"What Baloo had said about the monkeys was perfectly true. They belonged to the tree-tops, and as beasts very seldom look up, there was no occasion for the monkeys and the Jungle-People to cross each other's path."
In real life, human vision covers a substantial arc (roughly 60° horizontally toward the nose, 100° away, 60° up, and 75° down.) Try it: Inside a building, look straight ahead, and see how much of the ceiling you can see while looking straight ahead and not at the ceiling—quite a bit, except for the part directly over you.
This tends to get ignored in fiction. Someone can see things that are directly in front of them, but it's easy to hide on the ceiling
, to the sides, or even up in the air if you can fly. This may also be related to the Rule of Perception
and Behind the Black
, since as long as the audience can't see the ceiling, it's assumed that nobody can.
There may be some real-life support for the idea of not noticing things on the ceiling. Police and military training spend a great deal of effort on teaching trainees to check “Up”
when they are searching or entering an area. On the other hand, fiction tends to apply this to things which would be much more obvious than a typical sniper (who by definition is trying to stay hidden) or ceiling bloodstain. There's really no reason why Spider-Man
should ever be able to hide on the ceiling unless it's either 40 feet high or a really
small room. In fiction people may even ignore moving objects that aren't directly in front of them, despite the fact that peripheral vision is sensitive to motion.
However, peripheral vision is different to different people. Some people, and in fact a great number of people, pay no attention, or don't even register things that are outside of their direct line of sight. As such, peripheral vision can sometimes be justified in fiction if the hidden person or object is close to the border of what one's eyes can cover.
A variation happens in video games where things can be hidden on the ceiling. The Player Character
, in real life, would be able to notice most of them casually. But the display seen by the player doesn't have much peripheral vision, being locked in by the frame of their monitor, so the player can't see them normally and must purposely look up. Most players don't do this much. This is why third person cameras are usually seen as Acceptable Breaks from Reality
, as they give back some of the awareness a real person would be expected to have. Note that some games justify the tunnel vision effect by putting the player in a full-face helmet.
Compare One-Dimensional Thinking
, where fleeing characters could avoid mishap by stepping aside rather than continue rushing forward. Also compare Failed a Spot Check
, where peripheral vision isn't necessarily the issue but something goes unnoticed anyway.
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- A somewhat memorable Tyson chicken commercial has a kid strong enough to hide on the ceiling. “We've got a climber!”
- Spider-Man does this constantly. Except when it doesn't work and he has to give up a photograph and autograph to escape, which thanks to his colorful costume, makes it difficult to NOT be seen.
- Heroes in Invincible can do pretty much anything without being noticed as long as they're up in the air. Typically this means using their powers out of costume without blowing their secret identities. There is a fairly constant lampshade hung on it.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- The burglars in Home Alone 3.
- Lampshaded in Get Smart: when 99 notices a KAOS agent on the plane, she tells Max to “use his peripherals.” Max, being who he is, merely widens his eyes and then says he can't see a thing.
- Actually, Dalip (played by The Great Khali) was sitting behind him, so there was no way Max could use his peripheral vision. 99 was trying to not draw attention to themselves.
- A particularly odd example comes from the 2007 Transformers, where Frenzy skitters right between two guards completely undetected (doubly odd in that Frenzy was also making plenty of noise as he did so), which the RiffTrax crew is quick to lampoon:
Mike: So, how's your peripheral vision, Bob?
Kevin (as "Bob"): Terrible! Yours?
- River hides from the doctors looking for her by climbing to the ceiling in the escape-from-the-lab opening of Serenity.
- And again to Jayne later on. Although that time, there was almost no light, and Jayne was drunk enough to think going after River over Mal's orders was a good idea.
- And again Spider-Man in the movies. In the first, he at least had the excuse of a rather high ceiling in his loft apartment.
- He's also smart enough to try and hide as close to directly over the heads of the people he's hiding from as he can.
- Alien? So many scenes where a friendly little bit of drooling by our favorite xeno-morph caused our soon-to-be-ex-protagonists to look up a little too late…
- Made worse in the second film because trained commandos fail to look up: at the beginning of the movie and near the end.
