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Atlantis Is Boring
Another exciting day under the sea. Wheeee.

"THE MANY SUICIDES OF AQUAMAN: The Loneliness Of The Underwater Crimefighter When There's No Crime Underwater"
— Warren Ellis.

Due to the long history of Atlantis, merpeople, sea monsters and other myths about the ocean - people are fascinated by the mystique of the sea. Most Speculative Fiction stories, particularly in the fantasy vein, may well try to explore or add to the setting by introducing the presence of some sentient underwater species inspired by merpeople. Futuristic science-fiction oriented series may well have men colonize the ocean floor in undersea domes - or perhaps people have discovered that Cetaceans are actually sentient and have been hiding in all along. In the horror genre, there may be an Eldritch Abomination and its spawn waiting at the bottom of the ocean. An alien race or precursor artifacts might be down there somewhere. Plus, the ocean has pirates.

You'd think that all of this this might make for a really cool setting for stories.

You'd be wrong.

The ocean is boring to humans. All of the conventions of human society are missing from the ocean. Even with the addition of colonies to the seafloor, you can't really write a story down there as easily as you could on land. There are probably no ocean theme parks, no underwater romantic restaurants, no ability for the cast to move around. Also, like it or not - the basis for about 80% of fantasy, science fiction, drama, and adventure stories is They Fight Crime. But there's hardly going to be any crime to fight - there are no underwater bank robberies.

Even if they did write more stories about people fighting crime underwater, the story would have to account for the characters being able to move fully in every direction. And as we know from space settings, most writers are not able to pull this off effectively.

Also, everything underwater is typically depicted in various shades of blue. This will get depressing and boring alike after a while.

As Larry Niven once said, humans mostly only use or think about the top of an ocean. From the perspective of most humans - the ocean has only one environment - water. There are no forests to get lost in, deserts to be stranded in, mountains to scale, swamps crawling with disease, or cities to have adventures in. It's just water and fish. This is a vast oversimplification of the incredible diversity in underwater ecosystems and biomes, but it's the popular perception.

(Space settings share something of the same problem, with the side-benefit that space, given FTL travel, is a route to other planets where humans might find useful environments. Humans, like other animal species, have an environmental niche which we require to exist. A race of undersea sapients would likely find land stories boring, because they can't experience land directly, just as humans can't experience undersea (or space) directly. Any being has a limited range of environments it can ever directly experience.)

As a result, settings that have a rich undersea world will inevitably ignore it. Writers just can't figure out what to do with it. It will be pushed into the background, forgotten about, or openly mocked. Tabletop game expansions that take place underwater are just going to produce a heck of a lot of unused character templates - because creating an underwater setting or making a character that has to have saltwater poured over their gills regularly is hard. Besides, it's rather hard for a being without lungs to survive out of the water, so their utility outside their intended setting is limited. And living your life in a futuristic sterilized bubble colony at the bottom of the sea where there are no intergalactic battles or intrigue would just be plain boring when you could set a story on a space station!

See also: Water Is Air, This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman, Flying Seafood Special, Under the Sea.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Digimon, the smallest group of Mons is the Deep Savers - Digimon based on aquatic animals or monsters like Cthulhu and Leviathan. There are only a couple of dozen of them, while every other group has about 100 monsters each. To make things even worse, you don't have to breathe in the Digital World - in other words: there's absolutely no point to having an aquatic monster.
    • Particularly, in Digimon Adventure 02, Iori's Mon got a transformation into a submarine. It was used exactly four times in all 50-something episodes.
      • It was hella cool, though. He could fit inside the empty space inside the mon's head and then use the little joysticks to move around!

