Blaming the Railroaded Player Character

Game: "You pulled the trigger. You are holding the gun."
You: "You gave me the gun. You ordered me to pull the trigger."
Andrew Vanden Bossche, author of Video Game Morality Play

Shortly saying, this trope refers to any kind of situation where the only option you are given to advance the plot is doing something that results in the game's NPCs hating your character's guts, or otherwise being upset at them.

There are games where you are given a wide variety of choices to make, and there are games where you are being led through a linear, strictly defined path. But even in the latter case, even as you are being railroaded into making specific choices and completing specific objectives, you are usually still given some limited level of freedom in approaching the obstacles and events set before you.

Sometimes, however, this can lead to a certain problem: let's say that the linear storyline assumes that you do some kind of action that the game's NPCs consider heinous. What usually follows is them not letting you hear the end of it, constantly nagging you about it and chewing you out over it. The issue here is that you couldn't change the course of actions even if you wanted to - the game specifically assumes that this is what you're going to do and there's no going around it. You can be looking over the entire location, trying various different items, attempting to talk to various different people, but in the end, the only thing the game allows you to do is playing out that one horrible action, and everyone will hate you for it. What usually follows is the player exclaiming in frustration, "Don't blame me; the developers made me do it!".

A subtrope of But Thou Must!. Often overlaps with Stupidity Is the Only Option and Cruelty Is the Only Option. Related to Video Games and Fate. May occur because of a Treacherous Quest Giver - you'd never know that the guy who gives you the quest has a malicious plan involving you until it's too late.

Not to be confused with Guilt-Based Gaming - that trope is about you, the player, being directly admonished for your decisions, whereas Blaming the Railroaded Player Character is about the hero being admonished when the player was given only one choice to make. (Or no choice at all, if the blaming is a result of a cutscene over which the player had no control.)

See also Railroading; No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom; What the Hell, Hero?; You Bastard; Failure Is the Only Option, and Violence Is the Only Option.

Unmarked spoilers ahead!


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Action Adventure 
  • In the Web Game Seedling, there are boss fights throughout the game with the Creatures of Relic, which the player character is later called out for killing them all. However, the game also goes out of its way to prevent Sequence Breaking that could prevent you from encountering some of them in the first place, so fighting them all is the only way to progress through the game.
  • In Infamous 2, following the evil path to the end will result in your companion Nyx pulling a Heel–Face Turn, arguing that in spite of the fact she's encouraged you to be evil throughout the game, deliberately spreading the rayfield plague to kill every non-Conduit is going too far - and even denying her superiority complex, since when only Conduits are left, she won't be superior anymore. Even if you think that she has a point, there's no option to stop at that point; you can only continue to kill Nyx and Zeke and become the Beast.

    Adventure Games 
  • At the end of Infidel, the Villain Protagonist suffers a major reverse of fortune and is left thinking about the things he should have done differently with his life. Because of the text adventure's second-person narration format, these are all expressed in the form of "If only you'd done X". All of them are decisions the protagonist made in the backstory before the game began, so they're not things 'you' the player did or had any choice about doing.
  • The Stanley Parable:
    • Parodied: The "Video Games" ending leads to a minigame where the player must press a button repeatedly to stop a cardboard cutout of a baby from approaching a fire. As the only way to win the game is to press the button for four hours, it's likely the player will get bored and leave. Doing so has the Narrator berate Stanley, asking him why he hates babies.
    • During the "Real Person" ending, Stanley heads to his boss's office to put in the password and continue the story. However, the keypad has been replaced with a voice box requiring Stanley to speak the password. Problem is, Stanley can't speak and the game has no way of receiving audio from the player. This being the latest in a series of disruptions by your actions, the Narrator grows absolutely furious at the player even though you can't do anything to fix the problem. The Narrator then responds by kicking the player out of Stanley, only to find that without the player, Stanley can't do anything.
    • In the "Pawn" ending, the Narrator leads Stanley into a room and berates them for pressing the button prompts that appear onscreen, supposedly proving that the player is too stupid to do anything but follow orders. Pressing anything but the prompted button gives no response, however, and there is no way out of the room. But in this case it's deliberate; the Narrator is fed up with the player screwing up his story and railroaded them into a scenario where you can do nothing but fail.
  • In the Toy Story Interactive Story Book, the player (as Woody) has to use the other toys to "dispose of" Buzz. As per the movie, they give Woody shit for this despite being just as responsible as he/the player is.
  • In Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist, interacting with a ringing phone causes your character to pick it up... and then instantly put it down, hanging up. You are later chewed out by the narrator on this, even though you cannot interact with phones in any other way.
  • In Mystery of the Druids, an infamous Moon Logic Puzzle requires your detective character to drug a homeless man with medical alcohol in order to steal change from him. Later on, the Chief of Police understandably chews him out for this, even though there's no other way to proceed at that point (and many logical alternative ways of obtaining change are blocked by the game's failure to support them)
  • In Else Heart Break, if you follow Pixie to find out where she works, she'll point out that's a really creepy thing to do. But without doing it, you'll either never find the Lodge or never be allowed to join, and the main part of the game cannot start.

