He analyzes crime scenes! He caps bad guys!
He interrogates! He writes parking tickets! He does weddings! He spays your pets!
"Ramirez! Use the Predator Drones!" "Ramirez! Use the Laser Designator!" "Ramirez! Use the Grenade Launcher!" "Ramirez! Get on the Minigun!" "Ramirez! Get on that Sniper Rifle!" "Ramirez! Take out the Enemy Vehicles!"
In Real Life
, the various members of an organization have very well-defined jobs, which include a specific set of responsibilities and a limited amount of authority. Each member is restricted to performing only a specific set of activities. This system, called "departmentalization", allows the organization to train each member in one set of tasks, allows each member to focus on those tasks, and prevents members from stepping on each others' toes while doing their jobs. Departmentalization is a key aspect of many organizations (particularly large ones), including police, military, medical, governmental, educational and even commercial organizations.
In fiction, however, organizations are rarely depicted in this fashion, particularly when it comes to main characters who are members of said organization. Instead of having a restricted set of responsibilities and authority, The Main Characters Do Everything
. They will often be seen doing whatever tasks are important to the story
or interesting to watch, regardless of whether they would logically have the clearance, ability, or even the need to do those things themselves. Furthermore, any figures of authority in the organization will rarely show an interest in maintaining any departmentalized structure, often ordering our main characters to act outside conventional boundaries. In many cases, we'll see a lot of people milling about in the background doing nothing
, because the Main Characters are already doing their job
Whether the main characters have the skills necessary for the task is irrelevant. The point is that an organization described or even depicted as being departmentalized is showing no concern to maintain its own departments or hierarchy - allowing some of its members to do virtually anything they deem necessary - or even orders
them to do so.
On some shows, the situation will be even more skewed: A main character is actually a figure of authority, but is frequently seen performing the jobs of his underlings - particularly putting himself into dangerous situations. Real-world Departmentalized organizations often go to extreme lengths to keep the higher-ups out of danger, letting expendables do the dirty work. In fact, superiors are often explicitly discouraged from taking a "hands-on" approach entirely (even when they are more qualified for a task than their underlings), whereas in fiction this notion seems to be almost non-existent.
This trope usually happens because writers are faced with a tough dilemma: If our main characters were realistically limited to the scope of their own jobs, things could get very boring very quickly
; How interesting would it be to watch The Captain
pushing papers and managing his crew all day? How many interesting stories can revolve around watching the doctor diagnosing patients in his little office? note
Of course, one solution would be to add Loads and Loads of Characters
to follow around, each with his own little job. Some writers prefer this, and some even pull it off rather well - but the multitude of characters can still potentially confuse the audience. Another solution is to focus only on the most interesting jobs in the organization, and have everything else be done off-screen (as seen in the many Police Procedural
aversions listed below) - but again requires very good writing skills and/or very interesting stories to fit this specific format.
Instead, most writers prefer increasing the scope of the Main Character's job far beyond realistic limits, or even impose no limits whatsoever. So now, the Captain goes out on dangerous away-missions
, the general practitioner goes into surgery
, and the forensic analyst does interrogations and arrests
- whatever serves the drama. The break from realism is brushed under the carpet, in the hope that the resulting drama would be gripping enough to keep the viewers engaged.
It is important to note that this trope is only a tool
, often being considered one of the many Acceptable Breaks from Reality
. It helps reduce the introduction of Flat Characters
that carry out the menial tasks, and keeps the main characters in focus throughout the episode.
A show can be said to use this trope if it fits one or more of the following definitions:
- In a realistic world, one or more of the main characters would not be allowed to do what they're doing, given the stated or implied definitions of their jobs.
Example: A police detective performs an official autopsy.
- The main characters are repeatedly seen performing a task that does not fit any of their stated job descriptions, when there is no reason that they couldn't (or shouldn't) acquire an additional team-member specifically to handle that task.
Example: A SWAT team keeps getting called for bomb-threat missions, but no one ever thinks of hiring a bomb specialist.
- The main characters perform tasks that should've been the job of other characters who are also present and able to perform those jobs.
Example: A SWAT team's sniper disarms a bomb, while the teammate known to be a bomb specialist watches him work.
- There are many secondary characters or Ghost Extras around who seem to have absolutely no job, since the main characters are doing everything on their own.
Example: We see the bomb squad arrive at the scene, but the hero detective is still the one who goes to disarm the bomb.
- None of the figures of authority on the show seem to have any problems with the lack of departmentalization, or repeatedly order the main characters to act outside that departmentalized structure.
Example: The police commissioner sees the bomb squad arriving, but still lets the hero detective disarm the bomb himself.
- One or more of the main characters is a figure of authority, but has no regards for departmentalization - often involving themselves in heavy micromanagement of every little detail.
Example: The bomb squad is disarming a bomb, but the police commissioner is giving them instructions on how to do so over the radio.
- One or more of the main characters is a figure of authority, but constantly places him/herself into dangerous situations, despite there being plenty of "expendables" around who should be doing so in his/her stead.
Example: The police commissioner dismantles a bomb while the entire police department watches (with fingers crossed).
Note that the trope can be (and sometimes is) justified
simply by providing a logical reason why any of the above should occur. Several such examples are listed below. Unfortunately, many shows offer no such explanation.
Finally, note that this trope is rarely confined to a single main character. It's usually a group of characters who, between them, seem to carry out every possible task in the show. You'll never see the extras doing anything important, it's always one of the Main Characters who gets the task. Some shows make this even more complicated by having one main character doing the job of another main character, because that
other main character is off doing some other
job that isn't within their remit. In the worst case scenario, this cascades on and on until all of the main characters are doing something they aren't supposed to do.
This trope is closely related to Ghost Extras
, since the two tropes are almost always played together. Expect the main character(s) to be an Omnidisciplinary Scientist
or Super Doc
(it's usually an excuse to let him Do Everything). Also connected to Red Shirt
; if you're in a series where The Main Characters Do Everything
, and suddenly you see someone else participating in the main action, they might be there only for purposes of a sudden death.
Somewhat related to Composite Character
, where after adaptation a single character has to carry out tasks that were originally carried out by two or more separate characters.
Compare with Einstein Sue
and The Only One
, where our main characters do everything because all other characters are either incompetent, or just never happen to be around when they're needed. Contrast Minimalist Cast
, which is when the main characters do everything because there isn't anyone else
. Also contrast with Lower Deck Episode
, where the show focuses on the people in the background - and in many cases has to temporarily suspend The Main Characters Do Everything to make it work.
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Anime and Manga
- Happens in Phoenix, particularly with the two speaking-part forensic scientists.
