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The Guards Must Be Crazy
Elite security.

C-Sec Customs: After the geth attack, there was a review of security protocol. A few minor changes were made to reduce the risk of geth infiltration. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Legion: [a geth] Geth do not infiltrate.
C-Sec Customs: You should leave your personal synthetic assistant at home. They aren't allowed on the public shuttles any more.
Legion: ...geth do not intentionally infiltrate.

Being a guard for an Evil Overlord is a low-status, low-pay, high-risk job in an unsafe workplace, with very little long term job security, but hey, they normally have a brilliant pension plan. So it's hardly surprising that most applicants aren't exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer (not that their bosses tolerate incompetent underlings), and could be fooled by tricks that wouldn't bother an average six-year old.

Common issues are:
  • Attacking heroes one at a time.
  • Stopping them for the wrong reason.
  • Dismissing odd sounds as nothing.
  • Or just as bad, abandoning their post to investigate these odd sounds. Is it any wonder it's so easy to kidnap The President's Daughter?
  • Sounding the alarm at the crack of a twig, even if it's just a cat.
  • When searching for people, not looking in ridiculously obvious hiding places.
  • Assuming anyone in a guard outfit must be a guard, even if they don't recognize them note  or the outfits are quite visibly a disguise.
  • Not asking for identification when an unscheduled prisoner shipment of a large and dangerous captive shows up.
  • Assuming that the heroes would never attempt to sneak by Right Under Their Noses.
  • Getting easily distracted, especially by prisoners getting it on.
  • But never curious enough to eavesdrop on conversations between the prisoner and unscheduled higher-ups, especially when they say they want to be alone with a prisoner, if you know what I mean.
  • Leaving important keys dangling from an easily accessible chain.
  • Walking very close to prisoners.
  • Examining allegedly sick prisoners whilst unarmed and alone, and having left the cell door open.
  • Never watching prisoners locked in a room with a bed and an open window.
  • Not raising an alarm upon seeing something suspicious, especially the corpse of another guard.
  • Particularly in stealth-based video games, staring at the wall or otherwise ignoring key entry and exit points. note 
  • Another one common in stealth games is guards having to stare at the hero for a good ten seconds before they even think that the oddly-dressed guy running across the restricted area might be the hero that they're looking for. And then not bothering to look as soon as they can no longer see him.
  • Ignoring the fact that Joe just put that box in the storage closet.
  • Blurting out the password to the door they're supposed to be guarding.
  • Not properly searching prisoners before throwing them into the cell.
  • Falling asleep.
  • Drinking On Duty.
  • Ogling the centerfold in the latest issue of Hot Babes instead of paying attention to what's going on around them.
  • Not noticing that the other guards seem to be disappearing.
  • Carrying or storing weapons in a prison, in such a way that they are easily stolen by the escaping prisoners (prison guards being heavily armed makes sense, but not in a way that allows the prisoners to acquire these weapons).
  • Talking too freely with prisoners.
  • Allowing the prisoner/captive to go to the bathroom or relieve him/herself unguarded, especially when the bathroom contains possible alternate exits.
  • Never learning that it's NOT a good idea to fight the hero/villain. Especially after he/she just left a mountain of their corpses in his/her wake.
  • Allowing prisoners to keep their "harmless trinkets, which will totally not help me escape" with them in their cells. In the case they actually bother to confiscate the equipment, they will often end up leaving it in a place where the prisoners can easily recover it if they were to attempt an escape.
  • Releasing somebody who claims (often without any evidence) to be on a mission for a powerful person who will punish the guard if he's late.
  • Dropping Full Alert Mode because the hero (who two minutes ago ran across the room in a massive firefight with everybody) hasn't been seen for two minutes. And he keeps doing this.
  • When a security camera stops working, ignoring it instead of sounding the alarm, or at the very least getting a maintenance team onto it ASAP with accompanying guards.
  • Never questioning or getting confirmation about that mysterious "surprise inspection".
  • Allowing the prisoner to taunt them into entering the cell to give them a sound beating, especially if they appear to still be shackled or tied.
  • Having a very particular ratio of respect for authority and independence. Just enough of the former to be intimidated when the hero suggests higher ups might get annoyed, but enough of the latter that they don't just pass the buck by checking with their supervisor.

Yes, it causes much annoyance among viewers, but this trope is very handy for a writer because it allows the excitement of a bad guy or good guy to be captured and also leaves it open for said prisoner to escape. If the guards were competent, the story may end up bogged down with important characters stuck in prison. It is also one of the Acceptable Breaks from Reality in that if Stealth-Based Game guards were too competent, the games would be too damn hard to play.

This isn't simply about being captured by an Evil Overlord either. Most public places have some simple form of security, like at the mall or a sports arena, and despite the "mall cop" stereotype of this security, it's usually on-the-ball. Some events like chase scenes count on that sort of general security being totally absent or inept so the story can continue to be exciting. The good guy is being chased by the bad guys to have him chased by security, too when it isn't really important to the plot gives viewers a little too much to keep track of.

The trope name is a pun on the film The Gods Must Be Crazy.

See also Conspicuously Selective Perception for the stealth game variant.

Mind you the place the guards in question are guarding may have Swiss Cheese Security, where the heavily guarded complex is easily entered and/or exited.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Code Geass:
    • The Britannian guards frequently wait until Lelouch has geassed them before actually doing their job. Twice they have waited for Lelouch to give a long pretentious speech before he geassed them into killing themselves. Reaches its peak when Lelouch just walks up and waits more than a minute while the guards attack him with spears before geassing the entire room. Although he was still a Prince, and thus it's doubtful assault against royalty goes over great in Britannia.
    • The Chinese Federation are even worse. While they do have guns, they just stare dumbfounded as Xingke fights them off with a sword since the only Chinese soldiers to fight are the ones with spears, and then they watch as Lelouch gives a speech before he finally has the sense to take his gun and hold Tianzi hostage with it.
    • In one episode, an unarmed Lelouch and Kallen find some Britannians on a remote island and effortlessly steal their ridiculously powerful prototype mech. The mech itself was unguarded, and the "guards" left the keys in the ignition. Kallen has to beat up a few guys, but they don't make use of their firepower advantage. Euphemia was fairly close, though, so it may have been to avoid regicide.
  • In Mazinkaiser, Baron Ashura's mooks are this trope, as exemplified in a scene during the beach episode that so utterly ridiculous that you wouldn't believe it unless you see it.
  • In Naruto, the nameless ninja mooks are usually dumb brutes, masked and, in a world filled with powerful techniques, normally attack with kunai rather than, you know, throw a massive fireball or do any other flashy attack to blow the opponent to dust! Worse is that even the Red Shirts can be defeated by a single attacker and barely fight using any jutsu. It seems like that only the main characters, villain or hero, are trained in anything other than holding a kunai against the opponent who can pick one technique of his ARSENAL and shoot fire hotter than the sun, create tornadoes, open the ground beneath them and bury them, or throw rocks the size of buildings at them... etc. Yeah. That's the guy you want to try and take prisoner with your dinky little knife.
  • In Windaria the key to Lunara's floodgates are guarded by an old man that sleeps most of the day in a guardhouse without a door. At the start of the film, a spy walks in there, takes the keys, and no one realizes anything until he opens the flood gates. Considering this could have flooded the entire city it merges with Too Dumb to Live.
  • One episode of Digimon Adventure has Piyomon and Gomamon knock out and steel some food from a particularly dumb Bakemon guard by goading him into taunting them with it.
  • Rose of Versailles:

    Arts 
  • Some of Karl Spitzweg's most famous paintings (Der strickende Wachposten and variations) depict a sentry standing or sitting on the battlements among the cannons and knitting.
  • And there also is Der schlafene Wachposten, in which a soldier on guard duty has made a scarecrow out of his uniform and rifle and gone to sleep. And even if he had not been asleep, there is still a book lying on the howitzer.

    Board Games 
  • Older Than Print: In Xiangqi, the checkmated General/King's own Advisors/Guards are often part of the reason it's checkmate; there would be escape if they weren't there, and sometimes the one the enemy Cannon is using as a gun mount cannot move because it's in a corner of the Palace and the other Advisor/Guard is in its way.
  • In Chess, it's a rare game where the King's pawns are not somehow involved in blocking his retreat and forming a checkmate.

    Comic Books 
  • Fantastic Four:
    • An old story saw the government imprisoning them in specially designed cells. Reed Richards and Johnny managed to find tiny flaws in the prison design. The Thing found that the door was strong enough to take one punch from him, but not multiple blows, which makes the prison designer crazy. Sue Storm turned herself invisible. And yes, guards set to guard The Invisible Woman opened the door because they couldn't see her.
    • A not-so-old issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four uses the same idea, only it was evil zombie versions of the entire team in one cell together, and the Reed Richards counterparts prepared the trick by claiming he had built a teleporter from a ballpoint pen and a string of hair. Zombie Susan even lampshades how amazed she is that the guards were tricked by the Invisible Woman... turning invisible. This one is especially pathetic, given that even if the teleporter claim had been true, there would still have been no earthly reason to open the doors.
  • In Astérix the Gladiator, Asterix and Obelix find a guard who works at the prison where they are holding Cacophonix prisoner. Asterix tells Obelix that they have to ask him some "clever questions" to find out his exact location. Obelix, to Asterix's astonishment, simply asks "Hey you! Where is Cacophonix imprisoned?". The (overly tired) guard replies in detail adding "but it's a secret" while Asterix sits there befuddled.
  • The guards at the Batman-verse Arkham Asylum. Whether it's letting the Joker substitute all their real guns for popguns, allowing him access to janitorial chemicals that let him mix together some Joker Venom, or constructing a hot air balloon that allows him to fly over the walls, the increasingly ridiculous, contrived and unbelievable ways that the Joker and the other Bat-villains escape from Arkham would be construed as painfully bad in any other franchise. For the Batman comics, on the other hand, it's par for the course.
  • Marvel had a version of Arkham called Ravencroft that would have been far more secure if not for incompetent staff and even more incompetent government officials funding the place. It was originally run by Dr. Ashley Kafka with Colonel John Jameson heading the security, but her insistence that some inmates could be cured (when they obviously couldn't) led to problems. After the government decided that the Chameleon could stand trial, she made a serious breech of protocol by taking him out of his cell and into the facility's basement, which of course, let him escape. After the crisis this caused, both Kafka and Jameson were fired, which only made things worse. The first replacement actually thought that the extensive security devoted to one inmate — who happened to be Carnage — was too much of a drain on the budget, and turned part of it off, completely ignoring the screaming protests of the veteran guards. It took Carnage all of ten seconds to escape (and worst of all, his symbiote nearly possessed the Silver Surfer this time).
  • In an early Johan and Peewit story, a bunch of guards abandon all common sense for a barrel of mead, leaving the guard room empty (and allowing Johan to sabotage the drawbridge).
  • In the very first story of Diabolik it's mentioned that he had broken out of the supposedly unescapable prison of Asen. More recently a flasback showed how he did it: he killed two guards who gave him a small opening, stole the uniform of one of them and ruined his face to slow identification, then took off his perfect mask and walked out dressed as a guard. Granted, that was before the police knew of his masks or his true face, but the guards still failed to notice a man in uniform who was not one of them...
  • In Tintin: The Seven Crystal Balls, Thompson and Thomson are assigned to guard Dr. Midge. They are suspicious of a package addressed to him which turns out to be a harmless present, but neglect the windows, which were the point of entry for previous attacks and the one that claims Dr. Midge.
  • Pretty much the reason behind the Dalton's Joker Immunity in Lucky Luke; the jail's warden put little to no effort into ensuring the Dalton stay in their cell, to the point they sometimes escapes as soon as they reached jail. Lucky Luke actually get sick of it in later album and outright calls them idiot for it.