    First Person Shooters 
  • Bioshock Infinite:
    • During the game, your character will betray Elizabeth by trying to take her to New York rather than Paris. She starts crying and ends up hitting you and knocking you out, then flees from you repeatedly. When you finally catch up to her she says she doesn't trust you and only reluctantly agrees to join you again. This is all despite the fact that you had no choice in what happened - it occurred in a Cut Scene.
    • Burial at Sea Episode 1 ends with the player being blamed for the events that took place in a flashback (accidentally killing an alternate Elizabeth), and which weren't even entirely the character's fault (as it wouldn't have happened if the Elizabeth in this game hadn't distracted you).
  • The original Bioshock 1 has this as well: there's a mid-game revelation that the villain has been mind controlling you and using you as a tool to take over the complex. But it's impossible to disregard the villain's requests before that, not because you're forced to follow them, but because the architecture won't allow any other path.
  • Comes to an especially weird case in Half-Life 2, where Gordon Freeman is even a Railroaded Main Character In-Universe; all of his decisions and choices are made for him by the G-Man, who monitors his every act. Dr. Breen nonetheless insults and vilifies Gordon in all his broadcasts, even though Breen actually knows Gordon is just a pawn for the G-Man and has no control over his actions. Funnily enough, once face-to-face with Gordon, Breen changes plans to Recruit The Railroaded Main Character, and attempts to hire him to his own side.

    Hack 'n' Slash 
  • Path of Exile:
    • In the process of exploring the Vaal Ruins, you accidentally break a seal and release the Vaal Oversoul, which in turn ushers in The Night That Never Ends. Several characters in that act's town call you out for it, saying that you've destroyed the world with your thoughtless actions. That seal is blocking the only path through the ruins, which you have to get through in order to stop Piety and continue the plot.
    • One character also calls you out for magically poisoning the giant tree whose roots were blocking the ruins' entrance, when simply chopping your way through is not an option (somehow, despite the many and varied bladed weapons you as an exile have access to).

    MMORPGs 
  • In the now-deleted and much-hated Star Trek Online mission "Divide et Impera", the player leads an attack on what is said to be a Romulan weapons lab, but quickly turns out to be a medical research facility. Unfortunately, despite it rapidly becoming apparent that you're slaughtering helpless researchers, you're unable to stop until you reach the base commander, who gives you a What the Hell, Hero? speech, calling you out for "Federation hypocrisy". (According to the devs this was meant to be My Greatest Failure for the Starfleet PC and lead into a three-mission Story Arc, but the other two missions were never completed due to Cryptic's rush to finish. The Foundry community eventually stepped in and wrote a couple of sequels, including "Divide ut Regnes".)
  • In Runescape this is discussed in the Fourth Wall-breaking non-canon Gower Quest. After you've finally reassembled the pieces of the Life Altar, a graphical rework of the Black Knight Titan will show up and reveal that he broke the Life Altar in order to get you to come there so he could steal your Disc of Returning and get into Runescape proper. He'll ask if the player character feels stupid about being tricked, to which they respond that they don't since the quest was so linear and they didn't really have any other options.

