Confirming a long-held fan-hypothesis, the Hand of Galochio is not actually the result of a Gypsy Curse, but rather Razputin's own psychic powers acting on his fear.
  • Ripper: The killer known as the "Ripper" has the ability to kill anybody who once played the online game Ripper (the "Ripper" is one of the original players, the protagonist has to figure out which one of the surviving players it is). The Ripper's ability takes the form of a "software rewrite" of the victim's "brain software": the hormonal and electrical layers of the human brain. When triggered (through use of a Brown Note telephone call), the fluid and air pressure within the victim increases rapidly causing them to violently explode. The protagonist has to have his own "software" modified with an immunisation so that the Ripper can't use the "long-range doohicky" any longer (he is still vulnerable if the Ripper chooses to attack him "face to face" in the virtual world). Later, the Ripper calls all of the surviving characters into the virtual world and demands the protagonist choose who they think it is. The protagonist at this point has armed himself with a single-use "virtual weapon" in the form of a pulsing orb of energy. Each of the characters makes their case to the player, and the player must use the virtual weapon on the character they think is the Ripper, presumably killing them, as the ending narration is spoken in the past tense. Choose badly and not only have you killed an innocent person, the Ripper attacks the protagonist directly and kills him as well.
  • The eponymous virtual reality program in Sam & Max Save the World: Reality 2.0, works like this, and our heroes take advantage of this to solve at least one puzzle.
  • This is part of the philosophy of The Human Hive in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Essentially: Reality is obtained through your senses. But the filter of the reality you obtain is not the senses, but the will. By subordinating your sensory input through your will, your reality becomes what you will it to be. If you are able to convince yourself, completely and utterly, that you do not feel pain, you do not feel pain.
  • Silent Hill: How much of the games is real and how much is illusion is hotly debated. It's implied that the twisted, blood-and-rust-soaked Otherworld, at least, is a kind of hallucination, especially in the first game, where it's stated that several police officers who went to investigate the titular burg mysteriously died of heart attacks. Most likely they wandered into the Otherworld and fell victim to this trope. What people are actually doing while trapped in the nightmare, however, is another matter entirely... Though not really part of the main storyline, Silent Hill fans and players have created a theory that there really are no monsters or cults in the town of Silent Hill. Rather, YOU, yourself, are the monster.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Shadow the Hedgehog has two levels that take place in Shadow's memories, trying to help people aboard the space colony ARK, which went out of commission fifty years ago.
    • Sonic Forces: The Phantom Ruby's true power is to cast illusions that do this. It is able to create various weaponry and lasers that aren't technically real, but it feeds mental information to the brain so that they feel real. By extension, the whole of Sonic Mania may have been one big illusion cast by the Phantom Ruby.
  • Stellaris: Spiritualists claim that consciousness begets reality, as proven by their 'science'. Considering they get easier access to Psionics than Materialists, there's weight to their claims.
  • System Shock: Weirdly played with; being kicked out of cyberspace doesn't cause much injury, but does max out fatigue (physical exertion).
  • Wintermoor Tactics Club: The justification for why the party can use their C&C abilities in real life against the demons and the Clubless; their imagination and spark of creativity is, in fact, the one weapon they have against the demon.
  • The Witness: The hidden ending, as well as the hidden audio logs, reveal the true purpose of the Island (as well as the game's plot): an elaborate virtual reality simulation in which metaphysical thoughts are amplified. Once inside, it can become increasingly difficult to distinguish if the Island is real life or a simulation. The audio logs suggest that the first "proper" test of the Island will include someone coming back to reality only when they want to; the hidden ending reveals the player actually returning to reality, unable to interact with objects in a way outside of the Island's parameters.
  • World of Warcraft brings us Vanessa Vancleef, who poisons your party and sends you a few rooms back, the poison causes you to hallucinate various nightmares involving past bosses, despite nobody actually being there, dying to the fire/ice/lighting/bosses themselves makes you drop dead in reality.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the world of A Nightmare's Trip, Conductors can turn the products of their dreams into real, humanoid people. Adrien himself is a nightmare created that way, though he doesn't remember who his Conductor is.
  • Danganronpa:
    • Discussed in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair after it's revealed that everyone has been inside a virtual reality the entire time. The people who died aren't actually dead, but having their avatars deleted caused their real brains to shut down, rendering them comatose.
