Look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game.
— Phil Ochs, "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends"
Dragon Ball Z was particularly guilty of this trope, especially during the Buu Saga. When Goku and Vegeta attempted to get the Earth to donate energy to the Spirit Bomb, the people (besides their friends and family) outright refused, even mocking them. Mr. Satan was legitimately angered at this, as the planet was giving the middle finger at their one and only chance to destroy Majin Buu once and for all, and ended up calling them out for it. Ironically, its him calling them out that got them to do it. Many people said (though possibly only the dub) that it might have just been some trick by Buu, or something to that effect. It was the fact that Mr. Satan is THE MOST FAMOUS HEROIC CHAMPION FIGHTER ON EARTH (since the Z warriors all shun fame and let him take credit for the Cell Games) that they got on board... Though oddly nobody questioned if HIS voice was a trick, probably because the one thing Mr. Satan shares with his namesake other than the name is epic bullshitting.
In the anime movie Howls Moving Castle, two of the main characters, Howl and Sophie, walk across the street in mid-air while the street below them is crowded with nearly hundreds of townsfolk dancing.
Panzer World Galient: The Lanplatians. Even when a tower falls on their friends right in front of them, they just stand there drooling in confusion. Marder's grand plan is actually to make them forget this and care about *something* again.
Shows up a lot in Shiki, where most of the villagers are utterly apathetic about the vampires taking over the town (they think it's an epidemic of disease, but still). An epidemic is one thing, but the town having dozens of deaths, and slowly being repopulated by pale people who only work at night, you'd think they'd be at least a little suspicious.
In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, citizens don't care that Togusa had just been shot and now lay bleeding out on the sidewalk. They just want to get out of the rain... although one citizen does cautiously approach him at the very last second before the episode fades out to the credits.
In Hunter × Hunter, people get killed off all the time in public, or escorted out of the public to be killed in gruesome manners, and no one ever seems to pay much attention to the corpses on the streets or rampant disappearances, not even reporting them to the police. The Hunters are the only ones shown to take note of frequent deaths and disappearances in some particular area, and most of them display no empathy whatsoever, using said knowledge as clues to further their own ends. Ordinary civilians recount horrific events casually to their co-workers and comrades in a casual manner with little reaction from the people they speak to. The main character, Gon, is one such exception to this rule; any death he sees weighs heavily on him, as long as they haven't proven themselves an irredeemable murderous scumbag to him.
The usual citizens of the Marvel and DC universes do not usually react to people using superpowers or flying around in costumes. After all, after some decades of ongoing continuity, it would not be realistic to expect them to keep pointing "it's a bird, it's a plane..." The exception is when there is a severe fight or destruction: people that keep shopping while Terrax or Despero destroy the buildings some meters away would be too much. Another exception (or not) is when the characters go back in time; the unusual overreactions to superheros make it even more clear that they are not "at home".
Whatever malign force makes Johnny insane also prevents him from having his crimes seen. This is lampshaded in the story.
Squee takes place in the same universe and the citizens react the same way. Also, there are a few non-Johnny stories in Johnny the Homicidal Maniac where strange things happen and no one seems to care much.
Hitman from DC comics, starring Tommy Monaghan (not the bald dude). He is utterly truthful with his initial romantic interest, who simply thinks he's being charming. She does not take it well when she discovers that he really does kill people (only bad ones though) for cash.
Sin City citizens generally don't care if someone like Marv turns someone into a bloody mess right in front of them.
This is the reason Rorschach became a costumed vigilante in Watchmen - his first 'origin' ("Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach") was triggered by reading in the newspaper about the case of Kitty Genovese (see the Real Life section).
Rorschach: Kitty Genovese. Raped. Tortured. Killed. Here in New York. Outside her own apartment building. Almost forty neighbors heard screams. Nobody did anything. Nobody called cops. Some of them even watched. Do you understand? Some of them even watched.
In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman regularly confesses to being a Serial Killer, just to see if anyone is listening. They almost never are, and if they are they think he's joking. It is however hinted that he just imagines at least some of the killings.
It's also hinted that he really is killing people, but the people around him don't mind, covering it up for their own gain.
In the second Men In Black movie, Will Smith is thrown through the window of a New York Subway train and immediately starts shouting at everyone to evacuate. The passengers ignore him until a giant toothed alien monster bites a chunk off the carriage. Later after he mind-wipes them, he starts chewing them out about this, realizes he's screwing up the mind-wipe and starts over.
Done to both funny and scary effect in Ghostbusters, when Louis is cornered by the Terror Dog outside a restaurant. Everyone ignores his pleas to be let in, then just watches as the dog drags him off before going back to their meals. Ivan Reitman really gets a laugh out of the scene on the DVD commentary, calling it "a New York moment."
In Kick-Ass, Dave Lizewski states that the reason he became a superhero is because he couldn't stand by as a man got attacked while everyone just watched.
Kick-Ass: Three assholes, laying into one guy while everyone else watches? And you want to know what's wrong with me?
In Last Action Hero, the main antagonist is a criminal from a stereotypical movie universe where the good guys always win and the bad guys never kill innocent bystanders while on the rampage. When he finds himself in the real world late one night he asks a random bystander for some help "testing a theory." When the bystander approaches he pulls out a gun and shoots him dead, then loudly announces "I've just killed a man!" To which someone angrily hollers back from the windows overhead for him to shut up so they can sleep. The villain is overjoyed.
