Possession Implies Mastery
"How do people in movies always know how to do this stuff without practice?"
A reasonably common fallacy based on the notion that the possession of a piece of technology, excluding things specifically described as a Black Box
, implies that the owner has a full understanding of its workings and mechanisms, the principles on which it operates, and can adapt and use those principles in other matters in a reliable way, and can even undermine them as necessary.
In other words, anyone who owns
a car is fully capable of building
a car, and ought to be able to build an anti-car weapon.
This makes more sense when dealing with governments, mind you, who are both interested in and good at reverse-engineering; on the other hand, this presupposes that other cultures' governments are similar to that of the US.
Also, a character who is explicitly responsible for repair and maintenance of a piece of technology as well as operating it is likely to understand the underlying physics of its operations in great detail: The chief engineer of a nuclear-powered submarine probably could
design a nuclear reactor, or at least explain the physics to a physicist from the early 1930s well enough to get the ball rolling on a prototype. Still, different cultures do
have different ideas about the dissemination of knowledge; a Slave Race
or the conscript-heavy military of a paranoid autocracy may not be entrusted with such information lest they betray it to the enemy.
This fallacy is often reinforced by Mr. Fixit
, who generally can adapt any piece of technology he gets his hands on to do whatever the plot calls for — especially if he's a Technopath
Compare Instant Expert
. Contrast Cargo Cult
, Clarke's Third Law
, Scavenger World
(where people forgot how to make a lot of things After the End
), How Do I Shot Web?
(the inverse of this trope with superpowers), You Shouldn't Know This Already
(which stops gamers from using something they have before they learn how in-game), Low Culture, High Tech
(where the this is not the case for a low tech culture using high tech gadgets), Black Box
and Loyal Phlebotinum
Has nothing to do with Demonic Possession
(although one might wonder how easy it is for demons to work out how to use their hosts' bodies...)
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Anime and Manga
- Conspicuous by its absence in Macross, where barely understood higher technology acts like it. Multiple plot points involve the protagonists being forced to use a foolhardy technique or maneuver and having it blow up in their faces. The Cool Ship first takes off using alien antigravity generators, which proceed to tear through the hull and float off into the sky. The second attempt is done with ordinary engines. On the other hand, the crew then pulled off an extreme low altitude space fold jump to outmaneuver the Zentraedi, leaving them astonished that their enemy could do something they thought impossible. The inexperienced and desperate Macross crew did not know that themselves and succeeded by pure luck. This actually works somewhat in their favor since their enemies are kept continually off guard with each stunt, unable to decide if their completely unpredictable enemies are pathetic amateurs or half-crazed tactical geniuses.
- On the other hand, the Zentraedi could operate all their technology — but when something broke (such as the big screen in Breetai's command deck), all they could do was clean up the mess and make do without because they were kept deliberately ignorant of how to create or repair their own technology.
- This lack of understanding actually kicked off the plot. The crew of the Macross found out too late that the original owners of their ship had rigged it to fire its main cannon on the first Zentraedi ship that came in range, thus throwing humanity into a war with the aliens. more to the point, the low altitude space fold jump mentioned above ended up bringing an entire island (with over 5000 civilians) along for the ride, out to around the orbit of Pluto (they had intended to jump behind the moon. WITHOUT the island, in case you were wondering). Better yet, the fold space generator that they had used to make the jump literally vanished into thin air during the maneuver.
- This is the power of the Gandalfr Familiar, the position held by Saito, in Zero no Tsukaima. If it's made for battle, he can use it. This is demonstrated when a shiny display sword given to him by Kirche completely fails in battle.
- Haru Glory's Ten Commandments sword in Rave Master. It has ten forms, and Haru seems to know exactly what every form does the moment he needs it, such as bringing out Runesave to save Elie without having to kill her. This is however justified since the Rave of Knowledge explicitly provides this insight.
- In Bleach, this is quite the opposite for pretty much anyone with spirit abilities. Especially captains, no matter how much of a genius they're stated to be. Which explains just why characters like Ichigo and Toushiro can keep getting pretty much curb-stomped, despite their power levels and genius. They have it — doesn't mean they have mastered it yet. Kubo seems to take great pleasure in avoiding this trope.
- Kenpachi Zaraki is the best example of subverting this trope. He owns a zanpakuto... but to him, it's just a normal sword. He makes up for the lack of zanpakuto abilities with monstrous strength and spiritual pressure. Similarly, lesser shinigami have zanpakuto without abilities, but it's implied that for most shinigami, gaining the abilities simply comes with time and effort, leading to a increase in rank and power.
- Potentially utilized in the latest arc A Vandenreich member has literally stolen a bankai, and gloats on how he will kill his opponent with it. The ensuring attack is completely ineffective and he gets stomped in less than a second, and its pointed out that the attack was much less powerful than it was under its original owner.
