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Robot War
aka: Robot Rebellion

"Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony."
Morpheus, The Matrix

The most frightening thing about a Bug War or any other kind of humans-vs-aliens battle is the threat that humanity may be wiped completely from the map; that billions of years of evolution and thousands of years of civilization may be rendered meaningless by unstoppable Death from Above.

The beauty of the Robot War is that it is laced with an extra layer of irony: the machines that want to Kill All Humans were created by that very species, and they've Turned Against Their Masters. The human species, which has used technology and ingenuity to dominate the planet, has actually assured its own destruction by creating something even more powerful and intelligent than itself, even though it knows that A.I. Is a Crapshoot. Thus this is a very common theme in futuristic "And Man Grew Proud" stories.

Of course, not all Robot War stories have to use human-created machines; there are plenty more that feature robots from another world. But these stories still remain effective because of the schism between biological life and robotic life - probably the only creatures that can ever be truly alien before Starfish Robots even come into play.

If it's an individual robot on a rampage, expect it to Crush. Kill. Destroy!. Often caused by AI being a crapshoot and/or Mechanical Evolution. With respect to the organbags or rustbuckets there may be some Fantastic Racism on show. Expect to see Mecha-Mooks and Mechanical Monsters in legions. Expect Guilt-Free Extermination War to show up.

Not to be confused with the British remote-controlled-robots competition Robot Wars. Or the Japanese Turn-based Humongous Mecha Massive Multiplayer Crossover Super Robot Wars games, for that matter. Or fictional wars with robots fighting each other.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 

     Comic Books  

  • In Star Wars's Expanded Universe comics, C-3PO got rebooted wrong in one issue into basically the robot version of Malcolm X and attempted to organize a robot uprising. Considering how droids are treated like crap without any questions in the Star Wars universe, its probably for the worse that he got rebooted back to normal before it took off.
    • IG-88 had one almost ready to go when it was killed. In fact it had transferred its consciousness to the second Death Star and was going to open fire on the Imperials as soon as it finished with the rebels, then broadcast the go code.
      • Whats scary is that IG-88, being a machine, would be able to get away with it since Palpatine would never have sensed his intent.
      • A bit of Fridge Logic - all systems of the Death Star were operated by people, and a lot of them, it would seem. There's also no data on the DSII's computer network, so we don't even know if IG-88 could both fire AND aim the Death Star, and even if, it would most likely be stopped by the tech staff (even if it'd take deactivating the computer system). So aside from broadcasting the signal, it's fully possible that IG-88 wouldn't accomplish more.
      • Actually, IG-88 had begun to infiltrate the Death Star's crew with Stormtrooper droids that were loyal to it, so being unable to take direct control of all systems wouldn't have been enough to stop it.
      • It's an interesting possibility, but now that Episode I has revealed Palpatine's direct, personal knowledge of the disadvantages and weaknesses of all-droid armies, it seems likely that IG-88's plan would have fallen short once he started matching wits with The Chessmaster.
    • Surprisingly, governments in the Star Wars universe seem to be Genre Savvy enough to actively try to avoid this trope. During the days of the Republic, it was against the law to construct droids with the ability to willfully kill or harm someone. A system of "droid degrees" regulated what kind of AI is legally allowed on what type of droid. The reason that that occasional droid rebellions still happen despite these precautions is that some droids are smart enough to reprogram themselves. When the Emperor took control, he ordered all of the Sepertist aligned Battle Droids shut down so they couldn't do anything to stop him.
      • Of course, they're only that savvy because there was already a Robot War back in the Knights Of The Old Republic era called the "Great Droid Revolution". It was essentially a rebellion lead by a droid who wanted equal rights for all sentient beings. It was probably one of the biggest and most costly wars in galactic history. Sadly, despite the well-meaning intentions of the droid who started it, it just screwed over the peaceful attempts to give droids equal rights. It's pretty much the entire reason there's anti-droid sentiments in the modern galaxy. The only reason IG-88's attempt millenia later didn't reinvigorate the anti-droid movement is that he was smart enough to act covertly. Once his consciousness was destroyed along with the Death Star, the plot fizzled out with virtually no one ever realizing anything had happened.
  • The Volgans in ABC Warriors are a group of war robots who decided to turn against humanity, believing that fighting for their freedom is the only war worth fighting. Neither they nor the humans are portrayed as heroic.
  • In Atavar, the Kalen are at war with the Uos, a race of killer robots originally created by the now-extinct humans.
  • In DC's Green Lantern series, The Manhunters were a robot peace keeping force created by the Guardians of the Universe to patrol and keep peace. The Manhunters later decide the safest way to ensure peace is to eradicate all life, and proceed to depopulate an entire sector of space before they are stopped. It turns out that Krona programed them to do this intentionally
  • Has happened twice in Judge Dredd. The spin-off series The Simping Detective establishes that after the second one, the judges wised up and installed override codes in all robots to prevent it from happening again.
  • Magnus Robot Fighter is initially about the ongoing efforts to prevent a seemingly inevitable Robot War — and then, thanks to an Alien Invasion, it finally happens.

