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No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction
McCoy: Well, that's the second time man's been thrown out of Paradise.
Kirk: No, no, Bones, this time we walked out on our own. Maybe we weren't meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through, struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums.
Star Trek: The Original Series, "This Side of Paradise"

A common theme in fiction is the concept that getting the result you want is more satisfying when you actually earn it through your own actions, rather than having it simply handed to you in some way.

The scenarios that result in this revelation can take a number of forms, though there's three that are most common:

  1. The character is in a position to force someone else to give them what they want, either through magical or mundane coercion or because the other character is their subordinate.
  2. The character finds themselves in an environment where it's literally impossible to fail for some reason.
  3. The character's rival or enemy is in a position of complete helplessness, and thus the character can effortlessly best their opponent in some way.

But whatever the scenario, the character has the same revelation: It's just not satisfying to win unless the opposing force or obstacle has the chance to reject them, hurt them, or fight back. Alternatively, the character may go through the action anyway, only to realize afterwards how unsatisfying it was.

Supertrope to Above the Influence, I Love You Because I Can't Control You, Earn Your Happy Ending, and similar tropes, sister trope to Mind Over Manners. When someone playing a Video Game thinks this, it becomes It's Easy, so It Sucks.

Compare I Want My Beloved to Be Happy, Worthy Opponent, and Mook Chivalry, which can be motivations for this trope, or Lonely at the Top and Victory Is Boring, which can be caused by this trope. Contrast Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!, And Now You Must Marry Me, Psychic-Assisted Suicide, and Kick Them While They Are Down, where in similar situations the character is still satisfied by the result even with the lack of opposition.

Also contrast More Than Mind Control, where you can have your cake and eat it too, by both controlling someone and getting their genuine submission.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Legend of Galactic Heroes, this is one of the primary reasons why Reinhard von Lohengramm wants to battle with Yang Wen-li whenever the opportunity arose. Having climbed to the highest military rank by his early twenties (and later crowned himself emperor), all that is left for Reinhard is wanting a good challenge from the one of the most brilliant tactical geniuses in the whole galaxy. The Battle of Vermilion is a prominent example: he is so disappointed that his victory was handed to him from outside the battlefield that he could not bring himself to thank Hildegard von Mariendorf, who engineered his victory, even though her plan had saved him from the brink of defeat and possible death.
  • In One Piece, Luffy would much rather quit being a pirate than have the location of the titular treasure handed to him on a silver platter, because the reason why he became a pirate was to go an amazing adventure — and there's no adventure in having everything handed to you.
  • In One Punch Man, this is Saitama's main problem. He's strong enough to beat anyone with just one punch, but that just means that facing off against giant monsters is about exciting as going shopping.

    Film 
  • Superman II's villain, General Zod, describes exactly this early on, and is shown bored as hell in the White House after taking over the world. He sounds sad and disappointed when he utters the line.
    Zod: I win. I always win. Is there no one on this planet to even challenge me?
  • In Spartacus Varinia asks her current master why he doesn't just have his way with her. He tells her he wants her to give herself to him.
  • Star Trek: Generations has the character-against-environment variant. In a matrix that's sort of a fantasy world, Captain Kirk is riding a horse as it jumps across a chasm, in a reconstruction of his old homestead. Then he realizes how futile it is jumping across the chasm as he did many times before, since in the fantasy version there's no way he could be hurt if he fell in, removing all the thrill from it.
  • In The Matrix, Agent Smith believes this to be the reason behind the failure of the first iteration of the Matrix, which was designed as a perfect utopia. He rationalizes that humans define themselves through misery and suffering, and thus paradise was a dream they couldn't accept as reality. The actual reason is that, to accept the Matrix, humans need to believe they have a choice in the matter, even if they aren't really aware of it.
  • The Beast in Kung Fu Hustle is when introduced locked up in a mental institution, but he could easily break out any time he wishes. He voluntarily stays there because there doesn't seem to be anyone left who can offer a challenge and put up a good fight against him.
  • Gladiator: In one match, Maximus kills each of his opponents extremely quickly, leaving his audience totally silent, which makes him chastise them by saying "Are you not entertained?!". Proximo also criticizes Maximus for this, urging him to Win the Crowd when he fights.