- A lot of characters in Code Geass seem to be able to pilot Knightmare Frames, despite having found themselves using them for the first time. Somewhat justified in that Suzaku mentioned having had some military-mandatory training on simulators in the first episode, Lelouch having used the Ganymede to make giant pizzas during previous school festivals, and Kallen having assumedly had some time to practice with that old Glascow. Still, a line from the Abridged Series is used as the page quote for Falling into the Cockpit...
- Averted in Gantz. The main protagonist (among others) are given special combat suits and weaponry, but they have literally no idea of how they work until they figure it out by trial-and-error.
- Usually averted in One Piece with the Devil Fruits (especially with Luffy), but not so much for Kaku and Kalifa. While being top-ranked assassins with all sorts of cool superpowers, they were given Devil Fruits to be even tougher. Only a few hours later do they appear having nearly complete mastery over their powers, with the exception of Kaku, who, while shifting forms, accidentally enters his animal form instead of his hybrid.
- Played straight with Usopp. He can operate or make wondrous inventions out of anything he can put his hands on, including a cannon (which he's never operated before), advanced fireworks, and the bizarre "Dials" of Skypiea (which he could never, ever, have seen or researched). His immediate understanding of any object in his possession would border on intuitive aptitude if he weren't so miserable at making repairs to the ship.
- The magical girls of Il Sole penetra le Illusioni seem to have an inherent understanding of how to use their powers. Which would help explain why they're not actually trained.
- At the beginning of the second season of Magical Doremi, the heroines get new versions of their Dreamspinners, which require way different manouvers than the first onenote , and they can easily do it without getting explanations on how to do it like it happened with the first one.
- Subverted mercilessly in Marvel Comics' GLX-mas Special #1, where the second Grasshopper is taking his first jumps in a brand-new super-suit. After foiling a villain, Grasshopper is approached with a dinner invitation by his unwitting sister. After denying her advances, he makes a heroic exit by engaging the suit's "Maximum Jump" ability, which propels him into space, killing him instantly. Sidenote: to this day, there have been three Grasshoppers in Marvel continuity, and not one have them have survived more than a single issue. The most recent one debuted and was killed in all of three panels.
- Played totally straight with the character Adept from Strikeforce: Morituri, whose superpower was the ability to analyze and understand anything she touched. Since their primary opponents were a race of alien Planet Looters with scavenged technology, this was very useful.
- Averted for most of the Blue Beetle legacy. The first one, Dan Garett, got powers from it by saying a magic word (ultimately revealed to be misusing it, and the magic likely damaged its true function). Then Ted Kord came into possession of the scarab but never got it to work, instead borrowing its motif for his costume and gadgets. It was only the third owner, Jaime Reyes, who had it work as intended - but he still hasn't mastered it; the scarab activated because it chose to, and he still argues with it over what to do at times.
- Ultimate X-Men member Colossus lampshades this when Weapon X forces him to stop a train, pointing out that just because he's super strong doesn't mean he's strong enough to do this though it turns out he is. Weapon X doesn't care.
- This being the Ultimate Universe, things aren't quite that simple though. His initial warning is true, he doesn't have super strength; this was later proved to be a side effect of a Super Serum called Banshee that amplifies mutant powers. Without it, Colossus would have just been a metal man, too heavy (it's implied) to even breathe for any extended period of time. In true comic book form, they retconned this by saying this was why he was working for the Russian mob in the first place, they paid for (or were a meants of payment for) the drug. By the end of that arc, however, it seems that the super strength is now a permanent side effect, effectively keeping Status Quo Is God.
- Which brings up the Fridge Logic of how Colossus still had his strength after weeks of captivity. But then, that will happen with a story about a drug made out of Wolverine.
- In a similar vein, a recent story looking back on the early days of Superman's career shows that the man of steel knows he's strong and invulnerable but doesn't know how strong and invulnerable he is. He briefly panics when his lungs fill with lava while submerged.
- Discussing and averted in an issue of Transformers Generation 2, when Starscream's gotten his mitts on the Matrix. Optimus and Megatron are being dragged to their death, and Megatron asks Optimus if he can't just override Starscream's control. Optimus tells him that this isn't the case with the Matrix, which Starscream goes on to prove when it turns out the Matrix is subtly making him nicer.
- Averted in With Strings Attached when John is handed a sword, but wields it rather inexpertly.
- Averted in XCOM Second Contact: The reason why humanity hasn't advanced too much from what they had at the end of the Ethereal War was because they spent the past century-plus having to learn the base principles of their tech rather than just randomly slapping things onto blackboxes like they did back then.
- Averted in The Universiad with Forerunner tech. Despite having had the Forum for thousands of years, scientists and engineers still have yet to fully replicate the power of its equipment. The Forerunners are that far ahead.
- A little known UK movie called Morons from Outer Space plays with this trope, as the aliens who crash-land on Earth are assumed to be a higher order of intelligence. In point of fact, they are the interstellar equivalent of ignorant tourists who rented a camper and ended up running off the road in the wrong town.
- The heroes of the film Spaced Invaders are the most incompetent members of their race.