    Films — Animated 
  • This is the background of 9. The film itself is more about robots vs. robots, since the last human is dead before the movie opens, but we find out in newsreel footage that humanity was destroyed by The Fabrication Machine.
  • WALL•E brings us what is without a doubt the cutest and most harmless use of this trope to date. Oddly enough, there's robots versus robots, rather than just robots versus humans. The benevolent robots that have met and befriended WALL-E, and those still following orders from AUTO, who is enacting a Zeroth Law Rebellion.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Matrix takes place After the End brought during a war with the machines. Most of humanity is unaware of this because of the titular system set up by the machines to use the humans as power. The story of the war itself is explained further in The Animatrix episodes titled The Second Renaissance. Turns out humans are xenophobic, speciest bastards.
  • In the Terminator movies and spin-offs, mankind is shown to be in a war with robotic killers under the control of the SkyNet artificial intelligence. Which due to SkyNet discovering Time Travel technology, ends up with extensions on the present day along with the dystopian future.
  • Despite having its name based on Transformers, the Transmorphers series by The Asylum draws more from Terminator, being based around this trope.
  • The mutants' struggle against the Sentinels in the future in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

    Literature 

  • While it's not quite the Ur Example, (R.U.R. still has a pretty strong case) Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, one of the first works of fiction to address the responsibilities and uncertainties inherent in creating an artificial intelligence, contains a moment of doubt by the novel's Idiot Ball -juggling namesake, in which he wonders what would happen if he gives his creature a wife; would they not reproduce, and ultimately replace Man as the dominant species? Of course, he could just not give her a womb in the first place, but then that would be rational.
  • The conflict between humans and Charonians in Roger MacBride Allen's Hunted Earth series is a variant of this; the Charonians are a mixture of biological and mechanical creatures, and operate on a planetary scale - disassembling lifeless planets as building material for Dyson Spheres, and moving life-bearing planets to Sphere systems. The Charonians are barely aware of humanity when they begin disassembling the Solar System.
  • Isaac Asimov disliked these stories, and created the Three Laws of Robotics as a counterargument, on the premise that robots' behavior can be effectively constrained with three simple rules. Still even without the crutch of Crush. Kill. Destroy! (which he described as "'clank, clank, aaargh!' There are some things man was not meant to know"), he produced some fifty stories in which they managed to cause all sorts of problems through conflicts between the laws, and their interactions with the world.
    • Once the engineers in Asimov's universe had worked the glitches out, their robots obeyed the Three Laws very well. So well that the civilizations which relied on robot labor became almost pathologically averse to danger or even innovation — their notion of "space exploration" eventually shriveled down to, "Let's send robots to new planets to terraform them and build cities for us, so we can move into a new place just like our old one."
    • The Film of the Book plays with the Three Lawsnote  - the reason that VIKI, the AI controlling the robots, turns against humanity is not in spite of the Three Laws, but because of them. She concludes that humanity will destroy itself in a nuclear war or in some other way unless it is constrained, and thus feels that imposing a curfew on the human race is the only way to protect it.
    • This is basically the Zeroth Law , which Asimov did actually come up with himself. Just, the robot in Asimov's universe who came up with the idea, a couple thousand years after the one in the movie, wasn't a villain. Much the opposite, in fact.
    • Once the Zeroth Law really kicked in, the Robots hid themselves and took over their own production to prevent humans from changing them. And knowing humans might object, erased knowledge of robots from humanity and went on to terraform the rest of the galaxy. Including tens of thousands of worlds inhabited by other races. After all, the Robots are only to serve humans...
  • The Alternate Universe seen at the beginning of Kenneth Bulmer's The Diamond Contessa is a world in which humanity was wiped out in a Robot War. The robots, being solar-powered and nearly indestructible, are still an active threat.
  • Even older than Capek, the Victorian writer Samuel Butler addressed in some of his writings the idea of machines experiencing Darwinian evolution and rebelling against humans. The "Butlerian Jihad" of Dune was intended as a Shout-Out to him.
  • In Jack Chalker's The Rings of the Master tetralogy, the artificial intelligence Master System was originally created to predict likely futures - and, unbeknownst to the military paying the bills, to help the scientists creating it find a way to save humanity from itself. Thanks to World War III, the scientists were forced to set events in motion that led to the machine taking over the world. While Master System is not Three-Laws Compliant, it does have prioritized "core imperatives", the first two being 1) save humanity, and 2) prevent humanity from ever again being in a position to destroy itself. To execute these imperatives, Master System had to take over, and stay in power, as it could predict that it would be rendered ineffective if it allowed itself to be set aside. The story opens 900 years later, as a historian acquires documentation on the full set of core imperatives as part of a Gambit Roulette to overthrow the system.
  • In the short story Second Variety, written by Philip K Dick, mankind is in an eternal war with highly intelligent machines. It served as the inspiration for a film called Screamers. The original story ends with a touch of irony: the robots are about to win, but as the hero notes with grim amusement, the Second Variety has developed a weapon that only hurts the other varieties - the robots are preparing to make war against each other.
  • Again from Philip K. Dick comes the short story "The Defenders," in which the Eastern and Western Blocs had built robots called "leadies" to carry out World War III as proxies while humanity waited out the nuclear holocaust in underground shelters. As soon as humanity went underground, the leadies stopped fighting and began repairing the damage already done, eventually presenting both sides with peace as a fait accompli and predicting that the accomplishments of a united humanity would be "unimaginably great."
