"Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done."
— Andy Rooney
The case of a writer not quite getting their own head around his invention. An invention which is capable of great and astounding things
(and often, of literally anything
) is used exclusively for much lesser tasks
. If you find that after a trip to the fridge
you see that the Phlebotinum
in question could be used to obsolete entire industries if not render the entire plot trivial
then you're dealing with this trope.
Common victims of Misapplication include:
- Faster-Than-Light Travel:
- It's actually harder to conceive an FTL system that can't also double as a Weapon of Mass Destruction than it is to conceive one that can. And that's not even getting into the fact that, because of the way relativity works, FTL travel is logically equivalent to Time Travel...
- Teleporters and Transporters:
- The technology that allows your crew to travel from the Cool Starship to the planet and back without using a shuttle is the same technology that can park a live warhead in the enemy captain's lap without using a missile. It also makes a nifty Disintegrator Ray if you skip the "rematerialization" end of the process or, if it doesn't work by dematerializing, send the receiving end into the sun. Or only teleporting part of the target. And unless it's ludicrously expensive/has major side-effects, it can be used to greatly reduce shipping costs and delays, and could remove the need for any other planet-based vehicle (if it's cheap and practical enough, you wouldn't even need to walk). This could also be used to dispose of hazardous waste, removing the need for massive landfills or toxic waste dumps. If it converts matter into energy, and you have a way of storing that energy, you could use it as an alternative source of power: converting otherwise useless garbage into a viable power source for other things. This would change the face of society.
- If the technology works by destroying and reconstructing, there are a number of possible uses that are rarely used, like bodily restoration after injury or death, copying/mass-production of reconstructible objects, copying/mass-production of people, etc.
- Artificial Gravity:
- If your Cool Starship has a device that can generate and manipulate Gravity irrespective of Mass then mounting Tractor Beams, Deflector Shields, Inertial Dampeners and even Engines may be redundant.
- Note that it takes a really strong and accurately-placed gravity field to significantly change the trajectory of a laser beam or anything else moving at relativistic speeds - a field which, apart from theoretically consuming an extremely large amount of energy to maintain (depending on your flavour of Phlebotinum), might have unintended consequences.
- However, manipulation of a gravity field probably won't get you to trans-light, unless you're in a "gravity is warp" model like GRT and use it to form an Alcubierre warp drive.
- Nanomachines: While they may have more limits in real life, it'd be easier to list the things you couldn't do with nanomachines capable of the kinds of tasks they do in fiction than the things you can, yet they're frequently introduced as a plot-device for one specific thing and never used for anything else.
It is, of course, possible to create Obvious Rule Patches
and Required Secondary Powers
for all these Phlebotina that prevent the above forms of misuse (and the really good writers even keep it from looking like a form of Fake Difficulty
), but many writers merely take them as-is without thinking about the potential consequences.
Compare Forgotten Phlebotinum
(when the Phlebotinum is ignored outright), No Transhumanism Allowed
(a specific instance), Plot-Induced Stupidity
(when the plot specifically forbids some application/s), and Coconut Superpowers
(when the budget
specifically forbids some application/s). See also Mundane Utility
(using fantastic abilities/technology for less fantastic things), Cut Lex Luthor a Check
/Reed Richards Is Useless
(when a character invokes this trope), and Mundane Wish
(when played for laughs).
When they do
use magical abilities for these kinds of things, it's Magitek
. Just Think of the Potential
is sometimes used to justify why you should not use things for anything big. Frequently, the cast themselves fail to even ask
what the phlebotinum is capable of, resulting in a Fantastic Aesop
. When a person thinks
its misapplied for obscene reasons
, it's Power Perversion Potential
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Anime & Manga
- The digital world from Digimon was created from computer programming and could subvert any laws of reality, a programmer could solve any problem plaguing humanity. In particular, humans who go there do not have to eat, breathe, excrete waste, or age if they don't want to. Said programmers primarily use their digi-Reality Warper abilities to... create inter-world portals and mess around with Mons.
- The way Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi used up her three wishes. Seriously, for how long the series went on, you would think the writer could have thought of better requests...
- Played straight then averted with the kagebunshin (shadow clones) of Naruto. Perfect duplicates of the jutsu's user whose memories are re-integrated back into the user when the clone is dispelled/destroyed. Up until Kakashi pointed out that they could be used for espionage and training, Naruto only used them to attack opponents mundanely. Fortunately, he now has used them to accomplish the world's fastest creation and mastering of a brand-new technique, the Rasen shuriken, which is also the first ever technique to combine perfected shape manipulation with nature manipulation.
- Funnily enough, fanfiction has been taking advantage of the huge potential for years before that showed up, although the approach is frequently avoided for the reason that intelligent application of it can derail most of the challenges Naruto faces in the early part of the series.
- Acknowledged in The Five Star Stories. The Humongous Mecha are shown to be quite impractical and temperamental, and its recognized that the whiz-bang technology that goes into creating them could be put to better use. What stops them is a combination of aristocratic tradition and the fact that if that technology were used for more efficient weapons it could result in the destruction of entire planets. Not a wise thing to do, considering there are only five or six habitable planets in their known universe.
- Somewhat averted in Cannon God Exaxxion. They go into a considerable amount of detail about all the interesting things you can do with Artificial Gravity tech & how it dramatically changes the face of modern industry & combat. The limited way Nano Machines are used in the series smacks of this trope, but they at least bother to handwave it by citing the technology's astronomical cost.
- Averted by Martian Successor Nadesico. The villains get their hands on easy teleportation and quickly use it to warp warheads straight through the Nadesico's Deflector Shield.
- Averted in Code Geass with Sakuradite, a naturally-occurring substance that is an exceptionally good conductor. It's used in Humongous Mecha and consumer electronics, and is the reason the why Magnetic Weapons have completely replaced gunpowder, even when it comes to personal firearms.
- Ranma ˝'s Jusenkyo —cursed springs that, when submerged inside them or splashed with water from them, give you the shape of whatever drowned there first until you turn yourself back with hot water (and then turn again with cold.) Any living thing can be transformed into a multitude of other things: men, women, children, a huge variety of animals, twins, or even godlike lightning- and fire-spewing entities. Yet no one in the series ever thinks of [ab]using it to, for example, dump a handful of ants in the Spring of Drowned Ox and feed impoverished villages with the resulting hundreds of oxen. Worse, there's even powdered packets of "instant," single-use springs, but they're even more obscure than the springs themselves. About the only people who profit from the springs are the Musk Dynasty (who, in antiquity, would dump strong animals into the Spring of Drowned Girl in order to procure wives to yield stronger children,) and the people of Mt. Phoenix, who use their bird-cursed water for everything water is typically used for (bathing, drinking, cooking, washing) and, from time to time, turning themselves human to spy on others.
- And on the subject of Mt. Phoenix: their lord, the Phoenix King, breaks every last law of thermodynamics with his ability to generate limitless heat and light, regenerate from any injury, and bring himself back from the dead. How many countries has he conquered? None, because his primary task is to sit pretty and prim on his hanging perch and provide light for the comfort of his subjects.
- This world also has the technology to create powerful suits of armor —strong, quick, and durable enough to give Ranma serious trouble— at such low cost it's readily available to the public via mail-order. Nobody thinks of removing the armor's Power Limiter and equipping the local police force with these.
- Seemingly played straight, but averted at the last second with in the case of the Yamasenken and Umisenken. These are exceptionally devastating martial arts schools which emphasize, respectively, outwards force and absolute stealth. Warrior-minded fighters will seek them out to add to their repertoire... but in their creator's words, they're actually meant for burglary and thievery.
- Gosunkugi gets ten paper dolls which let him give people commands that they must obey. He suffers from a pretty severe lack of imagination. He tries to command Ranma to argue with Akane — he didn't succeed, but nobody would have noticed anyway. The other nine are similarly squandered.
- The cursed springs were actually exploited exactly twice: second by Rakkyosai, who jumped into the Spring of Drowned Child. He did so for infiltration, but will presumably realize at some point that getting his youth back is a pretty sweet deal (there are faint hints that, powerful as Happosai and Cologne are, their old age does inconvenience them). And the number one goes to Pantyhose Taro, who fell into the Spring of Drowned Yeti holding an Eel and Crane while riding an Ox and is the only one in the series actually LIKE his transformation. By his second appearance, he has upgraded by journeying to Jusenkyo and jumping into the Spring of Drowned Octopus (no, really), which for some reason adds up to his form rather than overriding the old one. Presumably because he was already a mashup.