    Fan Works 
  • When Feliciano rescues Ludwig from the American base in the Axis Powers Hetalia fanfiction, "Auf Wiedersen, Sweetheart." The plan involved getting all but two American guards to leave by telling them that their counterparts had gotten into a Bar Brawl in town and then convincing the remaining guards to drink the drugged flask of bourbon.
  • legolas by laura features a scene described thus by a sporker, caused by sheer incoherence:
    "Looks like Legolas has just asked the guards — sorry, the gards to keep an eye on Laura's room while the orcs are kidnapping her, and... it all gets a bit confused."
    "So the gard walks into the room and sees the orcs, and does nothing. Legolas runs off down the hall, then runs back and asks the gards where Laura is. They say that the orcs took her, neglecting to mention that they stood by and watched..."
    "And by that time, the orcs have apparently already returned to Mordor. I think we can safely assume that all the characters have gone insane."
  • Parodied in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series when Tristan is sneaking up on a guard in a suit of armor. "CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK." "Must be the wind." "CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK." "Yeah, that's definitely the sound that wind makes."
  • In The New Millenium fanfic, this trope is subverted. Celeste's Yami, Aclina, who is supposed to be somewhat of a guardian for Yami (At least according to Word of God), is implied to be crazy by the way she punishes Ran's kidnappers: with a imersion into insanity. When she turns on the kidnappers, she has 'A smile stained with pure insanity' on her face. But when she turns back to Yami, she has 'Her usual look of indifference' on. This implies that Selective Insanity is present.
  • In That Epic Plan, L sends Aizawa along to supervise the prisoner transfer of Beyond Birthday to taskforce HQ but with the ease Light has with communicating with Beyond, Aizawa might as well not be there at all.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction Jericho has some amusing amounts of this.
    • Lampshaded when a guard just lets the main character, Jericho (a foreigner), walk into a guarded compound when all Jericho offers in the flimsy excuse that he's a "plumber". (Jericho is dressed like a cowboy, by the way.)
    You are a very trusting stallion and should be fired from your job. You didn't even check to see if I had any identification... if Equestria even uses identification like that. Huh. I should look into that.
    • And then b-e-a-utifully subverted! Jericho walks up to the Baron's plantation house, tricks the guard into letting him in, then, as Jericho is walking past, the guard bashes Jericho upside the head with his nightstick. Turns out the guard was more Genre Savvy than anyone would have thought.
  • The Dilgar War:
    • Played straight when a Dilgar infiltrator on Earth successfully kidnaps the deputy director of the PsiCorps in spite of her and her guards being telepaths, and then defeats said guards by using their telepathy against them. To the guards' defence, they were usually employed to hunt down rogue unarmed telepaths and their opponent was a professional extremely good at fighting and hiding his thoughts and equipped with a suit making him invisible...
    • Later Subverted: when the infiltrator penetrate EarthDome (the city near Geneva built specifically to house the Earth Alliance government), he successfully enters thanks to the codes he extracted from the deputy director, his invisible suit and the fact he's believed to have drowned right after the scuffle with the telepaths, but fails to leave when a dog sniffs him, fails to see him and attacks, wrecking his suit and causing half the guards to come to kill him (he's killed by the ones who found him about one minute before a hundred guards tracks him down). After that incident, guard dogs are dispatched to the entrance of all military bases, with one Dilgar with an identical suit failing to secretly follow one of his leaders to a diplomatic meeting specifically because of a guard dog alerting the guards.

    Films — Animation 
  • The ultimate and truly memorable subversion in Titan A.E.: Preed, Stith, and Korso are trying to free Akima from a slave prison. They see a large, brutish guard around a corner, and Stith offers to take him out. Preed refuses, saying, "This requires cunning and deception." They then walk up to the guard, and Preed spins a tale that he and Stith are traders, and that Korso is his slave. After delivering his story, the guard says these exact things: "You're lying. He's [Korso] not a slave and you're not traders. Look at the way he stands. He doesn't carry himself like a slave. Probably ex-military." (Korso is a former Earth Space Marine.) "Akrennians [like Preed] always threaten before asking a favor, it's tradition." (Which Preed apparently completely forgot.) "And your [Stith] robes are made out of bedspreads!" Preed then asks if they have a Plan B. Stith promptly reverts to her Plan A by kicking the crap out of the guard.
    Preed: An intelligent guard! Didn't see that one coming.
The commentary reveals this is one of the very few complete relics of Joss Whedon's pass at the script.
  • Double subversion in Monsters vs. Aliens. The heroes (who consist of an amorphous blob, a fish-man and a human/cockroach hybrid) adopt Paper Thin Disguises to bluff their way past an alien clone. He recognizes one of them as a clone that's "defective beyond repair"... and immediately orders the other two to dispose of him. And gives them a key card. And a gun.
  • The Guards in Tangled. They cannot find an old lady who has kidnapped the baby princess for almost two decades, when she happened to be in a tower within riding distance. Then said princess's crown gets stolen right under their noses. Then one of the thieves comes back to Corona later with a girl with 70 feet long of hair and they don't notice it, even though he is dancing around. The only competent member is Maximus, and he's the only one to make crime virtually disappear. The same thief was able to walk up to the palace and meet the King and Queen face-to-face.
  • The guards in The Incredibles fall prey to a few of these. They're decent enough at their jobs when they're in action, but it's the boring surveillance part of the day that always slips them up. At one point in the movie, they all leave their posts to check on a colleague who's just collapsed. Later, they don't notice Helen when she's right behind them. She even talks. Later still, nobody is paying attention to the security cameras and are all partying in the background. Only Mirage notices the escapees that don't even bother to avoid the security cameras. Most notably, though, is later in the same scene where it gets absurd enough that Bob lampshades it. They enter a large room with no-one in it and he absently wonders, "Where are all the guards?"

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Consistent in all the Austin Powers movies.
    • One even manages to fall into the lava flow when he's outwitted by Felicity Shagwell's boobs.
    • Special note to Michael McDonald in the first one, who emits a drawn out Big "NO!" at the oncoming steamroller... that lasts for a good 15 seconds and he needs to inhale to continue screaming before getting run over.
    • Crosses over with Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? on multiple occasions. In each case, Dr. Evil is about to leave the heroes in an easily escapable death trap, and rather than supervise their deaths himself, he relies on "one inept guard."
  • The plot in Condor pretty much is built on this: the villain had stolen the code to control the McGuffin, and was captured and put in jail. The movie starts with the villains breakout. The big worry? Nobody thought to change the code to the McGuffin.
  • In Mom and Dad Save the World, a guard, despite being from a planet of idiots, doesn't assume Dad is a guard just because he's wearing a uniform... however, she unquestioningly accepts the laughable answers he provides in response to her questioning and lets him go on his way.
  • Played with again in Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle, when the racist white prison guards attack a peaceful African-American prisoner, thus allowing Kumar to escape with an enormous bag of marijuana.
  • Star Wars: A New Hope:
    • The security guards on the Death Star. Ben uses a Jedi Mind Trick version of this after turning the tractor beam off. This is actually an inversion of It's Probably Nothing. Presumably, Ben made the guards think they heard something off in the distance, and like intelligent guards they go to investigate. Unfortunately for them, it really was nothing.
    • Subverted with the guards in the Death Star's prison block. Luke and Han, dressed as Stormtroopers, come with Chewbacca as the Trojan Prisoner and say to the guards that they're transmitting Chewie to their prison block. The commander doesn't fall for it, since such a transfer should have been documented and communicated beforehand. As the guard is about to check for confirmation, Han and Chewbacca lose their shit and start shooting around. Central command notices and calls in to investigate. Han again tries to bluff his way through, but they demand his serial number as verification, which he can't provide, so central command immediately sends Stormtroopers to take care of them.
    • The novel Death Star turns this on its head. One of the normal human Stormtrooper commanders was sensitive to the Force and really hated his bosses. He mislead his own troops and thus allowed Han and the others an easier path to freedom.
    • Additionally inverted in that a rather large number of competent major and minor characters all at some point had Imperial guard training or at least Imperial pilot training (which does include some guard training) as the explanation.
  • The guards of Swamp Castle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail have a hard time comprehending simple orders. Even if they did, they wouldn't have stood a chance against Lancelot's Unstoppable Rage. The guards where expecting guests for the wedding, but even still, calmly watching a screaming knight charging towards you over a field with a sword brandished makes you wonder...
    "Now, you're not supposed to enter the roo— ARRGH!"
  • Justified in THX 1138, in that, though the guards are glaringly incompetent, the general population (with the sole exceptions of the hero and his girlfriend) are too stupid/strung out to notice. For example, the guards routinely leave the doors to a high security prison unlocked, but none of the prisoners had ever bothered to check.
  • Race for the Yankee Zephyr (1981). A mook standing on the edge of a cliff catches the hero sneaking up, intent on braining him with a lump of wood. Instead of grabbing his rifle the mook begins waving his arms about and howling in a highly exaggerated martial arts style. The hero gapes in astonishment then, as the mook turns to deliver a spinning kick, boots him down the mountainside.
  • In Charlotte Gray, which takes place in Nazi-occupied France, the eponymous heroine and a member of the French resistance are being held in a house by Nazis, and manage to distract the guard who's supposed to be watching them by making out, then jump him and run for it when he comes over to separate them.
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Wallace lets Tuco go relieve himself. BIG mistake.
  • Idiocracy "Hey, uh... I'm actually supposed to be getting out of jail, not going back in..."
  • Goldfinger. Played straight with the foolish guard who enters the cell alone while James Bond is performing a Ceiling Cling and subverted by later multiple guards who're more watchful such as staying in the same cell with one having a pistol trained on Bond at all times.
  • In Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Larry's escapades in the various branches of the Smithsonian along the National Mall go completely unnoticed, as if the entire area is devoid of any human presence save Larry himself. Ironically, Larry is a guard. Would YOU stick around once the dinosaur skeletons and such started moving?
  • In Star Trek VI, the Enterprise manages to fly deep into Klingon territory to rescue Kirk and McCoy despite a listening post picking them up and demanding to know their identity and destination. They manage to fool the completely incompetant guards despite having to resort to using an English-Klingon dictionary to look up their answers and making several grammatical errors during the conversation.
    • Actually explained in the novelization, which states that the operators of the listening post assumed the Enterprise crew were just harmless smugglers, not a Federation cruiser, and so let them through (the Klingon officer's parting shot "Don't catch any bugs" is an old smuggler's in-joke.)
    • Star Trek VI also has what must be one of the most idiotic examples in the history of cinema. Kirk and McCoy are in an inescapable prison, but conspirators want them dead to be sure they're really out of the way. They have another prisoner tell Kirk and McCoy, "I can get outside the beaming shield, but I have nobody to beam me up when I get there. If you have a way to get off the surface, we can escape together." When Kirk verifies that they can beam up once outside the shield, the prisoner, with the help of the conspirators, leads them to a position outside the shield where the conspirators will shoot them with the excuse that they were trying to escape. The conspirators are then surprised to see Kirk and McCoy beam up right in front of their eyes, despite having gone out of their way to verify that they were prepared to do so.
  • TRON: Legacy acts like it is about to set this trope up, with a fat guard propping his feet on his desk while watching TV. Then he notices one of his security camera feeds go out and immediately goes to investigate. He only fails to catch Sam Flynn because Sam jumps off the roof of the Encom building to parachute down to the street. Note that the screen glitch didn't trigger a reaction other than tapping the monitor, which appeared to clear it up. It was the door alarm to the server room going off that caused him to give chase.
  • Fittingly enough, The Gods Must Be Crazy has a few examples. When the heroes mount their rescue, the guards fail to notice that they're being drugged, or the guy getting highly irritating sap dripped all over him, or the guy they've never seen before going around shooting them with a tiny bow and arrow...

    Gamebooks 
  • Lone Wolf: Although even smart guards would have a hard time against a psychic hero specialized in infiltration and camouflage, some over the series display the typical incompetence associated with this trope.
    • For example, in Shadow on the Sand, two Vassagonian gaolers believe their prisoner has escaped when they can't see him through the peephole, just because Lone Wolf is sitting against the door. And he isn't even doing it on purpose, but still gets the opportunity to ambush them when they open the cell.
    • In Dawn of the Dragons, the Eldenorian guards capturing Lone Wolf and bringing him before Prince Lutha take his gold, backpack and weapons... but not the weapon-like special items. Including the Sommerswerd!note  The collector reedition explains this by having the soldiers being quite superstitious of touching magical artifacts or weapons.