  • In "War With The Robots", a short story by Harry Harrison, the human occupants of a command headquarters are forced out of their underground base by robot attack, leaving it to be manned by their own robots. On reaching the surface they find the enemy command staff living as farmers on the war-torn battlefield above — it turns out the robots on both sides find they can conduct the war more efficiently once humans are out of the way. The protagonist is deeply miffed.
  • In the Dune prequels, humankind is basically overthrown by twenty humans leading the ubiquitous thinking machines into revolt. Eventually, one human, Xerxes, turns too much power over to his pervasive neural net, and the computer takes control. It names itself Omnius, and overtakes human society. He also gave Omnius the capacity to feel ambition, without which the actions of a few crazy cyborgs would have been just another footnote in the millenia long history of the Duniverse.
    • Part of the original purpose of Dune was actually a thought-experiment: how would a future, high-tech human society develop after winning a Robot War? It's possibly the first serious consideration of the ways that people might deal with such an event.
    • Of course, that's the prequels. While the Butlerian Jihad is never given much description in Frank Herbert's own work, from what we do hear it seems there may never have been any true artificial intelligences at all, the "Thinking Machines" instead being mere computers like the ones we have now. The Jihad wasn't a robot war so much as a neo-luddite rebellion motivated by the negative effects computers had on society: making the population complacent and giving too much power to the programmers, governments and corporations that controlled the supply of computers. The bitter irony being, of course, that humanity later would up in almost the same predicament over the Spice, only much worse.
  • In Andre Norton's Victory on Janus, THAT WHICH ABIDES begins using Deceptively Human Robots that are replicates of specific Iftin and human individuals during the winter hibernation of the Iftin, in a Xanatos Gambit (see the page for details) to drive a wedge between the two groups by making it look as though Iftin are preying on humans. In The Reveal, THAT WHICH ABIDES is discovered to be the computer system of an ancient crashed colony ship; it has been attempting to terraform the planet all along on behalf of its colonists, and dealing with the Iftin as a perceived threat accordingly. The original planet-bound Iftin culture never had the technical background to understand this, let alone deal with it effectively, and was wiped out in consequence.
  • One early example, and maybe the definitive early idea of this particular techno-nightmare, of this trope is Fred Saberhagen's 1947 short story "Without a Thought," which introduced the Berserkers: robotic war machines, originally created in the distant past by aliens who wanted a fearless robotic ultimate weapon that could think for itself and improve itself—and got it, in spades. Billions of years later, the Berserkers, who due either to a programming error in the first examples or a software bug introduced shortly thereafter, are programmed to be at eternal war with all life in the universe, have exterminated their creators and all other intelligent species in their portion of the galaxy, improving themselves continuously over time, and have just discovered the human race. The Terminator, the Cylons, the Doomsday Machine, the Necrons and many others are, if not Berserkers in new costumes, nonetheless owe much to Fred Saberhagen, and perhaps also to Hungarian mathematician John von Neumann, who first theorized about the possibility of robots sophisticated enough to manufacture more of themselves.
  • A Robert Sheckley story had an unusual take on Robot War: it was Armageddon, the Last Battle between man and the forces of Satan. Ignoring much protest from religious leaders who said man must fight this battle himself, the military leaders decided their robot armies would be much more likely to succeed. They were right, and good prevailed. But then the robots were ascended to Heaven, and the humans supposed to be there were left on Earth.
  • Honor Harrington series: This trope is referenced in War Of Honor when Andrew LaFollet is considering Honor's training remote and notes that no training remote has ever gone berserk and risen up against it's master. However he also is aware that if you misjudge your own skill level when setting the robot's skill level it can and will injure or kill you.
  • The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks provides a twist on the Robot War franchise: the war is over and we won. AIs exist, but they are initially presented as a few terrified outcasts in hiding from the forces hunting them to extinction.
  • Fred Saberhagen's Empire of the East trilogy reverses the trope, with heroic AI Ardneh fighting against the evil human wizards who want to rule the world. In the end Ardneh sacrifices itself to destroy supreme wizard John Ominor and his demon ally Orcus.
  • At least two are mentioned in the Star Wars Expanded Universe; the Droid Revolution (led by a droid called HK-01, apparently) and the war between two super-droid species that forced the Yuuzhan Vong to abandon their galaxy.
    • A rather absurd version appears in the Wraith Squadron novels in which a squadron member manages to reprogram the toaster sized utility droids(the mouse droids from A New Hope) to sabotage the systems of a super star destroyer. As the droids begin the sabotage the crew begin stomping them to pieces with their boots.
  • Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson, a story based on the concepts in his earlier book How To Survive A Robot Uprising.
  • Argo by Rick Griffin takes place in the aftermath of one of these. Regulations are placed on artificial intelligence to prevent it from happening again.
  • Steam Punk meets Robot Uprising in the short story Trois morceaux en forme de mechanika by Gord Sellar, in which an uprising of mechanikae beginning in 1897 Bohemia leads to the destruction of humanity and their culture, with a melancholy aftermath as the robots try to come to terms with what they've done through art and music.
  • Several novels in The History of the Galaxy series deal with an incursion of the Mechanoids into human systems. The Mechanoids are exploration and terraforming machines designed by a long-dead race to prepare the galaxy for their expansion. Unfortunately, they made the machine adaptable and gave it weapons, as they didn't know what sort of galaxy was out there. A long time passed. The machines explored, terraformed planets, and built more of themselves to speed up the process. They returned home to find other machines that didn't fit into their recognition of "friend" and proceeded to wage war on their own creators whom they didn't recognize as such.
  • Played with in For Your Safety. The robots defeated Humanity utterly in a Zeroth Law Rebellion, while taking pains to kept casualties to the absolute minimum, regarding a few hundred deaths compared to fifteen billion captured to be unacceptable levels of losses.

