Created By: ArkadyDarell on July 8, 2012 Last Edited By: ArkadyDarell on October 2, 2012
Troped

No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction

Getting the result you want is more satisfying when you have to actually earn it.

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McCoy: Well, that's the second time man's been thrown out of Paradise.
Kirk: No, no, Bones, this time we walked out on our own. Maybe we weren't meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through, struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums.
-- Star Trek: The Original Series, "This Side of Paradise"

A common theme in fiction is the concept that getting the result you want is more satisfying when you actually earn it through your own actions, rather than having it simply handed to you in some way.

The scenarios that result in this revelation can take a number of forms, though there's three that are most common:

  1. The character is in a position to force someone else to give them what they want, either through magical or mundane coercion or because the other character is their subordinate.
  2. The character finds themselves in an environment where it's literally impossible to fail for some reason.
  3. The character's rival or enemy is in a position of complete helplessness, and thus the character can effortlessly best their opponent in some way.

But whatever the scenario, the character has the same revelation: It's just not satisfying to win unless the opposing force or obstacle has the chance to reject them, hurt them, or fight back. Alternatively, the character may go through the action anyway, only to realize afterwards how unsatisfying it was.

Supertrope to Above the Influence, I Love You Because I Can't Control You, Earn Your Happy Ending, and similar tropes, sister trope to Mind Over Manners.

Compare I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, Worthy Opponent, and Mook Chivalry, which can be motivations for this trope, or Lonely at the Top, which can be caused by this trope. Contrast Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!, And Now You Must Marry Me, Psychic-Assisted Suicide, and Kick Them While They Are Down, where in similar situations the character is still satisfied by the result even with the lack of opposition.

Also contrast More Than Mind Control, where you can have your cake and eat it too, by both controlling someone and getting their genuine submission.

Examples:

Film
  • In Spartacus Varinia asks her current master why he doesn't just have his way with her. He tells her he wants her to give herself to him.
  • Star Trek: Generations has the character-against-environment variant. In a matrix that's sort of a fantasy world, Captain Kirk is riding a horse as it jumps across a chasm, in a reconstruction of his old homestead. Then he realizes how futile it is jumping across the chasm as he did many times before, since in the fantasy version there's no way he could be hurt if he fell in, removing all the thrill from it.

Literature
  • The Sax Rohmer novel, The Golden Scorpion: The Yellow Peril villain, who has spent years training himself to be The Spock in order to gain supernormal mental abilities, including limited mind control, falls in love with the Distressed Damsel. Only to find that the very strength of this new emotion is causing his mind control ability to force her to agree, despite his wanting her free acceptance of his love. Since he refuses to lie a false love would be hollow to him.
  • In Anansi Boys, Spider can make people believe or do what he wants them to. In general, he just considers it a good way to have fun with people, but when he starts to get emotionally close to someone he feels a lot more conflicted about it.
  • In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we discover Voldemort's backstory. His mother loved a Muggle and used a Love Potion to make him fall in love with her. Then she realized/decided that it didn't feel real because it wasn't genuine, so she neutralized the potion, hoping that he'd really be in love with her after it wore off. Unfortunately for her, he dumped her like a hot potato--but by then Voldemort had already been conceived.
  • In The Perilous Gard, the main character is offered a love potion to give to her love interest by the fairy queen. She declines, because she wants him to really love her.
  • In Foundation, The Mule, a mutant capable of adjusting human emotions, couldn't bring himself to adjust the woman who was the only one who liked him without it.
  • In Assassins of Gor a young chess prodigy is forced by the ruler to play a game of chess against a foolish simpleton. The prodigy at first refuses, saying it would be an insult to the Game, until he's threatened with death.