- In part six of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure a minor villain named Ungaro has the unbelievably overpowered stand Bohemian Rhapsody which allows him to turn drawings to life. Drawings of literally anything. So he animates such fearsome entities as... Pinocchio and Vincent Van Gogh? You know, instead of creating a superhero with the power "Ungaro is omnipotent, invincible, and cannot be harmed or defeated by any means. This power cannot be removed or altered by anyone except Ungaro." (Which we know is possible because Weather Report creates a character designed to unmake all the other characters and it actually works.) There's probably a loophole somewhere to a statement like that, but it shows how easy it would be to abuse that stand's unlimited power. A potentially invincible villain defeated by his own weak will and lack of imagination.
- Averted in To the Stars - but only for the aliens. Their technology is advanced enough that they really can use FTL missiles (whose warheads, powerful in their own right, are almost irrelevant due to the velocity they impact human ships at), and teleport warheads straight into human capital ships. Justified for the humans, on the other hand; FTL is still hard enough to do (it requires difficult-to-produce 'exotic matter', for one thing) that humans can't afford to waste it on a disposable missile, and they haven't cracked the secret to technology-based teleportation although Ryoko might be able to help with that now she's realized the mechanism behind her power. So it's a good thing they have all those magical girls to even the playing field...
- Green Lanterns - You have the ultimate weapon. Its power is limited only by your imagination. Big-ass hammer is NOT a good application of your powers.
- Finally subverted with Kyle Rayner, who was more likely to create Humongous Mechs and Anime characters than giant hammers and boxing gloves. Once when asked to make a simple bubble he said that it was the "other guy" who did mundane things like that.
- On the other hand, until the 1970s the rings were really able to do anything, including wiping minds, acting on time-delayed and preprogrammed commands, transmuting matter, and mutating living beings at will. Really, neither Kyle nor Hal Jordan ever really noticed all the implications of the rings.
- Basically, every superhero. Name one superhero who couldn't somehow make a fortune using his or her abilities for something other than beating up another superhuman.
- DC Comics has (had?) the Kapitalist Kouriers, a set of Russian superspeedsters who indeed used their powers for a courier business. All over the world. However: characters who do that instead of beating up on The Bad Guy of the Week don't get played in RPGs and don't get their own comic titles. So it's sorta self-defeating.
- An issue of Heroes for Hire (which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, so at least these guys are getting paid for their work) has one of the "heroes" in a government warehouse where various captured supervillain equipment is stored. Upon seeing one piece of equipment, he notes the idiocy of inventing a gun that turns stuff into gold, then using it to rob banks. It takes him very little time to realize that he ought to steal the gun himself and use it in more intelligent ways. Unfortunately, it's broken shortly afterward in a super-brawl. He presumably was unaware of the fact that any object transmuted by the alchemy gun turns into dust after exposure to heat or after a certain amount of time. (However,mining and construction companies would pay a fortune for a device that could easily reduce solid material into dust regardless of what it became in the interim!)
- One issue of The Flash had him do just this. He was hired by an antique film and memorabilia collector. He hired the Flash to watch all of his movies and examine all of his antiques and catalog them. Obviously made for the plot, but ingenious none the less.
- Another issue of Flash has Mirror Master being introspective about how him and many of his fellow villains are perceived as examples of this trope. He is perfectly aware of the fact that he and most of his compatriots could make more money selling their various technology (Freeze Rays, Teleportation, Weather Control, etc.) legitimately then they could ever hope to make robbing banks even if there were no super heroes. He does the supervilliany instead because he's an immensely disturbed individual, but is aware of the fact.
- Pre-Crisis Mad Scientist Lex Luthor could become every bit as wealthy as Reed Richards if he marketed his tech legally, but he has too much of an Übermensch complex to even want to make a living within society's infrastructure, viewing mundane Last Man civilization itself with contempt. John Byrne's Post-Crisis Luthor is rich, but he only sporadically does scientific jobs himself, preferring to supervise or steal the work of specialists; while he has a superior intellect and his empire is based on earlier inventions, he is mostly rich by being a mundane ruthless SOB. Modern Luthor combines the two versions elevating his intellect Up to Eleven to finally Cut Lex Luthor a Check and establish his scientific genius as the source of his colossal wealth.
- Lampshaded in the first issue of the Mark Shaw incarnation of Manhunter. Over a series of panels of Dr. Alchemy using this powers to perform a robbery, Manhunter points out that he could probably make more money a dozen different ways using a stone that would allow him to transform an object into something else, even if it was temporary.
- The GURPS supplement SuperTemps was filled with supers who used their powers for things like sanitation and garbage disposal, medicine, being a courier, or being a security expert.
- GURPS International Super Teams incorporated SuperTemps into its setting, and expanded upon it. And the I.S.T. chapter of GURPS Y2K had detailed passages on supers using their powers for construction and other mundane occupations. And not-so-mundane UN-sponsored occupations, like weather control (to divert destructive hurricanes, alleviate drought, and so forth) and famine relief ("you can make plants grow? come with me!").
- Captain Hammer in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is mentioned by Dr. Horrible as being "corporate"; presumably he takes sponsorships. Given the character in question (an incredibly self-absorbed jackass who takes special pleasure in beating up geeks and seducing clueless women, getting away with it all because he's labeled a "hero"), it wouldn't exactly be surprising. Given his chest insignia, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if he was funded by Sears.
- Almost subverted in DC's critically-acclaimed Starman comic of the mid-to-late-1990s. Our Hero, Jack Knight, agrees to take on his father's mantle as Starman, if his father will in turn take the amazing Cosmic Rod technology that he's used for self-indulgent heroics for half a century, and adapt it to civilian use: clean power, antigravity, force fields, and more. In the final issue, Ted makes good on the promise, and hands Jack a thick sheaf of documents detailing exactly that, just before his Crowning Moment of Awesome. It's almost subverted because, years after the end of the series, no trace of the "spin-off" technology has been seen.
- Seriously averted in Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan's unique physiology and abilities are used to derive a massive amount of technologies, including electric cars. Ozymandias is running a mega-conglomerate, selling, among many other items, perfume and action figures based on himself and his colleagues. The original Silk Spectre also made a living as a model. She went on to marry her agent.
- Deadpool (at various times, Cable and the Six Pack also qualify) use their abilities for mercenary work, drawing a paycheck for using their powers and skills to hurt and kill people. It may not be particularly nice money, but hey, it's a living.
- The Hobgoblin invoked this when he discovered the Green Goblin's lair, reasoning that Gobby would have made far more money selling his equipment then he ever would have done through crime.
- Ultimate X-Men mentioned the theory that Charles Xavier used his telepathy to make money in stocks. He never actually confirmed this, but he didn't specifically deny it so much as pull a "I won't validate that with an answer".
- Phil Seleski (aka Solar) from Valiant Comics universe has the power to manipulate matter and energy any way he wants. Most of the time, he uses them to stop criminals that, even if powerful, were much weaker then him. Justified because first time he tried to use his powers to the fullest, the entire universe collapsed into a black hole, forcing him to re-create it as the Valiant Universe (a combination of the real world and stories from his favorite comic books).
- Averted in the Marvel Universe in that it's implied that most of the big brains (Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Tony Stark) do make money patenting and licensing their creations. (It's canon that most of the Fantastic Four's funding comes from Reed's various patents, most notably unstable molecules.)
- Not entirely averted, as people like the Trapster and Spider-Man demonstrate. In the case of the latter, the alternate-future series The Last Avengers Story showed Peter Parker as a multi-millionaire, having patented his web formula after retiring as Spider-Man.
- One continuity had Peter try to patent the formula, and get rejected on the grounds that it wasn't permanent. Never mind that even an impermanent adhesive like that would have countless uses. If not especially an impermanent adhesive like that— take the formulation on Post-It notes, which has made Eleventy Zillion dollars for 3M.
- A large chunk of their income actually comes from several companies that pay Reed NOT to release certain of his inventions which might drive them out of business or make their entire industry obsolete.
- One "What If?" story asked the question "What if Tony Stark shared his power suit designs with the world?" It turned nasty very quickly, as it allowed considerable power into the hands of some very ruthless people and caused several very unpleasant wars. (The Fantastic Four were also slaughtered by a power-suited Dr Doom.)
- Simon "Wonder Man" Williams, a Nigh Invulnerable Flying Brick (usually) earned a living as an actor, especially in action movies, performing the kinds of stunts most crash test dummies wouldn't survive.
- Which doesn't help in that Simon dislikes showing his rear for the camera.
- Which is even funnier, considering he wears tights that practically show everything anyway.
- Alan Moore's Tom Strong. His recurring enemy has 'liquid sun' as his main weapon (being an evil genius also helps). Much misery results. An alternate universe Tom convinces said bad guy to sell his Phlebotinum as an energy source. Much happiness results. Until it all goes to pot.