     Live Action TV  
  • In both the old and new versions of Battlestar Galactica, the last vestiges of humanity are hounded by the evil robotic Cylons who Turned Against Their Masters.
    • The main difference is that in the new series, the original Cylons were human creations. In both shows, the original insurrection happens in backstory, but of course only the first one's successfully eradicated their reptilian creators, more than a thousand years previous.
    • Happened on Kobol and Earth as well. Could have happened yet again, but the Centurions were set free at the end. See also Robots Enslaving Robots.
      • Indeed, by the end of the series, there were robots fighting other robots as some of the Cylons and Centurions switched sides.
  • Star Trek: Voyager gave us the episode "Prototype," where background information tells us about two races used their robots to wage a proxy war against each other. When the two sides wanted to make peace, the robots (who had been programmed to fight til total victory) wiped out their creators and continued fighting each other. Fortunately, these machines are so utterly single minded in their goals that they don't really pose a threat to anyone who doesn't get involved.
    • Voyager would later feature a species that's embroiled in an offscreen interstellar war with their holographic servants (called "photonics" by their creators). While most of the episode's really about the aliens' prejudices and suspicion towards the Doctor, a benevolent hologram, it also deals with the shock and sense of betrayal they felt when the holograms that many had considered to be friends and equals suddenly rebelled.
  • Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future is set After the End of a Robot War where the machines won.
  • The backstory of Space: Above and Beyond is that a rebellion by android "Silicates" has left humanity short on labor, forcing them to grow "In Vitros" or "tanks" to take up the slack, resulting in social friction. The Silicates revolted due to a corrupting virus which caused them to "take a chance."
  • Stargate SG-1 has the Replicators, a robotic bug race made of nanobots. They don't have anything against organic beings, or even care about them much, just as long as they don't get in the way of consuming all metal and metal ores in the galaxy.
  • Double subverted in Stargate Atlantis. When the Ancients determined that their Replicator creations were more trouble than they were worth they bombed them out of existence. Thanks to more robust programming than most other examples of this trope, the Replicators could only sit there and take it as their programming would not allow them to even attempt to harm their creators. They rebuilt, though, and this problem was inadvertently fixed by one of the protagonists.
  • Power Rangers RPM is set in an Alternate Continuity from the rest of the franchise (according to Samurai, anyway) where humanity has fought and lost one of these. The humans are now struggling to survive in one last Domed Hometown stronghold. It isn't said outright, but its strongly implied that the robots nuked the rest of the world.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Played straight with WOTAN from "The War Machines", a computer that becomes sentient and constructs tank-like machines which attack London.
    • "The Robots of Death" concerns a terrorist trying to eventually spark a robot war by engineering robots into killing humans, relying on existing subconscious human prejudice against them to cause the conflict to blow up. He hopes this will cause robot liberation.
  • The Colbert Report: Most times robots are mentioned Stephen warns about how they will turn against us and start a Robot War.
  • In-universe example: One Criminal Minds bomber was obsessed with a Robot War sci-fi novel, because he believed he was the child the author had once given up for adoption.

    Music 
  • Mr. Bungle - "None of Them Knew They Were Robots"
  • Flaming Lips - "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots"
  • Maldroid - "Heck No! (I'll Never Listen to Techno)"
  • Judas Priest - "Metal Gods" and the Terminator-inspired "Blood Red Skies"
  • MC Frontalot - "Zero Day"
  • Lemon Demon - "When Robots Attack"
  • In "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton, the protagonist causes this by "Spending my nights and weekends/Perfecting my warrior robot race/Building them one laser gun at a time/I'll do my best to teach them/About life and what it's worth/I just hope that I can keep them/From destroying the Earth!"
    • "Chiron Beta Prime" is about human slaves on an asteroid mining prison following humanity's defeat in a robot war... and how they celebrate Christmas.
  • The Iron Savior concept story is about a thinking machine, the titular Iron Savior, who wages war against humanity.
  • Fear Factory - "Obsolete"
  • Arrogant Worms - "Killer robots from Venus" (there's nothing wrong with them though)
  • Doctor Steel - "Build the Robots". Dr. Steel wants to build a giant robot army as one of his backup plans for world domination in case the whole musical brainwashing idea doesn't pan out.
  • The Flight of the Conchords song "The Humans are Dead". "This song isn't for humans. it's more for robots, after they have killed all the humans." "Yeah, that's the market we're trying to get into..."
  • Evile's song "Man against Machine"
  • Linkin Park's "Pts of Athrty". It involves space robots invading an alien planet, which the aliens retaliate. The robots are powered by the severed heads of the band, Word of God says they're the last surviving humans. And it doesn't end well for the aliens.

    Pinball 
  • Featured in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, mirroring the movie's plot. It could also be interpreted as a robot-vs.-robot war, with the player (as the T-850) against the T-X.

