"Strange, I think to myself, how we have seen so much death in the wars and we know that two million of us have fallen in vain - how come we are so stirred up by this one man and have almost forgotten those two million? But that's just how it is, because one man is always the dead - and two million is always just a statistic."
InuYasha: Miroku and Sango are so used to the mass destruction of their era that, while they're sympathetic to the loss of entire villages, they're also pragmatic about not being able to do much about it. Inuyasha is also a half-demon who is generally not too sympathetic to most humans. Kagome, however, subverts this trope. As a modern girl thrust back in time, she generally reacts more strongly than the others and once was absolutely horrified at Inuyasha stopping for a meal break in the middle of a corpse-strewn battlefield. That said, even Kagome is more likely to react to the plight of someone she's personally attached to than the loss of strangers. It's how Kouga became a friend of the group. Despite being responsible for the destruction (and eating) of at least three villages (the group knows about), they ended up forgiving him and becoming friends with him. However, they were notably never allowed to find out that Kouga had destroyed Rin's village and killed Rin.
Nobody ever comments zilch about seeing entire Redshirt Armies being blown apart. But when Kamina dies, the whole cast spends three full chapters mourning his death.
Even more so in the movie. You can just feel the anguish that everyone on Dai-Gurren Dan feels when Kittan made the sacrifice, as well as the resulting roaring rampage of revenge.
Light Yagami from Death Note. Nobody turned against him for choosing a proxy-Kira specifically for a propensity to kill innocents, though multitudes turned against him past that point. Certainly L's death evokes a stronger reaction from the audience than the thousands of others killed before (and the even greater number killed after). This is somewhat Justified, however, in that the majority of the people he killed were not just faceless masses but also criminals killed for the sake of Light's ambition to make the world a better place, where the named characters he takes out are done for the sake of saving his own ass.
Goes back as far as Dirty Pair. Entire planets get accidentally blown up on a regular basis — and more often than not it's played for Black Comedy.
In Do You Remember Love?, Hikaru finally convinces Minmay to sing the Title Song to halt the Zentradi assault in its tracks by forcefully reminding her about the millions who'd died during the war, including mentioning some names of Hikaru's friends and squadmates that (at least in the movie continuity) she'd likely never met. Suitably chastened, she realizes it is her human duty to sing and stop the war. He never brings up the possibility of him and her being killed, instead focusing on everyone else and the lives they sacrificed.
In Macross Plus, Isamu and Guld's final showdown takes them to the streets of Macross City. They punch, shoot, and launch missiles at each other with little concern for the buildings and roads they're demolishing in the planet's most populated city —made even worse when you remember that Macross City is under Sharon Apple's thrall, so the civilians can't even notice the destruction around them or try to flee.
Another aversion in Macross Frontier: every Vajra attack has heavy tolls on the population, and the narrative devotes some time to this. It goes particularly far in the aftermath of the Vajra invasion of Island One, where one of the main protagonists and the civilian president are killed, and the next episode focuses on a fleet-wide memorial service for everyone who died in the massacre rather than focus on those two characters.
Weirdly, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam's Titans have a much worse reputation than Zeon even though they only gassed one colony (Zeon did this to several, at least, and then dropped them on the Earth) and were in general only slightly more Jerk Ass-ish than Zeon was. To be fair, when Zeon was doing it, there wasn't yet a treaty forbidding this very behavior. The Titans did it in response to peaceful protests in a part of the colony. Also, the Federation was also doing something in response to Zeon as well, since both sides lost half their population during the first week.
Also, your popularity is going to be high when you wipe out every last person in space that stands in opposition to you, leaving only your fanatical supporters alive to sing your praises!
There wasn't treaty at the time but Zeon loudly proclaimed their "noble" goal, Freeing the Spacenoids from the Oppression of Earth Federation!! Guess who were the ones Zeon attacked first.
In fact, both sides were responsible for that. Zeon and the Federation were indiscriminately throwing nukes back and forth at each other (plus the Colony Drop that caused additional mass casualties on Earth), until they realized they were on the verge of both being wiped out and signed a treaty banning all WMDs.
Harshly averted in the miniseries War in the Pocket. Not only are you able to witness the carnage close up from a bystander's point of view, you also meet most of the mooks fighting in the story's conflict. Namely, one of the main characters is just any other mook, and no matter how you expect him to pull out a Infinity+1 Sword at the end, he dies to the gundam pilot like any other Zaku-piloting Mook. To top it off, the anime made a very specific point of making his death utterly pointless.
Inverted in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, when during the final battle Wufei confronts Treize and demands to know how many people have given their lives for Treize's plans. Treize astonishes him by giving an exact number ("As of yesterday, 99,822 people"), listing several names from memory, and calling Lady Une to ask how many have died so far in the current battle and to request that those names be forwarded to him so he can memorize them. Whatever else may be said about him, Treize does not take sacrifice lightly, not even that of Mooks.
Mahou Sensei Negima! averts this. Nagi spends a good chunk of his time after the war saving refugees, and Arika went to great lengths to save as many civilians as she possibly could. Negi holds to the same philosophy; the main reason that he doesn't join Kurt Godel is because he doesn't believe in this trope, and if joining forces means that they can't save everyone, then to hell with an alliance.
Averted in Fullmetal Alchemist, when it is shown that Van Hohenheim actually took the time to come to an understanding with EACH and EVERY ONE of the 500,000+ souls now trapped in his body as a result of Father's destruction of Xerxes.
However, it's never taken lightly. Most officers strive to minimize loss of life, and at least on the Alliance's side it's one of the sources of the country's problems that so much of its youth dies on the battlefields, with almost no veterans to speak of.
Played straight, averted, discussed, deconstructed, and used as a major source of drama in Bokurano, particularly the manga. Tens of thousands of people die as collateral damage from Humongous Mecha battles and tens of billions as enemy casualties, and every character has their own take on it. Some pilots ignore civilian casualties and only pay attention to their own plight, some stall the battle and risk losing to give civilians time to evacuate, some get Heroic BSODs... it goes on. Especially heartbreaking in the last battle in the manga: a main character has to murder the population of a planet in order to win. He insists on killing each person individually, to make it as painless as possible, but that doesn't make it any easier for him.
Code Geass does this occasionally. The most prominent example would be when Rolo tries to remember how many people he's killed. He isn't able to remember exactly how many and then uses the analogy of someone trying to remember how many times they've brushed their teeth in their lives; you've done it so many times that you're past caring. This moment is made even more scary when you realise that, to Rolo, killing someone has as much emotional impact as cleaning your teeth.
Lelouch plays it straight AND subverts it at times.
During the battle of Narita, Lelouch and Kallen destroy a small town and kill everybody in it. They only think about how many enemy soldiers they just killed. Only when they find out the father of a classmate was also killed, they feel remorse about it. C.C. calls him out on this, asking if he thought this was somehow a unique instance, and pointing out that pretty much all of the soldiers they killed also had loved ones who are now grieving for their loss.
At the end of R1, Lelouch accidentally drives Euphemia insane, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent Japanese who believed in her, Lelouch, as Zero, is begged by these dying people to save them, but is also struck by the need to stop the destruction. It shows Lelouch's panic over doing a horrible, monstrous thing, versus allowing an even more horrible, monstrous thing - the question of being selfish or sacrificing your own sense of self for the greater good, averting the trope completely.
Three quarters through R2, however, it plays it straight. Millions of people die, but all Lelouch can think about is Nunnally. Everyone else averts it, though, with the respect of many of his upper-level subordinates losing trust in him by thinking that he doesn't care - when in fact Lelouch's worst nightmares have come to life to haunt him.
Schneizel's view on this: "Even if 100 or 200 million people's lives are sacrificed, an eternal peace is-" Cornelia draws her sword
Toward the end of Muhyo And Roji, 500 Executors die when Vector attacks the northern Magical Law headquarters, and a few panels of memorial services are shown. They get significantly less of a follow-up than many other deaths, notably Enchu's mother, Panza (whose death weighs heavily on Roji) and Kid. Even Fujiwara, a minor character who was one of Imai's subordinates before he got killed in the Arcanum, comes back as a haunt and is mentioned as an example of someone who was incompetent but determined.
In Mai-Otome, the death of Erstin seems to weigh more heavily on Nina's conscience and Arika's mind than that of the many other people who were most likely killed (although no casualty total is given) by Nina using the Harmonium to destroy entire cities.
Eden of the East has an instance of a character having this viewpoint and the hypocrisy being noted by a fellow antagonist. Mononobe and Yuki both previously conspired to build a better Japan by killing scores of people and plan to try it again, but are quite different in personality, with Yuki personally being rather meek. When Yuki is horrified at Monobe running down "Panties" with his car and making him complicit, Mononobe "reminds" Yuki that he's essentially a psycho with no qualms about mass murder.
