Created By: XelrogT.Apocalypse on May 31, 2014 Last Edited By: XelrogT.Apocalypse on June 13, 2014
Troped

Failure Gambit

A plan or scheme in which a character sets out to intentionally fail.

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Page Type:
Trope
"See? Being defeated by the Mazaku was precisely the cathartic jolt he needed to resolve his inner turmoil and pay off his guilt."
Itsuki, YuYu Hakusho

Let's face it. Sometimes a villain's (and occasionally even a hero's) great big, all-encompassing master plan can be... a little convoluted. It might not even make complete sense even after it's finally been thoroughly explained, often through a series of flashbacks, at the end of the day.

But it's a special kind of "fuck you" when a plan is so incredibly obtuse that it hinges on the planner's own defeat or demise, and is liable to fail if this condition is not met. Somehow, some way, someone has managed to twist the plot completely on its ass to the point that the only way to win is to lose, and the only way to lose is to win.

This presents an especially dangerous situation to their opponent, because he or she is usually out of the loop on this grand master plan. After all, what can the unwitting hero do when beating the bad guy means ending the world, and losing means saving it? Sometimes a character seeks to become a political martyr (see Zero-Approval Gambit and Thanatos Gambit) in order to inspire others to take action after his or her death (Inspirational Martyr), others he might be tied to some ultimate power which will unleash itself upon his death (My Death Is Just the Beginning). Still others don't seem to make any sense until after the plan has played out successfully—surprise! Turns out that death was all he needed to transcend the mortal coil and become a god.

The bottom line is, this is what you get when a character secretly sets out to fail... and succeeds. The failure of such a plan results in a Springtime for Hitler. Note that a scheme which has a beneficial outcome for the schemer whether he/she succeeds or fails is not an example of this trope, but of a Xanatos Gambit. In order to qualify here, the plan must be thought of well in advance, and it must completely hinge on failure. Without the threat of the plan failing if one fails to fail, it fails to qualify.

The success of such a plan can often result in a Pyrrhic Victory for the opposing party. The plan usually relies to some extent on a Batman Gambit, and often one's only hope of overcoming the plan is to Sheathe Your Sword... or occasionally Take a Third Option.

Often overlaps with I Let You Win. A character seeking to end his or her own life with such a plan falls under Suicide by Cop, as well as Thanatos Gambit.


Examples

WARNING: This trope is an Ending Trope, and thus its examples will contain many spoilers. Expect unmarked spoilers ahead.

Anime and Manga
  • Code Geass. The ending of the series is an example of this, as well as Thanatos Gambit and Zero-Approval Gambit, as Lelouch, now emperor of Britannia, intentionally makes himself the enemy of the world and then dies a martyr's death at the hands of Suzaku, who is disguised as Zero, the hero of the people. This plan—the "Zero Requiem"—results in most of the world's strife being blamed on the tyrannical Lelouch, and ultimately unites humanity, just as Lelouch had hoped to do.
  • Liar Game. Players of the Liar Game Tournament are forced to participate and pay an enormous debt if/when they lose. At first, the goal appears to be to win each round and move on to the next round with large amounts of money as winnings. However, the real way to win the game is to deliberately lose and drop out of the game while hauling in a profit. But because it's a zero-sum game (one person winning means another person loses), Nao and Akiyama's goal is to win and move on to the next round while shouldering an enormous debt, using all of their winnings to zero out the debt of their teammates and/or opponents so that they can all safely drop out of the game.
  • Naruto. Itachi Uchiha had planned for his brother Sasuke to kill him in order to make Sasuke a hero of Konoha village in a Thanatos Gambit. Unfortunately for him, further manipulation by Tobi just manages to make Sasuke hate Konoha.
  • Paranoia Agent. Though it's never fully explained why, the only way that Lil' Slugger/Shonen Bat is finally thwarted and life restored to some semblance of normalcy is for the giant wave of paranoia that Slugger has become to devour EVERYTHING, resulting in the utter annihilation of the city and a strange inner-world revelation by Tsukiko that results in Slugger's ultimate erasal. The ending is so incredibly vague that it's impossible to determine if Slugger had planned this outcome, but given that he and Maromi are functionally the same entity in Tsukiko's mind, it could be argued that they both wanted only for Tsukiko to find inner peace.
  • Slayers. While his defeat in the first season of the Slayers anime was not necessarily intentional or foreseen, in Slayers Evolution-R, the villain Rezo reveals that he intentionally set up a situation in which he would be defeated by Lina and the evil lord Shabranigdo sealed inside of him would be released. In true Heroic Sacrifice style, he realized that this was the only way for the mighty demon lord to be erased from existence once and for all, making Rezo less of a villain at the end of the day.
  • YuYu Hakusho's villains have a habit of relying on these, usually in conjunction with Suicide by Cop. Toguro, as Genkai's former teammate, seeks his own death at the hands of Yusuke, her student, for reasons only speculated in the series—perhaps as a form of atonement, or to prove to himself that the decision he made to abandon his humanity was a mistake. The second Big Bad, Sensui, sought to go to the Demon World simply so that he could intentionally die there after seeing the world inhabited by the creatures he felt remorse for over formerly hunting and killing. The fact that Yusuke, a human-demon hybrid, killed him, was a bonus.