    Puzzle Games 
  • In Nihilumbra, you are a sentient piece of the Void. You want to become an individual, independent being. The Void does not like it though, and as you make your way through various different worlds, at the end of each one the Void catches up with you, forcing you to flee and let the Void consume the world you just traversed through. The narration will NOT let you hear the end of it, talking about your guilt and how you don't create anything, only destroy everything. This is despite the fact that the game is a linear puzzle platformer, with no possible choices to make except pushing forward (and furthermore, the Void is what's destroying everything, not you).
  • Portal 2 has a couple of examples that are played more for comedy than drama, as neither GLaDOS or Wheatley are particularly sympathetic and it's clear they are being unreasonable.
    • GLaDOS is constantly upset over you "killing" her in the previous game, spending a good half of the game flinging passive-aggressive remarks about it at you. This is despite the fact that in the previous game, your "escape" was set up in such a manner that you just couldn't go anywhere but straight to GLaDOS' room, with the only way to advance the plot being throwing her cores into fire. This is made all the more egregious by the fact that even if you deliberately attempt NOT to throw them into fire, GLaDOS will keep nagging you to do it with (unintentional?) reverse psychology.
    • At one point, Wheatley wants to detach himself from his rail (while being about twenty feet off the ground) and asks you to catch him before he hits the ground. Try as you might, you will simply NOT be allowed to catch him. You can even abuse the game's physics to make Wheatley land on your head, but even then it will not count as catching him, and you will be forced to just let him fall on the ground. Later, at the end of the game, Wheatley chews you out on it, reminding you about how you didn't catch him as if it was your fault and you deliberately let him hit the ground.
    • Also parodied in the first game. It required you to euthanize your Companion Cube as GLaDOS will not open the door to the next chamber until you've done so. Even though the Companion Cube in this game is (apparently) just a non-sentient box with hearts on the side, GLaDOS still only refers to this as "euthanizing" and if you hesitate will list off reasons why killing it is for the best. After you've done so, she'll passive-aggressively mock you for it, even stating that the Companion Cube was your only friend and can't come to a party she was planning for you since you murdered it. Just another painful dose of psychological mind-games from GLaDOS.