In the first Read or Die OVA, one of the I-Jinn, having stolen the second part of the manuscript needed to unleash their master plan, shoots his way through an enormous squadron of attack helicopters, probably killing several hundred people in the process. Yomiko, true to the obsessive bibliophilia that is an inherent part of her Paper Master abilities, has this reaction:
King Of Braves GaoGaiGar averts this by having the Gutsy Geoid (later Galaxy) Guard develop new tools to protect the human populace. One of those tools, Dividing Driver, was designed because they realized that a Protect Shade against projectiles in a crowded area was a bad idea
Yugi, Judai and Yusei in Yu-Gi-Oh! Tenth Anniversary Movie are upset by Pegasus and Grandpa's deaths, as well as everyone else who died in Paradox's attack on Domino City. Paradox however sees the massacre as only another step towards completing his goal. Considering how he didn't care about destroying Venice just to get Judai, it's no surprise.
Rurouni Kenshin. Kenshin's vow not to kill stems form the overwhelming number of people he killed during the Bakumatsu. Although Kenshin was an assassin and thus knew the name and face of his main targets, he killed all who were accompanying said target at the time, many of whom remain nameless.
Invoked in One Piece by Nico Robin, who states that anyone willing to issue and carry out a Buster Call (a coordinated, take-no-prisoners Marine attack powerful enough to reduce an entire island to ashes) is so detached that they can't truly comprehend the sheer amount of death and destruction it causes. Especially Spandam, who flaunts the authority he was given to issue one every chance he gets)
In Attack on Titan, due to a food crisis, the government sent 250,000 people to reclaim Wall Maria with only less than 100 returning. One of the casualties is Armin's grandfather who handed him his hat before leaving. Another happens in episode 25 where the large number of civilian deaths are all represented by a bloodied little girl crying and stumbling in the streets over several corpses.
Subverted by Eren when he screams at Reiner and Bertlolt for being mass murderers, absolutely livid and disgusted at all the deaths they caused.
This is why the Event of the last two chapters of Watchmen is so shocking: Care is taken to show the devastation of New York killing every named character who lives in the city. Rorschach at one point says it doesn't matter if Dr. Manhattan kills him as millions have already died He kills him.
Averted also with no less than Ozymandias, who declares that he avoided the "mass million murdering plot" to become a complete devil arithmetics in his mind by regarding separately each one of the million individuals sacrificed, so, in a sense he has been mourning the victims of his own crime a decade in advance.
Makes you wonder why they didn't at least put the first Night Owl in with the casualties, since his earlier death from the comic was also cut out of the movie.
In The Film of the Book, this is all but completely thrown out, since all but one of these characters have been cut, and his role is greatly reduced.
Karolina Dean from Runaways actually quotes this when Xavin mentions entire worlds got destroyed while she's mourning the death of her friend Gert.
Xavin actually comments that it's a stupid way of viewing things. Pointing out, very logically, that if person dying is tragic, a million people dying must be a million times as tragic.
In DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, individual characters are acknowledged according to popularity (with the Flash and Supergirl getting covers and lengthy eulogies). The entire universes destroyed by the Anti-Monitor (in infinite numbers if the title is taken literally, and several universes, some established and some new, are destroyed on-panel) pack far less emotional punch. (The destruction of Earth-3 is notable for the innumerable innocents counting for less than the handful of villains who go down trying to save it.)
Captain America had a story in which the villain was planning to unleash a weaponised virus to kill millions in revenge for his murdered wife. When the horrified Cap points out the hypocrisy, the villain callously responds with this trope's title.
Discussed and averted in Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men where Danger brings back online one of Cassandra Nova's sentinels which massacred sixteen million mutants in Genosha. Danger modified the Sentinel to help her attack the X-Men, and also made it sapient. While battling the Sentinel, Kitty Pryde notices that Danger had also blocked off a part of its memory, and convinces it to break down those barriers. Turns out, that was the memory of the Sentinel's actions in Genosha. Being an intelligent, feeling being now, it is immediately gripped by intense guilt and withdraws its attack. Kitty explains that the murders of sixteen million people is too large for the human mind to fully comprehend, but the computer mind of the Sentinel is capable of appraising each one individually. Later the Sentinel commits a Heroic Sacrifice in an attempt to stop the attack from Breakworld, with the implication that it had become The Atoner.
Played creepily straight in Conquest, where most of the reaction we see from the Borg during their war with the Empire is the statistics of their casualties. By the time the casualties come to 12 trillion drones, tens of thousands of ships, and over seven hundred worlds, the Collective starts to realize something must be off...
Invoked in-universe by Alex in the Elfen Lied fic Family Sticks Together. He explicitly tells Kaede (aka Lucy/Nyu) that, while he's not entirely comfortable with what she plans to do to survive, he is nonetheless fine with it as long as she is able to survive and explicitly tells her that her life means more to her than a thousand others.
Films — Animated
The Incredibles: Averted. The scene when Mr. Incredible learns that Syndrome has killed dozens of supers. None of them are established characters, but the scene is treated as appropriately horrific. It's also implied that even if the audience never knew any of those people, Mr Incredible knew many of them personally and/or professionally.
In Mulan the villain does indeed slaughter nameless masses by the hundreds (off-stage, no less), and no named characters died. Only two characters who die even have lines (one of the two messengers, and Shan-Yu), but the movie nevertheless manages to convince that the slaughter was a terrible thing. (An Empathy Doll Shot is used to great effect.)
On the other hand, Mulan's cannon trick means she single-handedly destroyed the invading Hun army, killing at least hundreds of men, more likely several thousands.
Considering they were an invading, bloodthirsty army that had shown no mercy to her people and were currently trying to kill her and her crew, it's more a typical war scene than a disregard for life.
The Empathy Doll Shot kinda erased any semblance of sympathy for the Huns. Really when you've slaughtered that many people with a smile on your face, you deserved to die.
Played horrifyingly straight in Titanic: The Legend Goes On. With the exception of Molly, (more commonly known as the "singer with the big boobs"), every single named character survives, including the Funny Animals, complete with a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue. In a film that takes place aboard the Titanic. Molly, who for some reason shares a name with the most famous Titanic survivor, only gets a single tear of mourning from one of her pets.
Sort of lampshaded in Charlie Chaplin's Monseiur Verdoux: "One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow."
During the aerial battle sequence in Blue Thunder, the hero, flying the titular Black Helicopter, is forced to dodge a pair of heat-seeking missiles fired (over a major city) by Air Force F-16s. One hits a Japanese barbecue shop and the other hits a skyscraper square on. Even if you consider that all this was occurring toward the end of a work day, the casualty count must have been considerable; but of all the characters in the film, only the pilot who fired the missile and the beleaguered police chief give so much as a nod to the disaster. In Real Life, such an event would have everyone involved pilloried, especially when it turned out that Murphy wasn't a dangerous lunatic. There's also the F-16 that Murphy shoots down, but we don't actually see it crash so it's possible it landed in the ocean or somewhere similarly innocuous.
Parodied in Dr. Strangelove (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). Turgidson assures the president that "it's not like we're not going to get our hair mussed" but if they act quickly with a decisive nuclear strike then there might be "ten...twenty million casualties. Tops!!" The president responds that he doesn't want to go down in history as the greatest mass murderer since Adolf Hitler. Turgidson respectfully chides him for "caring more about his image in the history books than his people."
The Post-9/11 Terrorism MovieUnthinkable dwells on this with debates on whether it is morally justified to torture a known terrorist and aspiring mass murderer to death to extract information on the whereabouts of several nuclear devices that he scattered across the United States and rigged to detonate, which would kill millions of people. While this "dillemma" will seem downright farcical to most people, a better case is presented when the interrogators are considering torturing the man's two (innocent) children. When the Wide-Eyed Idealist character is already responsible for the deaths of 53 people by trusting the terrorist at his word, she plays the trope horrifyingly straight when she openly voices her preference to let thousands of children all be killed to preserve the lives of his.
This was a problem in Star Trek: Generations. Dr. Soran's plan to get into the Nexus involved blowing up a star, which would also destroy an inhabited pre-industrial planet. We had never heard of this planet before, knew nothing of its people, and never even saw its surface, so it may as well have been an uninhabited rock for all the audience cared.
2012 has been criticized for this. Billions die, but who cares? It's Disaster Porn, and the only people who count are in a little plane. This is the reason for the Loads and Loads of Characters that drag down the film. Giving the audience as many characters with actual names as possible to care about to give the audience more of a connection to billions dying.
Joker: If tomorrow I said that a gang-banger would get shot, or a truck-load of soldiers will be blown up - nobody panics, because it's all "part of The Plan". But when I say that one little old mayor will die... then everyone loses their minds!
In Vantage Point, a bomb wipes out the crowded lobby of a five-star hotel. Moments later, a second bomb goes off under a podium in the middle of a large crowd. Dozens, if not hundreds, are killed. The movie hardly blinks. But one little girl whose first name the viewers know is about to be run over, and you'd think the world was about to end.
In The Avengers, Loki killing loads of people, having his brainwashed mooks kill loads of people, and loudly announcing his plans to Take Over the World aren't what makes the audience (and the heroes) hate him, it's his murder of Agent Coulson that does it.
Film/Thor is an interesting aversion. The audience is shown no reason to see the Jutons as anything but Always Chaotic Evil, yet the climax still successfully conveys using only Thor's own reaction to it that Loki's attempted Genocide is a horrendous crime.