Pick a disaster movie. Any one. Chances are, whatever country/town/area is going to be hit by a tidal wave or storm or what have you will completely ignore the multiple warnings of the Only Sane Man, to the point of getting annoyed by said warnings. Then they almost all die.
And then, they complain when no one comes to rescue them. Or that they weren't warned in time.
Sadly this is very much Truth in Television. No matter how much advance warning people have of impending disasters in real life (such as hurricanes) there will always be those who ignore them and chose stay behind. Needless to say these are the kind of people who usually end up getting killed or complain about people not doing enough to help them.
At the beginning of The Dark KnightThe Joker finishes off his first display of talent by having a school bus drive into the bank and then pull out in the middle of a a group of them, in broad daylight, on a busy street. The only reaction of the people on the street that the audience is able to notice is a bunch of kids cheering.
Later on, Batman has to plow through an alleyway of parked cars on his Batpod. Two kids in the alleyway pretending to shoot guns at the cars watch as the cars really do start blowing up. One seems amazed but not frightened, while the other smiles.
In The Howling, several people watch a woman transform into a werewolf on live TV and pass it off as special effects, not really caring enough to look into the matter further.
Averted at the end of Rope. The movie ends with Rupert firing the gun outside to attract the police.
In Back to the Future III four thugs who've been terrorizing the city quite long are on the holiday unarmed after publicily trying (and failing) to kill the town's blacksmith. One of them actually mentions that they are unarmed. There are forty or so grown, hardened men around. Should someone decide to teach the bad guys a lesson, they would be beaten and subdued in mere seconds, and possibly hung in mere days. No, nobody even moves, leaving Marty and Doc to fight for their town.
In The War Game, a 1965 docudrama about a nuclear attack on Britain, blame for this is put on the authorities and the media who've failed to educate or even address the populace on the subject of nuclear war. Sure enough, the BBC prevented the film from being aired on the grounds that it was too disturbing for television.
In The Lady Vanishes, at least half of the train passengers who deny having seen Ms. Froy aren't even part of the conspiracy, they just don't want to get involved for various reasons of their own.
Zigzagged in Oldboy. After the hallway fight scene, Dae-su walks out onto the street covered in blood with nothing more than the occasional odd look from passersby. But when he collapses in the middle of a crosswalk, somebody instantly rushes to his aid (though justified when a short while later it's revealed he's in on the conspiracy.)
In Star Trek Into Darkness, a giant spacecraft crashes into San Fransisco Bay, doing damage and looming over the city. However as Spock pursues the Big Bad through the city, everyone is still going about their business as if this sort of thing happens every day.
In 1984, O'Brien goes on lengths to describe how the proletariat are this, they're so entrenched in Bread and Circuses that they would never care about all the sheer misery, lies and destruction the Party is perpetuating in plain sight, thus destroying Winston's hope that "if there is hope it lies in the proles".
In the Lemony Snicket series A Series of Unfortunate Events, most of society is unwilling and/or unable to fight injustice, and many would prefer to gawk at violence for entertainment than attempt to stop it, unless it actually threatens them.
The Harlan Ellison story "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" plays on and ultimately subverts the trope. Witnesses to a Kitty Genovese-like (see the Real Life section) murder aren't simply indifferent or paralyzed. They're members of a Religion of Evil taking part in a sacrifice.
The inhabitants of the Castle in Septimus Heap rarely care about even plot-critical and Castle-spanning events like the Supreme Custodian taking over the Castle.
Played as hilariously straight as it is horrifying, in the GONE series, residents of the FAYZ are used to several people dropping dead on the street every week, and have genuinely stopped reacting fully to it, unless they were personally involved with the poor smuck.
Those That Wake has these to begin with, and it's made worse by Man in Suit and his corruption.
In Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, the citizens who did not take seriously Windrip's rise to power qualify as this. Emma Jessop is a recurring example, as she's more concerned about mundane matters that the rise of fascism in America, much to Doremus' chargrin.
Some politicians attempt enforce this trope in The Newsflesh Trilogy, and even without laws, its probably a good way to stay alive. You see, in this world, anyone dying can, within minutes, zombify. Thus quite a few people (and laws) are concerned that attempts to help people killed in car-crashes or heart-attacks will just lead to further outbreaks.
Doctor Who, to excess. The Russell T. Davies era, whose production team consists of fans of the original series who were likely frustrated by this trope, takes great efforts to avert it, most notably having London completely evacuated for Christmas because the city was attacked by aliens the previous two Christmas.
It seems like the background characters on LOST don't give a tiny rat's rear about the monster, the Others, the sky turning purple, or any of the other weird stuff that happens on Craphole Island. They just want to eat Dharma products and lie on the beach. They don't even want to build an SOS sign or play ping-pong.
The severe lack of 'island savvy' is commented upon by some of the characters, who then go off later and do exactly what they warned other people not to do. Not wander through the jungle alone because there be monsters. The characters are aware they should not even be alive in the first place (it was a nasty crash) but still...
Kai: I have observed that the residents of the various cities on Water suffer from — or perhaps, benefit from — a certain complacency in relation to the potential dangers they face. They seem to live for the minute, in a kind of continuum, and will likely show no interest in our problem.
In the Burn Notice episode False Flag, Michael saves a woman from being hit by a car, but nobody else in the street even reacts.