    Card Games 
  • Despite being one of the original iconic races of Magic: The Gathering, complete with their own lord right from the first print run, merfolk ended up taking something of a back seat to land-dwelling creatures like elves or goblins, culminating in no more being printed at all after the Invasion block ended. Six years later, Lorwyn finally brought them back...as river dwellers. (It's too early at this point to say whether their absence from the ongoing Alara block indicates them fading back into obscurity again.)
    • From a flavor standpoint Magic struggled a lot with the idea of sea creatures attacking enemies that were on dry land, or up in mountains. The storyline to the Odyssey block did avert this to some degree by creating a unique and interesting underwater civilization that was at war with itself, and, with the exception of Ambassador Laquatus, only really became involved in the larger plot when other characters had to come down there.
    • With the Zendikar block, it's clear that Merfolk aren't going to fade anytime soon. The new breed of Merfolk are bipedal, allowing them to be used in surface plotlines.
    • Part of the problem is that it's never been clear what the cards actually represent. Some early cards representing sea creatures were designed with the weakness that they couldn't attack if the defending player didn't control islands and would die immediately if their own controller didn't control islands, the idea being that these are aquatic things that can't survive on dry land. But that raises more questions than it answers. (Why can't dragons destroy forests with a breath? How can anything except Mountain Goats attack a player with mountains?) If players think about lands as actual terrain that battles are taking place on, then no creatures native to water could fight on the land or vice versa. Under that theory, Atlantis would have to be boring, and so the designers cut back on purely aquatic creatures, but the more current idea is different.

    Comic Books 
  • Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner's titles suffer from this. Badly.
    • In Aquaman's case, they keep on trying to avert this, but it never takes. Their first big attempt in one of his more recent series was making Aquaman into an underwater retread of the King Arthur story. This was followed by having San Diego turn into an underwater city and all of the inhabitants turned into merpeople so that Aquaman could fight crime. "Sub Diego" proved somewhat popular and managed to last until the book was reworked to star a new Aquaman.
    • Before Sub Diego, the later issues of Aquaman's previous title rather desperately tried to provide Aquaman with crime to fight by suddenly giving Poseidonis (Atlantis's capital city) dark alleys, racial prejudice, a drug problem (hallucinogenic fish) and a humanoid-shark mob boss. The only part of this that rung even vaguely true to the city's portrayal up til then was the racial prejudice (since these were the same people who left young Arthur to die because he had blond hair).
    • Tellingly, The New 52 Aquaman title is the most popular in decades, and Atlantis didn't appear until over a year into the book — Aquaman is headquartered out of a lighthouse and claims to not even know where Atlantis is. Naturally, his adventures are still primarily oceanic, but he didn't live underwater for a good while. Eventually (and inevitably) he did reclaim the throne of Atlantis, with stuff like rival kingdoms and usurpers keeping things interesting.
  • As per the page image, Atlantis in Invincible is the most boring place in the world at first. Second time it appears, it's actually interesting.

    Fanfic 
  • There's a certain subset of transformation fiction which favors humans becoming merfolk. Inevitably when the transformation has finished, the merfolk are restricted to the water, and after the first few scenes of swimming free have passed, the fics become very boring. Even when some kind of underwater city has been set up, and ways to talk underwater and so on. The stories almost inevitably become porn, since the Mermaid Problem is always averted for these.
    • The imaginatively-titled story "Mermaid" by Keiko Jade (there are 11 parts, link goes to the first one) manages to avoid this for the most part even without introducing underwater cities. The protagonist has a long and eventful journey as she attempts to cross the Pacific Ocean on her own, and after giving up when she just barely survives to make it to Hawaii she spends a while interacting with humans in further adventures without leaving the water. The ending was a bit disjointed and literally deus ex machina, but the trip there was a fun one.