- In the Iron Man film, Obadiah Stane pilots powered armor (that wasn't even made by him) for the first time and is immediately able to go toe to toe with Iron Man, who spent several (hilarious) weeks practicing with his suit. Justified as Stane planned to sell his Mini-Mecha Evil Knockoff on the black market, so he just crammed it with computer assistance — and after Stark yanks out a few wires, he not only can't hit a human-sized target at six meters with automatic weapons and missiles, but has to open the cockpit to see.
- In Pathfinder, the hero grew up with a Viking sword, but his only practice with it appears to be occasionally swinging it around, alone, in forest clearings. When the Vikings show up again, he proves to be a skilled swordfighter.
- It's actually a partial aversion. When he's swinging his sword in the forest, it's a Training Montage. It's vaguely implied that he practices for a long time. At the beginning of the scene he holds the sword wrong and swings it awkwardly. By the end of the scene he's holding it correctly and swinging it much more skillfully.
- Averted in District 9 when Wikus gets into a suit of power armor and is shown stumbling around awkwardly. His good aim with alien handguns is shown (via the sophisticated HUD) to be a function of the suit itself, being highly automated and taking high-level orders via a semi-biological link. It's implied that if he actually knew how to use the thing, he would have been able to tear through the mercenaries like tissue paper; the auto-pilot curbstomps an entire gang in about ten seconds.
- Averted in Ghostbusters. Harold Ramis has gone on record for stating that the key was to portray the Ghostbusters as really trigger-happy and nervous when they're on their first bust.
- In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker assumes that because Qui-Gon Jinn has a lightsaber, he must be a Jedi. When Qui-Gon jokingly retorts that he could have alternatively killed a Jedi and snatched the lightsaber, Anakin claims that no one would ever be able to kill a Jedi.
- A bit Harsher in Hindsight, considering what this here Anakin guy would grow up to do...
- The Jawas are known to be experts in scavenging and re-purposing even derelict junk, turning it into workable technology without having any real understanding of the mechanical processes involved. They don't comprehend how the EMP discharge from an ion blaster creates a power-surge through a droid's circuits. They just figure out that if you attach a restraining bolt to a stripped-down blaster and fire it at a droid, that droid gets paralyzed.
- Averted in Terminator when Kyle Reese talks about how the resistance captured the time portal device to send him back to the 1980s. The consulting psychiatrist for the police asks him how it works and gets shut down with "I didn't build the fucking thing!!"
- Sarris in Galaxy Quest apparently adheres to this trope, insisting that the Captain must know everything about his ship, including the intimate workings of the Omega 13. Nesmith finally has to reveal the fact that the "historical records" aren't real and he isn't really a captain to convince Sarris that he really doesn't know anything about the Omega 13.
- Subverted in The Watch: "I'm not an engineer, I didn't built it. I mean do you know how your cellphone works?"
- The Fithp in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's 1985 novel Footfall are a young alien species who came across a cache of technological knowledge left by another, older species and built their entire civilization around it. However, they never developed any kind of science and have a cultural tunnel-vision centered around the technologies in the cache; not only are they unable to analyze or extrapolate base principles from the ancient knowledge, but they cannot imagine or cope with a technology not laid out in detail for them in the cache.
- The Yuuzhan Vong in the Star Wars Expanded Universe consider it heresy to even consider attempting to devise new biotechnology. Their race has possessed and used for their entire recorded history a cache of biotech they claim was given to them by the gods. New designs have secretly been introduced by their Supreme Overlord, who claimed the designs came from (fictional) parts of that cache only he can access.
- This trope is lampshaded in the The Corellian Trilogy, where people who live on Centerpoint Station deny having perfect knowledge of how the station works. The character in question proceeds to ask the heroes how much they actually know about the technology behind their own spaceships. (Hint: few people in real life actually know how to build a jet airplane, and even fewer in the Star Wars universe know how to build a spaceship, especially a hyperdrive-capable one.)
- Also invoked briefly in the Revenge of the Sith novelization: Anakin Skywalker manages to land an alien ship whose controls he's never seen before, which wasn't designed to be landed in an atmosphere, while half of the spacecraft is missing and the remaining half is on fire. Because he's just that good (or because the Plot is with him).
- Truth be told, he didn't so much land the thing as he just artfully crashed it without getting anybody killed. It's still pretty badass flying though.
- Lampshaded in both the novel and the film when he comments that "Under the circumstances, I'd say the ability to pilot this thing is irrelevant."
- The Posleen of John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata. All of their tech was ripped and copied from the withdrawn from the galaxy and negligent Aldenata (in a sort of angry Cargo Cult fashion) and they only vaguely understand how it works, but they can, and do, produce more. The limited AIs and the 'Net' that controls their society is copied into the new systems, and when long unused alarms go off people don't understand what Incoming Artillery Strike means.
- Played with by Mostly Harmless. Arthur Dent's only practical skill is making sandwiches, so when he crashes on a primitive alien world he can't offer any of humankind's knowledge and inventions ("He couldn't even make a toaster"). But the alien villagers still venerate him as 'The Sandwich Maker' since they hadn't thought of the idea.