      Sonia: In a distant country, there was a certain experiment carried out on one of their prisoners. The prisoner was blindfolded, strapped to a bed, and had small wounds applied to his toes to drain his blood. That prisoner was left alone in the experiment room, as the sound of dripping blood echoed throughout the room. But in fact, his blood was not being drained. He was just forced to listen to the sound of dripping water, but he believed he was bleeding to death. However, in spite of that, the prisoner still died.
    • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: Comes into play again during Chapter 4 when the group enters a VR simulation, and Miu's avatar is strangled to death. When the others wake up, she's clutching at her throat, and been rendered brain dead.

    Web Animation 

  • Alice and the Nightmare is one big deconstruction of the Dream Stealer trope, specifically because of this trope. Residents of the Dream World, basically Wonderland and the Looking Glass territory, steal dreams from sleeping humans for use in their modern-day technologies and to stabilize their world while fighting off eldritch nightmares that can manifest in dreams and Wonderland. This is exactly as dangerous as it sounds; the humans on both sides can utterly screw each other over in a dream. Not only do dream harvesters have a disturbingly high death rate, but screwing around with a dream too long may cause the sleeping human to develop a psychic affinity, accidentally teleport themselves into Wonderland, and literally mutate into their worst nightmare that will hunt down Wonderlandians until it is put down by the firing squad.
  • That's how dream world can be dangerous in Archipelago - if you get injured in there, and a specialised healer doesn't treat you on time, the scars, blinded eyes, and lost limbs become real.
  • Discussed and averted in El Goonish Shive, nothing Sarah does while using her simulated time stop spell affects the real world according to Tedd.
  • The aforementioned D&D uses of this trope led Full Frontal Nerdity to have "Quantum Roll to Disbelieve", where a successful roll would cause something to cease to exist.
    Frank: That's one way to avoid encumbrance limitations. What did [Wizards of the Coast] say?
    Shawn: "Natural 20! We disbelieve that we ever saw this!"
  • Housepets! has an appropriately titled strip named strip called Your Mind Makes It Real.
  • Irregular Webcomic! does it too. It's the cause of death for one of the characters in the sci-fi theme.
  • In a Metroid-based webcomic called Metroid: Third Derivative, Samus is "uploaded" to the Space Pirates' main computer, and put into a training simulation by a mostly-friendly pirate. Samus asks the Pirate, "And I suppose if I die here I die in the real world too?" The Pirate answers, "What? No. That's stupid and completely defeats the point of virtual training." To which she replies, "Chalk up a rare victory for common sense then."
  • Subverted in 9th Elsewhere: The character who is actually asleep, Carmen, is perfectly safe inside her own mind. The muses who journey with her, on the other hand, can fully manifest themselves in her mind, and therefore can have harm done to them, and they need to eat, breathe, and sleep, unlike Carmen.
  • Paranatural: Spirits who have bonded with humans can pull them into a "spirit world," a sort of shared hallucination where the pair can communicate with a heightened perception of time so that it seems like Time Stands Still. While this is all in the human's mind, if the spirit were to, say, bite the human's head off, the human's head would be bitten off in real life.
    Max: WHAAAT!? H-how is THAT—
    Mr. Spender: It's a supernatural thing. I wouldn't worry about it. About how it works, I mean. You should definitely worry about having your head bitten off.
  • Schlock Mercenary: Schlock is infected with Nano Machines who pull him into a virtual interface to try and communicate, he responds by pulling an imaginary Plasma Cannon on them.
    Blood Nannies: Look, we told you already... that thing won't work in here. It's just a metaphor.
    Schlock: But a meta for what? I've got a pretty good immune system.
  • xkcd: Parodied: "If you die in Canada, you die in real life!"

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-896 ("Online Role Playing Game"). Anyone who plays SCP-896 will have their real-life attributes increase to same degree that their in-game attributes do. However, if one of a character's attributes rises too high above the others, the player's attributes decrease. The Foundation developed a harmless version of the game because it was publicized too heavily to just destroy, but in usual Fridge Horror fashion Foundation employees have very recently been barred from playing the harmless version too.