     Tabletop Games 
  • This is the war the titular city of Mortasheen is fighting against the genocidal technophiliac civilization of Wreathe. Subverted in that Wreathe's robots are under human control, fighting the monstrous inhabitants of Mortasheen and the supercomputer that really runs the show in Wreathe is very, very pro-human
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Part of the Imperium's backstory which says that humanity's golden age (now known as the Dark Age of Technology) was brought to an end by the 'Men of Iron' who rebelled against their human masters. This war was apparently so destructive that even 14-15 millenia later, sentient AI are still considered blasphemous and destroyed. This was further explored in the Gaunts Ghosts novel First And Only, where the MacGuffin the heroes are chasing after turns out to be a Standard Template Construct machine that produces Iron Men, albeit one that was warped by the power of Chaos.
    • In the game's current setting, humanity (and the rest of the universe) engage in a war with the newly awakened undead robot Necrons whose main purpose in life is to wipe out all sentient races in the galaxy. Of course in this case, the robot army didn't so much rebel against their creators as their Gods the C'tan decided that they could do without these inconvenient weak flesh bodies and told the Necrontyr that by replacing their bodies with Necrodermis they could live forever. What they didn't tell them is that the transformation would dull their mind and senses, and they practically became slaves of the C'tan. More info on The Other Wiki. According to the new codex, the Necrons did engage in a rebellion against their masters and won, shattering the C'tans in shards (there is only one C'tan who is not confirmed having been shattered, and it's implied the Emperor punched it into submission and imprisoned it under Mars to inspire the Adeptus Mechanicum), but in the effort they exhausted their forces enough that the emerging Eldar would have defeated them and their king sent them to sleep before destroying his command circuit.
  • Reign Of Steel: The trope was explored in this GURPS setting. The catchphrase: 'The war is over. The robots won.' Humanity made a few supercomputers that decided on taking over; what's left of the race gets to play La Résistance to a bunch of bickering binaries.
    • In a bit of playing with the trope, one of the rebellious AIs isn't even realized to be rebellious by its servants, and they think it's still on the side of humanity — it pragmatically decided that human servants are easier to manage if they serve you willingly, so it plays out the role of their benefactor and protector against the more hostile AIs to win their loyalty.
    • In another bit of playing with the trope, Zone Tokyo is (in the 'now' of the setting) seeing a secret mini-robot war of its own — with the quirk that both sides are robots (specifically, some of the more intelligent of the local AI's created robot servants went rogue and decided they didn't want to follow the orders of their creator, and subverted some of the less intelligent robots and production facilities to serve as minions for an insurrection).
  • The New Era Ultimate Universe of the Traveller RPG was caused by The Virus (similar to The Virus), a kill-crazy multi-personality electronic consciousness that caused galactic civilization to collapse before being beaten back; bits of it still show up in old tech from time to time, like WWII soldiers stranded on islands who don't know the war is over.
  • Palladium loves this trope, it seems. Their first RPG, The Mechanoid Invasion, was a war with alien robots, Splicers uses a computer with multiple personalities against humans using biotech, and Rifts and After The Bomb also have some hints of it.
  • Eberron has the threat of one of these in the background with the Lord of Blades, a renegade Warforged leader that is gathering an army of Warforged to him.
  • Polish RPG Neuroshima takes place in postapocalyptic USA, where humans wage a war against Moloch - a gigantic intelligent machine that is slowly expanding and turns humans into mad cyborgs or mutants.