    Literature 
  • The Discworld books have a lot of fun with this.
    • In The Last Hero, Evil Harry Dread (the archetypical Evil Overlord) hires his henchmen on the above criteria. "Butcher" is the archetype of the trope.
    • Guards! Guards! opens with a dedication to those people "whose job it is, round about chapter three, to rush at the hero one at a time and be slaughtered."
    • In Thud!, the text mentions how when Sergeant Colon is on guard duty, he "kept the cell keys in a tin box in the bottom drawer of his desk, a long way out of reach of any stick, hand, dog, cunningly thrown belt, or trained Klatchian monkey spider (making Fred Colon possibly unique in the annals of jail history)."
    • Seemingly averted in The Last Continent, where the guards at Bugrup Prison are wise to every escape trope, but haven't worked out how Tinhead Ned (and later Rincewind) did escape (the jail door can be lifted off its hinges). Possibly because they reckon it makes a better ballad if the prisoner escapes and then gets killed in a last stand at the Post Office.
  • In one of the Get Smart novels, one guard is particularly immune to this. Instead of entering the cell when Max sets fire to the bed as a diversion, the guard merely opens up on him with the firehose. However, just a few pages later the rest of the guards in the prison are fooled by Max writing "out of order" with a piece of chalk on a death ray!
  • Subverted in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Ford attempts to save himself and Arthur from being chucked out an airlock by talking a Vogon guard into questioning the purpose of his life, but the guard is too dumb for Ford to get through to him. In fact, the guard really enjoys his job. Including the whole throw people out of the airlock part.
  • Both fiercely subverted and then played straight in An Oblique Approach, the first book of the Belisarius Series by David Drake and Eric Flint. The Kushans guarding Princess Shakuntala were so highly disciplined, effective, and intelligently led that Raghunath Rao, greatest assassin in India, knew he could never rescue her from them. So Belisarius tricked Venandakatra into replacing the Kushans with "guards" so inept that Rao had no problem wiping them out — except for two killed by the princess herself.
  • The guards at the "best guarded keep of the stoutest castle" in The Wind in the Willows apparently can't tell the difference between a washerwoman they see every day and is the sister or sister-in-law of the chief warden, and their main prisoner, who is an anthropomorphic toad.
  • John Carter of Mars. Dear GOD, if a strange man climbs up to the roof you're guarding, tells you what a difficult and dangerous climb he had, and invites you to take a look at how precariously his rope is dangling off the edge, DON'T DO IT!
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian novel The Hour of the Dragon, Zenobia gets the keys, to the Tailor-Made Prison no less, by getting them drunk.
  • Subverted in the novel Where Eagles Dare. The German soldiers searching for the commandos don't check the ladies toilet where they're hiding. When one commando mentions how stupid that is, his superior points out the soldiers were eager to think up excuses to avoid searching places where desperate men might empty a submachine gun into them.
  • In Syren, the fifth book of the Septimus Heap series, Septimus gets past a guard in the Trading Post by claiming that he is someone important. Now, Septimus did not in fact lie to him. He was the Senior Apprentice(with the nifty Magycal cuffs to prove it), and he was on official business ( getting Jenna, the Princess). Trope still applies in that the guard did nothing to verify this.
  • In The Hobbit, the Mirkwood elves demonstrate the Drinking On Duty variation of this, allowing the dwarves to escape. They don't seem to learn from the experience, since Gollum also escapes from Mirkwood in The Fellowship of the Ring.
  • The secret police force known as DERSO in The Leonard Regime is supposed to be an elite organization of specially trained agents. In reality, they are often stupid, incompetent, or simply indifferent.
  • In Doom: Hell on Earth, a pair of bored Clydes are frisking zombies boarding a plane. They fail to notice the heroes Pretending We're Dead or catch that one is being carried upright between them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Chaser's War On Everything proved this was Truth in Television at the APEC summit, getting to George W. Bush's hotel, past two security checkpoints in a fake motorcade, with "insecurity passes" that stated they were NOT official delegates. And a guy dressed as Osama bin Laden in the back seat. See it here. The motorcade had runners with handheld cameras. Even the Chaser boys themselves started to get scared at how easy it was for them to get in — they'd been expecting to be stopped at the very first checkpoint! The were finally nabbed when their motorcade began turning around, and "Osama" decided to exit his vehicle and began asking guards why he hadn't been invited. As one commentor pointed out, it appears that day the world's leaders were mainly under the protection of the honour system.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Played with in the episode "Dragonfire", when the Doctor distracts a guard by engaging him in a philosophical discussion on the nature of existence, a subject about which the guard is particularly enthusiastic.
    • Both averted and played straight in "State of Decay" — one of the guards recognises that the man claiming to be a guard is, in fact, a known deserter. But the other doesn't... and falls for "the old prisoner trick".
    • Lampshaded in the episode "Deadly Assassin" by Security Chief Spandrell's criticisms of Commander Hilred for allowing the Doctor to escape:
      Spandrell: Well done, Hilred. An antiquated capsule, for which you get adequate early warning, transducts on the very steps of the Capitol. You are warned that the occupant is a known criminal, therefore you allow him to escape and conceal himself in a building a mere 53 stories high. A clever stratagem, Hildred. You're trying to confuse him, I take it?
  • The A-Team. Many a villain has been laid low by not paying attention to machine sounds after Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard. There was a particularly egregious instance where Hannibal and Face are arrested. Hannibal seems to have escaped, so the sheriff unlocks his cell and checks inside, then both he and the other officer in the building leave to find him... when Hannibal turns out to be hiding under the bed and promptly lets Face out and escapes.
  • Hogan's Heroes is built around this trope.
    "Schuuuuultz!"
  • Merlin:
    • In the first episode, two guards go chasing off after some enchanted dice.
    • In the fourth episode, they fail to notice a servant girl riding off into the night. What temp agency do they get these guys from?
    • You can practically set your watch by the inability of the guards to actually "guard" anything.
    • They're bad enough that Fanon has long decided the guards actually know Merlin's secret and are only pretending not to notice him sneaking around.
  • Subverted in Dark Angel when Max tries to distract a guard with a rock, but he isn't fooled. She laments, "Why did I get the smart one?"
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • "A Taste of Armageddon". One particularly ridiculous scene has a guard of an enemy installation watch calmly and without taking action as Spock walks up to him and informs of an imaginary "multi-legged creature" on his shoulder before using the Vulcan Neck Pinch on him.
      • Also seen in the episode "Space Seed" in which Khan, a man described as being strong enough to lift two men with one hand, has but a single guard keeping him prisoner. Suffice to say the guard doesn't last long. To their credit, when Khan is defeated and tried, he has multiple bailiffs on him holding him at phaser point.
      • Also seen in the episode "All Our Yesterdays" in which the lone guard, with the key to the cell dangling from his belt, walks right up to the bars to give Kirk a drink of water. Kirk grabs him, takes the key, lets himself out and locks the guard in.
      • "A Piece of the Action" has Kirk escape twice after being captured by each of the top rival gangsters. Most famously is his creation of a convoluted card game with the goal of confusing the guard trying to keep up with the rules Kirk is making up on the fly.
      • In "Whom Gods Destroy" Spock lies down and pretends to be unconscious. Two guards pick him up to haul him away and he uses the Vulcan Neck Pinch on both of them to escape.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation. Security has not improved a century later: shouting for Security will get you Lt. Worf, Chief of Security, and Lt. La Forge, Chief Engineer ("Conspiracy"), while an extremely violent prisoner is greeted by three security guards, with their weapons lowered, who forget they're still armed when he leaps at them ("The Hunted").
      Miles O'Brien: More security!
      Audience: No kidding.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise. The M.A.C.O's in the next Trek series acted a bit more professionally.
    • Star Trek: Voyager:
      • In "The Killing Game", two guards find Harry Kim suspicious and stop him to for questioning. He convinces them to let him go with this line: "All right! You'd better call the bridge. Tell your superior I'm going to be late, that I'm working under your orders now, not his. Go ahead, make the call. I don't want to take the blame for this."
      • Standard procedure for security personnel on Voyager is to stand in the formal "at-ease" position, looking straight ahead (not at the person they're guarding) so they can be knocked unconscious at a suitably plot-related moment.
  • From a review of the Blake's 7 episode "Bounty".
    "...to say nothing of the guards' color codes, which include Red Standby Alert (apparently meaning stand around and do nothing), Red Mobilisation (wander around outside the house), and Blue Mobilisation (allow the President and his daughter to escape in a vintage car accompanied by two terrorists)."
  • In season 3 of LOST, Sawyer tries the whole "prisoners making out" thing to get the guards to come over when he kisses Kate, then overpowers them and takes their gun. It doesn't work, though.
  • Subverted in Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) in that when someone escapes from a cell it's either a gambit by their captors (Bulldog, and later Ellen Tigh escaping from the Cylon basestar) or because the guards are in on things (Laura Roslin in Season 2, and Tom Zarek during The Mutiny). Probably the least plausible occasion is when Gina escapes from the Pegasus brig, makes her way to Admiral Cain's quarters and shoots her, and then slips off the battlestar unnoticed. Although she had the help of Baltar, a uniform and things were chaotic in the aftermath of a major attack, it still stretched the bounds of credibility.
    • And played straight when you consider that with all the little accidents happening there, no one comes up with the bright idea of placing a guard at the airlocks. This is justifiable in the beginning when Galactica is massively understaffed, but not so much in the later seasons.
    • At another point late in the series The chief manages t knock out one of the human cylons, carry them all the way to the brig, create a blackout and then replace one cylon with the other in the space of about 5 mins. Apparently in the middle of a blackout the guards in the next room don't think it's important to double check the status of their genocidal machine prisoner.
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Between the Darkness and the Light", Garibaldi plays on his recent media fame in capturing Sheridan to break him out again. This gets him past the outer guard, but the cell guards aren't so impressed.
    Guard: I don't watch TV. It's a cultural wasteland filled with inappropriate metaphors and an unrealistic portrayal of life created by the liberal media elite.
  • Subverted in the Knight Rider episode, "Indecent Little Town", when the corrupt police arrest Michael Knight and impound KITT. Specifically, when the Mooks try to secure the robot car, he resists by backing up each time they try. Although obviously surprised at this, the head Mook calmly advises one of his minions to simply provoke KITT into backing continually until the robot car inadvertently rolls onto a car garage elevator platform and they elevate it, trapping KITT.
  • The team on Leverage regularly talk their way past security but they usually have fake IDs and the guards are standard office building rent-a-cops. However, in one episode Hardison talks his way past security to get into an airport's control tower. He has an employee ID but it is for a female employee so he makes a big deal of how he is in the middle of a sex change and the guards are too embarrassed to pursue this further. The danger of their negligence becomes apparent when Hardison almost causes a plane to crash. There is a reason why security at airports is supposed to be very tight. Also, the man in charge of the tower, apparently, doesn't know who's supposed to be working for him.
  • Played straight the episode "Let It Bleed" of Supernatural. The mooks who guarded Lisa and Ben heard fighting noises outside the room, and went there one by one.
  • Alphas had a pair of guards (working for the protagonists, actually) who are given one order: do not open the cell. Shortly thereafter Parish stabs himself in the neck, so they open the door to stop him bleeding to death. Parish, an immortal alpha with a Healing Factor, points out as he's killing them that they should really follow orders.
  • Lampshaded by Michael's voiceover in Burn Notice. The two thugs who are supposed to be guarding a kidnapped kid are watching a baseball game on TV instead. Michael snarks that poorly-timed ball games have brought down dictatorships.
  • Game of Thrones. Subverted with Mord, a turnkey who's so thick that Tyrion Lannister, from the richest family in the Seven Kingdoms, can't even bribe his way out.
    Mord: (searching Tyrion) No gold!
    Tyrion: I don't have it on me! (Mord thumps him) Sometimes possession is an abstract concept— (thump)

    Pinballs 

    Puppet Shows 
  • The guards at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Sesame Street special "Don't Eat the Pictures" never notice a group of nine people and four muppets who were locked in the museum overnight TRYING to find a way out until one of the people who was trapped inside mentions it to them as the museum reopens the next morning.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • 3rd Edition
      • Most classes that would traditionally be used as guards don't have Spot, Listen or Sense Motive as class skills. This essentially makes them partially blind, hearing-impaired, and incredibly gullible. Exactly how this plays out depends on the DM. Most play the trope straight because guards tend not to be treated as more than minor enemies. Those skills are mainly intended to counteract Hide, Move Silently, and Bluff. In addition, those skills are not infallible unless the DM hands NPCs the Idiot Ball. For example, no matter what your Hide skill is, if you walk in front of a guard without some form of cover, he sees you, no matter what.
      • Scouts used as guards can avert this trope. They possess Spot, Listen and Sense Motive as class skills. They get 8 base skill points per level. In addition, they have Hide and Move Silently as class skills, so they can stand guard without being readily visible. Their Skirmish feat also gives them a significant advantage in straight combat against most stealthy classes if there is some room to move around.
    • Module B9 Castle Caldwell and Beyond. The gnoll guarding the PC prisoners is not very bright and will fall for any reasonable trick, such as one of them pretending to be ill. However, if the first attempt fails it will be very alert thereafter.
  • Time Lord RPG (based on Doctor Who):
    • "Curse of the Cyclops" adventure. If the entire Player Character party is captured and there is no-one to rescue them, the guards will demonstrate their usual stupidity and allow the prisoners to fool them and escape.
    • In the Journies supplement, a captured Player Character could use "The Daft Guard Effect" to distract any guards present so the prisoner(s) can escape.
  • Danger International, Investigation Script example. If the PCs are captured they can use the "sick captive" trick to lure the guards into their cell, ambush them and take their clothing and weapons so they can pass for them.