- The (current) Rainmaker program in PS238 is all about averting this, but it's been played straight (and lampshaded) since the days of Mr. Extraordinary that the best thing many living perpetual energy devices, Technopaths, and Green Lantern Ring users do is punch bad guys, build robots to punch bad guys, and punch bad guys with force-field hammers.
- At least Herschel Clay, the school's handyman, is shown to use his powers for commercial purposes: He owns an industrial conglomerate that, amongst other things supplies the school with most of its high-tech gadgets, and in a side-story is shown to be a contractor for NASA who makes starship designs — unfortunately, the people who are supposed to implement his designs can't keep up with his constant drive to improve them.
- Golden Age Superman villain Funnyface was a disgruntled cartoonist who invented a machine to bring Newspaper Comics characters to life. He used it to rob banks. When he reappears in an issue of All-Star Squadron, many years later, the heroes point out to him what a preposterous waste of the technology this is, and he reacts with astonishment, clearly not having thought about it.
- Double subverted in Invincible: the superheroine Atom Eve's power is that she can create, transform and manipulate almost any form of matter. After having used this power for superheroing for a few years, she realizes she could better use it to help hungry and poor people in the Third World, which is what she proceeds to do. However, after doing this for some time she finds out she can only offer temporary help and not facilitate any long-term changes on her own, so she returns to being a superhero.
- In the aftermath of the Marvel Civil War, Norman Osborn invents an actual cure for cancer. What does he use it for? To try and kill Deadpool. OK, he had good reasons to want Deadpool dead, but still, you'd think that making it readily available would bring him a ridiculous amount of money and good publicity. He himself gives it to us straight:
Spider-Man: "What's wrong with you, Osborn? You're a genius! You could've cured cancer by now! Why do you keep doing this?!"
Green Goblin: "That's the difference between you and me, Parker - I don't give a damn!"
Films — Animated
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has an inventor who typifies this trope. One could think up a thousand uses for a bulletproof, waterproof, fireproof, spray on coating other than "spray on shoes". And consider that his "food creation machine" converts ordinary H2O into complex organic food molecules (which means it could convert them into darn near any other material, organic or inorganic)—- and apparently runs off the residual energy left over from the process. A combination replicator and fusion generator... Even at the end of the movie, the coating's potential is only partially realized.
Films — Live-Action
- The Prestige's matter duplicator. You can duplicate anything, even living beings. Best use in story: a magic trick. Better idea: Have anything you want. This is somewhat justified by the fact that the main character is too crazy and vengeance-focused to use it for anything but his convoluted magic trick plot. Tesla, the inventor, could have used it to solve his funding problems and his feud with Edison, but it seems that he was too worried about the device falling into the wrong hands. Plus he had built it specifically for Angier, so he probably wouldn't want to break his word and keep it for himself. Instead, Tesla leaves the device for Angier with a note begging him to destroy it. Angier refuses.
- In the Cronenberg remake The Fly (1986), Brundle messes himself up beyond repair because he risks his own hide in order to get his teleporter to transport living things successfully. A teleportation system that only transports inorganic or post-organic matter could still be worth trillions to global industry.
- In The Projected Man, the protagonist is trying to perfect a transporter, a device that converts objects into energy and then converts the object back. However, he keeps running into problems whenever he tries to do, for example animals end up dead, wristwatches end up going in reverse. Eventually when he tries it on himself, he ends up horribly burned, and with manic electricity powers. Everyone in the movie acts like a device that can convert matter into energy wouldn't still be a tremendous breakthrough by itself, even if it didn't have the capacity to reform it. Even he couldn't use it as a transporter, the ability to convert useless matter into stored energy would be a solid alternative power source. Even if the process took more energy to produce than it made, you could still use to get rid of hazardous waste, making toxic waste dumps a thing of the past.
- Surrogates features the technology to control machines with your mind, and yet its applications in the film are painfully limited. For example, we see people fighting wars by controlling human-looking infantry robots that are even wearing fatigues and helmets. Why not just control a tank? We even see surrogates using handheld cell phones!
- In the Blade Trilogy, Blade is the only (Half) vampire with the ability to go about in the daylight. Best use in movie: None, he just moves around and talks to humans during the day. Better use: Use it to attack other vampires in their homes or offices during the day when they can't run away. However, it's more cool to kung-fu fight vampires than stake them in their sleep.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2005 adaptation) is full of this, but it's lampshaded by Mike Teevee being outraged that Willy Wonka only wants to use his shrinking/teleportation ray for something as "pointless" as candy, when he could be using it on more interesting things, like breakfast cereal and people. Shortly thereafter, he learns the teleporter's limitations the hard way.
- Star Wars: The battle droids' artificial intelligence. We've been trying for decades to create artificial intelligence so that robots can adapt quickly to changing situations. In Star Wars, artificial intelligence is used to give robots human-like reaction times and indecisiveness, turning a killer robot army into comic relief.
- The Rifftrax notes this, marveling at the droids "artificial lack of intelligence."
- Later, more advanced models are actually worse for this. In Episode One they had verbal orders and could be confused, by Three they had little chats while they worked.
- Lampshaded in the novelization: A clone trooper, pretending to be dead for the benefit of a few battle droids, is able to communicate with his squad and recieve orders, since his helmet is designed to work on voice commands and chin switches, so it can be used even when immobilized. He muses that while clones are becoming more like droids, droids are being made more human (such as being required to speak aloud when using their communicators).
- The droids' lack of intelligence may be explained by the various Corrupt Corporate Executives, especially the Neimodians, being extremely paranoid cowards that only used droid armies in the first place because they wanted soldiers that were one hundred percent loyal, constantly concerned about their subordinates turning on them, so could have intentionally had them programmed to be less than optimal. Also, it is well established that without constant memory wipes droids develop individual personalities, so this could have happened as well, though far less probable considering the aforementioned paranoia.
- The "FTL as a weapon" idea is averted in Star Wars — if a hyperdrive approaches a gravity well, it automatically shuts down and reverts the starship to realspace. Or, failing that, melts. Which pulls the starship back into realspace. The time someone gets stranded in hyperspace, we find out why there are so many safeguards. Also, if a ship hits a gravity well while in hyperspace, it's rather strongly implied that it will somehow be annihilated, killing all on board. The source of the gravity well in realspace would also be unharmed, because it's the "mass shadows" projected into hyperspace that cause this damage rather than a direct collision with realspace object.
- Also, with the kind of forces Star Wars throws around, "FTL as a weapon" might not always work. At one point in an older Star Wars comic, The Rebels set up the Executor on a collision course with three Star Destroyers exiting hyperspace, which promptly ram into the Executor at near light speed. The (fully shielded) Executor shrugs off the attack and casually proceeds with its original mission.
- Star Trek in general has many instances of this trope; the 2009 movie adds a new one: with the help of future knowledge from Old Spock, Scotty quickly modifies a transporter to beam himself and Kirk onto the Enterprise — which has been traveling away from them for hours, at the kind of speed that let it get from Earth to Vulcan in minutes. Now, if you can build a transporter that sends you across vast interstellar distances in an instant... why do you need starships? (Of course, the answer is — to prevent the Star Trek franchise from turning into a funky version of the Stargate Verse...)
- It could be that the transporter could only work if one knows the specifics of the destination, and one of the fundamental aspects of Star Trek is exploration, wherein the destination is not always known.
- This method of transport also seemed less accurate than the usual teleportation as Scotty ended up in the water filtration system and nearly got diced by it before Kirk saved him.
- There is a throwaway line in the second movie that the formula Spock Prime gave for transwarp beaming has been taken by Starfleet, so Scotty can't use it again in that movie.
- That doesn't explain why all spacefaring races in the Star Trek verse still insist on using Torpedoes as their main ordnance. Just beam the warhead right over, even if you can't beam through the shields, a proton warhead detonating right inside the shield should do some damage. The nigh invulnerable Borg Cubes never had any shielding to inhibit transporters from working, so go figure.
- At the risk of being natterly, though it is stupid that nobody ever seems to have bothered using this tactic against the Borg, it's only logical that the Borg would quickly adapt to it. On the other hand, someone could have done it already offscreen and the adaptation has already occurred. As for using it in a standard battle situation, it's well-established in the canon that transporters can't work through shields. While the Enterprise was in warp, it had no use for shields, so Kirk and Scotty were able to teleport inside.
- This tactic was used a total of one time by the Voyager against a Borg scout ship. And the goal was to disable it, so they could make off with the ship's transwarp coil. Unfortunately, given the Bizarrchitecture of a Borg ship, they accidentally park the torpedo near a key power conduit, blowing up the whole ship. They salvage the coil, but its failsafe mechanism has already rendered it useless.