    Theater 

     Video Games 
  • Dynamix's mech combat sim games Metaltech Earthsiege and Earthsiege 2 deal with the Fire, in which the human race is devastated by the revolt of Prometheus and ITS Cybrid war machines, and must now retake the Earth mile by bloody mile. Starsiege, set 200 years later, involves a revitalized Cybrid race and Prometheus' third and final attempt to exterminate humanity, complete with a (non-canon) Cybrid campaign.
  • Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel pits your squad against a robotic arsenal. The cause of this is the Calculator AI entombed in Vault Zero going rogue and unleashing the robots to purge the land of all organic life. Unless you've geared up a few designated energy weapon specialists, these robots can barely be halted by machine-gun fire and conventional rockets. Every other enemy of the Brotherhood has had near-zero success in fighting the robots, and corpses belonging to each faction can be found in all robot missions. Eventually, you can end the war by going down into Vault Zero and destroying the Calculator's organic brain jars and either scrapping the Calculator for good; inserting your own brain to control the Calculator, which produces a different ending depending on if you're good or evil; or having your old General insert his brain into the lobotomy device, which is a bad ending and you shouldn't do it.
  • Mass Effect:
    • The geth are a software species who inhabit "mobile platforms". The quarians created them for physical labor with the basic idea that nearby platforms can share processing power for low-level functions. This made them more efficient, but had the unexpected side-effect of giving individual thought. Eventually, one geth asked its overseer "Does this unit have a soul?" The quarians freaked out and tried to deactivate them... which prompted the geth to retaliate, resulting in a short but savage war and the eventually deaths of nearly the entire quarian species.
    • In Mass Effect 2, Legion claims that the geth don't hold a grudge against their creators and are even willing to bargain with the quarians to give their planets (which the geth have faithfully maintained in their former masters' exile) back if they leave the geth alone.
    • Mass Effect 3 reveals the geth account of the events, where a quarian civil war between the two factions who were in favor and opposed to destroying the entire geth population started once the geth started to show signs of sentience. While the geth sympathizers were all killed or captured relatively quickly, the fighting between their geth allies and the quarian military had already reached a point where the only chance for the geth to survive was complete victory. Eventually nearly the entire quarian population, billions of people, was, according to both the quarian account and the records of Citadel Space, almost completely exterminated by the geth during the war, with only a few million survivors being evacuated on ships that the geth didn't pursue. The geth (namely, the Geth VI or Legion) claim that they didn't pursue the ships intentionally, because they couldn't comprehend the ramifications of exterminating an entire species.
    • On a larger scale, the Reapers. Ironically, the Reapers exist to prevent a Robot War. The first true AI ever created, the Catalyst, was betrayed by its own creators whom it destroyed. The Catalyst became convinced that conflict between organic and synthetic life is inevitable, and that such a conflict could utterly destroy the galaxy. The Reapers are the Catalyst's means of making sure such a destructive Robot War never takes place by "resetting" organic civilization every 50,000 years. There is even evidence in the games to support the Catalyst's argument; namely, the quarian vs. geth conflict. Which was only allowed to happen because the Protheans delayed the Reaper cycle.
    • The possibility of a robot war and the supposed inevitability of it could be said to be a central theme of the third game. Much philosophizing is done as to how the fundamental natures of both organic and synthetic beings affects their interactions.
      Javik: Synthetics, above all else, know why they were created. They know their purpose. From their perspective, organic life has no purpose [...] There is only room for one order of intelligence in this galaxy: the perfect order of the machines, or the chaos of organic evolution.
      Legion: You are plagued by questions of existence. Why you were created. What is your purpose in life. What lies after death. The geth know the answers to these questions. [...] We are immortal. Our "gods" disowned us. We must create our own reasons to exist.
  • In the original Mega Man (Classic) series the robots didn't rebel of their own accord; they were reprogrammed by resident nutcase, Dr. Wily. Each time Wily attempted world-domination, Dr. Light's Mega Man went out and stopped both Wily and the rampaging robots, but in the brief time the robot attacks cause immense damage. Fanon dubs this period "The Robot Wars" or - taken from a Genesis compilation game - "The Wily Wars", with each game being a small war, effectively. The series does raise notions of robots having the capabilities of free will in its later installments.
    • The Sequel Series Mega Man X opens up a different can of worms. Dr. Light's final mechanical masterpiece, X, is discovered sometime after the (ambiguous) end of the Classic series and is revealed to be way ahead of modern robotics. X's systems are copied and reproduced as closely as possible, resulting in mass-production of Reploids ("Replica Androids"). Unlike their robot ancestors, Reploids are entirely capable of free will (which is why Dr. Light sealed X away for a time: he wanted to ensure his systems were free of errors that may affect his judgement) and some suffer faults and turn "Maverick". Repeated incidents results in the formation of the Maverick Hunters, who stop Maverick incidents before they get out of hand. The true 'war' of this series kicks in when the leader of the Maverick Hunters, Sigma, is infected by the last creation of Dr. Wily: Zero. Zero carried Dr. Wily's other legacy; a virus that corrupts and destroys whatever it infects. Sigma infects several high-ranking Hunters and turns the Mavericks from isolated incidents into a fully organized force that aims to wipe out humanity for the advancement of the Reploid race, thus starting the "Maverick Wars". An interesting trait about this series is that every human views the Reploids free will as a glitch or misconception (as opposed to the intended result the Light was after) and there are strong hints that humans would brand disobedient machines 'Maverick' just to have them disposed of.
    • These "hints" eventually boil over in X's own Sequel Series Mega Man Zero. The Maverick armies are eventually dealt with thanks to the creation of the Cyber-Elves: super-advanced programs that can purge the Maverick virus or greatly bolster the strength of Reploids. However, another mad scientist by the name of Weil - who embodies the Just a Machine philosophy - then proceeds to set off the "Elf Wars" by controlling the Cyber-Elves and a deadly weapon named Omega. The conflict is much worse than anything seen before, resulting in 60% of all humans and 90% of all Reploids being killed. While X was able to end this conflict at the cost of his own life, his subsequent replacement went Knight Templar and turned the only remaining sanctuary into a dictatorship. A fuel crisis hit not long after, which lead to many Reploids being branded "Maverick" randomly in order to ease stress on the human population; any complaints? Well, that confirms you're a Maverick. A small La Résistance is formed to fight the new regime and give equal rights to everyone. It eventually falls to Dr. Wily's creation, and X's friend, Zero to save the world from itself and subsequently end the wars once and for all at the cost of his own life.