In an episode of Mash, Hawkeye, in attempting to demonstrate the apathy of the camp, makes a bet with Trapper that he could walk into lunch stark naked and no one would notice. He was only foiled because a soldier did notice and dropped his tray loudly enough to get people's attention.
In Star Trek, this is argubably the entire Federation can act like this at times. We never get any indication that the citizens have any problem with Starfleet seeking out new life and new civilisations and occasionally (often by total accident) pissing them off. With how often Trek villains state their end goal is to destroy the Federation (Earth in particular), you'd think there would be some opposition from the people on Federation worlds that will be razed due to Starfleet's actions? Do the people have any say in things?
When the Maquis protested their colonies were given to the Cardassians without their consent, they were denounced as terrorists, rounded up and imprisoned as enemies of the state. As shown in "Non Sequitur" even talking to a known member of the Maquis and looking up certain information on a public database, is enough to get someone slapped with an ankle bracelet.
As "Paradise Lost" shows, one dangerous Starfleet officer trying to force Starfleet into becoming a full-blown police-state in the name of Federation security, although this time, the people do notice the armed personnel on every street corner and take a stand.
Subverted by the Organians, who appear this way to the Federation and Klingons at first, even shrugging off the threat of mass-murder against their people. As it turns out however, they're really an incomprehensibly powerful race of energy beings, who were just sitting back and observing the two alien powers to see just how rotten they could be to each other.
The citizens in The Protomen's albums are this across both acts; Protoman even calls them out for just waiting for a hero to save them.
"Dark Ages" by Jethro Tull has hints of this. With civilization on the brink of collapse, humanity is more concerned with their own well being than those of others.
Space 1889: Mostly averted at least with humans, this was the time of plenty of grass root movements and charity movements. In some adventures player characters are sometimes expected to intervene in matters that does not directly involve them for no reason than the goodness of their hearts. Most canal Martians are surprisingly resigned to the ineffectiveness of their rulers and the slow dying of their planet, though.
Averted in the Anno series. One of the best ways to see fireworks is to withhold (or not meet) your population's needs from them for an extended period of time.
Many Baldur's Gate citizens are aware that the world's going to hell right now (again), but nobody seems to be arsed to do a thing about it. Also, people who lose things, have their friends kidnapped, or just plain want to investigate strange happenings, are quite content to wait around and wait for you to do the job yourself, or at best, wait for you to talk to them before heading on their quest with you in tow.
The second game handles most of the quests a bit better, especially the class-specific/stronghold quests: it's not that the citizens are apathetic, and in fact, there's more than a few people trying to do things about the problems, but they're level 1 nobodies and know it, so they're not about to look into it themselves. They'd much rather hire the roving band of god-like mercenaries.
This makes the actions of the NPC crowd even stranger in the first game, when one of the big problems is an iron shortage that your party can resolve by third level. What has the Badass Army Flaming Fist been doing if it isn't chasing the Player Character down for infractions of Video Game Cruelty Potential?
Knights of the Old Republic has plenty of this from the Muggles, but it's justified to the point of Deconstruction, especially in the second game, by the fact that the Force Users are dragging everyone else into their conflict (not for the first time, and certainly not for the last), and many don't see much of a difference between Jedi and Sith. As one character puts it, both factions are "Men and women with too much power, arguing over religion while the rest of us burn."
The Black Omen in Chrono Trigger is a flying obsidian battlestation. When it first appeared in 12,000 B.C, Humanity had just barely managed to survive a cataclysm that brought the world out of an ice age (which its appearance caused), and people knew that the Black Omen was something to fear. However, its purpose was to just wait until the Day of Lavos to happen in 1999 AD, so it did nothing. In 1000 A.D, it had been floating around for generations without doing anything, so there would be no reason to expect it to do anything now. Characters even forecast weather by the way it shines that day.
City of Villains often plays this straight. Civilians often completely ignore the antics of supervillains and various groups. Gameplay wise, normal civilians are invulnerable, and since random superpowered public battles go on all the time ... by this point, it's little more than street theater for them.
The apathy is even more apparent if one tries to talk to the civilians. Rogue Islanders are rather dismissive of supervillainy, to the point of being Deadpan Snarkers! ("Let me guess. You're the Dark Something or Other.")
Prime Example of this: During a Deadly Apocalypse special event (which is heralded by thick fog, dramatic music, and the sudden appearance of ominous banners throughout the zone), Paragon Citizens will run for cover. Islanders? Don't even react.
Dungeon Siege II: Broken World hits the "reallllly pessimistic" part right on the head. A lot of the Elves go on pessimistic monologues that would make a goth or a Nietzsche Wannabe proud. There is a good reason for it, though; they no longer have visions and the Familiars easily decimated them.
Emerald Version takes the cake: the weather's gone to hell, two ancient titans are intent on destroying one another, Hoenn and possibly the entire world are in jeopardy...and that kid in Mossdeep is still rambling on about the rock Steven gave him. Whoop-dee-freaking-doo, now evacuate before your island floods.
But at least most of the people in that area seemed worried, and their doors were locked.
In Platinum, people seem worried too... if they're in the area. This trait is carried on from Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald.
Lampshaded in Pokémon Black and White; at one point N suggests that if everybody else in Unova cared about their Pokemon half as much as you do, he wouldn't have a cause, but they don't, so he does.