     Literature  

  • The Sax Rohmer novel, The Golden Scorpion: The Yellow Peril villain Fo-Hi, who has spent years training himself to be The Spock in order to gain supernormal mental abilities, including limited mind control, falls in love with the Distressed Damsel. Only to find that the very strength of this new emotion is causing his mind control ability to force her to agree, despite his wanting her free acceptance of his love. Since he refuses to lie a false love would be hollow to him.
  • In Anansi Boys, Spider can make people believe or do what he wants them to. In general, he just considers it a good way to have fun with people, but when he starts to get emotionally close to someone he feels a lot more conflicted about it.
  • In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we discover Voldemort's backstory. His mother loved a Muggle and used a Love Potion to make him fall in love with her. Then she realized/decided that it didn't feel real because it wasn't genuine, so she neutralized the potion, hoping that he'd really be in love with her after it wore off. Unfortunately for her, he dumped her like a hot potato—but by then Voldemort had already been conceived.
  • In The Perilous Gard, the main character is offered a love potion to give to her love interest by the fairy queen. She declines, because she wants him to really love her.
  • In Foundation, The Mule, a mutant capable of adjusting human emotions, couldn't bring himself to adjust the woman who was the only one who liked him without it.
  • In Assassins of Gor a young chess prodigy is forced by the ruler to play a game of chess against a foolish simpleton. The prodigy at first refuses, saying it would be an insult to the Game, until he's threatened with death.
  • The whole purpose of both The Most Dangerous Game the story as well as the trope in general. In the original short story, the villain is a big-game hunter who got bored with dumb animals and started hunting humans who could present more of a challenge. Then he finds another almost equally-bored big-game hunter who would be even more of a challenge than random sailors who don't know how to really fight back.

     Live Action TV  

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Warren makes a robot girlfriend who looks and acts exactly like a real girl - except it agrees with him 100% and does nothing but try to please him. Eventually he meets someone who challenges him, disagrees with, requires him to actually try to make her happy. Suddenly his his pleasure-bot holds no appeal so he leaves her for the one that challenges him. Of course, being a spineless creep, he doesn't so much break up with his robot girlfriend or even shut her down, he just leaves her to run down her batteries.
  • The Brady Bunch:
    • In one episode Bobby is all bent out of shape that he's the only one in the family without a trophy. He tries selling magazine subscriptions, since there's a trophy for the one who sells the most, and seems to be doing quite well. But Cindy accidentally comments that their parents put their friends up to buying most of the subscriptions, so Bobby cancels those orders, saying that a trophy won from that wouldn't be worth anything.
    • In another episode where Jan thinks she's no good at anything, Greg has the great idea of everybody throwing games of skill for her to win: Greg throws a game of Ping Pong, Marcia & Cindy lose at Monopoly, and Peter & Bobby lose at darts. Cindy accidentally spills the beans to their parents though, and they convince the kids that winning that way doesn't help Jan. Greg apologizes to her on behalf of the group and of course they're Easily Forgiven.
  • In Babylon 5, at one point Londo is laid low by a poisoning, and one of his wives has a blood type which can save him. Though she actually doesn't like him and wouldn't entirely mind seeing him die, she donates her blood to save him anyway because she doesn't want to win her battles in such a one-sided way.
  • In The Twilight Zone episode "A Nice Place to Visit", an inveterate criminal dies and goes to the afterlife: a pleasant place where he gets everything he wants and all his gambles always pay off. He becomes dissatisfied and asks to be sent to The Other Place, saying he doesn't belong in Heaven. "Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!"
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Squire of Gothos", Trelaine repeatedly complains that hunting Kirk is "too easy" to provide the fun he'd hoped for.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • In "Elementary Dear Data," as Data has read every Sherlock Holmes book, he is able to deduce the entire plot by remembering the plot when he and Geordi play in the holodeck. So Geordi orders the computer to create a new mystery and plot worthy of challenging Data. The computer brings the Moriarty character to full sentience and awareness of his surroundings beyond the limits of his program. From inside the holodeck, he is able to devise a means of destroying the ship. It also crafts a separate Holmes-like mystery which isn't just an amalgamation of plots and tropes from the books. Data solves the later but cannot overcome the spoiled part alone.
    • The episode "A Fistful of Datas", Worf and his son Alexander are in a Western holodeck program. Playing sheriff, Worf easily defeats the outlaw Eli Hollander, but Alexander complains it's much too easy, so he resets the program to a higher difficulty level. As Worf likes a challenging fight, he approves the increased difficulty.
  • In the Dinosaurs episode "Nuts to War", when the two-legged animals are unable to get pistachios, Fran asks Earl why he can't just have another nut snack. Earl dismisses the idea because they aren't shelled, providing no challenge in getting the nuts out of the shells.