    • One of the phenomena observed by the Foundation is SCP-1237, a peculiar type of brain-wave pattern found in some humans. People capable of so-called "epsilon-wave sleep" will find that things they have dreamed about come true.
    • Inverted with SCP-2470 ("The Void Singularity"), an abstract extradimensional entity that contains the ability to erase whatever it perceives or understands.
  • The Slender Man is theorized to have been created by this, coupled with lots of stories so the universe can fit him into history.
  • The monsters from the Play-by-Post game What Time Is It, Mr. Wolf? exist because of this. In the case of the boogeyman, acknowledging this trope is a way to kill him.
    "There’s a bleeding, gaping hole split through the socket of your shoulder, where your arm once dangled.
    The boogeyman exists. The boogeyman exists. The boogeyman exists."

    Western Animation 
  • Aaahh!!! Real Monsters confirms this to be the very reason monsters exist at all. In the episode "Where Have All the Monsters Gone?" The Pool of Elders starts to dry up and monsters disappear PIECE BY PIECE. The Pool confirms to Ickis that monsters were first born out of the fears of the human mind. This very same fear fuels the Pool, if the Pool ever dries up? Monsters will vanish from existence altogether.
  • Adventure Time: In "Rainy Day Daydream", Finn and Jake are stuck inside due to a "knife storm", and Jake suggests using their imaginations to pass the time. However, everything Jake thinks up (like a pool of lava, venomous snakes, and a "bazooka goblin") turns real, even though only Jake can see it. He and Finn have a crazy adventure in their own tree house trying to reset Jake's imagination and get rid of the threats.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: In "What is Reality?", the Riddler hooks Commissioner Gordon up to a virtual reality computer program that can do such a realistic simulation of high-G loads that Gordon's physical body would think it really was happening and suffer cardiac arrest. In the same episode, Riddler himself gets his brain fried when the computer crashes while he's still hooked to it.
  • Code Lyoko is an exception, sometimes; when Ulrich, Yumi, or Odd lose all their Life Points, they are merely rematerialized into the real world. If this happens, they simply return to the material world too weak to stand up. Also, there's a twelve-hour cooldown between respawns. However, this return only works when the scanners that allow access to Lyoko are functional. Also, Aelita, who was tied to the computer for the first two seasons, would have been lost forever if she ran out of Life Points. Unsurprisingly, she was never actually devirtualized until the tie was broken, but plenty of times after that. Also, it appears that no matter who you are, falling into any of the Bottomless Pits surrounding the areas appears to prevent you from ever coming back. On several occasions, someone attacks their own ally to prevent this from happening.
    • This abyss is referred to as "The Digital Sea"—essentially a representation of the raw networks that are outside the control of the Supercomputer which runs Lyoko. Any persona that fell in would be scrambled beyond the ability to reconstruct it, thus the danger.
  • The Fairly OddParents!, "Power Mad", also hinges on a similar plotline, though this is because the main character has wished himself fully into the game.
  • Family Guy:
    • Mentioned offhand in the episode "Blind Ambition":
      Tom Tucker: In sadder news, the man who held the Guinness World Record for "Most Drugs Ever Done by a Single Human Being" died today. He was attacked by a pack of wild dogs... he thought he saw.
    • In "The Splendid Source", Peter craps his pants every time he hears a dirty joke, which causes Quagmire and Joe to find different ways to get him to do so. One method involves Quagmire paying Freddy Krueger to repeat the joke, which causes Peter to wake up and comment, "When you poop in your dreams, you poop for real!"
  • Futurama:
  • Kaeloo: In the episode "Let's Play Danger Island Survivor", Kaeloo sets up a game show for her friends which is full of completely normal things which she asks the, to pretend are dangerous obstacles. It actually works (for example when Stumpy steps on "lava", his feet actually catch fire). Mr. Cat takes advantage of this by pushing Quack Quack into a "precipice" and saying things to fuel his imagination ("It's full of hungry alligators!"), resulting in Quack Quack being eaten by alligators.
  • The Kim Possible episode "Virtu-Ron" features a VR system which malfunctions, resulting in extreme aggression if the players are removed without winning the game.