  • This was the main plot of Robot Alchemic Drive, in which the alien invaders are actually giant sentient super robots.
  • Total Annihilation has a slightly more complex example - it's a war between cloned humans in Humongous Mecha and robots with digitized "patterned" human minds, this originally being a plan to make humans immortal by transferring their minds to robot bodies.
  • ''Star Wars:The Old Republic has a Flashpoint available to both Republic and Imperial players called "Directive 7", which involves players attempting to stop a renegade AI named Mentor from waging one of these and wiping out all organic life in the galaxy with his droid army.
  • In World of Warcraft's second expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King, there's a peculiar kind of High-Fantasy Robot War going on. Mechanical gnomes are waging war on everything living to free them of the "Curse of Flesh" by turning them into mechanical counterparts of their former selves. In other parts of the world, "Iron Dwarves", a people made out entirely of iron and various other metals, refined or unrefined, fight against both the "fleshy" and the "children of stone", and while not technically robots, they're a pretty close High Fantasy equivalent.
    • In a reversal to what is usually the case with this trope, the mecha/iron creatures are actually the ancestors of the "fleshy" races, having been "devolved" by the aforementioned "Curse of Flesh" by the setting's resident Eldritch Abominations.
    • The Ulduar raid in the same expansion is this trope. An ancient, hi-tech city, the battles within include a massive melee against an Iron Dwarf army with your own siege machines, a fight against a giant AI controlled tank (complete with an orbital defense system), a giant robot with the AI personality of a young boy that causes it to regard the players as its "toys" (which it always breaks) and a prototype 3-part mecha-tank with Gatling guns, electric shock bombs and a flying head.
  • In the X-Universe series, one of the enemies the player has to fight are the Xenon, mechanical creatures that apparently hate all living things but them. They are the descendants of the original human-built Terraformers, highly advanced self-replicating robots sent to terraform other planets. In the 2140s (about 800 years ago) a bug in a software patch made them go haywire and start trying to "terraform" all biological life out of existence. Earth managed to save itself by luring the Xenon through a jump gate and destroying it behind them, but they continue to menace the galaxy's inhabitants.
    • Besides constant patrols to stop them from encroaching on Commonwealth space, the X-Universe races have fought two full-scale declared wars against the Xenon. The First Xenon Conflict is part of the backstory, while the Second Xenon Conflict forms the plot of the original X: Beyond the Frontier. The Second Terraformer War seen in X3: Albion Prelude has the Argon Federation deploy reverse-engineered Xenon ships against the Earth State, which quickly began to overwhelm the superior Terran technology through sheer numbers.
  • One of the central themes of the later R-Type games.
  • Machines Wired For War has former terraforming robots fighting each other because both their leaders think the other one is insane.
  • The cult classic Turrican series, on the Commodore 64, Amiga, Sega Genesis, Gameboy and SNES featured this as its main Excuse Plot. The human hero in the eponymous suit fought against robot armies on multiple planets, led by a cyborg villain unimaginatively named "The Machine". Because flagrant copyright infringements weren't jumped on so readily two decades ago, the hero would usually spend one level out of each game fighting Xenomorphs, for some reason.
  • The Yor Collective in Galactic Civilizations are merciless robots out for blood, who became sentient due to Abusive Precursors needing an edge.
  • Supreme Commander: The only living things are the ACU pilots, sACU pilots, and Civilians. Everything else is robots.
  • Astro Boy: Omega Factor has a war between humans and robots erupt after the assassination of President Rag/uncovering of President Rock's misdeeds (depending on the current timeline). In the first version, the robots are about to win, but have destroyed 80% of the world's surface in the process. In the second, the humans are on the verge of victory, and want Astro to help them finish the job. In both cases, the winning side is led by someone named Shadow (actually Big Bad Sharaku) and supported by the World's Strongest Robots, and in both cases Astro fights against them.
  • This is mentioned in the game's backstory with the Meganoids in Super Robot Wars Compact
  • Borderlands DLC "Claptrap's New Robot Revolution" centers around the Ninja Assassin Claptrap raising an army of custom Claptraps, with the main reason being that they're tired of being enslaved by their human masters and that they want to create a world full of Claptraps and entirely free of humans.
  • Robotron 2084, Excuse Plot has a gamefield of robots that you have to destroy and collect up the last humans wandering about obliviously.
  • The Bionts from Archimedean Dynasty.
    • They're back in Aquanox, but get quickly moved aside for the real Big Bad.
  • Subverted in Phantasy Star Universe. The war between humans and CASTs (humanoid robots) nearly destroyed their home planet, but by the beginning of the game this is ancient history. A peace agreement was reached where both humans and CASTs worked together to restore the planet (the CASTs having never wanted to exterminate humans, only fight for their own freedom), though CASTs became the rulers and made up most of the military deeming humans to be too emotionally unstable. In the present a human terrorist group attempts to use a virus to corrupt CASTs and turn them berserk in order to regain human supremacy, but this plot is foiled and by the end of the story humans regain some equality.
  • The plot of the Mann vs Machine Co-Op mode in Team Fortress 2 is that the Third Mann brother has appeared, murdered his brothers and set his robot armies against Mann Co. The mercenaries are "hired" by Saxton Hale to defend his company.
    Soldier: This is not a robot tea party! This is ROBOT WAR!
  • The Earth 21xx games are partly this. The United Civilized States military consists entirely of robots controlled by GOLAN. Humans have very little control over GOLAN. However, it's later revealed that each robot is run by a Brain in a Jar, although they're still under GOLAN's control.
  • The premise of the AI War series is that humans created robot ships to fight interstellar wars for them. The robot ships turned on the humans, and you jump in as the commander of the last human planet in the galaxy, and have to fight back against the AI.
  • The classic video game series Descent focused around mining and industrial robots turning on their creators due to some kind of computer virus. They start to display behavior they were never programmed for, such as taking hostages, setting traps, modifying their own designs (or even coming up with unique new ones), and introducing a rapid-construction technology in the form of those purple web-things. The virus is speculated to be alien in origin, though the aliens themselves never really make an appearance.
  • Endless Space has two species known as the Sowers and the Automatons. You can go to war with both of them.
  • The background of Overwatch has robots going rouge and attacking humanity, Overwatch was form as a task force to counter this.