- An odd case with Pokémon is the characters of Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny. In part they subvert this trope, since they are technically many characters despite being essentially identical. However, other police and nurses (who we see on occasion actually do exist) pretty much never get to do anything of consequence. Good luck advancing when your entire industry is dominated by one family.
- This is one of the oddities with the Gundam series being the progenitor of the Real Robot Genre - for all that it's supposed to have the mecha as just another set of armored vehicles to fight a war with, said war's outcome still tends to entirely hinge on the actions of one Super Prototype and its typically-untrained pilot.
- In the Nick Fury:Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. stories, it is always Colonel Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, Val, and a few other high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D agents who do most or all of the infiltrating, shooting, fighting, spying, and interacting with all of the superheroes. Even despite the fact that these characters should be too aged for active field frontline duties. Also, these characters always operate under their real names, oddly enough. These agents are high ranking intelligence officers whose faces are also well known to longtime enemies like AIM and HYDRA as well as to the various circles of costumed superheroes, many of whom have secret identities. Shouldn't their espionage functions be better carried out by nobody characters? After all, a famous spy is a useless one. In any real spy organization Nick Fury, being the man at the top, would be a reclusive, shadowy character whom even his senior officers may only occasionally see in person. And those senior officers would be spymasters in their own right, presenting a similarly shadowy presence to their own subordinates. The activities and operatives of this organization would remain mostly a mystery even to (especially to) the superheroes. Most of the interactions with superheroes or notables like Tony Stark would be through plainclothes middlemen who would probably not immediately bring up S.H.I.E.L.D's name. The iconic Helicarrier would be a foolish expenditure, it's intelligence functions would be carried out by a smaller, less conspicuous conventional aircraft. It wouldn't even need to be a carrier. Anyway, it would be foolish to have all of your senior intelligence officers together in the same place all the time. Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D would be a mostly invisible organization with no discernable headquarters. It would manipulate the more visible and publicly known conventional military or intelligence forces into supplying the hardware and doing most of the spying, fighting and dying.
- DMZ has the main character Matty Roth, a photojournalist, in the center of every single event concerning the DMZ. He eventually helps elect the new leader of the DMZ and becomes his right-hand man. Then he gets sent to acquires a nuke for the new government. Then he single-handedly brokers an end to the war and negotiates a peace deal with all of the factions of the DMZ.
- Justified in Peace Forged in Fire. Morgan and D'trel, both Romulan Republican Force officers, take over critical negotiations from the trained Republic diplomats because the Romulan Star Empire's Praetor Velal, previously career military, doesn't respect the politicos.
- Broken Legends picks this apart: Kiera comes to resent how everyone in Hoenn seems to keep shunting all the reponsibility of saving the world onto her shoulders. After the traumatic events at the Seafloor Cavern, Steven triggers her Rage Breaking Point and gets himself used as a human battering ram for his troubles. And all of this comes before she discovers that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished in Hoenn.
- Books generally suffer from this less because they can handle large numbers of minor characters better, but the villains in the Left Behind series seem to have an HR problem: Nicolae Carpathia rules the world with only a former flight attendant, a botanist, a disgraced ex-seminarian, and a newspaper editor to help him. But then again, Carpathia is literally Satan, Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies and the Prince of darkness, it's not as if he needed the human underlings.
- Discussed in A Brother's Price, where the princesses are Royals Who Actually Do Something, and are quite keen on doing the dangerous adventuring tasks themselves. They usually find a compromise that consists of their bodyguard accompanying one or two of them, while the other ones (there are five who are of age) stay at the palace and do the less interesting office work. As the Whistler family is at one point recruited into helping the princesses, this trope is still somewhat in power - while we do not know much about most of them, they are the main protagonist's family.
- This trope is somewhat built into the very premise of the Enders Game series, where a good number of the major characters are a bunch of super-prodigies who, in the first novel, were drafted as children (or at least strongly considered) by the military to be trained into tactical geniuses. The three Wiggin siblings, between them, go on to command an international space fleet, unite humanity under one government, found a major religion, destroy an alien race, save 3 alien races, become the most hated person in history, become the most loved person in history, make faster-than-light travel possible, and manage to do much this without their true identities being revealed to more than half a dozen people.
- Novels featuring the Ankh-Morpork Times, to an extent. William de Word still acts like an Intrepid Reporter in Monstrous Regiment, even though he's supposed to be the managing editor. In Unseen Academicals, he insists on reporting on the football match, although he assigned a sports reporter at the end of The Truth. If it's not him, it's his wife, Sacharissa, as seen in the Moist von Lipwig books. Justified since William invented newspapers on the Disc, and therefore his job works however he says it does.
- Sam Vimes also finds himself doing a lot more work on the streets than his position as Commander of the Watch in the biggest city on the Disc should allow. However, this is often lampshaded and justified - Sam thoroughly dislikes the official side of his job and always looks for excuses to get out and do some real policing. And as he's only answerable to the Patrician (and his wife), he can get away with it.
- In Therin Knite's Echoes, Adem and the rest of Night Team One are the "premier" team at EDPA, meaning they get called in to work any cases deemed high priority by the organization. Since the books revolve around a series of escalating "high priority" cases, Night Team One ends up doing everything, all the time, from things far beyond their collective skill sets to the marginally important tasks that would usually be relegated to lower-ranked agents.
- The Sword of Truth series: If Richard didn't do it, and Kahlan didn't do it, then the action in question is by definition evil, because no one else on the side of good has any agency whatsoever. Becomes slightly ridiculous when an ancient wizard ancestor of Richard who was so powerful and dangerous that there was an entire civilization founded on keeping him and his flawless future-vision locked up, and a second civilization based on exploiting the technology invented to keep him that way escapes dramatically from confinement to... kind of faff around in the background aimlessly for a couple books, and maybe make a pass at an old woman or two. Little help with the oncoming super-evil empire of doom would have been nice, granddad.
- Horatio Hornblower justified this. Most of the time when Hornblower is doing something, he's of a rank lower than captain. Once he becomes a captain and higher, he's less likely to get involved himself. On one occasion, he's forced to go on a mission because one of the Lieutenants on it would out-seniority his preferred choice, his own Lt. Bush. Bush himself is decidedly unhappy about his beloved boss risking his life. And at least once, after reaching higher than Captain, he admits to himself that he simply wants to and there's no one there to stop him.
- This was present in LARP: The Battle For Verona, where the main characters instruct the US Army on how to repel Mongolian invaders using Medieval technology. The fact that these are young people who get together on weekends to play games instructing dedicated military personnel breaks the suspension of disbelief quite quickly.