Live-Action TV
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Warren makes a robot girlfriend who looks exactly like his ex and has the same personality - except it agrees with him 100% and becomes a Clingy Jealous Girl. He tries to run away, but it tracks him down.
  • The Brady Bunch:
    • In one episode Bobby is all bent out of shape that he's the only one in the family without a trophy. He tries selling magazine subscriptions, since there's a trophy for the one who sells the most, and seems to be doing quite well. But Cindy accidentally comments that their parents put their friends up to buying most of the subscriptions, so Bobby cancels those orders, saying that a trophy won from that wouldn't be worth anything.
    • In another episode where Jan thinks she's no good at anything, Greg has the great idea of everybody throwing games of skill for her to win: Greg throws a game of Ping Pong, Marcia & Cindy lose at Monopoly, and Peter & Bobby lose at darts. Cindy accidentally spills the beans to their parents though, and they convince the kids that winning that way doesn't help Jan. Greg apologizes to her on behalf of the group and of course they're Easily Forgiven.
  • In Babylon 5, at one point Londo is laid low by a poisoning, and one of his wives has a blood type which can save him. Though she actually doesn't like him and wouldn't entirely mind seeing him die, she donates her blood to save him anyway because she doesn't want to win her battles in such a one-sided way.
  • In an episode of The Twilight Zone an inveterate criminal dies and goes to the afterlife: a pleasant place where he gets everything he wants and all his gambles always pay off. He becomes dissatisfied and asks to be sent to The Other Place, saying he doesn't belong in Heaven. "Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!"

Theatre
  • In the French classical piece Le Cid by Pierre Corneille, there is a very famous line that says "À vaincre sans péril on triomphe sans gloire." Which roughly translates as "To win without risk is to triumph without glory."

Video Games
  • In Immortal Souls, Big Bad Draconis tells John that he can mind-control his Love Interest Allison into forgiving him for the wrong he did against her, and into saying she loves him. John considers it, but declines, saying he'd rather hope to someday hear it all from her and have her actually mean it.

Web Comics
  • In Erfworld the Dark Action Girl's backstory involves resurrecting her brother as an uncroaked... however, because he didn't have any free will she knew she hadn't really brought him back.

Western Animation
  • X-Men: Evolution: Wolverine points this out to Jean, when Rogue initially refuses to join them, explaining that Rogue wasn't ready and, until she was, that it was best not to pressure her. Several episodes later, after rescuing Rogue and Scott from Mystique, he reiterates this by letting Rogue decide if she wanted to join them.
    Wolverine: "What's it gonna be, kid? Are you with us, or are you with them?"
    Rogue: (shivering from the cold) "If I say 'no', will I get thrown offa this jet?"
    Wolverine: (closes door) "Ain't our style, kid. We've either earned your trust, or we haven't."
    Rogue: (looks fondly at Scott) "In that case... you."
    Wolverine: (smirks) "Welcome to the team."
  • An episode of Quack Pack, "Dental Mental", has Dewey accidentally get a mind control device surgically attached to his head, which he subsequently uses to win any contest, order anyone around, and eventually take over the world. However, he becomes unsatisfied once he is king of the world, knowing that no one truly respects him and he's being honored only because of the device on his head.
  • In the Futurama episode "Free Will Hunting", Bender is acquitted in court because, as a robot, all decisions are dictated by his programming and is thus not responsible for his actions. This depresses Bender, since it means he has no choice in how he acts, and goes on a spiritual journey (which he hates doing).
  • The Simpsons: When Homer becomes the leader of the Stonecutters lodge he gets very little satisfaction out of everyone being at his beck and call, and when they play poker they always show him their cards, etc. He changes the group so that they do good in the community, but they don't like doing that so they all quit the Stonecutters and form a new lodge, the Ancient Society of No Homers.

Other
  • Religious adherents who are trying to convert or evangelize generally want to convince people to genuinely repent and come around to their faith.
  • Video game cheat codes. Same applies to using the console commands & level editors to make the game easier. It can be useful to get past a challenge you simply can't beat (possibly to see the story). It can be interesting to check out alternate ways to play. But just giving yourself the best gear, activating God Mode, or ~killing enemies can get old real fast.