    Theater 
  • Played for laughs in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
    Dogberry: You are to bid any man stand, in the Prince's name.
    Verges: How if a' will not stand?
    Dogberry: Why, take no note of him, but let him go.

    Video Games 
  • Averted by the guards in 1998's Robin Hood game by Red Ant. The guards were extremely clever. They even noticed if one of their partners was missing. The way it worked was that the guards would walk in a predetermined path, and if they did not meet up with their partner after a few laps, then they got frustrated and would go looking for their friends. If they did not find them, then they would curse loudly, and tell their immediate superior. If the Lieutenant got at least three "My mate's vanished!" reports, then a man would be sent to ring the alarm bell. On top of that, If a group of guards spotted you, some would stay while one or two ran off to set off the alarm. On top of that, these guards would often surround you and your men, and while one held you, the other would stab into you repeatedly, often resulting in death. They fought dirty, they played dirty, and if you were spotted just once, patrols would be sent out to find you. Pretty amazing for a game made in 1998, huh?
  • Averted to the best of the GBA's abilities with the Stealth-Based Mission in Metroid Zero Mission. The space pirates aboard the mothership just sort of wander around... until one spots you. Even after you've ditched them they never go back to their relaxed state, will continue to run around looking for you, and will even lay ambushes. It's actually so difficult to sneak through the entire thing without being seen that it's considered an Easter Egg and many players don't even realize you can do it at all.
  • Shinobido's guards are not really clever, but they're smart enough for some nasty (for you) actions, including:
    • Going on "Alert" mode if they spot a dead fellow.
    • Ring the alarm bells if they spot you.
    • Try to attack you in large numbers whenever is possible.
    • Chase you around even on roofs and inside buildings.
    • Call for help if they're alone.
  • Another aversion comes with the Guard Dogs in Kings Quest VI. Alex has to get creative, either by magic or by using his small build and what amounts to a burqa to get past. Even then, he'd better not get busted. Saladin, true to his namesake, is not an idiot.
  • Another aversion from Sierra: most of the Space Quest games.
    • In the third, the Scumsoft guards have their eyes locked on Roger, waiting for a screw-up. If Roger passes a wastebasket without cleaning it, the gig's up. The Puckoids in the 5th are trigger-happy and extremely nasty, and only screw up by leaving their engineering section under light guard — but justified as the they weren't expecting anyone to break in through the hull. The Sequel Police in the 4th (or 10th and 12th) vary wildly between straight and aversion, as they leave a time pod unguarded at one point, but are very dogged in hunting Roger down, and shoot on sight, leaving Roger to get creative in dodging them. Another line-straddler is the opening scene of the first game. Roger needs to go a lot of dodging to get past the Sariens that have brutally massacred everyone else on the Arcada. Still, they do forget to check obvious hiding places.
    • Then you have the two thugs who capture Roger in Space Quest 6. Roger is able to quickly remove his handcuffs and neutralize the one who wasn't even watching him. Then you walk out into the other room, where the other thug is unconcerned with you roaming free, simply telling you not to bother him. Partly (with a stretch) justified in that the exit is blocked by a forcefield that can only be shut off by a remote on the second thug's belt.
    • Also, attempting to knock out one of the guards to the SCS DeepShip 86 shuttlebay results in the other one (a bigger one) punching Roger out and throwing him into the brig (which is also ridiculously easy to escape by building a likeness of Roger out of food and hiding under a food cart). No one also bats an eyelash at Roger stealing medical supplies at sickbay.
  • Played straight in Metal Gear Solid, where you can take out guards one by one trigger alarms as often as you want, but after 90 seconds everything is back to normal, with dead guards not being replaced.
    • Starting with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, however, it gets averted. When guards notice something odd, they will call in immediately before going to investigate. If they don't report back in time, more guards will be dispatched to look for them. When everything is clear, guards are required to report in every few minutes, or a search team is dispatched to investigate. And when full alarm is triggered, it takes just a few seconds for reinforcements to arrive with riot shields, shotguns, and grenades. Unless there's an opportunity for an Air-Vent Passageway escape nearby, you can prepare to load an old save by that point.
    • But even in that game, as long as a search party doesn't find any dead bodies, they won't suspect anything is up. They'll wake up any unconscious people, sure, but if a guard has completely vanished, the search team will go back to HQ with no further action. Plus, alert mode can be lowered to evasion mode by simply killing all of the enemies present, which gives the impression the Colonel Gurlukovich is thinking, "Half of my men were killed by one soldier. He's probably gone by now."
    • And yet, throughout the first game of the series, all guards have tunnel-vision and are practically near-sighted and half-deaf, so even walking slowly from a little bit to the side will let you go unnoticed. It was even worse in the original Metal Gear on the MSX, where the guards' line of sight is just a straight line. They'll also never suspect something's up when they find their squadmates dozing off with a tranquilizer dart on their forehead, or reading Playboy magazines they found on the ground.
      • On the higher difficulty levels in Metal Gear Solid at least the guards' vision range is dramatically greater, although the field of view is still narrow, making this an Acceptable Break from Reality on the normal difficulty.
    • Somewhat averted in later installments of the series, especially Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots where some elite guards work in teams to cover each other while performing a through and efficient sweep against possible threat. However, played straight with regular mooks as you can take down a guard walking right behind another guard without alerting the other.
  • In the various games of the Thief series, guards are notoriously brain-challenged. They carry obviously important items dangling from their belts, they take a remarkably short time to go from "I saw something" to "must've been a rat", and they ignore fires and candles that get doused by water arrows (that would presumably leave a mess all over the floor). Heck, they don't even try to relight them. At least they go into full-alert mode if they notice a dead mate lying on the floor, which is more that can be said for some other games. In some of the titles, all you have to do is hide out for a while, and they'll conclude that "The murderer must be long gone by now" and resume their patrol, without even calling for assistance.
    • Lampshaded in the first of level of Thief 2: The Metal Age, where dousing one of the torches prompts a pair of nearby guards to argue about who should relight it, and then ultimately doing nothing as it transpires that they forgot their tinderbox.
    • And lampshaded in the Gold and Platinum releases of Thief 1, where one of the added levels has you infiltrating a thieves' guild: you watch two people go up to the guard at the front door (you'll probably use the back) and be challenged for a password. One points out that they've known each other for years — no dice, the guard wants the password. The first visitor recites it exasperatedly, tries to enter and is stopped, as the guard points to the other man (who is standing right there) and complains, "Well, now he hasn't given me the password!" And yes, the first man comments on this.
    • Occasionally the game goes to the opposite direction with the guards, as they recognize the main character as a thief even when he's walking in public areas (such as city streets) and doing nothing suspicious.
    • An incomplete list of things the guards will take as suspicious if they find them: bodies (dead or just KO'ed), guards not being at their posts (probably because you blackjacked them), open doors, missing valuables, blood on the ground, broken glass... for video game guards, they're really quite observant.
  • In a memorable early-game sequence in Breath of Fire III, your characters must sneak into a mansion guarded by a wide variety of inept guards. It's a puzzle sequence, so almost every single one of the types listed is played with, including a few who just don't care and will let you go by if you bribe them or even find their lost wallet. So hard to find good help these days. One egregious example is a guard who admits he would be completely unable to stop the party, then orders them to go kill a guard dog to cover him, or he wouldn't let them pass. Wait a minute, couldn't we just kick you? One of the guards justifies this, saying that their wages are too low to properly motivate most of them. Later it's justified when it turns out the owner of the mansion is in with a criminal syndicate, and you'd have to be an idiot to even try to rob him due to the syndicate's reprisal. Oops.
  • The Assassin's Creed series has an explicit justification for its extensive use of this trope. Specifically, the Animus that the player character is using to relive his ancestors' Genetic Memory renders the whole thing as a VR simulation. To improve his ability to "synchronize" with said memories, it eschews certain aspects of realism in favor of simplicity. In the actual past that you're reliving, Altaďr and Ezio were masters of stealth and disguise. In the Animus simulation, not so much. Specific examples include:
    • Guards failing to spot or recognize a hooded, heavily-armed man walking around openly in the streets while numerous people have recently been murdered in broad daylight and their bodies left lying about. Similarly, the inability to spot said hooded, heavily-armed man in a crowd of people who look nothing like him.
    • Guards failing to look in obvious hiding spots for the Assassin whom they were recently chasing. However, in Assassin's Creed II and subsequent games, guards will search hiding spots near to your last location and will attack you if you're found there.
    • Guards failing to realize that the patrol they're in has mysteriously lost a few members, if they don't see the bodies.
    • Guards who lose sight of you in a chase and go back to their patrol spots will not recognize you if you walk right up to them a short while later.
    • The guards also engage in Mook Chivalry across all the games, waiting politely for their turn to attack you and get a Counter Kill to the face. This is so prevalent that the rare times when they do attack more rapidly are surprising and challenging. The games do a certain amount of Lampshade Hanging of this, in that the Enemy Chatter will occasionally reveal that they're carefully planning their attacks because they're scared shitless of you.
    • By contrast, there are also scenarios where the guards are absurdly and unrealistically alert. In Assassin's Creed I, galloping on your horse in sight of any Templar soldiers will make them recognize you almost immediately. High Profile actions such as running after killing someone will also alert them, in contrast to strolling casually away, even if all the civilians around you are screaming and panicking.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • The NPCs in Oblivion have an amazing ability to mistake loud clanking sounds and arrows sticking out of their head for the wind, or their own imagination. The last words of many a bandit have been, "Damn rats, always sneaking about in the shadows, making me-ARGH!"
    • Also, guards will only ever react to a corpse by muttering to themselves about a killer being on the loose, and resume patrolling. They'll also not react much to seeing their buddies being assassinated right beside them other than blankly staring and said muttering. That said, kill someone out of the way with no witnesses outside of sneak mode, and every guard for miles around will rapidly converge on you with cries of "STOP RIGHT THERE CRIMINAL SCUM!"
      • The problem is that animals count as witnesses to crimes. Those chickens are ridiculously effective stool pidgeons.
    • Even better is when two NPCs are talking, and you shoot one while sneaking. The other one turns and walks away, mid-conversation.
    • The guards in Morrowind are never sure what to do with a naked (wo)man with a large pile of stolen goods at his feet except fine him a few septims and leave him to his business.
    • In Skyrim, some of the same problems that were in Oblivion return. If you attack an enemy while sneaking, they will look for their attacker for a few seconds, then stop looking and go back to whatever it was they were doing. This may include sitting down to return to dinner...with an arrow in their head...that was poisoned...and on fire...
    • Skyrim lets you do crazy things with high skills and the right perks. It's quite possible to find two people talking, walk (not sneak) over to one, behead him/her with a battleaxe, and have the other just stare at you.
    • Likewise, when a guard was killed by a dragon, and you kill the dragon soon after, another guard who was nearby sometimes come up to the corpse and said "I am going to find whoever did this.", even though the reason for that is just 5 feet away!
    • There's also a quirk in the programming which that means sometimes the character can see you even though the A.I. cannot. Successfully sneaking past a person while their head slowly swivels to follow your every move is... weird, to say the least.
    • The famous "they can't see you if you put a bucket on their head" Good Bad Bug.
  • In City of Heroes, mobs of enemies will usually ignore fights going on in plain sight halfway across the room with automatic weapons.
  • It's a convention of MMORPG in general that the aggro radius of the mobs is much smaller than their line of sight. It always lead to egregious situations where the guard twiddle their thumbs while you slaughter their colleagues in front of their eyes, waiting for their turn to die.
    • World of Warcraft made a commendable effort to give the players the impression that they were really storming an enemy stronghold in the Shattered Halls instance, with constant reinforcement coming to face you and guards lining up in formation. Sadly, they still included a room where a bunch of guards kept training rather than facing you, and another where they managed to sleep through the whole ruckus.
    • And in another dungeon the boss greets you when you get close to him, but makes no attempt to stop you slaughtering his remaining guards, who all just stand there.
    • This is lampshaded by a boss in the aforesaid Shattered Halls dungeon, who will actually comment as you individually kill his henchmen. "Go ahead. I was going to kill him anyway." In fact if you don't attack them he will kill them, one by one, then attack you.
    • There is one CoH mission where you are given a temporary power that is a guard suit. You can walk past any guard and get the objectives of the mission completed without anyone being the wiser. This wouldn't be bad if it didn't work on any enemy NPC in the game. Including a faction that actively hates the faction you are dressing up as.
  • Beyond Good & Evil
    • The heroine can shoot a projectile into a guard's air tank — and unless she's in plain sight or really unlucky, the other guards present will just fix the tank, then declare "false alarm" and get back to their business. If she is seen, she can just run around a corner where they can't see her, and after a few seconds they'll do the same thing. Repeatedly. Perhaps the only (moderately) justified action they take is when Jade runs out of sight, they dispatch a droid to clear the area. They usually clear the area just out of sight and ignore any areas slightly farther out of sight.
    • In many areas, but particularly notable in one guard-riddled passage in Alpha Sections HQ (roughly 6 guards in a 50-foot stretch of open balcony, plus about 4 more immediately above and below it), the guards will look around everywhere except entrance points. In the referenced area, one guard faces in a direction no attack could possibly come from, and if he stayed in place but turned around the mission would be impossible.
    • Even if their suicidal lack of curiosity didn't earn them a Darwin Award, their general behaviour would. They spend most of their guarding time walking or turning in slow circles or standing in one place facing a wall. And their commanders aren't any more intelligent. One happily reports to his superior that all intruders in the area have been captured... while one stands in the middle of an empty room in his direct line of view.
    • The implied explanation for these are that a)the tiny visors limit their vision, b)the helmets and respirators limit their hearing, c)they are part of a rigid and regimented command structure that discourages independent thought and initiative, and d) they're not actually in full control of their faculties due to Domz influence.
  • The Legend of Zelda
    • In the early stealth portion of the Forsaken Fortress in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Moblins patrol small areas of the fortress, and if they see you, it's into the prison with you. However, there are barrels that you can hide in. You can even move about as long as they're not looking, because the fact that a barrel is somewhere that it wasn't tells them absolutely nothing. This is possibly justified by their being explicitly stated to be really, really stupid.
    • Speaking of Zelda, the guards in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time don't react unless you're several feet in front of them.
    • The smartest one in the game is an automated statue that spits lasers at you with alarming accuracy (well, alarming when you account for the fact that they're only about a second slow, and in real life, that would be close enough to scare the crap out of most anyone. Certainly a nine-year-old like Link).
    • It's established that also the guards of Hyrule castle are, well... dumb, without exception. No matter what time period the game in question plays in (not that we would know), the guards never seem to notice anyone walking by, if he's not right before their eyes. Even Princess Zelda has been mentioned to sneak out of the castle with no problems frequently. The only time the guards actually keep something from going in- or outside is in Majora's Mask. And this almost ensured the Termian apocalypse.
    • One of the most blatant examples is the Gerudo Fortress section in Ocarina of Time. For some reason, even after the 20th time you escape, they still can't be bothered to take away your hookshot... Although that might be because they can't figure out where he keeps it.
