Personal Gain Hurts

We stepped up on our important things
So we could reach the highest apple
We realized how precious they were after we lost them
Just another mistake we made when we were young
Shangri-la, angela (opening to Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor)

Whenever a character consciously goes against the rule of Comes Great Responsibility, he soon finds out that personal gain can be very bad for you. Karma seems to have it in for people who want to use their powers for something other than saving people or fighting crime. This seems to be limited to The Hero, as the Big Bad is able to get away with anything.

If you suddenly found out you had superpowers, wouldn't you use them for, shall we say, questionable ends? Well, don't, because Personal Gain Hurts!

A Fantastic Aesop.

See also Reed Richards Is Useless, Ambition Is Evil.

Examples

Anime

Comic Books
  • Spider-Man:
    • The definitive example is of course Spider-Man's origin story — very soon after using his new powers to earn some cash in a wrestling ring, Spidey's uncle dies. Harsh. Might not directly count, however — Spider-Man could have conceivably had both a profitable wrestling career and Uncle Ben still being alive if only he'd bothered to stop that thief running right past him....
    • Which is explored in a What If?? story, where Spider-Man realizes that stopping the thief would be good for his publicity. He later becomes a manager for other costumed heroes wanting a taste of the superstar life, including the X-Men who gains a much better public image as a result. Unfortunately, ignoring the crime-fighting and neglecting their combat skills gets them killed.
    • He does continue to make some money on the side by selling pictures of himself to the Bugle... which uses those photos to tarnish Spidey's reputation.
    • In Ultimate Spider-Man, Spidey can't control his image to such a degree that footage of him actually doing stunts is cheaper than CGI because they didn't have to pay the stuntman. Spidey is annoyed. Later down the line, the Kingpin gains controlling interest of the movie studio that made the Spider-Man movie and all related merchandise, setting up the simple problem that if Spider-Man does nothing about his criminal empire, the Kingpin makes money off of crime. If he does something about the criminal empire, the Kingpin makes money off of tourists buying Spidey-shirts.
    • Averted in Spider-Girl. Mary Jane realizes that all of that time Peter spent wishing he could use his face for some sort of profit could be averted with their daughter, so she opens up the Spider-Girl Store to sell Spider-Girl merchandise. Mayday's initially angry when she finds out about the store (thinking someone else was profiting on her image), but when MJ revealed the truth (and that the proceeds were going towards college), she was actually thrilled.
  • In contrast, Tony Stark and Reed Richards have made a ton of money selling Iron Man and Fantastic Four merchandise, movies, comics, etc. Spidey has tried to get legal control of his image, but he has no recourse unless he reveals his secret identity.
  • Marvel's Civil War story arc opens on a group of supers with a reality TV show. Sweet Christmas, does this ever end badly.
  • Booster Gold initially became a "hero" because he wanted to make money off the fame and the endorsements that would follow. It didn't go so well. After decades of being a Butt Monkey, comic relief, and going through Break the Haughty on more than one occasion, he has finally given up on this idea. Instead he's now the protector of time itself; to avoid being erased from history by his enemies he can't let anyone else think that he's anything more than a stupid greedy coward.
  • Averted with the Zatara family, who use their powers both as superheroes and stage magicians.

Film
  • In Jumper, teleporting teenager David draws the attentions of the anti-Jumper Paladins because of the "impossible" bank robberies he performed using his abilities in order to fund his hedonistic lifestyle. Teleporting a guy you have a beef with into one of the locked vaults you robbed when you already have Paladins on your trail, but they don't yet know where your family is, was another ill-thought out selfish act that didn't work out well for him.

Literature
  • In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Roald Dahl opens a digression from the story to describe the inventive Karmic Death he would have given Henry Sugar for using his powers for personal gain, "had this been a made-up story instead of a true one."

Live-Action TV
  • Trope name partly taken from Charmed and its obsession with this subject, one example even leading to an alternate Bad Future!
    • Lampshaded in "Mr. Wrong", after Paige is done sexing up the titular character (whom she conjured for that sole purpose):
    Paige: Oh my god, if someone mentions the words "Personal Gain" one more time I am going to scream!
    • For "good" characters, the use of their powers for minute tasks such as retrieving something from another room with telekinesis is Hand Waved. However, manipulating events to improve your life is grounds for the removal of one's powers...
    • The rules on personal gain are actually fairly reasonable when you see what the consequences are. The Charmed Ones using their power to make a rude neighbour step in dog poo is the catalyst for Phoebe murdering a man in the future.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, everyone treats it as very wrong when Willow uses her magic to do mundane things. This was mostly because Willow couldn't - and wouldn't - control it. Tara would use magic for fairly mundane things as well, but she could control her power, being much more experienced and mature than her girlfriend.
    • In the context of Willow's "magic addiction" that season, Willow is like the alcoholic who is constantly sneaking a beer during the day and drinking herself to sleep each night, while Tara is a social drinker who has a drink or two to relax but never lets herself get drunk.
  • Sometimes played straight, but mostly averted, in Heroes. In Volume One, Hiro and Ando are beaten up and declared Persona Non Grata in Las Vegas after using Hiro's power to cheat. On the other hand, the leaders of the Company explicitly used their powers to make money, as does Micah Hawkins.
  • When Evie in Out of This World used her powers to benefit herself (such as stopping time so she could ace a test in school), her alien father would "ground" her by preventing them from working for a while afterwards.
  • In Kamen Rider Gaim, protagonist Kota differs from his predecessors by trying to use his Rider powers in mundane situations (such as his part-time jobs) and later makes money off by fighting in the Mons battle game. Though it isn't directly related, shortly afterwards he has his first encounter with Kamen Rider Zangetsu, who beats Kota within an inch of his life. This makes Kota realize that being a Rider is a Matter of Life and Death and terrifies him so badly that he undergoes a 10-Minute Retirement entirely out of fear that if he becomes Gaim again, Zangetsu will find and kill him.

Tabletop Games
  • Played with in Mage: The Awakening, where using one's powers for self-indulgence and gain can ding the old Karma Meter... except really most characters start at Wisdom 7 (out of a maximum of 10) and lower levels are more relaxed about such things. A Wisdom 10 mage would get hit with a degeneration roll for using his magic for personal gain (but you have to be almost a living saint to get Wisdom 10 in the first place), but for most starting characters dabbling in alchemy to cover your bills won't hurt unless you perform vulgar magic around a Sleeper and suffer Paradox as a result.
  • A constant threat in Dead Inside. Selfish acts strongly risk further soul decay, which puts your life at risk. That said, if you do anything selfless or giving to cultivate soul growth, growing a new soul point is a wonderful, invigorating feeling. (And soul points are usable as currency and power in the Spirit World, meaning in this case Personal Gain Is Pleasant.)

Western Animation
  • In Transformers Animated, Sari Sumdac often treats the powerful Allspark Key like a toy - powering up garbage cans and toy planes with it. It's gotten her into a lot of trouble - especially regarding the time she used it to accidentally evolve Soundwave into a fully fledged Dance Dance (Robot) Revolution machine—though that last was actually something Megatron directly tricked her into doing.
  • The titular character of Ben 10 frequently follows this trope. It also frequently leads to him meeting the Villain of the week.
  • Parodied in The Cleveland Show when they meet a homeless man with magical powers, but he tells his family he can't use his powers for personal gain.