Community Feedback Replies: 49
  • July 8, 2012
    DmM
    In Nineteen Eighty Four, the Party wants dissidents to learn to love Big Brother and then confess to crimes they had not committed and beg for the death penalty. Of course, it brainwashes them into doing it.
  • July 8, 2012
    Bisected8
    • In Erfworld the Dark Action Girl's backstory involves ressurecting her brother as an uncroaked...however because he didn't have any free will she knew she hadn't really brought him back.
  • July 8, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    Hmm. Should I expand this to include times when the person went ahead with the forcing anyway but regretted it because they later realized it ended up being meaningless?
  • July 8, 2012
    captainpat
    This is a pretty bad case of Example As A Thesis.Please rewrite this description so it discusses what the trope is first and hypothetical situations later or not at all since that's what the example section is for.
  • July 8, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    Uhm, I did describe exactly what the trope is. You're in a situation where you could force something to do something you want them to do or say via whatever method, but you decide not to, because you decide the fact that you're forcing them to versus them doing it of their own free will wouldn't make it satisfying to you. That's the trope. I just phrased it more elaborately, with a detailed explanation. I genuinely have no idea how'd you'd expect me to rephrase it, as a result.

    Addendum: Basically, the thing is that the specific situation is an intrinsic part of the trope, where the situation is that the character is in a position to force someone to do something or overpower someone helpless, and the trope is that they decide not to since it would be meaningless, in contrast to other tropes where the character does the act anyway because they don't care about the lack of consent.
  • July 8, 2012
    ArkadyDarell

    So a character is in a position to force or control someone significant in their life to do or say something they've always wanted them to say or do, or defeat them once and for all while they're completely helpless, solving a major goal in their life and bringing them great satisfaction.

    And yet, they decide in the end not to do it. Or, they do decide to do it, but then realize they really shouldn't have. Why? Because they realize that since it isn't real, since the person didn't choose to do it themselves or lose in a fair fight, it actually doesn't bring the character any satisfaction to have it happen. Whether or not the character ordinarily would be bothered by controlling someone, in this case they don't want to do it because the fact that it'd be a lie would make it meaningless to them.

    Supertrope to Above The Influence and similar tropes. Compare I Want My Beloved To Be Happy, Worthy Opponent, and Mook Chivalry, which can be motivations for this trope. Contrast Dude Shes Like In A Coma, And Now You Must Marry Me, Psychic Assisted Suicide, and Kick Them While They Are Down, where in a similar situation the character only cares about getting the results they want and isn't bothered by the lack of free will or inability to fight back.

    That's the best I can think of for a rewrite.
  • July 8, 2012
    SKJAM
    • The Sax Rohmer novel, The Golden Scorpion: The Yellow Peril villain, who has spent years training himself to be The Spock in order to gain supernormal mental abilities, including limited mind control, falls in love with the Distressed Damsel. Only to find that the very strength of this new emotion is causing his mind control ability to force her to agree, despite his wanting her free acceptance of his love. Since he refuses to lie a false love is hollow to him.
  • July 8, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Literature:

    In Anansi Boys Spider can make people believe or do what he wants them to. In general, he just considers it a good way to have fun with people, but when he starts to get emotionally close to someone he feels a lot more conflicted about it.

    Film:

    In Spartacus Varinia asks her current master why he doesn't just have his way with her. He tells her he wants her to give herself to him.
  • July 8, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In one of the Harry Potter books (I forget which) we discover Voldemort's backstory. His mother loved a Muggle and used a love potion to make him fall in love with her. Then she realized/decided that it didn't feel real because it wasn't genuine. She neutralized the potion, hoping that he'd really be in love with her after it wore off, and he dumped her like a hot potato - but by then Voldy had been conceived.

