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"Selling books is like a game; it has rules, and you have to learn them and get serious about them because it's not a game!"
Evan, Black Books

A Stock Phrase used on characters frivolous -- or apparently frivolous -- in the face of a Matter of Life and Death.

"This isn't a game." or "We are not playing a game." (Or sometimes "We are not playing.") Sometimes even when it is a game, but the stakes are too high to treat it as one, such as the second type of Serious Business; alternatively, the character may point out about the game "This is serious," generally with an enumeration of the consequences. (With the first type of Serious Business, use of this is a characterization trope: the character is really that out of touch with reality.)

Often supplemented with concrete observations, such as that people will really die or suffer terrible injuries if they fail. Sergeant Rock (who knows War Is Hell) will often use it on New Meat that think War Is Glorious.

Usually used on people who are supposed to be on the same side as The Hero, and who are cooperating, but not just seriously enough. Cavalier Competitor is a natural target for it. The Obstructive Bureaucrat, for instance, usually gets told just that this is a Matter of Life and Death.

When this is news to the character, see And You Thought It Was a Game instead.

Sister Trope to This Is Reality, but with no invocation of the Fourth Wall (unless, of course, it's being said within a Video Game). You Watch Too Much X is a milder Sister Trope. Compare with And You Thought It Was a Game.

Examples of Not a Game include:

Anime & Manga

  • In MAR, the evil Chess Pieces have created a War Game where the last remaining strong good guys can fight against them in a final struggle for the fate of the world. When attacking the land of wizards, Kaldea, the Big Bad Phantom comes across the protagonist Ginta, and fights him off without any effort. As said fight was not during the war games, Phantom let him live, saying that "today's fight was just for fun." Ginta promptly goes berserk, exclaiming that it is NOT a game.
  • Digimon
    • In Digimon Adventure, Tai gets pretty reckless after he learns he's in Cyberspace, thinking that the Digital World's only virtual and there's no real danger. He's eventually set straight that it's as real as Earth, with no extra lives or continues, and has a Heroic BSOD over how his recklessness could've killed him.
    • Ken, however, mistakes the Digital World to actually BE a game in Digimon Adventure 02, not knowing he was enslaving real beings and, upon his defeat and before joining the group, threatens to "reset the Digital World".
    • Also shows up in Digimon Tamers. After learning that Digimon are real, Kazu and Kenta think that being a Tamer and fighting evil Digimon is the coolest thing ever. When they want to accompany Takato to one of these fights, Takato nixes it, invoking this trope.
  • Speaking of Pet Monster series, Pokémon did this trope as well. In the episode spent in the Orange Islands, the Team Rocket tells the twerps that "this isn't a video game?"
  • Summer Wars is about an A.I. hacking into an online virtual world that the real world uses for nearly everything. When the protagonists try to stop it, their families gradually realize the activities they have been playing on their handheld devices isn't exactly a game...
  • In Naruto, Kakashi Hatake berates Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto for not taking their training seriously enough. He even says, "You think this is all a game"; he makes a point by holding Sasuke hostage and giving Sakura the option to either kill Naruto or he [Sasuke] dies. After explaining how dangerous the shinobi world can really be, and how many lives are lost from mistakes or childishness, the trio finally get what it means to be "a team".

Comics -- Books

  • A number of DC Comics fans relate "This isn't a game" immediately to Batman and his various Robins, given how often this phrase is uttered between them (or from one Robin to another). Specifically, Jason/Robin II is linked to the belief that it's a game; meanwhile, Steph/Robin IV yelled at Black Mask, before he beat her and started torturing her, that "this isn't a game!"
  • When Cerebus Syndrome sets in during the 4th volume of Bone, Gram'ma Ben tells the innocent Fone Bone, "Where do you think you are?! Back in Boneville!? It's high time you realized that this isn't a game, Bone!"

Fan Works

  • In With Strings Attached, when George asks what happens if they can't get a piece of the Vasyn during their quest, Jeft tells them that “this is not a game you can win on good intentions and points. You have victory conditions....” The other Fans think he's just using gamer terminology, but the irony is that that this really is a kind of game that Jeft set up and is actually quite true.

Films -- Animation

 Mrs. Incredible: Remember the bad guys on those shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys are not like those guys. They won't exercise restraint because you're children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance.

  • Megamind. Titan has no use for banter or jibes. He is just a murderous, brutish thug.
  • A Bugs Life, when Hopper comes back and the ants have not collected all the food yet:

 Hopper: You think this is a game? Well, guess what: you just lost.

  • Inverted in "Finding Nemo" : at one point, the only way that Marlin and Dorey make it out of a dangerous situation without completely dissolving into panic is by pretending that it *is* a game.