    • Or care to act when Link shoots one of the guards in the open. They just ignore the fallen body. Their pirate counterparts in Majora's Mask do the same plus will completely ignore Link if he's wearing a certain mask despite following him with their eyes, partially justified in that said mask's ability is to make Link as uninteresting as a stone.
      • Except for a few Elite Mooks who even have special dialogue along the lines of "That mask won't work on me, boy", implying the mask won't work if one is particularly observant or intelligent.
    • Speaking of Majora's Mask, the guards are very diligent about keeping children from wandering out of town to the 'dangerous' wilds, to the point that they will do nothing to stop a little old lady from getting robbed in plain sight, by a thief who makes no attempt to conceal his identity. Even assuming there was some pressing issue preventing them from stopping the robbery, there's no reason they wouldn't recognize him when he walks back into town the very next day to sell the stolen goods to the curio shop next door.
    • The Phantom Guardians, as cool as they might look, are not even the tiniest bit smarter than any other kind of guard in the series. They fail to realize that a kid just took refuge in the Safe Zones, even though they chased it right until it didnote . They fail to dodge any eventual trap that Link sets up for them. They fail to realize that one of the collegues has just been possessed with what is quite obviously a female (and over the top girly) ghost.note 
  • Final Fantasy
    • Vaan has to infiltrate Rabanastre palace early on in Final Fantasy XII. In advance it sounds like an annoying Stealth-Based Mission. Then you get there and the guards are apparently blind, as they never notice you unless you bump into them or yell at them. This is actually justified: Vayne wants to lure the Resistance in his palace in order to defeat them here and now, and certainly told the guards to let suspicious characters go inside the palace: it is not the incompetence from the guards, it is the Magnificent Bastard playing chess until Vaan jumped on the board, epic quest good old fashioned Ivalice-style politics and "Undying gods" being slayed ensue.
    • In Final Fantasy VII, one has to wonder why none of the guards on the Cargo Ship bothered to continue the search for the intruder (Sephiroth) after Cloud & co. defeated Jenova. There's no way they could have known that he was gone at that point, so why bother calling off the search? "Yeah, just ignore all the dead bodies and the undiscovered intruder. Just dock as planned!" Heidegger was in charge of ship security at the time, so he's just as much at fault as the rest of the incompetent guard. Rufus comments on the failings of command when the ship docks.
      Rufus: So Sephiroth was on board...
      Heidegger: Yes.
      Rufus: And it seems Cloud and his gang were on board, too.
      Heidegger: ...Yes.
      Rufus: They slipped through... you messed up big this time, Heidegger.
    • In Final Fantasy VI, you can stand in the way or in front of the guard in the imperial base, and he won't notice you unless you talk to him.
      • Another Final Fantasy VI example occurs when Locke is breaking Celes out of her prison in South Figaro. One of the soldiers guarding Celes orders his subordinate to keep an eye on her, and the subordinate boasts that he can go for days without sleep. The commanding officer leaves, and the subordinate almost immediately falls asleep. Locke is able to waltz right into the cell, free Celes, speak to her, free her and pick the guard's pocket without him even noticing. Otherwise, it's generally a subversion, as Locke avoids the commanding officer by hiding in the rafters or by saluting the commander if he's disguised as a soldier. Once Celes joins him and they have to make their way out of town through the underground passages, they'll be attacked by soldiers and guard dogs who are more on the ball than the soldier left to guard Celes.
  • Pokémon:
    • The games all have an evil team of some sort. You can infiltrate their base, but the guards will only see you if you walk in front of them. People only see you if you are directly in front of them... so groups of trainers are like a laser-wire maze.
    • Also, no-one in the Pokémon universe ever has any sort of weapon or armament except for a team of Pokémon. You can blatantly walk around the suspiciously Mafia-like organization's lair, and all the guards will do is challenge you to a trainer battle. Once your Pokémon beat theirs, they just kind of go "aw, shucks, well, the leader will beat you for sure" and then let you go on your way. Not only that, but the random guards usually have completely awful Pokémon. Whatever Mafia don decided it would be good security to give their patrol guards standard-issue Magikarp deserves to have his entire syndicate taken down by a single ten-year-old. At least this was lampshaded in Diamond/Pearl, where the grunts complain about how useless their issued Pokémon are after being beaten and before letting you continue.
    • The idiotic guard who goes, "Who has the Lift Key?! I'm not telling you who!" and battles you, and after the battle he goes, "Oh NO! I dropped it!" and he... lets the player pick up the Lift Key... WTF?
    • Wes and Michael have brassier balls than the other protagonists by far as a result of the methods Cipher includes in its Peon training. They are trained with good Pokemon regularly, a larger variety is made available, some are armed with Shadow Pokémon, they ignore the tripwire mentality, Ceiling Peon is watching you infiltrate, they disguise themselves as civvies on occasion, they come in groups... need we go on?
      • Subverted again in Colosseum: After breaking into Cipher's lab, upon defeating one of the base's scientists, he walks right over to the control panel on the wall and turns on the alarm, alerting everyone to your presence. Double subverted due to the fact that he's one of the very last Trainers in the entire base, and there are only 1 or 2 people in the facility you haven't beaten, so the only thing the alarm really does is cause a really annoying beeping sound to play anytime you're in there.
  • Tenchu
    • The guards in the series are not the brightest folk in medieval Japan. While they will look around for you for a while if they spot your shadow or see you moving just out of clear sight, the fact that a dead guard causes no more than a few minutes searching, and no call for backup, seems to indicate that broken necks and gaping sword wounds weren't considered too unusual in an average night's work. Although, to be fair, in the Tenchu universe, it's sort of implied that this happens all the time.
    • Most hilariously is the animal whistle. Throw an exploding shuriken at any enemy. They grunt in pain as it hits them. Then they explode. Then you blow the animal whistle. "Oh, it was just a chicken." The animal whistle also works to pacify a guard who has discovered a dead comrade. "Who killed Joey? Oh, just a dog." And on enemies who have already found you and are actively chasing you. Furthermore, in the original game the animal whistle makes a different sound on each mission, some of which are wildly inappropriate. On some levels enemies are put at ease by the sound of a growling bear, a howling wolf, or a screaming woman. The final level takes place in a lava-filled cavernous maze beneath a castle, and the enemies can be fooled into thinking you are an elephant.
    • The poisoned balls of rice. If you leave one on the floor eventually a guard will stumble past, pick it up and chow down, didn't their mothers ever tell them not to eat food off the floor? It doesn't have to be on the floor when they find it. In the original game especially, rice balls could be thrown from rooftops at such a trajectory that they would bounce when they hit the ground. The guards would not even wait for it to come to a complete stop before they began to approach it, their heads locking onto the ball and following it up and down as it sailed through the air. Try to throw a rice ball at a guard performing his yawn animation. Upon collision, it will immediately pop into the guard's hand, giving the illusion that he randomly, accidentally caught a rice ball while yawning, then decide to eat it.
    • In the original game, there's a sleeping guard with three or four dogs patrolling around him. One of the simpler ways to take care of him is to go up a nearby hill and throw a shuriken at one of his dogs. The dog will die, causing the other dogs to bark in alarm and the guard to wake up. Simply roll backwards, however, and none of them will see you. After a short while, the guard will go back to sleep. Even as his dogs are picked off, one by one, he still decides that this is a perfectly good time and place to take a nap.
  • Splinter Cell
    • The guards are a pretty surprising aversion of this; they can be remarkably thorough, especially when they've detected the player, and if entering an area of low light, they'll often whip out flares or flashlights. Later in the series, enemy troops also start carrying night vision goggles, and in Chaos Theory Douglas Shetland's personal bodyguard are equipped with thermal goggles. They even notice broken lights, cameras, locks, or anything else you broken really. Speaking of cameras, the cameras will detect any dead body left in their vision, and some of them are bullet proof. Strangely though, whoever is watching the monitors of these cameras doesn't seem to notice them going out one by one through rooms that'd leave a very specific trail of which room Fisher is hiding in.
    • However, they still call a false alarm after searching for a while. Yep, definitely a false alarm. All those dead bodies, shattered lights and eye witness viewings of the mysterious commando running around? Guess it was the wind. To be fair though, they do spend a lot more time searching for the player than most other games do, and after the alarms are turned off, the guards still tend to be more alert.
    • Not in the later games. A guard who finds a dead body or sees Sam Fisher will not forget even when he returns to his post, and when confronted with a suspicious sight or sound, is more likely to investigate with bullets instead of a flashlight.
    • Also in the later games, any alarm raised on a level will cause all of the guards in the level to be more alert, jumpy, and trigger-happy. They'll also whip out the bullet-proof vests (who knows why they weren't wearing them in the first place?).
    • For the same reason real-life cops don't wear vests capable of stopping rifle rounds...they're uncomfortable as hell to wear for any length of time.
    • In Conviction the guards are better and worse in a sense. When they know Fisher is in the area they'll scout the area, but other times they'll wait in the same position facing the same direction. Usually this is when they have a chokepoint, but other times if you've been killing them they'll wait you out rather than run into close quarters. A smart move if they didn't leave their flanks unprotected.
    • They also have a bad habit of talking loudly as they search for Fisher, which the player can use to pick out their positions. Evidently, Black Arrow's goons forgot about a little thing called "noise discipline". It's implied they're trying to psych themselves up because they know who Fisher is, and know he's coming for them. By contrast, the new Splinter Cells, which Sam helped train, are entirely professional.
    • Splinter Cell: Double Agent has one glaring example of this. The final JBA HQ mission begins with Sam having the choice of shooting Jamie Washington or Lambert. If you shoot Jamie, the camera on the wall sees the whole thing and the mission begins with Sam's cover blown and the guards scrambling to find him. Except they immediately forget he was in the room where a camera should still be able to see him. Instead they blunder about the halls as if they have no clue where he is, giving Sam an ample opportunity to escape the room with only one way out.
    • Averted in Blacklist. The moment the enemies get suspicious, they will remain suspicious and once they have sen Fisher, they will never stop looking for him. They also remember which doors are supposed to be closed, and will come to investigate if a normally closed door is left open. While they might return to normal patrol after investigating, they usually don't. They don't bother to close the door, though. They also work in groups and try to flank Sam while others provide covering fire. Played straight with the enemies disregarding missing patrols, though.
  • Castle Wolfenstein
    • In the original game, you could steal a uniform and wear it; the regular guards would generally ignore you, but the SS would find you out.
    • Averted in Beyond Castle Wolfenstein. If the guards see you with a weapon out, they start shooting. In Beyond, you can sneak up behind them with a knife and stab them; if the other guards see the corpse before you drag it out of sight, they'll head for the alarm and set it off. They'll also ask you for a pass periodically.
  • Guards in GoldenEye must be extremely nearsighted, because a patrolling guard will not notice you until you're almost right in front of them. You can also shoot their hats off their heads without getting a response. Likewise, you can unload on the helmeted ones and they won't notice all the metallic clanking noises happening right at their head, nor feel the force of the gunshots. They also suffer from a genetic weakness which means that they can't see through glass or over waist-high railings.
  • Deus Ex
    • You can shoot someone in the face with a tranquilizing arrow (which usually takes two or three hits to knock them out) from a small pistol crossbow, and they will, if you're not in plain sight in front of them, briefly run around waving their arms... then go back to whatever they were doing. They can walk to the source of a noise, look straight at one of their colleagues' body lying dead on the floor and promptly declare it was "probably just a cat".
    • One of the worst situations is in the MJ12 facility underneath UNACTO. You are stripped of your entire inventory, but your captors think nothing of taking away your key ring or your ammo. Granted, the cell you were in would have been escape proof, if it wasn't for Daedalus.
    • The worst part in all of this is that the Majestic 12 armored troops will notice said colleagues' bodies... so it's not an engine limitation. Other guards are just that stupid.
    • UNATCO troops are on par with Metal Gear Solid's guards for not paying attention. It's entirely possible to walk several crates of TNT into the UNATCO complex for fun and profit. Granted, they're on your side, but they tell you to cut it out when you do random violent things or poke around in their stuff, so it's not like they don't notice what JC's doing.
    • The A.I. has improved significantly in the third game. The game still plays with the trope though with some guards being programmed to be incompetent. For example, there are a number of guards that are easy to sneak up on because they are talking, watching TV, smoking, napping, or engaging in some other activity that is distracting them.
  • In Stubbs the Zombie: Rebel Without a Pulse in one of the first levels the player may gain control of a policeman by using the protagonist's arm. Other policemen won't notice the odd one unless he has a gun out, despite wearing a zombie arm as a hat.
  • The guards in Perfect Dark 64 are pretty smart. Blast a couple, the survivors will run for the alarm button. Snipe one, his buddy will run up and yell in despair (at which point you slay him also). But the good guy guards aren't always the smartest. You can tranq a stewardess for Air Force One (!) with a crossbow bolt (huge, works if it goes in her brain) and steal her uniform. Nobody checks your ID, even though your guard detail is long gone. In an earlier level, helicopter pilots will shoot through their (female) colleagues to get to you. Even funnier, if you shoot a guard who is not aware of you, they will occasionally say in a curious tone, "Was that a bullet?"
  • In Mother 3, at one point Lucas and his dog attempt to get into a nightclub, only to be informed by the bouncers that "No Dogs Allowed". The two slink away and seconds later, Lucas and his Dog (now wearing human clothes and walking upright) walk up and try to enter. The guards aren't fooled, and mention that Lucas was just here with his dog, and now walks up with a dude who looks suspiciously like a dog. They only get in due to one of the staff members vouching for them, and the guards seem suspicious. But after that they do admit that even if Lucas did just get lucky pulling a fast one on them, the dog is freaking awesome.
  • Jak and Daxter
    • The Krimzon Guard in Jak II: Renegade will forget about the Guard-slaughtering Phlebotinum Rebel the city's supreme ruler considers Public Enemy Number One if you enter a safehouse for two seconds. You can also walk down the street with gun raised, distinctive haircut and Team Pet sitting on your shoulder (almost impossible to fake, not that anyone wants to try), and they won't give a piece of crap. Rule of Fun applies, because being gunned down by KG every time you step out of a safe house would produce an even more frustrating game.
    • It's implied that many of the actual guards (as opposed to their commanders) are lazy and corrupt, so they probably just didn't care (and didn't want to get killed). Daxter lampshades this in the second mission after the first act, the heat from their direct assault on the palace dies off after one mission and he says in a shocked tone; "How hard is it to get noticed in this town?!"
  • In Ōkami, the Imp guards outside the main part of the Moon Cave dismiss Amaterasu as a normal wolf (perfectly reasonable though, in that only a few can see her markings), but when she comes back wearing a piece of paper over her face, they immediately let Ammy through, telling her to "Get back to [her] post!"
    • This is somewhat explained in Okamiden, as when the player goes to the demon market, an NPC says the Imps are dumb enough that they can't even remember three passwords, and these passwords are hidden around the market.
  • Prototype
    • The military takes this to ridiculous extremes. Random Marine jumping off a skyscraper, flying into the base, landing hard enough to make an impact crater, and proceeding to run up the walls? When it's well-known that your highest-priority target is a Voluntary Shapeshifter? Perfectly normal, apparently.
    • Need to get rid of a soldier, but he and a buddy have covering fields of vision so you can't stealth kill either of them? If you disguise yourself as a soldier and bump into one enough, he'll turn toward you and shove you away, then remain facing that direction. Even if there's just a wall right in front of his face.