    Does That Count?
  • July 9, 2012
    TheHandle
    Definitely! Also, don't forget about religious conversion. Since you can't get into the privacy of the convert's head, the only way to do this for real is by their own free will.
  • July 11, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    Thanks for all the examples going on! And, any thoughts at the description rewrite attempt?
  • July 12, 2012
    SquirrelGuy
    There was something in Star Trek: Generations like this. In a matrix that 's sort of a fantasy world, Captain Kirk is riding a horse as it jumps across a chasm. This was a reconstruction of his old homestead. Then he realizes how futile it is, jumping across the chasm as he did many times before, only now there's no way he could be hurt if he fell in.
  • July 12, 2012
    tryourbreast
    How come you guys didn't mention More Than Mind Control?
  • July 13, 2012
    Earnest
    This is one reason characters practice Mind Over Manners.
  • July 13, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    @tryourbreast:

    Because I forgot about it. (Hey, honest answer...) I went and updated the OP with the new description and the various examples and new tropes. (I didn't really think the 1984 example fit what my idea for the trope was going for, since IIRC the brainwashing characters didn't actually recognize their own hypocrisy.)
  • July 13, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    What we mean about not having an Example As A Thesis is that the definition of the trope should not be stated in more than a couple sentences, and you've split stating the definition among multiple paragraphs. The description always best starts with the definition of the trope said in one or two sentences (and note that pictures, quotes, and Describe Topic Here jokes come before the description).
  • July 13, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    Well, again, if you want to give me an example rewrite which fixes the problem while still fully explaining the necessary situation and motivations, then go ahead. I'm not stopping you.

    I guess I could just say, "You're in a situation where you could force something to do something you want them to do or say via whatever method, but you decide not to, or regret doing so, because you decide the fact that you're forcing them to versus them doing it of their own free will wouldn't make it satisfying to you."

    But I hate really short trope descriptions, as they always read kind of lazy, like the person didn't put any effort into actually writing up a good description. Plus plenty of tropes have Example As A Thesis (including, for instance, almost all of the related tropes here including Above The Influence), so I honestly don't see why this is randomly getting picked on.
  • July 13, 2012
    moriwen
    In the book The Perilous Gard, the main character is offered a love potion to give to her love interest by the fairy queen. She declines, because she wants him to really love her.
  • July 13, 2012
    MiinU

    Western animation

    • X-Men: Evolution: Wolverine points this out to Jean, when Rouge initially refuses to join them, explaining that Rogue wasn't ready and, until she was, that it was best not to pressure her. Several episodes later, after rescuing Rogue and Scott from Mystique, he reiterates this by letting Rogue decide if she wanted to join them.
      Wolverine: "What's it gonna be, kid? Are you with us, or are you with them?"
      Rogue: (shivering from the cold) "If I say "no", will I get thrown offa this jet?"
      Wolverine: (closes door) "Ain't our style, kid. We've either earned your trust, or we haven't."
      Rogue: (looks fondly at Scott) "I that case.... "you."
      Wolverine: (smirks) "Welcome to the team."
  • July 13, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Warren makes a robot girlfriend who looks exactly like his ex and has the same personality - except it agrees with him 100% and becomes a Clingy Jealous Girl. He tries to run away but it tracks him down.
  • July 13, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    "But I hate really short trope descriptions"

    No, the definition and the description are not the same thing. We are stating it should start with a definition stated shortly, but anything after that can take your time. Give hypothetical examples. Expound on how the trope applies in certain situations. State how it might apply in Real Life (but keep that to a paragraph; anything longer is for analysis pages and Useful Notes).
  • July 14, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    Dragon Quest Z: Which tells me precisely nothing about how it's wrong and how to fix it. Explain to me in detail how the trope is currently worded poorly for what it is, and give me an example of the correct way to write it. I've asked this twice now, and people still haven't done it, instead giving me extremely vague "this is wrong" claims.

