Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy

"Ruined World + cast of jerk = I don't care what happens to these guys"

It is often said that "conflict is the soul of drama"; without some form of conflict to fuel things, there's no engine to drive the story and thus little reason to engage with it. However, we here at TV Tropes would like to propose an amendment to this phrase which includes something important but sadly all-too-often forgotten:

Meaningful conflict is the soul of drama.

Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy occurs when a conflict exists that simply lacks any reason for the audience to care about how it is resolved. This is often because the setting is extremely but meaninglessly Darker and Edgier, and/or all sides are abhorrently, equally evil—or at least, far enough gone that any difference between the two is splitting hairs. As such, consumers of media affected by Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy tend to approach conflict between parties or factions with remarkable indifference; because no matter who wins, the universe will still suck. (And while it would be really nice to see them all lose, that likely isn't going to happen.) In other words, there is nothing at stake. While there is a conflict happening, for all that the audience is concerned there might as well not be because they likely have little reason to care about who wins or loses. (And even when there are clear-cut good guys, they can be so smug, priggish, hypocritical, unpleasant, or just plain annoying that it's hard to feel too sad if the bad guys defeat them, especially if the bad guys actually have a good reason for hating them.)

This is the emotional result of Black and Black Morality. Because the conflict between the equal evils is essentially meaningless, there is no dramatic tension. Maybe one Eldritch Abomination eats you in a slightly less painful manner than the other one, but either way, you're still screwed. You can't support any factions or hold on to any ideals after this effect has set in. All you can do is sit agape as the writers apparently attempt to outdo themselves at making the setting even worse and more unpleasant and more nihilistic to the point where the media is a bland miserable monotone. This trope is not just about a Crapsack World, but about Evil Versus Evil and too much cynicism producing this effect. A sure sign of audience apathy setting in is if they start rooting for the Omnicidal Maniac—the setting is so bleak that no part of it is worth saving. When total oblivion looks like your best option, something is wrong. If the show is successful as a comedy it can avoid this trope even if it has Evil Versus Evil and the viewer doesn't really care too much for the characters, by having entertaining villains and being a fun experience. Horror is one of the genres that is most likely to suffer from this trope, because giving up and not caring sucks a lot out of the fear factor.

A variant is when Shoot the Shaggy Dog meets True Art Is Too Angsty; a story is simply too bleak, hopeless, and...well, angsty for the audience to really care what happens. Leaving aside how obviously and overly depressing this is to read, if the characters are doomed to failure no matter what they do, and it is too obvious that they are doomed and their every action to avert this is pointless and hopeless, then the ending is inevitable and can be seen a mile off—so why bother continuing on with the story? (Especially if Developing Doomed Characters is done badly and you can't care about who's in it.) This, of course, does not mean that all stories have to end happily—but most of the time, a good Tragedy works because the characters involved are given a chance to escape their Downer Ending but, for whatever reason, fail to do so; take away this chance, and usually what will happen is that the story just ends up being a lengthy description of unremittingly unpleasant things happening to someone. It must be said that despite the presence of this trope, it can still be a story worth telling if it has a deep character study and complex issues, just not one that the audience will care about the plot.

When applying to individuals, this is one of the reasons why the "Wangst" trope happens. Often results in readers saying the Eight Deadly Words, or concluding that the plot boils down to a Wangst-fest.

Status Quo Is God is usually the result of the trope when the audience knows that all and any changes that could have made a positive impact in the setting won't stick.

If the hero of the story openly lampshades their own apathy toward the outcome of the story, they might be a Nominal Hero.

Games that provoke this reaction may still get their player base, mostly consisting of players that are perfectly happy to play the game and skip the story. For example, if the game requires the player to pick a faction to play as, they would simply choose sides with no interest other than the technical or aesthetic interest of playing one side or the other (or, such as in MMORPGs, the interest in teaming with real-life friends).

Earn Your Happy Ending can risk inducing this in the middle of the story, but ultimately all that doom and gloom and sacrifice and pain leads to victory for good people.

Compare Angst Dissonance, Audience-Alienating Premise and Only the Author Can Save Them Now.