Schindler's List takes place against the background of the real Final Solution. The fact that six million Jews died in the Nazi gas chambers is a given which the viewer knows of in advance. Still, the thousand Jews over whom Schindler had spread his wing survive amidst all the carnage, and since the other 5,990,000 Jews remain mostly faceless, viewers tend to go out of the cinema with the uplifting feeling that they witnessed a Happy End.
Invoked in Gods and Generals, after a young girl dies, General Jackson, who has largely been The Stoic, begins to break down and cry. One of his soldiers comments that he's seen many men fall in battle yet didn't seem to care about them at all, but cries because of a little girl dying. Another soldier then mentions that the General is probably crying for all of them at this time.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation: With London basically being blasted into the bottom of the ocean, millions of people had to have died. While people are terrified when they see the attack, it is soon forgotten once the Joes save the other cities. Then everyone is all smiles.
It almost feels like an Exaggerated Trope. This is the deaths of over eight million people, not a single tear is shed, after the initial reaction (we don't even get a shot of the British Prime Minister) it's never mentioned again, and the memorial at the end of the movie seems to focus on the decimation of the GI Joe unit itself. For comparison, Channing Tatum's role is little more than a cameo from the previous movie to teach us that the new hero is cool before the previous hero dies, and his death prompts major responses and mourning from most surviving Joes. Which can be especially jarring for viewers who didn't see the first movie or are otherwise unfamiliar with Duke's role in the GI Joe universe.
At the end of Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Only In Death, Mkoll is Mercy Killing the victims of the Blood Pact's tortures. When he comes to one, Eszrad stops him: it's Gaunt himself. Him, they take out of there to recover. Though, to be fair, due to the time of capture and the fact they wanted Gaunt to suffer longer, and from the description, you find out most of the prisoners had lost their slew of eyes, legs, arms etc, leaving them just barely alive husks. Gaunt had only lost his eyes, something they could eaisly replace.
Though Gaunt himself averts this rather pointedly; he takes time to memorize the names, faces and details of every man he's fought with or who's died under his command, and can recite them from memory. He gets quite visibly upset when it turns out there's someone he has forgotten.
Also, Hark finds Soric in the midst of many tortured psykers, and kills him and no others. (Admittedly, he's the one who asked for it.)
In the background, the whole GRIMDARK milieu for Warhammer 40,000 sees millions dying for anything more complex than making coffee (unless you're Chaos or Dark Eldar, where the coffee is probably made with the blood of children).
The incident that finally caused the Emperor to finally realize that Horus was beyond redemption was when he saw Horus flay a guardsman/Space Marine/Adeptus Custodes during their climactic battle. Instead of the countless billions he was already responsible for, including his own Primarch children.
Presumably, the later Retcon to make that Guardsman be a Space Marine and then later again be an Adeptus Custodes was to emphasize how much of the ridiculous power of Chaos Horus was given - meaning the reason for the Emperor's realization wasn't exactly because of how he killed someone in front of him without lifting a finger, it was because he killed someone of superhuman strength without lifting a finger.
The reason for the Emperor's realization is still stated to be him realizing that Horus was irredeemably evil. Before that point he had been hoping he could reason with Horus and make peace, but seeing him personally kill another human being, who had no way off injuring him, without a thought made the Emperor understand that Horus couldn't be reasoned with. This is also the reason why most fans like the "Guardsman"-version better.
In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000Ultramarines novel The Warriors of Ultramar, Uriel explicitly thinks that the Inquisitor considers the population he is willing to sacrifice as numbers, while Uriel thinks of them as people.
Without individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, "casualties may rise to a million." With individual stories, the statistics become people — but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless. Look, see the child’s swollen, swollen belly, and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, his skeletal limbs: will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears? To see him from the inside? And if it does, are we not doing a disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted, distended caricature of a human child? And there, if we feel for them, are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for the flies’ own myriad squirming children?
We draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearllike, from our souls without real pain. Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives. A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.
The Dune books are set amid genocidal galactic wars that are said to have killed trillions, the vast majority of which die offpage with little more than a footnote. The characters, up to and including the Emperor of the known universe, are far more concerned with their own personal issues to seemingly give it much thought.
Subverted in the last official novel, in which the Bene Gesserit realize that their Genetic Memory makes them inescapably aware of and responsible for each and every atrocity committed by the human race, however far removed it may be in time or space.
Although it's true that the internal Atreides issues get more screen time, this is the Emperor's entire conflict in the second book. There's a scene where he compares himself to Hitler — "He killed more than six million. Pretty good for those days... Statistics: at a conservative estimate, I've killed sixty-one billion, sterilized ninety planets, completely demoralized five hundred others. I've wiped out the followers of forty religions..." He spends the rest of the book trying to get killed.
When Kyp Durron in the Jedi Academy Trilogy of the Star Wars Expanded Universe causes the destruction of a world, Carida, generally thought to have twenty-five million people on it, it causes a "disturbance in the Force" which makes the heroes more determined to stop him. But all it takes is the revelation that he was influenced by a long-dead Sith spirit and his near-sacrifice sending the superweapon into a black hole before he's welcomed back into the Jedi Academy. One of those twenty-five million was his brother and he felt bad about killing his brother, wasn't that enough? Later books subverted this. Fix FicI, Jedi made the "disturbance in the Force" deeply disturbing and personal and brought up the issue of all the other people who'd lived there once, or trained there, or had relatives who were there, asking why the Hell Kyp hadn't been held accountable at all? The books after that make Kyp into The Atoner to varying degrees, reminded of what he'd done almost constantly.
It came up in an earlier book - part of the Black Fleet Crisis - where Luke was trying to befriend an extreme pacifist who claimed to have known his mother. A pacifist along the lines of "Violence is never, ever justified, in any circumstances!" Turns out he does know exactly how many people died, and most of the galaxy doesn't condemn him for it, since they were Imperials on the Death Star right after Alderaan, and although a book of the same name shows us that a lot of them weren't exactly evil, they weren't exactly innocent either - they were troops and support staff on a giant battle station that had just destroyed a pacifistic planet, after all. A lot of Imperials were uncomfortable about Alderaan - the official story started off saying that the Rebels had hijacked a mining tool, but absolutely no one believed that, so they put the blame on Grand Moff Tarkin going mad with power.
Dante: My friend is trying to convince me that any contractors working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when the space station was destroyed by the rebels.
Roofer: Well, I'm a contractor myself. I'm a roofer... (digs into pocket and produces business card) Dunn and Reddy Home Improvements. And speaking as a roofer, I can say that a roofer's personal politics come heavily into play when choosing jobs.
Randal: Like when?
Roofer: Three months ago I was offered a job up in the hills. A beautiful house with tons of property. It was a simple reshingling job, but I was told that if it was finished within a day, my price would be doubled. Then I realized whose house it was.
Dante: Whose house was it?
Roofer: Dominick Bambino's.
Randal: "Babyface" Bambino? The gangster?
Roofer: The same. The money was right, but the risk was too big. I knew who he was, and based on that, I passed the job on to a friend of mine.
Dante: Based on personal politics.
Roofer: Right. And that week, the Foresci family put a hit on Babyface's house. My friend was shot and killed. He wasn't even finished shingling.
Randal: No way!
Roofer: I'm alive because I knew there were risks involved taking on that particular client. My friend wasn't so lucky. You know, any contractor willing to work on that Death Star knew the risks. If they were killed, it was their own fault. A roofer listens to this... (taps his heart) not his wallet.
The death tally after the Yuuzhan Vong war was over 365 trillion. This is notunrealistic, by the way: With all the inhabited worlds of the Star Wars universe (enough to have 20 million sentient species), we know that for a war where the entire galaxy was fighting would probably lead to those kinds of casualties if it was on both sides.
Averted, even after being turned Up to Eleven, in the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy. Hundreds of space stations are destroyed and at least a dozen planets depopulated, with a final death toll in the hundreds of billions. Pathos is established partly through the reactions of the Starfleet brass, Federation President, and various officers and politicians from other races; and partly by showcasing the final moments of various incidental characters (often relatives of main characters).
Intentionally invoked for the Culture-Idiran War in Consider Phlebas. The epilogue quotes from a historical text which details the overall casualties, including over eight hundred billion lives, the destruction of over fifteen thousand planet-equivalent habitats, and six stars. The very next sentence notes that from a galactic perspective it was a minor bushfire war with low casualties and a small scope (".02 percent of the galaxy by volume and .01 percent of the stellar population.").
The Dutch satirical writer Battus once derived a formula to determine the perceived psychological impact of an event in which people died: the logarithm of (# dead / (distance * years past)). Impact goes down with distance, as well as with time elapsed since the event. It goes up with the number of casualties, and all of this logarithmically, as 1000 versus 100 casualties give about the same increase in sense of impact as 100 versus 10. The formula, he notes, is correct also for the edge case that time = 0 and distance = 0, which is indisputably a most serious event for the individual concerned.
The newspaper examples below are roughly similar, but as Battus is a mathematician in Real Life, this one has a scientific basis.
Used by name in Doom. At the end of the first book, the two main characters watch from space as the earth is carpet-nuked. They aren't nearly as disturbed by this as they feel they should be, until they start thinking about specific people they know who are probably dead.