  • The Loud House: In the Musical Episode "Really Loud Music", Luna begins to worry if the song she wrote won't be a song the whole world will love; it's at that point she starts hearing her family burst into songs out of nowhere (Lola singing a show tune, Lana performing a toilet jam, Lisa doing a rap, Lori and Leni singing a love ballad, and so forth). When the first three claim they weren't singing at all, Lisa concludes that Luna is hallucinating her family singing because her brain is trying to find the right genre for her song thus brings said genres to life in the form of each family member.
  • In one episode of Ruby Gloom, the gang brings a sick bunny into their home and Misery catches a cold from him. She's a sneezing, stuffy-nosed mess for the entire episode, until the end when the bunny is outed as a thief who was faking being sick to rob them. Once Misery learns he was faking, her cold instantly disappears.
  • The Simpsons:
  • Superfriends: In "The Fear", the Scarecrow makes Wonder Woman hallucinate that The Walls Are Closing In. She tries to hold back the imaginary walls but can't. Scarecrow comments that her body will feel like it is actually being crushed and suffocated. Wonder Woman gasps for air and passes out.
  • Used in the climax of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) arc in which the four are trapped in a memory virtual reality program. Complete with a Shout-Out delivered by Michelangelo to The Matrix.
  • In the Teen Titans (2003) episode "Haunted", Robin is exposed to a hallucinogen that causes him to see and fight Slade, and received real injuries as a result. Whether or not those injuries were an example of this, or merely him beating himself up while hallucinating, is not entirely explained.
    Raven: I don't know if he's real or not. But he's real to Robin, and that's all that matters.
  • Transformers: Animated, "Human Error Part 2": The Autobots realizing that they're in a computer simulation set up by Soundwave, manage to change their human bodies back to their Cybertronian ones by thinking about it. Amusingly, Bulkhead can't until he makes the transforming noise with his mouth.
  • In Young Justice (2010), this is what happens in the episode "Failsafe" when it was supposed to be a mental simulation that had Gone Horribly Wrong. It went From Bad to Worse when M'Gann was so overcome by Artemis' "death" that she unintentionally rewrote everyone's memories so that the team forgot it was a training exercise and slipped into a real coma when they "died".

    Real Life 
  • Hypnotic suggestions work this way. It is possible for somebody in a deep hypnotic trance to feel things that are not present, which leads to some real-life Power Perversion Potential.
  • The Placebo Effect. Believing that you are taking medicine causes you to experience a reduction in symptoms and occasionally the cause of the symptoms. It bears mentioning that Placebos seem to have something like a 60% effectiveness rate. Even on cancer.
    • One anecdote is that a nurse in World War II had run out of morphine and had to stabilize a wounded soldier to keep him from going into shock. She filled a syringe with saline (salt water) and injected it in, telling the soldier it was morphine. It worked.
      • Of course, they can't replace real medicine; their best use is for alleviating the pain of recovery. Sadly, this would need your doctor telling you that the sugar pills he's giving you are a miracle drug and not sugar pills, which is completely unethical. (If this concept sounds familiar it's because you saw it in an episode of M*A*S*H.)
    • There is also its Evil Twin, the Nocebo Effect, which works exactly the same as the Placebo Effect except with things the patient believes will make them worse. For example, in double-blind studies, patients given what they were told was anti-cancer medication tended to have their hair fall out... even if the medication in question was sugar.
  • Conversely, the opposite effect can occur when someone suffers from extreme depression or complete loss of hope. Someone with failing health could increase their lifespan and quality of life if they believed something that gave them hope (not just "a positive attitude"), but those without hope will often succumb to their ailments, especially if they have been dealing with them for a long time. Teddy Roosevelt was considered to be the pinnacle of stubborn toughness, but when his son died, he fell into despair and died shortly after.
    • A study of cancer patients showed that in many cases where the prognosis was presented in a negative way, some patients simply gave up and lost hope. These patients tended to succumb much more quickly, in some cases well before the disease had progressed enough to be able to kill a person on its own.
  • Applied in the theological theory of Pandeism: miracles and revelations occur not because a God is watching over us and intervening, but because the Universe-creating entity has become us (and the rest of the Universe) and believers in any religion are able to unwittingly tap into their own little bit of Creator-power.
  • It doesn't actually make it real, but this is the belief for many sufferers of OCD, who have intrusive thoughts that if they don't perform actions and rituals terrible things are going to happen. They don't nor ever will happen, but the sufferer can believe that their brain's belief will make it real, so they do it just to be safe.