Contrast Tastes Like Diabetes, this trope's polar opposite, and also Rooting for the Empire, but only when all sides involved are evil and yet the audience still likes them.

See also Too Happy to Live and True Love Is Boring.


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    Interactive Fiction 
  • Adam Cadre's Varicella attempts to avert this by having its Villain Protagonist, while still amoral and self-centered and willing to murder people to claim the Regency, not as evil as his rivals for the Regency, nearly all of whom are truly horrible people who seem to enjoy their acts of abuse and rape. But Varicella is still a short-sighted person who can't foresee just how horrible things become when the prince takes the throne and becomes even worse.

  • Iron Maiden:
    • The album The X Factor is widely disliked, largely because it is relentlessly dark and slow in tempo from "Fortunes Of War" onwards. Virtual XI gets this a bit too, though is balanced out a bit with the unnaturally happy sounding track "The Angel And The Gambler" (which is basically the "Can I Play With Madness" or "Holy Smoke" of this album, but fans saw it quite differently due to it running close to 10 minutes and the chorus being repeated 22 times).
    • Many fans feel this way about A Matter Of Life And Death, as well. With the exception of "Different World", the album is all about the horrors of war, and represents this in long dirges like "These Colours Don't Run" and "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns". As older fans have pointed out, this is quite similar to The X Factor, but has received far better reviews due to Bruce Dickinson singing. Newer fans, and music journalists, regard it as one of the band's best albums, mostly because it virtually lacks the pop sensibilities that are on the band's other albums and thus fits in better with the modern image of metal as being dark and serious.
  • Joy Division. Ian Curtis' lyrics and low-key vocals make his death of little surprise. Martin Hannett's spartan production adds to the effect; even Bernard Sumner says in the "Joy Division" docu-film that Unknown Pleasures is almost too dark, and he prefers the more varied arrangements of Closer.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Peanuts: Though the comic did generally achieve an agreeable balance between the light-hearted charm of the other characters and the morose nature of Charlie Brown, the strip did always have its critics who found it too downcast overall. The infamous "Lucy and the football" running gag is particularly polarizing; some found the joke increasingly sadistic as the years (and decades) went on. The animated cartoons generally received harsher criticism for being "too mean," with It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown actually having some scenes softened for syndication.
  • Funky Winkerbean: Very little goes right for the characters, jokes about death are frequent and everyone is just generally depressed from a melancholy in the air. Lisa's death by cancer is a good spot to mark when the strip moved into its darkness setting.

    Crankshaft, from the same creator, has this to a lesser degree. It's not as perpetually glum, but the main character is very hard to like as a person and the occasional death joke pops up now and then.
  • This has happened with a lot of politically-oriented Mexican comics, like El Santos and Los Miserables: After suffering decades of government censorship, the political comic industry experienced a resurgence with its gritty stories and Deadpan Snarker Anti-Hero characters praised as a welcome change from the rosy picture readers were being fed before. However, more than 20 years later, the Black and Gray Morality themes were turned Up to Eleven, and several of their readers got tired of the Crapsack World themes, crude humor, irredeemable Jerkass protagonists and the overall message of This Loser Is You.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Triple H has been responsible for this at times, most tellingly during 2002-2004, when he made a career of burying faces so completely that even today (coupled, it has to be said, with WWE's almost decade-long refusal to properly build new stars), WWE has an extremely small amount of top card faces, as there are so few people left for fans to take as credible threats. Granted, the Heel–Face Revolving Door makes it possible to turn a top heel into a top face at the drop of a storyline, but the top heels tend to spend most of their careers as heels for a reason: they're better at it.

