Created By: Snowy66 on October 3, 2017 Last Edited By: Snowy66 on February 2, 2018

Playing God

A mortal decides to take the role of God into their hands. Super Trope of Creating Life Is Bad, Reality Warping Is Not A Toy among others.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
trope
God is the almighty creator who decides the laws of creation. No one else should possess such power, or there will be grave consequences. But that won't stop individuals from trying to take up the role of the divine entity.

Through science, magic, or even plain old military power, an individual decides they are tasked with making decisions that only God should. They will decide who lives and dies, they will create new life, they will change the events in history, they will bend the very laws of reality.

Will often overlap with A God Am I, but the distinction is that simply believing they are a god does not immediately mean they are willing to do anything to show it.

While particularly common with villains with god complexes, it can just as easily be a hero who is forced to play a final unethical hand out of desperation. Though the heroes may decide this is one of those powers that no man should have.

May occur from a desire to create a better world, For Science!, advancing humanity into an evolutionary superior stage, being God for a Day, or to avert a Bad Future.

Super Trope of Creating Life Is Bad, Reality Warping Is Not a Toy

Anime and Manga
  • Light Yagami from Death Note becomes this after acquiring the Death Note. He decides that the world is a mess and he would his newfound powers to create a perfect new world where he would rule as a god.
  • Dr. Genus from One-Punch Man. An Evilutionary Biologist under the belief that humanity had unlimited potential, Genus wanted to make humanity evolve so that he could live among equals. However he was rejected by society as a lunatic, so went and carried out his experiments by himself. In his own lab assisted by clones of himself, he created new 'superior' species that he intended to replace humanity. He promptly gets stopped by Saitama who wipes most of his creations out, which leads him to get a Heel Realization that he is the one who needs to change and not humanity.
  • Kayaba and Sugou from Sword Art Online. Both created virtual worlds where they trapped players so they could rule over them as Game Masters with administrator powers. Sugou however takes it even further by being a Mad Scientist who attempted to unlock power to control the mind and soul, which he thought of as God's work.
  • Zamasu from Dragon Ball Super is an unusual example considering he is a literal god. However he still falls into this, as Kaioshins are prohibited from interfering in the business of mortals. Zamasu ends up deciding himself to be above the rest of the gods and that all mortals needed to be exterminated.

Comic books
  • Watchmen
    • Doctor Manhattan is a deconstruction of this. He is literally a Physical God who upon being revealed to the public is forced into a "godlike" role by the government where he would help to effortlessly end wars. However when the public turns on him, after he is framed by Ozymandias for giving several people cancer, he gets fed up with humanity and abandons it. He then resides on the moon while the world could have ended in nuclear war for all he cared. Ultimately Doctor Manhattan is a rare example of a god figure turning his back and refusing to play god. By the time he finally decides to do something, it's too late and Ozymandias has already wiped out New York City. He becomes closer to the traditional depiction of this trope with the reveal he was the one who triggered a Cosmic Retcon and created DC's New 52 continuity.
    • Speaking of Ozymandias, he also qualifies for this trope. Knowing humanity is on the verge of destroying itself due to the threat of the Cold War, Ozymandius takes it upon himself to trigger a series of events that climaxes in the destruction of New York City and the death of millions. This would lead to the United States and the Soviet Union to believe they were under extraterrestrial attack (the film changed this to Doctor Manhattan himself) and would unify against the common threat.
  • In a Simpsons Comics, Professor Frink and Doctor Colossus take over as coaches of two kids' baseball teams. Both scientists equip their teams with all sorts of robotic gear to enhance their improvements. When the day comes that the two teams face off against each other, both scientists amp up their teams proficiency. There is actually a setting on the level of control they have called "Playing God" which causes havoc across the field. Colossus and Frink both have a My God, What Have I Done? upon seeing they have gone too far.

Films
  • Bruce Almighty has a literal example which pokes fun at this trope. Bruce Nolan decides that God is doing a terrible job and after endless complaining, the almighty father himself hears him out. God decides to grant Bruce his godly powers, so that he can prove he can do a better job at being God.
  • Christof from The Truman Show as the director of a world built around a TV show. He's essentially the god of Truman's world deciding everything that happens in one man's life. He can create event after event to hinder Truman's quest to escape Seahaven: traffic jam out of nowhere and then dispersing it again, forest fire, leak at nuclear power plant.
    • He really plays god when he decides to raise the sun hours earlier than its supposed to:
    Christof: Cue the sun!
    • He does so again when he localizes a storm above Truman's boat and orders lightning to strike it.
    Christof: Hit him again!
  • Billionaire industrialist Hugo Drax from the James Bond film Moonraker is discovered to have a cloaked satellite stocked with select couples to repopulate the Earth after his airborne neurotoxins have eradicated existing "undesirables." Drax, of course, will be supremely in charge of everything thereafter.
  • Dr. Totenkopf of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. He dedicated his life to extracting specimens from every species of the world, experimented in creating new lifeforms, and made a giant rocket to serve as an ark to both safeguard the species within as well as disintegrating the Earth as a flood. A recording of Dr. Totenkopf has him quoting extracts from the Bible and replacing himself as God himself.