- Made better by the aliens having created their hive to let them blend in unnoticed.
- Every ninja film. And most spy films. Anything which involves stealth has them hiding on, in or around the ceiling. Sometimes by what can only be called friction.
- Léon a/k/a The Professional.
- Fairly justified, in that he was just inside the room, right above the door. The incoming SWAT team are all wearing respirators, which really seriously cut down all peripheral vision.
- This happens quite often in slasher movies, only with the killer standing to the side rather than clinging to the ceiling. Notably Friday the 13th and Halloween, and most notably Halloween II (1981), where a girl near the beginning looks out the door to see if she sees anything suspicious, but doesn't seem to notice that Michael Myers is almost directly ahead of her. She can't see him simply because he's standing slightly to her left, as if she's wearing those blinders that they put on horses.
- In Prom Night (2008). When the protagonist is under the bed she doesn't notice her friend's dead body right next to her until after she slowly looks to her right.
- (maybe?) justified by the fact that it was very dark and she was so terrified at this point that she probably wasn't paying attention to (or her brain just wasn't fully processing) all of her surroundings.
- Extremeties, with Farrah Fawcett, begins with the POV of a rapist stalking three separate women in a parking lot. The only people in the parking lot are three women and the rapist. Somehow, none of the women even glance his way whether or not he's sneaking up from behind, coming up from the side, or standing in front of them, but slightly to the side.
- A scene in Mr. & Mrs. Smith has Jane Smith jump out a skyscraper by using a special purse that turns into a metal rope that drops her right down onto a crowded sidewalk. No one seems to notice she came from several hundred feet in the air.
- Adventures in Babysitting. Thankfully the only one who noticed them wanted them to escape safely.
- And they were definitely high enough, especially when everyone else in the room was focused on a table full of documents and papers.
- In Avatar Last Shadow's one weakness appears to be maniacs falling out of the sky from above. Naturally, this is basically the only way to impress it enough to fly one.
- Jake manages to sneak attack a flying beast, after realizing since the monster is considered king of the sky, it'd never bother to think to look up.
- Though it also brings up the question of why apparently none of the Na'vi thought of doing this for centuries.
- Think about this for a moment. It's a giant dragon, it's moving, you'll be dropping from a moving platform, and it will happily eat you if you miss. Would you want to try that?
- There have been Toruk-Makto before Jake - Ney'tiri telling him the story of her grandfather's grandfather being Toruk-Makto was where he got the idea to try it in the first place. Chances are it's the sort of thing you'd only try if you were desperate to get every damn Na'vi in the whole region to listen to you.
- Hippy religion / cultural reasons.
- Pops up in A Christmas Story, when the teacher asks where Flick is after he stuck his tongue to the pole. The camera shot over her shoulder reveals that Flick was right there, out the window, right within her range of vision.
- A quite believable one in The Shawshank Redemption, when Andy wears the warden's shoes into his cell as part of his escape plan. Red's narration points it out: "The guard simply didn't notice. Neither did I. I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a man's shoes?"
- Alien vs. Predator has a giant Predator spaceship pass by overhead without the guards seeing anything. It helps that the ship somehow moves without making a sound, but those must be the worst guards ever.
- The Animorphs once went flying around a Yeerk base pretty much unseen, hugging the ceilings because "people don't look up much."
- It helped that the base was a massive Yeerk-made cave underneath their town.
- And they generally use flies, not birds-of-prey, while indoors. Seriously, who notices flies?
- In one odd case, however, they did use birds of prey in an underwater base, which would logically be somewhat cramped.
- In David Eddings books, the thieves are quick to point out the usefulness of rooftops. Almost justified as they explain guards with metal helms don't look up much. As well as the fact it was snowing rather heavily at the time, making it even likely no one would look up.
- Lampshaded more than once in Ranger's Apprentice - Will always hid as a child by hiding in the tops of trees, relies on not being seen by guards on the ground when climbing a wall because they won't look up (though, to be honest, he only relies on this when the guards are right beneath him), and was taught all throughout his training to always look up, just in case your enemy's there.
