Created By: Kizor on October 7, 2010 Last Edited By: 1998bmw on July 1, 2017

World Harming

A video game theme: the setting is substantially damaged during the game.

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Up for Grabs, Needs a Better Title
A video game theme: the setting is substantially damaged during the game.

Saving the World may be about as common as fire buttons, but the world seldom looks like it's in ongoing peril. The average threat either strikes within ten minutes of the title screen, or is imminent and stays that way throughout the game. A madman is threatening to melt the South Pole! A thief has stolen the seven Crystals of Fluffiness! A sneak attack by the Plarhkleet Armada has destroyed all other Super Toyetic Fighters! The threat stays static until the Big Bad's defeat ends it.

This is mostly a role-playing trope, but happens in other genres as well. Even RPGs are averse to go the extra mile to change graphics, dialogue and scripting, or to cut the player off from the goods and services that would logically be lost. For instance, several Final Fantasy games feature the destruction of elemental crystals that control the world, but the only thing this seems to do is worry a few NPCs.

Contrast Take Your Time, Orcus on His Throne. I checked it, and it has very few aversions that would overlap. Compare Just Before the End.

This is the companion to Worldhealing, which has some kinks that I need to iron out before posting it. Alternate titles: Harming The World, Earth Dies Screaming (marvellous - but too grandiose?)


Action Game
  • In Virus 2000, failing a level turns it into a Dark World with several times as many enemies.
  • As far back as Defender, failing to, er, defend the inhabitants of the planet will blow up the planet and turn all Mooks into Elite Mooks. Surviving the attack wave will grant the player a new planet.
  • God of War III is a Roaring Rampage of Revenge through Greek Mythology. The protagonist doesn't seem to notice that killing Olympians smites the planet worse than the Yucatan meteor, but gains a measure of redemption by releasing the power of hope to the world. Not that it'll make a difference: mankind might have survived when Poseidon's death flooded the land and Helios's death blotted out the sun, but then plant life died. Humans can still have months of hope through cannibalism, say, eating half their number every few weeks, unless of course the new plagues render meat inedible. But the cockroaches will be very hopeful - no, sorry, they're doomed. The dolphins - no, once plankton goes, predators go. Chemical-eating organisms in deep-sea vents? They'll be bursting with hope, unless the undead kill them. Yay!
  • Video Game/Injustice takes this two ways.

Interactive Fiction
  • In Enchanter, room descriptions become bleaker and bleaker as the Big Bad corrupts the world.
  • A borderline example: In Suspended, the player is in an underground bunker, trying to fix broken weather control systems. The only score is the number of people killed in the chaos. The player is never given a description of the surface, but somehow that makes it worse...

Platform Game
  • In Mega Man X5, the game can be finished even if the player fails its main mission of stopping a Colony Drop. The impact drives bosses insane and proves the death of one of two player characters. It shreds the world map so that there's nothing left between the Indian Ocean and North Atlantic, Asia and Africa are in pieces, and Greenland has been torn in half.
  • Cave Story. About two thirds into the game, the entire remaining population of an NPC race is kidnapped and the world is left deserted. Also, the Egg Corridor gets completely trashed, though how this happened is never explained.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog CD. The game's gimmick is time travel, so each act has a past, present and future version. Not going to an act's past and destroying the device there renders the act's future bad - a lifeless world overrun by robots, and even they are breaking down. Not doing it in a zone's first two acts forces a bad future in act 3.
  • Eversion. - ZCE
  • Redder. - ZCE

Real-Time Strategy
  • In Earth 2150, the goal is to collect enough resources to flee the planet. As time passes, terrain changes from wintertime to spring, summer, desert and then Venus.
  • Outpost 2 starts as human colonists flee an uncontrollable wall of terraforming Grey Goo. Then its activity causes vulcanism and earthquakes, then its effects create lightning storms and hurricanes. The meteor bombardment that follows is not related to the goo, God just hates you.
  • In Dungeon Keeper, the world map starts as Arcadia, and ever so gradually becomes Mordor.

Western Role Playing Games
  • The Ultima series. Several installments have the Armageddon spell, which kills almost everyone in the world and upsets the rest. This has no gameplay value whatsoever.
  • MegaTraveller 2: Quest for the Ancients. An Ancient site on Rhylanor starts spewing out slime that threatens to cover the entire planet. Each time you return to the planet the slime has spread further on the map. The game's main mission is to neutralize the slime and save Rhylanor.