- Justified in The Lost Fleet series; having managed to get home from a disastrous raid on the enemy rear with a high percentage of his fleet intact, recently recovered Human Popsicle and very reluctant legendary war hero Michael Geary is immediately sent off on another mission as far from his home nation -much to his own considerable displeasure- as possible because he scares the living daylights out of his political leadership; relations between the military and the government have become exceedingly strained thanks to a century of brutal and bloody warfare, and there was already a serious threat of a coup before a man who is Famed In-Story as some hybrid of Admiral Nelson and Captain America came back from the dead. It also doesn't hurt that he's just about the only really competent fleet commander they have left at this point, because casualties have been so appalling that training and experience are in short supply.
- Perry Rhodan suffers from this to varying degrees over time. The title character in particular kind of naturally has to appear and take center stage at least every so often, so even in his various capacities as head of state or other VIP over time he gets involved in a lot of things that his position would indicate he should normally only hear reports of while staying safely on Earth himself.
- The Clone: For some reason, junior pathologist Mark Kenniston sits in on important meetings about how to deal with the titular amorphous organism, and later directs fire and rescue efforts and even personally leads a squad of scuba divers to combat the thing inside the flooded subway. All things you wouldn't think a pathologist would do. Likewise, supporting characters nurse Edie Hempstead and dishwasher Harry Schwartz hang around and do loads of stuff in place of other characters.
Pretty much every medical show features doctors doing the most of the nurses' jobs (well, unless the show is actually about nurses.)
- The doctors on House often perform all sorts of duties that should've been departmentalized - everything from radiology to surgery. Somewhat justified given that House's boss - the person who runs the hospital - has the hots for him, so he and his team get away with a lot of stuff he really shouldn't.
- Grey's Anatomy:
- The main characters are surgeons yet they perform non-surgical aspects of medical trials, do all the work in the ER, all the work of radiologists and a whole lot of what the nurses are supposed to do. In addition they do all the internal medicine associated with their surgical specialty. This is largely a result of focusing on surgeons, and surgeons only (many plots even pretend that the chief of surgery is in charge of the entire hospital). As a result, after introducing several rounds of interns, attendings and residents, as well as personnel from the season-six merger, plus guest stars who ended up staying, and with few characters ever leaving outright, the show ended up as The Main Characters Do Everything despite its Loads and Loads of Characters. Within the surgical department, the further sub-specializations (general, cardio, plastics etc.) are handled relatively well.
- In a late-season episode the protagonists get bitten by this: several doctors pool their money to buy the hospital themselves (long story), and the venture capitalist they bring the idea to rejects them out of hand, specifically because they're all surgeons, with "not one administrator among the bunch of you".
- The Australian soap opera Neighbours did this for many years with Dr. Karl Kennedy. He was a general practitioner, but any medical procedure of whatever kind always seemed to be done by Dr. Karl. Similarly, there have been various characters over the years who were nurses, and any stay in hospital would always see the characters cared for by that particular nurse.
- Nowadays, Karl works in Erinsborough General. Curiously, he always seems to be on duty, night or day, when one of the other main characters is rushed in. In a nod to realism, though, he does not perform surgery.
- Emergency! both averted and played it straight. The paramedics had their own job, but could also act as firefighters since they were firefighter/paramedics. Most hospital stuff, though, was done by one of the three main doctors (Early, Brackett and Morton) and although there were lots of background nurses, Dixie was the most often seen one.
- The Bill is based in a metropolitan area police station full of people, but conspicuously the 20 main characters are always involved in the cases we see, which despite being a relatively high number for a police procedural, all the other guys do are Ghost Extras who do their own things that we don't get to hear about. It crosses the line from the 'loads of characters doing their jobs' to the characters doing other jobs occasionally, in that one character (say, Sgt Smith) will be seen working as office Sergeant, and in C.A.D., and at custody, all in the same shift.
- The CSI franchise is very egregious about this.
- Pretty much the only thing the all-purpose forensic investigators don't do as part of their duties is to give out speeding tickets. And they don't do autopsies, that's the ME's job. The others just often watch parts of it. And in Ray and Hawkes' case, they are trained pathologists. Also, all 3 series have lab techs, though lab work is just as often done by the main cast. On the original series everyone has specialties, but still, real CSIs don't do "lab stuff," only "scene stuff."
- At least they aren't usually called upon to use guns much, unlike their counterparts in Miami and New York, although they're actually trained police officers with badges in addition to their guns.
- This is lampshaded in a CSI parody on Schlock Mercenary, where a forensic investigator is asked why he is interrogating a suspect.
- And gently spoofed in an episode of Law & Order in which one of the forensic team makes a suggestion as to what might have happened at a crime scene, and Lennie Briscoe remarks "These guys think they're cops."
- Hawaii Five-0: they've got a forensics lab that can find addresses from hair-strands, Detective Danno sneaks around like a ninja, and Police Chief McGarett fights criminals and makes arrests at the crime-scene when he's supposed to be minding the store. It's as if they're the only cops in the entire state of Hawaii. However, they are a special police task force reporting directly to the Governor.
- Criminal Minds always has the valuable profilers arresting the violent, dangerous psychopaths. Also, the characters deal with everything from serial killers to the mob to terrorists to child abductors. In real life, the FBI has different departments for each of these and would not send the same team on all the cases they get. Justified to some extent as they do need episodes.
- NCIS borders on this.
- McGee, Tony, and Ziva all do field work, but also run down information back in the office. However, McGee almost always does more technical stuff, such as tracking GPS signals and hacking, while the other two tend to look for more accessible info, like bank accounts and call histories. McGee will often be left behind to track a subject while Gibbs, Tony, and Ziva make the actual arrest. Abby, however, does all the forensics (Except for pathology, which is handled by Ducky and Palmer), from bullet matching to mass spectrometry, and she even does some computer hacking. This is justified, though, as she is qualified in all these various areas. Ducky eventually gets a degree in psychology so he can be consulted on profiles and the like.
- This is a Discussed Trope on the show in regards to Abby. Specifically, there are always headhunters looking to hire her away from NCIS due to her wide range of skills and high aptitude in said skills. It's also been mentioned that Abby does way more work than is expected of a forensics lab with only one person.
- Bones has a forensic anthropologist doing EVERYTHING. There was once an actual Forensic Anthropology teacher who offered extra credit to her students if they watched a single episode of the show and brought in a list of everything wrong with it. Up to a point this is justified by the premise of the show. Bones is one of only two forensic anthropologists in North America (the other is in Quebec) and insists on full participation in investigations as a condition of consulting for the FBI. Of course, the only reason the FBI accepts this instead of calling the Canadian guy is because then there wouldn't be a show.
- The X-Files has Agent Scully serving as a field agent and performing her own autopsies.