- In the Robin Hood novel The Outlaws of Sherwood, a younger outlaw wonders how the sheriff's foresters never seem to learn to look up. Little John dryly points out that if they don't see the outlaws, the outlaws are unlikely to bother them.
- Lampshaded in the novelization of Titan A.E., where Cale escapes from a couple of alien pursuers by climbing up into the ceiling. He guesses that those aliens "came from very flat worlds" since neither of them thinks to look up.
- Wrestlers tend to vary between this and omniscience, allowing them either to be completely blindsided by an opponent that does not have their full attention or to counter an opponent that they didn't even know was in the building as the situation dictates. This trope may be enforced on the viewer by framing shots so that surprises are not visible until they happen, and this often requires selective blindness from the commentary team as well to prevent them from spoiling it. Of course the Easily-Distracted Referee suffers from this permanently.
- In Warhammer Fantasy Battles, figures have a 90° line of sight as they stand in close formation (but can see things above them). This is mostly logical (if you're in the middle of a formation, you can't turn much to aim even if you do spot something), but it sometimes prevents a lone wizard to be able to cast spells to his left.
- Lone human characters and similar sized creatures on foot are treated as skirmishers, so the peripheral vision problem doesn't apply.
- Inverted in Warhammer 40,000. If even your toe is visible to the enemy, you and your entire squad might as well be waving giant flags, since that's enough for them to shoot at your entire squad and apparently kill people behind meter-long thick boulders (You do get the benefits of Cover in this case, but that isn't saying much.). Peripheral vision seems to be much more important in the 41st millenium.
- Discussed in an early comic of Darths & Droids. Most players will check the floors, around corners, under things... but only experienced players will ever explicitly check up, which so happens to be the direction experienced DM's put most nasty enemies and traps.
- This shows up rather frequently in jokes about pen-and-paper RPG players as "you can tell who is an experienced roleplayer by watching them enter a room. If they look up first, they know what they're doing."
- Note that the player character's peripheral vision in first-person shooter games is much smaller, as the field of view is generally only 75 (Half-Life 2) to 90 (most other games) degrees and not very wide. In these games, you really do have no peripheral vision. Some games allow the player to alter the FOV, but doing so can make the game uncomfortable to watch/play, especially on 4:3 screens(non-widescreen).
- In Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, you can't even tilt your head!
- In the opening cinematic of StarCraft: Brood War, one Terran marine on the battlefield asks another: "Where is the air support?" The other dude points to a humongous battlecruiser hovering directly overhead, which the first dude had somehow missed.
- Maybe he meant the real air support, since the battlecruiser in question, while most certainly airborne, did jack squat to support. (That, or he has serious tunnel vision from fighting Zerglings.)
- Or it could have been him wearing a helmet.
- The vaporware Third-Person Shooter StarCraft: Ghost would have given the player the ability to hide on the ceiling.
- The commentary for Portal mentions that since players seldom look up in games, they had to provide hints for the player to do so.
- While we're at it, this is what makes the Barnacles so terrifying in the Half-Life games — you're walking along all casual-like, and all of a sudden you're being yanked up towards the ceiling...
- Also in the Orange Box, Team Fortress 2 Demoman players exploit this tendency by placing sticky-mine traps on the ceiling. Bizarrely, this works even when the ceiling-mines are easily visible; for whatever reason, players tend to ignore even easily visible objects on the ceiling. (Blame the tunnel-vision effect you get when in high stress situations.)
- Some cheeky Spy players will also hide by standing on top of their enemies, sometimes not even bothering to disguise or cloak.
- It's a common joke in a hide-and-seek type mod (Prop hunt) to say that people never look up. Indeed, it's often that a barrel can hide on top of a billboard sign for the whole match and nobody would ever notice. Or, in a more extreme example, a capture point on top of a doorway.
- Although, for this specific case, it's not always a seeking player's fault: a good chunk of the bigger objects (such as control points, trees and so forth) that players can find themselves disguised as are not being rendered from beneath (as theoretically ingame you shouldn't be looking at what's below a control point), thus making it much easier for them to hide in higher places where the part below their prop is literally invisible, at least partially so.
- While Minecraft can fall under this, surprise creeper attacks can be avoided by setting the POV slider to "Quake Pro."