Eastern Role Playing Games

Turn-Based Strategy
  • Nieuwe Aarde is a 48-hour game about fleeing a dying fantasy world. The oceans start blue, turn purple and end as red.
  • UFO: Aftermath begins on a blasted post-apocalyptic Earth. Then something starts to eat it.
  • Master of Orion 2 may end like this. Two warring sides spamming planet-killers will turn the galaxy into small enclaves of Crystal Spires and Togas, surrounded by dust and debris.
  • The Civilization IV mod Fall from Heaven has all Hell break loose as soon as someone is stupid enough to call upon it. Demons enter the world, and the terrain of Hell begins to spread. Hell spreads further and further as evil acts add to the game's "Armageddon Counter." The counter also unleashes monsters and plagues, and adds penalties to the diplomatic relations between good and evil civilizations, to simulate their shift from disapproval to "No, you fools, you'll doom us all!"
  • The nukes in Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri are space nukes, and not the tame paving tools of Civilization. A major nuclear exchange will drastically change the tone of the game: large portions of the world will be destroyed, global warming will begin to raise the sea level by kilometers, Gaia's Vengeance will rain down, and all previous plans will be undone.
  • Master of Magic has the spells Armageddon and Great Wasting, which slowly and methodically destroy the world.
  • The Dominions games have the spells Utterdark and Second Sun (which unfortunately do not negate each other if they go off at the same time). There's also the Burden of Time, which causes everything to age dozens of times faster and sweeps the world clean if it isn't stopped.

  • Star Control 2 has a time limit. Events unfold on their own, and eventually the Absolute Xenophobes march out to exterminate all other races. This makes finishing the game much easier, since looting ruins for MacGuffins beats diplomacy any day...
  • Starflight. Play in a Wide Open Sandbox! Seek out new life and new civilizations! Discover the secret behind a wave of flaring stars!
  • The Space Rangers games are space trading games set in a galaxy under siege. Set the difficulty level high enough, and a vibrant federation will collapse into isolated pockets of resistance. Pirates will run free as friendly warships become a rare sight, the player may have to invent crazy blockade-running techniquest just to get from place to place, and the coolest gadgets will become useless once there's no one left who can repair them. The sheer unscriptedness of it makes the tension exhilarating. (Unfortunately, it also causes a very real risk of losing the war, and ending up hiding in Jupiter's atmosphere in an Unwinnable session.)
  • Defcon is a quietly melancholic game about global nuclear holocaust.
  • The world in Dwarf Fortress passes into the Age of Death once the last civilization falls, and into the Age of Emptiness once the last civilized being dies.
Community Feedback Replies: 35
  • October 7, 2010
    The description references Bad Dudes, but Bad Dudes doesn't fit the trope! :O Also, why is that last bit of the Starflight entry spoiler'd? It's not a spoiler. It's the plot! You're told that explicitly.. heck it's on the box.
  • October 7, 2010
    • Guild Wars Nightfall has a zone and a mission change, plus has artwork in later storyline zones, to show the world becoming corrupted.
  • October 7, 2010
    • Final Fantasy V: The party adventures and progresses through two parallels as X-Death destroys the elemental crystals, ultimately causing the two worlds to fuse back together.

    • Elaborating on FF 6 example: Halfway through the game Kefka rearranges the face of the world, creating the World of Ruin with him at its center.

    • The Exile series. If I remember right, the manual even says that certain things may happen over time unless you take action to stop them, although they make sure it won't make the game Unwinnable. For example, in Exile 3, one town is under repeated attack by Slimes and will progress through varying stages of ruins until you eliminate the Slime threat.
  • October 8, 2010
    Not to be confused with World Hamming.
  • October 8, 2010
    Video Games
    • MegaTraveller 2: Quest for the Ancients. An Ancient site on Rhylanor starts spewing out slime that threatens to cover the entire planet. Each time you return to the planet the slime has spread further on the map. The game's main mission is to neutralize the slime and save Rhylanor.
  • October 9, 2010
    There is an entry in the great list of Japanese rpg cliches that basically states that by the time the heroes are finally ready to face the final villain and save the world, 90% of it will have already been destroyed. - could make a nice page quote if someone finds it.
  • October 10, 2010
    ^ Here's the quote from Console RPG Cliches 169 To 192:

    180. Pyrrhic Victory: By the time you've gotten it in gear, dealt with your miscellaneous personal crises and are finally ready to go Save the World once and for all, nine-tenths of it will already have been destroyed. Still, you've got to give your all to save the remaining one-tenth.
  • October 11, 2010
    Platform Game
    • Cave Story. About two-thirds into the game, The Doctor successfully kidnaps all the remaining Mimigas, leaving Mimiga Village (as well as the houses of the few Mimigas in Grasstown and Sand Zone) completely deserted. Also, the Egg Corridor gets completely trashed, though how this happened is never explained.
  • October 11, 2010
    I think there is a related trope... Just Before The End
  • October 13, 2010
    Good catch, thanks! I actually added the Earth 2150 example on that page.
  • October 13, 2010
    I suggest Unexpected Global Harm would be a good name, (or Global Changes or just Global Harm)

    especially given how the trope is described as unusual in a video game setting.

    Global Changes also makes a Stealth Pun for people who do computer work.
  • October 25, 2010
    Is this just World Sundering?
  • November 16, 2010
    Sonic CD: Not going to an act's past and finding the caged... whatever it was, I forget... renders the act's future bad -- different music, more Robotnik-y level layout, darker palette. Not doing it in a zone's first two acts forces a bad future in act 3.
  • November 27, 2010
    Yeah, I still think Global Harm or Make Global Changes might make a better title.
  • November 28, 2010
    Final Fantasy V (black holes) and Final Fantasy X (Home) have it too.
  • November 30, 2010
    See, that's a problem. Final Fantasy X has a settlement that's mentioned a couple of times, is under attack when you get there, and blows up after you get out of there. It's a single instance of Stuff Blowing Up, and it has very little to do about the game world becoming more desolate or escaping an oncoming horror.