- Fringe is supposed to have the titular Division, a joint task force comprising dozens to hundreds of agents, of which our protagonists are only a few. By season 2, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Fringe Division was headquartered in Walter's lab and was comprised of three FBI agents, two civilian consultants and a cow. Well, Walter is segregated from most of the rest of the division intentionally due to his Science-Related Memetic Disorder frequently crossing the line into the "experiment on whatever human is handy" phase or outright omnicidal mania. I think the viewer is supposed to assume that when the assistant was asked a question and then wasn't around for a few scenes she was off liaising with the department proper. Similarly, they keep Walter's son away from sensitive files and personnel because he's a career criminal and Olivia stays out of contact to maintain the isolation. They're essentially a semi-independent 'cell' of the division kept apart because they're, well, a cancer cell.
- NUMB3RS features this with Omnidisciplinary Scientist Charlie, somehow a mathematician is the one they go to to handle engineering analysis, geology and whatever other random scientific concepts are necessary for the case of the week. While he does get help from resident Hot Scientist Amita, a computer scientist, and his physicist mentor, Absent-Minded Professor Larry, they are still involved in a much larger number of fields than any real life scientist or mathematician. While occasionally other experts are brought in as necessary, more often than not it fall to the three main characters to do all the work.
- Castle features this to an extent with Lanie, the medical examiner. While she does do autopsies, fitting her role, she also handles all of the field work and generally is the one to do much of the other forensic analysis despite the fact that there are other specialties for those roles.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., essentially a police procedural in the Marvel movie universe, on a team that has two specialist "field agents" capable of performing technical tasks through comms or even by themselves, doing things as various as confronting Super Soldiers, disarming weather control devices, infiltrating enemy locations, and developing cures for alien diseases. In some ways an inversion of the trope, since the goal seems to be to give every member of The Team equal screen time. Becomes justified after SHIELD is destroyed during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as the main characters are all that's left. Building SHIELD back up from a handful of people Coulson knows and trusts to it's former status as an international peacekeeping organization looks to be one of the main goals of the series.
- Flashpoint Strategic Response Unit Team One is called out for a lot of things — not just hostage negotiation and rescue, their most frequent and stated job, but also kidnapping, robbery, a couple of VIP escorts, serving high risk warrants, raids and responding to bomb threats. It is justified, however, in that the SRU teams are intended to respond to any possible situation, and have done a great deal of crosstraining (while Sgt. Greg Parker is the main negotiator, everyone on Team One has ended up having to negotiate with subjects at some point), and specialties are honored, though everyone has two or three, stretching it a bit (Wordy is both their bomb tech and tech... tech, Wordy is the pointman, surveillance, and less lethal guy, and so on).
- Hannibal's forensic team is introduced with the specialties of Beverly on fiber analysis, Jimmy on latent prints, and Zeller on cause of death. All useful skills on an investigation, but they are also shown performing autopsies, profiling killers, and tracing phone calls.
Medical, Police & Forensic Aversions
- Averted by Joe Friday and his partners in Dragnet. They didn't have a specific department. Each episode, they'd be experienced officers in whatever department was most central to the real-life case they were depicting - only their off-the-job personalities remained constant. Regardless of the department, the two only did the plainclothes work. If they needed fingerprints or a license plate run, or other tasks outside their regular duties, they'd contact the appropriate section of the police department (part of the much-vaunted "realism" of the show).
- Also averted in Adam-12. Reed and Malloy were patrolmen, their job was to respond to calls and arrest criminals. They worked with the Detective Division, but it was to give them information and provide backup - any investigation was done by the detectives themselves. Once Reed and Malloy arrested someone and brought them in (and did the paperwork), their part was complete and they went out to the next call. Not only was it realistic, it also provided a great variety of stories per episode.
- The original Law & Order averted this as much as possible. The detectives are virtually never shown doing anything other than detective work. If they need to break into a suspect's house, you can bet there will be uniformed officers or even a SWAT team to take point. The Lieutenant stays in the office, the Pathologist stays in the morgue, and the computer guy stays in front of the computer. The district attorney virtually never leaves his office if it's not an emergency, sending his assistant out to interview witnesses if necessary. The only times these lines were blurred was when there was a good plot-driven reason, and there were bits of dialogue about how this wasn't strictly procedure, but needs must.
- Also averted in sister series Homicide Life On The Street. The detectives work murder cases almost exclusively. Other police-work such as medical examinations and forensic analysis is done by trained professionals, usually off-screen. The lieutenant and other higher-ups rarely get involved, unless explicitly needed, and the Detectives almost never make arrests without uniformed officers as backup.
- This trope is played straight, averted and thoroughly justified in Spiritual Successor The Wire. The entire premise of the show is that a judge's inquiries prompt the creation of a detail unit charged with investigating one specific case, which later becomes established as a semi-permanent crime unit with no real definition to its role in the police force. This later results in the team being reduced to making small-scale drug arrests due to in-office politics - much to the team-members' protest. Nonetheless, the Baltimore police department is shown as realistically heavily departmentalized - to its own detriment in most cases - and the show has Loads and Loads of Characters to boot.
- Dexter: The lead character, a forensic investigator, not only is emphatically not a police officer, with no badge or gun, but works specifically doing blood spatter analysis, and rarely if ever deviates from this. In fact, they emphasize this as early as the pilot episode, where, upon seeing a cut up body whose blood has been completely drained, he turns around and walks away, telling Batista "No trabajo" (translation: "Not my job, man.").
- Monk is an aversion in that we do know about the existence of other SFPD detectives in the Robbery-Homicide detectives besides Stottlemeyer and Disher. The main characters are only seen doing the investigation work at crime scenes, as well as the questioning and arrest of suspect. Occassionally, we do see Monk and the others occasionally visit crime labs for forensic analysis or the morgue to look at bodies (typically in unusual cases).
- Scrubs averts this as part of it's surprising accuracy in how medicine works. They play a lot off the contrasts between medical and surgical, blue scrubs for medical doctors and green scrubs for surgeons. Both J.D. and Elliot have to face choosing a specific field (Elliot especially being pushed towards OB-GYN) and both eventually go for general practitioner. Other episodes involve the characters having to trade favors, bribes or blackmail to get lab results done quicker or a CAT scan done after hours. Turk talks about being rotated to different areas of surgery, from orthopedics and cosmetic, and he later makes a point that he doesn't have experience in pre-natal when asked to assist on one as a favor.
- Star Trek is a notorious example.