Literature
  • In Animorphs, the Ellimist found himself in this position. Initially he was an exceptionally technologically advanced being who sought to encourage the prospering of civilizations with his aid, however he came into conflict with a similar being known as Crayak who's goal was to expunge all life. Crayak challenged Ellimist to games where the fate of civilizations depended on the outcome, however this abruptly changed when the two erupted into full scale conflict and attacked one another. The battle finally ended when Crayak tricked Ellimist into entering a black hole, but rather than destroying him, it ended up merging him with the fabric of space-time and turning him into a true Physical God. Using his newfound powers Ellimist would stop Crayak from destroying any more lives. However, Crayak soon figured out Ellimist was behind this and too made his way into the fabrics of space-time, where the two of them agreed to no longer fight openly and instead play their cosmic scale game with the Animorphs and Yeerks as game pieces.

Live Action — TV
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Master is particularly fond of doing this. Many of his plans involve becoming "master of all" and ruling civilizations.
    • The Doctor usually averts this, humbly thinking himself as just a lonely survivor traversing the universe and lending a hand. However he himself is guilty of this in "Water of Mars" where for the first time he decides he is above the "laws of time" and that he can decide what events will happen.
    The Doctor: The laws of time are mine! And they will obey me!
  • Damien Darhk from Arrow, who wished to create a utopia. He created H.I.V.E. and led a group of loyal followers who would reside in an arc, while Damien played Noah and wiped out life on Earth with nuclear fire.
  • The Flash (2014):
    • Zoom the Big Bad of Season 2 was notorious of abusing time remnants to serve his own means. He also decides on a whim to create a Doomsday Device to wipe out the entire multiverse save for Earth-1.
    • Savitar who declared himself "The God of Speed", created a cult for himself and 'rules' over speedsters with his unfathomable speed and the mystical Philosopher's Stone giving him a variety of powers.
    • Barry Allen himself becomes guilty of this where after reaching his Despair Event Horizon, he decides to go back and change history to save him mother's life, creating an Alternate Timeline known as Flashpoint, although he's later forced to undo this to a Close Enough Timeline.
    Savitar: And it would've stayed that way, but then you decided to play God. You created Flashpoint and changed everything.
  • Hugo Strange from Gotham. A Mad Scientist who spends his time resurrecting the recently deceased as his experimental creations.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: Invoked in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. When asked what he wants for Christmas, Crow answers, "I want to decide who lives and who dies."

Newspaper Comics
  • Prince Valiant calls out the inhabitants of a secluded cove for playing god in one story arc. The town council has dispatched some key citizens for minor peccadilloes, including the cove's seagate keeper. Without him, Viking raiders entered the cove unopposed, where they begin sacking the town with little resistance.

Web Original
  • Invoked by Lex Luthor in "Death Battle'' episode "Iron Man VS Lex Luthor" where he accused Tony of this before declaring himself of it as well.
    Lex Luthor: Fool, you're just like all the rest. Building a suit to save the world, trying to play God. Let me tell you something Stark! There's only one man in the world that's fit to play such a role! Me.

Western Animation
  • Ben 10:
    • Anyone who would acquires the powers of Diagon would be given this temptation. Vilgax immediately deems himself a god when he gets granted Diagon's power. However when Ben uses Ascalon to strip Vilgax of the power, he also gets faced with this predicament. Vilgax tries to goad Ben into being a god, telling him that with the combined power of Diagon, Ascalon, and the Ultimatrix he could rid all evil for good and get anything he wanted. Ben very nearly succumbs to the temptation, but ultimately uses the power to undo the damage done earlier and to release himself of the power.
    • In Ben 10: Omniverse, Ben is forced into this in "So Long and Thanks for the Smoothies". After failing to stop the Anihilaarg from destroying the universe, Ben uses Alien-X to recreate an almost exact copy of the universe. This comes back to bite him hard in "Universe vs. Tennyson" where Ben gets put on trial by the Celestialsapiens for altering the universe without permission.
  • In the episode of Futurama, "Godfellas", Bender is left drifting in space and becomes God to a civilization of tiny humanoids which set up a township on his chest. Unfortunately, his attempts to play god fail abysmally, culminating in a rival colony on his rear starting a nuclear war and killing everyone off. He then meets an entity that may or may have not been actual God, who reassures him he could have done worse and advises him to use a "lighter touch", which he demonstrates by manipulating Bender into rescuing some monks Fry and Leela left locked in their monastery in their search for Bender.
  • In The Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror VII" episode "The Genesis Tub", Lisa accidentally creates a civilization of microscopic humanoids. Watching them evolve at a rapid rate, she had no idea they worshiped her like a god since she was their creator.
Community Feedback Replies: 27
  • October 3, 2017
    DustSnitch
    "When a villain gains superhuman abilities or achieves his dearest dream, one can expect him to gain delusions of godhood." That's the header for A God Am I. How is this different from that?
  • October 3, 2017
    intastiel
    Most of these examples seem to fall squarely under A God Am I already. In addition, we've got God For A Day for when people actually do get divine powers for a while.
  • October 3, 2017
    Snowy66
    There can be overlap with A God Am I, but the key difference is the person only believing they are a god (which can be due to a variety of reasons like arrogance or hallucinations), while this trope is specifically they are actually trying to be god.