    Triple H has also been largely involved in the "The Authority" storyline since mid-2013. Borrowing largely from Vince McMahon's "Mr. McMahon" character from the late 90s, Triple H and wife Stephanie set themselves up as bad guy corporate leaders of the company, pushing guys who aligned with them into the main event title scene under the guise of such actions being best for business. The difference between this scenario and the one back in the 90s is that The Authority has not had any face presence to counteract their actions. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin brought the fight directly to Vince and fans delighted in watching him make Vince's life a living hell, while Vince could never come out and fire him because he made him too much damn money. The Authority has no such counterbalance, as top faces like John Cena are never really setting themselves up in opposition and simply acting within the confines of the boundaries The Authority establishes. Former top heels either align with The Authority and lose a great deal of their autonomy (like Randy Orton), or wither like dry weeds (like The Miz, Damien Sandow, Vickie Guerrero, or AJ Lee) when Triple H or Stephanie tell them it's their way or the highway, get in line or it's the unemployment line. And the fans know it. Unlike with the nWo, there is no even the hope of a masked savior waiting in the wings to bring down the machine, and so fans watch as The Authority rules the roost as the top bad guys either until a game changer comes along or until they get tired of the role.
    • The few superstars who have tried to stand up to the Authority have failed in their efforts. Any victory they achieve has only been temporary, and the Authority always wins out in the end. Examples of those who've tried (and failed) to get the better of the Authority include Daniel Bryan, Big Show (who eventually joined them after over a year's worth of on and off feuding), John Cena, The Shield (who, despite going 3-and-0 against a reunited Evolution, ended up being dismantled by the Authority after Seth Rollins turned on them and joined the Authority himself, and has since replaced Randy Orton as the group's main in-ring competitor), Dolph Ziggler (who actually succeeded in ridding WWE of the Authority, though it was another temporary victory, and they returned after a month's absence and got the last laugh as always), Randy Orton, and even Sting.
  • Ignoring the insanity of Vince Russo's endless use of the Shocking Swerve, this trope was one of the main causes of WCW's decline. While the nWo were cool for a while, they were the heels, which meant that they ultimately needed to suffer defeats, and meaningful ones. This, however, was a fact seemingly lost on everyone there (especially those members of the nWo who were involved in booking the stories - funny that). After years and years of watching the villains run roughshod over absolutely everyone, gloating and laughing, the whole thing just became pointless and depressing - they were never going to be defeated, and that was that. So people just changed the channel. In the end, the one saving grace was that the group's leader, "Hollywood" Hogan, reverted to being Hulk Hogan and returned to being a face - but that in itself could be considered a Karma Houdini. Most people would probably argue that the New World Order storyline should've ended at Starrcade '97, after Sting finally defeated Hulk Hogan (albeit in controversial fashion), thereby proving that, if nothing else, the nWo wasn't invincible. Of course, that arc itself came close to resulting in DIAA, since Sting was early on made to look as if he were secretly working for the nWo, and his immediate reaction - abruptly quitting WCW and entering into semi-seclusion for a time - didn't exactly allay suspicion. Indeed, Sting's enigmatic, smiling declaration of "The only thing that's for sure about Sting... is that nothing's for sure" - the last words he ever spoke before completely whitening his face and refusing to speak publicly for more than 14 months - kept people guessing for quite a while.
  • The inVasion angle of the summer of 2001 also suffered from this. WWE fans, WCW fans, and ECW fans had hated each other for years, so when WCW and ECW unexpectedly decided to team up against the big bad WWE, it looked like a battle for the ages. Except... the WWE writers sabotaged the whole concept by casting every WCW and ECW representative as a heel, even though many of them had done nothing wrong. Worse, the leader of the WWE team was Vince McMahon, hardly a likable character; his opponents were his children Shane and Stephanie and ECW chief Paul Heyman, all of whom were likewise Jerkasses. Finally, at the actual pay-per-view event WWE trounced the WCW/ECW Alliance so thoroughly that when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin defected to the Alliance and helped them pull off an unexpected victory, it was hard not to see this treachery as WWE getting its just deserts. (And all the Alliance members ended up joining or rejoining WWE shortly afterwards anyway, so what was the point?)
  • Looking at the entire history of the WWF, it's understandable that one would see "sports entertainment" itself as this. Due to the Heel Face Revolving Door described above, almost everyone has been a heel at some point in his or her career. Even worse, many of these heels are unrepentant for their past actions even after turning face, simply laughing along with the audience or just resorting to the Hand Wave whenever anyone tries to bring up the crimes they committed in the past. So with the exception of John Cena (who's been a face for so long now that all of his past evil deeds have been effectively erased from memory) and a few others, it's hard to truly care for any of these characters. Particularly true when they exhibit Jerkass behaviors even while playing the face, or when one realizes that they're just one Shocking Swerve away from becoming heels again.
  • An ongoing angle in SHINE is whether the promotion should be honoring long time veterans or showcasing up and coming talents. The angle's been worked by pitting a heel on one end of the argument against more compromising or apathetic baby faces. But the angle ran into SHINE's tendency to book heel vs heel, so the audience wasn't too enthused by "Dinosaur Hunter" Leah Von Dutch vs 1940s throwback Thunderkitty...till Dutch turned face later that night.
  • This trope is why heel vs. heel matchups are typically undesirable from a booker's point of view: the audience would have no one to cheer. When there is a heel vs. heel feud, it's usually a sign that one of them is about to turn face (for example, Sheamus versus Randy Orton in January 2010 — and even then, that only happened because Randy was getting cheered so often despite being by far and away the biggest dick in the company (not named Batista) at the time that they had no choice but to turn him face).
    • Jack Swagger's first Raw match against Big E Langston was a great example of how not to book two heels against each other, as the audience crapped all over both guys and their match, despite them not messing anything up. They did appreciate Alberto Del Rio coming out though, in one of the few moments his response really wasn't tepid on Raw.
    • As for an example of how to avert this, The Wyatt Family versus The Shield. Careful build-up and Bray Wyatt's charisma led to a heel-on-heel match that had fans cheering before anyone stepped in the ring. This was a rare case when all the stars aligned for such an event, as the Shield featured three of the top new ring workers in the company breaking into the main event scene, while Bray Wyatt's convincing portrayal of a Deep South cult leader gave the company the first top heel of his kind in nearly twenty years since the debut of Mick Foley, so despite being the bad guys, fans had ample reasons to cheer for both sides. Careful coordination then made sure that both groups had largely differing agendas that made a feud between them believable from a fan standpoint.
    • Another aversion was a brief 2002 feud between Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle before their reluctant tag team alliance. There were two big factors in why the audience embraced this (and Benoit, who elevated into the upper midcard again post-neck surgery) despite the heel vs. heel slant: first, their quarrel was over something pretty funny (Benoit laughed at Angle getting Stinkfaced by Rikishi; Angle held down Benoit so he could get the same treatment), and second, both were such phenomenal workers that they could get the crowd engaged even as bad guys. Thus, their Unforgiven 2002 match was an instant classic that received multiple mid-match ovations and was part of the beginnings of the fabled Smack Down Six.