In the Belisarius Series, soldiers die in frequently large quantities. Belisarius tries not to kill his men, but he knows that there will be casualties. And then ally and friend Eon dies, and he goes to pieces. Partly justified in that Eon's death causes a succession crisis, because his son is an infant.
Götz and Meyer inverts this. The narrator claims that the titular Nazis could only have killed as many people as they did if they thought of each victim as a number rather than a person. A statistic equals a million (or five thousand, in their case.)
In John C. Wright's Fugitives of Chaos, Victor weighs the death of everyone on shipboard (who had taken them up when they were lost at sea) vs. the death of everyone in the universe if they let themselves get killed. Colin just wants to help the ship. (Fortunately, Amelia Takes a Third Option.)
In Titans of Chaos, Amelia thinks Used to Be a Sweet Kid of a maenad, but forces herself to remember all the babies who will die if the maenads wins, and kills her.
An in-universe example: In S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, most of Earth's population died following the Change, which rendered guns and most forms of power generation inoperable. Twenty-plus years later, most of those born since the Change take living in such a death-ridden world for granted; some of the young protagonists even ridicule most pre-Change humans for being so incompetent at survival skills. While exploring Toronto's CN Tower, however, they discover the skeletons of a woman (apparently a Change-time suicide) and her cat, and are deeply moved by the evidence of these particular deaths.
In the Mallorean, Zakath starts out trying to commit genocide. His Mallorean soldiers kill every Murgo they can find, adults and children alike. While he may not have killed a million, it wasn't for lack of effort. Granted, he's quite crazy and everyone hates Murgos, but the protagonists forgive him quite easily. It's jarring when you consider the fact that these are the same people who entombed Zedar in solid rock for all eternity, because he killed Durnik in self-defense. The prequels attempt to justify this, mostly by having him Kick the Dog, but we don't see that in the Belgariad.
In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Daughter, Miranda completely inverts it. She cares passionately about the deaths of thousands while behaving with such Lack of Empathy to those near to her that her siblings thinks their father put a spell on her to cause it.
While not involving death, this is the point of The Total Perspective Vortex from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. It's purpose is to show a person how insignificant they are in relation to the whole universe. The result is madness in all but one case. The creator was saddened by the madness of his wife, but was satisfied that he proved that if life was to exist in a universe this big, the last thing it could afford to have was a sense of proportion.
Arthur Dent goes through something similar when he and Ford escape Earth being destroyed - he can only process his planet being destroyed by thinking of smaller things that he's lost and gradually working his way up.
"There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been close to. No reaction..."
"Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald's, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald's hamburger. He passed out. When he came round a second later he found he was sobbing for his mother."
Taken to an extreme in Nuklear Age, where Nuklear Man rediscovers his identity as Lord Arel, the incredibly powerful destroyer of entire planets, but still protects Earth from his destructive former ally, which is put down to a new feeling of empathy with the individual people of the world.
Septimus Heap: Many people have died by the end of Darke, but all what Jenna, Septimus and Marcia are concerned about is Beetle.
In Poul Anderson's "The Pirate", Trevelyn's argument that because births replace emigration, slowly releasing this planet to settlement would not produce any net change in happiness is greeted with charges of inhumanity.
Lampshaded in Redshirts, where a planet had to die horrible deaths just so that one character could get a flesh-eating bacteria and be saved dramatically at the last moment.
"Every year several million people are killed quite pointlessly by epidemics and other natural catastrophes. And we should shrink from sacrificing a few hundred thousand for the most promising experiment in history? Not to mention the legions of those who die of undernourishment and tuberculosis in coal and quicksilver mines, rice-fields and cotton plantations. No one takes any notice of them; nobody asks why or what for; but if here we shoot a few thousand objectively harmful people, the humanitarians all over the world foam at the mouth."
In the final battle in Greek Ninja, several people (and not) lost their lives but only Iphigenie's death is mentioned.
It would be more difficult to find a Doctor Who season that didn't include the deaths of thousands, millions, or, in at least one instance, billions that were only given a passing mention, if that.
Logopolis involves the destruction of one quarter of the entire universe; by even the most conservative estimates that's a single-episode death toll expressible only in standard notation. And not only does nobody seem to care (including one character whose homeintergalactic supercluster was destroyed note He also killed her Dad ), the villain responsible gets the full Draco in Leather Pants treatment despite being possibly the worst mass-murderer in all fiction (but in all fairness, it was an accident)!
In Genesis of the Daleks the Kaled city is destroyed, killing at least thousands of people. The Doctor is deeply saddened... because he thinks that Harry and Sarah were in the city (naturally they escaped in time). However, it's averted to a degree as the destruction of the city still has emotional impact, mostly from the eerily jubilant reaction of the Thals.
Discussed in "Nightmare in Silver" when a character is disturbed that he finds it so easy to feel sorry for a person who had no choice but to wipe out a galaxy to stop an intergalactic threat, but so hard to feel anything for the billions of trillions who were collateral damage.
Massively averted by the Doctor in regards to the destruction of Gallifrey in the New Series. That event weighs on his conscience harder than anything else. He was asked just before he pushed The Button how many children were on Gallifrey at that moment, and were about to die by his hand. He didn't know at the time, but he later counted (2.47 billion).
Lampshaded in Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Immunity Syndrome." When McCoy expresses disbelief that Spock is capable of "feeling" the deaths of four hundred Vulcans, Spock replies, "I have noticed that about your people, Doctor. You find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million."
The theme of the episode "A Taste of Armageddon" is that adopting this attitude towards wars actually helps in facilitating it.
Kirk: Death... disease, destruction, horror... that's what war is all about, Anan. That's what makes it a thing to be avoided. You've made it neat and painless. So neat and painless that you've had no reason to stop it.
In the Angel episode "A Hole in the World", when Fred is infected with Illyria's essence and becoming her host, Angel and Spike travel to the Deeper Well, the resting place of the Old Ones, to save her, where the gravekeeper, Drogyn, tells them that if they drew Illyria back to her resting place, its essence would become a mystical airborne virus and kill thousands of people between England and L.A. Angel and Spike aren't willing to sacrifice all those people for one, though Angel briefly appears to consider it.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation the episode "The Survivors" calls on this trope. A God-like being settles down with a human wife and becomes a pacifist - but then a hostile race attacks their planet, and the being's wife is killed defending the planet. This angers the being into destroying the hostile race - the entire race of fifty billion. This is where Picard finds him, alone on the blighted planet with a simulacrum of his wife.
Kevin Uxbridge: "I saw her broken body... I went insane. My hatred exploded. And in an instant of grief... I destroyed the Husnock! ...No, no, no, no, you don't understand the scope of my crime. I didn't kill just one Husnock, or a hundred, or a thousand. I killed them all. All Husnock, everywhere."
Captain Picard: "We are not qualified to be your judges. We have no law to fit your crime. You're free to return to the planet, and to make Rishon live again. ...We leave behind a being of extraordinary power... and conscience. I am not certain if he should be praised or condemned. Only that he should be left alone."
Though really, what could they have done? This guy wiped out 50 billion sentients in a single fit of rage, so any attempt to level punishment would be an exercise in futility, since he could only be punished if he wanted to be punished. Self-imposed exile to an empty planet is as good a punishment as any they could levy given what they're dealing with.
In the final arc of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Cardassians finally turn on their Dominion allies - the female changeling responds by ordering the deaths of more than 800 million Cardassian civilians. Garak and Captain Sisko show some sympathy over this, but on the whole it's pretty well skipped over.
Averted in the case of Federation casualties during the war. Sisko makes it a point to read the name of every single Federation officer who is killed by the Dominion. In his own words from The Siege of AR-558:
"They're not just names, it's important we remember that. We have to remember..."
Averted on Star Trek: Enterprise with the Xindi attack. The death toll of seven million becomes almost a mantra, deliberately repeated until it is burned into the minds of both the audience and everyone the Enterprise encounters.
Tucker's younger sister was killed in the attack and he spends time trying to avert this trope by insisting that she was no more important than any of the other casualties. Numerous characters try telling him that it is okay to acknowledge that she was more important to him, and that it is also okay to be more upset over her death. Finally after a costly battle, he breaks down and admits how much he misses her.
even today, the world population is approximately 7 billion people, in 2-3 hundred years it's going to be significantly higher... 8million dying could be completely unnoticed in that many ( it's 0.1% today). The thing which makes this stand out is that it's a single event within a defined, relatively small, area. People can wrap their head around that, and understand it, but the same number spread out over the whole planet is just a statistic, and a fairly insignificant one at that.
Many Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans lost all respect for Spike after his Attempted Rape of Buffy. They were perfectly okay with him killing thousands in horrible ways as a soulless vampire because it happened mostly offscreen. And not just killing - "Do you know what I've done to girls Dawn's age?"
The Cylon attack which claimed billions of lives in Battlestar Galactica is almost forgotten in comparison to the suffering of the main characters aboard the escaping ships. Seeing the baby in the Riverwalk Market and Cami die in the Miniseries is more upsetting than knowing that almost all children of the Colonies are now dead. Even the other survivors rarely get screen time, primarily because they don't live on the titular ship, but a single woman suffering from cancer takes up a great deal. Late in the fourth season during a certain mutiny it is shown that the ordinary people very much keep it at the forefront of their minds, the main characters are unusual in having a broader view of things thanks to their experiences. Put simply, the lives of everyone is a mixture of nightmare, deprivation and mindless drudgery, but at least they are alive. Better to focus on the problems happening to them now than dwell on the genocide. But it is never forgotten. To be fair, that single woman with cancer isthe President.