Film
  • Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Before the final playoff between Average Joe's and Globo Gym, Peter signs over ownership of the Average Joe's gym to White after being bribed with $100,000. Even though Average Joe's win the game, White boasts that Peter has nothing now that his gym has been absorbed by Globo Gym. However, between the $100,000 bribe and the $50,000 prize money, Peter is able to invest in and gain control of Globo Gym as a publically-owned company, which White can do nothing about. How long Peter was planning this scheme is debatable.
  • In Law Abiding Citizen, a regular Disproportionate Retribution training film, Clyde Shelton confesses to a murder because he wants to be imprisoned, as that becomes key in his plan, while ironically giving him more freedom than he would have had otherwise.

Videogame
  • Metal Gear Solid. In the first installment, Solid Snake's goal is to shut down Metal Gear REX using a special key delivered to him by Otacon. Liquid Snake and his forces had, at this point, spent much of the game trying to retrieve this key from Solid Snake in order to prevent him from shutting down REX. In actuality, the key is the device that launches REX, and Liquid had counted on Solid Snake to make it through his forces and attempt to shut down REX, thus activating it.

Western Animation
  • In an episode of South Park, Satan fights Jesus, and intentionally takes a dive after the people of the town have all bet on his victory. He then reveals that he made a fortune by being the one and only person to bet on Jesus winning, all according to plan.
Community Feedback Replies: 47
  • May 31, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    Forgive my inexperience, but I'm not sure how to handle links/markup or add examples. Any help/guidance is appreciated.

    I can think of a few examples, most of which also fall under Suicide by Cop.
  • I think this may count...

    Film
    • DodgeballATrueUnderdogStory. Before the final playoff between Average Joe's and Globo Gym, Peter signs over ownership of the Average Joe's gym to White, after he bribes him with $100,000. Even though the Joe's win the game, White informs him that Peter has nothing now that his gym has been absorbed by Globo Gym, however, between the $100,000 bribe, and the $50,000 prize money and invest it in the controling state of Globo Gym, which White can do nothing about, since Globo Gym is a publically traded company.
  • May 31, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^^ Text Formatting Rules is a good place to start.

    Anyway, I took the liberty of bluelinking the tropes mentioned in the description for you.
  • May 31, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    Thanks, much obliged. Do examples need to be tacked onto the above body of text, or can they just be gathered later from these comments?
  • May 31, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ Rolling Updates has been the custom here on YKTTW, meaning that the OP (the original poster, i.e. you) updates the examples posted by others in the draft. As the OP, you, of course, can just add your examples in the draft without posting them in the comments section.
  • May 31, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    " liable to fail if this condition is not met. "

    That is a subtrope of Batman Gambit, and I think this has been proposed before. Now that I know for sure what you're looking at I'll start looking.
  • May 31, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    True. There's definitely some crossover. I'll see if I can dig up a few more from what I've seen and add them.

    By the way, about the Dodgeball addition... does anyone know if the buyout was Peter's intentional plan from the start? Because then it would qualify; if not, not, and I'll remove it.
  • May 31, 2014
    DAN004
    I think it's better to leave spoilers unmarked and leaves a note "unmarked spoilers ahead".