    Example. A Pharaoh can just sit on his throne and tell his servants "I am a god and I'm going to be worshiped", he thinks he's a god but hasn't actually done anything to back up his claims.

    Contrast someone Playing God, a Mad Scientist who wants to actively take up God's duty and reshape the evolutionary path of humans. He's not just sitting their passively thinking it, he's going to great lengths to accomplish it.

    @intastiel. For instance, Light Yagami both believes himself to be a god due to his power, but is also taking up god's role in judging who lives and who dies. But then we have someone like Vegeta who after attaining Super Saiyan is so arrogant he believes himself to be a shiny golden god. But he really isn't at all and does not perform any of god's duties.
  • October 4, 2017
    Synchronicity
    On the fence about this one. I want to see more examples that don't fit under A God Am I if its description was broadened by a sentence (eg. "Sometimes, the characters will actively try to take up a god's duties" or similar).
  • October 4, 2017
    Snowy66
    Okay, here's one.
    • In Ben 10 Omniverse, Ben Tennyson is forced into this in "So Long and Thanks for the Smoothies". After failing to stop the Anihilaarg from destroying the universe, Ben uses Alien-X to recreate an almost exact copy of the universe. This comes back to bite him hard in "Universe vs. Tennyson" where Ben gets put on trial by the Celestialsapiens for altering the universe without permission.
  • October 4, 2017
    WolfMattGrey
    ^ Seems to be less "Ben tries to play god with the universe" and more "Ben found a god-like way to recreate the universe because he had to, being the hero and all".

    Also, tropes are flexible, so I think believing to be a god can lead to trying to be one. Sounds like a fairly logical consequence.
  • October 4, 2017
    Snowy66
    The phrase and concept itself is very common in fiction with "playing God" often dropped around. Wikipedia even has a page for it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playing_God_(ethics) It's one thing to declare yourself a god, it's quite another to try to be the God.

    I had an example from The Flash above where Barry's actions of changing history and creating Flashpoint were also considering Playing God. Savitar literally accuses Barry of this.
  • October 4, 2017
    Bisected8
    • In the episode of Futurama, "Godfellas", Bender is left drifting in space and becomes God to a civilisation of tiny humanoids which set up a township on his chest. Unfortunately, his attempts to play god fail abysmally, culminating in a rival colony on his rear starting a nuclear war and killing everyone off. He then meets an entity that may or may have not been God, who reassures him he could have done worse and advises him to use a "lighter touch". Which He demonstrates by manipulating Bender into rescuing some monks Fry and Leela left locked in their monastery in their search for Bender.
  • October 4, 2017
    MetaFour
  • October 4, 2017
    DustSnitch
    ^^ Bender there does think of himself as a god as soon as he starts getting worshipped. Its also one of the first tropes listed on the Recap page for that episode.
  • October 4, 2017
    Snowy66
    Think of this as a subtrope of A God Am I. Often both will occur, but not always. Literally all that's required for A God Am I is saying or thinking "I am God". But thinking it alone won't guarantee they'll try to be god. Heck, someone with no god complex could Play God and be closer to a god than the guy actually thinking he's a god. Weather Wizard from The Flash 2014 believes his powers immediately make him a god, yet all he did was rob banks, so not Playing God.

    For a God Am I, the person has to want to be a god. Whereas Playing God can be out of reluctance too.

    And in Bender's case he didn't decide to be a god on his own. He was put into the position unvoluntarily. He had to choose whether or not he should be a god under special circumstances.
  • October 4, 2017
    DustSnitch
    So? A God Am I is just having delusions of godhood, like how the phrase "Playing God" is generally used to refer to a deluded person trying to be God. There's very little difference between those two.

    On Futurama, the point is that Bender isn't God, he only allows himself to believe he is due to his narcissism and isolation.
  • October 5, 2017
    Snowy66
    @Dust Snitch. That's the thing. Playing God is not about delusions of godhood. It's when you want something done, which in a typical setting can only be possible by someone godlike. For that reason someone who does not believe they are a god, can still be Playing God.