Stargate SG-1. In order to save Teal'c's life, the main characters destroy a piece of technology that is stopping a Goa'uld invasion! (said invasion was not imminent or known about however - the defence was in place and so Goa'uld did not send troops there. Unfortunately one must have decided to send a scout at some point after the tech was destroyed). When the Goa'uld do invade in the second season, they destroy half of the planet's population. This is made worse by noting that the defense technology they disabled could probably have been circumvented by the humans.
They are very willing to admit their own faults, including when they personally screw up and cause some major disasters. People mess up, but as they are good it is usually unintentional and they try to make it up. The antagonists may point out valid faults, but as they themselves always do worse and don't even try to be good, Stargate Command still holds the high ground. Plus, they free the galaxy from thousands of years of domination and stagnation in just ten years. Broke a few eggs along the way though- whole worlds dropped off the map in part thanks to them with barely a mention, as befits this trope.
As mentioned above, they do get called on it every now and then. Jacob after he takes a Tok'ra symbiote points out that while SG-1 has done more in a few years than other factions who have been at work for centuries, their actions have created power vacuums among the System Lords that have resulted in massive amounts of killing. One episode in particular starts off playing the trope straight, then subverts it. the SG-1 travels to a planet where Teal'c had been to previously when he was First Prime for Apophis. He is brought to trial for his crimes. He states at first that he's killed so many people that he doesn't even remember this one world. Later in the episode he states that he regrets every single act he committed as First Prime, and that the he carries the weight of every person he killed in Apophis' name.
Teal'c offers some advice to a Not So Different former adversary at the end of the Ori arc about learning to live with yourself as The Atoner when this trope wears off and the guilt sets in: you focus on doing the good you can now and never let yourself forget even if others try to offer you forgiveness.
There's a scene that subverts this trope in the episode "Convictions", where G'Kar and Vir are on an elevator together. When Vir apologises (for his species' attempted genocide of G'Kar's), G'Kar cuts his palm.
G'kar: [Timed to the blood drops spilling from his palm] Dead... Dead... Dead... Dead... Dead. How do you apologize to them? Vir: ...I can't. G'kar: Then I cannot forgive.
Averted a season or two before in "GROPOS:" The titular "GROPOS" are infantry, several of whom had made friends with main cast (in particular, one of the infantrywomen seemed to have developed the seeds of a relationship with Garibaldi) while using Babylon 5 as a staging area for a ground assault. The assault goes quite well (we see a news report about it), but the final shots make it clear that the GROPOS who had made friends with the established characters had died, and that many more of the unnamed GROPOS had died, and that was the real story. Even the Jerk Ass is shown lying dead among his fellow soldiers, as a reminder of how impersonal war is.
Although the crew is pretty sure that President Clark is a xenophobic bastard that gradually converts Earth into a fascist state, and they receive evidence that he indeed masterminded the assassination of his predecessor, it is only him having several civilian transports destroyed with some 10,000 people killed that truly infuriates Sheridan and Ivanova and drives them to declaring an all-open war on Clark.
Also averted with the fate of the Markab. When it becomes clear that there's unlikely to be a cure of the disease that plagues them, they gather together, lock themselves in and pray. Delenn and Lennier join the ones on Babylon 5 to give them comfort, even though they're not sure that they're immune to that species' disease. When the doors are reopened, the looks on Delenn's and Lennier's faces make it clear that they just witnessed an extinction.
Discussed in one episode. The Vorlon are sending a fleet to two different planets. One is the Centauri homeworld, and the other is a colony. When asked why Sheridan is amassing his own fleet at only one place, another character responds that they only have enough ships for one battle. Centauri Prime has 3 billion people living on it, the other world has 6 billion. As Marcus points out, it all comes down to cold, uncaring numbers.
The show observes that this applies to good deeds as much a bad. If you buy the town a new school it just reminds people how rich you are but if you help raise one person out of poverty you're a hero.
On a more regular basis, the cast tends to roll with this when they go after the heads of corporations and the like: you cheer for them because they helped whoever it was who originally came to team for help, but don't really think of the hundreds of others who might be hurt when the corrupt corporation gets shut down.
Semi-averted in Being Human. Mitchell is a stereotypical hot vampire who's killed a lot of people and is emo about it, and sees other characters as villains just because they want to punish him for the thousands of people he's killed. But the spirit of one of his victims tells Mitchell that he should stop acting like a victim, and if he really wanted to do something good, he would kill himself.
A memorable, early episode of Mash actually delves into this thought process and how it can keep a man sane in war. Hawkeye had just witnessed a good buddy of his from home die on the operating table, and goes outside to get out some well-deserved angst. When Henry Blake goes out to give comfort, he finds that Hawkeye isn't just mourning the fact that he lost a friend, but that he's witnessed innumerable casualties die in the same manner, and barely gave them much thought.
In the sixth season of 24, a nuke detonates in Valencia, killing over 12,000 people. The horror of this event is diluted when the CTU crew and regular citizens later prowl around LA like nothing happened.
Invoked in an episode of Wonder Woman, "The Man Who Made Volcanoes". As Wonder Woman, along with Soviet and Chinese agents, confront a scientist who is threatening widespread devastation on Earth, the Chinese agent notes that even if he killed 90% of the population of the People's Republic of China, there would still be "over 100 million" of them.
The destruction of the Gamak Base in Farscape should give the viewer pause. Yes, the Peacekeepers are an evil army who torture prisoners, but there are unknown numbers of techs like Gilina on the base who aren't combatants or necessarily bad people. Yet the main cast never seem to have any qualms about the base's destruction. In contrast, when the Command Carrier (which has children and non-combatants living on it) is attacked two seasons later, the characters do make the point that there will be time to evacuate the inhabitants.
Played for Laughs (yes, really) in Tom Lehrer's We Will All Go Together When We Go, which notes that soon no one will have to be sad about funerals and contemplating their own mortality anymore - when nuclear war will kill everyone at the same time!
May have lost a million men, but we've got a million more
All the people, they say...
Sara Groves has a song called "Abstraction" which is essentially about this trope. Millions of starving people in a place like Africa... hard to sympathize. Meet a few of them, and they're no longer just a statistic.
The Hunters and Collectors song 'What's a Few Men?' is about the British indifference to Australian casualties in World War One.
The reason the news reports massive catastrophes abroad is to mention that none of "our people" were hurt.
Finnish satirist news blog Lehti ran an article titled "A Finn Equals 4 Alligators", also giving the "official" numbers of tragedy in news. Ten thousand Africans equal 1,000 Asians or other non-whites, equal 100 non-nearby whites, equals 10 nearby whites, which equals four alligators, equals one Finnish person "if you know them". They also ran an article assuring that there were "No Finnish Casualties Among the Dead Pope".
A similar rule applied to some British newspapers: "One Brit equals 10 Frogs (Frenchmen) equals 100 wogs (Mediterranean Europeans)".
A different version of that is, "One dead in Putney equals 10 dead in Paris equals 100 dead in Turkey equals 1,000 dead in India equals 10,000 dead in China" (though, of course, that last one also owes much to the "life is cheap in China" cliché, as China is home to literally billions).
Warhammer 40,000 uses this trope very effectively on both extremes of the scale-here. A Billion Is A Statistic for the Imperium, and the destruction of entire planets is dropped casually and without circumstance. But numerous short stories focusing on one particular individual can be surprisingly sympathetic and touching. This is a trap.
Invoked Trope by the Cadian Law of Decipherability for cemeteries on their planet. Due to necessary heavy militarization on the planet, death tolls are high while land is limited - thus, after a time at which graves' tombstones are found to be illegible, the graves are exhumed and the bones are tossed into a mass-grave pit to grant space for future burials, as the lack of a name on the graves proves no one will be remembering the individuals any longer.
Imperial Guard Commander Chenkov of the Valhallan 18th is mentioned as sacrificing 10 million Guardsmen without using artillery or armored support in a single conflict in order to end a year long siege. He did get a nice merit for it though.
Chenkov also built a wall out of the bodies of his men. Not the ones that died in conflict. When he wanted a wall he just ordered them to be executed!
A famous joke illustrating just how worthless human lives are in the setting is that entire planet populations are often lost because of rounding errors on tax forms.
This is effectively averted for the Space Marines who are 1-in-a-100 of the already best Child Soldiers surviving in brutal worlds. Every loss sorta sucks.
This is brilliantly translated into the game, as even though the average space marine is only 3 times more expensive than guardsmen, their heavy equipment tends to be on the marines themselves, and their tanks are much more fragile than their guard counterparts. Every loss will be big to you. As guard, however, you can probably stand to lose a squad or two, as the sheer cheapness of your units means that you can sacrifice a unit that's 50 models strong just to keep a unit of 5 enemy Terminators occupied for the duration of the match (and this is actually a viable tactic, as the terminators might not even statistically have enough attacks to kill the unit in question within the given timeframe).