    You haven't even told me if my single sentence I gave would be considered the "definition" or not. Or why it's randomly bad for this trope to supposedly be Example As A Thesis when many other tropes, including ones related to this article, are written that way.

    No offense, but if you can't give exact details of what you want me to do, I'm not interested in trying to read your mind to figure out what will make you happy, or why I should care about your vague unexplained "this is wrong" critiques.
  • July 14, 2012
    SquirrelGuy
    In The Brady Bunch, in one episode Bobby is all bent out of shape that he's the only one in the family without a trophy. He tries selling magazine subscriptions, since there's a trophy for the one who sells the most, and seems to be doing quite well. But Cindy accidentally comments that their parents put their friends up to buying most of the subscriptions, so Bobby cancels those orders, saying that a trophy won from that wouldn't be worth anything.
  • July 15, 2012
    LordCirce
    ^^/^^^ Here is a possible opening sentence that might satisfy Dragon Quest Z: "The concept that it is more satisfying to have someone choose to do something, rather than forcing them through magical, mental, or other means. For example, say a character is in a position..." and go from there. I think this is what is being described.
  • July 15, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    OK, that's helpful. :) Let me muse over how to reword things.
  • July 16, 2012
    Chabal2
  • July 18, 2012
    ArkadyDarell

    A common theme in fiction is the concept that getting the result you want is more satisfying when you actually earn it through your own actions, rather than having it simply handed to you in some way.

    The scenarios that result in this revelation can take a number of forms, though there's three that are most common:

    1. The character is in a position to force someone else to give them what they want, either through magical or mundane coercion or because the other character is their subordinate.
    2. The character finds themselves in an environment where it's literally impossible to fail for some reason.
    3. The character's rival or enemy is in a position of complete helplessness, and thus the character can effortlessly best their opponent in some way.

    But whatever the scenario, the character has the same revelation: It's just not satisfying to win unless the opposing force or obstacle has the chance to reject them, hurt them, or fight back. Alternatively, the character may go through the action anyway, only to realize afterwards how unsatisfying it was.

    Supertrope to Above The Influence, I Love You Because I Cant Control You, and similar tropes, sister trope to Mind Over Manners.

    Compare I Want My Beloved To Be Happy, Worthy Opponent, and Mook Chivalry, which can be motivations for this trope. Contrast Dude Shes Like In A Coma, And Now You Must Marry Me, Psychic Assisted Suicide, and Kick Them While They Are Down, where in similar situations the character is still satisfied by the result even with the lack of opposition.

    Also contrast More Than Mind Control, where you can have your cake and eat it too, by both controlling someone and getting their genuine submission.

    OK, there's my third attempt.

    This still needs a better title, though, especially since it ended up being broader than I thought. No Opposition Means No Satisfaction?
  • July 18, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of The Twilight Zone an inveterate criminal dies and goes to the afterlife: a pleasant place where he gets everything he wants and all his gambles always pay off. He becomes dissatisfied and asks to be sent to The Other Place, saying he doesn't belong in Heaven. "Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!"
  • July 19, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    ^ I think you read my mind; literally just yesterday I was thinking, "Wasn't there a trope where a guy went to heaven and got bored because everything always went his way?"
  • July 20, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^ That The Twilight Zone episode was named "A Nice Place to Visit".