    • You can also use a combination of the "Patsy" power and the "stealth consume" to stealth-kill a combat base full of Marines and Blackwatch personnel. This causes much humor when you realize that a base full of heavily armed guards is slowly disappearing and nobody notices. Even if it's just you and another guard left. But whatever you do, don't try Patsy on him. Because only then will he think something is wrong.
  • Evil Genius
    • Played this absolutely straight and quite deliberately. Your Evil Minions will outright ignore any agent of the forces of justice unless they've been tagged for execution or capture. These include squads of heavily-armed soldiers, thieves in brightly-colored Spy Catsuits, Highly-Visible Ninja, and musclebound supersoldiers Dual Wielding machineguns.
    • The infiltrating agents showcase an unusual variant of this. Locked doors are understandably much more interesting to them than an unlocked door. However, the end result is that if you lower the security level on the door an agent is trying to break through, they will usually lose interest immediately and wander off. It also leads to various distraction strategies, such as hallways lined with locked doors and nothing behind them.
  • Super Mario Bros.
    • Why Princess Peach still pays her guards is a source of continual mystification to videogame fans. She'd have better luck with a "Do not kidnap the Princess" sign than her usual group of Toads.
      • In the Nintendo Adventure Book series story "Leaping Lizards", it expands on the guards' stupidity when Peach catches her guards sleeping.
    • Also, the kings in Super Mario Bros. 3. They have, in the entirety of the royal castles, one guard for each king in each country, and being as that guard is a Toad, said guard gets instantly knocked out by a Koopaling just charging at it.
    • On the other side of the conflict, the Koopa guards in Paper Mario are also pretty pathetic. If they catch Peach sneaking around the castle, they'll usually just escort her back to her room and go back to whatever they were doing beforehand without ever questioning how she keeps getting out. At one point, they decide not to take her back, because they're about to hold a quiz show and still need one more contestant. And when she wins that show, they hand her a magic umbrella that lets her shapeshift. Just escorting her back to the room makes sense since the castle she's being held captive in is effectively in orbit. Where's she gonna go? They could probably at least tell Bowser that Peach keeps getting out of her room, but then again Bowser is also kind of an idiot in the RPG games.
  • In Black Sigil, there's an instance where your party "acquires" some Empire soldiers' outfits to sneak onto an airship. As you're doing so, the guards stop Aurora and ask her a couple questions. They then have this following exchange after you've boarded the airship:
    Guard A: That slim guy sure had a girlish build...
    Guard B: And a girlish voice...
    Guard A: And a girlish face...
    Guard B: You thinking what I'm thinking?
    Guard A: The military will toughen him up.
    Guard B: Yeah...
  • The guards on The Bouncer always follow their job so loyally, in fact even if the place is gonna sink they'll stop at nothing to stop our heroes.
  • Guardia Prison security in Chrono Trigger. They throw you into the dungeon... while letting you keep your sword. That doesn't turn out well for them.
    • You can thank Yakra XIII for that oversight. He didn't think taking over as the modern Chancellor all the way through. It's possibly Justified in that it's implied he staffed Guardia Prison with his own minions, who are all rather stupid. The text explicitly refers to two of them as "Dumb" and "Dumber" at one point late in the game.
    • When your party is captured later in the game due to extreme Cutscene Incompetence on their part, the villain takes your weapons, inventory and money. At least he is a bit smarter about how to handle prisoners. It really helps if you have Ayla in your party at this point.
    • Even then, the guards on the Blackbird aren't much better. For one thing, they fall for the fake-being-sick-so-the-guards-come-into-the-cells-and-you-punch-them-out ploy, which is the oldest trick in the book. When you escape your cell, you can also run around the ship right past many of the guards, and they won't notice unless you get within sneezing distance of them. It's Justified later on by one of the guards you can talk to in the commons after you defeat Dalton, the guards' boss. The guard tells you that Dalton treated his employees badly and didn't pay them well, which means they probably weren't inclined to work very hard in the first place.
      • And at that point, it WASN'T the oldest trick in the book, what with it being 12,000 B.C.
  • Many guards in Sly Cooper carry flashlights. If you stand just outside their circle of light, they can not see you at all. There are similar guards with good hearing, which Sly automatically tries to sneak up on/past. Occasionally you run into both.
  • In the fourth chapter of Tales of Monkey Island, Guybrush must escape from jail while awaiting trial by asking to speak to his lawyer (he's representing himself). When Guybrush is ready to stop conversing with his "client", the guard will let him out.
  • At one point in Cave Story, Cutscene Incompetence results in you getting curbstomped and thrown into a jail cell. The guards don't bother to take anything away from you, so you still have all your weapons when you wake up in the cell.
  • Subverted in Sanity Aikens Artifact. The main guard in the third level blocks you pretty well, until you read the guard's mind to find out the employee password.
  • According to some playthroughs, the AI in Civilization IV will occasionally remove defending units from its capital city which you are currently besieging. You weren't actually going to attack, right?
  • In RuneScape, This is acknowledged during a cut-scene in the "Garden of Tranquillity" Quest, where a "veteran" guard explains to a new recruit that the life expectancy for a Falador guard is about 30 seconds, which upon saying that a high-levelled "player" comes and slaughters both of them.
  • In Dragon Quest IX, Your character is imprisoned some time into the game. At first glance, you would think this was averted. However, press Y and open your equipment menu... This results in a few funny instances, such as guards bossing someone in full plate armor and carrying a sword that shoots fire.
  • Fable
    • The series has quite a bit of this. In Fable I, should you break a window, someone nearby will tell the guards, which they will charge after you and proceed to hack you into little bits should you decide not to pay them. Same thing if you just committed total genocide on a village, but should you apologize to the guards, they immediately forgive you and continue on their merry way.
    • In Fable II, should you accidentally or on purpose, murder ONE villager, the guards will then constantly say, "I won't let you murder anyone else!"
    • Spire guards will too proceed to be dumb as wood, never mind the fact that this guy (or girl) broke out of an unbreakable collar, probably killed about 50 of your mates with powerful spells, just hacked them to pieces or shot their balls off. Charge to certain death! Doubly so after the most powerful will user on the planet gets his powers back.
  • Dragon Age
    • Near the end of the first game, the Warden and Alistair can be captured and thrown in prison. A persuasive Warden (of either sex) can ask the guard for company, and the guard will immediately lock himself in the cell with two prisoners accused of regicide. Then you can jump him and steal his keys. This is especially stupid of the Warden is a mage.
    • Dragon Age II's Mark of the Assassin DLC includes a Stealth-Based Mission in which Hawke must sneak past the guards of the Orlesian Chateau Haine. Fortunately, the guards are easily convinced by whatever ridiculous story Hawke can come up with, are highly susceptible to distraction by thrown pebbles, apparently have very poor night vision, and are remarkably unconcerned about waking up on the floor in the middle of their patrol after being tapped on the back of the head: "Damned blackouts..."
  • At one point in Dragon Wars, the party gets captured and thrown into a jail cell (for the second time) and this trope comes into play, as the guards seemingly forget to lock your cell door! It turns out to be a subversion when you enter the next room, where the guards happen to be waiting for you. It seems these guards got into a lot of trouble for beating prisoners in their cells. But if the prisoners were trying to escape...
  • Marines in the 2010 Alien vs. Predator are remarkably blasé about having all their mates disappear one-by-one only to show up again as scattered corpses lacking in skulls/spines, or with a rather telling hole in their head. They also decide to check out on strange distorted verbal taunts originating from nearby isolated corners alone, without bringing backup, and will stand around with their backs turned mumbling "I'm sure it came from over here..." for a good few minutes. Even if said isolated corner already contains three to four corpses of previously mentioned dead marines with their skulls missing.
  • Hitman
    • The series has what can only be described as highly jittery bunch of guards, often resorting to gunfire at the slightly infraction or social gaff. While the series has steadily improved with each release (giving warnings, pushing you out when entering a restricted zone), it is still often the case that being seen entering the wrong room without the right outfit, playing with a light switch or running will cause all the guards to immedietly open fire on your shiny-bald self. Clearly, social niceties are Serious Business in the Hitman universe.
    • The Hitman guards are odd overall and tend to have an All Crimes Are Equal attitude to everything, i.e. they shoot on sight even if the room is full of screaming civilians. And, in one mission, if you alert the police (say by trying to enter a nightclub wearing the wrong costume) then they will proceed to gun you down as you flee through a crowded street during a parade (the civilians make nice bullet shields). But just to Hitman, case point being the last mission in Blood Money; sneak a gun in a briefcase yourself? The guards shoot you full of holes. Sneak the gun in in someone else's case? Said civilian is escorted for questioning and said case is conveniently left for your retrieval.
    • Oh and the general stupidity. Step one, flick the lights off. Step two, strangle the guard as he comes to switch them back on. Step three, wait for guard to find body. Repeat.
    • Also, in Blood Money they are fairly *ahem* unceremonious with the bodies of their dead buddies. The standard treatment is bag and tag in a black body bag and then *drag* said body bag across the floor, up stairs, through water, past civilians, sometimes leaving a blood trail on the carpet, and no one seems to care or be the slightest bit concerned.
    • And they drown upon contact with water. Even if they were just swimming in it earlier.
  • In Dark Messiah lots of guards fall under this trope, they stand around near obvious hazards such as a wall about to collapse, when fighting the hero they stand close to spikes, pits, fires which they can easily be kicked into and they don't bother checking for traps infront of them when they spot the player, leading to a line of guards getting killed by the same trap. One notable area set on the side of a mountain includes guards with a fondness for standing looking out over a several thousand foot drop. Cue much kicking by the player.
  • Possibly invoked by the party in Knights of the Old Republic, when captured on the Leviathan. Several of the schemes floated to break your crew out of the ship's prison involve making the guards crazy, including Jolee's (which uses a Jedi Mind Trick on them) and Mission's (which involves good old-fashioned headgames). On the other hand, three of these plans involve the "it's probably nothing" ploy: you can convince the Sith to take a "dead" body, "disabled" droid, or perfectly functional but "harmless" astromech into their ship. Juhani's plan is the only one that doesn't count, because Jedi ninja catgirl response drills are probably few and far between.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, the guards everywhere are very nice about only attacking you one at a time and not noticing what's going on around them.
  • In Dubloon, a map important to finding a sea serpent is on an island tightly guarded by the Navi, so what does the player's crew do? Why, send in their Team Pet that guards don't even suspect for anything. One of them even tells him the location of where the key to the house is hidden.
  • Subverted in the first Call of Duty game. In one of the missions of the British campaign, Cpt. Price and Sgt. Evans (the player) are tasked with sabotaging the German battleship Tirpitz from inside, and in order to do that they have to kill two German seamen on shore and take their uniforms. Once they arrive, they're allowed onboard thanks to Cpt. Price's passable German, but when they get to the armory, one of the guards stationed outside is suspicious of them (likely due to Cpt. Price's lack of German accent) and calls the higher-ups to check the veracity of Price's fake ID. With his cover about to be blown, Price shoots the guard, instigating a firefight.
  • In the first Commandos game some of the levels had prisons. If one of your men was spotted then he would be held at gunpoint, and as long as he didn't move or perform an offensive action then he would eventually be marched off to the jail where his buddies could later break him out (or, more likely, you could just reload). However, in maps with no jail the lone guards would never, ever fire on one of your men as long as he remained perfectly still, and only the arrival of a patrol would cause them to shoot. If there were no patrols nearby then you have a man crawl to a chosen spot and then suddenly stand up, ensuring that a guard spotted him and stood there with his cone of vision fixated on the one spot. Any other guards that could see the commando or another alerted guard would join in, potentially causing a chain reaction where dozens of enemies would converge and look towards one point. If your squad's brave volunteer was carefully positioned then it was fairly trivial for another squad member to then methodically stab everyone whilst they were distracted.
  • Can occur in Fallout: New Vegas. Put a few ranks into your character's Sneak skill, then get yourself a silenced weapon (incidently, all melee weapons are treated as silent, including chainsaws). Then go to the nearest Legion/Powder Ganger/NCR camp and start killing. So long as your character is hidden when you kill, and your victim dies in one hit, no-one will ever make the connection between all those corpses with bullet holes in their skulls, and the courier who's sometimes seen sneaking around carrying a silenced sniper rifle. Oddly enough, animals will respond more aggressively than humans; if you snipe a Cazador, for example, the rest of the nearby Cazadores will go on alert and soon hunt you down.
    • This is actually an upgrade from the stealth system in Fallout3. With a high enough sneak skill, you could shoot someone in the head with an unsilenced rifle in a very small room with another enemy less than a foot in front of them and they won't notice a thing.
  • In Sniper Elite V2, the guards have very poor peripheral vision and in several cases can be caught asleep or taking a break. They also always fall for the "throw a rock to distract them" trick, though they actually canvass the area in search of the source of the noise afterwards, meaning if you aren't careful you can lead them right to you.
    • However, the enemies know there's a rogue sniper, so if alerted they move about almost constantly to keep you from getting a bead on them, and if at all possible they'll try to assault your position or flank you instead of lining up to get shot.
  • Guards in Dishonored may notice if you take out one of their colleagues when they're not looking, but their only reaction will be to say something along the lines of, "Wasn't someone supposed to be patrolling here?" They won't actually raise an alarm unless they see you (for an amount of time varying by distance and difficulty level) or an unconscious or dead body. If a sedated guard wakes up, he'll just return to his rounds as if nothing happened.
  • In The World Is Not Enough for the N64, the guards in the mission "Night Watch" will open fire on you as soon as they spot you even though they know you're just supposed to be in your room. You are meant to disable the cameras by hacking the controls in the various surveillance rooms, but you can instead shoots the cameras directly causing them to explode...It's a quiet night and none of the guards hear or see these cameras exploding (unless they are within a few feet of you)— not even the guards in the surveillance rooms who should plainly see the camera feeds going out.
  • In Dark, there's some justification to the old "easily distracted" element of this trope — one of your vampire powers allows you to make guards think something suspicious or interesting is happening in empty space. Other than that, though, their vision seems to stop about three feet in front of them, and you can easily alert one guard, get shot by him several times, get away, and find the guards in the next room acting like nothing's happened.
  • The guards in Ninth Rock are a bunch of Fat Idiots who can't be bothered to chase Spencer more than a few feet before mumbling, "Guess he got away!" They also tend to not see you hiding behind waist-high walls.
  • Mark Of The Ninja: Mooks, especially at the beginning, have terrible vision, have short attention spans, and are easily distracted and spooked.
  • Resident Evil 2: According to subsequent games, Raccoon City is under military quarantine at the time, but Leon and Claire both drive right into town with absolutely no clue of what's going on. Also, helicopters come and go with impunity.
  • The police and henchmen in Monaco tend to rely more on numbers, persistence, and being more heavily armed than your team than they rely on intelligence. If any NPC is dead anywhere on the current floor, it'll alert someone to come revive them, but if they come across someone who's been knocked out either by the tranquilizer crossbow or The Cleaner (supposedly via chloroform), they won't bat an eye, even if they were sitting right next to the victim.
    • The fact that you can hack a computer terminal directly next to an armed guard falls under No Peripheral Vision. The fact that you can grab and use a disguise in front of an armed guard's face while he's actively attacking you and have him suddenly stop and resume his patrol, however, is this.
  • In Emerald City Confidential, Tik Tok, one of the Emerald City palace guards, leaves the door to Petra's prison cell open when she calls him to clean up some rotting food on the cell wall. This allows Petra to sneak out of her cell.
  • As memorably demonstrated by Totalbiscuit, in Day One: Garry's Incident, there are random patrolling tribesmen who won't notice being stabbed several times.