    • In Na Ruto, Itachi had planned for his brother Sasuke to kill him to make Sasuke a hero of Konoha village (after all the bad things Itachi has done). Unfortunately, further manipulation by Tobi just manages to make Sasuke hate Konoha with a passion.
  • ^^ It's a bit ambiguous, but I think so; I recall although Peter was on the verge of forefeiting, thinking the Joes will lose anyway, he shows up at the last minute and mentions, "I've got a plan..." I'm guessing it wasn't his initial plan when he was bribed into selling his gym, but it came to him at some point, which prompted him to show up for the final playoff anyway; he says it so matter-of-factly when he tells White he'll invest in the control of his gym.
  • May 31, 2014
    remande
    Would The Producers count?
  • May 31, 2014
    MorningStar1337
    ^ The Tropenamer for Springtime For Hitler?

    Actually I think so. Their plan was for their play to be a Box Office Bomb as to keep the money invested in it right?
  • June 1, 2014
    Alucard
    Found this example in Unishment, which I added onto a bit. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more examples in there.

    • In the Disproportionate Retribution training film Law Abiding Citizen, Clyde Shelton confesses to a murder because he wants to be imprisoned, as that becomes key in his plan, while ironically giving him more freedom than he would've had otherwise.
  • June 2, 2014
    Arivne
    • Capitalized the title.
    • Added blank line(s) for readability.
    • Examples section formatting
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples sections.
      • Added the word "Examples".
      • Changed Media section title(s) to our standard style.
      • Deleted unnecessary blank line(s) between examples.
      • Changed double curly braces to Wiki Word(s) in work names.
  • June 2, 2014
    Arivne
    I second DAN004's advice above: to add a spoiler warning at the end of the Description and unspoiler the examples.

    E.g. "As an Ending Trope this trope's examples will have many spoilers. Expect unmarked spoilers ahead."
  • June 2, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    Eh. I still disagree, and would rather this site not have unmarked spoilers on absolutely any trope, no matter how much white space, but I guess I'm outnumbered.

    Thanks for the formatting assistance, though. Though, the only thing you changed in the title's capitalization is the word "and," right? That's not supposed to be capitalized in titles.
  • June 2, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    ^ The reason for that is simple. In Spoilered Rotten tropes. people tend to put everything in spoiler. Handling Spoilers says there's no point in having everything in spoiler, since you will have to highlight it to read it to know if you need to highlight it to read it, so, might as well not have spoilers at all.
  • June 3, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    That's fault of user, not fault of concept. It's not the website's fault that people are lazy and don't spoiler tag correctly. And like bad info on Wikipedia, it's just up to future editors to fix.
  • June 3, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ but it's purposefully because of user's fault that we don't have to bother with unmarked spoilers.
  • June 3, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    I don't think it's a bother at all, and still disagree. That said, I've already complied with the general consensus and respect your views despite my own differing opinions. Why are we having this argument again?
  • June 3, 2014
    randomsurfer
    ^^^^^On TV Tropes every word in a trope name, work title, or any other page is capitalized. The system parses words like "and" and "the" into lower case, but it has to see the word in order to do that. Otherwise it'll assume "Losingand" is one word.
  • June 4, 2014
    DAN004
    Sometimes overlaps with I Let You Win.
  • June 4, 2014
    Alvin
    Is this an example? Western Animation: In an episode of South Park, Satan fights Jesus, but Satan takes a dive and it is discovered Satan bet on Jesus.
  • June 4, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    @randomsurfer: That makes sense. Thanks for the intel.

    @DAN: Definitely true.

