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, No Guy Wants to Be Chased, 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.

Converse to Misery Builds Character, which is about how problems can (sometimes) be good for you rather than a complete lack of problems being bad.

Examples:

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    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.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Thor eventually becomes Almighty Thor, and uses his new abilities to completely curb-stomp everybody in his path. He says fighting opponents who can't win is boring, and asks if anybody can give him a real challenge. Touma Kamijou obliges by weathering a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown from him, then tricking him into stepping in the path of a passing train.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • One of Goku's defining traits is that he will always fight fair if he can, and will often hold back his full potential in order to make things more interesting if the stakes aren't too high. Given that he is literally the most powerful fighter in the universe, 99.9% of people in said universe wouldn't be able to touch him otherwise. Shown in his afterlife training when the Western Kai challenges him to show off his moves with ten tons of weight attached to each limb:
      King Kai: Goku, just transform into a Super Saiyan!
      Goku: Well yeah, but won't that make it too easy?
    • Like Goku, Vegeta loves a good fight and fighting people that can push his limits. Unlike Goku, however, who enjoys fighting people who can beat him, Vegeta only wants his opponents to be strong enough to last for a while. This can be seen when he fights Goku on Earth. At first, he enjoys toying with Goku since he assumes that he's only strong enough to give him a decent battle, but as soon as Goku begins to overpower him, he completely loses it. Also, when he fights Semi-Perfect Cell, he quickly becomes bored after knocking Cell around for a few minutes and complains about how Cell is so weak that he can't fully test his new power. Cell takes advantage of this and tells Vegeta that if he becomes complete that he will easily beat him. Vegeta allows Cell to absorb Android 18, assuming Cell will only become strong enough to give him a good fight, not that he can actually beat him.
    • After becoming perfect, Cell quickly becomes bored after stomping Vegeta into the ground and Trunks' Ultra Super Saiyan form proves to be too slow to give him a good challenge. So, he decides to create the Cell Games so Goku and his friends can become stronger to challenge him and test his perfect power. He never once considers the possibility that any of the Z-Fighters could become strong enough to defeat him, only expecting them to be able to give him a good fight. This eventually leads Cell to pushing Gohan to his breaking point so he can unleashed his hidden power after Goku declares Gohan to be the strongest fighter in the Cell Games. He gets his wish, and promptly get his ass kicked, resulting in an epic Villainous Breakdown.

     Comic Books 
  • This trope sums up the Joker's relationship with Batman. The Clown Prince of Crime absolutely refuses to merely kill the Caped Crusader, explaining that he needs to best Batman with an extraordinary crime before he goes. In one comic, Batman, who's already exhausted from battling another villain, stumbles onto one of the Joker's simpler schemes and collapses without much of a fight. The Joker briefly contemplates killing him, but eventually decides that it's too easy, and leaves the Dark Knight unconscious without harming the crimefighter.
  • In DC Vs. Marvel, Wonder Woman discovers Thor's missing hammer, misplaced by his fight with Captain Marvel. Grabbing it, she ends up with Thor's power on top of her own. When Storm of the X-Men arrives for her fight with Wonder Woman, the latter muses that she could easily win with her new power... the considers it boring and unfair and discards the hammer and the power for a slightly more fair fight.

    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.
  • A deleted scene from The Lost World: Jurassic Park has Roland Tembo bringing this trope up with Ajay. Tembo notes that he has become such an effective hunter that not only do his latest hunting expeditions wrap up too easily to be thrilling, but he has also started feeling bad for the relatively defenseless animals he is killing. This is what motivates Ajay to bring him along on the Isla Sorna expedition to hunt the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex.