- Averted in the Honor Harrington novels where Admiral Shannon Foraker is quite frank about how even when they capture Mantie technology they can't actually use it because they don't have the same tech base or miniaturisation technology, but that it's still worthwhile because it gives them ideas on how to do it, and how to develop countermeasures.
- Subverted in The Tommyknockers. The eponymous entities have no clue HOW their stuff works, but somehow managed to figure out how to make it.
- Inverted in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where it becomes a key plot point that merely wielding a certain wand is not enough to be its "true" master. However, there is no requisite knowledge the wielder might lack, just the requisite action of "defeating" the old master.
- Averted in Harry Potter as a whole. Just because you have a broomstick/wand/crystal ball/whatever doesn't mean you can use it without going to school first, except for the main character, who knows how to fly a broom well enough to make the Quidditch team without a full lesson.
- Averted in The Bartimaeus Trilogy, where Nathaniel gains possession of an extremely powerful magical artifact and tries to use it against his enemy. Bartimaeus notes that there's no chance of him being able to master it on his first try, but stops when he succeeds in generating a massive surge of magical energy. Then he loses control and the backlash knocks him unconscious.
- In the final book demons possessing people run into this problem, having very little idea how to actually work their new bodies. At one point the immensely powerful demon Nouda is seen being helped to his feet by a lesser demon who's had a body longer, after he fell over and started twitching.
- This is the primary ability of Berserker. If he touches anything that could remotely be considered a weapon, he instantly is able to use it like a master. Worse, he corrupts it with his mana and powers it up so that it's more powerful than it would otherwise be. This works on everything from swords to clubs to gatling guns to F-15 fighter jets.
- Specifically averted with Archer, whose primary ability is that he owns all the treasures in the world, including famous mythological weapons. He states himself that his wealth has long since exceeded his own knowledge and his primary fighting style is shooting ancient, super-powerful weapons at his enemies. It's implied that he couldn't just pick up any old sword in his treasury and use it to the same level of skill as its original owner, if very well at all.
- The Gateway books involve a lot of this. The eponymous station contains many ships, each with an FTL drive and a navigation system that works by pushing a few buttons. Unfortunately, nobody quite knows how the ships work or how to navigate them. Humans explore the galaxy with them by pushing the buttons in different combination and seeing where the ships goes. Hope you brought enough supplies to survive the trip there and back(not that you know how long the trip is going to be). Some ships just don't come back.
- Scott Adams discusses this in relation to UF Os in his book, The Dilbert Future. He points out that "just because you see a person driving a car, that doesn't mean that they invented the automobile," so we can't assume that an alien piloting an advanced spaceship is a genius. He goes on to speculate that the aliens that abduct people are actually The Greys' equivalent of rednecks, and that Anal Probing is their equivalent of Cow Tipping.
- Amusingly averted with Bertie in Jeeves and Wooster:
You see, I'm one of those birds who drive a lot but don't know the first thing about the works. The policy I pursue is to get aboard, prod the self-starter, and leave the rest to Nature. If anything goes wrong, I scream for an A.A. scout.
- Notably averted in the Star Trek: Mirror Universe book series. After some fans complained that the 22nd century Terran Empire acquired a 23rd century Federation starship in "Through A Glass Darkly", so shouldn't they have reached 24th century standards by the time of "Mirror Mirror", the story "Age of the Empress" establishes that having a 23rd century starship, and being able to build more of them (let along advance further) are very different things.
- Averted in The Guns of the South, where the Rivington men have great difficulty replicating future tech, as they're mainly warriors, not computer engineers. Even a computer engineer cannot replicate a microchip in their basement.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek frequently uses this trope; it's Lampshaded in an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where minion of the Dominion notes that, while they otherwise hold the Federation in contempt, Starfleet Engineers are famous as being the undisputed masters of technology adaptation and modification. "Turning rocks into replicators." Considering the variety of cultures which makes up the Federation, this may be a Justified Trope, as Starfleet engineers would be trained in the use of technology which is itself a pastiche of many different technologies. Plus, there's the fact that all aliens have base-10 numeral systems, have the same emotional and intellectual range as humans, progress along the same basic technological path as humans, look like humans in rubber masks, and can even write documents word-for-word identical to the U.S. Constitution without ever having seen it.... With all those similarities, is it any wonder they all build similar technologies?
- The title character in The Greatest American Hero received an Applied Phlebotinum powered Super Hero suit at the start of the series, lost the instructions, and spent most of the series amusingly floundering about trying to figure out how to use it correctly.
- Stargate SG-1 tends to play with this trope fairly successfully on occasion. In one episode it's revealed that the SGC computers can't even interpret many of the Stargate's feedback signals, and others are disregarded on a routine basis in order to establish a connection. This is suggested to be a major contributing factor to the various mishaps of one type or another that have occurred when using the gate. Another episode introduces the Air Force's prototype hybrid fighter craft, combining standard Earth technology with that of Go'auld Gliders - which promptly goes wrong due to incomplete understanding of the alien technology incorporated in the design.