Films -- Live-Action

 Sue Charlton: Mick -- be careful. This isn't a game.

Mick: Tis to me.

  • American Ninja 4: The Annihilation:

 Sean Davidson: This isn't a game, Gavin, those were ninja!

  • Antitrust:

 Milo: This isn't a game! In the real world, when you kill people they die -- for real!

 Jim Rhodes: This isn't a game. You do not send civilian equipment into my active war zone. Do you understand me?

 Natalya Simonova: This is not one of your games, Boris! Real people will die! You pathetic little worm...

 Ruth: This is not a game. Our situation is precarious. You know the money's gone.

Rose: Of course I know it's gone! You remind me every day!

 It's not just a game -- anymore.

  • Tron: When Kevin Flynn plays his first game, he at first has fun, but when he realizes that the games are to the death this dialogue describes it all:



  • The teaser trailer for Tron: Legacy plays a variation on this:

 Unknown program racing against Clu: It's just a game!

Clu: Not anymore. (kills his opponent)

 Bishop: Ah, Jesus Christ, you just... You don't just trade these people like they're baseball cards! It's not a fucking game!

Muir: Oh, yes it is. It's exactly what it is. And it's no kid's game either. This is a whole other game. And it's serious and it's dangerous. And it's not one you want to lose.

  • The tagline for the infamous Super Mario Bros movie was "This Ain't No Game."
  • Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Right after Reed Richards explains that Johnny Storm's encounter with the Surfer earlier in the film has caused him to begin randomly swapping powers with other members of the team whenever he makes physical contact with them, Ben Grimm grabs Johnny's shoulder and knowingly causes their powers to switch.

 Johnny: Oh, come on! We just said this is serious!

The fact that it's Johnny, who is usually the jokester on the team, who says this only further emphasizes how serious the situation really is.
  • Hard Candy: "Jeff, playtime is over. Now it's time to wake up."


  • Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels:
    • In Only in Death, after the loss of Gaunt, Rawne informs his officers to tell the men that if they slip up, they will make Gaunt's sacrifice in vain. When they are shocked:

 Rawne: I'm not playing around because they're not playing around.

    • In His Last Command, when Gaunt orders Ludd to leave him, and Ludd objects that his orders were to stay with him at all times, Gaunt answers that that was fine when it was just a game, but it wasn't a game any more.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40000 novel Red Fury, when Kayne speaks of how interesting the Chapters' gathering is, Rafen rebukes him: "This is not a game."
  • In CS Goto's Blood Ravens novel Dawn of War: Ascension, Gabriel threatens an eldar to try to get a translation from him, informing him that it was not a game.
  • In Percy Jackson and The Olympians, Percy rebukes Nico for not taking a game of capture-the-flag seriously, pointing out that they had real weapons that could really hurt: this is serious.
  • In Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novel Summer Knight, Ebneazer, trying to get Harry to meet with the senior members, tells him this is not a game; later, the Summer Lady asks whether he thinks it a joke or game.
  • In JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Pippin that "this is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party" after he tosses a rock into a deep pit in Moria. Earlier in the book, just after the conspiracy is unmasked, Frodo uses a similar phrase to try to convince Merry and Pippin not to come with him.
  • Terry Pratchett's Small Gods has the repeated line(s), "This is Not a Game, Here and Now You Are Alive."
  • Walter Jon Williams' appropriately titled This Is Not a Game, about an Alternate Reality Game producer using her forums and players to get her out of a burning Jakarta, has the forum admins constantly reminding the players that this one is Not a Game.
  • In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when all four Pevensies swipe coats from the wardrobe to wear in snowy Narnia, one of the younger siblings suggests they could pretend they're Arctic explorers. An older sib points out that their circumstances are already exciting and mysterious enough, there's no need to pretend anything. Not quite a Matter of Life and Death, but same trope.
  • Subverted in The Black Jewels Trilogy, in that to the Sadist, it is a game. Near the end of the series, when Daemon's not quite as cold-hearted to everything, the phrase he (and other characters) use to tell themselves they've got to keep going is, "Play the game," or keep the deception against the Big Bads going. Similarly, when witnessing an Arcerian execution, one character says, "He [the huge intelligent tiger] is playing with him [the man to be executed]." Another character replies, in a grim, low voice, "He's playing, but it isn't a game. This is an Arcerian execution." The tiger then proceeds to precisely, brutally, mercilessly murder the man by batting him around as he would a toy. Considering said tiger weighs in at around 800 pounds, the man lasts about a minute before being gutted and left to die as everyone else watchs. In case you're feeling even the slightest bit sorry for the guy, the reason for the execution was several (like, twenty plus) counts of rape, including gang raping the village's Priestess, murdering a whole village, and betraying his race, cause, and Jewel. Don't read that unless you have a strong stomach or you don't visualize things as you read them.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Only You Can Save Mankind, the Captain criticizes humanity for thinking all of life as a game. Later, during a class discussion of the war (Iraq, then ongoing), Johnny hears someone asking whether they think the pilots treat it like a game, when they could be killed at any time, and saying that people turn everything into games and it's not games. Then he realizes it was him.
  • In Shanna Swendson's Don't Hex with Texas, Owen tells Dean that magic is not a game.
  • In Adrian Tchaikovsky's Dragonfly Falling, Drephos annoys a Wasp officer by speaking of the next move in the game (the war); when asked if it was a game to him, Drephos retorts that it is the officer, too, and they knew the stakes.
  • In Dale Brown's Sky Masters, Patrick calls Dr. Masters out on his flippant, overly casual attitude with regards to the oncoming battle.
  • In the very title of Walter Jon Williams' This Is Not A Game. It isn't, either.