    Literature 
  • Fully embraced by Fred Saberhagen's Books of Lost Swords. One volume featured a town where, due to a curse, a subset of female children would spontaneously become merfolk at puberty, whereupon they would be abandoned by their families to the local lake. Said mermaids were bored to tears since there's nothing to do in a lake. The Mermaid Problem was also in full force, until a local sorcerer managed to get one of them pregnant.
  • Lampshaded in the book How To Be A Superhero in the section addressing aquatic superpowers.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. It's a product of its time and reads like one, but even a mid- to late-19th century novel should be called up on the carpet for including paragraph upon paragraph of the names of exotic sea creatures and plants with only occasional description. If ever there was justification for not paying authors by the word, this would be it:
    The division containing the zoophytes presented the most curious specimens of the two groups of polypi and echinodermes. In the first group, the tubipores, were gorgones arranged like a fan, soft sponges of Syria, ises of the Molukkas, pennatules, an admirable virgularia of the Norwegian seas, variegated umbellulairae, alcyonariae, a whole series of madrepores, which my master Milne Edwards has so cleverly classified, among which I remarked some wonderful flabellinae, oculinae of the Island of Bourbon... (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Part 1, Chapter X, by Jules Verne)
    • But he did more or less avert the trope with battles with sharks, forests of seaweed and other adventures under the ocean.
      • They actually do visit Atlantis. It's just a collection of ruined buildings, though.
    • All of the Les Voyages Extraordinaires are written like that though, Five Weeks in a Balloon was rejected for being "too scientific". What Hetzel published was toned down.
    • The sequel, The Mysterious Island, included the same detailed description of the plants and animals on the island. It also included detailed instructions on how to make dynamite with only natural materials.
  • Hal Clement's Ocean on Top deserves credit for its extremely creative (and scientifically plausible) take on the Underwater City trope. Still, it has almost no plot at all, being significantly less interesting than his other stories.
  • In Roverandom, the titular dog visits the undersea kingdom after living on the ridiculously imaginative moon, making the sea seem dull in comparison.
  • In Harry Potter, a tribe of merfolk inhabit the lake on Hogwarts grounds. They are one of the least-explored of the series' various fantastic creatures and races, appearing in one chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and showing up again to sing at Dumbledore's funeral and that's it.

    Live Action TV 
  • Ocean Girl was a live-action Australian kid's series about an amphibious alien girl called Neri that befriended boys living in an underwater base. It was incredibly long-running, and actually somewhat interesting - but most of the episodes took place on dry land (on the nearby islands) or in the base. And the main point of the series was less adventuring in the ocean, and more trying to keep up a Masquerade of not letting anyone know the girl can breathe underwater before getting progressively more arc-based, with themes such as Neri's origins, the discovery of her sister and another male alien, an alien artifact scattered in pieces across the world that's the key to preventing the End of the World as We Know It and culminating in a three way battle between the main cast, a couple of evil aliens who want to melt the polar icecaps allowing their race to take over the Earth and Australian agents.
  • On that note - hello, SeaQuest DSV.
    • To be fair, that setting had some potential—the ocean floor was heavily enough colonized to have a full range of human activity for the characters to have adventures with—but the writers weren't up to it. The show did have its moments.
  • Invoked in the Sesame Street song "I Don't Want to Live on the Moon" in a verse about living in the sea: "I might stay for a day there, if I had my wish, but there's not much to do when your friends are all fish."

    Mythology 
  • Averted in one version of a Greek creation myth where Zeus, Hades and Poseidon decide who gets dominion over what. Zeus goes first and chooses the sky, being so high and majestic, but Poseidon (knowing Zeus would take the empty sky) chooses the sea, which is full of life. Hades took what was left, the Underworld.

    Tabletop Games 
  • There were a couple of underwater races (weresharks, merpeople, and really weird - mervampires) and settings for the Old World of Darkness that were largely ignored by the player base.
    • The trope title was lampshaded in the underwater sourcebook Blood-Dimmed Tides, with a sidebar explaining that the book doesn't say anything about Atlantis because it has been done to death. The book featured a great deal of material for getting regular groups underwater, but nobody really paid any attention, and the new threats (like the Lovecraftian Chulorviah) were left alone in later books.
  • Also ignored were most of the aquatic supplements for Dungeons & Dragons. Or any tabletop RPG, really.
    • Partially subverted when a sourcebook and a trio of adventure modules centering on the Sahuagin (evil fish-people who worshipped sharks) were released, which fleshed them out enough to be arguably as interesting an antagonist as Drow or Mind Flayers. Unfortunately, that was when TSR was still an independent company (i.e. 15 years ago). Nothing comparable has been written since, either by Wizards of the Coast or a third party company.
    • There's also the sunken cities of the Aboleth. But then few adventurers would survive a visit, so it rarely comes into play.
    • The "Savage Tide" adventure path published in Dungeon magazine kept getting close to providing aquatic adventures, but never quite delivered. The adventurers explore an ancient ruined Aboleth city, and find that it's in ruins because a magical artifact drove all the water out of it leaving it stranded in an enormous air bubble. Then later the plot takes the party to a plane known as "The Deep", home realm of an evil deep-sea god, and it turns out to be a pretty ordinary island in a storm-tossed but otherwise normal ocean surface. The most common demonic minions encountered there were the vulture-like Vrocks.
    • It's kind of a running joke among roleplaying gamers that aquatic races exist to pad out the page count of monster manuals.
  • Back in the 90s, Games Workshop put out Man O'War, a naval combat game set in the Warhammer World. Despite plenty of support, the game did poorly, to the point where it is one of the handful of games whose rules are not available from GW's Specialist Games site.