At least in Black and White, this is averted with the Gym Leaders. Unlike the previous generations where the Gym Leaders are just as apathetic as everyone else, the Leaders from seven of the eight Unova gyms are actively involved in opposing N and Team Plasma.
In Pokémon X and Y, two people in the town's Pokemon Center do notice that an enormous crystalline weapon has risen from the ground in the middle of Geosenge Town, destroying several houses in the process, and that Team Flare has seized control of their town. On the other hand, another guy in the Pokémon Center is still too busy talking about the TM he gave you earlier to notice anything unusual. But what really takes the cake is Phil the Photo Guy, as you can still call him to take your picture in the middle of all this, and he doesn't acknowledge any of what's going on. When you call him up, he just goes about his business like usual. Even after the crisis is averted, nobody really does anything to fix the damage done around Geosenge's north end, and everyone in town seems relatively unphased by the ordeal.
In a combination of the giant meteor in the sky and the clownish madman trying to destroy the world, the premise of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has the possessed Skull Kid bringing the moon down on Termina. Reactions range from "Gee, the moon's getting bigger..." to plans in a Bomb Shop for trying to GET to said moon using bombs. Even the Mask Salesman who starts you on your journey doesn't do anything himself, only shaking you if you go back to him without the eponymous mask.
To be fair, he knows EXACTLY what to do about it. He also knows he can't do anything to help.
The entire series is filled with civilians who are surprisingly okay with Link walking right into their houses and breaking their jars to take what's inside, although those same people will, on occasion, demand repayment for breaking down their door...
In Skyward Sword, anyone in Skyloft will let you sleep in their bed. Especially Beedle, who complains how your sleeping in his bed made him have to peddle even harder just to keep his floating shop afloat. He says he doesn't mind, but he certainly complains about it enough.
And let's be fair: in the last six hours before the crash, everyone's finally gotten off their behinds to start rioting/crying/expecting imminent death. Rather sudden after 66 hours of apathy, but at least they finally showed some emotion.
Possibly justified in that there ARE people screaming at the mayor to get everyone out of the city. Others don't want people panicking and urge him to continue with the festival. The people are planning to go to the ranch to avoid the problem. People are freaked and either have no idea what to do or come up with very inadequate plans. Kafei and most of the other side quest stuff... not so much. Hey, my girlfriend is going to be crushed by a gigantic grinning rock, can you help me get this mask back?
Essentially, the people aren't really apathetic, but are in denial. On the third day when it's made abundantly clear that the moon will fall, they break. The sidequest stuff could also be explained by most of the people being aware that evacuating the town isn't going to save them, so they want to put their affairs in order and enjoy what little time they have left. Not only that, even at the start of the game it's only 3 days till the crash, the only people who haven't ALREADY evacuated are the above people in denial.
Plenty of people were willing to help Link, but sometimes required strange tasks. Getting one key spell, for example, required getting water for a woman when the fountain was the next screen over. Another complained about a trophy being stolen and required its return to get the spell. Clearly there are more important things?
Also, the random townspeople were a mixed bag. Some of them were clearly worried with phrases like "You must save Hyrule!" and "Please save our town!". Others expressed "I am much too busy to talk to a stranger" or "I know nothing".
Elsewhere in the Zelda universe, in The Minish Cap, Princess Zelda gets turned to stone, and nobody in town gives a shit. In fact, all they ever seem to give a toss about is how strange the King is acting - by which time you'll probably have seen the cutscene that explains it. Oh, and Kinstones. They LOVE Kinstones.
And in Twilight Princess, nobody seems to notice that their beloved Queen Zelda has disappeared. They don't even talk about her all that much or even when Hyrule Castle is surrounded by an impenetrable bubble. And when the city is first filled with darkness, they WATCH the castle BURN and don't seem to really care! To paraphrase Midna: "This city is full of idiots!"
In Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, the people of North Korea have become so desensitized to the constant shifts in government and the daily assortment of air raids, artillery barrages, mafia killings, and armored offensives that they won't even blink when a heavily armed mercenary rumbles past with a stolen tank.
This shows up in Mercenaries 2: World in Flames as well. Most Venezuelan civilians will keep on driving down the road, even when there is a large running gunfight between mercenaries, People's Liberation Army of Venezuela, the Venezuelan Army, the Chinese Army, and the Allied Nations roaring down the road towards them. However, an interesting aversion sometimes occurs when civilian pedestrians in the major cities run screaming in terror from the various bombing runs and gunfights occurring within city limits.
Played painfully straight in Sonic Unleashed. The entire world has been torn apart, an Eldritch Abomination is wreaking havoc at night, and Eggman is being uncharacteristically menacing, yet the only townspeople to show appropriate concern or despair are revealed to be possessed by the aforementioned Eldritch Abomination. It's a little bit creepy finding people completely aware of the grim state of the world, yet much more concerned with mundane problems.
Perhaps justified by all the shit that's happened before. Angel Island periodically crashes into either the sea or a nearby continent, giant robots (and in one case, an Eldritch Abomination known as Chaos) regularly attack the city of Station Square, a large chunk of the moon is missing from that one time Eggman got his hands on a Wave Motion Gun, there was that alien invasion a few years back... at this point, they've probably stopped caring.
This is lampshaded by Amy, where she asks why everyone is so laid-back during the crisis.
In Tales of Symphonia, at one point, a planet appears overhead. The two planets are mere miles away from each other, and it turns the sky a bright shade of purple. However, no one seems to be upset that another world is placed so close to theirs, except for one college student, who worries that it might mess up his senior thesis.