    @Alvin: Part of me hesitates to include every instance of a character taking a dive, because that seems like it falls more under I Let You Win, but I suppose it does qualify, since Satan's plan would have failed had Jesus actually lost. Thanks.
  • June 4, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    South Park is already on I Let You Win. I'm not sure the examples are following the definition of the page.
  • June 4, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Does This Count
    • In an episode of The Jeffersons George gets into a disagreement with another man and they decide to resolve it through a boxing match. George, however, realizes that this is setting a bad example for his young protege so he decides to throw the fight. Meanwhile his wife pays the other fighter to take a dive, so now he plans to throw the fight too. They spend 10 rounds dancing around and trying to get the other to hit him so they can fall down & lose but the other guy just won't throw a punch! They end up both weakly punching the other at the same time, then both fall down.
  • June 4, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    It's worth questioning if this proposal is different enough from I Let You Win. A lot of situations considered for this one would fall under that trope. I suppose if there were a distinction, it would be that this one doesn't necessarily have to involve a battle, or even two opposing parties, but simply a plan in which someone sets out to "lose" as a key element. When played for political purposes, as in Code Geass, it differs from I Let You Win.
  • June 4, 2014
    DAN004
    Maybe I can think of it: In I Let You Win, the focus is in the enemy winning. Here, the focus is in you trying to lose.
  • June 4, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    I'm a little surprised there's no trope for that alone: Setting out to fail. There's Springtime For Hitler, which is failing to fail, but none (at least none mentioned thus far) for making it one's plan whether it fails or succeeds, in which case Springtime For Hitler would be a subtrope.

    Would that make both that and I Let You Win subtropes of this, then, if it were passed?

    Also, I'm not sure the Jefferson example counts simply because the characters setting out to lose wasn't a part of some grander scheme, and even if George had somehow won without throwing a punch, it wouldn't have necessarily backfired on him as he still would have lived up to his message of nonviolence. Without the threat of the plan failing if he fails to fail (say that three times fast), it doesn't qualify.
  • June 9, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    I would add the "Needs Hats" tag, but it seems to have vanished.
  • June 10, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ There are no such tag as "Need Hats" in the first place.
  • June 11, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    Could've sworn I saw that tag when I first posted. Huh.
  • June 13, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ Well, we do have the administrivia page, Needs Hats.
  • June 13, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    I'm thinking this is just about ready to launch. Unless anyone knows of a "set out to fail" trope already in existence—I don't think we have one. Just Springtime For Hitler, which encompasses just the opposite: Failing to fail.
  • June 13, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ Before that you need to add context for your page quote, though.
  • June 13, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    I might just have to replace it, since the original Obi Wan quote doesn't qualify for this trope by itself. At least I don't think it does. He didn't plan to get killed, did I? I don't know jack about Star Wars.

    I'll have to start looking around.
  • June 13, 2014
    kenshinta
    Liar Game: Players of the Liar Game Tournament are forced to participate and pay an enormous debt if/when they lose. At first, the goal appears to be to win each round and move on to the next round with large amounts of money as winnings. However, the real way to win the game is to deliberately lose and drop out of the game while hauling in a profit. But because it's a zero-sum game (one person winning means another person loses), Nao and Akiyama's goal is to win and move on to the next round while shouldering an enormous debt, using all of their winnings to zero out the debt of their teammates and/or opponents so they can safely drop out of the game.
  • June 13, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    Not as amusing, but the quote's been replaced with the only other proper one I could find. Also, Liar Game example added—thanks.
  • June 13, 2014
    DAN004
    Laconic can be confused with Springtime For Hitler.

    Maybe "A plan which relies on the planner failing at something".
  • June 13, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    The "and succeeds" is what's there to distinguish the two. Springtime For Hitler is exactly the opposite. Someone sets out to intentionally fail, and fails at that. Their plan to fail, fails. This is when the plan to fail succeeds (or is crafted at all, really).
  • June 13, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ I think DAN004 meant that it's ambiguous in what the character is succeeding: does he/she set out to fail and succeeds in that (this trope), or does he/she set out to fail and instead ends up succeeding (Springtime For Hitler).
  • June 13, 2014
    DAN004
    ^^ See? The recursion makes it confusing. My proposed laconic lacks the recursion thing.
  • June 13, 2014
    MorningStar1337
    You know, there's a reason potholes are used in wikis.
  • June 13, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ I don't see your point.
  • June 13, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    Ah, right. I understand now. You're right, then—I'll update it.
  • June 13, 2014
    Statzkeen
    By far the simplest solution, IMO, is to say "trying to fail" is the new definition of Springtime For Hitler - whether you succeed in failing or fail at failing.
  • June 13, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ But that means reworking the description entirely.
  • June 13, 2014
    XelrogT.Apocalypse
    That might be true. But I think Springtime For Hitler merits its own article, myself. It's less common, but setting out to fail and failing at that is a pretty amusing trope.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=uy654wmbn6xq1kymauviz8rz&trope=FailureGambit