    Video Games 
  • The ability to create an aquatic race in Spore was probably axed for reasons related to this.
    • Related: There was going to be an Atlantis level in God of War 2, but it was cut.
  • Kingdom Hearts II limited the The Little Mermaid section of the game to nothing more than a singing minigame.
  • In Super Robot Wars OG Saga: Endless Frontier, player can't explore the aquatic realm of Varna Kanai save for Wilkurkind's ruins.
  • Commander Keen had an underwater level (The Well of Wishes), and it was boring. No more jumping, no more pogoing, no more shooting or anything interesting, just 8 directions, a maze and some things that can kill you. If you don't start drawing a map...
    • Though at the same time, you have to give it some credit for introducing the Dopefish.
  • The submerged areas in the Metroid Prime series are a somewhat interesting case. They do have some nice puzzles and you do get an upgrade that takes away the mobility reduction, but they suffer from reduced coloring and visibility. This was not helped at all in Prime 2 by having That One Boss and several DemonicSpiders in there. Prime 3 just removed water altogether.
  • If you get a submarine in a Final Fantasy game you can explore the entire bottom of the sea but there will be only a single dungeon and maybe one or two secret treasures on the entire worldmap. in Final Fantasy X you don't even get the benefit of the sub.
  • Minecraft varies depending on the player, though generally leans more towards a straight example rather than an aversion. While it is possible to create an epic underwater base and ruins, for the most part it fits this trope perfectly, with only one unique mob and no ocean-exclusive blocks. Apparantly, Notch wants to fix this.
  • The ocean is really just an obstacle in Civilization. Aside from some seafood, there are no resources all the way until the Industrial Era (when you can build oil platforms), and it takes massive amounts of time to earn the necessary techs to cross it. Navies mean very little on almost every map type. Most civilizations only care about the ocean in terms of getting land units across it and onto the next continent as soon as possible.
    • Especially egregious when one considers the massive influence that the ocean and seapower has had on the course of human development.
    • Somewhat averted in Alpha Centauri, since you can build aquatic cities (or submerge existing ones) and the alien fungus which is one of the best resources later in the game grows just a well in the sea.
  • The Sega Saturn game Deep Fear somehow manages to make a survival horror game at the bottom of the ocean (which has the inherent advantage of perfectly justifying why no one can leave) into a dull, monotonous, boring experience. A lot of it had to do with the endless backtracking, slow action, and being near bereft of challenge. It's really, really boring. It certainly doesn't inspire any kind of fear, especially not of the deep variety.
  • Literally used in Golden Sun The Lost Age with Lemuria, the game's version of a surfaced Atlantis, where two children complain how there's nothing to do. It's required to advance the plot and a sidequest, but there's no real reason to come back.
  • The developers of the Twisted Metal series set out to make Critical Depth, a submarine version of Twisted Metal. As it turned out, you can't take a franchise with rooftop jumping, drift-by shooting and bouncing around in a temple flooded with lava and replace it all with "you can go left, right, up, down, forwards and backwards". The identical blue water used in every environment from a coral reef to the polar sea and an alien base wasn't helping. At least the game had mechanical piranha swarms.
  • The underwater level of the second Jimmy Neutron game was quite tedious, relying on attempting to fit your sub through obnoxiously tight spaces while dealing with monotonous environment design and music. In contrast to the fast-paced gameplay which set Jimmy Neutron vs Jimmy Negatron apart from its predecessor, this level was extremely slow and long.