    How should this be kept from filling up with examples about something being destroyed somewhere?

    Berr: Almost anything is better than my idea. The trope's intended counterpart about healing or enhancing the world is a problem. Should we stick both harm and help under the name Make Global Changes? Can you think of a counterpart to Global Harm?
  • January 4, 2011
    This happens during the Sundering in the Western MMORPG Guild Wars.
  • January 7, 2011
    Does the fusion of both worlds in Final Fantasy V count?
  • January 7, 2011
    I've thought about it, and I don't think it does. Nothing actually gets destroyed: everyone and everything on the new planet is fine.

    The planet then gets holes punched in it, but in places you hadn't yet gotten to, anyway. Easy come, easy go.
  • January 7, 2011
    The game Worms. Where worms shoot each other and effectively destroy the battle field.
  • March 17, 2011
    I don't know if this counts, but Fable does this a couple of times - in the third game, you have the Crawler, which doesn't so much destroy the world, but destroys the pause menu.
  • February 18, 2012
    Anyone want this? Is this covered by other tropes?
  • February 18, 2012
    • Ecco The Dolphin- the Vortex suck heaps and heaps of ocean life up into space-you can pretty much figure there was destruction of things like seabed and corals along with it, too.
  • February 19, 2012
    I like Global Harm. I'm thinking this trope should cover, like, Final Fantasy VI levels of world destruction, where the harm touches every place and really changes the world.
  • January 23, 2016
    Le bump
  • January 24, 2016

    A number of examples are Zero Context Examples (and have been marked as such). They need more specific information about how they fit the trope.

    The Secret Of Mana example violates Weblinks Are Not Examples (and has been marked as such). It needs more specific information about how it fits the trope.
  • January 24, 2016
    Golden Sun: The proliferation of monsters that can use Psynergy is attributed to the eruption of Mount Aleph hurling Psynergy stones all over the world, caused by the villains trying to enter the sanctuary in the mountain. The plot revolves around preventing Alchemy from being unlocked, as humans are not believed able to wield that power responsibly. As the game progresses, the elemental lighthouses are lit up, causing major climate and geological upheavals (after the water and wind lighthouses are lit, the world experiences global cooling; after water and earth are lit, a tidal wave smashes a subcontinent into another in minutes, etc.). At the end of the games, it's discovered that releasing Alchemy is actually necessary- without it, the world is slowly eroding away at the edges.

  • January 25, 2016
    How would this relate to Trash The Set?
  • January 25, 2016
    Besides being specific to video games (which I can see no apparent reason for), what makes this different from World Sundering or Apocalypse How?
  • February 2, 2016
  • September 6, 2016
  • September 6, 2016
    I'm assuming this trope relates to destruction directly caused by the main character's adventure, so say Film/Armageddon isn't an example, if I'm right.
    • Final Fantasy VI sees The Empire gradually kill opposition throughout the land as their mad general, Kefka, does battle with the heroes. This gets taken to extremes in the last third of the game, where Kefka becomes a god and creates a low level Apocalypse How to scatter the heroes and devastate the kingdom.
    • Batman Arkham City uses this to up the stakes in the climax, featuring the partial destruction of the Steel Mill, the Thomas Wayne Courthouse, the Iceberg Lounge, Wonder Tower, the Movie Theatre, and the Lazarus Pit as a result of the helicopters strikes in Protocol 10 and the Joker's plot.
    • Kid Icarus Uprising sees most of the settings get battered in the war of the Palutena and Medusa. That First Town from the beginning of the game is frequently revisited, with larger and more dangerous monsters returning each time to devastate it, not to mention the damage done to the Skyworld and the Underworld.
    • Super Smash Bros. Brawl employs it in "The Subspace Emissary", where parts of the main map are gradually erased by Subspace Bombs, which also prevent the player from replaying levels in those locations.
    • The player's in Epic Mickey can reduce the Wasteland to this, having the ability to use Thinner to strip all color from the landscape, melt any NPC that comes by and much worse thanks to every sidequest and boss fight having Video Game Cruelty Potential.
    I'm also fairly confident Super Paper Mario is not an example, but what do I know.
  • June 30, 2017
    • In Nihilumbra, you are constantly running away from the Void, which keeps chasing after you. Since the Void consumes everything in its path, this results in a good chunk of the world destroyed.
  • June 30, 2017
    • Dawn Of War II: Retribution features a cinematic of a world undergoing Exterminatus. After that mission, the planet is no longer available for missions, and is classified as a Dead World.
    • Starcraft II: The first game had one mission where the enemy bases were built on platforms powered by fusion reactors, destroying the reactor blows holes all over the platform, making it unuseable for either side. The final mission in the trilogy has the Big Bad occasionally destroy entire chunks of terrain.
  • July 1, 2017
    I think this can be a distinct subtrope of Trash The Set.