The Reapers' Game (死神のゲーム Shinigami no Gēmu) is a one-week competition in which those who have died may participate. Each potential participant is approached shortly after their passing and is given the choice by the Reaper. Games usually take place weeks apart, but sometimes games can be held two times in a row, and in rare instances, three times. Every contestant is called a Player and is given a player pin as a sign of his or her entry. To enter in the game every player has to pay an 'entry fee', that is taken by the conductor. The player pin lets the holder read the mind of any person not carrying a player pin (with some exceptions like the reapers), an ability called "Scanning".
Every Player must give up whatever is dearest to them in order to participate. This entry fee can be physical, such as mementos or people, or more psychological or immaterial such as one's appearance, dreams, or memories. Players are also provided with pins that allow them to use psychs, which can be used depending on the Imagination the player has, or the player's true intentions.
At the beginning of a game, each player must forge a Pact with another player to have a chance of defeating noise and to be able to use psychs. Each player pairing must then survive seven days or be erased in the process. Missions are orders given by the Reapers to players on a day-to-day basis, but they can be issued over a longer period (a six day mission, for example), or not be issued at all (in the case of Sho Minamimoto).
Players are only able to stay awake for a certain amount of time each day. If a mission is completed by any Player pairing, all Players that survived move onto the next day. However, Players can be erased by Noise or by failing the mission.
After seven days, the remaining Players must defeat the Game Master, a Reaper supervising the contest.
All of the Game's staff are Reapers, with the exception of the Producer, who acts as an observer. The Game is run by the Composer. The Composer of the Game determines all the rules, which allow the Underground to exist. As such, the Composer controls the entire Underground's (UG's) existence and composition. The Conductor works underneath the Composer, ensuring that the Game's course follows the rules. He is advised and served by high-rank Reaper officers. One of the officers is chosen to be the Game Master for the week, whose duty is to both set the missions and ensure that as many Players as possible are erased to cull the player pool. Harriers work under the GM to erase Players by summoning Noise, while Support Reapers set up obstacles and provide resources for the Game.
Harrier class reapers may not attack players directly or assign official missions. However, if ordered to by the Conductor (or potentially the Composer, although he rarely interacts with Reapers), Harriers may attack special targets themselves. Harriers may also act to defend themselves; if a Player attacks them, then they may freely engage.
Players are unable to read the thoughts of any other Player or Reaper. If a Player's partner is erased, they will have seven minutes to form a new pact before being erased. There is no time-limit for forming a pact on the first day, although any Player not in a pact will likely be attacked by Noise relentlessly until they form one or are erased. Reapers may not engage directly with un-partnered Players, though they can and do summon Noise to attack them.
The "living" are not eligible to play the Game and are considered illegal entrants if they try to. Technically, Players are not dead, merely forcibly attuned to the UG and unable to interact directly with the RG, but generally Players are recruited in situations where they are close to death (such as suffering gun shot wounds, vehicular accidents, and among others).
Typically, the Game Master does not engage in the game directly until the 7th day (although they may act as they wish within the confines of the rules; some constantly taunt Players, others remain in the shadows). The Game Master is responsible for assigning missions and is largely free to choose any missions they desire (with some exceptions; Players cannot be forced to erase their partners, and it is likely that the mission must be able to be accomplished within Shibuya). All missions may be completed by any Player; all Players alive at the completion of the mission will benefit from this and advance to the next day. If no Player successfully completes a day's mission, all are erased. On the 7th day, the mission is always to defeat the Game Master.
In cases of extreme danger to the UG (such as a Reaper defecting to the Players, the presence of Taboo Noise, and potentially others), the Conductor (or the Composer) may place the UG under Emergency Call. In these situations, Reapers are required to wear specialized pins meant to strengthen their abilities (deemed "O-Pins"). The Game Master is not bound by this requirement. Reapers are also freed from restrictions and are allowed to attack Players without provocation.
The purpose of the Game is to determine who is worthy enough to be rewarded in the afterlife, or to be given a second chance at life, and to hopefully improve that individual through his or her experiences in the Game. This is the reason for the apparently cruel and deeply personal Entry Fee: taking away what the Players value most forces them to examine those values.
The Game is watched by the Angels of the Higher Plane. The Producer, one of the Angels, is chosen to interact with the Composer so that he can create and give requested items to the Composer. He may interact freely with any participant of the Game, be they Reaper or Player, as long as his role as the Producer is kept secret. One key rule governing the Producer's conduct is that he may not act to change the outcome of the Game by aiding the Players or Reapers directly. He is free to issue advice and explanations and to provide helpful items (like Harmonizer Pins), but he may not intervene in combat. The Producer also may not challenege a Player directly to combat.
After winning, Players may be presented with multiple options:
- Weak players are erased even if they win. Some may simply throw away life and choose to be erased on their own will.
- If a Player has done or participated in any illegal activities in the Game, they will be erased. Special exceptions may give them penalties, such as requiring them to play again, with no more chances to play anymore.
- Players may become a Reaper. Most are recruited under Support class, but rare cases (Beat) can be recruited immediately into Harrier.
- Players may come back to life. This is considered unusual. However, the Angels don't consider it to be a loss. The Player's art and music will find its way into his or her culture and increase the overall imagination of the population. Now, coming back to life isn't true, as the Players aren't exactly dead, as stated in the Secret Reports; more specifically, Shiki's Day 7 report.
- Those players who completed the game but have not earned the right to be revived (due to the preselected number) may be allowed to play the Game again. Entry Fees are refunded to the survivors, but each Game requires one Entry Fee. This may or not be the same as the Player's original Entry Fee: it will always be the Player's most precious thing, but what that thing is may have changed over the course of the Game due to the Player's experiences.
- The absolute best of the Players are given the honor of ascending into the Higher Plane. Reapers may also ascend to the rank of Angel, although exactly how they are chosen remains a secret.
The Composer is the sole determinant of a Player's fate; he bases his decision on how the Player performed during the week. The Reapers score Players on various attributes (missions accomplished, Noise defeated, and among others), and these scores are a measure of the Player's performance. Although rare, Players who have been erased may be restored to life. In these cases, the losing Player forfeits his or her Entry Fee.