    Western Animation 
  • Sealab 2020 was a Hannah-Barbera cartoon about a colony under the sea that may have been one of the most boring shows in the history of television.
  • Cartoon Network replaced Toonami's afternoon block with a Lighter and Softer version called Miguzi. Whereas Toonami was set in deep space, Miguzi was set underwater. It only lasted 3 years compared to Toonami's combined 12 (and counting, again!)
  • SpongeBob SquarePants deserves a special mention here, since there's hardly any recognition that the series takes place underwater at all. There's no swimming, people drive on the floor in boats, fires are lit - etc. Basically, the setting is purely cosmetic.
    • There is swimming, but they only do it in the beach. Yes, an underwater beach in which some fish drown...
    • And The Snorks did this to a lesser extent (at least the characters SWAM).
  • Tiger Sharks, which was Thundercats UNDERWATER only lasted one season. Their main enemy was a hydrophobic crime boss. On a world covered in nothing but water. What part of this seemed like a good idea?
  • Street Sharks. Granted, the show had other obvious problems, but the big one was that the boys turned into shark-hybrids that swam through the streets. They could have tried to make the shark-hybrid thing work by actually having them fight underwater, but, well...
  • The 80s-comic-book-turned-prime-time-cartoon-series Fish Police (and of course, in the comic itself). Like Spongebob, it tried to avert this trope by ignoring its setting entirely: the aquatic characters lived in a modern city, drove cars, only ever swam 'standing upright', and only along the 'ground' (the taller buildings even had fire escapes... think about that one for a second). Between this trope, the Animation Age Ghetto, and the fact that it was a frigging cop show pastiche starring fish, the series was quickly canned.
  • Diver Dan was a diver who regularly visited the fishes.

Aversions:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece averts this with Fishman Island. It's visually impressive, being several massive bubbles, partially filled with water, coral reefs, and regular buildings within the branches of a massive phosphorescent underwater tree. It's constantly visited by string of pirates (being the only way across the Red Line without going through the marines), slaver raids (fishmen are superhumanly strong, and mermaids are seen as incredibly beautiful), and a long running battle over human relations (join humans or screw humans).

    Comic Books 
  • While it's true that comics writers often have trouble making Aquaman and Namor interesting (as mentioned at the top of the page), there have been notable aversions. (E.g., Peter David's run on Aquaman, in which Aquaman became a badass with an extensive supporting cast, complicated cosmology, and lengthy story arc.)
    • Aquaman as 'King of the Seas' literally, makes for a potentially fascinating badass backstory character, too. Imagine if he has access to enough military power, for example, to limit or stop oceanic cargo transport, for example, or to interdict the movement of national navies.
    • Rick Veitch's 2003 run on Aquaman was pretty good, too. This was partially due to the work Peter David did over the previous decade and partially Veitch's addition of a sword-and-sorcery undertone (c'mon, he's a king named Arthur). Tad Williams amped the fantasy element Up to Eleven in his run in 2008.

    Fanfic 
  • There is a scene in The Crimson Badger where Winokur, a river otter, gets to swim in the ocean for the first time. The author does a wonderful job making the underwater world interesting and colourful.