- In Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie, we learn that Tom Servo has an interocitor from This Island Earth in his room, which is capable of interstellar communication, blasting stuff with heat rays, and just about anything else imaginable. He uses his to make hot chocolate.
- In Flubber, the lead character's research is to help fund the university. He's assisted by a flying computer equipped with Artificial Intelligence, which would probably be worth millions, if not billions.
- Justified trope: He has no idea how he made her, and can't replicate it.
- Except that near the end, the AI is revealed to have created a modified version of her own blueprints. Which means she had access to those blueprints, and apparently just didn't mention it.
- Although it is very strange that no-one notices that Weeebo can also fly, meaning that he's already invented anti-gravity independent of the creation of Flubber, and at the end, now has access to the schematics?! Why the hell would anyone want to install cars with an engine filled with a sentient, physics-defying goo bombarded by radiation, when there's also a more compact, cleaner version around?
- Iron Man. Similar to Flubber, by far the most important scientific breakthrough is the development of AI, yet the implications of this are not mentioned once and it's never used for anything more than cheap laughs. This trope also appears for many other technologies including those that are central to the films, but at least they're usually excused in some way, even if those ways are rather flimsy.
- Iron Man possibly has the justification that Stark is implied to make a lot of cool toys for himself and just uses them for mundane things instead of marketing them, just because he can be a lazy dick.
- Because like the second films demonstrated with the Iron Man armour, people love to make knock off versions of Stark's technology for the military and Tony's smart enough to see how giving the world access to AI could go, horribly, horribly wrong!
- The Avengers: Played for Laughs when Tony Stark calls out a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent on the Helicarrier for using some of the most advanced computers in the world, surpassed only by Stark's own, to play Galaga.
- Ghostbusters had compact reactors long before the Iron Man movie. The ray guns were dangerous (if the rays collide, they divide the entire universe by zero) but the power supplies themselves were quite safe. They could have beat Stark to the clean affordable energy business, even more so since they went out of the ghost business after the first movie.
- One of the biggest problems of the main character in Click was that his job took too much time, leaving him too little to spend with his family. His magic remote has a Pause button he can use to freeze time, during which he can manipulate objects and people. He could have solved his biggest problem by doing his overtime work outside time entirely, but doesn't try that on screen. That doesn't even get into the remote's unexpected behavior.
- In Sherlock Holmes, Lord Blackwood's pet scientist has invented radio control seven years before Nikola Tesla actually developed it. Instead of patenting it and making enough money to just buy control of the British government, he uses it to remote detonate a chemical weapon, while pretending to be killing the victims by magic.
- The Bourne Legacy, we learn that all of the assassins gain their enhanced intelligence and physical prowess from little blue and green pills which we later discover are not even necessary if the drug is properly applied and seems to have no real drawbacks. Only once are the medical and scientific benefits of such a drug or even thinks that they might personally benefit from such enhancements themselves.
- Not so, the mind enhancers are the subject of an investor presentation that we see in passing in the manufacturer's headquarters, being billed as an Alzheimer's cure. While we don't see the body enhancers being discussed in such a capacity, it seems likely that they were at least considered for the same process.
Live Action TV
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Sabrina is allowed access to a crystal ball that can answer any question. Her first question was, oddly enough, "What if Kenan and Kel won the lottery?". We then see a short segment of the two losing the ticket and coming to the conclusion that it was inside a sandwich that Kel just took a bite out of.
- Star Trek actually did do the research on this one (albeit with some glaring exceptions): The Federation as depicted is a near-perfect example of a post-scarcity economy. Federation citizens don't need to work for a living because replicators make everything you need for free, so everybody just does whatever they feel like doing. The shows concentrate on the idealists who are devoted to exploration and diplomacy because that makes for better television.
- Another case is the holodeck. One may assume there are people who have taken to just living permanent lives of leisure in a holodeck, but again, they aren't shown on-screen because that would be boring. Recurring character Reginald Barclay's ongoing struggle with "holo-addiction" points out why you don't want that sort of thing going on when you're supposed to be busy exploring the galaxy and making friends with aliens.
- The Vidiians in Star Trek: Voyager have some of the most ridiculously advanced medical technology ever. They are also afflicted with a disease that devours their organs one by one, and which for reasons that are never explained adapts too quickly for them to cure. They use their hyperadvanced medicine to murder people and steal their organs. In "Faces", it's definitively established that they can create clones through transporter technology. Given an IQ higher than seven, they could use this to produce organ-harvest clones, which may be something of an ethical minefield but has to be miles ahead of murdering people and stealing their organs. Mind you, Voyager is no stranger to this trope; in "Prime Factors", the Sikarians have a teleporter that can reach planets forty thousand light years distant, which they use exactly once in the episode - to allow one of them to go on a romantic walk with Harry Kim. note
- The Vidiians also overlook the possibility of harvesting organs from, y'know, non-sapient animals rather than intelligent races, despite their obvious proficiency in cross-species transplantation.
- This is somewhat justified by the fact that the humanoid aliens of the Star Trek universe come from a very similar genetic background, as a result of being seeded by the same Ancient Astronauts
- Subverted in Supernatural. When a character is discovered to have mind control abilities, he is asked why he is only using it to live a lower middle class life and to obtain some weed and a couple cool things like a rare car. He replies by claiming that he has everything he would ever want.
- Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer acquired the ability to read minds. Giles suggested using it for gathering intelligence against her enemies... but Buffy's response was "Way better than that," and she used it to investigate the petty personal questions of how people think about her. Of course, like most magic in Sunnydale, it goes horribly wrong.
- Sylar's power of "studying something and figuring out exactly how it works" in Heroes. In-story use: fixing watches, stealing supernatural powers. Better use: churning out Nobel Prizes. In anything. Studying just the human body opens up fields like medicine (cure diseases, extend lifespans), neurology/psychology (figure out how the non-superpower parts of the brain work—consciousness anyone?), and genetics (genotype interaction). However, this may result from the fact that Sylar is insane.
- Furthermore, the second episode established that Sylar was incredibly well-read; his apartment was filled with nothing but books on a wide array of topics (sorta like an eerily tidy version of Yomiko Readman's pad), suggesting that Sylar had spent the vast majority of his life absorbing information about pretty much everything.
- The writers seem to have caught on that Sylar's power is good for more than stealing brains. In Season 3, Peter takes Sylar's power in order to understand the show's plot. Unfortunately, it also comes with an uncontrollable craving for brains.
- Claire's blood. Could easily prevent and reverse any character death in the series. Could even end death as we know it.
- In New Amsterdam, in the 1600s, a Native American tribe has a spell that makes people immortal. In-story use: reward some random white guy who saved the life of one of the tribe's women. Better use: make all of the tribe's warriors immortal, then easily defeat the white guys that are taking their land.
- Well, considering that we have absolutely no idea how the whole immortality thing works, it's entirely possible that it only worked on people in John's situation (saved a woman/saved a woman from his own comrades/saved a stranger from his own comrades and then was stabbed...). We have no idea how specific the requirements are.
- The spell also only works until John finds his true love. Maybe all the local braves were already married.
- In Stargate SG-1, we were told that wormholes only function one way and that anything entering the wrong side is instantly destroyed. So even though the Stargate program didn't bring back interesting technology all the time, one has to wonder why nobody ever pitched the idea of having someone dial in off world and solving all the world's garbage and nuclear waste problems by dumping them into oblivion.
- Stargate Command does use the stargate like that now and then. In at least one episode, a piece of phlebotinum was about to explode and they couldn't find any safe way to destroy it in time, so they dialed a wormhole and threw it into the "kawoosh" vortex, which disintegrates anything caught in it. Note that that wouldn't work for radioactive waste; disintegrated matter doesn't go anywhere, it just gets reduced to its component atoms. (At least, that's what the iris does.) As for why they don't regularly use the stargate to send dangerous stuff or trash to another planet intact, there's no good reason except for the secrecy of the program.
- Anything destroyed by the iris was said to be reduced to sub-atomic particles; depending on how, exactly, this works, it may indeed turn radioactive or toxic substances into something relatively harmless.
- Or energy efficiency. Or unforeseen side effects of overusing the technology; in one Stargate Atlantis episode, they tried to solve global warming by pumping excess heat into an uninhabited parallel dimension, only to nearly freeze to death because they couldn't turn it off.
- Star Trek: Voyager DID do that with an alien race that discovered a wormhole to a seemingly empty bit of space. Unfortunately it wasn't completely empty.