- Starfleet officers seem to have a penchant for sending themselves and/or other valuable officers (usually bridge officers, and sometimes ALL OF THEM) on risky away missions, when security forces or specialists are available.note This is occasionally admitted in the shows themselves. For example, in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Riker was hired because he refused to let his previous commanding officer go on a dangerous away mission.
- You have to feel sorry for the Security Officer. Their job appears to cover everything from threat analysis and weapons targeting in starship combat to responding to an alarm tripping on the cargo deck. On the odd occasion they will delegate their alarm response duties to the Chief Engineer or First Officer.
- Originally there was No Such Thing as H.R. in Star Trek, but then came the position of ship's counselor, which is basically an entire HR department in one person.
- If an episode involves our crew beaming down to a civilized, populated planet, it's a crapshoot as to whether you'll get to see more than the bare minimum of locals (sometimes even as few as one) who have a speaking role, authority, and/or any impact on the story. Those few locals will be responsible for all interactions with the main cast. Even if the main characters land at a remote or unintended location, expect one of the locals to immediately act as an authorized representative of his/her entire species. The same thing often applies when the main cast encounters aliens in space.
- Star Trek: The Original Series: This may have been Lampshaded in the episode "The Ultimate Computer". When the M-5 computer is asked why it didn't pick Kirk and McCoy for a landing party, it cites them as "unnecessary personnel".
- It is definitely lampshaded by the fact that McCoy's "I'm a doctor, not a..." protestations were frequent enough to attain catchphrase status.
- The episode "Arena" contains a striking example: the Enterprise is under attack in orbit while Kirk is planet-side. Although Kirk is himself under fire, he takes time out to micromanage the space battle over the communicator (with such insightful tactics as "fire phasers" and "fire torpedoes"), rather that just letting Sulu do his job.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation it almost feels like the thousand or so people on board the Enterprise-D serve at most as backup in case one of the officers gets incapacitated. And usually, if all the Main Characters are incapacitated, those ample replacements are also mysteriously absent or incapacitated. There were touches of this in The Original Series as well.
- Even random or alien phenomena tend to treat Main Characters differently from Extras. If a phenomenon causes people to disappear or die, it'll target the extras first, leaving only the Main Characters around to solve the problem. If a phenomenon is benign, or it teleports people to some interesting scenario, it'll always target the Main Characters only, leaving all of the extras back on the ship.
- An example of this appears in the very first episode, "Encounter at Farpoint". When Q transports the crew into the court of post-apocalyptic horrors, he leaves O'Brien (at that time still an extra) back on the battle bridge. It is not explained why he chose to take all the others - who are all main characters.
- Speaking of TNG: Hey, there's a top secret and dangerous commando mission we need done. Instead of sending specially trained combat troops, we'll send our top ship captain who has valuable information on our defense plans, some doctor, and a Klingon. This isn't a huge risk to both the people involved and the Federation itself at all.
- Picard is apparently a starship captain, detective, attorney, and diplomat all in one. That last one is partially justified since he's the captain of Starfleet's flagship. The Enterprise is shown to be as much a diplomatic tool for the Federation as it is a tool for exploration or combat.
- Still, the number of episodes where Picard's various duties conflict with each other is very high. With the ship being used so often for diplomacy, and is already carrying over 1,000 people, the Enterprise should've had a dedicated diplomat on board. Starfleet is holding the Idiot Ball on that.
- In the TNG episode "Remember Me" Dr. Crusher attempts to call two of the other doctors on the ship in to examine a patient and is informed they apparently never existed. Although the viewer is supposed to be just as confused as Dr. Crusher, one must wonder why these other doctors have been so rarely seen before.
- In the episode "Who Watches the Watchers", Riker and Troi are surgically modified to appear as members of the proto-Vulcan people they need to infiltrate. The Enterprise had been shown to have Vulcan crew members, so it is unclear why two human senior officers need to be disguised to sneak around a species that is physically identical to Vulcans who could blend in naturally.
- Fridge Logic kicks in when the problem-of-the-week could be solved using a Vulcan or full-Betazoid's telepathic abilities, and nobody thinks to ask if they have one on board — though Starfleet didn't seem to have that many full-Betazoids. Also, it has been shown that Troi can communicate telepathically with other telepaths, even if she cannot do so with non-telepaths. Yet, there never seem to be any other telepathic members of the crew when such communication would be useful (such as in "Disaster").
- The bridge of the Enterprise is never seen completely staffed by a backup crew. They must exist for the times when you see the main characters in a meeting or in the holodeck, but if there's a scene on the bridge, at least a few of principals are always on duty.
- When Tasha Yar, chief of security, dies, who replaces her? Worf, who was in the command division and had no training as a security officer, rather than Yar's second in command. When Data is believed to have died in a shuttle accident, who replaces him as Science Officer? Worf again, despite him having even less qualifications for the position and him lampshading the similarities between this and what happened with Yar. When the writers realized they needed a chief engineer on the show, did they create a new character? No, they just handed the job to Geordi La Forge, who was the helm officer and had never shown any interest in starship engines but was suddenly a genius with them. Even better; to replace him at the helm, they stuck Wesley Crusher in that job, despite the fact that his "rank" of Acting Ensign was completely made up by Picard because the captain saw potential in him and wanted him to have bridge access. In each case, the only real justification was that they're already main characters.
- Actually, there was a head engineer in the first season (seen in the episode where everyone has that drunk virus), who was Chuck Cunningham Syndrome -ed off the show when Geordi got his promotion.
- Not one, several. In the first season alone, the ship goes through four chief engineers; Sarah Mc Dougall (the above-referred "The Naked Now"), Argyle ("Where No One has Gone Before" and "Datalore", mentioned in "Lonely Among Us" and the only one of the four that was around for longer than a single episode), Logan ("The Arsenal of Freedom") and Leland T. Lynch ("Skin of Evil", one episode after Logan's introduction). It's actually possible that they were all there at the same time, as the episode "Where No One has Gone Before" has Picard make a reference to "One of our chief engineers, in this case, Mr. Argyle", but why the ship needs that many, or why only one at a time is ever seen or referred to, is not explained. Also not explained is how all four of them are apparently gone by the second season.
- The season seven episode "Masks" opens with Deanna Troi – ship's councillor and at the time a newly minted commander with bridge officer training – giving a sculpture class to the ship's schoolchildren. No explanation is given.
- Star Trek: Voyager is particularly bad at this, with Janeway frequently sending both herself and her first officer off the ship on routine patrols.
- SF Debris points out the astounding number of times where Ensign Harry Kim does something well out of his element simply because the writers wanted to give him something to do.
- He was once placed in command of Voyager in Janeway's absence - and not remotely for lack of other officers.