    Literature 
  • Animorphs averts this somewhat by having several books centered around deep sea action. Gets a very notable aversion (bordering on inversion) when the characters travel to the mostly aquatic planet Leera. There the scattered islands and lone continent are mostly dull, barren rock, while the sea is filled with bizarre, colorful lifeforms everywhere you look.
  • Inverted in Rupert Brooke's Heaven, which imagines Christianity from a fishes' point of view, ending with "And in that Heaven of all they wish / There shall be no more land say fish.".
  • H.P. Lovecraft was terrified of (among other things) the ocean, and ended up creating a mysterious, terrifying world where the seas held ancient secrets and monsters, providing inspiration for non-boring ocean-related stuff for years to come.
  • Willard Price's Diving Adventure (part of a Values Dissonance rife series about teenage animal trappers) has the setting of an undersea town/experimental community and does make full use of its setting.
  • David Brin's Startide Rising is a fast-paced exciting book which takes place primarily in an alien ocean. Of course the other half of the book is about a space battle, but still. It works.
  • Slightly before Lovecraft, Jules Verne wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which is (this being Jules Verne) hardly boring.
  • Starfish averts this spectacularly: its deep-sea vent setting is stunning, with every excursion by its genetically-modified protagonists a brush with death, darkness-induced telepathy, undersea robots, and giant versions of "regular" vent creatures... which aren't nearly as dangerous as their land-based counterparts. Its sequel, while still having an interesting, land-based setting, isn't nearly as astounding. Of course, Starfish couldn't help but avert this trope, what with the author being a marine biologist and all.
  • L. Frank Baum's underappreciated children's novel The Sea Fairies deals with a young girl and her crusty seacaptain friend being temporarily transformed into the titular mermaids/mermen. They tour the queen's kingdom, meet all kinds of magical sea creatures, and end up captured by an evil sorcerer. This is actually the dominant plot of the book, so despite its scientific inaccuracy there's a lot of interesting things that happen.
  • Amphibian Man by Russian SF author Alexander Beliaev, gives a breathtaking poetic account of undersea beauty as experienced by a young man with gills, which naturally force him to spend most of his life in the ocean. Beliaev, who was paralyzed and ill for much of his life, had nothing but his imagination to take him to incredible places, and he clearly put a lot of thought into a picture of the young man's underwater environment, a cavern that he furnishes with seashells, pearls, and various plant life.
    He placed the table in the middle of the grotto, the vases on the table, poured the earth into the vases, and planted the aquatic flowers. The earth, washed by the water, clouded for some time above the vases like smoke, but then the water cleared. Only the flowers, stirred by light ripples, swayed quietly, as if in a breeze.
  • One scene in the Nine Princes In Amber books sees the characters going into a Castlevania-style inverse version of their own castle, which goes even further than most inverse castles by being under water. They initially go with Walk, Don't Swim (and they can breathe, for some reason), but eventually one of the characters gets sick of a particularly long spiral stair and swims down the bottom.
  • The trope is analysed to some extent in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Lucy observes some mermen on the sea floor and reflects that human concepts do not apply directly to the sea and some are inverted—for example, the safe, homely places are on the tops of 'mountains', nearest the surface, while heroes go to fight monsters in the dark, dangerous 'valleys' where the sea is deepest.
  • The Dark Life series takes place entirely underwater Twenty Minutes into the Future.
  • The Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke. You'd never expect a novel about underwater whale herding to be exctiting, but then again, Clarke specializes in putting mundane ideas into interesting seetings and making them awesome.

    Live Action TV 
  • Gerry Anderson's Stingray (1964) has lots of interesting underwater environments and varieties of aquatic races, many of whom want to give our heroes a hard time.
  • Averted with Sea Hunt, which was quite popular in the '60's. Lloyd Bridges played sea diver Mike Nelson, and he took on a new dangerous assignment of one sort or another each week, encountering seafaring crooks, Soviet spies, a sunken ship carrying nerve gas, sharks, alligators, and even a fake sea monster.
  • Averted in Stargate Atlantis. The city of Atlantis is meant to be on the surface of the planet (which is mostly water) but can be submerged if necessary. The shields on the city keep it from flooding; should they fail, the city gets flooded, and everyone dies. Played straight with the ocean of the planet as it is mostly empty and boring.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Rifts tries to avert this with a number of Sourcebooks, notably "Rifts' Underseas" and "Coalition Navy". Of course, how well that is averted is up to the players...
  • In Scion, there are two major aquatic environments listed: Atlantis and the Drowned Road. The former is the ruins of a Titan-worshipping civilization (worshippers still present), is buried under Antarctica, and requires immense effort just to get there. The latter is the Titan of Water, and if you're in there, it should be entertaining by sheer virtue of taking the fight to the enemy.
  • Transhuman Space averts it with the sourcebook Under Pressure, which details the oceans of Earth and of terraformed Mars, as well as the subsurface ocean of Europa.

