Created By: ArtisticPlatypus on July 27, 2011 Last Edited By: ArtisticPlatypus on September 26, 2011

Environmental Autopsy

One or more corpses, and a bunch of clues that tell the story.

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Do We Have This One?? It seems like it should exist, but I haven't found it.
Occasionally in fiction, corpses appear. Most times, their deaths are shown, or at least hinted at. Sometimes, the cause of death is left a mystery. Sometimes, it's up to a character in the work to tell the audience how it happened, possibly after deducing it themselves. This trope occurs when the scene of death itself tells the audience how it happened. This can manifest in several ways. The physical injuries on the body itself are a good way to start. Objects scattered around it can elaborate, though this can easily get too silly to be successfully Played for Drama. An easier route is to use an Apocalyptic Log.
This kind of death can be important to the plot, but is just as often thrown in for Black Comedy. In Video Games, it tends to appear as Easter Eggs.
Related to, and can overlap with, Room Full of Crazy and Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts. Contrast and compare Noodle Implements. As this is a Death Trope, beware of spoilers!


Comic Books
  • In the Don Rosa story The Treasure Of The Ten Avatars, Donald and Scrooge venture through a Temple of Doom where every room contains a different Death Trap. The rooms also contain suits of armor from an ancient army that had ventured into the place, and the various ways the suits are mangled clue the heroes in on the natures of the traps in advance.

  • In Se7en, the victims for Gluttony, Greed, Pride and [[hottip:Sloth:The victim for Sloth is technically not dead when found, but the scene works in the same way.]] are found like this.

  • Near the end of Metro2033, Artyom finds a ticket booth with a dead woman inside. The half-eaten food rations scattered around her, along with her diary-like scribblings on the wall inside make it clear that she took refuge there when the bombs fell, and slowly died by radiation poisoning.

Video Games
  • Fallout 3 (And presumbaly the other Fallout games, though I'd need someone to confirm this) take this to a whole new level. Practically every building or landmark contains charred skeletons lying among items or audio logs telling the story of their deaths.

Web Comics

Community Feedback Replies: 14
  • July 27, 2011
  • July 28, 2011
    Autopsy is a good word to use, though I'm not too sure about instant. Environmental Autopsy? Situational Autopsy?
  • July 28, 2011
    A tube of bleach?
  • July 28, 2011
    ...Yeah. At first I thought white paint, found that a bit cumbersome, and couldn't figure out anything better. If you think of something harmful to ingest that could more realistically go in a tube, and has a short name, please suggest it!.
  • July 28, 2011
    So this would be Noodle Implements used for a crime scene?
  • July 28, 2011
    ^ Possibly, from the description. Basically just the items or clues that say "hey, this is how he died".
  • July 29, 2011
    That's an interesting association, but I don't agree with it. If a scene shows a dead guy with a chopstick stuck in his forehead, five blood-splattered rubber duckies on the floor and a telephone stuck in a toaster on the other side of the room, the items described would then be Noodle Implements.

    If a scene shows a dead guy with a chopstick stuck in his forehead, a bowl of rice in front of him and a book called 'How to cope with Flailing Arms Syndrome', that would be this trope.
  • July 30, 2011
    I switched the name to Environmental Autopsy for now (I know we're not supposed to do that, but this ykttw hasn't been around for very long, so I don't think anyone will be confused), but I'm still open to suggestions.
  • July 31, 2011
    On a side note, thank you Artistic Platypus for making me laugh my juice all over the keyboard.

    Anyway, this reminds me of a scene from the Lord of the Rings movie where Aragon has come upon the place where the Rohan riders intercepted the Uruk-hai on their way to Isengard. He analyses the scene and comes to rather precise conclusions about the battle, just from looking at tracks.
  • August 20, 2011
    Now that I think about it, this seems like a subtrope of 'Telling a story through the static clues left behind' or, even more general, 'Telling a story through tangentially related.. Stuff.'. Is there such a trope yet?
  • August 24, 2011
    Unknown Troper
    Live Action TV
    • The Twilight Zone episode "The Grave". A man makes a bet that he'll go to a grave of an outlaw named Pinto late at night and stick a knife into the grave to prove that he was there. He does not return. The next morning the people who made the bet with him go to the grave and find him there, with his coat pinned to the earth of the grave by the knife. One of the men explains what happened.
    Man: The whole story's right there - look at it. [snip] There's his kneeprints - he knelt by the grave. He pulled his knife from his belt and plunged it into the grave. But the wind was strong and it blew his coat-tail over the grave. Being dark, he didn't notice he put his knife through his own coat-tail, pinning it to the grave. Then he started to rise. As he did so, perhaps he was halfway up he felt a sudden tug - the knife holding his coat-tail. But in his own mind Pinto reached out and grabbed him. He was already scared half to death and that finished him. His heart gave way, that's all.
  • August 24, 2011
    A hallmark of Jonathan Creek. The catch is that each crime scene is usually a Locked Room Mystery, making the interpretation of the scene the real puzzle.
  • August 24, 2011
    If Fallout 3 gets a nod for dead blokes telling stories, Bioshock deserves mention for doing the exact same thing.

    Also, Environmental Autopsy still doesn't read right to me. Corpse Scene Investigation? Environmental Pathology?
  • September 26, 2011
    I just found the trope This Way To Certain Death, which looks exactly like this but narrower; In that trope, the dead blokes have to serve as a warning to the hero(es).

    I was thinking of launching a new ykttw called 'Tangential Storytelling', which would be this trope but expanded beyond dead bodies. That trope and TWTCD would make this one rather redundant, wouldn't it?