     Literature  
  • Angela from Super Powereds felt this way about refusing the title of Captain Starlight. While she could have never gone to the trouble of earning it, she wouldn't have felt like she was actually making a choice in deciding that she didn't want to just mimic the fame of her grandfather. She also feels this way about winning Chad's affection, since most other male characters she can easily seduce.
  • 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 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 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 (1959) episode "A Nice Place to Visit", inveterate criminal Rocky Valentine 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, whereupon his guide Pip remarks, "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 "The Neutral Zone" Ralph Offenhouse has this view regarding the 24th century society (what little he knows of it) since he was a financier, a job the moneyless economy of the Federation has no use for. Picard tells him that the challenge is to "improve yourself" (what this means isn't explained).
    • 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 latter but cannot overcome the former problem 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.
  • The Hirogen from Star Trek: Voyager are like this. The more powerful and cunning the prey, the more enjoyable the hunt. This comes back to bite them on the ass when they program holographic prey that become more dangerous than their creators.
  • 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.
  • This trope was a running theme on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. The witches and warlocks who inhabit the Other Realm have the power to bend reality to their will, getting almost everything they want with a few simple gestures or incantations; many of them also snub Helda, Zelda, and Sabrina for choosing to live in the mortal world and having to actually work to get things. But on at least two occasions, it's revealed that there's general dissatisfaction among magic users:
    • Sabrina's Aunt Vesta lives in "the Pleasure Dome," a place full of perpetual enjoyments (a restaurant with desserts that make you thinner, a giant amusement park, a mall that never closes, etc.) At the end of the episode, Vesta remarks that the happiness she gets from living there is rather shallow...but then goes with it anyway, laughing that it still feels good.
    • Sabrina's cousin Marigold and her two daughters are not only witches, but also extremely wealthy and spoiled—to the point where the girls don't even dress themselves without using magic. When Marigold breaks the cardinal rule of witchdom by telling a mortal (a plumber who she's fallen for) about her and her daughters' powers, all three lose them. While the children are devastated, Marigold comments that she had magic for hundreds of years, but it never truly made her happy; living in the mortal world for a few days has.
  • In The Librarians, this is at least part of the reason why Ezekiel Jones is on the team. Before becoming a Librarian-in-Training, he was a world-class thief, and as Stone points out, with the resources the Library has given him, he could rob the world blind with barely any effort. Ezekiel replies by saying that that would be too easy, and he likes a challenge.

     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.
    • Video game reviewer "Yahtzee" Croshaw theorizes that "Challenge" is one third of what makes a good video game, generally speak (the other thirds being Context and Catharsis). Challenge being relative to player ability naturally, and if it's pants poopingly hard for someone, they might not find it fun to grind through. However, if it's just outright insultingly easy, no one will be able to wake their brain enough to be able to have fun.
  • 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. She was originally an ACME detective (or a former spy, depending on how old the game is), and eventually became the absolute best the agency had ever seen. After a while, though, Carmen became too good at her job, and pulled a massive Face–Heel Turn by becoming a criminal, reasoning that it was a lot more fun to try to outwit her former employers rather than work for them.
  • A running theme in the Sly Cooper games. Sly and his entire family have spent all of their lives robbing master criminals rather than ordinary people, as the latter poses absolutely no challenge at all. Sly sums up their attitude in the first game: "You rip off a master criminal, you know you're a master thief."
  • Knights of the Old Republic: Canderous cites this as the reason he despises the Mandalorian mercenaries and bandits the party encounters. He considers them embarrassments to the armor and dishonorable thugs shaking down farmers and settlers, "taking scraps when they should be taking worlds!" It's also the reason he signs on with a boatload of Jedi and Republic sympathizers. Cracking heads for the local branch of the local crime syndicate is no fun at all - going up against Darth Malak and the massive Sith army in a stolen smuggler's boat? Yeah, that's more like it!

     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 and 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" strategy of dealing with school bullies relied on this trope. The expectation was if you didn't respond to the bully, they'd get bored and leave you alone. As always when applying fiction tropes to Real Life, reality ensued. Actual results of this technique vary widely; sometimes it works, but sometimes the bully is satisfied by the simple ongoing challenge of trying to get noticed again. In any case, "just ignore them" has been acknowledged to be a generally lousy way of handling bullies.

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