  • In general, it's been proven that we're pretty easy to fool in this regard. A newer type of prosthetic limb channels physical feedback from the prosthetic to the stump. It doesn't take long for your mind to associate that stimulation with your prosthetic to the point that it feels like your actual limb. Also, VR can make you think a virtual image or a displaced image of something else is your real body, as demonstrated by such hilarious pratfalls as this man taking a leap of faith VR game so seriously that he launches himself straight into the television! Our brains are built ready for cybernetic upgrades.
    • Speaking of VR, there is a phenomenon called "phantom touch" in which some individuals will "feel" themselves being touched in VR. Thought to be related to phantom limb syndrome, sensations vary from light tingles in the touched area of one's avatar (even long ears and tails can be felt in some avatars) to full-on "phantom sense" in which some may even imagine temperature changes or smells from certain objects or environments to the extent that it's almost real to them.
    • And for the matter, unrelated studies and effects can offer interesting insight into how much our brain fools us. During one brain surgery, one patient felt the presence of a non-existent person 'nearby'. Follow-up tests/cases show that a part of the brain responsible for the sense of personal location within 3d space was being triggered and manipulated resulting in people sensing and seeing what amounts to classical depictions of doppelgangers.
    • In another case, scientists found that low frequency sounds triggered feelings of dread, fear, and the sensation of other somethings in the room (ie typical 'signs' of ghosts). In this case, one likely justification for why this might be is because this frequency range also happens to be the same range at which many large predators growl at. Another possibility is the low frequencies represent hints of rumbling: in other words, something very big (and probably very dangerous) approaching – like a stampede, an avalanche, etc. has a number of articles on this and similar ways our brains play with us.
      Cracked: Nature's way of saying "Shit your pants!"
  • Hysterical Pregnancies tend to make humans/animals experience all of the symptoms of being pregnant including an expanded stomach area as well as a baby kicking (called "quickening"). These women believe they are pregnant.
    • In the same vein is Couvade Syndrome or a Sympathetic Pregnancy where the husband will experience labor pains, cramps, morning sickness, and other symptoms of pregnancy, although a man doesn't normally believe he is pregnant.
  • It's been suggested that Grigori Rasputin, the Russian monk who gained access to the court of the Russian Empire by supposedly being able to treat the Tsar's hemophiliac son, hypnotized the boy to "cure" him whenever he was injured. Rasputin's hypnotic powers were in fact recounted by others, even hardened men like some of the Tsar's ministers. Either Peter Stolypin or Sergius Witte who later recounted Rasputin's attempt to hypnotize him, which was very nearly successful.
    • Rasputin's treatment of hemophilia is now believed to be far simpler than hypnotism: he told the Tsar to give up the modern medicine with his son's case, which at the time included dangerous amounts of aspirin, which today is known to actually make the effects of hemophilia worse. No wonder the boy got better.
  • Somatoform Disorders can cause this to happen. One of the earliest diagnosed Somatoform Disorders is "Conversion Disorder", which causes a person's psychological stresses to be converted into physical pain.
    • Though some have made the case that the evidence for conversion needs to be re-examined. It was originally based on preconceived notions about women and about VD.note  With no penicillin yet, doctors routinely prescribed mercury not just as a cure but a preventative. Mercury causes serious neurological damage including off-and-on paralysis, heart palpitations, deafness, blindness and pain. After Freud, doctors could now write those off as "hysteria". Hysteria became a garbage-can diagnosis; even a plain old orgasm was called a "hysterical paroxysm".
  • Inverted with trauma shock (albeit temporarily), where your mind's refusal to consciously accept that you've just been torn to bits keeps the pain at bay until you either pass out or cool down a bit.
    • Rather, your brain has accepted the fact that you are injured, but it also realizes that whatever it is doing right now is more important to your survival, and so it starts producing painkilling neurotransmitters until what you are doing is finished.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street was inspired by studies of this and similar cases. A number of healthy middle-aged immigrants died in their sleep from heart attacks. After checking and rejecting every cause they could think of, the investigators concluded that the deceased were scared to death by nightmares.
  • The whole urban legend about the Canadian $100 bill smelling like maple syrup has prompted many people to actually smell maple syrup on the note, and sometimes on all new bills.