    Video Games 
  • The Forever Blue / Endless Ocean games, while not exactly brimming with excitement, do a fantastic job of conveying the diversity of the sea's life and environments.
    • However, there are a few levels that take place in sunken ruins implied to be similar to Atlantis, which are more boring than regular levels because you spend a lot of time swimming down long featureless corridors.
  • The Ecco the Dolphin series plays its setting and protagonist's species for all they're worth. The result? Lots of Scenery Porn and levels that require thinking in two or three dimensions.
  • Aquaria shows extreme variety in its environments, coupled with a diverse array of wildlife, both natural and fictitious.
  • Final Fantasy X has an added feature of three of your party being able to breathe underwater and there are several underwater places to go, complete with water-based fiends and boss battles.
  • In the first two Kingdom Hearts games, the Atlantica level is based on The Little Mermaid. Fans are pretty divided on it but most prefer it to the musical mini game in the second game.
  • X-COM 2: Terror From The Deep is partly aversion, partly straight playing. It's underwater, there are various environments on the sea bottom, but the underwater physics is goofy and not so different from land physics.
    • X-COM 2 was a cheap repainted version of XCOM: UFO Defense with the difficulty amped up. You would think that underwater, you would't be restricted to stumbling around the ocean floor ... but until you get the ultimate suit (equivalent to the original game's Flying Suit), your characters are stuck in two dimensions ... alien elevators and all. Apparently they cannot swim.
      • The last part is somewhat justified in that the soldiers are likely carrying a hundred pounds of metal in the form of armor, weapons and ammo.
  • BioShock is a rather full aversion of this concept, the city of Rapture is underwater but rife with crime, murder, crazy people... Of course, its urban art deco appearance sometimes makes you forget you're under the ocean.
    • In BioShock 2, there are segments where you can leave the city and travel the ocean floor to reach another part of Rapture. Big Daddies have self-contained air supplies; Splicers don't. These segments are deliberately boring in order to give players some time to catch their breath between bouts of action. These levels are spectacularly beautiful too.
  • Ocean class planets in the Master of Orion series work exactly like planets not entirely submerged in water.
    • Subverted in Master of Orion II, a race with Aquatic ability gain more benefit from ocean planets or those with "wet" environments other than Gaia (Tundra, Swamp, Terran). At no time do they ever exceed the food productivity or maximum population of Gaia worlds at similar levels of development.
  • PC game Civilization: Call to Power and its successor averts this trope in the science fiction phase of the game. Once players can build submarines the ocean is revealed to have a huge variety of features such as volcanoes, rifts and giant squid; sea colonies have access to many more resources than land-based ones, and in addition to the variety of undersea units, players can engineer underwater tunnels to move land units quickly around on the sea bed. Space by contrast has no resources at all and pretty much its only advantage is allowing units to move very very quickly.
    • Realistic. Space does lack most resources, though cheap access to vacuum could be an asset as well as a problem, and some forms of energy might be more readily useful in space. Still, underwater living is in some ways a more viable concept than the idea of settling space itself, as such. (O'Neil's proposed habitats never did make practical sense.)
  • Partly played straight, partly averted in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. While the sea only has a couple kinds of terrain, the same goes for the land. For most factions, the deep sea is useless; the Pirates, however, find it highly useful and productive.
    • The biggest problem with a sea-based strategy in SMAC is lack of energy (which increases with altitude). The Morganites, with their innate energy bonus, are one way to avert this.
  • Pretty much inverted in Pokémon, where (reflecting real life wildlife) there are more Water-types than any other type. They are also extremely diverse, as the Water-type has been paired with nearly every type in the game.
    • Note that this only applies to fishing; surfing and diving are both extremely monotonous.
  • Definite aversion in Kingdom of Loathing: The Sea has more content than any other region in the game - practically a whole other game in itself.
  • Spyro 2 had an entire level set underwater - half in an underwater cavern, half in a huge ocean city!
  • Averted by the SeaQuest DSV GAME of all things. Now, if only the entire 2D portion wasn't Scrappy Level after Scrappy Level filled with mindbending button/mending puzzles. But until you're forced to do these mini-missions the game is quite fun. If only mode 7 had been implemented at the time... Then rather than deal with these you could have different 'scales' so when you use a different vehicle the scale zooms in. But anyway, the top-down 'overworld' is pretty good, and the first few non-Nintendo Hard 2D levels.
  • Averted in EVO: The Search for Eden; despite being the first area, and thus the smallest, the water level feels more 'alive' and populated than the amphibian level. Possibly due to the feeling of being the first step into a true epic, and the numerous tutorial NPCs.