- An incredibly popular places to hide traps are in the ceiling, usually just above a doorway. Its amazing how many people won't notice a giant vaulted ceiling of gravel kept up only by torches. Since pressure plates and tripwires are still the most common way to set off traps (the former must be on ground the latter tends to be), its a surprise people fall for traps at all, but most players won't pay any attention to what they are walking over.
- The Tenchu videogame series, where you play a ninja in Hollywood Medieval Japan, makes tremendous use of this. Your main method of killing foes, (or avoiding them if they spot and chase you) is generally crouching on top of short nearby walls until they turn away and you can sneak up on them. Enemies almost never look up, and have a great deal of trouble seeing around corners.
- An extreme example of this are the Deku Palace guards in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Their line of sight, which you can actually see at night, is a straight line a few feet long and they will only notice you if you happen to come in contact with that line (this line may be longer during the day, but they still can't see at angles).
- Same with the Phantoms in Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks. In addition, they don't see you even if you're directly in their line of sight as long as you're far enough down the hallway.
- Another example occurs in Majora's Mask, to the player character. One of the mid-bosses of the Great Bay Temple is Wart, a giant eye covered in bubbles. The room you encounter it in is gigantic. You must switch to first person and manually look up, towards the ceiling, to see the gigantic eye attached to the roof, staring back at you. Only then will the fight begin.
- A similar thing happens with the first boss of Ocarina of Time, Queen Gohma. Although that boss isn't as good as hiding.
- In Ocarina of Time, the guards in the castle's courtyard stop to turn every so often, but otherwise can only see straight ahead. The ones outside the castle also seem to have a rather low line of sight.
- Likewise, in the Pokémon games, all NPCs have a sight range that is in a direct line in front of them. Even a 15 degree angle is enough not to get noticed. Of course, they and the player character can only move in 90-degree increments.
- While most people don't notice and blame it on lousy luck or timing, some trainers ARE programmed to turn and face you just as you pass by as if they saw someone in the corner of their eye and turned to look. However, it's less likely to happen if you're far away from them and are walking instead of running or using a bike, so they could probably just be hearing you.
- In Colosseum and XD, the player can move in any lateral direction - the full 360 degrees, that is. Unfortunately, the Peons can see and hear you in a greater radius as well.
- The guards in the Metal Gear Solid series have this problem (and they can only see about 10 feet in front of their own face), as you can see through your radar, which points out the guards' cone of vision. You can be standing literally right next to them (or even slightly in front) and they won't notice you. This is subtly corrected in the later games.
- This dates back to the original Metal Gear, where guards had to be in a direct line with you to see you; even being one row off made you invisible to them.
- Later games have it so that the harder difficulties give enemies almost 180-degree peripheral vision and a very long line of sight.
- The Alpha Section troops from Beyond Good & Evil, who can't see Jade unless they look at her. They can, however, hear fast movement. They have full-face helmets.
- Fallout 3 is relatively good about enemies noticing you sneaking around their peripheral... until you max out your Sneak skill. A character with the Silent Running perk is able to sneak attack just about anyone while wearing 50 lbs of futuristic plate mail, an irritatingly loud vacuum cleaner/leaf blower hybrid, and carrying the tons of tin cans, bottles, and various bits of junk this weapon uses as ammunition. Even while right in front of the enemy at point blank range, in some cases.
- At maxed out Sneak skill and using a Stealth Boy/Chinese Stealth Armor, the enemy won't notice you unless you fire a non-silenced weapon or bump into them. If you do, they'll instantly notice you.
- Though at that point it is partly justified by you being invisible.
- Played somewhat straight in the Boktai series, which rely heavily on sneaking. Most enemies will only come suspicious of you if you are in front of them, about a sixty-degree cone that extends out to seven paces maximum in front of them. The exceptions to this are blind enemies that you should kill with flame anyway, and enemies that can't alert other enemies to your presence. Having said that, making a noise like knocking on a wall or stepping in a puddle is enough to make every enemy in the room rush over to your spot.