An in-universe example is apparent with the Eldar, who view the survival of themselves and their brethren as the utmost priority and the deaths of innumerable numbers of the "lesser species" inconsequential, easily willing to engineer the destruction of anywhere between entire armies to several solar systems if any Eldar would otherwise be at risk.
The Tyranids potential numbers can be calculated by discerning how much biological material there is in the universe. Really.
The trope is played horribly straight by the setting's post-human Batman Expy Konrad Curzenote aka Night Haunter, Primarch of the scariest legion of Astartes in the galaxy. Arguably even more the case after he rebelled and got assassinated by an agent of the God-Emperor, as now his boys have no-one holding their leashes: he transformed his dark, gloomy and rainy homeworld from a terrified crime-ridden anarchic hellhole into a terrified crime-free dystopian police state by brutally murdering lawbreakers. Not in job lots though, not until they made him their king, but one by one criminals would disappear, only to be found later brutally killed, and rarely in one piece.
Tau Ethereals play this trope straight. You can lose several squads of your fire warriors, but god forbid if the Ethereal dies (recent rule changes seems to have inverted this, as the Ethereal dying grants a bonus instead of a handicap now).
Regular Warhammer has it's own examples. Skaven live by this rule, expecting thousands of their kind to die at a time on the battlefield. Greenskins such as Orcs and Gobblins also tend to do this as they come in mass. Killing dozens of either probably won't affect the game too much. However Dwarves and Warriors of Chaos have very high stats and very good armor and weapons so they can take a punch and punt you across town, though they cost more. Killing a good number of a horde army such as Skaven or Orcs and Goblins, while killing a unit or two of Warriors of Chaos, Dwarves, High Elves, and Bretonnia, is a small victory.
BattleTech invokes and subverts this. Several sourcebooks list horrible events in the game's back story, some involving entire planets being razed. It's implied with the orbital bombardment from warships. While the Inner Sphere has Warships as Lost Technology when the Clans arrived, the Clans have several. The Smoke Jaguar Clan bombed a planet after Prince Hohiro Kurita escaped. The Clan council banned orbital bombardment as dishonorable as the backlash unites the Inner Sphere. One Jade Falcon warship captures a world by threatening to hit it from orbit, hoping no one will call their bluff.
In Flying Buffalo's Nuclear War card game, players track their progress by their countries' populations. A typical play will often kill anywhere from 1 million to 100 million people.
Risk. Granted, you're just rolling dice and moving pieces of plastic around. You never stop to consider how many Green soldiers you would be sending to their deaths just to seize Kamchatka from the Blue Army. The game really only ends when all but one of the armies has been annihilated.
In Rifts, the Great Cataclysm which brought Rifts Earth to its current state, and the random Rifts demons, and other catastrophes that came after nearly made humanity extinct. This is brought up many times in various sourcebooks, but the numbers are so huge they're hard for someone reading the books to imagine.
In any Dungeons & Dragons campaign that features the Outer Planes (such as Planescape) it is common knowledge that even a small battle in the Blood War is at least a hundred times bigger than any fought among mortals, and casualties can often amount to millions on both sides. This becomes even remarkable when you consider that neither side has made any progress towards winning the conflict since it started eons ago. While it's hard to feel sorry for fiends, the thought of incredible loss of life that the war causes can often make one pause.
One official Planescape adventure takes the players to a place called the Field of Nettles which is a frequent battlefield in the Blood War. The place doesn't have landscape, it has gargantuan piles of bodies that never rot for some unknown reason. The piles are so grand they make large hills or small mountains, and there are so many that the Field has become a maze, nigh-impossible to navigate without flying support. Whole armies can be outfitted just from scavenging the piles. Even the adventure can only barely reflect on the sheer death toll of mortal and immortal lives that goes into making the place, and is more concerned with the logistics of crossing it while worrying about fiendish patrols.
If the players are successful in completing the objective of this mission - finding the battle plans of the infernal armies of Hell - and then read them, they discover that the Field of Nettles was not considered to have any strategic importance, and was actually used as a distraction to lure the demons from another battlefield that they really considered important. In other words, the devils were willing to sacrifice millions of soldiers for nothing more than a diversionary tactic. The revelation should hit the players very hard at that point.
In the Eberron setting for D&D, Cyre (aka the Mournland) gets varying levels of this trope depending on where one lived before the end of the Last War, as do the casualties of the War itself. Most of Cyre's neighbors are perfectly willing to ignore the nation's death (except when they're being paranoid about the cause of the Day of Mourning and its possible repetition) and the loss of life of every soldier and civilian in the nation, mostly because everyone's so exhausted by war. Many Cyrans strive to make sure Cyre isn't forgotten and that others remember everyone who died was a person with loved ones, while visiting the Mournland is quite the pointed reminder: nothing rots in the Mournland, so every corpse is there in perfect condition.
The average strategy game has losses as an inevitability - it's about avoiding the right ones at the right times. It's not like it would feel fair if never taking losses was easy for one side...
This is made especially apparent if you have a Hero-type character. You really don't pay attention to the death of the mooks, but when your hero dies you're definitely going to be panicking, if only because <Hero> Must Survive.
Star Ruler. Massive ships can have a crew in the tens of thousands or more, but are thrown into unwinnable combat by the player and AI. Planetary invasions consist of butchering the entire population via orbital bombardment.
On one end of the scale we have the Fire Emblem games. Each unit represents an individual character which has its own personality, skills, and motivations; as such, some people are hesitant to put even relatively unimportant characters into harm's way.
Lampshaded by Pelleas in Radiant Dawn: "Individual lives taken before your eyes weigh more heavily than the many lives taken during the chaos of war. If that life is someone dear, the burden is even worse."
DEFCON is a simulation of nuclear war on a simple wireframe map that resembles The Big Board at military command. All you see for dropping a bomb on a city is the city's icon engulfed in light and the text "MEXICO CITY HIT, 12.2M DEAD".
They only count if they have individual characters more valuable than cities. In Civilization, the death of a single Great Person is more important than having the "city size" statistic decrease by one. Cities are counted in the millions of inhabitants.
To an extent, regular soldiers as well. Since an entire military unit is represented by a single sprite, a player is unlikely to be too choked up by the loss of hit points, representing members of the unit, as long as the guy is still standing. IV and V address this by making each unit composed of several figures, but it's still not very daunting to see half of them get slaughtered, knowing that they can fortify in one place and eventually regenerate.
Somewhere in the middle is the Total War series; while most conflicts are between large masses of troops, the game also tracks the statistics of individual units; players are less likely to sacrifice an experienced, well-equipped and well-armored unit as mere cannon fodder as a result. Also, it does implement individual characters in the form of faction leaders and heirs, the preservation of which is often an important consideration.
In the original Shogun - Total War you could have the game print out detailed logs of each battle you physically fought in which the game will list every soldier on your side (within reason, as it stops printing after several lines of text) with their individual name, skill, morale levels etc etc. Although this option is not available in later games, the game does keep track of every individual soldier separately. Something to think about when you send that peasant mob to soak up the archers' arrows.
One of the games, Rome: Total War even invokes this trope by name, in the trait description for 'Conqueror':
"If you kill a man you're a murderer. Kill many of them and you're a hero!"
Demonstrated very clearly in Half-Life 2 and its follow-up episodes. The Combine has enslaved the Earth, killing people in such numbers it's described as genocide and subjecting countless others to transformation into Stalkers. All of that gets a very negative reaction from people... but nowhere near the reaction provoked when Eli Vance is killed.
Well, he was the Rebel Leader and likely a major source of inspiration and morale for the Resistance..
At a more personal level for the player, he was just moments away from disclosing the truth about the G-Man. NO!!
In Ever17 the disaster that destroys the park the first time also releases TB, which is such a nasty deadly killer that despite high communicability still only manages to kill about 10000 people. But nobody cares that it's very likely the characters rescued are just as likely to have let the plague free as the scientist who ran away or even that all the people died. Instead, the whole gambit is around saving two characters who would have died otherwise. The best you get is Lieblich finally gets uncovered, showing that at least the rest of the world cared about the plague.
No one seems to care about the countless lives you take when you destroy Arms Forts, like Spirit of Motherwill, or the countless Line Ark citizens who die because you blew up the Megalis power plant, that provides energy for their Phlebotium-Clearing Air Purifiers.
Valkyria Chronicles has Isara's death being a major blow to all the main characters, who mope about it until the end of the game. On the other hand, your regular soldiers don't get that treatment, apart from a single last sentence as they fade away. And that's not even taking allied and enemy soldiers into account.
This is only the beginning. The entire Gallian army gets vaporized at one point, and no one has anything to say about the thousands of lives that were just snuffed out; the main characters' primary reaction is, "Holy shit, what a huge explosion— can Alicia do that!?" It breaks the, "Your soldiers are people, not numbers; don't treat them as such," message the whole game had in two, especially considering that Selvaria specifically blew herself up in order to burn the Gallian army alive where they stood. The scene is framed to show that General Damon (and the soldiers under his command) deserved it.
Dwarf Fortress, where the death of one dwarf is a tragedy, but the death of two hundred Dwarfs is a very successful use of magma.
