No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction YKTTW Discussion

No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction
Getting the result you want is more satisfying when you have to actually earn it.
Better Name
(permanent link) added: 2012-07-08 13:36:18 sponsor: ArkadyDarell (last reply: 2012-10-02 18:39:52)

Add Tag:
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.


  • 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.

  • 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!"

  • 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.

  • 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.

Replies: 49