- In one of the final cutscenes of Wing Commander Prophecy, Blair is surprised, aboard the alien wormhole gate, by an alien hiding on the ceiling. He's alerted only a brief moment before it attacks by a bit of slime dripping onto his gun.
- One of the most prominent stealth techniques of the first Splinter Cell game was the 'split-jump,' which allowed you to hide just above an enemy's head. Although you could sometimes still be spotted depending on the lighting. In later games, Sam can deliver an inverted Neck Snap while hanging from a beam.
- Similarly to the Phantom Hourglass example above, NPCs in "don't get spotted!" portions in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days won't notice you if you're right in front of them, as long as you stay far enough ahead; nor will they hear you if you're right behind them. Their range of sight is, however, an arc rather than a straight line.
- In the Assassin's Creed games, so long as they're not chasing you, provoked, or saw you climbing up, the guards on the ground never seem to notice you when you're up in the rafters or rooftops. The guards who are patrolling the rooftops will see you fine, though. Averted in later installments, however. If you're not particularly high up on the building or it's not tall enough and the guards are some distance away, they will notice you.
- In Batman: Arkham Asylum the mooks never see you hiding on the gargoyles unless you do something to draw their attention.
- Partially averted if they see you on the ground and you hook away within their line of sight. They will continue to shoot you anywhere as long as they can see you. The second you've mashed the RT/R2 button a few times, they don't notice you. And won't ever check the gargoyles even though they saw you go up.
- The same rules go for crawlspaces in the floor; they won't look down through grates unless they're already tracking you.
- Averted by Batman himself, who defends against and counterattacks mooks coming from behind as easily as those in front, particularly in the penultimate cutscene.
- The same goes for Batman: Arkham City, only with a few modifiers. First of all, some enemies are equipped with thermal goggles, and they will occasionally scan gargoyles to be safe. Second, Catwoman is playable and she has a Ceiling Cling - she's subject to the same rules as Batman (enemies won't see her up there unless they're tracking her), but it seems more blatant as Batman, at least, can hide in the shadows with a gargoyle blocking enemies' view; Catwoman's right in the open.
- Batman sits on top of the gargoyles by default, but if he hangs lower, he's not any more visible, despite being a big black yoyo just above someone's head. Then they notice the enemies you've done inverted takedowns on, which hang low on the same level. Some enemies do realize Batman hangs out on the gargoyles in the later portions and shoot at them even if you're not there, eventually bringing the vantage point down in a fit of Genre Savviness.
- In Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, soldiers never see you as long as you're above them. This could be justified, though, since they wear vision-obscuring helmets.
- The guards in Secret Agent Barbie seem to have this. In fact, you can see their exact field of vision on the minimap. You could be standing right next to one of the guards, but as long as you're not in that vision field, you won’t get noticed.
- In the video game for GoldenEye, one of the stages has you shooting out security cameras. Sounds straightforward enough, but one of the cameras is placed slightly higher up than the others, and you never see it within your normal field of vision, which can get frustrating as you run around trying to find that last camera.
- This is inflicted on the enemies in Prototype 2 by an upgrade which decreases the guards' fairly normal field of vision by 25%.
- The guards in Dishonored mirror Arkham's mooks by being unable to look up. Middle of the day, broad daylight, in a courtyard littered by guards? Just hide up on that street light which not only supports your weight, but sits above the guards' cone of vision. Speaking of said cone, you can use an ability to see it...and it's about two yards in distance on Normal.
- Averted in ''Gunpoint. Any guard's field of vision goes all the way up to the roof and all the way across the room, so jumping on one to knock him out or toss him out a window involves turning off the lights and hiding above doorways (which block their field of view) waiting for them to come through so you can drop on them.
- Subverted in Stroker and Hoop when the two detectives attempt to hide from the villain of the week by hanging from the ceiling. He ends up walking directly under them, sits down at his desk... and immediately contacts security to apprehend them, commenting that he doesn't understand why they thought he couldn't see them.
- Goes even further in an early episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Michelangelo enters a room. He, naturally, is looking straight ahead. He looks to his right, looks to his left. Then he looks in front of him again. Oops! Two slow-moving fugly mutants are there! Don't you hate that?
