List of We-Are-In-A-Simulation Stories

Gene Michael Stover (

created Friday, 2022 March 25
updated Sunday, 2022 April 23

original at

What is this?

My own list of stories about being in a simulated reality &, usually for much of the story, someone doesn't realize it.

The List

miss-classed? world minds details creator year title
P E Plato 375 BC Allegory of the cave
C EC Daniel F. Galouye 1964 Simulacron-3
? C E c1ibl 1976 Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin
? C E d12n5 Ron Schnell 1982 Dunnet
? C E rt2yp legion 1984+ That scene in many cyberpunk stories
? I E hw8fc Joseph Ruben 1984 Dreamscape
C EC p51q0 198? Star Trek TNG episode
I E bwn0v 1995 Sorcerer Hunters 13 Between Dreams and Reality
C EC op9iq 1997 Nirvana
? P E 1998 Dark City
P E Peter Weir 1998 The Truman Show
I E Richard Matheson & Vincent Ward 1998 What Dreams May Come
C EC 1999 eXistenZ
C EC Josef Rusnak 1999 The Thirteenth Floor
C E Wachowskis 1999 The Matrix
C E 2001 Vanilla Sky
? ? ? 2002 Xenosaga
? I E 2010 Inception
? C C Erik Svedang 2015 Else Heart.Break()
miss-classed? world minds details creator year title

Each row in the table shows a book, movie, computer game, or philosophical allegory. I'll group all these forms into “story”.

The columns are...

creator, year, title
serve to identify the story
When non-empty, this column indicates that the story maybe doesn't belong here. I included it because I'm not certain or because I think it's useful when considering the collection of this type of story in general. Like, maybe it doesn't exactly belong, but it's interesting to think about why it doesn't belong.
indicates how the virtual world is created. C means by computer; computation; it's data. P means that it's physical but done with tricks; you could say that it's theme park technology. I indicates that it's imagined without much help from technology.
indicates how the minds of the people in the simulated world are constructed. E indicates that they are external to the simulation; they are plugged into the virtual world, a la “The Matrix”. C indicates that they are simulated, they are part of the virtual world. EC indicates that both types of minds are present.
sometimes, I provide a link to some notes about the story


Why did we we got so many movies that deal with the topic in a 3-year span in the 1990s? Did another story, one I've overlooked, put the seed of the idea in the consciousness of movie creators, maybe in the early 1990s, & all those movie makers produced their interpretations of it from 1997..1999?

The concept seems related to breaking the 4th wall, a technique of Modern art. Maybe that's not fundamental to the idea of a simulated world. Maybe it's part of how interesting stories are built on that idea.


Here are details & explanations about some of the stories in the list.

Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin (1976)

Possibly doesn't belong in the list because nobody is being fooled by an unreal world that's presented as real, & it's only a minor part of the story.

During the story, the Doctor & another Time Lord play a cat-&-mouse game within “The Matrix” (yes, so called before the 1999 movie, before Neuromancer). Nobody is fooled into thinking it's the real world, though for a while, the Doctor is prevented from logging out.

There are comments in the story that the minds of every Time Lord is copied into their Matrix before death, though we don't see the personalities of those minds in operation, don't see any evidence that they are in operation at all.

Dunnet (1982)

As you play the game, you realize that the game world is stored in a computer that's also in the game. Another interpretation is that a computer in the game world can edit the game world, & the conceptual interface it presents is that of a database.

Dreamscape (1984)

Possibly doesn't belong on the list. The virutal worlds are in dreams, & nobody is being fooled except that, of course, most dreamers are unaware that they are in a dream. That's not an attempt to fool them; it's how dreams work.

Unlike most of the stories on the list, the big reveal isn't that we're in an unreal world; it's that “you can do anything in here”. That led me to practice lucid dreaming regularly in my teens & twenties.

That scene in many cyberpunk stories

Many cyberpunk stories contain a scene in which our hero spends some time in a virtual reality construct without being certain that it is a virtual reality construct.

In some ways, this is misclassified, but it's useful to contrast it with the entries that belong on the list.

The difference between this entry & the stories that belong on the list directly might be in how the virtual world is presented to the reader (or the movie's viewer). In “that scene”, it's small & a diversion from the “real world”. It's a temporary hallucination for an individual person.

Star Trek TNG episode (198?)

There's an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which our heroes ask the ship computer to create a story in which Commander Data can take the role of Sherlock Holmes in an adventure with a villain who is capable of presenting a challenge to Commander Data.

I forget the name of the episode & don't give enough of a shit to look it up.

The computer creates a variation of Moriarty who eventually figures out that he is a construct in the holodeck. He blackmales the crew into letting him out. Their solution is to make it appear that he exits, but she actually built that into the program & transferred the program to a stand-alone computer (the size of a paper-weight) that contained a large enough, detailed enough virtual world to provide the artificial, virtual Moriarty a lifetime of experiences.

It's both an elegant solution & a way of fooling someone about being in a virtual world, but doing it to help everyone, both the fooled person & people outside of the simulated world.

Sorcerer Hunters 13 Between Dreams and Reality

This is an episode of the Sorcerer Hunters anime, not the manga. It first aired on 1995 December 26.

Nirvana (1997)

The film is interesting in the perspective of this list.

In the world of the film, the NPCs in video games can be almost self-aware. A game programmer goofs, & one of the NPCs in his new game does become self-aware, is pained by the realization that, not only is he a character in a game, but his role in the game dooms him to a violent death regularly.

Xenosaga (2002)

This is very very probably misclassified & just me, but...

When I played the Xenosaga games, I kept getting the feeling that their entire civilization, maybe their whole galaxy, was in a simulation & they knew it. The civilization just accepted it, didn't bother to dwell on it. Maybe they constructed it.

Features of Xenosaga that gave me that feeling included...

Probably just me, but that's how I saw it.