Live-Action TV

  • Chuck. Casey to Chuck, after the latter (a Geek Squad employee) claims he can defuse a bomb:

 "This is not an X Box. You are not an X-Man."

 "Best of the best. Counting kills, like it's a game. Like it's just a game. I remember one particularly fun day: A guy in my squad got his stomach blasted open in a fire fight. He spent six hours, holding his own guts in. His buddy carried him on his back to the nearest aid station, just praying that someone could put the dumb son of a bitch together again. The game, Pyle... the game is played with your buddy's life -- with the life of your squad, your platoon. The game is played by you, on behalf of the whole damned human race!"

Video Games

  • Spider-Man:

 Spider-Man: This isn't a game, Mysterio! The symbiotes will destroy everything in their path unless I can stop them!

  • On one Sidequest in Mass Effect, Shepard has to convince a woman to stop working as an informant because her sister is worried about her. At one point, Shepard says "This isn't a game, Jenna. These people are dangerous!" which I found amusing because, you know, it is a game.
  • Naomi says a variant of it in Metal Gear Solid 4 while images of the logos of all the previous canonical games come up on the screen.
  • In Jak 3, the monk Seem tells Jak and Daxter "This isn't a game!", and they respond by giving a side glance to the camera.
  • Quistis says this in Final Fantasy VIII when Rinoa comes up with yet another hare-brained scheme right before an important mission. Rinoa's response, to herself, is "Who said this was a game...? I understand what's going on... It's not like I don't have a plan..." And later, when you control her-- "I'm not a SeeD, but... I can do this... This isn't some kind of game..." Squall essentially paraphrases it even earlier in the game after having directly dealt with the consequences of her hare-brained schemes over and over, leading him to finally snap.
  • In Persona 4, teen detective Naoto Shirogane drops by the main characters to inform them that the murders they have been investigating have apparently been solved, and that their 'game' is about to end. Of course, by this point many of them have either lost friends or nearly been killed themselves over the course of the investigation, and they angrily point out that if anyone thinks of it as a 'game' it would be Naoto, not them.
  • The very first line spoken in Wheelman is "You think this is a game? Move!"
  • A Cut USA General from Command and Conquer Generals: Zero Hour has lines left over in the game's files. Amongst these is "What? Do you think this is a game? Well, do ya?" Lampshaded, in that moments afterward he prompts the player "not to answer that," thus finding a hole in that wall we never see.
  • System Shock 2, said by your Mission Control: "Why do you move so slowly? Do you think this is some kind of game?"
  • Prince Of Persia The Sands Of Time

 Prince: If you want to be useful, try finding a book that'll tell us how to get out of here.

Farah: This isn't that kind of game.

Prince: Game? She thinks this is a game!

Web Comics

 O-Chul: This isn't the dungeon. In a war, people on the winning side still die.

 "Crime is not a game, Miss Leech. Withholding evidence is against the law."

 Felicity: Stop playing around!

 Nicodemus: You think this is a game?

Western Animation

 Aelita: This isn't a video game, William.

Which is ironic, since Lyoko does look a lot like a video game. William really should have listened, though.

 Jack: Miko, Raf was almost killed! This isn't a game; when are you going to get that through your thick skull?

    • And the lesson still hasn't sunk through her thick skull.
  • Intro to Da Boom Crew:

 "This ain't no game no more baby... this is REAL!"

  • Invader Zim. In the episode "Nanozim" Dib and Zim face off in a nanobot battle within Dib's body. Gaz walks by and sees Dib controlling his nanobot, and asks what game he's playing. Dib screams "This is no game, this is my life!". Gaz tells him to use the "quarter-circle-back" cheat to transform, which works, half subverting the trope.


  • Used as the basis of humor in a Shouts & Murmurs column in The New Yorker: This Is No Game.
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