Created By: Generality on January 22, 2011 Last Edited By: Generality on February 18, 2011
Troped

Despair Gambit

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Setting a launch date for this. Let's call it Sunday (the 20th).

What's a villain to do when the hero is invincible, or at least too strong to attack head on? Whether because of tactics, defense, the power of love, will, or because he won the Superpower Lottery, the conventional tactics just aren't going to do the trick. In such a case, a good alternative strategy is often to attack the hero's resolve, and make him give up the fight.

Blow up his hometown. Kill his loved ones. Spout cutting Hannibal Lectures and Nietzsche Wannabe speeches at every opportunity. Steal his belongings. The ultimate goal is to drive the goodie past the Despair Event Horizon, making him more an enemy to himself than to the villain.

As with other such plots, it tends to backfire. Hurting the hero on this level makes it personal, incurring the risk of focusing the hero's attention squarely against the villain, or even triggering an Unstoppable Rage. There's also the possibility of riling a previously neutral party. Because the story tends to be on the hero's side, this gambit is more likely to fail in the long run, though it may succeed in evaporating his hope at a critical point.

This is a common tactic of the invading army, the intent being to weaken the defense by subduing its morale. This is also the basic idea behind terrorism.

See also Villain Ball, Despair Event Horizon

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • This is the Anti-Spiral modus operandi in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, arranging Manchurian Agents, Colony Drops and Hope Spots because the Power of the Spiral can't be defeated through main force. Although this is effective on some characters, it ultimately backfires, leading Team Gurren to the Anti-Spirals' home dimension and giving them a plethora of Lagann-type mechs with which to take them down.
  • This is Knives' instruction to his minions in Trigun, in the hopes that it will make Vash give up his stewardship of humans and join the other side. In the anime, it works, and Vash breaks down, becoming almost catatonic, at least until a moment of redemption redoubles his resolve.
  • In GUN×SWORD, Woo not only defeats Van in battle but also forces Van to recognize his own terror and confront the possibility of dying. It nearly works: Van is so shaken by his new fear of death that he is prepared to give up his revenge quest and run away. Fortunately, his sidekick calls him on his cowardice and challenges him to man up. The Power of Love does the rest.

Comics

Film
  • In The Patriot the British general burns a church with it's town inhabitants still inside, including the newly married wife of one of the main characters. When the patriot army descends upon the village it prompts one of the soldiers who just lost his family to shoot himself in the head.

Literature
  • In Harry Potter, the Death Eaters use this at least as a supplemental strategy, striking randomly at civilian targets to foster fear among the populace. (In theory, they're targeting those who they deem impure, but by their standards that's pretty much everyone)
  • Once Sauron loses his body, this becomes one of his main tactics. In addition to the more overt Mind Rape of the Nazgul and the intimidation tactics used at Pelennor, he twists the Palantiri so that his enemies gradually lose all hope of vanquishing him. This prompts Saruman to commit a Face–Heel Turn and start collaborating with him, and Denethor to send his own son off to die and commit suicide in the midst of the decisive battle. In the film, Denethor's condition is even worse, such that he refuses even to send for help and even orders his soldiers to abandon their posts.
  • It eventually becomes clear that this is one of the Dark One's main goals in The Wheel of Time: hurt the Dragon personally until he turns or takes himself out. In The Gathering Storm, he succeeds, and Rand almost tries to unmake the world before he snaps out of it.
Community Feedback Replies: 13
  • January 23, 2011
    ZombieAladdin
    Lex Luthor defeats Superman in Superman Red Son in this way: After every attempt to take out Superman by brute force fails, he attacks Superman's psyche instead with an Armor Piercing Question.
  • January 23, 2011
    TTurtle
    I don't know if this is quite the same thing, but . . . In Gun X Sword, Woo not only defeats Van in battle but also forces Van to recognize his own terror and confront the possibility of dying. It nearly works: Van is so shaken by his new fear of death that he is prepared to give up his revenge quest and run away. Fortunately, his sidekick calls him on his cowardice and challenges him to man up. The Power Of Love does the rest.
  • January 26, 2011
    Generality
    Bump. Are there no more examples? No comments?
  • January 28, 2011
    Generality
    Nobody?
  • February 1, 2011
    Generality
    Updated the description somewhat to give it a broader scope.
  • February 1, 2011
    jate88
    In The Patriot the British general burns a church with it's town inhabitants still inside, including the newly married wife of one of the main characters. When the patriot army descends upon the village it prompts one of the soliders who just lost his family to shoot himself in the head.
  • February 3, 2011
    Generality
    C'mon, people. Help me fill this out.
  • February 3, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    Does the trope include people/creatures that use this as their standard modus operandi without any "plotting" - such as dementors or the nazgul?
  • February 3, 2011
    Generality
    Hmm, dementors probably don't count since they use their powers instinctively without any long-term intentions, but the Death Eaters' use of them may count. The Nazgul certainly count since they use fear directly as a weapon of war- it's one of their main tools in the battle of Pelennor Fields.
  • February 4, 2011
    TTurtle
    This one might be reaching, but . . .

    • In The Pilgrims Progress, the Giant Despair could be the allegorical personification of this gambit. He captures Christians and keeps them prisoner in Doubting Castle to prevent them from reaching the Celestial City.
  • February 9, 2011
    Generality
    ^ I'm not sure what that is representative of, but knowing Bunyan it could be anything.
  • February 15, 2011
    Generality
    Last bump. Will launch within the week.
  • February 17, 2011
    TrustBen
    Ozymandias convinces Doctor Manhattan that he's giving his acquaintances cancer in Watchmen, basically for this purpose.
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