It can be averted, however, in the fact that every single dwarf (and plenty of other creatures) is unique, with different personalities and tastes (and, in the new version, physical appearance). Therefore, it's not uncommon to grow very attached to your little dwarves, and mourn their loss.
Which means it's playing it straight, because as easy as it is to feel attached to your original seven dwarves, as the numbers pile up, they become more and more meaningless.
Also played straight with your dwarves, as they grow from fraternal pioneers to solitary Iron Woobies. After losing enough close personal relationships, witnessing massacres no longer phases them.
Prisoner: Kill a million people with a mighty star cruiser and you are a war hero. Kill a hundred with a thermal detonator and you are a terrorist.
Also on Manaan, Sunry tries to invoke this when you accuse him of murder, pointing out that you've killed a bunch of Sith yourself. Jolee calls him on it, saying that killing enemy combatants in battle during war and killing a person in their sleep are just a teensy bit different.
Players tended to forgive Sakura in Fate/stay night because of her victims - the two asshole members of her family, Saber and Berserker and about a thousand people from the town they live in. Seriously, does anyone even remember that she ate a thousand people? To be fair, in story it's actually an aversion as Sakura is struggling with guilt about the town yet is no doubt pleased about Zouken and probably even Shinji. It's demonstrated that she mentally collapses if Shirou is not around to help, and Shirou himself is trying to pick up the tattered scraps of his idealism for letting it happen. But to the players? Only upset about Saber, if at all.
The fact that she had absolutely no idea that she was killing any of the people in the town, and was not at all in control of her actions at that point (she saw it all as a nightmare), probably has a lot to do with it as well. As soon as she realises what she has been doing, she refuses to go to sleep, and then goes to confront her grandfather the next day in order to end it all. Granted, it goes wrong, but at least she tried... The only people she actually consciously kills are the aforementioned asshole victims, who most definitely deserved it. However, arguably Shirou can be blamed for this, because he doesn't take the opportunity to kill her even after he finds out that she has done this (although, doing so in the game is actually a bad choice, because her servant (rather predictably) kills him if he does, and this is likely to send Sakura insane with no possibility of being redeemed or stopped)
Contrast with Caster, who hospitalizes, disfigures and castrates large quantities of people during Unlimited Blade Works. What most people will likely hold up as her primary act of evil is taking Taiga hostage and kidnapping Saber, and most of it is forgiven by the time she dies beautifully in the arms of her beloved.
In Super Robot Wars Original Generation, whenever a named character is brainwashed into fighting for the Balmarians, everyone goes to whatever lengths to save them, or at least makes a big deal out of it. When you're faced with multiple unnamed human pilots wearing masks who are all brainwashed, someone asks if it's OK to fight them, someone just handwaves that they can't be helped (for some reason), and it's never brought up again.
Played straight in Final Fantasy VII where Cloud's paycheck putting a dent in Marlene's educational funding is given a little more attention than the fact that Cloud and AVALANCHE just returned from killing potentially hundreds of completely innocent plant workers in an eco-terrorist bombing as well as Barret breaking down when Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie are killed by Shinra, and he thinks Marlene has been killed by the collapsing Sector 7 pillar. However, Cait Sith does call Barret out on this later in the game when he asks Barret how many innocent people AVALANCHE killed when they blew up the reactor. Barret tries to justify it using this, but Cait Sith calls him out on this as well, and Barret doesn't seem fully convinced of his own argument.
Done in Crisis Core, when Zack's death is played up as the most tragic thing evarar... Ignoring that he killed an entire army of SHINRA troops who were just doing their jobs, which Zack himself was doing during his time in Wutai.
Averted in Final Fantasy IX. On the three occasions that cities are attacked and/or destroyed altogether, there is a huge amount of mourning: when Cleyra is wiped off the map, the main characters (Freya in particular) are shocked by the loss of life- though they are forced into action very quickly; Zidane and Garnet are visibly horrified by the attack on Lindblum, especially since they actually have to walk through theruins soon after; finally, Garnet actually loses her voice when confronted with the destruction of Alexandria and the casualties that resulted.
Doubled by the fact that the Eidolons used were forcibly extracted from Garnet.
Averted with a potent emotional punch in Final Fantasy X: when Auron and Jecht fade away, their deaths are given all due respect, honor, and grief by the party; Tidus' final farewell is equal parts Tear Jerker and Crowning Moment Of Heartwarming, too. But the destruction of Kilika and the mass slaughter of Al-Bhed and Crusaders at Operation Mi'ihen are the most heart-wrenching, devastating events in the game, and the characters respond to these with far, far more sorrow than even the aforementioned instances.
Yuna's Guardians were far more unhappy with the idea that Yuna has to die to accomplish the final summoning than the idea that Sin kills thousands if she doesn't. Also, it was insane that they simply didn't have a stock of fully trained summoners/final fayth ready and willing to beat up sin the SECOND it shows up. Sure it means certain death, but the crusaders sign up en masse and they have even LESS chance of surviving a Sin-encounter
Because even trying to reach the Final Fayth is likely to kill the Summoner, and summoning it to defeat Sin. In fact, most Summoners either eventually give up and turn back at Mount Gagazet OR die while trying to pass Mount Gagazet. If the Ronso didn't help Yuna, it would of been an even more treacherous journey, though the presence of a certain Boss makes you feel it's difficulty anyway.
Admittedly, Yuna herself only agrees once she learns that The Final Summoning can never permanently stop Sin, contrary to belief that there was some chance that it could. Everyone else, however, including all the Guardians and the entire Al-Bhed people, do not need such an argument - a single death is apparently too much for these residents of post-apocalyptic Spira to bear thinking about, even though every one of them has lost someone they care about to Sin. In fact, the Al-Bhed are more than willing to kidnap Summoners who are going to sacrifice their lives of their own free will, and imprison them for life to stop those Summoners from making the honest and heroic choice to give themselves for the greater good - and the player is clearly expected to agree with them. What the Hell, Hero??
Again in Final Fantasy XII where the destruction of an airship fleet is simply a slap-on-the-wrist warning against Nethicite, and the complete annihilation of the crews on board (with the protagonists as the sole survivors) hardly even warrants mention.
Parodied in Discworld Noir: Lewton tells an NPC that the people of Ankh-Morpork don't react if you tell them a thousand people died in a pogrom in Omnia, but tell them an Ankh-Morpork citizen stubbed his toe on the Brass Bridge and you get a reaction. The other guy then replies: "A citizen stubbed his toe on the Brass Bridge?"
In Wing Commander III, with one bomb Blair (the Player Character) destroys a planet, killing billions of Kilrathi, but except in the novelization of the sequel it's not even mentioned (and only hinted at with a brief shot of the Emperor's chambers collapsing), unlike the deaths of Jeanette "Angel" Devereaux, Mitchell "Vaquero" Lopez, Laurel "Cobra" Buckley, or the fate of Locanda IV, homeworld of Robin "Flint" Peters.
In the space RTS Haegemonia: Legions of Iron the conventional mean of subduing enemy planets is orbital bombardment. Preferably with viral torpedoes - they are more effective. All you get to see at that is the down-counting number of the population. 100 millions...85 millions...50 millions...c'mon, give up already...40 millions...you're not the only planet I have to conquer, you know...30 millions...25 millions...finally! Welcome to the family! As a token of my clemency, I'll now lower the taxes until you all love and admire me, savvy?
You can say the same for any game based on a large-scale war, and in fact, there are a few instances where the plight of the common folk is integral to the story (in particular, the Yellow Turban Rebellion and Liu Bei leading the peasants out of Chang Ban). The main reason DW makes such a huge deal out of certain deaths is that's how it was in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which, as anyone who's read it will tell you, is very heavy on drama.
Mordin deliberately averts this - when enacting the genophage (a mass sterilisation of a violent race, to which only one in a thousand give birth), he chose to keep visiting the world himself to study the results, to keep the reality of what he had done in his mind. He also averts this before heading out on the suicide mission - in order to have a clear picture of what he's fighting for, he calls his favourite nephew. In his loyalty mission, he even states that all life is precious.
Mordin: Yearly recon missions. Water, tissue samples. Ensure no mistakes. Superiors offered to carry it on. Refused. Needed to see it in person. Need to look. Need...to see. Accept it as necessary. (inhale) See small picture. Remind myself why I run a clinic on Omega.
As well as the scale of conflict, the First Contact war had about 623 casualties on the human side over the span of 3 months compared to what will normally happen with deaths in the thousands
Further averted concerning the Citadel Battle in Mass Effect 2 when you encounter an asari on Illium who first seems like a two-dimensional Jerk Ass, but if you manage to get through her, she will reveal that the cause of her bitterness was the loss of her daughters on Citadel. And if you manage to put the pieces together, you will realize that those daughters were two very minor characters you spoke once or twice in the course of the first game.
Mass Effect 3 repeatedly reminds you of the scale of the death and destruction that's happening everywhere that the Reapers invade. At one point you see a young boy die while trying to escape.
A better example might be Liara's reaction to the destruction of Thessia. She was by no means uncaring towards Shepard or Garrus when they respectively lost Earth and Palaven, but it wasn't until her own world got destroyed that she had a Heroic BSOD. Note that she does not come across as unsympathetic or selfish in any way, and her stunned exclamation of "My home!" when she saw the devastation is a very believable and tearjerking reaction.