     Role Playing 
  • Survival of the Fittest can either avoid this one or play it straight, depending on the character and scene. The setting essentially means that most of the cast will die in some way or another, occasionally in horrific ways and often at the hands of each other. While with a bit of skill handlers do avert this one entirely, there still have been moments where it feels like this trope in practice. Fortunately, there have been a fair amount of avoidance with specific examples.
  • Disney World Of War has this problem at times. With the setting being a Darker and Edgier version of the traditional Disney universe. Added to this problem is the Gray and Black Morality which is exhibited by all three sides in the war, including the "Heroes" who are not above brutal means to win the war, makes it hard to really root for any of them because they are so willing to throw ethics out the window at times. There is also the problem of so many characters, particularly child characters, dying or traditional "good guys" being turned to the dark side because of either trauma or the realisation that The Dark Side Will Make You Forget means even rooting for Disney protagonists is hard. Fortunately, however, the personalities of the Disney characters saves this somewhat as they still can be the characters everyone knows and loves in the brief moments of levity.
  • Abusing The World Is Always Doomed trope is a surefire way to get players to not care what happens to the world or even take on the role of an Omnicidal Maniac to quickly destroy everything just to have something different happen. Shock value goes out the window if there's always a monster or some other force threatening the state of the world every week.
    • Having most of the characters act like total jerks is also a quick way to cause heavy lack of interest in the setting, especially if the setting is in a Crapsack World. If there are no such thing as good people or the people that try to do good are always punished, then players will become extremely uninterested knowing that nothing will change and that everyone only thrives in being a prick to one another.
    • Having a balance between good characters/factions and evil characters/factions is tricky to obtain. Favoring the role play too much to the good guys will bore players and favoring the bad guys too much will make players believe that Evil Is Cool for the wrong reasons. The conflict between opposing factions can also turn off players if the reason behind the conflict isn't interesting or meaningful.
    • Constant conflict of any kind is also a guaranteed way to make players feel bored because there's no rest or times of peace to alleviate all the near endless fighting.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech can reach this level if you care to check its backstory. The clash of multiple Deadly Decadent Courts (a clash which did not even so much as slow down when the Clans invaded) and continuous wars (against the Clans, against the Word of Blake, against each other, etc) that have constantly knocked down the whole Inner Sphere can make the fluff feel to some like A Song of Ice and Fire IN SPACE with Humongous Mecha (and you can read above about why this is a bad thing). There are plenty of sympathetic characters on the canon, but in the end the Inner Sphere is just not going to ever change from being a war-wreaked Crapsack Galaxy, no matter their efforts, so why bother about seeing their success if you know in the long run it will all go to hell again?
  • Dead of Winter can fall under this, depending how bad the secret objectives are. You could use that medicine to save your friend's survivor, who could really help the community... but if your secret objective requires that you keep the medicine...
  • In the view of some of the current authors, large chunks of second edition Exalted fell into "shitdark", defined by Holden Shearer as "a setting so relentlessly shitty and miserable and hopeless that it becomes impossible to emotionally invest in it or care what happens to it."
  • GURPS is too diverse a system to fall into this generally, but several of its Alternate Universe Earth settings fell into this for gamers; most notably, Reich-5 was retooled into a new villain for crosstime campaigns because your options there consisted of "Nazis, Nazified Americans, Imperial Japanese, and the inevitably doomed resistance". Reich-2 was this in-story for Americans after the British signed a truce with the Nazis—no one much cared whether Hitler or Stalin won the war.
  • While Wraith is the worst in this regard, the Old World of Darkness as a whole tended to fall in this trap. Throughout each game, the main villains tended to be vast unknowable forces that could never be truly defeated: ancient conspiracies, corrupt corporations, secret government organizations, the spiritual force of evil itself, etc. And they're winning. Regardless of the player characters' victories in a campaign, you're unlikely to have any effect on the large-scale machinations at work. A recurring theme throughout each game is that the heroes are fighting a losing battle against the end of the world. Have fun.
  • With the revelations in the last two Horizon adventure packs that the only four major factions (The Draco Foundation, the Great Dragon Hestaby, Buttercup, and Horizon) that could still be said to be in any way 'good' (or even anti-heroic) are really as expedient and guilty of atrocity and terror as the rest, and only differ in the nature and scope of their self-rationalizations but are as mired in the basest of motivations as every other setting villain, some fans believe that the Shadowrun universe has finally hit this threshold.
    • The part where several of the writers openly expressed scorn on forums at the idea of shadowrunners having any kind of ethics (even antiheroic ones) instead of just being people who gladly do horrible things for money, and the promotion in storylines and flavor text of several NPC shadowrunners who exemplified that utterly amoral attitude from 'the runners even other shadowrunners look down on' to 'well-respected and widely admired figures of their professional community' isn't helping much either. One of them (Haze) is canonically a serial rapist who uses drugs to incapacitate his victims. Another (Clockwork) is a Fantastic Racist who makes money selling fellow runners with technomancer powers to megacorporate vivisection labs, and openly admits to anyone who asks that he'd cheerfully sell out anyone, including other team members, to the authorities in return for money (something that's normally considered an unforgivable sin among even the most depraved criminal community, and yet is entirely ignored in-setting). Another (Kane) has been the reigning world champion of excess collateral damage and carelessness with the lives of innocent bystanders for two editions. All of these characters have been promoted to signature NPC status, instead of their prior canonical treatment as cautionary tales/shadowrunner antagonists.
  • Unhallowed Metropolis takes this trope to an extreme. It is set in a world where a Zombie Apocalypse has warped most of the earth, resulting in barely-surviving societies which are surrounded by blighted, polluted, unholy hellscapes. The default setting, Victorian-esque England, takes inequality to such extremes that for every stuffy noble using the blood of the poor to stay young while enjoying macabre orgies, there are thousands who die for want of a gas mask. Speaking of gas masks, the air is so polluted that one is essential for survival. What few leaders remain are all invariably corrupt and decadent to a level that cannot be exaggerated, while bomb-throwing anarchists and worse are ready to dismantle the system. Of course, anarchy would only lead to a failure of the few systems stopping the ghouls, vampires, mad-scientists, and other evils from visiting horrors on the populous. Nation states have fallen - there is no world system, and all the people of this new society know of other peoples is that France is even worse off. Even the heroes are inherently corrupt, and draw power by accepting further corruption. Finally, all the undeath of this setting is hinted to be a symptom of the world being fundamentally wrong on a far, far more terrible level, as observed through the unspeakable behavior of its human inhabitants.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The universe skirts this, as a setting based on unending war and horror that runs on Black and Black Morality (well, maybe Black and Very Dark Grey Morality). However, most fans accept it as part of the basic premise of the setting, and most stories are told from a smaller scale perspective where there is good and evil, and good can indeed triumph despite the bleakness of the setting as a whole. Other bits of source material turn things up to 11 and use the bleakness as a source of black comedy.
    • Horus Heresy novels in particular can fall into this range after enough Doomed by Canon, unpleasant people on both sides, obligatory war crimes scenes, and downer endings.
    • The Gaunt's Ghosts series avoids this by presenting the 40k universe through the lens of the eponymous regiment, detailing how ordinary human soldiers deal with the horrors of the setting and yet still managing to triumph via ingenuity and sheer determination (and a bit of luck), though not without loss.
    • Ciaphas Cain outright defies the grimdark setting by pointing out a lot of the grimdark depictions - such as Commissars who execute willy-nilly and use Imperial Guard as little more than fodder - tend to get fragged, and depicts the Imperium as willing to negotiate with the Tau over an unimportant colony that's already been half-swayed to the Tau cause (because realpolitik means their military resources are better employed against the tyranids and necrons), something that wouldn't fly in stereotypical WH40k.
    • The fans also coined the term Grimderp, which is a variation on this: An event or setting so dark and horrible it becomes Narmtastic, often throwing away logic for the sake of being grittier. Something has entered Grimderp territory whenever it gets too stupidly dark to take seriously anymore.
  • Wraith: The Oblivion is a game where upon death your soul incarnates in H. R. Giger's worst BDSM nightmare, is taken in by a society whose repressiveness would embarrass a fascist, finds that there is no happy afterlife for him, and then must struggle to survive as a mad force of Eldritch Abominations and their howling-mad servants of Oblivion seek to unmake the world. One source book went so far as to deal with the ghosts born of the Holocaust. The bleakness drove it straight into Audience-Alienating Premise and it was definitely one of the less popular games. This is the game where your character's sweater is made out of the soul of another person who is experiencing And I Must Scream.