In Tales of Vesperia, a similar premise takes place when the Adephagos is introduced into the world. Despite it being blatantly obvious in its eventual destruction of the world, the populace, for the most part, doesn't look like they care much. However, this is changed when the guilds, Knights, and everyone else joins together to destroy blastia in the hopes of bringing change to the world.
Averted in the Wrath of the Lich KingExpansion Pack for World of Warcraft, where you gather weapons and otherwise help a group of farmers rise up to battle an undead invasion. It's even the farmers' idea.
While the citizen of Empire City will easily notice Cole and act accordingly to his Karma rating in inFAMOUS, they have the annoying habit of just standing around while you're duking it out with street gangs and giant robots. While not much of an inconvenience if you're playing as a villain, in which case you can just blast everything in sight, be it villain or civilian, it gets particularly annoying when playing as a hero, and you can't use any of your stronger powers because twenty damn old ladies are between you and baddies.
Actually they are not as apathetic as most other sandbox games in many cases, sure, they run amok and get in your line of fire most of the time, but as you play the game they become less fitting for this category as you go on, they might aid you by stoning the baddies to death for you, or the other way around where they might try to stone YOU to death if you're evil(some balls they've got). Anyway, outside of the battle fields they do react as you'd expect people would react in the events of a military quarantine after a large explosion and is trapped with a not so deadly plague.
Angband, Moria, and some other Roguelikes partially follow this trope. There's a deep dungeon with the world Ultimate Evil at the bottom, but there's a happy town with merchants all too willing to make a buck off the hero. Though to be fair, it's possible the town has sprung up because of the opportunities in selling equipment to would-be adventurers who promptly get themselves killed, thus ensuring a nice buyback policy once it's "found".
This could also be chalked up to Rule of Symbolism. Part of the underlying theme of the game's story is about how people can be kept controlled and unquestioning via manipulation of media and authority to help contextualize memetic ideas. Seeing the citizens practically ignore the disaster literally in their midst underscores to the player just how much control of society in general The Patriots have.
In Phantasy Star IV, late in the game, the people of Piata are worried about what will happen to their city when they find out that a huge hole has opened up in the earth north of them and all life around it is dying inexplicably, including killing everyone in Mile, a nearby village. They don't do anything about it. I should point out that Piata is called the Town Of Learning because it's the only place in the solar system with a university, and the world's smartest people live there. It does have a notable aversion, though, see below.
By late in the game Prototype, most of Manhattan is a warzone between AlexMercer, the US Marine Corps and ShadowyGovernment Conspiracy, and the Infected. However, in many areas, traffic is going normally, and people are casually strolling down the streets, right up until Mercer shows up while using any of his visible powers, or the Infected start spreading again. Then they panic. They should know better by now.
For a given value of "visible powers", which is to say his aggressive ones. Want to run straight up the side of a building, glide over to the other side of the street, then land so hard you crack the pavement? Nobody will bat an eye. Not even the military personnel who are supposed to be on the lookout for you.
That may be less apathy/cluelessness, and more savvyness: the guards/pedestrians are hoping that if they pretend they don't see you, you won't murder them horribly and eat their corpse.
It gets so absurd, that you can stand at the edge of an infected zone and a neutral zone and look left, see people panicking, screaming and freaking out as infected attack them and the military attacks them, then look right and see completely calm people cross the street without a care in the world.
Marine: Fucking New York...
Hitman usually averts this, with civilians screaming and running at any sign of danger. But the last mission of Contracts hands you a blatant example- you can mug a paramedic for his clothes with a half-dozen civilians standing five feet away, looking directly at you. It doesn't raise the alarm at all.
In the Mardi Gras level of Blood Money, the teeming mass of partygoers choking the streets don't notice or care if 47 is running around having gun battles with cops and thugs dressed as giant birds. They don't even count as living witnesses afterwards.
The Godfather game is weird about this; sure, there's Crowd Panic should you be seen with a gun, or get involved in a gunfight, or crash into something... but if you use your car's horn to try and get them out of the way when you're speeding to somewhere, they don't care. Perhaps a case of Truth in Television?
Final Fantasy VII have the people in the slums practically not care what happens around them or above them on the upper plate. When Sector 7 gets destroyed because of a piece of the upper plate falls on it, several of the NPCs are either mildly surprised or are disgruntled that the destruction caused them an inconvenience.
Ironically, the citizens in Persona 3 act this way toward Apathy Syndrome victims. People with Apathy Syndrome can't talk or move, so if they're stuck outside, they can easily become dehydrated or get heat stroke. Though, it seems that most people you speak to are too creeped out to get near a victim or can't even be bothered to help. One student even admitted to taking pictures of every victim he saw and sending them to his friends.
Averted in Metal Walker. While the majority of the citizens don't have Mons to help, they know a lot of what's going on and freely share information with you, telling you where places are on the world map. In the very beginning of the game, a citizen even saves your character's life!
In D/Generation, while some of the people you rescue may give you advice, most just wait for you to lead them to the exit.