- Max Steel. Yet another hiding-on-the-ceiling example.
- While often played straight in The Spectacular Spider-Man, when the hero is fighting Venom at the school, they eventually end in the gym. Once Venom realizes Spider-Man is nowhere to be seen, the first thing he does is look at the ceiling.
- Linda Flynn-Fletcher of Phineas and Ferb may be the Most Triumphant Example. She never, ever sees what the boys are doing, even when it should be at least noticeable (most of their inventions are huge, after all). It doesn't help that the shots are usually angled to where the viewers can still see it, making it all the more egregious.
- In The Transformers, Brawn doesn't notice the Decepticon Laserbeak, in his cassette mode, sitting on his shoulder.
- Lampshaded in Transformers Prime by Wheeljack and Bulkhead during infiltration of a Decepticon base.
- In "It's About Time" of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight and her friends sneak into the palace and slip past several guards who by all rights should have seen them out of their peripheral vision. It turns out to be a subversion: Twilight and her friends are welcome in the palace, and the guards were simply ignoring them.
- The Slender Man has a disturbing tendency of managing to hide in plain sight, in glaringly obvious places. Preferred spots include standing in front of a forest (or in a forest) usually one of the Lost Woods variety, standing in broad daylight in positions where he should be blindingly obvious yet goes unseen, and directly behind you.
- Popular graffiti artist Banksy relies heavily on this while painting on bridges or buildings. He apparently once did graffiti right above some cops.
- Also, scouts and spies in real life. Baden-Powell (yes, him) tells a story in one memoir of escaping pursuit by freezing in place halfway up a ladder when the guard rounded the corner.
- In GURPS Bunnies & Burrows Steffan O'Sullivan cites a naturalist who saw a rabbit escape from a dog in very close pursuit by doing a sudden leap at a sharp angle and upwards, landing on a log, and standing absolutely still. The dog was about 10 feet away, but it didn't sniff upwards, because it was trying to follow the trail it had which was on the ground, and it didn't find the rabbit, which got away.
- There is a Real Life medical condition known as tunnel vision, which gives the afflicted these exact symptoms.
- It's also a truth that people may have a peripheral vision that allows them to see upwards, but aside from that most people don't actively look up. (In fact, most people focus on what's in the middle of their vision, and don't pay much attention to the peripheral, leaving that to the subconscious instead.)
- Fursuits frequently suffer from this to the point where alleviating (since outright preventing is not an option) this effect while maintaining a quality look marks the skill of a suit-maker. It is also the reason why suiters sometimes have spotters and handlers with them.
- In fact, pretty much any sort of costume where the entire head is covered causes this problem. Disney mascots, for example, have had numerous incidents where they have accidentally groped visitors when they tried giving hugs or handshakes for photographs.
- PSAs about Halloween safety recommend that trick-or-treaters wear face paint rather than masks to avert this trope.
- Deer hunters began using tree stands as most of deer's natural predators don't climb trees, and the deer tend not to look up into trees. Due to this additional pressure, in many areas where tree stands are used, deer are adapting to look up. The horizontal peripheral vision of prey animals tends to be an inversion, as their eyes are usually positioned to allow a much wider field of view than humans' (predator/scavenger) eyes.
- Many individuals with strabismus diplopia have extremely limited peripheral vision. While the overall visual field may be greater than is often seen in tunnel vision, the usable part that the individual can actually see might well qualify them for this trope in real life. Additionally, individuals with extremely poor vision may experience a form of this phenomena when they cannot clearly see outside the frames of their prescription lenses.
- Tunnel vision also occurs as a result of stress in combat conditions; again, police and military training tries to avert this.
- Rookie fighter pilots are warned to fight the natural tendency of scanning for threats in the horizontal plane. They also tend to want to turn in one plane rather than climb/dive or chandelle (combo turn/altitude change) in a dogfight (also depends on whether they are flying an angles airplane or a energy airplane).
- In real life, most people tend to not notice things that happen close to the border of what their eyes can cover. The expression "...out of the corner of my eye" comes from how unaware most people actually are to things moving outside of their direct line of sight, and therefore how aware someone who spots something moving "with the corner of their eye" must be.