  • Repo! The Genetic Opera in both a musical and the film of the musical. The basic premise is that a company controls the supply of organs needed to live, and they remove them by force if you are late making payments. The characters include an heiress addicted to drugs and surgery, a mass-murdering heir, a man who wears the removed faces of women, a Corrupt Corporate Executive who sends hitmen out to remove the organs of those who fail to pay him, and the titular Repo Man. There's only three characters with a shred of decency - the tragic opera singer, the Incorruptible Pure Pureness Ill Girl, and the grave-robbing, drug-dealing Greek Chorus. It just keeps getting worse.
  • Sweeney Todd pits a barber who murders innocent men and sends them to his Psycho Supporter to be baked into pies, against a corrupt judge who drugged and raped a woman and then holds her daughter hostage with the intent to marry the girl he brought up. There's a Token Romance (or Romantic Plot Tumor) between a couple of flat characters, but other than that it's a revenge story between a mass murderer and the monster who wronged him.
  • Titus Andronicus: The protagonist is a horrible person, the antagonist is a horrible person, the side characters are horrible people, there's overreactions galore, rape, cannibalism, murder, torture, insanity, but it's so over the top and over done it just ends up unpopular and buried in the back folder of Full Annotated works of Shakespeare.
    • Though it was probably meant to be a parody of similar Revenge Dramas that were very popular at the time by going completely over the top. Also, there are a some likeable characters (such as Titus' brother Marcus), and the ambiguity in some areas (such as Aaron's baby), allows some characters to be more likable.