  • Essentially the idea behind "psychosomatic symptoms". Again, a number of illnesses have been written off as this, then found to be real as medical Science Marches On.
  • Sounds and smells don't actually exist in nature. Sounds are compression waves moving through a medium at various wavelengths and frequencies, while smells come from airborne molecules of a particular substance that are drawn into our nostrils. Their interactions with our brains are all that make them what they are. In short, sounds and smells refer to our perceptions of stimuli, rather than actual physical things. Which technically means that a tree falling in a forest wouldn't make a sound if no one was around to hear it, nor would it make a sound even if someone WAS around to hear it.
    • Likewise, the color magenta doesn't exist as a wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum: it's purely an artifact of how our brains interpret a mixture of the low-frequency and high-frequency ends of the visible light range.
    • This applies to colors in general. What we think of as an object's color is, in fact, the part of the visible electromagnetic spectrum that the object doesn't absorb from the ambient light (white means the object reflects all light, black means it absorbs all light, reflecting nothing). In fact, each brain processes colors differently, so no two people see the same color exactly the same (although, most can, at least, agree that green is green unless they're colorblind). It's possible for a skilled hypnotist to confuse someone's brain and shift the color perception, resulting in that person perceiving yellow as red, for example, and red as black. Derren Brown has done this to a student once, resulting in her wondering who re-painted her car, while her friends look at her in confusion.
  • Guilt complexes can work like this. A person can experience feelings of guilt and remorse despite not having actually done anything (free-floating guilt). Rather than actual actions, these feelings could come from the thought of doing something wrong, like briefly fantasizing about someone else when you're already in a relationship. It could also come from shame over living a better life than someone less fortunate (or just living at all) and feeling like you haven't done enough to help others. Once your mind makes it real, the guilt is able to feed off itself and create a cycle of negative, irrational thinking.
  • The Morgellons phenomenon has been listed by some experts as a disease that is spread through the Internet. Essentially it's a form of delusional parasitosisnote  in which alleged sufferers claim to be infested with strange, organic fibers. Upon medical examination, it's almost always revealed these fibers are synthetic and the sores they complain about are the result of compulsive scratching; the catch is the "disease" continues to get worse once a person has self-diagnosed themselves with "Morgellons", creating a cycle of a continually worsening condition caused by delusions which are caused by the continuing worsening condition. The only way to prevent it is by avoiding social "contamination" of Morgellons, which is to say be unaware of the concept in the first place.
  • Hypochondria is another example. It's a condition where a person becomes paranoid that they're suffering from a chronic or deadly illness, despite nothing being wrong with them. They get many different types of medical tests done and told nothing is wrong, but they refuse to accept the positive results. This results in heavy anxiety, panic attacks, and overall bad stress which have symptoms common with some major illnesses which further convince them something is wrong. And since too much stress is unhealthy, the person eventually causes a real illness to happen.
  • A very simple vaudeville attraction works this way: You are in a "rotor", and then you get rotated head-over-heels. No, you aren't, it's your surrounding that is rotated, you are completely motionless. But if you fell for it, by now you are probably desperately clenching into your seat for not falling out, creating exactly the force that you'll expect (actio=reactio).
  • Some practitioners of various paths of witchcraft believe in "intent" – if you put a powerful enough intent into a spell, or an object, a sigil, etc., then the event that you wish for will "manifest" (i.e. happen) in real life.
  • Inverted with some mental illnesses and developmental disorders (i.e. depression for the former, autism for the latter). Some people with actual depression and actually autistic people might be afraid of "making it up" or "faking it for attention". While there are people who fake a disorder/an illness for attention note , if someone is in doubt about their issues, it's usually best to seek professional advice.
  • Art is basically made by arranging lines, colors, and shapes in such a way that the brain falsely perceives it as looking like the intended object(s) instead of the assorted lines and marks that it actually is. Most art in general works like a complex optical illusion.
    • The exception is some abstract art that is not intended to be perceived as any object in particular.


Video Example(s):


J'onn J'onzz

J'onn J'onzz has to try much harder to get information out of an Thanagarian officer. The hawks defending the officer's do a number on J'onn, but J'onn's success causes much greater harm to the officer.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MindRape

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