    In the context of the overlap.

    It's easy and all to claim "I am a god", while with Playing God it's saying "here's my proof"

    Playing God is defined by the intentions and the actions, while A God Am I is defined by thoughts and beliefs.
  • October 5, 2017
    MetaFour
    Just remembered another Mystery Science Theater examples:
  • October 5, 2017
    DustSnitch
    ^^ Can you give me an example where there's no overlap?
  • October 6, 2017
    Snowy66
    There's already a few on the page.

    • In The Flash 2014, Barry decided to play god, changing history by saving his mother and creating an alternate timeline. He decided who got to live and die, but he at no point thought of himself as a god.

    • In The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode, Lisa created a civilization of micro humans. They worshipped her like a god since she was their creator, even though she himself has no such thoughts.

    • In One Punch Man, Dr. Genus desires to evolve the human race to its full potential. While he does see himself as superior to humans, he does not see himself as God himself. The proof of that is he wanted to make humans his equals so he could fit in, rather than rule over them.
  • October 6, 2017
    Synchronicity
    Hm, I think the problem is that what exactly a god's duties are is pretty vague, and that's if we're just talking about the Christian God. He can theoretically do whatever he wants, so to see "creating a virtual world" and "creating alternate timelines" on the same page is casting a really broad net. That way, any malevolent Reality Warper or time traveler can fall under this trope just by virtue of their actions, even if the godlikeness is never pointed out. I think having the "playing god" aspect acknowledged in-series is a pretty good qualifier, and will avoid misuse.

    (Also, isn't the Sword Art Online example just A God Am I, since there's nothing godlike at all about virtual reality and they're doing it out of a desire to powertrip?)

    Other tropes you might want to link in the description: Evilutionary Biologist, Reality Warping Is Not A Toy, No Man Should Have This Power
  • October 7, 2017
    Snowy66
    @Synchronicity, it wouldn't be restricted to the Christian God. Just any divine being in whatever the context.

    I do agree my trope description could be better. I'm open to suggestions on how it can be improved for clarity. From what I can gather, it's an action that holds weight in such a way that no any ''one" person should have that kind of power. The usual candidates would be "choose who lives and dies" and "change course of history".

    In regards to time travel, merely some random interaction in the past isn't enough to qualify. The character needs to have the actual intentions they are making a big change.

    For SAO, while a virtual world itself isn't Playing God, in this context their respective virtual worlds completely govern how players live. Kayaba took away a large portion of player free will by forcing them into a death game, having complete GM control over their VR world, and had power over life and death. Sugou also falls into the category due to human experimentation to acquire control over the human soul.

    It's like the Truman show example, Christoff completely controls his world and is explicitly stated to be Playing God (by official reviewers I think).
  • October 6, 2017
    DustSnitch
    If this trope is about how "no any ''one' person should have that kind of power," then would it act as a super-trope to Reality Warping Is Not A Toy and Creating Life Is Bad?
  • October 6, 2017
    Snowy66
    ^^Yes it would. In fact someone already made a redirect for Playing God on Creating Life Is Bad.
  • October 7, 2017
    Snicka
    The Laconic is way too long, it should be cut down to one sentence.
  • October 7, 2017
    DustSnitch
    Yeah, everything from "Super Trope" on should be put at the bottom of the description.
  • October 7, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Newspaper Comics
    • Prince Valiant calls out the inhabitants of a secluded cove for playing god in one story arc. The town council has dispatched some key citizens for minor peccadilloes, including the cove's seagate keeper. Without him, Viking raiders entered the cove unopposed, where they begin sacking the town with little resistance.
  • October 7, 2017
    MetaFour
    The heroes may decide this is one of those powers that no man should have.
  • October 7, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Film
    • Billionaire industrialist Hugo Drax from the James Bond film Moonraker is discovered to have a cloaked satellite stocked with select couples to repopulate the Earth after his airborne neurotoxins have eradicated existing "undesirables." Drax, of course, will be supremely in charge of everything thereafter.
  • February 1, 2018
    Synchronicity
  • February 2, 2018
    oneuglybunny
    I've always interpreted "playing God" as deciding purely on a whim who lives and who dies. Death is meted out willy-nilly with little to no cause.

    Comic Books
    • Chief Judge Cal from Judge Dredd goes mad with power, and harbors delusions of godhood. Upon hearing the phrase "nobody's perfect," Judge Cal presumes that every citizen of Megacity One has violated one law or another somewhere in their lifetime, and that everyone should be executed immediately. Though the other judges are loathe to go to this extreme, Cal has the backing of the alien Kleggs to enforce his wishes.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=pojlihwpnud80rv206iqw028