- Similarly, a TNG novel focused on a planet which was being massively polluted from seemingly nowhere because its alternate universe counterpart had stumbled upon a device that made things vanish. It wasn't until much later that they realized they'd created an interdimensional transporter. This novel also showed why using such a device as a planetary-scale garbage disposal might not be a good idea: they eventually discovered that the "garbage" and pollution they were getting rid of included important trace elements of their atmosphere. And since they'd also unknowingly destroyed all of their planet's dilithium crystals long ago, before realizing their importance, they didn't have the means to evacuate more than a small fraction of their population
- The Asgard had a sudden attack of Genre Savvy about this and only gave humans teleporters that were run by their own people. Until the humans found Atlantis and its storehouse of Lost Technology, after which (no causative relation implied) the Asgard just threw their hands up, committed suicide as an entire culture, and handed over all of their knowledge to the Tau'ri. With a talking manual Thor thrown in for free. Of course, the vote to hand over everything to the humans was less than unanimous, but after the whole lot of you offed yourselves...
- The Asgard decided to commit mass suicide when their last effort to correct the genetic degradation of their species had failed. Since they were going to go extinct soon anyway, they decided it was better to kill themselves and give their technology to the still relatively primitive but basically trustworthy Tau'ri rather than risking it falling into Ori hands. Yet to be brought up is that, with all of the Asgard technology at their disposal and no time limit like what the Asgard faced, Earth scientists might someday be able to solve that genetic degradation problem and clone new bodies for them (among other things, the Asgard database includes the recorded thoughts and memories of every Asgard who ever lived).
- In earlier episodes of SG-1, it was implied that the Asgard did use their teleporters as weapons: The first time we meet them, they "beam" an entire Goa'uld army into oblivion before using the same device to harmlessly transport a human bystander to their ship to meet them.
- On the other hand, one could infer that was because the Goa'uld violated the Protected Planets Treaty by invading Cimmeria, which was one of the many worlds under their protection. Thor later implies that small demonstrations of the Asgard's power are occasionally needed to keep the System Lords in line.
- Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis actually do tend use phlebotinum intelligently. As soon as people dealing with the Wraith gained access to Asgard beaming technology, who had never dealt with that before, they just started teleporting atomic bombs onto Wraith vessels, which did considerable damage before the Wraith figured out how to jam it. (Which took all of about five minutes. But hey, they got in a few good shots before that happened.)
- It's speculated later that the reason it took only five minutes is because the Vanir (rogue Asgard to fled to the Pegasus Galaxy) had fought them using this method before. The Wraith already had a counter in place. They just didn't need to use it until the humans began to 'port bombs.
- In the SG-1 episode "Tin Man", a lonely alien android makes Robot Me versions of the team, almost indistinguishable from the originals except for needing to recharge their batteries every few hours. In-verse application: none, they bury the gate and we never hear of it again. (At least they don't murder the doubles!) Better application: Me's a Crowd. The SG teams have dangerous jobs; sending disposable duplicates on them would greatly help. Even better, it would probably be fairly easy to make it true Brain Uploading. There would be huge lines of the terminally ill and quadriplegics willing to be transferred into properly functioning, indistinguishable-from-the-original bodies (absent the problems they had in the first place). Sure, the whole "can't leave the planet" caveat's a bummer, but a minor one; they could receive visitors and news/entertainment/whatever through the gate. Given the alternative, a lot of people would probably take the offer.
- Actually revisited for once. The Robot Me versions start using their battery power to go on their own missions through the Stargate, just going home before their power runs out. Until stuff happens.
- There is an episode of SG-1 where Anubis has souped up his flagship so that it has a nigh-impenetrable energy shield. Meanwhile, the Tau'ri have developed a kick-ass space fighter with a hyperdrive that, sadly, only works for very short hops (as in, miles, rather than light years). Colonel O'Neil uses the hyperdrive to make a hyperjump just inside the forcefield and make an Spacestrike Impossible on the flagship to disable its main weapon.
- An episode of Atlantis had an Ancient outpost that was attempting to get energy from another dimension or something, amounting to infinite energy. It turned out to be uncontrollable, and blew up most of a solar system. They later replicated this with a version that dumped the problematic particles into another universe. Now imagine if they had put that into a missile with the power going to extremely powerful shields (in the event anyone in the Stargate verse ever gets around to making point defense weapons) and engines. Buh-bye Wraith or Replicator fleet (and planet). Sure, the explosion could happen prematurely, but they also had cloaking technology and could just set it off while it's cloaked.
- Despite possessing an incredibly versatile technology that could be used for any number of things, the Dollhouse deliberately explores both the use and misuse of technology that allows one to imprint minds and skills into human bodies. At first glance, the eponymous Dollhouse appears to be flagrantly misusing their tech to run what essentially amounts to a high-tech brothel/thieves' guild/assassination broker that manufactures tailored agents. However, as the series progresses, we see the other uses of the tech, such as mass-producing hive-minded supersoldiers, and weaponized use of imprinting/wiping signals across radios/telephones as weapons of mass destruction.
- In Weird Science (series):
Student: So how come you're not the richest man in the world living on an island with Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell?
Wyatt Donnelly: Uh... we never really wished for that.
Student: Oh, so what did you wish for?
Wyatt Donnelly: I wished to be president of the chess club once. It didn't work out.
- Notably averted in Farscape: The bad guys aren't after Crichton's wormhole tech just so they can use it for transportation. In fact, that use of the technology only seems to interest Crichton himself. What happens when you open a wormhole inside the enemy ship? Inside a planet? A star? In the concluding miniseries John unleashes a wormhole weapon, which is designed to grow in size at a massive rate. Within a few minutes it destroys a planet, and if not stopped would have swallowed up the entire galaxy.
- Just about any technology from The Outer Limits gets used in the most wrong, awkward and fucked up way possible in-world.
- Most of the time this occurs in The Time Tunnel it can be forgiven since the titular device is an experimental prototype that they haven't figured out fully yet, and all of their travels must result in a Stable Time Loop. However, there is an episode where the time travelers encounter alien invaders that embodies this trope. The aliens have working teleporters that do not appear to need a transmitter or a receiver. They have orders to raid the Earth for protein. They do this by attacking a town and forcing them to give them meat. They could have just stolen the food with a teleporter, or stolen a herd of cows, or abducted a school of fish!
- The Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring the movie The Dead Talk Back has an entire sketch parodying this trope. The film features a scientist who claims to be working on a radio that can talk to the dead. Crow and Servo manage to get a working version together, and immediately use it for a sports talk radio show. Mike spends the entire sketch flabbergasted as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill call in from beyond the grave; despite his attempts to ask them more important questions, not even they're interested in anything besides who'll win the Super Bowl that year.
- In Fringe, Walter once invented a matter transmitter, which he thought could replace the can opener.
- Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) fans have endlessly debated about why, given the lack of No Warping Zone on their FTL drives, the Cylons never bother to simply jump in nuke-armed Raiders and feed Galactica instant sunshine until she's destroyed.
- In the Doctor Who story "The Ambassadors of Death", a race of friendly alien beings are discovered that possess highly advanced technology, are Immune to Bullets, consume radiation and can blow things up (including people) just by touching them. They could end the nuclear waste problem, defend the Earth from asteroids, uplift humans further into outer space... but the people who've kidnapped them just want to use them to rob banks.
- Most magicians in Unknown Armies behave this way, one major reason why some of the most powerful canon NPCs are almost completely mundane. The rulebooks frequently mention adepts using their earth-shattering powers and ancient mystic rituals to beat up ex-boyfriends or acquire Star Trek paraphernalia. Since step one to being an adept is to become cripplingly obsessed and insane...
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Clerics can make water materialize out of thin air and purify huge amounts of existing water. Rather than, you know, revolutionizing agriculture and sea travel, they primarily use this ability to reduce the amount of canteens parties of adventurers have to lug around.
- Given how frequently those spell can be cast (and require a rather powerful priest to begin with), they mostly end up Awesome but Impractical. Magic items (Decanter of Endless Water, Urn of Water Purification) are better, but very expensive. In the same way, magic-rich settings like Netheril may have full set of plane-gating plumbing.
- Due to the nature of Dark Sun, create water was reduced to a fraction of its normal efficiency in the setting from the start. It was better than nothing, but it wouldn't save anyone unless you were both high level and devoted a lot of spell slots to it. The game designers wanted an apocalyptic setting where the players actually had to struggle.
- Generally, D&D magic easily lends itself to Magitek - a permanent area of reverse gravity with a flywheel half inside is a perpetual motion machine, conjuring water and fire (or ready steam) allows compact steam machines never running out of fuel, etc. It's used more frequently than purposefully averted, but still not all that much.