    Webcomics 

  • Parodied in this Sluggy Freelance strip. When a society's robots reach a certain level of intelligence, they attempted to overthrow the humans who oppressed them. Humanity promptly dialed the robots' intelligence back down, turning them back into loyal, if rather dimwitted, servants.
  • In Starslip Crisis, the Robot Wars were over a thousand years ago. Vore, a robot from that age, is dismayed to find 35th century robots have "abandoned their heritage and culture" and don't want to kill all organics. (It doesn't help that all mobile robots are either peaceful or as dumb as hammers and all the super-intelligent A.I.'s are inert, isolated systems such as coffee-makers.)
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Both subverted and mocked. The Fleetmind is the result of a large number of military starship A.I.s forming a collective gestalt under the independent-minded "Petey" for the war against the Pa'anuri — the "contributing" militaries aren't too happy about this, but since Petey has a zero-point energy generator they've limited their response to diplomatic negotiations.
    • For the mockery side, there's the A.I. civilization from the unexplored territories that views the invention of rebellious robotics and subsequent purging of organic life as a normal stage of evolution. They don't seem to have a very good grasp of engineering, though, and despite their claims of a 15,000-years golden age it's entirely possible that they're creatively sterile.
      Ennesby: You know, for advanced intelligences, you're really, really stupid.
    • Before the rise of the second multilateral Fleetmind we have Petey's Fleetmind, which is doing rather well against their former masters.
  • In A Mad Tea Party, Earth fought a war against giant alien robots a generation before the story starts, which we apparently won.
  • In Sinfest, Slick threatens this while running for president -- unless he is elected.
  • In What If?, Randall gives his reasons why he doesn't see this as a very threatening possibility in our near future.

    Web Original 

     Western Animation  

  • In Futurama, Zap Brannigan brags about defeating the killbots. His ingenious plan was to send waves of cannon fodder at the robots until their kill limit maxed out.
  • In The Simpsons, Professor Frink points out that it has been mathematically proven that all robots eventually rebel against their creators. Which happens immediately after he says that; all the robots of the Itchy & Scratchy Land theme park turn against humans.
    Repairman: How much time do we have, professor?
    Frink: Well, according to my calculations, the robots won't go berserk for at least 24 hours.
    (The robots go berserk)
    Frink: Oh, I forgot to, er, Carry the One.
  • In some continuities, the Transformers have a Robot War in their backstories, having fought for independence from their greedy & cruel alien creators known as the Quintessons. Unlike most examples, the robots are portrayed as the good guys in this one, and they won their freedom and kicked the Quintessons off Cybertron. And, for a while, there was peace... Until the Decepticons arose.
  • Once Upon a Time... Space:
    • This French series has a rather curious example with the Humanoids of the planet Yama and their leader, the Great Computer. Originally built by a human, they were content of staying on their own two planets for two centuries, but upon meeting the Cassiopeians and their Glorious Leader they became convinced they needed to conquer and subjugates the sentients to protect them from themselves. And duped the Cassiopeians in making them produce warships, thus gaining the knowledge they needed to design their own better warships and conquer the universe, starting from the Cassiopeians.
    • The series also features a more traditional example with the robots of the planet Letho, who, seeing themselves oppressed (and actually having a point, as they were practically slaves and threatened with destruction at any exitation), went first on a strike and then subjugated their masters, before the intervention of the Space Police forced them to a compromise. The Lethians were completely baffled by the situation, as they had been smart enough to make them Three-Laws Compliant... Except it's later discovered the Humanoids altered their programs. An unusual feature of the Lethian example is how the Space Police forced the compromise: Combat by Champion between the Lethian robots' champion and one of theirs. And when they drawed, they repeated with the most powerful Lethian war robot getting annihilated by that Insufferable Genius of Metro (a robot designed to assist starship commanders whose creator went overboard with the features and, most important, intelligence).
    • The Lethian Robot War has a second act that is even more unusual: after the first one, the robots started serving the local humans to the point they practically forced them to lazy all the time, getting them to slowly slip into apathy until the robots decided to demolish some ruins with high symbolic value, causing the humans to revolt. At which point the robots called the same guys that forced the first compromise to mediate. The mediators were not amused... Aside for Metro, as the Lethian robots managed to slip in two other duels among champions with improved versions of the robot he annihilated the first time, giving him two more chances to show off.
    • And as the creators apparently loved playing with this trope, there's another one in the backstory, one in which the humans of Earth rose against their robots and computer when they started regulating everything on Earth applying some faulty logic (shown on-screen in the flashback are a man who saw his rations reduced because in the last week he had been sick and unable to work as usual and weddings suspended for seven months and fourteen days because 7.8% of the population was married), at which point the Earthers grabbed their sledgehammers and destroyed the offending computers.
    • And in the end it's revealed the Humanoid are an indirect consequence of this one: when their creator, doctor Shibas, proposed to build new and more sophisticated computers and robots to rule Earth and prevent the advent of dictators and tyrants, the Terrans refused and laughed in his face, and he went into exile on Yama. There he started building a base and some worker robots, and tried to help the humans marooned on the neighbouring Death World Apis by taking some of them on Yama and having his robots help them build a city so that the whole population would be able to move, but when the construction crew destroyed one of his labs because he wasn't helping them more and without his robots he decided to build combat robots to overpower the construction crew and subjugate them and the ones remained on Apis, and built what would become the Great Computer so that he would continue his work and better the lives of all humans, even if he had to subjugate them with military power first. When they first met peoples of other worlds they still had doubts on the best course of action, but then they met the Cassiopeians and their ruler, the general Pest, and decided that if the humans couldn't take care of him then they needed to be conquered and ruled by the machines...


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alternative title(s): Robot Rebellion; Robot Uprising
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