    Visual Novels 
  • Amnesia (Otome): The heroine is incredibly Too Dumb to Live, the world's out to kill her, the bad endings far outweigh the good ones, and the love interests aren't great people either. Many players find it hard to care.
  • Corpse Party, even in its first incarnation, was pretty bleak, featuring a setting where ordinary high school students are pulled into a alternate version of their school, featuring a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl and other ghosts that all want them dead, along with the Darkening, which turns them into undead monsters if they lose all hope. Even then, the protagonists usually solved the mystery and escaped relatively intact in the first few incarnations of the story. Later adaptions, however, go straight for the Kill 'em All route. Even a reboot of the first story kills all but two of the protagonists, one of whom ends up sitting in a rocking chair for the rest of her life, too traumatized to even speak.
  • The Dangan Ronpa games. The premise for them is already dark, in that the protagonists are all stuck in a school or on an island and the sadistic Monokuma tells them that, in order to be free, they need to kill each other and get away with it. With that as your beginning aspect, there's not much else one can do to make it even darker, but the game does, by including the revelation that The End of the World as We Know It has occured outside of the school and the air is tainted, food is scarce and what little of 'society' remains is filled with violence. And the Gaiden Game Absolute Despair Girls flips things around and shows how bad things are outside in the world. For a game that started with simply killing students and solving murders, this got dark so fast, it's in absolute darkness.
  • This is a problem a lot of people have with Diabolik Lovers and the main reason the franchise is mostly despised outside Japan. The female lead/player character is a Too Dumb to Live Extreme Doormat who is also trapped in terrible situations without any ways out (and develops Stockholm Syndrome), the romantic options are horrible people with little to no redeeming qualities (with poorly written "excuses" that fall utterly flat because all the guys are callous brutes), there's lots of gross and squicky elements that are clearly there just for shock value, and most of the game's Multiple Endings are overly cruel or esoterically happy. And the game uses a very poor understanding of sub/dom relationships to justify all this.

    Web Comic 
  • Ever since the December arc, Bittersweet Candy Bowl has become solely about grinding the characters (Especially Lucy and Mike) into the dirt. Friendships are destroyed, characters are given bleak, depressing backstories, every storyline since December has ended in tragedy, and any happy moments the characters experience are quickly and cruelly shattered.
  • Draconia Chronicles is about a genocidal war between two races, Dragons and Tigers, which are full of horrible, horrible people ranging from genocidal madwomen, racist jerks, and just plain incompetent fools. Many of the participants of the war are involved for purely selfish reasons. The madwomen, jerks and fools are constantly rewarded and have good things happen to them, while the few characters who are in any way decent either get broken, die, or get broken then die.
  • Nothing has gone right for any of the good guys since day one of Ghosts of the Future. The comic even starts with the main heroes of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise dying. The Scourge arc, in particular, is one long sequence of "one step forward, two steps back." The author has lampshaded this, saying "I show my feelings of admiration through doing horrible, horrible things to the characters I like."
  • Goblins: Every time something happens in the comic, more tragedy will result than happiness.
    • The Brassmoon arc kicked off because a party member got imprisoned there, through his own idealism no less, and ended with the party recovering him in a catatonic state after he'd been tortured by the sadistic Big Bad. And one of them got half their soul destroyed during the events.
    • The Well of Darkness arc started because the characters involved were enslaved and forced to enter a dungeon and retrieve a magical item for the Big Bad. In the aftermath, two are dead, two characters are forced to cut a limb off, and a new terrifying monster has been created.
    • Perhaps the grandest example of all in the comic; the romance built up between Minmax and Kin over a long period is absolutely destroyed in two pages.
  • Prequel's Katia just keeps losing everything, leading to many readers quitting the strip after Sigrid takes almost everything she has.
  • The protagonists are unrepentant and hypocritical murderers, there's no point in the people who die learning last-minute lessons, and everyone else is apparently so stupid they never put two and two together to figure out the protagonists commit such horrible acts, and so they are never stopped. Congratulations, you just read everything wrong with Suicide for Hire.
  • Survivor: Fan Characters:
  • Nearly all the characters in 8-Bit Theater are either complete sociopaths or borderline mentally challenged, and near the end of the comic, the "heroes" aren't even trying to save the world anymore. This can make the comic feel very bleak at times, especially when the few actually sympathetic characters are around, but of course, it is a very dark comedy.
  • Las Lindas is an inversion of Prequel, but in this case, the main character having everything good happen to her happens to be a major bitch who barely got any better at all, and pretty much spits in Karma's face. Considering that she's pretty much reaching God-Mode Sue territory currently, and the Protagonist-Centered Morality is in full swing, it can be very, very difficult to get invested in what happens.

    Web Original 
  • For those who don't find the videos to be Snark Bait or So Bad, It's Good, a number of the infamous "X Gets Grounded" videos made in GoAnimate can become this. All of the kids are constantly making everyone miserable For the Evulz, and the good guys often go above and beyond what anyone would deem necessary to teach them their lesson, either by absurdly long grounding times at best, torture-laden or even fatal "Punishment Days" at worst. Additionally, there's almost nothing the troublesome kids can do that will not end with them grounded outside of the rarest occasions, not even if they do something nice or even heroic like prevent a disaster or crime. A lot of times the good deed will just be outright overridden or ignored, often for some random contrived reason, just so the kids can get grounded. All the "good guys" have the potential to be very mean to the troublemakers (sometimes even without justification) and some of them are just terrible people in general, but are treated as heroes for putting the troublemakers in their place. "Baby show" characters like Caillou that exist in the world that the videos take place in are universally hated by the world simply for being baby show characters, and nothing they can do can change that. With everyone in the videos having some negative qualities about them, it's almost not worth rooting for anyone except Caillou and Dora, who at least manage to be Jerkass Woobies at best.
  • The Halo Alternate Reality Game HUNT the TRUTH ends with a big Downer Ending during its first season, where Ben Giraud falls for ONI's trap and his whistleblowing is discredited in public, but it adds a note of hope by having his colleague Petra take up his cause. The second season, however, has no such hopeful note, ending with Ben going insane in prison, Petra arrested offscreen, Maya murdered by her best friend, Bostwick having Jumped Off The Slippery Slope, Mshak fleeing to never return, and the Office of Naval Intelligence no weaker than ever. Not that it matters because humanity's also got a front row seat to watching the ancient Guardians arise and kill everybody.
  • The Jimquisition episode "Crying Through The Laughs" is about how video games are becoming too dark, and how they fail at tragedy and are simply depressing, because they don't know how to do happiness. Jim talks about Final Fantasy XIII, which is about imminent death, and stars Lightning, a character who seems totally apathetic from start to finish; if anything bad happens in the game it has no impact because the game was bleak to start with. Final Fantasy IX started out much more upbeat, and starred Zidane, a happy-go-lucky rogue; when he suffers a Heroic B.S.O.D. partway through, it has a lot of gravitas because of how sharp the contrast is between happy Zidane and sad Zidane.
  • Brought up in Marvel and DC: After Hours by the Green Goblin, in which he states that The Joker's plan to make all the superheroes Darker and Edgier Nineties Antiheroes is just plain stupid since without Lighter and Softer heroes for contrast, not only will comics get boring since all the heroes are the same, comics will just get so depressing that the audience might as well just kill themselves.
  • Some readers of Worm fall into this state as it becomes obvious just how outmatched humanity is by the evils that assault it. The series is essentially a long chain of really bad things happening that directly result in even worse things happening. Things always get worse. In the end, though, humanity does manage to survive the impending apocalypse and even take down the entity responsible for it. As a general note, newcomers can have a hard time having any fun reading a series that's full of characters that do horrible and horrifying things on both sides. The protagonist, for example, starts off a bullying victim who experiences Adults Are Useless, and she feels justified in committing torture, kidnapping, and murder. And she's one of the nicer characters.