    Web Animation 
  • In Clear Skies 2, the team are able to spring an informant from a prison outpost (admittedly, a very backwater one) by posing as guards for a prisoner transfer. It works, despite their credentials being stolen and very, very out of date, because the local guard was expecting a prisoner transfer at around that time. He gets chewed out later.
  • The How It Should Have Ended's Assassin's Creed parody.
  • An incredibly rare example in Dusk's Dawn when the guard in question, Donut, is a main character! He doesn't notice anything about the Big Bad who's "obviously cured" and as he's walking down a corridor monologing about how bored he is, a highly suspicious dark shadow flies by. Rather than do his job and check it out, he just brushes off a potential intruder as "a cat or something" (despite seeing it fly) and continues walking forward.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • In episode 8 of Code MENT, Lelouch/One spends about a minute and half firing roughly 70 bullets from a pistol without reloading. The two guards outside the room casually converse over and throughout the clearly audible gunfire. They then kick the door in and rush in guns blazing when they are alarmed by Lelouch's cough.
  • The LifesBlood Labs goons in LG 15 The Resistance are pretty incompetent. The "Mace in Yo Face!" and "Done Dirt Cheap" incidents are particularly shameful. Although the "Mace in Yo Face" incident is justified because those weren't real LBL henchmen.
  • The Evil Overlord List has all sorts of tips on how to turn the guards from this sort of behaviour and turn them into a ruthless fighting force prepared to guard anything anytime.
  • A bit of a running gag in Mirai Nikki The Abridged Series is to explain any instance of a character making it past the security by simply saying "Their security sucks". Said characters included an injured and dehydrated terrorist, a blind man, and Yukiteru.
  • This Cracked article has some pretty spectacular examples:
    • Ted Bundy's escape from a Colorado courthouse when he was supposed to be using the law library.
    • A Greek robber escaping via helicopter. Twice.
    • A convicted murderer who changed his clothes while waiting for his lawyer — then walked right out.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers had several examples of Queenie's Mooks being either thoroughly incompetent... or very competent, Depending on the Writer. With the first examples, Doc could hijack their communicator signals and pull lines of BS on them ("New Frontier," "Badge of Power"), sending them on a wild goose chase... or right into Goose's blasters. The more competent ones, like in "Tortuna", could be bribed or needed to be fought.
  • Subverted in the Adventures of the Gummi Bears episode when trolls are holding the Gummi hostage in Gummi Glen, to force the colony to recover a treasure hidden in a tree they uprooted and put in Castle Dunwin. Unfortunately, when Gummis get to the tree they find it empty, because the castle guards were apparently smart enough to discover the treasure and moved it to the castle treasury.
  • The guards of the "high security" prison in the Avatar: The Last Airbender episodes "The Boiling Rock". Sokka and Zuko somehow obtain uniforms and pass themselves off as newbies. The Alone With Prisoner Ploy occurs in the first of the two episodes. Strangely enough, Zuko slips up and is caught — but Sokka, who was the one alone with Suki, isn't suspected at all. Later on, Sokka pulls up his mask and goes to the side to talk to two prisoners. They're obviously not hiding particularly well because they are caught... by another prisoner. The second episode is rife with its own examples of The Guards Must Be Crazy as well. There's a bit of Fridge Horror regarding how Sokka was able to get alone time with Suki: she almost seems like she was expecting a random guard to come in and try kissing her. Maybe the male guards don't date the female ones because they can get satisfaction somewhere else...
  • Used and slightly lampshaded in an episode of DuckTales where Huey, Dewey, and Louie are imprisoned in a room with a guard looking in at them once every hour or so. While two of the identical triplets work on the means of their escape, the third one sits in front of a trifold mirror, giving the impression — sort of — that there are three boys sitting there. Lampshaded in that one of the boys asks whether the guard won't notice that they're all wearing the same clothes, only to be told by the one devising the plan that "he's so tired, he's not going to care WHAT we're wearing, just so long as there's three of us." Improbably, this turns out to be true.
  • In the Earthworm Jim episode "Conqueror Worm", Jim, Peter, and Snot have to get Jim's supersuit back from the labs where it was put after Jim was arrested, (It Makes Sense in Context) but first have to get past the security guards!... Which they stroll right past. The sight of a giant worm, talking dog, and living booger spurs only one reaction from the guards.
    Guard: (on phone) Hello, DNA lab? Whatever you guys are doing in there— Cut it out!
  • Parodied in Family Guy, where one of Peter's Manatee Gags has him claiming it is easier to escape from Canada's Alcatraz. Cue the scene where an inmate simply walks up to a guard and asks if he can leave through this door. The guard simply says sure, just be back before bedtime, and letting the inmate leave.
  • Used, played with, subverted and lampshaded frequently in The Venture Bros., most often through the misadventures of Number 21 and Number 24, two guards who somehow manage to survive the carnage of the series, and give plausible voice to the wit and social skills necessary for career henchmen.
  • The Trope was played with in Stroker and Hoop, when Stroker has to knock a guard out to get deeper into a complex. After dressing as the guard, he gets into the next room where the guard is seemingly fooled by Stroker holding a clipboard over his face and using a bad falsetto. The guard isn't fooled for a second, asking Stroker if he thinks he's some kind of idiot. Stroker complains that the guard should have been reading a skin mag or watching a sports game instead of monitoring the camera feeds, causing the guard to retort "Hey, I happen to like my job."
  • Averted in the first My Little Pony special. Tirac's guards are good at their jobs. They spot Megan and the ponies slipping in, and use smart tactics against the group. However, the heroes are Badass enough to win anyway.
  • Played with in the G.I. Joe episode "Grey Hairs and Growing Pains". When the Joes pretend to be civilian customers for Cobra's health spa, they are recognized immediately, and the Cobra agents play along and then trap them. Later, after the Joes get turned into old people and children, they pretend to be a family on a road trip and get into a Cobra base by asking the guard for directions and then for a bathroom. Once inside, they are immediately recognized again. Serpentor orders Dr. Mindbender to arrest the front guard for his incompetence.
  • Subverted in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012). When April feigns a stomachache, the Kraang guard immediatly spots (and stops) her father from sneaking away, and isn't affected when April attacks him (being a robot and all).
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Played with in "It's About Time". Twilight sneaks into the private library of the palace and does a VERY poor job of staying hidden, yet the guards are completely oblivious to her. She finally gets caught trying to open the door to the library, and the guard greets her politely and unlocks the door. Turns out that since Twilight is the protégé of Princess Celestia, she's always welcome in the palace and library so the guards were just ignoring her.
    • And played straight during "A Bird in the Hoof" — where a pet phoenix, dying of old age (therefore incredibly obvious because featherless) managed to trick Celestia's own Praetorian Guard while they were putting up Wanted posters with that bird's face on. Twilight and Fluttershy aren't any better.
    • In fact, it's played straight throughout the series, almost to the point of parody. The Season 2 Finale, for instance, has the entire Royal Guard up and under arms because they were tipped off that something bad was going to happen. But when it did happen, they were apparently still surprised enough to be overrun without putting up as much as a fight.
  • The Banana Guards in Adventure Time completely ignored a resident who claimed Princess Bubblegum had been kidnapped, preferred to watch reality TV shows over the surveillance tapes that clearly showed her being kidnapped, and only responded to the resident when he claimed he was taking a boat out after 8:00. Fortunately, it was all just a test to determine the efficiency of the Banana Guards, and the candy resident, who was the only one following the clues, became the new chief of police.