     Sports  

  • An age-old argument comes up in sports, particularly at the college level and somewhat less so at the high school level, with regards to the level of competition of the opponent. Particularly prevalent in football and basketball, teams will sometimes deliberately schedule games against perennially weak programs to guarantee a win, reasoning that it builds confidence and allows teams to – once a large lead is built – work on untested plays or actual game situations that have given them trouble against better competition, and/or play deep reserves who normally wouldn't see playing time without having to pay much of or any price. On the other hand, other programs – including but not always traditionally strong programs – will schedule games against as strong of teams as possible, believing that one does not get better by consistently playing bad teams, and it is this latter philosophy that fits this trope ... beating or at least being competitive against strong teams, or even just the opportunity to learn from playing the better team after taking a brutal loss, no matter the strength of your own team, has more benefits in the end than soundly and decisively beating a pitifully weak team.

     Theatre  

  • In the French classical piece Le Cid by Pierre Corneille, there is a very famous line that says "À vaincre sans péril on triomphe sans gloire." Which roughly translates as "To win without risk is to triumph without glory."

     Video Games  
  • See Challenge Gamer for a player with this mindset. If a game does not have official ways of making the game hard enough to be satisfying for such a player (e.g. harder difficulty levels), they may attempt a Self-Imposed Challenge.
  • In Immortal Souls, Big Bad Draconis tells John that he can mind-control his Love Interest Allison into forgiving him for the wrong he did against her, and into saying she loves him. John considers it, but declines, saying he'd rather hope to someday hear it all from her and have her actually mean it.
  • A variant in Mass Effect: when the Reaper Sovereign approached the geth for an alliance, it offered the geth a Reaper body as a reward. A Reaper body would be capable of housing all the geth programs in a single structure, something that the geth would like very, very much, and have been working for hundreds of years on building themselves (they're nowhere close to completion). The geth (most of them, anyway), however, reject this offer, believing that they must "self-determinate", or build their own destiny, not rely on the aid of others.
  • This trope is commonly the reason why Carmen Sandiego went into crime; once an investigator herself, and a really good one, she eventually got bored with the catching crooks and decided to match wits against the world's detectives by committing thievery.

     Webcomics  

     Western Animation  

  • An episode of Quack Pack, "Dental Mental", has Huey accidentally get a mind control device surgically attached to his head, which he subsequently uses to win any contest, order anyone around, and eventually take over the world. However, he becomes unsatisfied once he is king of the world, knowing that no one truly respects him and he's being honored only because of the device on his head.
  • In the Futurama episode "Free Will Hunting", Bender is acquitted in court because, as a robot, all decisions are dictated by his programming and he is thus not responsible for his actions. This depresses Bender, since it means he has no choice in how he acts, and goes on a spiritual journey (which he hates doing).
    • Futurama also parodied The Twilight Zone episode above.
  • The Simpsons: When Homer becomes the leader of the Stonecutters lodge he gets very little satisfaction out of everyone being at his beck and call, and when they play poker they always show him their cards, etc. He changes the group so that they do good in the community, but they don't like doing that so they all quit the Stonecutters and form a new lodge, the Ancient Society of No Homers.

     Other  

  • Very broadly speaking, this is one of the explanations sometimes used by philosophers and theologians regarding the purpose of suffering.
  • Video game cheat codes. Same applies to using the console commands & level editors to make the game easier. It can be useful to get past a challenge you simply can't beat (possibly to see the story), it can be interesting to check out alternate ways to play, and it can be an absolute blast when playing around in a Wide Open Sandbox. But just giving yourself the best gear, activating God Mode, and blowing through a game unopposed can get old real fast.
  • Certain hunters, the great memetic badass President Teddy Roosevelt included, feel this way. It's not only cruel, but unsportsmanlike to hunt an animal from the safety of, say, a helicopter, with a gun that is approximately Space-Age in its killing tech.
  • The "Ignore them, they'll go away" school of handling being bullied relied on this trope, and has thankfully been acknowledged to be a generally lousy way of handling bullies. The expectation was if you don't respond to the bully they will get bored. As always when applying fiction tropes to Real Life, Reality Ensues and actual results vary widely, sometimes it works, but sometimes the bully is satisfied by the simple ongoing challenge of trying to get noticed again.


Nobody Thinks It Will WorkHappiness TropesPet the Dog
Moving the GoalpostsTest And Trial TropesOnly Idiots May Pass
Cheaters Never ProsperStock AesopsOld Media Are Evil

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