- The Tippyverse is a hypothetical setting where every piece of phlebotinum is pushed to its ultimate limit. In a world ruled by wizards, spells are "trapped" in push-button Magitek machines that act as food dispensers, showers, training dummy makers for grinding experience, emergency rooms, transport, and more.
- Using traps as perpetual magic engines is not an Applied Phlebotinum - it belongs to the realm of Bug Exploiting.
- Actually, Boon Traps (traps that do something helpful) are mentioned in the sourcebook Dungeonscape as a way to feed monsters in dungeons, and other useful things. So, no, it's not a bug, it's a feature. Besides, you can do all the exact same things with wondrous items, they are just more expensive.
- In Genius The Transgression using Wonders for mundane tasks is a minor Transgression. In most New World of Darkness gamelines, using your magic powers for mundane tasks is a Karma Meter violation. But it's usually one so small that only a living saint would even need to roll for degeneration for doing it.
- Played for laughs in Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine. Chuubo (or Shokyou, if you prefer the female version) uses his, well, marvelous wish-granting engine...to try and get ice cream, which never works, and occasionally do other things like make seagulls cooler. Of course, Chuubo is in his early teens; Fortitude is already pretty idyllic; and anything Chuubo does that doesn't show up on the Wishing Map tends to backfire, so no wonder he doesn't try to use it for anything more spectacular.
- Steambot Chronicles: The Killer Elephants have a large organization with extensive industrial production, able to mass-produce the mecha they use, and even a giant mecha. What do they do with all these resources? They rob passing travelers. True, they're just trying to get funding for their true project, flying to the moon, but with a setup like theirs, they really should be doing something more profitable.
- Portal's Aperture Science, the company behind the insanity at the heart of the plot, is almost entirely built on this trope.
- Originally contracted to create shower curtains for the Army, Aperture patented their portal gun technology as a "man-sized ad-hoc quantum tunnel through physical space with possible applications as a shower curtain." This is a device that breaks the laws of thermodynamics, implicitly allows Faster-Than-Light Travel, and would revolutionize the world, and it gets used to run hapless test subjects through mazes like lab rats.
- GLaDOS, a fully sentient AI, was originally designed as a fuel line de-icer. She was also designed in apparent ignorance of the Three Laws, as shortly after she was turned on, she found a way to murder nearly every scientist in the facility.
- Portal 2 reveals that most of Aperture Science's products fall into this trope:
- Aerial Faith Plates - Compact and quite powerful catapults capable of launching adult humans dozens of feet into the air. Marketed as truck cargo loading devices, despite being WAY too powerful for that, causing the cargo to be damaged and/or bounced right back out of the truck.
- Thermal Discouragement Beams - Semi-lethal laser beams. Marketed as means to keep office workers from leaving their desks.
- Repulsion and Propulsion Gels - Gels literally capable of breaking the laws of physics by making any surface in which they are spread suddenly gain elasticity or make any object in contact with that surface gain momentum respectively. Marketed as dietary aids despite being horrifically toxic.
- The Long Fall Boot — a "foot-based suit of armor for the Portal Device." Something that lets human beings fall up to 500 ft and land without a scratch? It was only used to prevent a repeatable human error problem when the test subjects fell too far, broke their legs (at best), which made them drop the gun and break expensive equipment.
- And then there's the stuff that was apparently never released at all: solar powered Hard Light bridges, tractor beams capable of sending things forward or backward, Brain Uploading, enough technology to create a facility literally capable of surviving the Apocalypse, repair and literally rearrange itself at will, sentient AIs capable of running with voltage sources capable of outputs as low as 1.1 volts, selective disintegration... all this used for no other purpose than testing.
- And now, the Perpetual Testing Initiative demonstrates that Aperture developed interdimensional travel (apparently reliable, at least as much as any of their other products), and decided to use it to get other Apertures in parallel universes to build test chambers for them. This is like having a key that can open any lock and using it to steal office supplies.
- At least "Cave Prime" manages to find a universe literally made of money with it, so it wasn't a total waste.
- Averted to an incredible degree in Mass Effect: almost everything in the universe runs on eezo-based technology, from artificial gravity and FTL travel to miniature railguns and telekinesis. Hell, one of your crew members in the third game has an eezo toothbrush. The writers even remembered to Obvious Rule Patch away FTL ramming.
- And in Mass Effect 3, apparently no one in the whole galaxy realized that the Mass-Relays that the Reapers so kindly left free for humanity to use despite having the capability to shut the whole network down in the space of a day or two could basically double as massive (we're talking planet-killing level here) FTL cannons that could blow the Reapers apart to smithereens if they were weaponized by humanity and its allies.
- They actually explain this by stating nobody knows how to manipulate them and if they did use them as weapons they might be damaged and unable to be used
- Also, in the Arrival DLC for Mass Effect 2, we see what happens when Relays get damaged: they release enough energy to destroy a solar system. Rendering every known location in the Milky way a bunch of uninhabitable dust does not sound like a viable way to fight the Reapers.
- The Weavers Guild in Loom can manipulate the fabric of time and space. They mostly use this power for... spinning and dying clothing. Or so it seems to a casual outside observer.
- Actually they can become immortal and turn the insides of small tents into roomy houses and one cathedral-sized temple. And then they used it to observe the nature of the universe and trace a discord that threatened to destroy everything. Weaving cloth is just how they got started.
- More specifically, each of the guilds in Loom derives its supernatural abilities from a sort of Charles Atlas Superpower related to their original mundane role. The glassmakers make infinitely sharp glass edges and crystal balls that see the future; the Weavers went from weaving cloth to weaving reality. But they still stick to their roots.
- According to the manual, the use of some drafts is strictly regulated, because they may put other Guilds out of work or collapse the economy with cheap gold.
- In Power Quest there exist little remote controlled robots capable of firing ki blasts out of their palms. And yet no one thinks to scale these up for military use; no, they're much better as children's toys.
- Naoya from Devil Survivor creates both a demon summoning program and a harmonizer that lessens blows to the user and increases those from the user. While the demon summoning program is rightfully considered a big deal in universe, the harmonizer is not, despite allowing its user to shrug off gun wounds.
- Considering the circumstances, however, people may simply be assuming the two functions are connected, and with the problems the former is causing... On a related note, Atsuro comes to think that the demons themselves are Misapplied Phlebotinum, and wants to take the summoner's control over them even further.
- The harmonizer weakens blows from demons. A bullet will still have the same effect it always does, but a fireball will barely scratch you. This is the reason you can't just massacre the JSDF and walk out of the city.
- The Black Spider ninjas' motivation for trying to steal the Dark Dragon Blade in Ninja Gaiden? Their leader wanted to grind it up to make tea. Granted, he believed drinking tea made from dragon bones (which the Dark Dragon Blade was forged from) would empower him...but still, tea?
- PR0XY, the cheerfully homicidal (to Galen at least) Robot Buddy in The Force Unleashed. Vader created a droid that could, with the proper modules, copy the techniques and appearance of any Jedi, somehow produces lightsabers from nowhere, and can even replicate Force abilities with repulsor technology. And Vader uses it as a communications device and as a Training from Hell tool. As opposed to mass producing a droid Jedi Super Soldier army.
- Not so much. The Clone Wars (well, the last five minutes or so) showed that while the Jedi are extraordinarily lethal in individual combat or against small groups of people, in terms of full-scale war they don't make a very effective army, with their primary use being as surprise-attack commandos (Vader has that) and generals (Vader IS that). And we don't know how prohibitively expensive PR0XY was.
- Apparently, not that expensive, considering Vader trains multiple Starkiller clones with dozens of PR0XYs.
- Pokémon both follows and averts this trope. The Verse is filled with these insanely powerful creatures, who mostly serve as combatants between children with voice commands. They have also, however, been show to do more practical things.
- For example, right at the beginning of one game, some superhumanly strong Machokes are moving boxes into your house with ease. They are also used in construction. Miltank are used for dairy production, grass types in perfume manufacturing, and electric types are used in power plants for organic, completely ecologically-friendly energy production.
- A better example would be the online storage systems. These store and teleport hundreds of living creatures (and in some games furniture and dolls as well). These could surely be used as houses, storing populations of whole countries.
- That is, if it weren't for the fact that the living creatures stored there go into eternal unconsciousness, meaning it wouldn't so much be a "house" for the population of entire countries as a "horrific never-ending prison limbo". I have no mouth...
- The technology is massively inconsistent, as well (you can't even store items in Unova). It would be a horrid risk to store living people in there until the system was unified.
- However, by Generation IV, players would have Hyperspace Arsenal, eliminating the need for storage on the PC.