- This is also true of the Goa'uld themselves, who mostly just use stolen technology without really understanding it. There are a few Goa'uld who genuinely are good at understanding science and technology (such as the System Lord Baal and a lesser Goa'uld who served Cronus), but they are decidedly in the minority.
- Sylar's base power inherently grants him this effect; as soon as he acquires a new ability, he instantly understands how to use it perfectly. Everyone else on the show suffers How Do I Shot Web? at first (Peter suffers it constantly).
- In Power Rangers, this is pretty much the standard. Hand five people giant robots, watch them pilot them effortlessly, including the part where they merge into one giant robot, although many series with robotic zords have the combination process mostly automated and those with living zords simply ask them to do it for them (basically).
- Apparently, it's part of some Rangers' power sets: in the first episode ever we hear two of the kids marveling out loud at how they instinctively know how to drive their giant animal mecha.
Trini: This is amazing, I seem to know how to drive this thing!
Billy: Affirmative, I do too. It's almost like second nature to me!
- Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue - the first series to be entirely divorced from what went before, even moreso than Lost Galaxy - turned away from this (as well as everything else about the previously half-magical ranger tech) and have the heads-up display in the helmets instruct the heroes on any new gadgetry.
- Power Rangers RPM; the three starting Rangers had been Rangers for a while when we first saw them suited, and Dillon's enhanced abilities made him a fast learner and a superb fighter from day one. Ziggy, on the other hand, Falling into the Cockpit, is hilarious as we watch him try to get the hang of his gear. His first Zord battle winds up with him accidentally taking out several Mook vehicles by activating the spinning attack.
- Justified at the beginning of Samurai Sentai Shinkenger in that all of the characters have been training to carry on their family legacies. It's subverted in the second episode, as Ryuuonosuke knows about the Samurai Gattai but doesn't actually know what it does or how its done and winds up getting everyone to stack themselves up in a totem pole like formation.
- Averted in the Doctor Who episode "Attack of the Cybermen", in which the Cybermen plan to use a time machine to change history. The Doctor cannot understand why the Cybermen would do something so catastrophic, since it would be just as damaging for them as for everyone else; it falls to another character to point out that the Cybermen's timeship is stolen, not built, and that they do not understand its principles.
- Averted in the first few years of Doctor Who with the TARDIS. Part of Sydney Newman's original character brief was that he did not know how to steer his stolen timeship; however, in execution, it was a combination of "the Doctor didn't know how" and "the ship was already old"—this is why the Chameleon Circuit broke down in 1963 England. The TARDIS is also fully sentient and aware in eleven dimensions, so it always sends him where he needs to go instead of where he wants to go. The characteristic flight sound has also been revealed to be because he leaves the brake on.
- It's further revealed ( and demonstrated, in Journey's End) that a TARDIS is designed to be piloted by several Time Lords at once. The Doctor, piloting alone, consequently has trouble.
- Modern Kamen Rider series sometimes have a character just know how to use their Rider powers within seconds of obtaining the Transformation Trinket - including how to use the Trinket in the first place. This depends on the series, there are subversions and some series play this straight.
- The original Kamen Rider did not know anything about his powers, due to them being forced on him and then the inventor of said powers passing away in the first episode. Numerous episodes show him trying to figure out what he is.
- Kamen Rider 2 seems to play this straight, until it's revealed that he has had some kind of training in his powers by the bad guys before defecting to the good side.
- Kamen Rider Kuuga did not know anything about his powers or transformation trinket, but received a telepathic "last will" that gave him hints.
- Kamen Rider Agito has no idea what he's doing with his powers, actually going on some kind of autopilot due to amnesia and doesn't even remember what he's supposed to be doing with his powers.
- Kamen Rider Ryuki has no idea what his deck of cards does or why monsters are suddenly attacking him. He has to be shown what they do, as they were intended for someone else.
- Kamen Rider Faiz plays this straight, actually taking the transformation trinket from someone who can't use it; and then using it perfectly his first time. However he still requires help to use the extra powers.
- Kamen Rider Fourze had no idea how to transform, and is viewed as a complete idiot for grabbing his transformation trinket from someone who DID know how to use it. (But could not) Every episode is a subversion as the sheer number of powers Fourze gets all require either explanation, testing, or just dumb luck.
- Kamen Rider W is a subversion and playing it straight all at once. Phillip, half of W, knows exactly how the powers work. Shotaro actually doesn't and lucked into being the other half of W.
- Kamen Rider OOO is given his trinket and told how to use it by a centuries old monster.
- Kamen Rider Gaim has absolutely no idea what he's doing when he first transforms out of instinct, and has to be shown how to operate his weapons by a mysterious woman in white.
- Kamen Rider Drive once again has no idea what his powers are as they are still being developed during the show. Fortunately his trinket itself knows what it's own powers are, and it talks back.