    Role Playing Games 
  • In 7th Dragon III: Code VFD's first chapter, a dragon strikes the Nodens plaza and you go out to rescue Mio, who happened to be outside, with your asshole of a Mission Control Nagamimi protesting against it. This results in a battle with said dragon, and you succeed in killing it. Then a far more powerful dragon appears, and Nagamimi strongly urges you to retreat. Neither dialogue choice allows you to wisely do so (they're both some variant of "I have to save people from these dragons!"), so you engage this new dragon in battle and your party proceeds to get their asses kicked, needing to be bailed out by some folks from the ISDF. Nagamimi then scolds the shit out of you for trying to play hero even though there was no option to do otherwise.
  • In the first Gothic, you are a prisoner stuck inside a mining colony covered with the Barrier - an impenetrable, magical force-field that got out of control during its creation and became bigger than intended. At one point, you are tasked with finding a necromancer named Xardas. He's supposed to help the Water Mages in carrying out their plan to destroy the Barrier by blowing up the big pile of magic ore they collected over the years. However, Xardas tells you that blowing up the pile won't destroy the Barrier, and the answer must lie elsewhere. When you return to the Archmage of Water, your character inexplicably just can't bear to tell him the news, and instead decides to keep this to himself, with no other option available. Later on, you finally figure out the real way to destroy the Barrier - finding and defeating a powerful demon that lives deep inside an underground temple underneath an orc village. As you attempt to go further into the temple, you find an old, very powerful sword. Xardas tells you that this sword might be the only way to reach and defeat the demon, but only after it is powered up. As luck would have it, the pile of ore appears to be the only way the sword can be powered up. But inexplicably, your character once again refuses to tell the Mages the full story, and instead attempts to hijack the energy of the pile while keeping this a secret. But he gets caught, which results in the Mages being so furious that they attack him on sight, forcing him to run away from the village. After that, their disposition towards him doesn't change until the sequel.
  • Mass Effect 2 does this in a big way. Most of the characters who knew Shepard in the previous game greet him or her with a vehement "What the Hell, Hero?" upon learning that he or she has joined Cerberus, a notoriously xenophobic human organization with no qualms about atrocious human rights violations and unethical experiments, even on humans. However, most of those characters eventually come around. Not so with the human squadmate (Ashley or Kaiden), who remains adamantly against the idea and refuses to have a civil conversation with Shepard for the entire game. Nevermind the fact that the player is forced to work for Cerberus for the entirety of the game, no matter what choices are made in this game or the previous one. You're also not given the option to say that you're just using Cerberus to accomplish a task (stopping the Collectors) and intend to drop them like a hot potato once it's accomplished.
  • A minor example in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has Zess T. tell you to stop moving because she lost a contact lens. Stand still as long as you want; she'll never find it. Move at all, in any direction, even slightly, and it will crunch under your boot (or hammer, if you chose to swing that.) There simply is no way to avoid smashing the darned thing. Even after you replace it, Zess T. will call you by insulting nicknames for the rest of the game.
  • The beginning of Secret of Mana has the hero falling into a waterfall. The only way to get out and to get back to his village is to pull the Sword of Mana from the rock that lies near the base of said waterfall. Said act leads to his, and your, banishment from the village.
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion:
    • Late in the Dark Brotherhood quests, you are given assassination contracts by dead drop, which a traitor intercepts to trick you into killing Dark Brotherhood members instead. Even though the change in the letters' tone is obvious and several targets have Dark Brotherhood gear in their homes, Stupidity Is the Only Option: you have to kill most of your superiors, get caught by your boss, and weather his What the Hell, Hero? speech.
    • In the Wizards storyline, you are sent as an envoy to the reclusive Count Hassildor, whose obvious Mole of a steward tells you he'll only meet you at a remote mine shortly after midnight. To progress, you have to walk into the steward's ambush, then let the Count "rescue you" — even if you beat your assailants yourself — and repeatedly insult you for your foolishness.
  • In both the Good and Evil alignment city quest arcs in Neverwinter Nights 2, you are ordered by your superior in the Docks District to go to some rather extreme methods in the pursuit of their goals. When you get to the next higher ups in the Market District, you get chewed out for your reckless disregard for the political balance that exists between both sides.
  • Luke, the protagonist of Tales of the Abyss, spends a good portion of the game being a whiny, self-absorbed burden on the party (even if he does hold his own in battle). When his actions result in what amounts to an entire town being massacred, he's uniformly blamed by his party members, and continues to insist that it wasn't his fault. To be fair, it kind of is his fault. But to be fairer, there's no other way things could have possibly gone for the player. Or Luke himself; the one behind the whole situation is his Parental Substitute and no one in the party gave him an actual good reason to distrust him outside of "they say so". The fact Luke is seven years old on account of being a replica of the original just makes this worse.
  • Terranigma: in order to kick off the game's events, you are railroaded into opening a box that ends up freeing a demon and subsequently turning everyone into crystal. Everyone except for the Elder, who promptly chastises you and forces you to fix this. Anyone who's played the game knows the player character, Ark, is an even more tragic pawn case.
  • Happens in Wasteland 2 - early in the game, two locations are being attacked simultaneously and you have to choose which one of them to assist (and no, you can't save both no matter what you do). The other location is overrun and the few survivors berate you when you go there after saving the first.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, after the player character appears to see Nines Rodriguez outside the house of a Malkavian elder who is later found dead. Dialogue options force them to report this to their Bad Boss LaCroix — even though Nines is transparently Not Himself, a Hunter of Monsters burns the house down and provides a perfect alibi, and the PC might be working with Nines to undermine LaCroix — leading LaCroix to put a bounty on Nines' head; Nines' allies tear a strip off the PC for this forced betrayal.
  • Undertale is a game that features several branching story paths and blurs the line between the player and their character, so it takes pains to avert this trope. Going for the worst ending requires the player to kill every single encounter including ones who won't fight back, but the option to spare any enemy and go back to the neutral path remains until one too many lines have been crossed. The game does, however, try to manipulate the player into accidentaly killing the first boss as a way to get them to reset and replay the fight the right way — revealing that resetting is actually an in-universe ability as the main antagonist taunts you for what you did anyway.

    Simulation Games 
  • In one of the Wing Commander games, you shoot down a traitor pilot who ejects. You get a cutscene where you could shoot him in his survival pod, but you don't shoot him before your squadron leader swoops in and takes him into custody. The traitor later escapes and a fellow pilot berates you for not shooting him when you had the chance. Except, of course, you didn't - there's no way to affect the way the cutscene and the subsequent plot plays out.