In Zettai Hero Project the citizens are very very Genre Savvy. Presumably they are so used to world ending threats that they don't really care that there's a rampaging Final Boss threatening to destroy the entire world, reasoning that the world's most popular hero The Unlosing Ranger will stop him. The event is even televised as a media sensation. When the Ranger dies and the torch is passed to a weak bystander who gets killed in one shot, they still don't care. Reaches legendary proportions when a nuke threatens to destroy Japan in 20 minutes, and nobody can stop it besides the weak bystander. Do they gain faith in him? No, surely someone else besides that loser will save them.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion suffers from this. Especially the rulers of the cities and the empire. At the climax of the main story there is a demonic invasion about to occur outside one of the most important imperial cities. If the battle and the city are lost, the empire will fall as the demons would have a clean march to the heart of the empire. So your character goes around trying to muster support for the coming invasion. If you do everything perfectly (taking over an hour per city), you'll be assisted by...14 standard city guards. Not 14 guards per city. 14 guards total. To top things off, the capital of the empire can't send any troops at all because: "They are too busy protecting the borders". Priorities seem skewed...
During the main part of the game there are Oblivion Gates open all over the land, constantly pouring demons out of them, and no one outside of the main quest line line seems overly concerned about that.
In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, most people seem concerned about the impending draconic apocalypse, but they just go about their normal business since they know there's nothing they can do about it. But if someone dies in front of them, chances are they'll just say "Oh. What happened?", knowing full well that the culprit is right behind them with a weapon covered in blood.
In the old FPS/RPG Strife, neither the peasants or Order troops pay attention to the heavily armed man wandering around town. Not even when the facilities he enters suffer from gun fights and destruction shortly after. You can also shoot villagers with poison arrows and stab them to death in plain sight of their friends or allies and most of the time they won't even move. However, acolytes will attack you if kill other acolytes.
Averted in the Europa Universalis series, where if your subjects have reasons to revolt (nationalism, religious differences, etc.) THEY WILL. To many players' annoyance.
Played straight in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, where the citizens of Crimea, at least in Port Toha, explicitly state that they don't care that their country is being overrun, though they're aware of it. Oddly, citizens of the antagonist country Daein seem quite passionate when the protagonists overrun their country.
The absolute crowning example of this trope is in the execrable Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Early on in the game you find yourself impeded by a large door which won't be opened without authorization from the captain of the police force, but the officer who tells you this won't just tell you where to find the captain; apparently, the best use of their time was to devise silly little Knights and Knaves games meant to impede people trying to save the princess. The worst partnote Aside from the fact that the captain is the guy who gives you the "find the captain" mission, or, in other words, the guy standing right next to the door you want open. is that, when you finally locate the captain, he tells you they gave you the runaround because they just really didn't feel like helping you save their beloved monarch.
Played straight and subverted in ''Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. Many of the toads in the game show some level of concern over the outbreak of Blorbs and at least notice the disappearance of everyone in Peach's castle, but none of them are actually willing to do anything about it. That said, when things land right in their lap, most of them are plenty willing to scream and panic (i.e. when Bowser grows several stories and has a Godzilla-style throwdown with a Humongous Mecha formed using Peach's castle).
Especially Egregious are the tanookis running the boathouse, who are actually hoarding two dozen Shine Sprites and will only fork them over for blue coins.
Played so straight in a section of Fallout: New Vegas that one wonders if it was deliberate. A meeting with a contact turns bloody in the Ultra-Luxe Hotel spa, eliciting absolutely zero reaction from the nearby people who are dipping in the pool. It actually makes the place creepier than it already is.
Dragon Age II takes this trope up to twelve. The citizens of Kirkwall don't seem to notice or care that the city's most famous resident, a rogue wizard, the captain of the guard, and a pirate are getting into massive, bloody battles in residential neighborhoods.
The issue was present in Dragon Age: Origins as well. NPCs would often ignore huge battles taking place right beside them, and outside of one guy in Lothering, none of the Templars seemed to notice that Morrigan was an apostate. Although the latter is rather justified, as Ser Bryant, the leader of the Lothering Templars does point out that his main concern is the approaching Darkspawn horde and as long as they don't cause trouble, he simply has bigger fish to fry than a Mage Warden or their Apostate allies.
Another reason is that Templars likely don't want to create a diplomatic incident with the Grey Wardens over arresting their allies, especially in lieu of the Blight and a side-quest in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening shows what happens when the Templars do try to take issue with the Grey Wardens hiring apostates. For the most part, the only objection the Templars have to the Grey Wardens is their stubborn refusal to ban Blood Magic, seeing it as simply another tool to use against the horde.
In the Japanese game Katamari Damacy, the citizens notice that the stars and moon are gone out of the sky, but never notice that rolling balls of... stuff are collecting people, buildings, and land. Son, did you say there's a strange ball collecting stuff? Oh, we have to catch a plane.
While they don't actually appear, they clearly exist in Modern Warfare. The BigBad of Modern Warfare 2 gives a Motive Rant, and references the world's apathy as a reason for his Despair Event Horizon; and his goal is to get citizens to care about the risks and sacrifices the military makes.
General Sheperd: Five years ago, I lost 30,000 men in the blink of an eye... and the world just fucking watched. Tomorrow, there will be no shortage of volunteers, no shortage of patriots. I know you understand.
It's practically a joke amongst gamers now that townsfolk in JRPGs don't care when the hero breaks into their house and rummages through their things, at best mustering up a "What are you doing in my house?" but not really doing anything about it beyond complaining.