- It's even worse in the case of Tom Paris, who is apparently knowledgable in everything from piloting, engineering, commando tactics, etc. And he's an ex-con. SF Debris even points out a particularly ridiculous instance of this in Year Of Hell where within the space of 30 seconds he is describing modifications he made to Voyager's hull (engineering) inspired by the Titanic (history) when he is suddenly called to perform field medicine and, to quote Debris, "none of these things are even his job." (piloting) Debris quickly comes to the conclusion that Paris was held in a prison for savants.
- There's a specific issue of this going on with Paris: aside from the Doctor, he's apparently the only person on the crew with medical training, and training someone who isn't a major character is obviously impossible. So for a significant chunk of the series, there are only two people working in sickbay, and one of them is the ship's chief helmsman.
- Voyager, at least, has two excuses: Half the original crew was killed in the first episode (including the doctor, nurse, chief engineer, lead helmswoman, and first officer), and they can't get specialized personnel from Starfleet. Those left on board have to step up from time to time.
- What remains unexplained is why, given the long expected duration of the journey home, some kind of continuing education program has not been worked into the regular duty schedule. The Doctor teaches Kes medicine until she is Put on a Bus, but nobody else is apparently brought in for similar training despite them having no backup for the Doctor except for Paris. Otherwise Icheb and Naomi Wildman are the only ones seemingly pursuing further education, despite the former having already been an Omnidisciplinary Scientist and the latter being a child expected to get an education!
- Given a tongue-in-cheek lampshading in Bride of Chaotica! Captain Janeway (posing as Queen Arachnia) is trying to get Dr Chaotica to lower his Lightning Shield so Captain Proton (Tom Paris) can attack.
) Why this preoccupation with the Shield? Janeway:
Oh, forgive me. It's just that, as a fellow ruler of the cosmos, I often have to do things myself. Chaotica:
Ah. Because of the incompetence of your inferiors
, no doubt!
- In addition to Tuvok, and in earlier seasons Kes, there was at least one other Vulcan (Vorik) and a Betazoid (Jarot) amongst the Voyager crew. But they are never available when Janeway needs telepathic support, although it was a plot point in the episode "Counterpoint" that they had to be kept hidden from the telepath-hating Devore.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was extremely bad in this regard, especially considering the station is meant to have a crew of roughly twice a Galaxy Class ship like the Enterprise-D. On several occasions they left the station without its captain, liaison to Bajor (who was second in command of the station but who was explicitly not a member of Starfleet and thus shouldn't be flying around on Starfleet missions and represents a chain of command issue), chief of security (also not a member of Starfleet, and actually a member of the race who were the main antagonists of the series), chief medical officer (not a command rank), the chief science officer, and worst of all, their chief engineer who was also the senior NCO (explicitly not a chain of command officer). And as most armies and navies know, you can take out as many officers as you like, but remove the NCOs and things start falling apart.
- It is arguable that only Sisko, Kira, Worf and Dax would be capable of taking command among the main cast, and as such, these four characters leaving would essentially drop command to whoever the 5th most senior officer left on the station, which is so far down the list that no-one of that level of seniority was ever made a character.
- At least they did have the station falling apart while O'Brien was gone though, and the others trying to keep the station in one piece. Heck, in the earlier seasons it was falling apart even while he was around.
- This was a result of introducing the Defiant. The writers decided that the story can't evolve if they're always confined to a single (stationary) space station, so they used the Defiant as an extra excuse to get the crew away from the station as often as possible. Since Defiant is a tiny warship requiring a crew of 40ish, it also gave an excellent opportunity for all the officers to leave at the same time. Does make one wonder why a warship doesn't get its own command crew to begin with, though.
- After a while, they brought Worf in, and transferred him to Command rather than Security so they could at least avoid some of this trope when they took the Defiant out.
- Kira Nerys is a Major in the Bajoran military, and the liaison between Bajor and the Federation. She's also the First Officer on board Deep Space Nine. This is fine, because DS9 is a Bajoran station which is simply under Federation administration, so the two jobs fit well. However, once the Defiant is introduced, in at least one episode Kira is the First Officer on the ship. Remember, Bajor is not a member of the Federation - half the story revolves around this point. But the Federation apparently has no problem with an officer from a semi-allied foreign military assigned to one of the highest positions on a cutting-edge (and top-secret!) Federation starship. Of course it should be noted that in-universe, Sisko appears to have the last word about anything remotely related to the Defiant - and that in itself is another instance of this trope.
- The issue with Kira was somewhat resolved when Worf showed up: he would usually serve as first officer of the Defiant from that point onward. The one time Kira took command over Worf ("Tears of the Prophets") was shortly following an episode where Worf's command abilities had been called into question ("Change of Heart").
- The one dedicated Defiant crewmember disappears following the episode she's introduced. She's also not even from Starfleet, but a serving Romulan military officer, which raises a lot of its own questions. Interestingly the reason she never appeared again was specifically because the writers thought the audience wouldn't be interested in a character with just one well-defined job.
- Odo was chief of Security and nothing more; he was not a soldier, pilot, officer, diplomat, or any such thing - neither for the Bajorans nor the Federation. He was simply the station's top cop. Yet they would bring him along on the Defiant pretty often, sometimes having him sitting on the bridge doing stuff. This would be like putting an NYPD Detective on the bridge of an aircraft carrier. At least Odo could be justified on occasion, when the Defiant was near Dominion space, as Odo's species are considered gods to the Jem'Hadar, the footsoldiers of the Dominion. Run into trouble with the Dominion, you want them to see that one of their gods is on the ship when you hail them. It doesn't cover situations in the Alpha Quadrant, however.
- This is actually used as a plot point in For The Cause. With most of the senior staff are off-station in the Defiant, Maquis spy Michael Eddington incapacitates Major Kira and takes command of DS9, allowing him to steal a number of industrial replicators bound for Cardassia as humanitarian aid.
- Star Trek: Enterprise takes this problem to astounding levels. The show has absolutely no B-cast at all for the first two seasons despite having some 80 people on board, and none of the main characters share a department. This leads to absurd levels whenever one of the officers needs an assistant, and they call in another main character who has no training in that task. The list includes...
- Archer serving as a nurse (at least twice).
- Archer serving as a bomb squad (Having to be given instructions by a man who can't get a good look at the alien bomb because he has a spike through his leg).
- Both Reed (Security and weapons) and Hoshi (Linguistics and comms), operating the transporter (which is brand spanking new technology, and we know is prone to constant malfunction after 200 years trying to perfect it).
- Hoshi being constantly sent around the ship to do odd jobs, as though her official title was "Intern". One baffling instance has Archer pull her away from setting up the vital communication relay meant to keep in contact with Earth (part of her actual job), in order to send her on a Snipe Hunt to find out what Reed's favorite food is.