  • The old game Archimedean Dynasty (essentially a Wing Commander style space shooter In The Ocean!) averts this by taking a heaping handful of the nautical tropes common in the genre (stealth by silence, minefields, escort missions, Ramming Always Works) and leveraging them for all their worth in their native environment. The end result was surprisingly awesome.
  • Averted by The Ocean Hunter thanks to the twitch-inducing gameplay.
  • Semi-averted in Champions Online. One of the higher level zones is "Lemuria", set in an ocean trench. The waterbreathing Lemurians have suffered a political schism, and the 'bad guy' Lemurians have taken to worshipping Eldritch Abomination types called the Bleak Ones, and transformed into humanoid reptile/fish things, who use both freaky sci-fi subs and shark-shaped subs for travel faster than they can swim. Meanwhile the humanoid sharks of Doctor Destroyer have also set up shop, there's the radioactive undead crew of a Russian sub that sank, a ghost ship with ghost pirates (and a few robot pirates down there, too), lots of sea life both hostile and not really THAT hostile, myriad forms of plant life, etcetera. A power that summons wolves on dry land summons sharks, instead, and many other pet summons are similarly altered - robot drones have artificial fins, for example. However, this is weakened considerably by the unfortunate lag suffered in that zone, which leads many to avoid it. Sad, really, there's plenty of action down there.
    • Yet in a way it's played straight. Mechanically, it's just any other zone, except everything "flies".
  • Monster Hunter Tri averts this: the ocean is full of beautiful marine life that wants to kill you.
    • There actually are underwater ruins in the game that you get to visit. They serve as the backdrop, armaments included, for the battle with the Final Boss, the Ceadeus. Special note must be taken in that said Final Boss is what brought said ruins underwater in the first place, and threatens to repeat this with Moga Village above.
  • In Dominions, while Two D Water is in effect, the oceans have special considerations and challenges; one of the bigger hurdles in the game for land-based species is developing the ability to operate in the water, and vice versa (except for Atlantis, which is truly amphibious, and a guide for the race refers to it as "a submarine" when it's fully geared up).
  • Vashj'ir, World of Warcraft's first fully underwater zone introduced in Cataclysm, is one of the most colorful zones in the game thanks to abundant use of coral reefs. It is divided in three subzones, roughly correlating to kelp forest, tropical reef and deep-sea. Overall, Vashj'ir at least subverts the most common signs of this trope. The zone is varied, has interesting races, a story that doesn't seem like it belonged above the water and was definitely created with swimming in mind. And yet, players still complained, making it one of the least favorite zones of Cataclysm — not because it was boring, but because 3D movement underwater was disorienting and too different from the rest of the game.
    • Plus the very first spell you get takes care of the breathing issues, and after a quest you get your very own seahorse mount.
    • Something about being able to swim over the entire zone if you so choose makes it feel less threatening to some players. True, you can fly over the land-based zones on your flying mount, but when you're underwater, you're always kind of flying. It seems like most humans have a tendency to think of sea level as "home", which is high above the action in the case of underwater gameplay.
    • It helps that one of the lead designers for the game is a former marine biologist.
  • Averted in Guild Wars 2. Though underwater areas are not as common as terrestrial ones, they're just as beautifully crafted as the rest of the game. Combat also changes appropriately when underwater; you use a different weapon while swimming, which has a different set of skills than what you're used to. There are Renown Heart quests and dynamic events that take place entirely underwater, and resources, scenic views and skill points can be collected just like anywhere else. You're also equipped with a breathing device right from the beginning, so you don't need to worry about the annoyance of drowning.
  • Ever17 is about a trip to an underwater amusement park, which by the way is named after Lemuria, gone wrong.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • Finding Nemo does a good job of creating a diverse underwater environment with plenty of exciting action scenes.
  • The Little Mermaid franchise's prequels were able to maintain a fairly interesting underwater setting. But then again, that may not be due so much to the setting as the fact that it was about a spunky princess who could talk to animals and her overprotective father. The ocean aspect at times felt a bit like an afterthought. Like the "Stormy Arc" of the animated series, in which Ariel meets a Troubled, but Cute underwater horse (Hippocampus, but referred to as a sea horse) she wants to tame despite it being so wild.
  • Sharky And George were the crime busters of the sea, and they were great. This being a cartoon, they had underwater equivalents of most overland things and even an aeroplane (a whale that everyone sat inside).
  • During the lesson spent as a fish in Disney's The Sword in the Stone, Merlin comments that there are all different types of underwater environments, each with their own challenges. Though we never see any of them, knowing Merlin it's probably true.
  • Atlantis The Lost Empire, even to the residents of the empire itself.
  • Oddly enough, Jabberjaw has one of the best-developed "colonized ocean floor" settings you'll ever see. The show still gets no respect! No Respect!

    Real Life 
  • Any oceanographer would tell you that Real Life averts this trope.

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