- Dungeons & Dragons up to 3rd edition averts this, as you need an (expensive) Identify spell, a good skill check or some creative experimentation to understand what a magic item does and how to activate it. Capturing magical items in (A)D&D used to be only half the battle, getting them to work was even more 'fun'. This was lampshaded by the 'magical items' in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks... which used flowcharts very similar to those from Gamma World as the hapless PCs tried to figure out advanced technology.
- 4th edition plays it straight: any adventurer who spends five minutes studying a magic item will automatically know everything useful about it.
- Weapons were first just allowed by class lists, but obvious issues led to simple solution in AD&D — penalties for non-proficient use. A character can grab any weapon, but this won't do much good without a proficiency in it, which for a non-warrior class may or may not be learnable at all. Fourth edition reversed it: anyone can use any weapon at its base stats, but if you're proficient you get a bonus to it, and certain abilities require certain equipment (two melee weapons, a ranged weapon, the right class' implement, etc.) to even be used.
- In third edition, you could get the "Skillful Enchantment" on any weapons. After being so enchanted, anyone can pick up the weapon and use it at least as well as they can their normal weapons or better in the case of character classes that least emphasized combat (so it eliminates the non-proficiency penalty and sets your attack bonus up to the middle progression if it wasn't already at that level.)
- GURPS has similar, highly amusing tables for meddling with stuff you don't understand. Including modifiers for poking it with a stick.
- The Imperium of Man in Warhammer 40,000 are pretty much the same. More than a fair proportion of their military equipment relies on technology long since lost. Tech-Priests pray to the machines to convince them to fix themselves, while doing rituals they believe appease the machine spirit rather than realizing they're the ones fixing it.
- The Orks would seem like a straight play of the trope, as the "Mechboyz" know tech on a genetic level, including captured enemy hardware. Looking deeper, all Ork tech runs on the psychic gestalt generated by Ork belief in the fact that the tech will work, to the point where a human opening up an Ork gun may find simply a load of junk parts in a shoddy casing.
- This is an unfortunate fact of life for Yu-Gi-Oh! card game players; duelists looking for a quick and cheap (figuratively, though definitely not literally) victory will "netdeck", or go online and copy a tournament-winning deck card-for-card. The theory is that playing a tourney-winning card will give them the ability to win more, and assuming they'll be able to pull off all of the best combos and strategies associated with that deck as the original player has. This should not work in reality, but somehow it does, because within the (relatively) simple ruleset of a card game, the idea of being able to reverse engineer the winning strategy for using the deck just from looking at its parts makes a bit more sense.
- In Magic: The Gathering, due to the ever-changing meta-game, don't expect to win a large tournament with a netdeck. By the time you master it, really good players will have analyzed the famous "winning deck", found how to beat it, and played the cards that stop it on its track. If you made the same analysis, you may have modified your deck accordingly in order to reduce its vulnerability to those decks. If you just netdecked in hope of a cheap win and thought your opponents will behave exactly as your friends at the local FNM... You're facing troubles.
- This is rather misleading though, as very often well-known decks do win tournaments, and the fact that an exact composition does or doesn't win doesn't even necessarily mean it was the correct build of the deck - having a slightly off deck can be more than compensated for by being a better player.
- Parodied in Paranoia, where players are often ordered to test out new experimental equipment in the field, and report back on the results. Unfortunately, because the equipment is always well above their security clearance level, they cannot be told how it works, or even how to operate it. Hilarity Ensues.
- Explicitly a rule in The Hero System. If you purchase an item (or special ability) with character points, you are automatically assumed to know how to use it. If you do not use character points (for example in a fantasy game, buying a sword with gold pieces) you need a requisite weapon familiarity skill.
- In the text RPG Rifts, a PC can use any weapon they have without a Weapon Proficiency (WP) in that type of weapon with no disadvantages. But when a player does take a WP in a weapon type, they get bonuses. However, a player can't pilot some of the more 'fun' vehicles without a Piloting Skill in say... Giant Robot.
- Mutants & Masterminds does away with the d20 proficiency rules, and assumes that characters are proficient with their weapons, equipment, and powers to the extent of their bonuses when using them. Of course, there are optional rules in "Mastermind's Manual" (akin to D&D's "Unearthed Arcana" to cram proficiencies back into the system for those who like to make the needlessly complex again.
- Some games play it straight to streamline certain assumptions, such as the Prose Descriptive Qualities system games like Dead Inside or Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies. Any Quality or Forte is assumed to have a "penumbra" of related knowledge reflecting broad experience with the subject at hand. In other words, if ownership of a car is important enough to your character that you've noted it down on your character sheet, then you probably do know how to fix it up or break it down. The idea is to let characters be fairly competent and able to maintain their skills and gear without having to go into the minutiae of whether they know how to do so.