Hercs Adventures: Nobody gives a wet napkin about you being a legendary greek hero trying to stop Hades to bring The End of the World as We Know It, but they react if you hit them... By saying things like "Quit hitting me !" or "Pick someone your own size !".
The Mental Series, at least in the last game, Murder Most Foul. The citizens don't really seem to care about your presence, with them only telling you "Watch it FREAK!" if you run into them. This wouldn't be so bad, if the instructions didn't establish the three as the most wanted criminals in the country. They still don't react when Walter starts running them over with a van.
Most of the citizenry of Generictown in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. Then again, considering how smartness-impaired many of them are, getting them actively involved in the town's weirdnesses would probably only make things worse.
In Kickassia, the civilian populace of Molossia (read: the president's family) react to all news about the state of their homeland with an uninterested hum, without even taking their eyes off their magazines.
Until the very end, when one of the president's children looks up from his magazine and says, "What?"
Every inhabitant of the Neutral Planet from Futurama seems unable to process enough emotion to be afraid of imminent disaster.
The only time anyone shows any genuine interest in this statement is when he's trying to get employed at a large corporation, since it technically qualifies him as a minority and thus helps them fill hiring quotas.
Strange example from The Mask animated series. It had an episode where Stanley became an astronaut. When his space shuttle is about to crash, the people panicked except for one guy who simply walked away uninterested with his arms crossed.
Played for Laughs in episode of Darkwing Duck, "Stressed to Kill" where the people seemed apathetic to the crimes. Quackerjack and Megavolt developed a way to forcibly relax people so they can steal without anyone raising an alarm.
Darkwing: What is with you people?! The city's been robbed blind and you act like nothing's happening! Citizen: So, like, what's your point?
One episode of one of the Care Bears television series had the eponymous characters and their cousins visit a gray town filled with apathetic people who didn't care about the miserable state of their surrounding or the kind actions offered. It's later revealed to be a Fisher Kingdom under the spell of a nearby gem, causing the the Care bears and their cousins to slowly lose their color and become increasingly non-caring. In the end, it is destroyed just before the characters succumb to its effects and everything becomes happy and cheerful again.
An episode of Beetlejuice had the eponymous ghoul and Lydia visit a cursed town which disappears for eternity as soon as all its inhabitants fall asleep. Everyone who is not dozing is constantly drowsy and forgetful as a result of the curse's effects.
Happens in the Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Lax", where the cast from RecessCross Overed into Lilo and Stitch's universe for a vacation in their Hawaiian island hometown. One of Stitch's "cousins" activated to cause havoc is a parrot-like experiment named Lax who had the ability to fire green rays from his antenna that caused anything it hits to relax or stop working. When Pleakley, Jumba, and Stitch get zapped by the lazy beam, they all go on vacation, forcing Lilo to rely on her new friends to stop the experiment so they can use it to deactivate Hamsterviel's latest destructive weapon. As Lax dwindles down their numbers, all but Lilo and The Smart Guy Gretchen are left to stop the latest threat. When Lax's beams hit Gretchen, she acts unaffected as her Workaholic personality allows her to derive relaxation and satisfaction from her work. Through improvisation, they use their affected friend's vacation play to catch the experiment, deactivating the destructive machine and finding Lax's one true place where he belongs by using his powers to make grouchy business people enjoy their vacations.
Invader Zim: There are only a few people on earth who notice that an alien invader and his battle robot are attempting to infiltrate the planet, and only one who cares. Good thing the Invader's so bad at his job.
There's actually far more Truth in this Trope than you might think. Contrary to the "we don't want to create a panic" cliche, most people tend to under-react to warnings of danger. Freezing is a far more common response than panic.
Editor Maxwell Perkins once showed up at a literary party with the aim of proving that no one ever listened to each other at said parties. This he accomplished by, upon meeting the hostess, saying, "Sorry I'm late, it took longer than expected to strangle my aunt." The hostess' answer? "Oh, of course. So nice of you to come."
A similar, probably apocryphal, story is told of Franklin D. Roosevelt, said to have started telling dignitaries in a receiving line "I strangled my grandmother this morning." In some versions of the tale, a particularly astute British diplomat responds, "I'm sure she had it coming, Mr. President."
The case of Kitty Genovese, who was raped and stabbed to death near her home in New York in 1964 is often treated as an example of this. The media reported that thirty-eight witnesses saw the crime, but nobody called the police. The truth is much more complicated (here the event is discussed in detail). Nevertheless, it inspired the investigation of the phenomenon, called bystander effect.
It's the same reason that people with crutches have a more difficult time getting help in crowded cities than in less populated areas. People just think that someone else will help them if they don't. A similar effect can be noticed with hichhikers since the more cars, the less chance of getting a lift. People don't feel bad about leaving you there if they think someone else will pick you up. If there's only one car on the road they figure what the hell and give you a lift.
Eliot Aronson, an eminent psychologist cites another, lesser-known case of a woman called Eleanor Bradley in his book The Social Animal after mentioning Genovese. Bradley, while shopping on the Fifth Avenue, fell and broke her leg; she lay on the street for forty minutes, and people just passed her by until somebody finally helped. Aronson suggests that an important factor in this case was that people were able to leave the situation. He cites an experiment where someone pretended to faint in a subway car; he received help in 95% of the cases.
In one of his routines, Australian comedian Adam Hills described being caught in a delay on the London Underground: Several tubes had to be stopped for at least three quarters of an hour, due to a possible bomb scare. not long after the 2005 bombings. The commuters' reactions? Mild annoyance at the delay.