- The situation is reined in somewhat in the third season with the introduction of the MACOs—essentially Star Trek's answer to the Marine Corps. The detachment's commanding officer insists that his team handle a combat situation on the ground so that the senior staff will be on the ship to deal with a hostile incoming ship, and Starfleet security personnel are available if Enterprise is boarded.
- In fact, the starship itself (at least if it's named Enterprise) seems to suffer this trope. We find the Enterprise patrolling the border, mapping the far reaches of space, ferrying VIP's on errands great and small, responding to natural disasters, hauling cargo (usually medical supplies, but still...), investigating weird phenomena, participating in warfare, trying to stop warfare, acting as all-purpose troubleshooter for any ship or station that calls, doing first contacts with alien races, negotiating treaties, AND just plain running into bad luck. This is later justified in stories and in peripheral media as Starfleet generally having a Jack-of-All-Trades approach to ship design and mission profiles, due to factors like maintaining the image of a peacekeeping force and the general bigness, weirdness, and hostility of space.
- The number of times the Enterprise (whichever one) has to do something it's actually not really prepared/staffed/equipped for because she's the only ship in range really beggars belief too. Okay, just about permissible out on the frontier of known space when they're deliberately going where no-one's gone before – but it happens when she's visiting EARTH for god's sake, the capital world of a sprawling interstellar community. Even assuming Earth is just a designated political capital like Washington DC or Canberra, that's still like finding there's only one taxi cab available for the whole city.
- Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) also delves into this, though it's partially justified what with having so few people left who are trained in all the necessary disciplines. Still, with thousands of people in the fleet, it seems that the same dozen characters are responsible for pretty much everything that goes on. This is especially blatant with Pilot/Rebel/Commando/Vigilante/Criminal Investigator/Starship Captain/Lawyer/Politician/President Lee Adama - sometimes all in the same episode!
- It's equally bad with the Cylons, except they have no excuse. Despite having a society where there are millions of every model of Cylon, making them practically interchangeable, the story features the same handful of Cylon individuals in all key positions.
- They avert in some areas, though. Adama goes on an "away mission" once in the whole series (when he checks out the munitions at Ragnar Anchorage - not a situation where they expecting danger) and if you ever see him in a Viper fighting the Cylons himself, it's only in a flashback to his own days as a pilot.
- Adama also went down to Kobol in "Home" part 2. After major surgery.
- Taken to insane levels on the algae planet when the small algae harvesting facility is being operated only by the top pilots and the crew of the flight deck - all of whom should probably still be recovering from the insane flying they had to do in the previous episode to get there.
- Space: Above and Beyond - are they space marines, or fighter pilots?
- Lampshaded in the series itself, wherein one character chastises the cast for voicing that complaint off-screen, informing them that, as Marines, their job is simply to follow whatever orders they recieve (a not-so-subtle Take That at the letters they had recieved on the matter).
- Stargate SG-1: SG-1 actually averts this trope to an extent, which is impressive given that the four main characters are the focus of 90% of every episode. The show makes it clear from the start that SG-1 is just one team of many. While it does seem like SG-1 does everything, this is because their team is designed to be generalist - it always has a military leader, scientist, archeologist, and alien warrior. We frequently hear of or see other teams which have more specialist duties (SG-3 led by Colonel Makepeace is an all Marines unit charged with high risk missions or providing armed backup to other teams, for example). A lot of episodes start with SG-1 following up on some other team's work.
- General Hammond never seems to go home. Possibly justified with the major threats that the teams encounter likely keeping him on permanent call, while his wife is mentioned to have died in Season 1, giving Hammond a few good reasons to throw himself into his work.
- Once O'Neill gets promoted to lead the entire Stargate Command, he finds himself coming up against this trope, as he wants to be out there where the action is instead of staying behind his desk and making sure the base runs smoothly. In fact, his predecessor, General Hammond, despite being the fifth main character, only ever uses the Stargate twice.
- O'Neill is big offender through whole show. He leads foot-based squad of people fighting with assault rifles. But when the new experimental fighter jet is built? O'Neill with Teal'c go test it. (Teal'c is fully justified in this one as the fighter was a retro-engineered death glider, whereas O'Neill is trained as a pilot, but not a regular test pilot.) When the next prototype is built and is needed for saving the world? O'Neill and Carter. Attacking on Anubis flagship Star Wars style? You can guess. Also when there is some conspiracy back on Earth, it's SG1 who investigates...
- Stargate Command also has a dedicated team of scientists and medical staff who will work on tasks in the background, like studying alien technology that SG-1 have brought back, or finding a cure to a disease.
- And yet, more often than not, the other scientific "experts" are shown to fail miserably (and humorously) when trying to fill in for Sam (Doctor Lee in "Arthur's Mantle") or Daniel (Doctor Rothman in "Crystal Skull".)
- This trope is still lampshaded in "Ripple Effect" when Dr. Lee asks why all of the teams from alternate realities are strictly SG1s. Sam justifies it by saying that, since they're only letting in teams who are under fire, it makes sense that the front line team would show up with more frequency.
- Stargate Atlantis, however, follows the trope more closely. Only Sheppard's team + whoever is in charge of Atlantis that season + the doctor of the season ever get to do ANYTHING or are ever SHOWN to do anything. In fact, it gets silly as they will treat Rodney McKay being disabled as their entire science crew - save Zelenka - being disabled, despite the existence of 20 or so other scientists on his team who are some of the most brilliant ones alive.
- Babylon 5. Exactly why does the Earth ambassador and commander of the Babylon Five station have to go out with the Starfury wing/security team and put himself in the line of fire every time there is a crisis? Ivanova and Garibaldi are also quite bad at this, but not nearly as much as Sheridan/Sinclair. At least they did manage to justify it in most of the cases:
- Sinclair pretty much out of survivor guilt and seeking out a heroic death. Garibaldi actually calls him out on this during the closing scenes of the episode Infection.
- Sheridan, always having served on an Earth Alliance ship, gets the feeling of being trapped when too long on the space station, so he takes every opportunity he can. However, Sheriden does mention that if he doesn't do at least some time in a Starfury he will lose his flight pay. Thus the tendency of the senior officers to go out probably has to do with the mundane issue of salary.
- Ivanova goes in place of her commanding officer once because she hasn't piloted a 'fury in a long, long time. Then stuff happens with enemies making a visit and well... she and her craft barely survived. Ivanova considered it a hell of a fun ride though, not understanding all the fuss about her 'fury basically being in repairs for a long while.
- When preparing to repel a reclamation force sent from Earth, Ivanova insisted on piloting a Starfury because they were asking their pilots to fire on their own, and (paraphrasing) "one of us has to be out there with them".