    Real Life 
  • Being a guard in real life can be incredibly boring. It's a repetitive, tedious job. While you're trying to get through your boring shift, your prisoners are watching your every move — you're probably the most interesting thing going on. All it takes is that one point in your pattern when your guard is down, though...
  • Alcatraz's guards were fooled by one oldest trick in the book after another: dummy heads in the bed, digging a hole with spoons, and climbing up the ventilator shaft, making this trope not only Genre Blindness but Truth in Television. Since the Alcatraz escape was done some years ago, it might be Seinfeld Is Unfunny too.
    • It Only Works Once... Thing is, this isn't a bad escape plan, which is why it worked. It relies on the fact that it simply isn't practical to monitor prisoners TOO closely, so if you're clever enough... plus, after this happened apparently it became a lot more popularized anyway. The Guards were also relying on San Francisco bay's freezing water and distance from the city doing the hard work for them. Which may have happened.
  • Truth in Television: A convict in a US prison was able to escape by dressing up as a guard, because the guards were more familiar with the prisoners than each other.
    • There has also been at least one case where an accomplice faxed realistic-looking release papers from a nearby McDonald's fax machine, resulting in a convict walking out scot-free, without anyone thinking about double-checking even the clearly visible fax-number.
    • During the Cold War a couple of East Germans made their own uniforms mimicking those of the East German Guards and simply saluted the guards on duty, then walked through the checkpoint to West Berlin.
  • There is a Ninja technique, the name of which translates as "throwing the toothpick", to distract guards. If it's done properly, the guards never see anything, they just hear a sound.
  • During World War 2, there were plenty of stories of people hiding in basements from the Nazis and not being captured.
  • There was another WW2 instance, where a French POW convinced his guards to let him walk out of the camp several times, every time a couple of weeks in a row to visit his family back in occupied France, if he promised to return, bring along some wine and good food, and keep quiet about about the whole affair. So he did.
  • Recently in Germany, an inmate managed to get out of prison by climbing into a cardboard box and getting shipped out. Apparently no-one checked to see all the prisoners working that detail came back or why the package was unusually heavy.
  • In 1982, an unhinged man climbed the wall of Buckingham palace. Someone saw him and reported it, but by the time guards came to look, he was gone and they decided he must have left already; they raised no alarm. When he went through a window, the security system alerted a policeman on duty, who assumed it was a malfunction and silenced the alarm twice in a row. Wandering through the halls, he passed a housekeeper, who greeted him. He eventually made it to the Queen's chamber, where she was sleeping unguarded, woke her up, and chatted to her as she tried to get help by two different methods (a button and the phone); nobody came for ten minutes (the person who did eventually show up was a housemaid). As Hollywood writer William Goldman said it, if you would put this in a movie, people probably would throw rotten eggs at the screen for breaking their Suspension of Disbelief. He also got cigarettes upon request. Even better, they only crime he was charged with was stealing a bottle of cheap wine, because, at the time, trespassing was a civil offense rather than a criminal one (this has been changed). The charge was dropped when he was committed to a mental hospital.
  • Gilber Galvan escaped an American prison by waiting in a rec area until the guards left for coffee, then using a pool cue to open the drawer of their desk and fish out the keys. He later went on to be known as Canada's "Phantom Bandit".
  • So far, the Obama White House has been crashed three times by uninvited guests. The first and third cases took advantage of a Bavarian Fire Drill, while the second gatecrash was a result of some misguided tour organizers sending the tourists to a White House luncheon instead of on the tour. Of course, that's three incidents that we know about. Who knows how many people have gone in and not gotten caught. Indeed, that can be the trouble with things like this — if someone does wander around the White House and no-one catches them, who is to know that it even happened?
  • Mas Selamat bin Kastari, one of the most influential terrorists in Southeast Asia escaped Singapore's most well-guarded prison by going to the toilet, changing quickly, and climbing out the window. When he was recaptured more than a year later, it was revealed that he climbed into the storm drains, went 20+ kilometers north in 3 days, created improvised flotation devices from trash, and swam across from Singapore to Malaysia and met up with other operatives. Apparently, it was so unexpected, that theories ranged from his escape a cover for the fact that he had died in detention, he used black magic to get out, or he was allowed to escape so that he could lead authorities to other terrorists.
  • Averted when the Green Bay Packers went to the White House to be congratulated on their Super Bowl Victory in 2011. Linebacker Desmond Bishop lost his photo ID on the plane and was thus denied entry to the White House. Before you say "But he was on national television in the Super Bowl! He was with his team! How could they deny him entry?!!?", remember how often in fiction the "lost my ID" ruse works — and it works in Real Life too, due to this trope — and obviously no place should have better security than than the headquarters. So good job, guards!
  • In 1987 a 18 year old West German aviator named Mathias Rust managed to fly straight through several supposedly impregnable layers of Soviet air-defense systems and land his Cessna near the center of Red Square. What made this worse was that he was spotted on several occasions by air defense crews and interceptors, but most of them either assumed he was friendly, thought he had crashed shortly afterwards, or otherwise failed to gain permission to shoot him down. The event ended up irreparably damaging the credibitly of the Soviet military and led to the firing of many senior officers.
    • In one regard, he was either brilliant or very lucky: his aircraft was so small that radar registered him as a helicopter. He also lucked out that he passed over Pskov as its local regiment was on maneouvers and said pilots were inexperienced and prone to forgetting the correct identification settings, so the flight controllers classified him and every plane in the area as friendly, and he also passed over Torzhok as a rescue effort was being mounted for an air crash and he was identified as one of the helicopters participating in the rescue.
    • The type of aircraft he used, a Cessna 172, is smaller than many military helicopters, and roughly comparable in top speed. It's no surprise that it did not appear urgently threatening to the air defense personnel. That said, Rust has claimed that his intent was to reduce tensions between the East and West, and in a perhaps unintentional way, it succeeded. The firing of various Soviet military officers in the aftermath also had the effect of purging much of the military leadership that was opposed to Gorbachev's planned reforms.
    • The guards weren't crazy, simply drunk. Rust unwittingly chose Soviet "Border Guard's Day" as the date of his flight. The one day a year when Guards could get away with drinking on duty...
  • Czechoslovakian hairdresser-turned-soldier-turned-Nazi-POW Horace Greasley repeatedly broke out of the POW camp he was transferred to so he could have sex with his previous camp's quarry director's daughter. And then snuck back into his current POW camp as if nothing happened. He did this three times a week for five years. Then the war ended and he was set free.
  • October 2012: A BBC film crew working on a UFO documentary violated the security at Area 51. They didn't get far, mainly because the crew knocked on the guard shack on the back gate, after spending about half an hour trying to get attention by dancing for the security cameras on the entrance area. They were then arrested and fined.


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alternative title(s): Guards Must Be Crazy
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