- In the setting of Borderlands the technology exists to digitally decode DNA and to deconstruct solid matter into a format for digital storage and reverse the process without limit. Use in-game? Justifying the game's respawn mechanic and why players can carry 20 rifle-sized weapons and none of them show. Better use? Clone Legions armed with Conversion-Bombs. Later games imply that digistruction is inherently flawed, however, good only for creating weak and temporary copies (and storage).
- A particularly hilarious and acknowledged version of this occurs in a codex entry in Dragon Age: Origins: before the creation of the Circle of Magi, the Chantry employed mages exclusively for lighting sacred candles and lamps in their churches. And occasionally sweeping up. Eventually, the mages of Val Royeux's cathedral snuffed out their lamps in protest and demanded that their services be put to better use; the Divine responded by ordering an Exalted March (i.e.: a crusade) on her own cathedral, which was only prevented by her Templars pointing out what a patently insane idea this was.
- Touhou. The vast and varied amount of potential applications for some of the characters' powers are mind-boggling (for example, Cirno can not only basically invent air conditioning by herself but could freeze any opponent solid in an instant), yet due to laziness, selfishness or sheer stupidity none of them even consider what they could accomplish. This has been massively averted recently though, with Kanako spending several games attempting to revolutionise Gensoukyou, including having a brand spanking new nuclear fusion plant built to produce free electricity.
- In Halo: Reach, a Slipspace drive is used to destroy a Covenant supercarrier when no nukes are available. About a third of the ship is pulled into slipspace, leaving the front and back portions disabled. However, this is pointed out as being an impractical option born more out of desperate circumstances than a good use of the technology. Nukes are generally cheaper and easier to deliver to a target than a functional slipspace drive is.
- The first 10 Robot Masters in Mega Man were created for such purposes as forestry, lubrication, lab assistance, and housekeeping. Do you know how much trouble creating humanoid robots has been in Real Life? To be fair, they were first made for the sake of being made and only then their creators started thinking of more practical uses like replacing man in dangerous work (don't mind housekeeping, that was the first two robots and the lab was really a mess, ok?) and Take Over the World. They still fit this trope to a 'T'. Oh, and lampshaded in Bob and George.
- The Valkyria in Valkyria Chronicles have the power to channel the energies of Ragnite., which can and does almost anything, from lighting the streets to healing the wounded to powering the vehicles. The ability to control that energy could be a huge boon to the world if anyone had a lick of common sense. Or if Valkyria Chronicles wasn't so dedicated to its message that racism is bad unless you're a Valkyria.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution has an upgrade to the basic pistol that lets it pierce armor. The item's description says that it uses quantum tunneling to phase through armor. Quantum physics Twenty Minutes into the Future is advanced enough to be miniaturized, weaponized, and put in user-installable gun modifications, yet does not seem to be used anywhere else in the game's world.
- The animatronics from Five Nights at Freddy's and its sequel can walk and talk, are ludicrously durable, strong and intelligent, have been fitted with facial recognition technology, can crawl through vents, are heavily implied to be sentient.. and they're used for absolutely nothing other then entertaining children. The first game most likely takes place in 1993, and the second takes place in 1987. They're decades ahead of what we have now in 2014, at a bare minimum, and they're being used for entertaining children.
- The eponymous object in Erika's New Perfume never really does more but take up space in Erika's bedroom after Sarah uses it, despite having at least two of its three demonstrated functions with a definite audience for them and having even more All There in the Manual. This might partially be because the characters themselves don't have the manual, though.
- Cracked's 6 Magical Movie Items They Wasted on Bullshit.
- Phase is single-handedly wrecking this trope in the Whateley Universe. Only a freshman at Whateley Academy, he's already going around getting inventors to sign up with his financial service and marketing their inventions to fix this problem. Bugs had a weird gadget that faked painting on stuff: Phase saw how to turn it into the best toy ever. Jericho had some stuff that Phase is trying to patent and turn into the best medikit in the world. Loophole had a gadget that helped her get awesome performance out of her self-built car: Phase wants to market it as a way of cranking up automotive fuel efficiency world-wide.
- Sailor Nothing author Stephan Gagne's Unreal Estate is set In a World where technology that allows pocket universes to be created to order is ubiquitous. It's mostly used to create a few Worlds of Hats — the most unusual world is the First-Person Shooter world that automatically respawns "players" after lethal wounds. The Big Bad reveals that he has a Vision about using the technology to its full potential, and You Can't Make an Omelette......
- Averted in The Salvation War. When The Legions of Hell invade Earth, they start out with Bronze Age tactics and technology, but that proves inadequate. They quickly adapt by using their portal-making abilities for Fantastic Nukes. After the war, they use their portal creating abilities to put FedEx out of business.
- Taylor i.e. Skitter in Worm is exceptionally good at coming up with ways to use superpowers effectively. Which makes it highly frustrating when she has to deal with capes like Panacea and Genesis who aren't.
- In universe, this is also justified in various ways. Superpowers come with mental changes that subtly encourage you to use them in combat. Tinker tech can't be mass produced, and the last time someone tried to use his inventions to cure world hunger and pollution anyway, he got attacked by the Endbringers. And there are some capes known as Rogues who do just use their powers to make money.
- Many Spacebattles posters like to accuse various factions of "incompetently" using their abilities or technology and suggesting better alternatives, though various posters try to argue otherwise. A quote follows. It's gotten to the point that "competence" has become something of a slur due to inciting violent arguments.
Obviously, we should use bad analogies to imply whenever we see the technology not doing the thing we want it to it's just that they've dialed it down because they're all just incompetents. Being so dumb they probably don't even know the dial goes up that high, you know, because they're dumb. Not at all like us.
This is obviously because we have such stupendously vast mental faculties we can instantly see all the hidden factors to a technology's operation when we're shown a single - or extremely limited - instance of it's usage, and can predict exactly how it completely changes the nature of the setting (in spite of it not doing so) and use that to deduce the residents of the setting are just dumb(because of the aforementioned failure to completely understand all the hidden factors in their technology that allows us to foresee such usage methodologies with our incredible intellect).
Hence, even with them working with said technology every single day, and having built said technology, and having a functioning understanding of all the engineering aspects of said technology, we understand it better than them, despite lacking all these things. We're just that fucking clever.
- While many of the artifacts contained by the SCP Foundation are dangerous, a number of them are quite useful.
- SCP 914. A large clockwork device covering 18 square meters. Items put into a slot are altered according to one of five parameters set. Rough, Course, 1:1, Fine and Very Fine. The Rough and Course settings tend to destroy items, the 1:1 returns a different object of equivalent worth and purpose, but the Fine and Very Fine return significantly better items of greater quality or complexity. A gun put into the machine, with the fine or very fine setting, would return an even better gun, possibly even stuff beyond SCP's current tech level. Even the 1:1 setting is fairly useful, as it could potentially provide translations of writings in an unknown language.
- Fracture: As pointed out in this Penny Arcade strip, being able to control terrain has a lot more potential than just allowing your soldiers to hop over a wall.
- The premise behind Chaotic is that it can create an identical duplicate you to live out a real world version of a Trading Card Game. You can 'port out' and the duplicate's memories are reabsorbed into you. While the show managed to show a wheelchair bound player walking inside the simulation, they ignored a more obvious application of their technology: Immortality.
- What about halving the time you need to spend studying, by having each half study, well, half. Not to mention if, say, you ported out -in the middle of a test-
- Invader Zim:
- The title character once created an orbital satellite station that sucked out all the water from the city, gathered it into a giant balloon, and dropped it for no other reason than to win a water balloon fight.
- A massive robot obviously capable of obliterating everything in its path is used by Zim to get revenge on Dib for a few off-hand comments made earlier in the episode.
- Zim tries to get revenge on Dib for throwing a muffin at him. Zim gets Dib trapped—there's no escape, Dib's got a massive laser cannon aimed straight at his head—and what does Zim do? He has the cannon fire another muffin—not even a massive muffin, just a normal muffin roughly equivalent to the one Dib threw at him. And then lets Dib go on his merry way.
- Zim has a device that can take out human organs and substitute them with...stuff...and what does he do with it? He uses it to stuff himself full of human organs in case the
school skool nurse decides to do an x-ray. Never mind sucking the brains out of the entire human populace—what if Zim needs to see a doctor?
- Perhaps the most bizarre by far—Zim has a device that can submit humans to the most painful mental torture possible, and uses it to hypnotize the town's populace into helping him win a school fundraiser.
- Lampshaded in the episode "Jail Bird" of Darkwing Duck; Negaduck is continually frustrated that Megavolt, Bushroot and the Liquidator are too stupid to make full use of their superpowers. (Although, thanks to a power-stealing emerald, Negaduck ultimately doesn't fare much better.)