- Whenever Dante of Devil May Cry acquires a new weapon, he instantly has intimate knowledge of how it works, no matter its complexity or peculiarity, to the point where he can use the weapon far more competently than it was even intended to be within seconds of acquiring it. In the first game, it was implied that this was because the weapons were sentient and were guiding his actions, or communicating to him. In the third installment, Dante's proficiency with his newly acquired weapons is due to the demons slain giving him their blessings in order to use their power. In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Dante's character profile states that this is actually one of his specified superpowers—he can use ANY weapon, period, the moment he touches it.
- In Company of Heroes, if your infantry squads can pick it up, they can reload and handle it like the original owners. Even if the weapon was comparatively rare on the enemy faction.
- After playing through Shadow of the Colossus, one gets the idea that while Wander can shoot a bow well and ride his horse like a pro, he swings a sword like he has no idea what he's doing with it. Makes sense, since he's supposed to have stolen the sword. Maybe.
- It's a plot point in Mass Effect: the peoples of the galaxy have access to Mass Relay technology, and are able to use it quite effectively, but have no real understanding of it (or rather, they understand how Mass Relay technology works, but can't replicate it).
- Shepard, having the collective experience of the Prothean race in their mind, becomes a minor plot point in the first and third game. Due to this Cypher, all Prothean technology reacts to their presence as though they were a Prothean; allowing them to see Prothean data where others would see only static, as well as fully activate the Prothean beacon on Thessia, which has defied comprehension by the Asari for millennia.
- After the first manifestation of human biotics in the 2150's, the Biotic Acclimation and Training program was forced to rely on aliens (often mercenaries) to serve as instructors to the students, due to the sheer lack of available information of the phenomenon. Similarly, early model biotic amplifiers were infamously bad, with the L1 configuration barely allowing someone to lift a cup, while the L2's contained a host of side-effects ranging from migraines to full-blown psychosis. The L3 model avoided side effects, but very rarely matches the power occasionally seen in L2s. By the time of the second game, humans are experimenting with L4s and L5s.
- Played with Final Fantasy VI, Sabin, (a martial artist that spent the better half of 10 years living secluded in a wooded valley,) Cyan (a technophobe samurai,) and Shadow (a ninja who lives off the land and presumably doesn't hang around machines much) all manage to be able to use Magitek Armor within minutes of finding some. However, Cyan initially cannot pilot his armor, and Sabin comes from a kingdom with highly advanced technology, so at least in his case this may be somewhat justified.
- A better example is Final Fantasy VII. The prequels show that Cloud is a very poor shot, even with automatic weaponery. However, he's able to pick up a SOLDIER sword and use it to dispatch said SOLDIERs. It can be reasonably assumed that Limits helped, but the point is still made that he has a natural affinity for swordsmanship.
- A similar scene occurs in Final Fantasy X. Auron hands Tidus a sword. He stumbles a bit, but once he gets used to the weight, he's pretty much fine. Auron is more effective, but then again his weapons are heavier.
- In every game in The Legend of Zelda series, once he finds an item Link is automatically able to use it almost perfectly (depending on how good the player is, of course). Subverted in the case of items like the sword and shield, which some of the games give a tutorial for and thus does have Link train to learn to use them.
- In Homeworld 2, a Marine Frigate is able to dock with an enemy ship and deploy commandos to take it over from the inside. After a successful hijacking however, the commandos are apparently able to fight with their new ship just as effectively as the previous crew without first having to familiarize themselves with how to operate it.
- While previously this trope was averted in World of Warcraft with everyone's weapon skill starting out at one, in patch 4.0.1 weapons skills and training were done away with - now your character automatically fits this trope, so long as they can equip the weapon. This was because weapon skill added nothing whatsoever to the game, and simply resulted in higher level people who acquired a new type of weapon having to spend a lot of time hacking away pathetically at equally pathetic creatures while grinding their weapon skill up through 400-odd skill points before they could fight real enemies again (death knights, starting at level 55 and initially untrained in several of their common weapons, were particularly troubled by this).
- Call of Duty 2 plays with this trope. On one hand, your character doesn't seem to have any trouble using captured German weapons, but that's no surprise given that small arms tend to be similar no matter where they're from. On the other hand, Private Macgregor's attempts at driving a captured German armored car was...well, see for yourself starting around 4:15.
- Particularly egregious in Nazi Zombies, where everyone instantly knows how to use the new Wonder Weapon introduced in each map to electrocute zombies, shrink them, turn them back into humans, suck them into a miniature black hole, etc. Especially in the Call Of The Dead map, where the player characters are actors.
- In Master of Orion 2, any ships captured by boarding can be used as one's own, but scrapping them gives a chance to learn any unknown technologies they use.
- The protagonist in Jade Empire picks up a wide array of techniques and can perform them effectively with little or no training at all - the Spirit Thief technique is demonstrated once, the transformation powers are gained by defeating the same monster, and several weapon styles become available after you've gained the weapon. You can effortlessly swing two massive axes without a second of prior training, and can service, load, wield and fire a blunderbuss imported from an analogue of Britain. And then there's the flying crafts that you've had no experience with either...