Adam Hills: England is the only country that attempts to fight the war on terror using boredom.
Irish comedian Dara O'Briain tells a similar joke in regards to both the July London Bombings and the London Olympics:
Dara O'Briain: The city reacted in a phenomenally London way; The entire place went Oh my God, there's a bomb on the Piccadilly Line [pause] well, I can get the Victoria line... The two things happened one day after the other; the announcement of the Olympics and then the bombs going off; the 6th and the 7th and the reaction, essentially, from Londoners was the same: an incredible piece of news, but how am I supposed to get home!
Of course, this sort of thing was a pretty regular occurrence until relatively recently courtesy of The Troubles, so the novelty has probably worn off for most people born before 1990 or so. Also it's Britain.
Similarly, Israel is sometimes referred to as the only country in the world, where a group of young men with machine guns can walk into a bank and they're expected to wait in line. Subverted, in that they have to be uniformed soldiers (due to universal conscription there's quite a few of them running about the place).
Israel has its occasional inversions of this trope. Upon seeing a situation that can be resolved with application of overwhelming force (such as say, a terrorist attack involving something other than a suicide bomber), off duty soldiers that just so happened to be in the area have been known to intervene with lethal efficiency.
Not as true today. Certain high security areas such as the airport are a no gun zone for people other than the security personnel. Movie theaters prohibit entry with rifles. Alcohol serving locations typically prohibit entry with any weapon. Also, handgun licenses are in a steady decline as they are not renewed except for people with valid reasons. This doesn't make Israel a gun free zone, but it is a far cry from even 20 years ago,
Colonel David Hackworth mentions in his autobiography About Face that a newspaper in the US deliberately printed the same front page article on the Korean War three days in a row. If anyone noticed, no-one bothered to write in and complain.
One newspaper accidentally ran the same horoscopes every day for over a month before anyone noticed.
During periods of history before the advent of the fire department, it was often said that if one so happened to be a victim of a crime in need of aid, the best course of action would not be yelling the likes of Help!, Assault!, Rape! or whatnot, but instead shout out Fire!. People could be very apathetic when it comes to the plight of others, but fire has the added chance of spreading and doing damage to someone else, making it more likely that people would come to your aid, and end up intervening because they've already spent the effort to make their way over.
Well, as the Smothers Brothers said - "No one is going to come save you if you scream 'Chocolate!'"
Books on self-defense for women still advised them to yell "Fire!" in the 1960s.
This is sadly common in child abuse cases. Many times, a neighbor or even a relative, sometimes more than one, will report knowing that the abuse was happening and say they actually wanted to do something. This is after the child is dead.
Evidently, there were some Real LifeApathetic Citizens in Poland in World War II, and they were swayed to help quarter Russian or German soldiers via a False Flag Operation or two. (Nobody truly admits to doing this, and these could simply be cases of accusing the other side of doing it when they say their village was attacked.)
Photographers and journalists for the Appointed Press have to deal with this dilemma for all their careers. A natural disaster just occurred. People are trapped under rubble and will die in minutes if it isn't cleared away. Do you do your job of recording pictures and footage of the disaster and the victim's plight, or do you do what is right and help them out?
In a strange twist, some photographers have actually faced backlash for 'just doing their job' as was the case with Kevin Carter and his photo of a young girl being stalked by a vulture. After the photo received widespread acclaim, he received a lot of criticism for not intervening and helping the girl, criticism which appeared to haunt him until he took his own life.
The film crew of the show Cops' deals with this frequently. On at least a few occasions, they've taken their impartial stance and threw it by the wayside to help, such as assisting a cop performing CPR.
Derren Brown once hypnotised someone to "assassinate" Stephen Fry. The gun had blanks, and Fry had a blood pack, but the audience Fry was giving a lecture to were completely unaware. When the assassin stood up and emptied a clip "into him", the audience reacted no more than if the power had gone out. They simply stayed in their seats and murmured to each other whilst Fry was dragged offstage.
Though one has to wonder if there wasn't another trope at work here, and whether they would have reacted differently if someone other than a famous actor had been the supposed victim.
Cities with high crime rates tend to have this trope in full force. If a person is lying in the gutter dying from their wounds inflicted from a violent crime, most people ignore the person and keep walking because they fear trying to help the dying victim will get them into trouble from the same person/group of people who tried to kill the victim.
In most places within the United States, there's a law called the Good Samaritan law that protects any civilian from liability should they try to assist a person who is hurt or is in grave danger and wind up hurting them in the process. In some places, the Good Samaritan law does not exist, which means if you try to pull someone out from a burning car, for example, and you injure them (or worsen their injuries), the victim can attempt to sue you for worsening their situation. Because of this, people that would have helped someone who was in trouble now don't want to help just to avoid being taken to court.
Sadly, much like the United States example above, many people in China are unwilling to help others in life-or-death situations, thanks to such actions being discouraged by the country's lack of Good Samaritan laws. The latest case in point is the death of Wang Yue, a two-year-old Chinese girl, who wandered away from her home and was hit by a van on a busy street. 18 people passed her by, before somebody stopped to help. The event was recorded on closed-circuit television (warning: shocking and somewhat graphic footage) Previously, there have been incidents in China where "Good Samaritans" who helped people injured in accidents were accused of having injured the victim themselves.