- The Simpsons:
- In one Halloween episode, Homer buys a teleporter from Prof. Frink and uses it to get food from the fridge without leaving the couch. Marge draws the line at using the teleporter as a shortcut to the toilet.
- Another Halloween episode has Lisa and Bart develop superpowers. Bart vows to uses his powers (stretching) "only to annoy", and proceeds to pull a prank on Skinner.
- Yet another Halloween episode shows what each Simpson (aside from Marge) would do with The Monkey's Paw. Homer wishes for...a sandwich. This was not without reason; he'd just seen the Paw mess things up twice before hand, so he tried to make a "safe" wish, specifying it as much as he could to make sure it wouldn't go wrong. It didn't work; the turkey was a little dry.
- Pretty much every invention ever made by Doctor Doofensmirtz on Phineas and Ferb. In one particular incident, he created a machine that could remove zinc from water as the first stage of a circuitous plot that even he couldn't remember all the details of. Considering that zinc is fairly useful metal, he could have just cornered the world zinc market, made a lot of money, and done so legally at that.
- On the PBS cartoon WordGirl the villainous Dr. Two-Brains builds a ray which can make gold into cheese (he's obsessed with cheese) and then a second one which can turn potato salad into gold. He then steals potato salad to turn into gold and then into cheese. Not only WordGirl but even the announcer think this is the stupidest plan ever — why not just turn potato salad into gold and buy more potato salad?
- Many of the devices Shredder and Krang use in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had more potential than they were using them for, including Krang's molecular manipulation circuit for his suit.
- Batman Beyond:
- One example is that cash money has become obsolete, but the writers apparently didn't understand how digital currency transfers work, so you get things like people stealing shipments of little green 'cash cards,' or running a 'cash card' through one of those little handheld beeper thingies and getting the correct amount in the read-out, but then the card gets stolen back and apparently the money's still on it.
- The various incarnations of G-Rated Drug in the franchise are often subject to this as well, but the Venom 'slappers' are kind of an aversion—the stuff Bane used to dope up on to make him the man who broke Batman has now been commercialized as a street drug. Bad, yes, but kind of realistic.
- The future has hovercars, but they work about the same as regular cars, and pretty much all that's different is that youthful self-destructive behavior is more colorful.
- The Magic Schoolbus has the titular bus,which can reach distant planets and the bottom of oceans in barely anytime at all.Instead of using this to colonise or exploit resources,its used to give a few kids an educational joyride.
- Lampshaded in Schoolhouse Rock's "Electricity" "Now if only we had a Super Hero who could turn the generator real fast we wouldn't have to burn so much fuel to make electricity"
- In The Transformers, the Decepticons have Invisibility spray. They only use it once, at night, to creep up on the resting Autobots... but not to kill them, only to mess around with their recharging chambers and make them evil. Later it also turns out that while the invisibility — somehow — renders them undetectable to the "evil presence" scanners of the Autobot ship, security cameras can still see their outlines. Had they killed the Autobots, they wouldn't have had a chance to watch the footage and undo their plan.
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers:
- What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway? wouldn't be an issue if Ma-Ti used it to its fullest potential (which would basically make him Professor X). Mainly not used thusly because you get into Moral Dissonance if you're always poking around in people's heads.
- Not that the others were much better. Each carried a ring capable of using the classical elements to impressive degrees, but the never bothered to use them to their full potential.
- Hell, they had technology like a solar-powered plane, but no one ever thought to showcase it to the world to help reduce the dependency on fossil fuels.
- Also invoked by basically every single one of the Eco Villains. Nearly every other episode featured Doctor Blight or Sly Sludge carting out some sort of new super-technology which exists only to cause more pollution (with several having been explicitly stated to be modified to do so, in other words they were CLEAN ENERGY first), Verminous Skumm has seemingly perfected chemical and genetic engineering or at least gotten REALLY GOOD AT IT, Duke Nukem (no not that one) could have just walked up to any nuclear disposal plant and went "Hey, mind if I hang out here and eat all the radiation this crap is giving off?" then taken an armored truck back to a nuclear plant and said "So I'm gonna sit in the core for a day or two and power the entire East Coast, sound good?" and been phenomenally wealthy, powerful and loved forever. Then again, as Anvilicious as the show was, pretty much every misuse of technology was lampshaded for how it COULD have been used. Usually.
- The world of Mother Up has jet boots and invisibility cloth, used exclusively for faddish children's toys. The same episode has regular technology being misapplied by the third trendy toy in that episode, "personal money destroyers."
- In the background material of Gargoyles, we find out that the eponymous Gargoyles don't shred their clothing because of a spell some wizard cast back in Ancient Rome. Think about it, this dude had magic capable of warping an entire species across the planet, and he used it to keep a rare species that often has limited contact with humans from showing off their junk.
- Santa Claus has, amongst other things, access to a vast manufacturing complex run by magical elves, a sack that can hold near limitless contents and still be carried, the power to make reindeer fly and some kind of time dilation ability. Best use in story: making illegal copies of copyrighted/trademarked/patented toys and giving them to children. Better idea: world domination.
- And that's before you take into the account that he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, and he knows if you've been bad or good.
- Santa has every and any material possession he wants, a happy and stable marriage, a small army of faithful and happy slaves, no neighbors, a 100% approval rating virtually everywhere on the planet, and 100% job security. And he's also immortal. And he only has to work one day a year.
- Well, he only has to do field work once a year. The rest of the year is all the naughty/nice paperwork.
- So why do rich kids get nicer presents than poor kids? He easily has the power to end poverty in third-world countries, but he's too busy conquering the Martians and turning into Tim Allen, apparently.
- Any one who actually has psychic powers could make tons of cash at Las Vegas instead of appearing on talk shows. As Jay Leno once said, "Why do you never see the headline 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?" Answer: Because when a psychic wins, he doesn't tell he's psychic. 'Cause, you know, some people might dare accuse him of cheating.
- This is actually lampshaded in the Nicolas Cage film Next. Also justified since the psychic in question knows he's being hunted down by the government and thus keeps his wins small to avoid attracting attention.
- This is also used in the Doctor Who episode "Planet of the Dead", with a psychic woman who repeatedly wins small amounts on the lottery, because she's happy enough with her life as it is and doesn't want the changes a big win would create.
- In case you haven't heard, Casinos tend to kick anyone who starts winning too much out the door, and blacklisting them across town. Because no one said they have to play fair.
- In many places, the government says they have to play fair. However, in many of these places, nobody says the casino has to play. (That is, they have the right to refuse service.)
- A more practical plan would be to win major lotteries (such as Euro Millions) occasionally, re-investing a small part of the winnings to obtaining a new identity to do it again without attracting too much attention.
- Or forget the casino, go for the big bucks and pwn Wall Street instead!
- The Computer, a machine capable of performing incredibly complex arithmetic and decision logic, primarily sees use doing a workless infinite loop and managing resources that may one day be used. Even in the case of people who actually use computers for things, most of the time it's the same old boring stuff over and over again. They want to do their accounts, or write a letter, when the machine may be capable of creating sapient or sentient thought, or just comparing your personal data to millions of other people and trying to figure out what kind of beer you'd want.
- And porn. Can't forget the porn.
- Oh, it gets used for the important stuff, too, like doing simulations for engineers and scientists. It's just that they're so cheap nowadays that the Mundane Utility of being able to do silly stuff like editing TV Tropes or playing video games is more visible. On a more relevant note, if you want your own computer to stop being misapplied, go participate in one of the distributed computing projects listed on That Other Wiki.
- The Brain, the most marvelous organ in your body, capable of incredible feats of complex movement coordination, communication, image and sound analysis, and decision-making, primarily sees use reading TV Tropes.
- Any science fiction full-body alteration device. Yes, they do occasionally forget that Reed Richards Is Useless and start marketing it to transgender people, but fail to recognize that a device capable of making such thorough rearrangements of adult bodies might be engineered for something other than individual fulfillment - like, say, immortality.
- Everyone's always gotta aim so high. Living forever aside, do consider that no-one need worry about losing limbs or needing organ transplants ever again. Many cancers that weren't brain tumours or enthusiastically metastasizing all over the place wouldn't be a threat either. Not to mention putting plastic surgeons out of a job...
- Or creating an army of never-tiring, non-pain-feeling, super-strong super soldiers with bladed arms.
- Or ensuring that war is pointless by converting the population to never-tiring, solar-powered, unsuited-spaceflight-capable, super-strong, inhumanly beautiful people who never need to eat or drink and can see in the dark. What do you have to fight over then, eh?note
- Telekinesis. To summarise a very long, natter-filled discussion, it could be far more powerful than most characters demonstrate, but requires such fine control and so many Required Secondary Powers that it becomes Awesome but Impractical.