This trope is extensively discussed throughout the game; Garrus and Shepard have a long talk about "the ruthless calculus of war", of sacrificing a million over here so that a billion over there might survive, and there are various times when a sacrifice of some kind has to be made, and it's up to the player whether to take the personal or pragmatic option.
Fable III subverts this handily. In the second half of the game, you have to manage Albion's funding to prevent the absolute annihilation of the kingdom's 6.5 million people by the invading Crawler and his "Children." Every day, you get to see a "Projected Civilian Casualties" statistic, which is exactly 6.5M-Funding. It is nearly impossible not to want to save as many as possible, and damn the PR!
Used masterfully in the Cataclysm expansion of World of Warcraft. The updating of quests and geography in vast sections of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms (the games' oldest and original continents) has brought the deaths and vanishings of a great deal of old, familiar NPCs. One who would have slogged through the corpses of countless nameless mooks throughout the previous two expansions without batting an eyelash would be surprised at the amount of effective tear jerkers in Cataclysm.
Even more so since some players like to use the statistics page to compare how many enemies they've killed.
In Far Cry 2 one of the central characters the Jackal, who you were hired to kill to put an end to his arms dealing which is only fanning the flames of the various civil wars that are going on in Africa, makes a very good point about this during one of his various interview tapes which can be found in the game. During one of the tapes he mentions how despite how powerful the U.S Military is (he should know he was a former Navy Seal before he became an arms dealer) they let petty morality get in the way of doing whatever it takes to win and that their media focuses too much on how many of our service men and women die in combat when they need to realize that soldiers dying is part of the cost of war. He is saying that the American public can't accept heavy casualties and care more about the death of individuals rather than honor the cause they died for, "The death of a 23 year old from Iwoa gets more air time than the death of 50,000 people he gave his life to protect. Even if they did give a shit about things over here their own media prevents them from taking any action." The death of even one of our troops is a tragedy, the death of those he was fighting for even if goes into the thousands or millions is a statistic, the Jackal is disgusted at the hypocrisy of this. It is for this reason that he believes that his arms dealing is actually helping the world, if the U.S Military won't do anything to stem the tide of all these terrible wars going on in the world then he will.
In the Halo series, this is used in ODST and horribly deconstructed in Reach. In both cases, you play as the semi-expendable soldiers of the UNSC (the eponymous soldiers in ODST, and the SPARTAN-IIIs in Reach). As powerful as you are, your shirt is still mauve, and you and your team are expendable. By the end of Reach, your entire squad is killed, and only Halsey laments it.
The ending of Sonic Adventure, where Tails happily declares that "alls well that ends well, right?" This is despite the fact that the city is utterly destroyed, at least half the population is dead, and Eggman gets away...again!
Like the Total War example above, Crusader Kings and its sequel are games where most armies are composed of faceless levies but led by named characters, including your player character and his heirs. Often the game will allow, encourage, or outright require you to sacrifice thousands of those levies to satisfy the whims of one of these characters — for instance, besieging a castle so that you'll have a holding to give to your Spare To The Throne so he'll stop complaining about not having any land unlike his elder brother.
Arguably, this strip, although the innumeracy isn't directly related to killing.
This example overlaps between Webcomics and Real Life. In The Crossoverlord for most of the people Smiling Man's Moral Event Horizon was revelation that he killed most or all alternate counterparts of main characters to get what he wanted, despite that much earlier he changed the position of all stars in the firmament, destroying all planets that were running around them and slaughtering every life form that could live on those planets. Because he wanted to make the sky smile at him!
The final battle in Kid Radd. We're not even shown the deaths of all of Crystal's cookie-cutter minions by Radd's ragtag band; most of the slaughter is implied. But Bogey dies. And not just dies, he forces Radd to shoot him so Radd can take the life power-up he carries. After complaining earlier in the series about how he can't contribute meaningfully to this war. Ultimately, he not only saves Radd's life, he ends up being the only casualty on that side.
Averted in Terinu. When the Human Federation's genocide of the Ferin is revealed, Leeza is properly horrified. It doesn't hurt that when she makes the discovery, we see an obscured autopsy photo of one of the victims
In Homestuck, Jack Noir kills thousands of pawns and nobody bats an eye. And then he burns Prospit to the ground and a few eyebrows are raised. And then he kills Dream Jade, who's actually characterized, and jaws drop all around.
Many fans hated Vriska for crippling and later killingTavros, killing Aradia, and blinding Terezi at least as much as they do Jack Noir for killing absurd numbers of pawns. Vriska also killed thousands of other trolls to feed to her custodian (although in that case, this trope was averted and discussed when she mentioned that to John).
The term 'murder' comes up often in connection with Tavros, though that's an oversimplification of the event. However it never appears in descriptions of the many fellow larpers sacrificed to her lusus or the many spirits of the dead she dominated and threw into the fire to smoke out the Big Bad. In fact, fellow trolls who still resented her for causing the deaths of their friends didn't fully realize the atrocity of the latter until John pointed it out.
Which is, in and of itself, an instance of this: Lord English, the aforementioned Big Bad who Vriska used hundreds of fellow ghosts as bait for, destroys entire universes.
It's worth pointing out that Eridan was Vriska's accomplice in her thousands of backstory murders, yet was seen as generally harmless or even endearing for his exaggerated emotional theatrics. Then he snapped, announced his allegiance to Jack Noir, and went on a shooting spree when the others objected.
Jack got prototyped with Becquerel and eventually was sent to the Troll's Incipisphere, where he destroyed both Derse, Prospit, and the rest of the planets. Jack also caused the Reckoning in the kids' session, which wiped out Earth's population aside from the four kids. No one really cares. Since that prototyping, however, he killed several characters, including Bro, John, a Doomed Dave, Rose's Mom and John's Dad, John again, Rose, Dave, and too many to list here in [S] Cascade.
Gamzee hardly killed anyone, just Equius and Nepeta. But he was still treated by some as as much of a monster as Jack Noir.
Most games of Sburb kill off a planet's population, but the comic doesn't focus on that so much as the players' quest to create a new universe.
Meenah, the bratty pre-scratch troll who would become the post-scratch Empress/Betty Crocker is paralyzed with joy that she became the master/murderer of trillions instead of the noblesse oblige ruler she would have been forced to be.
Both played straight and averted in Erfworld. "Lord Hamster" wins a siege by setting off the volcanic caldera under the city, wiping out almost everyone from both sides. He's pissed that he had to resort to that to survive. He's equally pissed that he had to sacrifice his loyal servant shortly beforehand.
Granted, destroying the entire world would be the single greatest act of dickery he's performed yet, but somehow the slaughter of six billion anonymous people seems to lack that personal touch we get when he kills Lois or ruins Jimmy's life.
A minor Lampshade Hanging on video games' tendency to do this to enemy mooks, part of one Zero Punctuation episode had a sign saying "you must end 062 promicing young lives to continue."
Avatar: The Last Airbender : Presumably, either the Fire Nation has the best swimmers ever, or the Avatar/Koizilla killed hundreds of Fire Nation soldiers in the Season 1 Finale, yet Aang is sternly taking a Thou Shalt Not Kill policy when it's time to face the Big Bad.
Granted, that was in his Avatar state, over which (at least at the point in question) he has relatively little control.
It's not even Aang in the Avatar State- Koizilla is Aang in the Avatar State possessed by the Spirit of the entire Ocean, who is more than a little upset over losing his other "half"- the Moon. Aang is just a host.
And it's made pretty clear Aang has nightmares about the battle.
There's also the battle at the Northern Air Temple. There's absolutely no way Aang failed to kill at least a few of the soldiers in those tanks that he tossed over the side of a cliff.
Parodied in The Simpsons: Bart accidentally kills a bird and decides to hatch her eggs out of guilt. The eggs hatch and they turn out to be a species of lizard that eat bird eggs, replace them with their own and eat the mother once they hatch. Skinner wants to kill the lizards since they're responsible for the extinction of several bird species but Bart lets them go, after which they completely eradicate Springfield's pigeon population, causing Bart to receive a commendation. After the ceremony...
Lisa: I don't get it, Bart. You got all upset when you killed one bird, but now you've killed tens of thousands, and it doesn't bother you at all.
Bart: Hey, you're right ... I call the front seat!
Lisa: You had it on the way over!
Celebrity Deathmatch: Even though the entire point of the show is celebrities killing each other, any time one of the commentators is hurt it's treated like a tragedy. Lampshaded in "Johnny Gomez and Nick Diamond vs. Sam Donaldson" when Sam says that "the arena normally home to fun death and destruction was tonight the site of tragic death and destruction."
A joke (with many variants) goes something like this: two national leaders (let's say, the top political guy and the top military guy) are sitting in a diner, planning a war. They decide to kill a million of <insert enemy nation here> citizens, and a completely unrelated bicycle repairman/pizza delivery driver/clown. They pitch this idea to a random bystander who is shocked to hear that they would go out of their way to kill the unrelated civilian. One leader turns to the other and says, "see, I told you no one would care about killing the million enemy citizens."