    Stealth Games 
  • The first mission of Assassin's Creed I begins with you breaking the assassins' three tenets. You have your rank and cool weapons stripped, and spend the rest of the game re-earning them. Justified by the Framing Story: you're reliving your ancestor's memories, so you can't act differently.
  • In Batman: Arkham Knight, at one point, Tim Drake (the current Robin) discovers Batman is infected with an incurable toxin that will transform him into a clone of the Joker and urges him to voluntarily be incarcerated while he deals with the situation. Choosing this causes a flashback to Jason Todd being tortured and murdered by the Joker, followed by being presented with the choice again. You have to lock Tim in the cell and be cursed out by him to continue — there's no option to take him with you, like Alfred has repeatedly urged you to do. Barbara reams you out for it later.
  • In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, most of the player character's allies are too understanding to call him out when he has to make a tough call, but the Ambiguously Evil Huey Emmerich will always make sure to vilify the protagonist, even in situations like Episode 43 where the player character has only one option: kill every single one of his soldiers stationed on the Quarantine platform. Since the whole thing turns out to be Huey's fault, his criticism of you comes across rather flatly. Even as you exile him from the station, he still blames you for everything even though he was lucky you didn't let everyone else kill him.
  • In one mission of Thief: Deadly Shadows, you can meet a blind, delusional widow who owns the mansion you've broken into in search of a MacGuffin. You also find a note from her late husband explaining that the large bag of money in a nearby chest should allow her to live well without him. If you don't steal the money, a few levels later she sends you a letter and a gift. Unfortunately, on expert difficulty, you have to take the money to meet the 90% loot requirement... which causes her to send an assassin after you instead.

    Third Person Shooters 
  • Spec Ops: The Line: Walker encounters a heavily defended chokepoint that he and his squad need to get past. Luckily, they gain access to white phosphorous artillery and proceed to bomb their way through. They soon discover, to their horror, that in doing so they murdered innocent civilians, and this is a critical turning point for the character. But in fact there is no alternative for the player; if you attempt to fight the defenders normally, the game will respawn them forever until you are killed. If you use the phosphorous but deliberately aim the bombs to avoid hitting the civilians, the game will place a military vehicle in the trench with them, which must be destroyed for the sequence to end. This was quite a point of contention among the press since the game calls you out for completing the only objective available to you in the only available way. The game, using both characters and the loading screens, mocks the player for not stopping playing.
    • In a similar case later in the game, a chase to stop a tanker from stealing a city's water supply to give to invading soldiers results in the destruction of the tanker, meaning that the water is lost and the city doomed to dehydration. But no matter how carefully you shoot during the chase, the tanker will be destroyed in the final cut scene.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, getting to the Golden Ending requires the player to vote against Phi at a crucial moment, in order to hear her declaration of vengeance (which the protagonist uses to talk her down in another pathway where she instead votes against him and tries to escape the facility with her newly-won Bracelet Points). Despite that, your character still gets chewed out by everyone for a dozen paragraphs and mentally berates himself for it afterwards for doing something so stupid and out-of-character: he's legitimately perplexed at his own actions and wonders what possessed him to go through with it (a not-so-subtle jab at the player, basically).

Non-video game examples:

    Live-Action TV 
  • A close variant the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Rules of Engagement". While trying to get Worf extradited to the Klingon Empire for accidentally destroying a passenger ship while defending a convoy against Klingon raiders, Klingon prosecutor Ch'pok brings up a holodeck program Worf was playing prior to the mission where, in the role of an ancient Klingon hero, the player is required to execute prisoners-of-war to advance the scenario, which Worf did. Ch'pok accuses the game of having influenced Worf's judgement and cuts off Jadzia when she tries to point out that the game doesn't give any other options.
    • Several times on Star Trek: The Next Generation Riker is upbraided for not seeking his own command, with various character flaws being cited resulting from this choice. However, the writers had no plans to get rid of Riker or promote him out; What they are in effect criticizing is their own direction for the character.

"What the Hell, Hero? We told you not to go to the unabridged version!"

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlamingTheRailroadedPlayerCharacter