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Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy
"By all means, writers, let your story wander around the dank, twisty little passages. You may even permit that journey to come to a bad end. But without some light source, your story will be eaten by the Grue of Indifference."
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:
Meaningfulconflict 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 alllose, 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 areclear-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 basically 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.
A variant is basically when Shoot the Shaggy Dog meets True Art IsTooAngsty; 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 theirDowner 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.
When applying to individuals, this is basically 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 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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Anime & Manga
Ergo Proxy can, in its early stages, fall victim to this trope. Near the beginning of the series, there were a few moral dilemmas stemming from black and black morality. Stop the Proxy that's loose in Romdo and the fascist government regains total control over the city. Don't stop the Proxy and it'll continue a murder spree.
Desert Punk, albeit a comic series falls into this. Almost every single character is a massive Jerk Ass, and the few exceptions never prosper in this world. By the middle of the series, it's quite clear that none of the three major characters have a Hidden Heart of Gold. Pretty much summing things up is the comment by the Lemony Narrator in the last episode in respect to the After the End setting, which is to the effect that "With people like this, it doesn't matter if humanity goes extinct."
Gundam, with Tomino's insistence that all Gundam takes place in the same verse, has become this as it requires multiple genocides, several apocalypses, archaeology completely failing to notice previous civilizations (let alone all the mobile suit storage containers) and all aesops broken and lost with the passage of history. To put it another way, nothing that anyone does in any series matters in the long run until ∀ Gundam, ten thousand years after the eponymous mobile suit destroys all but a tiny portion of humanity. Within specific series, Victory Gundam suffers from this the most, with Zeta Gundam following behind (at least, near the end).
Black Lagoon, especially in its early stages. The anime version tones it down JUST a little, but it's still very easy to not care about what happens to anyone in this series since they're all jerks, evil or psychotic.
Let that sink in for a moment: he obliterates humanity just to be an asshole. He obliterates humanity. Just to be an asshole.Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
An alternate viewing is that it wasn't anything as human as to be an asshole or even to escape meaninglessness but the man-made ultimate soldier simply being the ultimate soldier. The sequel further posited that Geist literally physically thrived on continuous warfare, a trait unforeseen by his designers, so you can't really write him up as an insane man or a programmed machine.
Texhnolyze. While there are characters who are noticeably better or worse than others, no one is truly good, with even the most sympathetic characters being Anti Heroes. A lot of viewers saw the show's Downer Ending coming a mile away, and were just waiting for everyone to give up and die.
The final episodes of Paranoia Agent, when a mysterious but solitary menace turned into a city-wide all-consuming biomass, destroying uncounted Innocent Bystanders amongst a handful of previously developed characters. Fortunately this was a brief enough period to avert Ending Fatigue, and still got the point across by changing scope.
Naruto: Sasuke versus Danzo. Sasuke just left two of his companions to die because saving them would've been inconvenient and joined a terrorist organisation to destroy the entire Leaf Village for having eradicated his clan (the Uchiha were planning a coup, which likely would have resulted in a civil war) even though only four people knew of it. Danzo is a true Konoha patriot... except his vision of Konoha is a vaguely fascist society which places almost no value on the individual. Danzo has also had a hand in murdering a group of peaceful activists in a foreign country which ended up radicalizing the survivors into becoming the terrorist organization that Sasuke would join, and was willing to let people in Konoha die so he could become Hokage. Not to mention the mind control he used at the ninja version of the United Nations. Many people felt that Danzo became a little sympathetic when he has a Heel Realization just before dying, which shows just how unsympathetic Sasuke had become by comparison.
Cannon God Exaxxion. The alien invaders are basically Nazi Elves. The boss of the defending humans doesn't give a crap about collateral damage and will basically kill and destroy at will. While Kenichi Sonoda had dipped his toe in this trope before, this was when he took a swan dive into it, and never really surfaced.
Season one of Hell Girl in particular can get a little ridiculous. Every episode, you're introduced to a new villain with no real objective other than to prove his/her guilt in as many obvious ways as possible. Even when they get what's coming to them, it's not before they've completely ruined someone, or many people's lives, sometimes irrevocably. And you know the next episode is just gonna feature someone even crueler. The first season tries to rectify this by introducing the Intrepid Reporter Hajime, who starts trying to prevent people from using the Hell Correspondence and getting Enma Ai to send their tormentors to Hell in exchange for their own souls. Problem is, Hajime never succeeds until his own daughter Tsugumi gets mind raped by Enma Ai, (she and her dad are descendants of a person from Enma Ai's Darkand Troubled Past), and then Ai tries to use it on him, and if anyone should know not to use the Correspondence, she should, so what she does basically makes her a monster only slightly more sympathetic than the villains in the series.
Bakuman。 features this in-universe with the main characters' reactions to Nanamine's "Classroom of Truth," in which everyone, including the main characterdies, with Mashiro saying that having the main character's efforts turn out to be in vain doesn't work.
Don't bother getting attached to story arc characters in Darker Than Black - they'll be dead in a few episodes.
The spin-off Puella Magi Kazumi Magica devolves in this shortly before the climax. When all the girls start to fight each other due to their different view-points, it becomes hard to root for one or other due to the fact that they all (although to different degrees) are so morally rotten that several of them already spot a blue and orange morality
And rounding it off is Puella Magi Oriko Magica. The principal conflict is between Oriko, who wants to murder an innocent fourteen-year-old and anyone else in the way, and Homura, who is all too eager to risk the almost certain destruction of the world for the sake of said innocent fourteen-year-old. It doesn't end well for either.
Hot Gimmick is one of the few shoujo manga that fits this trope. Every character is a Jerkass or an idiot, and nobody receives any major character development (in fact the opposite seems to happen). The Esoteric Happy Ending doesn't help, not even when the novel ended up fixing it via having the girl finally get a chance to walk out on the Bastard Boyfriend.
It's more common than you think in shoujo and jousei manga, since those who have a Bastard Boyfriend as a male lead have a tendency to cause this. It's the main reason why this shoujo/jousei sub-trope is so despised outside Japan: the guy is a total Jerk Ass and likely a rapist to his girlfriend (or boyfriend, if it's yaoi), said girlfriend/boyfriend either is too wishy-washy to leave him or is trapped in such a terrible environment that he/she can't take off, and almost everyone is unhelpful.
It's interesting to note in the case of Psycho-Pass that arguably the apathy is part of the point of the show. As the series goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the Sibyl System has nearly eliminated all crime for society but has removed almost all free will, passion and emotion from society leaving almost everyone emotionally dead but with a forced neutral look or slight smile. On the other hand, those who feel extreme emotions are hunted down and locked in asylums or killed. Due to this, in order to accomplish anything in the world of Psycho-Pass one must not feel any emotion towards others and fully believe in their own world view, essentially becoming a sociopath. Makishima has been a sociopath like this since birth, but values the emotions and potential of humanity and wants to do anything to bring the Sibyl System down so people can live life by their own wills, even if he must create societal collapse. The Sibyl System itself is composed of sociopathic brains in a Hive Mind, that want peace for Japan no matter what, even if they must destroy human individuality and emotion.
Elfen Lied, for some. The lack of subtlety in the narrative, the Black and Grey Morality being taken Up to Eleven, and the exaggerated emphasis on how 90% of Humans Are Bastards to the point of being Card Carrying Villains is often enough to make the viewers exhausted and angry instead of sympathetic to the Diclonius' plights. Granted, this is toned down in the anime and later on in the manga, making such characters as Bando, Mariko, Kurama, and even Lucy more... well, human in the end.
Berserk can cause this. The setting is so very crapsack and the Anti-Hero protagonist tending to be both *really* morally questionable and hopelessly overpowered by the main villains, not to mention the arguably gratuitous rape and violence, means people can simply get bored of the darkness. It does get better later in the manga, though.
In Code Geass, for certain viewers the Wham Episode near the end of season 1 qualifies. The ending of the second season is also a particular point of contention among fans, with both ardent defenders and harsh critics. It's a conclusion that includes giving a seemingly happy result for a few people who got off lightly if not scot free for what they did, while other more sympathetic characters had to settle for a bittersweet resolution at best. The matter of Lelouch's death is especially controversial, with the man himself seeing his own orchestrated passing as a final victory and the fans being split on whether this is a satisfactory end or a source of apathy.
The spin-off series Akito the Exiled has also divided reactions among the audience, albeit for fairly different reasons. The cast includes some frothing racists, criminals and scoundrels as well as apparently psychopathic Blood Knights, with a small number of halfway decent people thrown in. On top of that, a Foregone Conclusion seems likely since it's an Interquel set between Code Geass' two seasons and focuses on a particular war...whose outcome was revealed at the start of the second season, which tends to limit some of the audience's interest in it.
AIR: The monks who cursed Kanna got away with it and caused Misuzu to break down whenever she gets close to someone, no one manages to break the curse, and at the end, Misuzu dies. Many detractors of Air will say that nothing ever happens in the entire series.
Jormungand: Most of the characters are all bloodthirsty bodyguards for a deranged woman with a god complex who claims to want to save the world by killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and that's not even getting into the logical fallacies her plan actually has.
Koizora definitely feels like this, with the main character Mika experiencing heartbreak, rape, unwanted pregnancy, then a miscarriage and even more stuff that seems like it just wants the audience to dry up from reading the series, when all it does after a while, makes you think what sad thing won't happen to this girl!
This is also a complain levelled at Bitter Virgin. The narrative piles up so much trauma, woobieness and weepy melodrama on Hinako and the reader, and uses a complicated theme like sexual abuse so liberally as a plot device, that at times it can be becomes the chore to read.
Valvrave the Liberator has a Wham Episode in episode 10 of its first season, in which the male lead Haruto rapes the Veronica of the Love Triangle, Saki, while in a Brainwashed and Crazy state. The entire scene is juxtaposed with Shouko, the Betty and Haruto's "default" romantic interest, announcing to everyone that she's happy to be their president, and that she's going to confess her love when they reach the moon.
Fate/Zero can fall into this, with many of the characters having questionable goals and behavior and with an overall dark and cynical mood that can make it difficult to care about the story.
A lot of viewers really don't care about the storyline and the characters of Black Bullet due to the fact that numerous characters are killed off and many characters who aren't killed off are put through suffering hell (especially Rentaro and Enju)
In Aldnoah.Zero, Inaho and Slaine are highly flawed characters and that should be good... only that their many faults or self-inflicted mistakes can make it hard for the audience to sympathize with them. The fact that two of the three main characters seem to be dead and the remaining heroic character possibly underwent a Face-Heel Turn by the mid-season finale doesn't help.
Over-reliance on C-List Fodder and Stuffed In The Fridge in Marvel and DC comics for their various Crisis Crossovers can create a similar type of audience apathy in that while readers still care about the long running superheroes in the comics, any new superheroes introduced are treated with indifference as readers expect them to be killed off for cheap drama in a couple of years even if they received their own series prior. This creates a negative cycle as any new additions to the lineup are poorly received which causes them to be even more likely to be fodder which causes fans to not want to bother with any new additions knowing they will just be killed off.
Alan Moore's works often skirt the edge of this Trope, or dive right over it: V for Vendetta, for example, gives the reader the choice of fascist totalitarianism that keeps order and keeps the people fed or the chaos and violence of the post-revolutionary era which the comic makes overtly clear will lead to mass starvation (we're to understand that the eventual "voluntary anarchic order" will make things better in the long run). Watchmen gives us the choice of "inevitable" nuclear annihilation or a Roman peace maintained by fear, mass murder, and a lie.
The Walking Dead is obviously not meant to be a light-hearted comic, being set in a Zombie Apocalypse, but even for the genre it gets progressively darker over time. Every single gain the characters manage to find is always ruined, many characters continually die in dark and gory ways, and the ones who've managed to stay alive become more and more traumatized until Rick declares "WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD!" And since the zombie apocalypse is global with no known cure, there seems to be no end in sight.
Wanted. In a fight between a group of nihilistic, mass-murdering, serial-raping assholes who want to continue ruling the world in secret and a group of nihilistic, mass-murdering, serial-raping assholes who want to rule the world openly, why should the reader really care who wins? Heck, you might as well root for the series' antagonist, Mr. Rictus. At least he's good for some Black Comedy (if you're amused by the slaughter of children). The You Bastard ending seems to indicate that the author himself hates both the story, and anyone who read it through to the end. One of the possible interpretations is that he's condemning anyone who could accept a universe so devoid of hope.
Kick-Ass. Anyone who seems to be in the right is quickly revealed to be naive or secretly an asshole; the main character is a spineless worm who's deluding himself into thinking he can be a hero, while the primary hero character is an utter tool who has turned his daughter into a violent criminal to live out his own dreams. And yet the people they fight against are even worse. There's a reason a lot of people prefer the movie's significantly more idealistic take on the story.
Justice League: The Rise of Arsenal was responsible for destroying Roy Harper's character following his dismemberment at the hands of Prometheus and the death of his daughter in Justice League: Cry for Justice. On the one side there is Roy, reeling from the loss of his only child, grappling with the fact that he may no longer be able to use a bow and arrow, and suffering from impotency and hallucinations (whose source was not clarified as stemming from grief, pain medication, or his infected right arm). He lashes out at his friends and family for trying to help, begins stealing pain killers from Dr. Mid-Nite, goes back on heroin, and turns into a murderous anti-hero after being goaded into killing Prometheus's ally the Electrocutioner (by a hallucination of Lian) then burning down his home. However, on the other side, his friends and family truly don't help the situation that much. They don't seem to have fully understood just what Roy has lost. Dr. Mid-Nite was completely oblivious to the fact that Roy was stealing pain killers, quite easily in fact. Cyborg designed him a shoddy mechanical arm meant to work around the infected nerve endings in Roy's arm, while simultaneously enhancing his pain and limiting whatever abilities as an archer he had left. Wally West does absolutely nothing to help, Donna Troy stops after Roy accuses her of "whoring around in space with Kyle Rayner" while her husband and son died in a car crash. Though, someone who's gone through everything Donna has should've understood Roy's suffering a little easier. And Dick Grayson consigns to have Roy locked in a substance abuse center for super villains after he has a vivid hallucination while on heroin. Dick does so with the consent of Black Canary, who washes her hands of Roy and considers him a lost cause. It's hard to root for Roy when he's acting like such an asshole, but given that his family and friends treat his loss with such negligence, it's hard to side with anyone in this comic.
The DCU had a period like this, from approximately the Graduation Day storyline (the Sudden Downer Ending of Young Justice) to the Sinestro Corps War. Geoff Johns (who wrote both the aforementioned storylines, though Graduation Day was mandated by Executive Meddling) may have slipped a bit of meta-commentary on this into his Infinite Crisis, as this trope is essentially the reason why the villains of that story want to destroy the universe and remake it in their image. And of course, there's more than a few people thinking that The New 52 are at least toeing the line on this trope.
Tischman's brief Cable run had a sound concept: averting the Reed Richards Is Useless trope by exploring what would happen if a godlike superhuman intervened in real (sort of) wars. Unfortunately, in execution, the cast consisted of 75% villains (including everyone on both sides of the various conflicts, even the side Cable ostensibly fights for), 21% helpless victims, 3% actually sympathetic characters who accomplish anything, and 1% Cable himself, who is a Mighty Whitey played depressingly straight and who flat-out admits that even with all his phenomenal power, he can't really change anything, and that his goal is basically making things better for a handful of people for the immediate future. And that's before you get into the Unfortunate Implications: the main villains are all but stated to be essentially the embodiments of the baseless "conspiracy of Greedy Jews that secretly controls everything bad in the world" theory from the bad old days. You'd think having an artist who was an actual veteran of The Balkan Wars would allow them to handle subjects like this more tastefully, but apparently not.
This is the attitude some people have had towards Avengers Arena. The promises that the series would feature a lot of deaths by the end has resulted in a heavily Broken Base, with some people rejecting the book along these lines.
Ultimate Marvel. Just about everyone is a massiveJerk Ass, there's far more Dysfunction Junction than in the 616 universe (which already has plenty), dozens and dozens of major characters have been Killed Off for Real in a universe that prides itself on averting Death Is Cheap; the heroes are far more anti-heroic and aren't above doing some nasty things on occasion, while the villains are just that much worse and S.H.I.E.L.D is a bigger and more imposing force to the superhuman community. It's a much more cynical version of the Marvel Universe (which many say went way too far after Ultimatum).
A lot of Spider-Man fans have this problem when his Failure Hero status gets a little too out of hand. Howard Mackie's run featured Peter going through one Kick the Dog moment after another, losing his job, his wife seemingly dying, and ultimately becoming homeless until fans were all too happy to finally have him off the title. The infamous One More Day story had him give up his marriage, one of the real good constants in his life, to the equivalent of Satan to save Aunt May and alienated several fans. Dan Slott's run that's culminated in Superior Spider-Man may have topped it all, due to the fact that The Bad Guy Wins with Doctor Octopus successfully taking over Peter's body and effectively killing him. When your protagonist is a villain whose only good deeds are done while wearing the corpse of your hero, why bother reading?
The Transformers IDW has taken a darker tone on transformers; the Autobots before the war weren't saints as the ones in the present, who aren't always as nice as we use to know them. Their relations with the humans who fear and hate them aren't good, all thanks to the Decepticons who are as ruthless as ever. Even though the Autobots have saved Cybertron, their victory seems hollow. A band of Cybertronians who fled the war blame both sides for tearing Cybertron apart, Optimus steps down as Prime as part of a deal so that the Autobots can stay and goes into exile. Meanwhile an even greater threat looms, as an entire universe called the Dead Universe seeks to extinguish all life in normal space. More Than Meets The Eye has largely averted this trope by actually having the heroes succeed and keeping them sympathetic while not playing up the darker ideas as much (or at least toning them down significantly), but its sister series Robots In Disguise is steadily slipping into it. Some fans have started abandoning Robots In Disguise because unlike MTMTE it sometimes gets really damn depressing.
Season 2 seems to be taking steps to reverse this; Dark Cybertron left things in a much better state than at the start of MTMTE and RID, and RID has adopted a more humorous tone, making the mood a little more consistent for the two comics.
The Borgia series by Alejandro Jodorowsky has as its protagonists the notorious Borgia family, who kill, rape, and torture their way into power. You may better remember their patriarch, Rodrigo, as the final boss from Assassin's Creed 2. They operate in a world full of other raping, murdering, torturing assholes. You know something is off when Church Militant killjoy Savonrola is likeable compared to our heroes.
All-Star Batman & Robin: The lead character is a murdering sociopath who insults and attacks pretty much everyone around him, including freaking Alfred, while almost every other character is ineffectual or just plain dumb, or in the case of Black Canary, as mad and violent as Batman.
Craig Thompson's Habibi gets this complaint. The story is set in a rather unflattering imagining of the Arabworld in which men are almost universally savage brutes who rape and oppress women with impunity and seem to have no qualms about pedophilia. To make matters worse, the heroine has very little agency of her own and spends most of her time getting pulled from one melodrama to the next.
Starfire runs right into Herb of the Musk, who is so dedicated to Just Following Orders that despite realizing that she's desperately trying not to kill him, he just uses her hesitation to casually beat her unconscious. X-COM then Mind Rapes her to try to deduce her origins. Only the appearance of the other Titans proves her a non-combatant (due to voluntarily allowing their minds to be read), which leads them to instead cautiously draft her and return her to the rest of the Titans with the intention of turning her into an ally while they research the dimensional crossover. When most of the other Titans petition for national citizenship to register to fight the aliens, it is mentioned that according to UN legislation aliens have no rights, and she's not an exception.
Titans!Ryoga efforts at bonding with his fellow Titans are at one time mocked by his militaristic counterpart, saying that pretending to be a Nice Guy will compromise his ability to command a team in the field. The two Ryougas spend much of the story unable to see eye-to-eye for a variety of reasons.
Cyborg gets it the lightest - his courageous superhero act is typically less valued by X-COM, who want him to Stay In The Lab building superweapons. He tried to skirt both areas, helping in the lab and in the field. He decides to shut down the empathic parts of his mind to be more effective, with the predictable backfire that follows.
All in all, you don't read the fic wondering what will happen to anyone from the X-COMverse, as it's mentioned multiple times that they will likely all die in the titular assault on Cydonia. Some profess that don't care if they live or die, or what happens to their civilization after they kill all the aliens, as long as there is a civilization at all to return to, so why should the reader? What you wonder is if Our Heroes the Teen Titans will make it out of the Waffen-XX dimension alive, or if they'll even get to die sane.
Though, conversely, many characters speak often about the end of the war and their desire to survive it, for example, X-COM's Ryouga, who has slowly and painfully found a way out of his previous depression, and Ryu, who hopes to rebuild his family dojo and have a family, and the Amazons who want to rebuild their village after the terror site, but all have heard that Cydonia is likely to be a suicide mission and as a result of recent alien assaults on X-COM bases, morale is at a low point. Mental states are further stretched thin by efforts to investigate other dimensions and attempt to return the Titans to their home.
A few readers feel this way about Background Pony. The story is pretty bleak and resolute about grinding Lyra into the dirt, with hope seeming so distant or unreachable at times that it's easy to simply become exhausted with the entire narrative. The final chapter is especially bad in this regard; though her decision in the end was utterly selfless, the focus on her loss from said selflessness adds one final bout of angst to the pile.
All He Ever Wanted. Full stop. When almost every character is either an unlikable bastard/bitch or being constantly tortured, readers may not be sure who to root for at all. Of if there's any character worth rooting for. Specially considering that in the canon Hetalia verse, all nations are given at least some sympathetic and/or kind moments, even the worst Jerk Asses... and yet the fic removes almost all of them; i.e., seeing Prussia as a megalomaniac, abusive, rapist NaziCard-Carrying Villain when he's at most a Hot-BloodedButt Monkey in canon is all kinds of NO.
Dash's New Mom eventually runs into this. While most of the initial conflict stems from Rainbow Dash's inability to cope with her widowed father Blue Streak dating Twilight Sparkle, the latter two are eventually shown to be rather messed up and secretive as well. It appears about five or six chapters in that the trio have had the chance to at least start working through their issues, then Dash walks in on Blue and Twilight about to make love on Dash's mother's old bed, resulting in much louder rehashing of prior arguments, Twilight walking out, and Blue throwing his daughter out, after which several readers either expressed confusion as to whom they're supposed to sympathize with, expressed a desire to knock some sense into all three, or just dropped the story altogether.
It's a problem with many, MANY Fire Emblem Awakening fanworks. It is true that this particular game has a very dark phase, and yet the fanworkers focus TOO much on said dark phase and use it as the bread and butter of their fanwork — to the degree of making their art/fic ridiculously melodramatic, wangsty and overall boring. It also tends to be parallel with the rather creepy tendence of some fans to take Video Game Caring Potential centered on the Second Generation characters to the extreme of viewing them almost as if they were the fans's real life children, focusing only on their difficult backstories and reducing them to woobies to coddle and adore and project issues on. (Often while ignoring/handwaving the First Generation characters's also rather harsh problems.)
Random commenter: "I like drama, don't get me wrong. But there's drama... and well, there's drama."
Dumbledore's Army and the Year of Darkness and its sequels want to be a "serious" take on the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately, the author has mistaken gratuitous gore and bloodshed for seriousness. People die en masse even when canon insists they lived, morally ambiguous characters are transformed into pure evil, nobody gets out without severe injury (physical or mental), and if it looks like something good is about to happen, the heroes will destroy it with their own stupidity or selfishness — and yet the narrative expects us to sympathize with them, specially in the case of NevilleLongbottom. Once hailed as a work of art, it's now seen as a mass of potential buried in overdone "drama".
KnightMysterio, the author for Waking Nightmares, is aware of this and has mentioned in this tumblr post that he is attempting to make sure that this does not happen. (Given that the story has Slenderman as the main villain.)
The Nuptialverse gradually veers away from the character-focused vignettes of Post Nuptials in favor of arcs such as Scootabuse and an anti-Celestia movement which seems far more effective than any of the characters or situations involved would allow, diverging wildly from canon in both content and tone. A number of readers objected to the point of forcing the addition of a Dark tag to Families, and when the sequel Direction was posted with that tag from the start, they rather vocally swore it off. (Ironically, the author only added that tag to Direction as a preemptive response to these objectors and has since removed it.)
The increasing focus of The Dear Sweetie Belle Continuity on foreshadowing/setting up a coming cataclysmic conflict which portends doom for Equestria, and the distinct possibility of unhappy endings for most characters involved, has driven off a few commenters (though many more are still hooked). Some also find the behavior of the royals who receive much of the focus to be extremely unpleasant, especially considering that their divisive behavior is implied to be at least partially responsible for said conflict.
While the original Inner Demons was fairly dark, it still ended up being a case of Earn Your Happy Ending, avoiding this trope... until the sequals, which pulled some downright brutalHappy Ending Override, especially where Rarity is concerned, which turned off many readers. To put it in perspective, both sequels have the Tragedy tag, which is basically just an advance warning that a story cannot possibly end happily.
After waiting over a year for the fifth episode, some viewers of My Little Portal were turned off by the exponential increase in both gore and a sense of hopelessness, thanks to the past fall of Canterlot and a great deal of character mutilation.
Some readers found the degree to which Twilight Sparkle is ground down emotionally and the overall sense of gloom throughout the first stretch of Asylum, coupled with the story's considerable length, very gradual plot development, and lack of Hope Spots, to be more trouble than the Ontological Mystery at the center was worth.
Before the rewrite, Sonic X: Dark Chaos had this in spades and was heavily criticized for it, with the Sonic characters being even bigger jerks than their original depictions and the entire universe doomed in an over-the-top Cosmic Horror Story filled with copious amounts of Gorn and horror. The author rewrote it deliberately to avoid this trope by making the characters much more like their canon counterparts; all of them are fundamentally good people who genuinely want to help others and save the galaxy. A ton of Character Development was also added, making all the characters - even many of the villains - far more sympathetic than before. Unfortunately, this is balanced out by the author ratcheting up the Cosmic Horror Story elements even more, and the sheer grim darkness of the setting is very unnerving.
And that's all before the preview of the sequel reveals that everything they did was pointless and that the entire universe is doomed anyway. However, the author did reveal that the sequel is going to have a happy or at least bittersweet ending though, again trying to avoid this trope.
Menace II Society. The film itself invokes this trope. There is no point getting emotionally attached to any of the main cast of the film, as it is a dark representation of how dangerous the neighborhoods of Watts, California are. The main character (Caine) embraces the life of a criminal, his best friend O-Dog is a terrible person who has no justifiable motivation for his sadism and murder, the same applies to the other members of the gang. Given that, it is very difficult to truly sympathize with most of the main characters, especially when you consider that they are all practically at war with gangsters like them.
The Prestige suffered from this. Nolan didn't really give the audience enough clues about who the real protagonist was (the one we actually wanted to see win), because both main characters acted rather heinously at times. It isn't until the end when one character triumphs that the audience goes "Oh, I guess he was the good guy all along", and by then, we're not sure if we should be happy or angry about the outcome. This one is particularly tricky because we don't know which twin was doing what throughout the movie. All we can really be sure of is that the brother that gets executed tried to save Angier from drowning. For all we know, the one that survives was responsible for all the worst things "Alfred" Borden did. About the only Hope Spot is that the surviving twin says he was the one who loved Sarah, which might indicate that he was Jess's real father and that he will work hard to give her a good life. It should be noted that the original which it was based on had two completely different protagonists who were the offspring of the magicians and were trying to reconcile why their families have been at odds for so long. The documents they find show that both men made a great deal of mistakes that led to being equally to blame. It also had a different ending.
Two words: The Room. Johnny is a wuss, Lisa is incredibly stupid and callous, Mark eventually ends up fighting Johnny as a result, and Denny may or may not have drug problems. The writing and acting don't help, either.
Any movie that centers around drugs or drug addicts (such as Less Than Zero) has a high chance of carrying this trope because there is no point in caring for a character who has doomed his/herself to begin with by becoming addicted.
Land of the Dead. Humans Are the Real Monsters is taken to an extreme, and the alternative is to root for the zombies, who are quite obviously still dangerous undead predators that nobody sane would want to see receive anything other than bullets in the brain. However, the entire series was building up to this kind of setting.
Being John Malkovich suffers from this; all the main characters are, at the very least, horrifically selfish human beings who don't really care who gets hurt in pursuit of their various wants. The only remotely sympathetic character in the movie is John Malkovich himself, and that's mostly because he's more of a plot device than an actual character. For the uninitiated, Charlie Sheen(!) has, by the end of the movie, very likely learned that John Malkovich is trapped in his own head while other people dominate him, and he is likely going to follow the puppetmasters who are possessing Malkovich into the next host, an adorable and harmless seven year old girl.
The genre of suburban/middle-class peril: films from Fatal Attraction to Cache/Hidden suffer from the fact that their heroes are smug and successful without any moral virtues or other good qualities to endear them to the audience.
The third Pirates of the Caribbean movie had this problem, with everyone backstabbing each other and shifting alliances on a whim that it got hard to root for anyone by the end. Of course, such a thing should be expected, given that the protagonists are all pirates by this point, even Will and Elizabeth. Even so, the climax of the film had them cheer about how pirates represent freedom and such... when they pillage and murder. Hardly heroic.
300. The narrator described the Spartans as the ultimate good guys. Because of his unreliability, though, it turns out the Spartans were just as insane and bloodthirsty as their Persian enemies. Because of that, while the narrator described the battles between the Spartans and Persians as "good vs. evil" (or "order vs. chaos" if you prefer), to audience members, it seemed more like "bad guys vs.worse guys."
Also based on Frank Miller, Sin City. Hartigan is the only guy who's close to good, Nancy is a Neutral Female, and all the other characters alternate between "amoral bastards" (Marv, Dwight, The Girls of Old Town) to "amoral monsters" (the people they're up against).
The Final Destination series has this problem involving the second variant of this trope. There's no point in getting emotionally attached to them or rooting for them to make it, because the rules say death will not be cheated and they're all going to die. Even finding out the reason why the visions that allow the characters to cheat death happen can add to this trope. Hoping for some kind of Big Good to this series or something similar? Nope. It was Death doing it all along, and then killing them later because... I dunno, he's a dick.
Some critics said America's Sweethearts had this problem. Among the main characters in the title, Eddie is a ticking time bomb (although it's understandable, given the headline-making breakup) and Gwen is an unapproachable, manipulative Rich Bitchwho can't even put ankle boots on right. Among the side characters, the agent played by Billy Crystal is mining all the drama for his own benefit. The only likable character is Gwen's sister mainly because she has to put up with Gwen and is just beginning to grow a backbone after losing a bunch of weight but her goal is to get together with Eddie so it doesn't really matter.
This could be the reason why Welcome To The Dollhouse and other films by Todd Solondz have never gotten much mainstream attention. Everyone, seemingly without exception, is profoundly miserable, solipsistic, or sociopathic. Sometimes, they are all three.
An older example of this trope can be found in the Universal movie House of Frankenstein. The characters aren't very likeable (with the possible exception of Daniel), the story is rather cynical, and in the end, everybody dies. Not even Svengoolie's So Bad, It's Good sense of humor could save this one.
Believe it or not, The Breakfast Club can have this effect on more cynical viewers. The crappiness of Shermer, Illinois, pretty much goes from being Played for Laughs (as in Sixteen Candles) to being Played for Drama. Every adult barring the janitor Carl and possibly Vernon is a viciously selfish scumbag of some sort, abusing the kids for their own benefit. The kids themselves, while morallybetter people, are so deeply dysfunctional that one can't help but feel a bit nihilistic. "When you grow old, your heart dies" sums it all up perfectly.
Ask a person who was around in The Eighties about this trope, odds are their answer will be To Live and Die in L.A.Richard Chance is really not that different on the morality scale from his quarry, Rick Masters, and many of the characters are slimy or apathetic. John Vukovich is seemingly the only guy with some normal standards of goodness, but by the time the film's Downer Ending comes around, he's become just as bad, if not worse, than Chance himself.
Hannibal and Hannibal Rising both suffer from this. Almost none of the main characters have any redeeming attributes (sans Clarice, but she's basically a pawn half the time, and in the novel ends up falling for Lecter)- and those who do are mercilessly picked on or forced out of the action. Meanwhile Hannibal Lecter himself, the murderous psychopath and villain of the past two movies, is practically presented as the hero now. Even Hannibal himself is why Hannibal falls into the trope. Even though he is a psychopathic murderer, the vital heart of Silence was the dynamic between Lecter and Clarice; Lecter comes to admire the doggedness and pure, honest nature of her and treats her as kindly as anyone in a crapsack world where seemingly every male treats her horribly. By turning him back into more or less a standard villain on the loose and severing that mutual respect, it throws Hannibal into this trope, as discussed in great detail by Roger Ebertin his review:
It misplaces the reason why we liked Hannibal Lecter so much. He was, in the 1991 classic, a good man to the degree that his nature allowed him to be. He was hard-wired as a cannibal and mass murderer, true, but that was his nature, not his fault, and in his relationship with the heroine, FBI trainee Clarice Starling, he was civil and even kind. He did the best he could.
The Ides Of March sets itself up as a movie in which an idealistic US presidential political campaign manager has his idealism destroyed by the paranoid nature of politics and corruption. Which might be interesting, except the character in question does some morally questionable actions from the beginning of the story. This makes it hard for the audience to like him or view him as the Wide-Eyed Idealist the script insists he is. As a result, the entire plot just seems sort of pointless.
From what can be perceived from some of Oliver Stone movies, it's as if he can't go a single movie without having at least one scene with this trope in play. The most particular would have to be Platoon (which ironically won Best Picture in 1986), where in it, the American soldiers themselves were a bunch of Sociopathic Soldiers (with the exception of Sgt. Elias Grodin and Pvt. Chris Taylor), who made themselves out to be as bad as the Vietnamese soldiers they were up against. They finally crossed the Moral Event Horizon, when they raided the Vietnamese village and nearly attempted to massacre the villagers there. This leaves only the aforementioned Elias and Taylor as the remaining sympathetic characters left, and even then, there's no point in caring about the war they're in.
Batman Returns failed to live up to the expectations set by its predecessor, and much of that was because all four of the main characters - including Batman himself - are murderous brutes. Some of them really are fighting for justice, but only occasionally do they do anything truly heroic - and the few characters that have no moral flaws, such as Commissioner Gordon and the Mayor, are so ineffectual it's hard to see them as heroes. That leaves Alfred Pennyworth as the one character you can comfortably root for - and let's face it, an elderly man isn't going to be seen as a role model by most people.
Lloyd Kaufman faced this problem when writing Health Club Horror. He wanted to have the monster only kill bad people (which was an idea left over from an unfilmed script he worked on the previous decade with Stan Lee), but the monster was also basically a bad guy. His solution was to make the monster a hero, and make the movie a comedy. Thus, The Toxic Avenger was born.
Iron Sky: Okay, so on one side of the conflict we have MoonNazis who want to either conquer or perhaps destroy the Earth (the movie isn't quite clear which). On the other side you have the people of Earth, a collection of Jerkasses and Dumbasses so universally horrible they actually come close to making the Nazis look like good guys by comparison. The whole thing is so bad the fact that the movies ending with both the Nazis' moonbase and most life on Earth being destroyed can be considered a happy ending.
Melancholia. There's no point to the plot. Or the characterization. Or the dialogue. Or anything else. Everyone just dies, after living a sad life. But it's okay; the film assures you that they were all complete Jerkasses. We never see anything happy in the movie or anything that implies their world is anything other than apathetic and depressing. True Art Is Angsty taken to its logical extreme.
This is the ultimate fate of Gus Van Sant's Gerry. The movie really doesn't give the audience any motivation to care for the two, as what little dialogue is awashed by entire stretches of silence and the whole situation being caused by their incredible shortsightedness. In the end, the movie only serves as a test for patience until Damon!Gerry kills Affleck!Gerry and finds civilization just before the credits roll. Brad Jones described the movie as being nothing more than "sand and walking".
The Tracey Fragments, big time. Every single character is mentally disturbed, borderline-sociopathic, drug-addled, and/or completely selfish, so there's hardly any reason for an audience to put forth the effort to give a damn.
One possible reason why The Counselor received many mediocre reviews; There aren't many people to root for. Most of the characters are bad guys/girls, and the titular character is somewhat naive and foolish.
Discussed in this article on Business Insider about Godzilla (2014) and other monster and disaster movies. Anne Billson notes that the reason Godzilla is a more interesting character than most of the humans is because we don't really want to get emotionally attached to people who are going to be killed later in the midst of catastrophe. We're willing to accept uninteresting characters who are either Born Lucky when it comes to surviving the violent events or who don't get much development before their demises because we prefer that to being genuinely heartbroken by all the misery, tragedy and death.
This was a common criticism leveled against The Butterfly Effect, with many reviewers claiming that it was so oppressively dark that it almost became hard to take seriously. The entire first half-hour of the movie is a nonstop Trauma Conga Line for the main character, where he's nearly strangled by his institutionalized father, gets molested by his neighbor, accidentally murders a woman and her baby with dynamite, watches his dog get tied up in a sack and burned to death, sees his best friend lose his mind, and receives news that the love of his life has committed suicide. The rest of the movie follows his attempts to make everything better with time-travel...which end up making itworse.
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.
Robert Cormier wrote a lot of books that fit easily into this, and a few books that would have avoided this if the likeable characters hadn't died or been beaten into submission. The best chance his characters are ever given is that the next life might be better than this one (and his later works deny even that.)
The Hunger Games seems like this at times, especially when District 13's war tactics and overall militarism become morally questionable. Hell, forget District 13, a lot of people find Katniss horrible enough that this happens.
Deliberately used in The Sound and the Fury: the first brother is severely mentally handicapped, and although hard to hate, his section of the book (written from his perspective) is so confusing that it's hard for many people to identify with him. The second brother is completely insane and lusts after his own sisterwhich turns out to be a lie to protect her, but we don't find this out until later, so you really want to turn away from him. The third brother already has turned away from him, and narrates in a completely comprehensible style, so at first you like him, but then he's a total Jerk Ass who hates everyone around him.
While Blood and Chocolate is by many standards a good book, it suffers from this twice over. On a larger scale, Humans Are the Real Monsters who hate and fear werewolves, while werewolves sometimes provide very good reason why humans hate and fear them. On a smaller scale, any of seven or eight different characters, including the main character and both love interests, could be argued to be the most repulsive character in the book for one reason or another, and of the two characters who're most likeable one's a Straw Feminist who's not treated very seriously and the other gets eviscerated by a supposed friend. The silver lining is that the werewolf female lead and human primary love interest could balance each other out—except that humans really can't trust werewolves, so he winds up trying to kill her.
Night Watch is a debatable case. The eponymous Night Watch claims it wants to improve the world, but in practice this means making everyone else think like they do, and their actions include putting Hitler in power. The Day Watch talks of freedom of choice, but they're selfish, hedonistic, and frequently hypocritical. Muggles are snacks, and there's nothing they could conceivably do to influence the situation. On the other hand, it's only the upper ranks that are rotten—both the Night Watch and the Day Watch have good and honorable members in the field. This comes full circle when it is revealed that at the highest levels, the Watches are actually working together; the conflict between them is mostly for the sake of keeping the Others away from normal people, and the Watches often deliberately sabotage their own efforts to overtly influence human society. Their real plans to improve the world are much more subtle and cooperative.
Many Tom Holt books suffer from this. The protagonists are sometimes just as cynical, ruthless, selfish, vapid, cowardly, and/or nasty as the erstwhile antagonists. Valhalla and Little People are particularly memorable in this regard.
In "The Merchant's Tale" of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the merchant's tale of a wife's adultery is supposed to show women as dishonest, but the poisonous way all characters, including the wronged husband are portrayed makes it difficult to sympathize with any of them. This is almost certainly deliberate, as several of Chaucer's characters let their view color their stories and how badly they tell them.
Wuthering Heights can induce this reaction, in the 'too bleak and angsty and without hope' subcategory. (Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books parody this with an anger management class for the characters, who are warned that their drama has made the story more angsty and angry as time goes by, and they risk going the same way as Titus Andronicus: "Once a gentle comedy of manners, it's now the daftest, bloodiest tale in all of Shakespeare!")
Ethan Frome can induce similar reactions as Wuthering Heights. The utter hopelessness of the story has driven many an English Major to the bottle.
A Song of Ice and Fire: The series starts with Black and Grey Morality, but quickly progressed to Black and Black. While initially the death of the "main" character was a refreshing twist, by the end of A Storm Of Swords so many of the characters had been killed off or worse that some readers found it hard to care about the rest of them. Also all the endless, gratuitous war crimes perpetrated by all factions - rapes, skinned children crucified for miles, burning women alive after raping them - not only began to lose their shock value, but made it hard to care about who wins in the end. Others, however, love the series for precisely this reason.
Many of the critics and even some of the fans claim that Twilight suffers this badly in the Love Triangle the third book Eclipse is built around. Edward, Bella, and Jacob all come off as extremely possessive, selfish and emotionally manipulative Jerkasses to the point that some found all possible resolutions to the triangle equally repugnant.
There's also the issue of the Volturi. They are built up as a corrupt government who ruthlessly murder vampires over any slight, forcibly "collect" powerful vampires, and look for excuses to destroy the Cullen family. The problem is, vampires as a whole are a bunch of murderous animals who do nothing but think about their next meal and who to kill to get it. Thus, not only are the Volturi the only ones trying to instill any sense of order into the vampire world, but they're the few actually keeping the vampires from slaughtering humans without restraint. Even the Cullens in no way condemn or try to stop this behavior, which makes their declarations that human lives are valuable come across as rather hollow. Meanwhile, in spite of the fact that they're supposed to be defending humanity, the werewolves apparently slack off a good bit (they do nothing to stop Peter and Charlotte in Midnight Sun, even though there were werewolves transforming at that time), and actively go against their duties when Jacob imprints on Renesmee and puts her before his job as Alpha. This is all best summed up by their actions in Breaking Dawn. The Volturi try to use Renesmee as an excuse to kill the Cullens and their allies, the allies are so kind as to go outside the city limits to slaughter people during their stay, the werewolves do nothing to stop this because the allies are needed to protect Renesmee, and the Cullens loan cars so the allies can find victims more easily.
One problem Twilight has is that all of the characters that are jerks are pushed to the front of the story, often having incredibly fucked up backstories despite being portrayed rather positively (Jasper, Sam), while the ones that aren't are either pushed to the background as fast as possible (Bella's school friends), portrayed negatively despite not really showing any negative traits (Bella's school friends again, Charlie in the early books, and Leah, although her case is more that her negative traits exist but aren't really her fault so much), or made worse in an apparent attempt to make them less sympathetic (Jacob, Charlie again). About the only character in the book that isn't either a massive jerk or made one, but still stays roughly important in the story is Carlisle. And even his morals and motives are somewhat questionable.
The works of Bret Easton Ellis can have that effect, as pretty much everyone in them is completely shallow, self-absorbed and stupid. Given that this is deliberate, you probably know what you're in for when you start one of his books. Clay in Less Than Zero may be an in-universe example, as eventually he finds himself passively watching horrible things (like his friends face-raping a drugged 12-year-old girl) while saying he just wanted "to see the worst".
A number of Star Wars Expanded Universe series are falling into this trope. Starting with New Jedi Order, the books have become progressively darker and everything just seems to be getting worse. Came to a head in Legacy of the Force, which ended with Jacen dying after being hacked to pieces and left in an incinerator, the galaxy under control of Daala, and the galaxy wrecked by yet another pointless war.
The continuation of this plot after the war ends only makes it worse because the victors lacked the finesse to control their new subjects, resulting in them slowly being undermined and torn apart by their supposed subjects. Things only improved after a lot of important character deaths when the Tiste Edur gave up and left while Letharas got a decent ruler.
The Mayor Of Casterbridge. Everyone is, without exception, demonically evil or flat. This is a common complaint about Thomas Hardy. A contemporary reviewer of his work stated that, "[His work] is depressing because he himself is somewhat depressed" and boy does it ever show. Jude the Obscure and Tess of the d'Urbervilles are both unrelentingly depressing Shoot the Shaggy Dog stories. Hardy was to some extent trying to skewer the Victorian values of the day and make the point that it was impossible for good people to survive in such a system, but as the audience it's difficult to not just stop caring about these characters once it's obvious that any Hope Spot will only lead to another horrible disappointment.
Donna Tartt's The Secret History sometimes inspires this - it's not uncommon for readers to respond to the revelation that one of these unsympathetic characters will be murdered by thinking "Only one?"
Dubliners by James Joyce is a book of short stories where every single one is about a disappointing, half-lived life that will probably end in isolation and ignominy. Hope spots are few and far between, and usually swiftly replaced by misery.
The Child Thief falls into this at the beginning, and for some readers, until its end. The story is billed as a darker retelling of Peter Pan, and it shows - rooting for Peter is all but impossible given his bloodthirsty and careless ways. The real world is not much better in the book - because it focuses on Lost boys and girls, everyone has horrible stories in their past. Although there are a few characters the reader can identify with, they pale in comparison to the horrible people around them rather than providing a real contrast.
Brought up in Through the Looking-Glass. Tweedledum and Tweedledee recite the poem about The Walrus and the Carpenter. After hearing the poem, Alice wonders about who is the most sympathetic of the two. But the twins points it out that both of the duo ate as many of the oysters as they can. After much thought, Alice concludes that both of them were very unpleasant characters.
The Casual Vacancy has a rather mundane premise and characters that, as one reviewer put it, are "fairly horrible or suicidally miserable or dead". Thus, some found it hard to care about the conclusion.
Iron Druid Chronicles can invoke this reaction in some people. The main character is an often jerkish Nominal Hero who only gets involved if he is forced to, who is willing to let lesser crimes fall by the wayside in service to what he considers more significant goals, and who is willing to commit any number of those crimes himself if he deems it necessary. His "allies" include an (if Affable) largely amoral vampire (who sells Atticus down the river as soon as it becomes clear that Atticus isn't backing his corner), a pack of werewolves (themselves guilty of a number of more mundane crimes, typically in service of keeping up the Masquerade), and a coven of witches who are of a similar mindset to Atticus, if not worse. Their enemies tend to be Jerk Ass Gods at best, if not outright Omnicidal Maniacs.
The Star Trek Novel Verse is starting to have this effect after the two part novels Plagues of the Night and Raise the Dawn. The series had already gone through a completely legitimate rough patch with the Borg war of Star Trek: Destiny, only for a new cold war with the Typhon Pact to occur. Which was fine until these two books: which destroyed Deep Space Nine, the Bajoran Wormhole and Killed Off for Real about five really popular characters from the TV shows. The books following have increased the canon character body count, and the Federation is starting to collapse. The story has already written themselves into Only the Author Can Save Them Now but the stories like the authors just want everyone dead or completely miserable. It's probably one reason why Star Trek Online basically cherrypicks from the novelverse.
As an alternative view, the wormhole reopened, Bajor is a powerful and prosperous Federation member, a second more advanced Deep Space Nine replaced the lost one, the same devastating conflict in Destiny also liberated the Borg and freed billions from oppression, and in doing so removed the biggest blight to Trek 'verse civilization, the Federation has held together, rebuilt and reaffirmed itself in spite of everything, and inspired the Typhon Pact nations to start to overcome their histories of xenophobia and isolation on top of that, the Andorians are cured of their genetic problems, the Cardassians and Ferengi have the best governments they've ever had and are now official allies of the Federation, the Romulans have a moderate and diplomatically adept government, the Federation has slipstream drive and is penetrating all four quadrants, and Starfleet is starting to turn back to exploration again. So definitely a matter of opinion. Also, political instability and uncertainty isn't, others might say, anywhere near "Crapsack World" - especially when war has been consistently avoided (Borg aside, and they're more a force of nature than a nation).
Hemlock Grove: EVERY character is reprehensible. Of the two main characters, one rapes two women (one of whom was a relative), and the other kills a supposedly beloved pet for essentially no reason and without a twinge emotion. Another character is supposed to be Too Good for This Sinful Earth, but shows little regard for other people.
The Vampire Diaries is facing danger of this in the later seasons. Just about the entire main cast has committed acts so reprehensible that they're no better off than the villains of the show. This probably accounts for the popularity of Big Bad Klaus and his family, who were granted their own spin-off series.
Pretty much the case for most FX Network shows, which tend to feature awful people doing awful things to each other:
The reason Damages never got a wide audience could very well be that its main character often seems to lack a conscience, as do her competition.
Nip/Tuck was especially guilty of this, with the added bonus of graphic plastic surgery sequences.
Deconstructed with The Shield. The writers went out of their way to reaffirm the black and white morality in the final season's resolution by having the Strike Team called out on their shit and pay a karmatic price for their crimes.
And now we can add Tyrant to the list. We have the titular tyrant, who is a Stupid Evil bully with too much power to be stopped (and his atrocities are showcased with no discretion), we have a Blood KnightGeneral Ripper that wants everything to go to hell so he can freely commit murder via war, we have the tyrant's Lady Macbeth of a wife who hates him but loves the power, and the tyrant's White Sheep brother (who has been shown in flashbacks to not be all that good, definitely foreshadowing a He Who Fights MonstersStory Arc to come), who is trying with some (for the most part feeble) effectiveness to keep everything from going to hell. And a fewscrappies.
Soap Operas and Teen Dramas often fall into a variant of the trope. Instead of all sides of the conflict being evil, Rule of Drama destroys all chance of lasting happiness. Thus, there is no point in rooting for a character you know is going to end up suffering. In soap operas, both sides of the conflict can end up being completely unsympathetic despite not being evil. The heroes are usually Too Dumb to Livepurity sues. The villains, while sometimes interesting, pick up the Idiot Ball a lot and have inconsistent motives.
Too many VH-1Reality Show series to count. Even the celebrities we're supposed to feel sorry for are complete Jerkasses. In fact, the only one we can stand the whole time is Dr. Drew himself.
To some people, regardless of gender, any given Lifetime Movie of the Week will create this, particularly those that don't involve a woman trying to save either herself or some kid(s) she knows (whether it's her's or a friend's) from being abused.
Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) slid into this trope as the series went on. Helo is the only character who doesn't at least skid on the edge of the Moral Event Horizon at one point or another. (Well, Kacey, Nikky, and Hera never did anything reprehensible. They were also all under 5 years old.) And speaking of Battlestar Galactica, this trope is probably one of the biggest reasons for ratings failure and cancellation of its spin-off, Caprica. It's really hard to find someone to root for in its main cast.
By the end of The Sopranos, every character with dialogue has proven themselves to be pretty hideous excuses for human beings.
Rome is full of ambitious, petty, and murderous "heroes".
Six Feet Under features characters who are not exactly evil, but tend to be so weak, neurotic, or just apathetic that the events of their lives are at least as doomed as anything in a Soap Opera. The series drifted away from its quirky deaths and focused more on the Ficher's love lives, which took a lot of variety out of the show.
Babylon 5. Can potentially occur early on with the Centauri and the Narns, on one side you have a bunch of pompous drunkards with a declining empire filled with scheming lordlings with a severe manifest destiny mindset, on the other side you have a bunch of ill tempered religious fundamentalists who seem to mostly be incredibly proud of just how proud they are and seem obsessed with settling old scores even to their own detriment. Ultimately though after the shit really hits the fan it becomes very involving as certain people learn something from the whole sad mess and others fail to. This even gets brought up in the first season. Commander Sinclair is talking to Kosh, who says "They are a dying people. We should let them pass." Sinclair asks "Do you mean the Narn, or the Centauri?" Kosh replies "Yes."
Joss Whedon's shows are sometimes in danger of falling into this, due to his happy people = boring televisionSignature Style. This tends to be the reason some Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans call Fanon Discontinuity after season five. You had Buffy Summers Wangst throughout the majority of the sixth season, had a mutually destructive and degrading hookup with Spike, then became a complete bitch. It had gotten so bad that Buffy's close circle of friends would rather have Faith, a once Ax-Crazy rogue Slayer, lead the Potentials because she looked saner than Buffy around that point. The Scoobies themselves are no better, if they're not on a Wangst fest then they're doing something that makes them look unlikable to the viewers eyes and they are supposed to be the heroes of the series. Whedon has acknowledged this is an issue with season 6 of Buffy, as he signed off on a bunch of dark story ideas he liked, without considering that having them all happen at the same time might be a bit much. Also, Whedon's self admitted tendency to kill off the most beloved characters in his shows discourages many from getting too attached to any one character. His other family members' work don't differ much from this Signature Style, either.
The Practice. At the beginning of the series, the attorneys are bright, fresh-faced and idealistic. By the end, they've completely sold out their standards and principles, end up representing drug dealers and undeniably guilty clients with money to keep the firm running, hire an anti-trust attorney who was fired from his previous job for embezzling money, and rely upon several questionable defenses (patriotism, doubt) in order to bolster their cases.
Mad Men can get like this for some viewers. There's hardly a single character that isn't basically a selfish asshole. The first season is essentially just watching the main character drink and cheat on his wife without any consequences.
Ringer is full of awful people. Bridget is the protagonist simply because she's the one telling the story. The most likable character is a former drug addict who is aiding and abetting a fugitive, accepted a bribe, and is covering up murders, while everybody else is having affairs, lying and manipulating people, pretending to be somebody they're not, running a Ponzi scheme, murdering people (or at least hiring hitmen to do their dirty work), falsely accusing a teacher of rape just so they can turn around and sue for defamation of character and split the settlement, faking deaths, etc. Everybody is corrupt in one way or another. The situation is interesting enough, but it's hard to care what happens to any of the characters. It's fun to see how they make things worse for themselves by continuing to be such terrible people.
One of the reasons British historical dramas of the 1980s (like The Borgias and The Cleopatras) flopped so badly was because they were trying to reproduce the success of I, Claudius. But whereas I, Claudius had evil characters who were partly sympathetic and always entertaining to watch, the shows that came after it featured much weaker, less sympathetic villains. The Cleopatras was especially bad in this regard, as it was essentially a drama about horrible rulers murdering their equally horrible family members. If a character started out decent, there was a good chance he/she would be forcing their subjects into costly wars for their own selfish benefit and dismembering several of their own children by the time their story arc was over.
One of the problems with the Gormenghast miniseries was that the most sympathetic, proactive character (Titus) didn't appear until well after it was underway. Those unfamiliar with the books might have been turned off by the endless, unsavory antics of a weird, menacing royal family and the Affably Evil man who was trying to exploit them. Only when Titus appeared did the audience really have someone to root for.
The Wire, excellent show as it is, can get this way the further the series goes. The overall range of characters aren't entirely unsympathetic or irredeemable, but the circumstances that force most of them to commit reprehensible actions for the sake of getting up on the social ladder, or even simply to survive, will make even the most cheery optimists feel despair at some point. Not only that, the fact that the characters themselves have a tendency to act like complete jerks one scene after another, makes it hard to empathize with them. Although the series isn't entirely absent of happy endings for a few characters (and given their rarity, they stand out a lot), it's in such stark contrast with everyone else's pyrrhic victories and downer endings, the show can be disheartening and occasionally very depressing. It was stated in one of the commentary tracks that part of the reason why the show has the genuinely funny scenes and entertainingly humorous dialogue to the extent that it does is simply because the show would be too soul-crushing to watch if it didn't have these moments of levity.
Boardwalk Empire somewhat falls into this, in that nearly every character is corrupt or evil to some extent. It says something that by the third season, some of the more moral and sympathetic characters are a sensitive Shellshocked Veteran turned cold-blooded hitman, a friendly former IRA bomber, and Al Capone.
Malcolm in the Middle, to a tee. Virtually every character (the titular Malcolm included) is, at the very least, a horrible human being who either corrupts or screws over people for the most petty and shallow reasons, and by the time the show's inevitable Bittersweet Ending comes along, The Evil Matriarch reveals her plan to control Malcolm's life even after he leaves home, and her sadism continues unimpeded. Life is unfair, indeed.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia follows in a similar vein to Malcolm in the Middle. All the principal characters (and most of the secondary ones) are selfish, unlikeable assholes. To its credit, both it and Malcolm are (very dark) comedies, so at least you're not expected to root for any of the characters. In fact, you are supposed to laugh at whatever situation they've wound up in.
Drake & Josh is an interesting example. While the show itself generally didn't suffer from this, one specific character seemed to be trying to instill it, and succeeded in some episodes. The titular duo's younger sister, Megan, who, by constantly humiliating and bullying her brothers (often using outright illegal means), was clearly meant to be a negative force in the show, almost always came out on top, no matter what the circumstances. A few episodes went smoothly with Megan only making a cameo appearance or two, then suddenly appearing at the end and getting the last laugh by humiliating her brothers anyway. This is especially true in any episode where Megan plays a central role, because you simply know that she'll be winning out in the end, even if she does a reprehensible thing. There's a reason why it's difficult to find people that really like her that much.
Community is normally pretty good at keeping characters flawed, but sympathetic, but whenever Pierce gets an episode centered around him, it starts to fall into this, as no matter what he does he is always forgiven as soon as the storyline is over.
This is a frequent criticism of Season 22, which dealt primarily with Darker and Edgier storylines about various groups of horrible and selfish people tormenting each other with the Doctor stuck in the middle. It deserves to be said that this was not something new for Who - the very popular "Power of the Daleks", "Genesis of the Daleks", "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Caves of Androzani" all fit this formula - but in those stories the Doctor himself acted resolutely on the side of love and light, whereas the Doctor in Season 22 had Taken A Level In Jerkass after his last regeneration and tended to be selfish and abusive to everyone else, with Peri being a luckless, powerless and arguably exploitatively-sexualised victim of the Doctor's bullying and all the murderous monsters.
Sometimes veers dangerously close to this trope in the Russell T. Davies series. Almost every series ends with some sort of complication despite the day being saved, and the Doctor is often forced to realize that humans can be just as bad andsometimes worse than the monsters he fights, with the Series 3 ending taking it to what is probably the darkest extreme: After the end of the universe, humanity cannibalizes itself to become a species called the Toclafane, who ultimately kill and maim because it's fun. While The Doctor and his companions generally remain sympathetic, the endings can make it rather tricky to care about what happens to them.
Kamen Rider during the Early-Heisei (that is from 2000-2008) was heavily criticized for this, partially due to the writing direction started by Toshiki Inoue. This started out balanced with Kamen Rider Agito, that while cynical still had moments of optimism within. Post-Agito however, the show got to the point where almost all main characters were either an anti-heroic jerk or an idealistic Butt Monkey, and nobody was willing to actually solve any personal conflicts they had with each other. This was later changed after Kamen Rider Decade, when Toshiki Inoue wasn't involved with the franchise anymore.
Even Inoue himself starts to move away from it. 2008's Kiva has a lot in common with 2003's 555, to the point of feeling like a Spiritual Successor or Remake at times, but it's also got more comic relief, more non-jerk characters, and it ends with humans and Fangires coming to terms, and a wedding followed by And the Adventure Continues where 555 ended with half the cast dead and the main hero's life expectancy quite low.
With Gen Urobuchi, aka "The Urobutcher," writing Kamen Rider Gaim, get ready to look back at the days when you thought Ryuki and Faiz were dark and laugh. Urobuchi has even made Tweets acknowledging this, saying (in reference to the series' fruit theme in general and the main character's orange theme in specific) "By December, a lot of little kids will probably never want to drink orange juice again." That said, The Hero is still pretty idealistic and there's still a lot of light-hearted moments. However, that's the only thing kept unchanged after the Wham Episode. We have a few deaths on our hands, almost no one is siding with Kouta, and if they are, expect that to go awry. And that's not getting into how The Rival and Kouta's friend evolved. Both of them have grown villainous in some regard, though The Rival is more heroic due to his honor. Did we mention that the show, as early as episode twenty, begins to dip into Gen's more... familiar territory?
Like the book series it's based on, Game of Thrones is getting this reaction, especially after Season 3's Red Wedding, in which the Stark family (the closest thing the series has to "good guys,") is decimated. The Red Wedding is simultaneously heralded as one of the greatest shocking swerves in the history of television and as the thing that may have made it all but impossible for viewers to ever completely like or trust the program in the same way again. The fourth season actually saw a huge number of villainous asshole characters killed off in satisfying ways, but several critics have pointed out that it never really makes up for all the wind the show took out of our sails in the past.
This is becoming a frequent complaint with American Horror Story: Coven. Nearly every character is selfish and abuses their powers for their own gain, and if they're not abusing their powers, they're whining about the ones who are.
Supernatural has become this; Sam and Dean are never, ever allowed to be happy. It's actually kind of a theme for hunters, but it eventually gets dead depressing to watch. It's getting hard to root for them, too, simply because quite a few of their issues could be worked out - or could have been avoided entirely - if they would just sit down and talk to each other like adults for five minutes.
The Following has always had issues with this, and it's only getting worse over time. The villains are Ax-Crazy homicidal maniacs who gleefully commit very brutal on-screen murders and we see a lot of the story from their point of view; by and large they are selfish, unrepentant and prone to Moral Myopia, and their competence ranges from Villain Sues to Big Bad Wannabes (Joe Carroll himself starts as the former and devolves into the latter). The heroes, though, are not the most comfortable people to follow either: Ryan Hardy is a vengeful Knight Templar prone to Protagonist Centred Morality who allows the villain to dictate his moves; the FBI have many fair What the Hell, Hero? critiques to make of him, but they tend to be incompetent and stupid in their own right as both they and Hardy get many minor characters killed; Agent Mike Weston and others become steadily more brutal due to Hardy's influence; and civilian characters (whether major like Claire Matthews or one-shoters) are out of their league and make dumb decisions to varying degrees. It becomes difficult to root for anyone the longer the story goes on, particularly since the series so often relies on Fridge Logic, Idiot Plots and Diabolus ex Machina to move things forward. As a result, the ratings, which were high enough to make it the only hit rookie of 2012-13, took a big knife to the gut in season two, albeit no more so than anything else that aired on Fox in calendar year 2014, which is the only reason it got a season three.
On True Blood, the humans opposed to vampires are invariably portrayed as nasty, mean-spirited, narrow-minded, bigoted, and unpleasant. But when it comes to vampires, it all too often seems like they're completely right. The overwhelming majority of vampires on the show treat humans with ill-disguised contempt or don't even bother hiding their contempt, regularly murder humans for food or pleasure, and have their own laws and punishments they inflict on humans despite having no bearing on human laws and punishment (translation: they kidnap and murder people for "vampire crimes" and call that arrest and sentencing). Every character who started out on the show as human and later got turned into a vampire has murdered people, so there's now no vampire we can definitely say has never killed a human. Instead several of the "good, sympathetic" vampires (Bill, Eric, Jessica, even "saintly" Godric) have been shown murdering humans who weren't trying to harm them. So that leaves us with a conflict where both sides are murderous assholes, while making the humans who support vampires and vampire rights as simply Too Dumb to Live.
24 was always dark, even from the beginning. But as the show went on, the writers seemed to go out of their way to make sure that every character suffered as much as possible, and then casually killed some of them off. On top of that, so many characters ended up dying that some viewers found it impossible to care about newer characters, since there was a good chance they would eventually join the death pool as well.
This is a big problem with Revolution on NBC. The bad guys start out as heartless, totalitarian monsters, and only go downhill from there. The good guys...well everyone who could reasonably be considered 100% good has been killed by mid first season. What we're left with is a collection of people who are at best amoral unlikeable jackasses, willing to torture, maim, and murder in the name of expediency and surprising pettiness. Not helped in that the Sorting Algorithm of Evil is regularly invoked in this show, meaning that the guy who was kicking puppies to practice his field goal game, will at some point end up on the good guys' team proper, while a new, more reprehensible puppy punter is rotated into his place as Head Bad Guy In Charge. Rinse and repeat. Then there's the fact that easily 60% of the good guys (pretty much every main good guy older than Jason) are either a) directly responsible for the thing that caused The End of the World as We Know It, or b) directly responsible for creating the armies of killers that go around oppressing the rest of society. Cementing its status is the addition of the nanotech as a bonafide villain: said nanotech was able to kill all electricity on Earth, and as pointed out by one character, is effectively God in that environment, having similar attributes, such as being everywhere, having all the power, and knowing everything everyone does (the one "weakness" that the nanotech allegedly has is clearly a case of Forgot About His Powers). Said antagonist has shown the ability and will to be able to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time. This leaves us with a story filled with despicable bad guys, unlikeable good guys, and an arch-nemesis that can't be stopped.
By the fifth season of the Chilean series Los 80, fans were getting BORED with all the misfortune falling on the protagonists. Some TV critics even accused the writers of putting Juan and his family through the wringer because they hated him and the story, rather than anything else.
"They [the writing team] very obviously don't love the series anymore"
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.
Part of the reason for the widespread dislike of Iron Maiden's album The X Factor was because it is relentlessly dark from Fortunes Of War onwards.
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 SnarkerAnti-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.
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 nWowere 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?)
Triple H has been responsible for this at times, most tellingly during 2002-2004, when he basically made a career of buryingfaces 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.
Looking at the entire history of the business, 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.
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.
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 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 cause Good Is Boring among 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Warhammer 40,000 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.
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.
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 FireIN SPACE with Humongous Mecha (and you can read above about why this is a bad thing).
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 a drug-addicted heiress addicted to 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 PurenessIll Girl, and the grave-robbing, drug-dealing Memetic Sex GodGreek Chorus. It just keeps getting worse.
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 plot of Final Fantasy XIII is one of the most depressing of the series. The central theme of the first game is dealing with imminent death, and how to deal with the loss of someone you care about. By itself, that wouldn't be so bad. But, the game is so persistent about making its characters miserable and its setting more and more increasingly hopeless that, when everything does turn out okay, it feels like an Ass Pull. On top of that, the sequels retcon the plot of the first game into a Shaggy Dog Story, since they reveal the fal'Cie's plan to summon the Maker wouldn't have worked, which means all of that suffering the characters went through was for no reason.
A common complaint about the "High Chaos" path of Dishonored is that it starts to really beat you over the head with how bleak things are in the second half of the game. The "High Chaos" path is where you choose to have Corvo kill a majority of the people between you and your target. Doing so makes the plague become worse, makes your allies way more paranoid, and you get damn-near-constant reminders about what a terrible person you are. In the game's High Chaos ending, the plague gets so bad that Dunwall becomes uninhabitable, Emily dies, nothing you did ultimately mattered in the end and Corvo pulls a Screw This, I'm Outta Here! and leaves the city to burn. However, unlike many instances of this trope, the bleakness is because of the Player's influence, not despite it. The player really only has themselves to blame for the darkness, because they wanted to use those shiny new toys.
In God of War it sometimes becomes hard to say why you should care whether Kratos kills that god/saves himself/kills that other god and all the rest too. It's not as though Kratos being in charge would be an improvement given how he acts. As it turns out, the game does manage to make them all lose, leaving the victimized humans as the ones left. Shame Kratos messed up the sun, sea, seasons, and sky before he died. And even then, OR DID HE? The only consolation is that he decided to release Hope into the world, hope to give humanity a reason to continue on. The ending slightly implies that the world can start getting back on its feet.
Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was this for quite a few people. On one hand, Kane's trying to save his family. On the other hand, he's a bastard who betrays people, takes people hostage, and does generally bad things to accomplish his goals. In fact, the only reason that the bad guys captured his family was because he betrayed them and they wanted revenge. And let's not even get started on the Ax-Crazy Lynch.
Every faction in Geneforge, with the possible exception of the Barzites, has some supporters who'll argue in favor of it on the Internet. Every faction also has some haters who argue that the misdeeds it commits render it unworthy of power. But given that the only one that doesn't cross the Moral Event Horizon at least once is the faction of Wide Eyed Idealists who canonically get massacred by the fourth game, this trope probably sums up the setting best.
In Prototype, the "hero" is a sociopathic, people-eating, viral monstrosity driven by little more than a desire for revenge on those he thinks made him into a monster. The only possibly redeeming feature he has is his desire to protect his little sister. His enemies are a military splinter cell comprised entirely of sociopaths and an even more destructive viral monstrosity. None of the above are all that concerned about the civilians or sane military personnel caught in the crossfire. And then you find out that the real Alex Mercer was so bad that even his viral doppelganger is disgusted with him. But, this is up to the player via Gameplay and Story Segregation. Canologically, Alex is much more redeemable; he's not specifically shown killing any innocent bystanders in the story, including there being an achievement for going throughout the game without doing so (the eating innocents part is entirely up to the player). He's shown to be very caring over New York, as shown by the final mission where Mercer ends up performing a Heroic Sacrifice (but he survives) to stop a nuke from destroying the city. Note that "eating civilians" is something that isn't compulsory - you can solely consume Blackwatch and not have major problems with the game, but players ignore this.
The sequel takes this to its logical conclusion, with Alex Mercer as the villain. The new protagonist isn't any better as far as the Gameplay and Story Segregation goes and he'll still eat half the population of New York before game's end, but the plot tries to construct a sympathetic backstory for him to show Even Evil Has Loved Ones and paint him as the lesser evil out of the five or so evils running around in total. How well it works is matter of personal taste.
The lore of EVE Online can be summed up with: "Everything sucks. And then you showed up." It's so bad that the writers have to tell the readers when the ending is not a bad ending. The second book especially is a perfect example of this trope. Gameplay-wise? A perpetual Hopeless War for territory between pilots who can never die eventually becomes hard to tell apart from a Perpetually Static galaxy.
Arguably this is part of the game's Central Theme- sometimes both choices you have in front of you really suck that much, and trying to find a third option isn't always possible.
Fallout: New Vegas can suffer from this. Mr House is very efficient and competent, but only cares about Vegas and it's unclear whether he can implement his plans for the city. Caesar's Legion are very effective at bringing order and safety to the untamed wastelands, but their kind of order is brutal, unforgiving, technophobic and misogynistic. The NCR means well, but its bureaucracy and military overexertion mean it couldn't effectively govern or protect the Mojave. You could go Wild Card, but can you forge a Vegas that's any better than what was there before?
Drakengard. Dear God, Drakengard (the first game, at least). Between the incredibly bleak world and characters who have few, if any redeeming characteristics, it's practically impossible to find hope or optimism in it. Similarly, the sequel, NieR, which has the strangest ending of Drakengard cause an apocalypse, and all four endings of which involve the extinction of humanity Good thing there's Drakengard3.
This is most notably subverted in Shin Megami Tensei II, in which the chaos faction is good, and the game ultimately provides little reason as to WHY the player should oppose them after meeting Lucifer, who in the game genuinely desires to save both the demons opposing YHVH and humanity.
Though this is a case of depending on games, as some later games (especially Strange Journey) show that Lucifer is barely—if at all—better than YHVH. Lucifer's ideal vision for the future resembles something straight out of Warhammer 40,000 in the best scenario. There was even a time where he planned on unleashing a Z-class Apocalypse How, but considering God had already wiped out humanity and countless others it's basically just him putting an end to a corrupt system. There have been other games like Majin Tensei, Devil Children series, Shin Megami Tensei If cell phone adaptation Hazama's Chapter, and Megami Tensei II where Lucifer has been heroic and not a villain.
It can be argued that in Shin Megami Tensei IV Lucifer is even worse character-wise. In this game, he has the chaos hero Walter sacrifice himself to Lucifer so he can regain his Demon Lord powers. This results in Walter suffering horrendous Body Horror as he becomes nothing more than a twitching, tumor/parasite-like appendage on Lucifer's arm. He also callously disregards Isabeau's sacrifice when she fought him and the MC to stop the demon invasion of Tokyo and destruction of Mikado and its inhabitants; even the judgmental Merkabah feels a little sympathy for her, in a dismissive way, blaming the "Unclean Ones'" manga for "corrupting" her. It doesn't help that even in the neutral path, Lucifer is more condescending and insulting towards humans than he ever was in prior games.
Of course Merkabah is this too along with the Angels, who have people sell out their family and loved ones without a second thought and blame Tokyo and filth for what people do, all while having them blindly follow like mindless slaves. Especially when Isabeau opposed them on the fact that genocide is just plain wrong, yet had the audacity to blame manga for her opposing them. Along with the Angels being humongous hypocrites who had the Gate to the Expanse opened 25 years ago and then nuked the world, blaming the humans for it.
Actually invoked in-universe in IV, at the hands of the White, a quartet of spirits implied to be born out of humanity's grief and rage at the Vicious Cycle of Law and Chaos as they believe it all falls into God's plan. About three-quarters of the way through the game they show up and transport Flynn to two different Alternate Universes, one where Law won and the other where Chaos won, both of which are equally crappy, in an attempt to drive him across the Despair Event Horizon and get him to agree with their plan to Mercy Killthe entire danged universe. You can agree to help them do this, and the resulting ending is, if anything, even more Nightmare Fuel-inducing than the Law and Chaos worlds. Thankfully, there's the Neutral ending, which is among the rosiest conclusions in the franchise and ensures the White, Merkabah, and Lucifer all get theirs. Accordingly, however, it's really hard to get, almost at Guide Dang It levels.
Niko Bellic in Grand Theft Auto IV moves to the United States for a fresh start at life, but it goes down the toilet when his cousin, Roman, gets him roped up in his debt and antics. The entire story shows Niko doing nothing but trying to please his selfish cousin who always seems to get himself into trouble while Niko always bitches about it as he continuously helps his cousin out. It eventually leads to Niko being hunted down by a mobster throughout the game but it doesn't build up from there as Niko just continues doing side jobs for random people while still complaining about his cousin's gambling habits and debt. On top of this, nearly every person Niko meets is either a backstabber or suffers from attachment issues, making nearly everyone unlikable and leaves the player wondering why they should care about a bunch of crazy people or even care about the main character who always bails out his cousin from his own problems instead of just letting his cousin suffer from his own stupid mistakes.
One of the selling points when the game was released was that you could make choices that would impact the story. The problem was this wasn't the case. Almost every choice you made did nothing to the plot, and the choices as to who to kill always had an obvious "right" answer (from a gameplay standpoint if nothing else). The only choice you made that actually changed anything was the Deal or Revenge choice that set up your ending, and someone at Roman's wedding would still die either way. Basically, the player was given the illusion of free will and then had it yanked out of their hands. Even the player was getting screwed.
It has been said that Grand Theft Auto V is even worse in this regard, with some players stating that they found no sympathetic qualities to the protagonists, who do their job mostly to get paid, as opposed to Niko committing crimes due to circumstance.
The supporting characters are just as bad. Almost everyone the three heroes encounter are some combination of selfish, stupid, abrasive, and violent.
There's a meta-example in this game as well. Outside of the heists, very few missions offer satisfying rewards. Financial rewards are slim for most missions, gameplay rewards (such as unlocking guns, vehicles, new modes of play) are rare outside of the main story missions and the ones that do show up in side missions tend to be jokes at the player's expense, which means that the missions aren't rewarding in a third way: from a dramatic or gameplay perspective. Examples of this include unlocking an antique tractor for a long string of intentionally mind-numbing missions, or a joke car for collecting 50 hard to find spaceship parts hidden all over the largest sandbox GTA's had to date. After completing just a few Side Jobs or Random Encounters, going out of your way to undertake a new one will begin to feel like an exercise in masochistic futility.
What makes it worse is that at least part of this was intentional. The game is a big Deconstruction of Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangster, showing how petty, self-destructive and selfish anyone would have to be to behave like a GTA protagonist, along with how ultimately futile the lifestyle itself is. It also deconstructs easy money and the "American Dream." The trouble is, it's doing all of this in a video game series known for playing most of those tropes straight, so it comes across as condescending towards the very people who buy the GTA games. Couple that with a few blatant stereotypes about people who play too many video games, and you've got a game that almost feels like it's trying to make its audience mad.
The Laura Bow games involve a large cast of characters, all of which are nasty egotistical stereotypes. The main goal of the game is to spy on all of them to learn their little secrets, such as who is blackmailing who and who has had an affair and such. And then they all die like mayflies, slaughtered one by one by a serial killer, which you cannot prevent. So why exactly should you care about any of these characters?
The trailer for Dead Island has a little girl thrown out of a hotel window by her father after she becomes a zombie and bites him when her parents are fighting a losing battle against zombies. The trailer for the quasi expansion\sequel Dead Island: Riptide has a loving couple blow themselves up just as zombies are about to tear them apart. The Virus stems from the very real kuru disease that stems from cannibalism, which can lead to a zombified state, making it if not a true Real Life threat then more plausible than other portrayals of a Zombie Apocalypse. Creepy voodoo type imagery is strewn through the games. Death, despair and suicide are very much a focal point of the games, there are not really any type of Hope Spot. Most of the characters are fairly unlikeable. The proposed Big Bad is simply tragic and set up, and when you complete the games it's a mix of Downer Ending and The Bad Guy Wins. The games themselves are good, enjoyable, if flawed, but they are dark dark dark and can be too depressing for some gamers.
Dead Space: Even if the player succeeds in any of the games the endings seem bleak, as somehow more markers keep popping up in each game. Very few of the characters in the game are helpful, and most are either driven insane, or are Stupid Evil. DS3: Awakened hammers the final nail in hope's coffin with the awakening of the Brother Moons.
Spec Ops: The Line: Throughout the game everything the protagonist does doesn't do much to help anyone, but only make things worse, culminating in the player accidentally killing a bunch of civilians. On top of that the game itself has many Take That, Audience! lines that point out the horrible things you've done ("How many Americans have you killed today?" and "This is all your fault") or mock you for enjoying the game itself ("Do you feel like a hero yet?" and "To kill for yourself is murder. To kill for the government is heroic. To kill for entertainment is harmless"). Making matters worse is the strict linearity. Your options are artificially restricted (try as you might to hold off the enemies, the game will just keep endlessly spawning them until you're forced to do something horrible), but you're constantly talked down to as if they weren't.
Far Cry 2 can be seen this way. Both the UFLL and the APR, as well as the Private Military Contractors working for them, are complete bastards. Even the Player Character and his buddies are pretty reprehensible people. Ironically, The Jackal can be seen as the most sympathetic character in the game by some, if in a Well-Intentioned Extremist way. Every one of them is dead by the end of the game, though the player's fate is left open to interpretation if the player chooses to take the case of diamonds to the border.
Max Payne 3, due to abandoning the Heroic Bloodshed tone of the previous games. From the beginning, the vast majority of the characters are excessively shallow and materialistic, while Max himself won't stop whining about how terrible his life is while making little effort to change it. Most of the characters he saves die horrific deaths soon afterwards. It's hard to care about anybody when they're one-dimensional and it's likely that they'll get killed with little fanfare. And it only gets worse when the villain's scheme is revealed as exploiting the poor for an organ-harvesting ring...
Bioshock Infinite and its DLC get this way from the end of the main game to the end of the last DLC. Ken Levine can't end a story without having Elizabth's actions cause the death of whoever the protagonist is at the time even if she is the protagonist. The main game ends with several Elizabeths drowning Booker causing nearly every Booker & Elizabeth to disappear from existence. Burial At Sea Episode 1 ends with its Booker turning out to be a Comstock & then getting killed by a Big Daddy as a result of Elizabeth's plan to get revenge on him. Burial At Sea Episode 2 reveals, early on, that the main Elizabeth was killed by the big daddy after the end of the previous episode & ends with the last remaining Elizabeth getting herself killed by Atlas to save the little sister she abandoned at the end of the previous episode.
The Walking Dead has many likable characters, but with the way that minor characters get introduced just to get killed later on and major characters are made to suffer as long as possible before being killed, it's nearly impossible to remain attached to anyone and you might roll your eyes as a new character is introduced.
What doesn't help is that, like the "choice" below, nothing you choose really matters outside of choosing whether Carly or Doug survives despite the game claiming that your choices tailor the story. Anything else you choose to do will either be pointless (such as lying to Hershel or who to save at the end of episode 3 of the first season), or worked around by adding something in if you didn't do what the plot wanted, such as Tying up Lilly and bringing her with you in the third episode after she kills Carly/Doug.
The game has you make very difficult decisions that will never have a good outcome. It seems that no matter what you do, someone is going to die or someone else will get very pissed off at you for the choice you made. For example: Season 1, episode 2 has the resident Jerkass Larry suffering a heart attack and his daughter, Lilly, desperately pleads with you to help her administer CPR to her father. Kenny feels that Larry should be killed right now while they have the chance because he fears if Larry dies from his heart attack, he'll reanimate as a zombie and having to deal with a 6 foot tall and 300 pound monster in a tiny room isn't the best of ideas. If you side with Kenny, he'll crush Larry's skull with a heavy block and Lilly gets pissed off at you for letting her father die. If you assist Lilly, then Kenny kills Larry anyway and gets pissed at you because you didn't take his side and he remains mad at you for the next episode.
The episode Amid The Ruins becomes an egregious example of the entire series, as the shocking and abrupt deaths of Sarita (who is immediately Stuffed into the Fridge regardless of the player's choice with cutting her arm off or not after she is bitten), Nick (who dies and reanimates off-screen anti-climatically), Sarah (who cannot be saved from the walkers no matter what choice the player makes), and Rebecca (who dies and reanimates while holding her newborn baby in the finale). Then all of this is topped off by a crossfire between the Russian bandits and what's left of the group, leaving little hope for any more survivors, thus marking the end of the episode. At this point, players noted that there's little reason to care for what happens in the final episode or the third season.
Dark Souls II is perhaps even worse. You, along with a legion of other undead have come to Drangleic to find a cure for your condition before your memory fails. Or, barring that, at least some answers as to why this is happening to you. You never find these answers. Instead, you're manipulated into joining a conflict that has nothing to do with you, and it's implied that by the end, the character has none of his/her original memories left from before s/he came to Drangleic, likely forgetting his/her original purpose in coming there in the first place. (As, likely, has the player.) And there's no guarantee that this won't just keep happening in this accursed land either.
The 2012 reboot of Twisted Metal, in which all three characters you control in Story Mode are mass-murdering psychopaths. With no sympathetic or Anti-Hero characters to play as like in previous games, always playing as a Complete Monster tends to make the story too bleak to really care about the outcome.
World of Warcraft: Surprisingly, Mists Of Pandaria of all things falls in this! Hordeside storyline consisted of many Horde races, and characters becoming far more evil with no real explanation, while the players questlines consisted of committing one warcrime after another, then finally killing loads of soldiers from your own faction including characters the player had befriended in previous storylines. Alliance-side isn't much better consisting of most of the Alliance being passive against the Horde's relentless aggression. Then when you successfully storm the Horde capital, the Leader of the Alliance just allows Garrosh the one who made the Horde into a ruthless warmachine, be imprisoned for trial, only for him to escape for the next expansion with a new Horde.
The fans of the orcs get a bad case as all the orcs Character Development from Warcraft III was tossed aside in favor of every orc being a Stupid EvilFantastic racist brute with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The only orcs to be portrayed at all positive where Thrall, Saurfang, and Eitrigg, with every single orc questgiver being pure evil and bloodthirsty. All things considered it makes the orcs redemption in Warcraft III totally pointless.
Prequel's Katia just keeps losing everything, leading to many readers quitting the strip after Sigrid takes almost everything she has.
Homestuck has pretty much the exact same problem; too many characters' motivations and goals removed from their overall goal, too many actions drawn against the success and total defeat of the heroes with no avenue for escape they or the readers can see, characters who should have no problems working together after all this time with their petty grievance or physical/mental shortcomings preventing such a thing. No impartiality-the heroes are the only ones fucked with, and the villains get to make great strides.
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.
The main reason a lot of people consider Season 8 to be Survivor: Fan Characters's worst season is that it became hard to root for anyone in the later stages of the game with the most positive character in the finals having devolved into a huge liar and easily-manipulated idiot and the other two finalists being an arrogant, smug Ted Baxter and an emotionless demon who backstabbed her best friend and rubbed many readers the wrong way about how the author and everyone else seemed to practically hand the victory to her. The rest of the cast having a lot of characters that were either one-dimensional caricatures or people who practically exulted in being obnoxious to others didn't help.
Ever since the December arc, Bittersweet Candy Bowl has basically 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.
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.
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.
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 bad things 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, feels justified in committing torture, kidnapping, and murder. And she's one of the nicer characters.
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 BSOD partway through, it has a lot of gravitas because of how sharp the contrast is between happy Zidane and sad Zidane.
There are two episodes with In-Universe examples. "Douche and Turd" involves Stan Marsh suffering a case of this, refusing to vote in a school mascot election owing to the fact that one is (quite literally) a giant douche and the other is a turd sandwich. The lesson he learns from a member of PETA is that all elections involve either a douche or a turd of some sorts and one must simply choose the lesser evil. This happens again in "Butterballs" where he believes he's trying to do the right thing, but Kyle Broflovski argues that the real right thing to do is to let Butters find the courage to confront his grandmother himself. In the end, Butters tells his grandmother off, which means Kyle was in the right all along, while Stan is the one to learn his lesson the hard way.
Family Guy suffered from Flanderization to the point where the main characters were almost unlikable for being overall jerks to each other and other people while getting away with it. The later seasons toned it down, though not by a whole lot; the family are pretty much used to the dysfunction and just roll with it like it's another everyday occurrence. This also has the unfortunate side-effect of making all the show's attempts at being dramatic/emotional either fall flat, come across as hypocritical and insincere, or head straight into narm territory.
In Beast Machines, the planet is essentially already dead and taken over before the first episode and the protagonists - the surviving cast of Beast Wars - are so flawed that watching them tends to provoke nihilism rather than attachment.
Drawn Togetherplays this for laughs, but you can still grow to feel bad for the characters. This is also why a lot of episodes focus in some way on Foxxy Love or Xandir, or at least acknowledge them as the voice of reason (or as close to reason as the show allows), as they are the characters that get closest to relatable. Which says a lot about how the rest of the cast is, considering the former is a highly promiscuous Sassy Black Woman and the latter is a scantily-clad highly slutty version of The Twink, and both of them are racist, vulgar, murderous and bigoted.
Some episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants tend to float around this trope, mostly after Seasonal Rot started taking affect. Episodes focused on the Plankton/Krabs rivalry and episodes focused on Squidward tend to fall into this the most.
'Little Yellow Book' is the epitome of this trope as none of the characters are even remotely likable from Squidward being a massive Jerkass to Spongebob by reading his diary and bragging it towards everyone, the citizens of Bikini bottom giving Squidward a Disproportionate Retribution for reading it and being massive hypocrites throughout the entire episode and Spongebob being an idiot for leaving his own diary unguarded.
This trope led to Allen Gregory getting cancelled after just seven episodes. The main character and his father were both completely unsympathetic.
Young Justice is said to suffer from this in some circles. While the heroes are definitely likable (some of them anyway), almost nothing they do ever matters. Failure Is the Only Option if they try to do something against the Big Bad (to the point it's almost a Mandatory Twist Ending that The Light got some benefit out of the episode's mess); even the ending of the first season ultimately turned out to make little difference. The show ends with the incredibly strong implication of The Bad Guy Wins even after so much sacrifice. Several members of The Light were captured, but Vandal Savage (the guy who orchestrated the whole thing) just Curb Stomps the Justice League, takes War World, and confirms his pre-existing alliance with Darkseid, while Wally West, the guy who was supposed to be the third Flash, gets killed in the most ineffectual manner imaginable, that it smacks of Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
Invader Zim, if you consider Dib to be the real hero. Neither he nor Zim have any friends or moral support, both suffer from Failure Is the Only Option, but Zim is a Love to Hate nimrod whose SPECTACULAR failures are not only hilarious, but well-deserved. Dib, on the other hand, is trying to save everybody and repeatedly puts himself in harms way to do so. The fact that the series ended without him getting any real acknowledgement (minus a brief pat-on-the-back moment in one episode) and the rumors that the unproduced Grand Finale would have given him a Kafka-esque fate only make it worse.
Word of God is that Ben 10: Omniverse going Lighter and Softer is due to this reaction happening because of Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. The basic problems were with the first arc, which featured the protagonists being totally unable to do anything to defeat Aggregor until his (currently last) appearance... And replaced by an Ax-Crazy mutated Kevin, which results in the characters running into the exact same problems as earlier, but Ben decides, for whatever reason, to kill Kevin. The second season had a little less of this, but many, many subplots and arcs ended without resolution (due to the unfortunate passing of Dwayne McDuffie), which resulted in some characters being worse off than before.
American Dad! abuses Aesop Amnesia so heavily that it makes the characters look like they're just pretending to learn their lesson so that they can get away with everything they did in the episode. Nearly every character has some ulterior motive to get what they want and when they're called out on it, they just apologize and are Easily Forgiven.
This was probably one of the reasons why Tom Goes To The Mayor was such a flop. Seeing Tom constantly suffer at the hands of every other character is fairly amusing the first few times, but after several episodes of it non-stop it can get incredibly tiring.
The Fairly OddParents: Almost every human Timmy knows is a Jerkass who makes his life a living hell; his so-called friends are less than helpful and his parents are selfish jerks who forget his birthday and leave him with a monster of a babysitter. Even fans of the Sadist Show genre find this show to be a bit too harsh sometimes. Butch Hartman's other show, Danny Phantom, can occasionally go into this territory whenever Danny gets unfairly mistreated.
The movie attempts to address the issue regarding Homer. Homer, as everyone knows, is a bumbling idiot that always causes problems for himself, his family, and the town. When Homer dooms the town to die, Marge takes the kids with her to some place safe after she wonders why she even puts up with him after so many years, Lisa declares she has no father, and Bart finds Ned Flanders, a slightly overbearing religious nice guy, to be a better father to him than Homer ever was. Homer took this event as a wake up call to change himself and take responsibility for his actions. Of course, Homer goes right back to his usual antics on the television series.
ThunderCats (2011) sometimes gets this from fans; in the premiere, the Cat society is depicted as being highly prejudiced towards other races, and its downfall is partly due to that. Some fans complain that because the Cats are so bad they don't want to root for them, but in that case they're Completely Missing the Point of the theme of ending the cycle of hatred. The main characters themselves are (mostly) not prejudiced, especially not Lion-O, and a major part of Lion-O's quest is to atone for the actions of his people, not just rebuild their society, but redeem it.
One of the main reasons why fans are often divided with CatDog is because of how the main characters, Cat and Dog, are often treated by the other characters. The Greaser Dogs and Rancid Rabbit often bully Cat and Dog in every episode, even though there were times where Cat and Dog didn't do anything wrong. Also, whenever Cat and Dog actually succeed in getting what they want, they always lose everything in the end, no matter what. There are times where it's hard to sympathize with Cat and Dog themselves, especially with Cat, who can be a total Jerkass at times and there would be times where he gets what he deserves or he gets unjustly punished for something he didn't do. Like Ed Edd N Eddy mentioned above, this was thankfully rectified in the movie.
This is the problem a lot of people have with Teen Titans Go!. All five members of the team are selfish, meanspirited, jerks who all screw over each other on a regular basis; a far cry from the original cartoon where they were clearly the best of friends and would lay down their lives for one another. Their behavior becomes so deplorable that even the villains of the show are quick to call out this depiction of the Titans for their actions. Although the series is a Black Comedy take on the characters so it is somewhat intentional, for many viewers, especially fans of the previous series, instead of being Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonists they're just plain unsympathetic.