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Civilian version of the Training Accident.
A group of characters take part in a game, for example, a murder mystery role playing game, then someone is apparently Killed Off for Real. One of the characters gets accused of the "real" murder, there is much sleuthing, then the truth is revealed -- The Game Never Stopped.
Named after a quote from the Saved by the Bell episode "Mystery Weekend", where such an event was the entire plot.
Keep in mind that the titles alone in the following examples may constitute spoilers.
- The Genre Savvy title character of Suzumiya Haruhi is invited, along with the rest of the Five-Man Band, to a small remote island which seems perfect for a murder mystery setting, and despite there not being any suspicious people present, Haruhi tries predicting the first murder victim and the murderer's identity. Then her best candidate for murderer turns up dead. But not really..
- Detective Conan episode 57-58 has the characters at a Sherlock Holmes-related gathering, which will end with a mystery to be solved, the prize being a rare Sherlock Holmes book. But when the time for the test approaches, the owner's car drives him off the edge of a cliff. The body is unrecoverable. This is actually an aversion. It's a real murder, and no character ever suspects that it's just a test (although some think that the owner is alive but that other murders are real). The fact that the body is not recoverable is important to the mystery in a different way, not as a sign that he's not really dead.
- A variation happens in Glass Mask. main chracters Maya and Ayumi, in an audition for the role of the deafblind writer Helen Keller, are told to "wait as Helen" along with a group of other child actresses. Some time later, a fire alarm goes off and the girls react to it... except for Maya and Ayumi. Therefore, they're the only ones who pass the audition. Note that this is inspired in a true story: actress Patty Duke got the same role in a similar way.
- The Five-Man Band of Detective Academy Q are also sent to a remote island which was supposedly the site of a gruesome series of unsolved murders. Again, the inevitable occurs. But nobody truly died: it was a Test of Character coming from their seniors, who faked their deaths to see if the band was tough enough. They realized it and counterattacked by setting up a fake attack from the "murderers", who admitted their plan.
- In the Michael Douglas movie, The Game never stopped, either.
- The pseudo-slasher fim April Fool's Day.
- eXistenZ pulls this off too possibly up to four times over the course of the movie, with the cast pointing guns at each other and wondering if they were still inside the game.
- Jim Henson's The Cube. The man, who has just attempted to commit suicide, is told that his time spent in the cube was a gag, a test of his sanity, if you will. After being taken to the Doctor's office, he talks about some moral he learned, about reality and illusion. To prove his point, he picks up a letter opener and stabs his thumb, exclaiming "Hey! I actually cut myself. But look! I bleed." The doctor bids him to taste it. It's strawberry jam. The walls morph back into the plain whiteness of The Cube.
- Cry Wolf is a highly warped version of this. The murders were all revealed to be fake when the protagonist kills the supposed murderer. It's later revealed that this was the entire point of a Kansas City Shuffle by another of the main characters, who had also been responsible for the actual murder that inspired the pranks.
- The mind games in Inception pretty much invoke this trope. In the beginning of the movie, a character is pointed out that he is dreaming, and awakens, realizing (as the dream-inducers intended) that the dream was an attempt to extract information from his memories. Only when the perpetrators try to interrogate him the old-fashioned way and make a blunder, he realizes that he is still dreaming -- the second layer of dreams was a part of the plan.
- Ted Dekker's book Skin turns out to be this, and does it AGAIN in the end. Dekker likes to mess with his readers' heads sometimes.
- Happens in Apprentice Adept when the unicorns play against the giants in a game of capture the flag. The unicorns use a false flag and play the sound that indicates the end of the game to trick the giants into leaving their post.
- Subverted in Joan Hess's Murder at the Murder at the Mimosa Inn, in which the designated murder victim of a mystery game is Killed Off for Real. This trope is invoked by a minor character who assumes it's yet another contrived plot twist, at least until the real cops show up.
- As noted above, they did it on Saved By the Bell in one of the few episodes not set at the school or summer beach camp.
- Seen on The Golden Girls: "The Case of the Libertine Belle"
- Also seen on an episode of The Jeffersons where the Jeffersons take a mystery cruise with a group of mystery authors. One of the authors drinks poisoned wine, throwing suspicion on his compatriots. No one takes George's attempts at detecting seriously... until he figures out who the "killer" is.
- This episode is also a rare example where George isn't the show's Butt Monkey.
- Played with in an episode of Monk, when he goes to a mystery weekend, but he's banned from playing. Because he solved the case in less than five minutes.
- An episode of Stargate SG-1 had a group of four trainees taking part in a training exercise to see if they could qualify to be part of an SG team. Just as they believe they've failed, they are suddenly embroiled in an Goa'uld plot where the Goa'uld have infiltrated the SGC. However, it turns out that "foiling" this plot was the true exercise, as was the sudden Stargate malfunction that takes place at the end.
- Essentially, they had a test within a test within a test, with the third test existing solely because they suspected one of the test subjects had realized the second test was the real test...
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, this was used by a sentient hologram known as Moriarty--yes, the Sherlock Holmes Moriarty--when he pretends to step outside the holodeck. His plan was to make them think it was possible, so they would attempt to do the same thing for his wife, but for real, thus allowing him to duplicate the experiment for himself. The main characters caught on, however, and used the same method to make him think he'd already left the holodeck, but was really in a computer simulation. And just to mess with the audience, they muse about how their entire world could be running in a box on someone's table.
- The entire series might count as this, with the first episode being a trial started by Q, and in the last episode Q returns and tells Picard "The trial never ended." Or it might be another one of Q's Mind Screws.
- Done during the start of series 8 of Red Dwarf. The cast is put in VR to gauge their reactions to a variety of tests as part of a trial; Rimmer starts screwing with the VR to hide his own guilt, causing it to break down. Only it didn't break down, Rimmer was in VR with them the whole time. Amusingly, their actions prove their innocence, but they commit whole new crimes getting out that have the same sentence.
- There was, apparently, once a murder during a B&B's mystery weekend. The perpetrator was counting on the confusion to get a head start on a getaway. The other guests simply called the police.
- Totally Spies episode "The Get Away". The girls are sent on a vacation, but get involved in a madman's plot to cause volcanoes all over the world to erupt (a la Dr. Evil). During the episode they find out that it was all a test set up by their WOOHP boss Jerry, who tells them they failed. Then a volcano really explodes and they have to save everyone, and Jerry decides they passed the test after all.
- "Déjà Cruise" is like this too, having them go through a faux Groundhog Day Loop in which a terrorist tries to take over WOOHP's luxury cruiser, and every attempt they do to foil him ends up with the girls thrown into the sea then waking up in their room as if time had rewound to earlier that day. In the end, when they decide to ask for the other agents' cooperation, it is revealed this is another of Jerry's insane tests.
- "What's New Scooby Doo" episode "E-Scream" -- Velma gets a false mystery inside a VR machine during E3. She spots some errors dealing with other members of Mystery Inc. revealing she was in a VR machine.