    It fits this trope because the women are all willing to do whatever he wants so he doesn't have to work to seduce them.
  • July 27, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
  • July 27, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    An episode of Quack Pack, Dental Mental, has Dewey accidentally get a mind control device surgically attached to his head, which he subsequently uses to win any contest, order anyone around, and eventually take over the world. However, he becomes unsatisfied once he is king of the world, knowing that no one truly respects him and he's being honored only because of the device on his head.
  • August 14, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    Anyone have any input on a more accurate/catchier title, and the description? Those seem to be the two sticking points at the moment.
  • August 14, 2012
    TonyG
    In the Futurama episode "Free Will Hunting", Bender is acquitted in court because, as a robot, all decisions are dictated by his programming and is thus not responsible for his actions. This depresses Bender, since it means he has no choice in how he acts, and goes on a spiritual journey (which he hates doing).
  • August 15, 2012
    Omeganian
    In Foundation, The Mule, a mutant capable of adjusting human emotions, couldn't bring himself to adjust the one woman who liked him without it.
  • August 15, 2012
    LordCirce
    Just to throw out a title: Worth Of The Choice or Worth Of A Choice. Also, Choice Is Worth More.
  • August 15, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In another episode of The Brady Bunch where Jan thinks she's no good at anything, Greg has the great idea of everybody throwing games of skill for her to win: Greg throws a game of Ping Pong, Marcia & Cindy lose at Monopoly, and Peter & Bobby lose at darts. Cindy accidentally spills the beans to their parents though, and they convince the kids that winning that way doesn't help Jan. Greg apologizes to her on behalf of the group and of course they're Easily Forgiven.
  • August 21, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    I don't know if it's about Choice, exactly, but about success not meaning as much unless there's the possibility of failure.
  • August 22, 2012
    randomsurfer
    The Simpsons: When Homer becomes the leader of the Stonecutters lodge he gets very little satisfaction out of everyone being at his beck and call, and when they play poker they always show him their cards, etc. He changes the group so that they do good in the community, but they don't like doing that so they all quit the Stonecutters and form a new lodge, the Ancient Society of No Homers.
  • August 22, 2012
    juanguy
    Real life: Video game cheat codes. Same applies to using the console commands & level editors to make the game easier. It can be useful to get past a challenge you simply can't beat (possibly to see the story). It can be interesting to check out alternate ways to play. But just giving yourself the best gear, activating god mode, or ~killing enemies can get old real fast.
  • September 10, 2012
    SquirrelGuy
    Perhaps this would be a better title:

    No Challenge Means No Satisfaction

    It also has to be a fair challenge to be satisfying. (I would title it "No Fair Challenge.." but "No fair" tends to mean "unfair" or "not fair".) As an example, consider a 6th-grade soccer team. Playing a 2nd-grade soccer team and winning would not be satisfying, since that's not a fair fight. Similarly, playing a team of high-school seniors wouldn't be a fair challenge either, for they would have no realistic chance of winning. The only teams against which they can rightfully win or lose would be those composed of 6th-graders from another school.
  • September 10, 2012
    KarjamP
    I tagged "Better Name" only to realise too late that it was already tagged. :O
  • September 10, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    ^^ That's better, yes. Though the flip idea of not bothering because you stand no chance is a different trope, I think. Knowing you can't help but lose is more obviously unsatisfying; it's the idea that winning easily isn't either that's the more notable story point.

    ^ XD S'OK, I removed the duplicate tag. No worries.
  • September 13, 2012
    NoRyu
    Theater: In the french classical piece Le Cid by Corneille, there is a very famous line that says: "A vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire" Which roughly translates as "a challenge without threats leads to gloryless victory" I think it could apply here.
  • September 13, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In the book Assassins of Gor a young chess prodigy is forced by the ruler to play a game of chess against a foolish simpleton. The prodigy at first refuses, saying it would be an insult to the Game, until he's threatened with death.
  • September 13, 2012
    Random888
    • The main theme of the Star Trek The Original Series episode "This Side of Paradise":
      • McCoy: Well, that's the second time man's been thrown out of Paradise.
      • Kirk: No, no, Bones, this time we walked out on our own. Maybe we weren't meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through, struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums.

    Maybe this could be a page quote?
  • September 25, 2012
    MrRuano
    Related to Lonely At The Top
  • September 26, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    Any suggestions on what this still needs to earn some headgear?
  • October 1, 2012
    elwoz
    Also related to Earn Your Happy Ending; whatever victory the heroes manage to achieve is more meaningful because they had to go through hell to get there.

    This looks pretty well baked to me.
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