- The ease with which the Exile in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords picks up new lightsaber forms ends up being a plot point later.
- Similar to the Mass Effect example above, the Covenant in Halo have lots of tech superior to that of the UNSC. Luckily for humanity, they don't seem to understand it much better than we do. In the novel Halo: First Strike, Cortana manages to vastly improve the performance of a Covenant cruiser by fiddling with the settings and immediately gets yelled at by the Covenant AI for "blasphemy". Yes, the Covenant deliberately shoot themselves in the foot by even making their AIs constrained by religious dogma.
- In Sword of the Stars, capturing an alien ship with a boarding pod allows you to fire the ship's weapons but not move it. Slightly justified in that everybody apparently uses the same types of weapons (a human-designed red laser is exactly the same as a Tarka-designed one), while the engine technology might be different (e.g. Liir ships teleport through space and lack traditional engines; Tarka can also get rid of traditional engines by topping their hyperdrive tech tree). It can also be justified in the case of telepathic races, such as the Liir and the Zuul, who can pull information out of the enemy's head (the Zuul particularly enjoy Mind Rape).
- Shirou of Fate/stay night develops the ability to construct imitations of legendary swords out of his prana. The full technique also recreates the history of the weapon and allows Shirou to sympathize with its experiences, allowing him to imitate the skills of the previous wielders and display some proficiency.
- Inverted in "Unlimited Blade Works". Gilgamesh and Shirou both possess an immense number of weapons, but are simply "owners" who lack true mastery of them. Against a "wielder" who had spent years fighting with such a weapon they would be completely outclassed in direct combat. Shirou acknowledges this is the reason he can rival Gilgamesh, but would be defeated by any other Servant.
- In Fire Emblem Awakening, Noire has never wielded a weapon, much less a bow, in her life. During the chapter where you recruit her, she finds a Steel Bow. And promptly starts shooting enemies. To put this into context: It takes a unit with a C rank in bows to shoot a Steel Bow. Most characters start with an E rank in bows. Your first Archer starts with a D rank in bows.
- Averted in Thief with Garret's sword. He knows how to wield it at a basic level, but odds are that even the common guards in the game are better with a sword than the player ever will be. This is because Garret is, fundamentally, a thief, and tries to avoid combat in favor of stealth whenever possible. The sword is an absolute last resort.
- Both played straight and averted in the Whateley Universe, depending on the type of power. Most Energizers can just blast away with their powers with no training. Telekinetic bricks seem to know how to use their power instinctively, even if they don't know some of their weaknesses or how to control their strength without lots of practice. Wizards usually need lots of classwork to learn spells and focus. Then there's Phase, who nearly died several times while struggling to learn to use his powers, and is still figuring things out months after getting his powers.
- Despite getting her Magical Girl transformation only minutes before, Bee in Bee and Puppycat nonetheless knows that she can magically pull a sword from her costume's collar bell. Of course, that doesn't mean she knows how to use a sword, as she uses it to bludgeon her enemy.
- Wade can understand anything given 10 seconds to scan it with the Kim Possible Kimmunicator.
- The same thing that happened to The Greatest American Hero above happened to Fenton "Gizmoduck" Crackshell in DuckTales.
- Lampshaded in Gargoyles: Lexington builds a motorcycle. Brooklyn asks why this is such an arduous task for him, given that he has ridden one before, and Lexington responds, "You've ridden a horse before; could you build one from spare parts?"
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Admiral Zhao deduces that Zuko is the Blue Spirit, a thief who uses dual swords, after seeing that Zuko had two swords hanging in his quarters. Zuko does protest that they're just decorations, and he has no idea how to use them, but of course he's lying.
- In Megas XLR, when Coop first gets the Megas, he somehow successfully attaches a car in place of its missing head/cockpit. He then pilots it skillfully, with no understanding of how it works, or what any of its features actually do. But then, the controls change from episode to episode. Make of that what you will.
- Handwaved, in that Coop was the one who did the heavy modifications. Doing that without blowing it up is a miracle, however...
- Handwaved by a later episode where it is revealed Megas' computer core can calculate a lot of tactical data and all of the fancy stuff it does are interpretations of what Coop wants it to do. When it breaks, Hilarity Ensues...
- And inverted, subverted, or something, in that Kiva, who is the expert in how Megas is supposed to work, can't operate it at all after Coop's modifications.
- In Bump in the Night, Molly applies to become a doctor and assumes that just because she has all the instructions and equipment necessary for the average doctor, she has instantly become a doctor. It gets worse when Bumpy eats the pages from the manuals and replaces them with gardening and home repair manuals.
- Averted in Ben 10. The series repeatedly shows that Ben only has the vaguest idea of what the Omnitrix is capable of.
- In Transformers Prime, only Ratchet has any idea on how the eponymous Mechanical Lifeforms work, him being the equivalent of a medic. When Jack asks how come Arcee doesn't know how to build a motorcycle despite being one, she asks bluntly, "You're human, Jack, can you build me a small intestine?"