- JMS has stated that the command officers need to log a certain amount of flight time to maintain their pilot's licence. This might be required for Earth Force personnel based on ships and stations where there is a risk of having to spacewalk or use escape pods. And of course in the B5 universe there are no magic teleporters to travel to a planet surface, you have to go up and down the old-fashioned way.
- Garibaldi, well... he is the odd one out in this case. But seeing as B5 barely surviving without him, and him being able to arrange everything it comes as no surprise that he gets spaceborne once in a while. He even got his own custom paint job on his own Starfury. Last time he went out though, he ran into a bit of a problem
- There was a cast member who was basically pushed on the show, an ace Star Fury pilot. Well... he didn't last until the end of the season.
- This character was added at the insistence of the studio, who felt that the show needed an all-American hot-shot pilot. JMS... did not share their vision.
- Come to think of it, why is the station commander automatically also the Earth ambassador? Command of the station is a strict military/administrative position. While diplomacy is a skill that command officers would do well to have, there are a number of high-ranking military officers in real life that prove it's not a common, or even necessary, skill. There should have been a separate Earth ambassador.
- Either averted or justified in the Crusade spin-off, although Gideon will still put himself in danger, despite being The Captain. Given that he only has 4 years to cure the population of Earth, his willingness to put his life on the line may be a necessity. Matheson mostly sticks to being his Number Two (despite the fact that he's a lieutenant not a commander) and rarely uses his telepathic abilities (mostly due to much stricter regulations in the post-Telepathic War world). Chambers pretty much sticks to medicine, and Eilerson (although he's a civilian) sticks to archaeology and linguistics). Dureena and Galen aren't really members of the crew (or even EarthForce), so they don't count. Dureena is a thief, and Galen just comes and goes as he pleases, and hardly anyone questions a technomage.
- Everything, literally everything, in Andromeda is handled by one of the eight characters (only six of whom ever serve concurrently). Justified in the first season where there are only six characters on board the eponymous ship, with no hope of back-up. However after they succeed in creating the Commonwealth, they bring on a crew of over 1000 people; and yet the non-commissioned random people that Dylan picked up serve as department heads, go on all the dangerous away missions, and generally forget about all the extra crew whenever the script requires it.
- John Koenig, the Commander of the Moonbase in Space: 1999 frequently flies an Eagle on reconnaissance and survey missions. Neatly justified as he is an experienced astronaut and most of Alpha's actual pilots were killed in the first episode.
- Justified in Raumpatrouille, where a typical spaceship crew consisted of five or six persons and it had to be possible to fill every position by one of the other members of the crew in case the original holder was incapacitated or away on an off-ship mission.
Other Live Action
- In Stingray, the title craft is supposedly the fastest, deadliest, most advanced submarine in the world, crewed by the two most elite aquanauts. Despite the many hostile underwater races and other threats from the world's oceans, Stingray is nevertheless always available to go on treasure hunts, to investigate wild rumours and to patrol oyster beds.
- Yes, Minister's spiritual predecessor (though it featured only civil servants), The Men From the Ministry, was set at the even less realistic Department of General Assistance, with the remit that they were there to 'just help out' any other department which was overloaded (in fact it had only 3 civil servants working there, two of whom would get involved with absurdly small detail of the tasks in hand.)
- Destroy The Godmodder: Literally everything that happens happens because of entities and players mentioned in the main plot. Despite there being billions of other beings on the field, everything has to be done by the players.
- Space 1889 mostly justified. Most adventures take place far away from human civilization and the player characters find themselves needing to do a bit of everything. Also even in the most advanced, urban, human civilizations of 1889 people are a lot less specialized and trained in a speciality than they are today. It is not too difficult for an amateur detective to have useful knowledge a professional police investigator does not, not to mention a regular beat cop. Furthermore social status is greatly respected and can allow you to push professionals around. If Lord X wants to demonstrate to a professional teacher how teaching should be done, the teacher is very likely to put up with it and keep his groaning silent.
- See also It's Up to You.
- Any strategy game that involves even the slightest degree of micromanagement is likely to be this.
- Happens to a near ridiculous degree in Alundra, in which the title character of ambiguous age journeys to an abandoned manor for the first real puzzle level in order to retrieve a book. He is attacked by the White Monkeys among other things. He later goes into a potentially collapsing mine alone, while another character that is said to be a hunter does nothing. This is somewhat lampshaded when the other villagers acknowledge how helpless they are.
- Early Final Fantasy games used this quite a bit. No matter what job the main characters typically held, the second the Call to Adventure rang, they answered.
- A prominent example is Final Fantasy V, in which four of the five player characters are royalty, and the second anything goes awry, they strike out on a quest to figure out what's going on. Alone. Even when they have entire armies, platoons, and teams of scholars at their command. No wonder one of them ends up dead.
- Final Fantasy VI does this with both the heroes and the villians. The good guys have King Edgar leave his kingdom to fight himself pretty early in the game. You recruit his brother, Sabin, pretty early, too (although he abdicated the throne before the game started). On the villians' side, Kefka personally fights you several times throughout the game, even though he's shown commanding soldiers.
- Played straight in Battlefield 3 when Sgt. Miller (tank driver) blows a road block and takes out an IED under gunfire, because the bomb squad guy is too cowardly to do it. His partner lampshades it by saying "you ought to collect that guy's salary, dude. You just did his job". Averted, however, by switching to Miller, Lt. Hawkins (weapon systems officer for a Super Hornet) or Dima (Spetsnaz) for scenes the primary protagonist, Sgt. Blackburn (Marine Recon), was not at or could not feasibly do.
- Real-Time Strategy games. The player is high ranking military brass, from battlefield commander to general or commander of all military forces of a country. But is also responsible for base layout, skirmish tactics, aiming weapons and generally micromanaging every move and action of every combat unit, up to and including ordering miners to actually mine the minerals they are standing right next to.
- 7 Days a Skeptic and 6 Days a Sacrifice have been accused of this. In the former, the ship's counselor is forced to do things like machinery maintenance and going EVA to investigate the comm array, while the engineer who's supposed to do these things loiter in the mess hall. In the latter, the protagonist has fallen down an elevator shaft, and has so many fractures and concussions that a wrong movement could kill him. Yet he's forced to hobble around the area carrying out fetch quests and interrogating prisoners while his uninjured allies hide in their rooms. The game maker has admitted to this, but saw no other option.
- Valkyria Chronicles, especially in the anime version, would have you believe only Squad 7 actually did anything that moved the war forward and that the Gallian Regulars only existed so we could watch guys in the underdog army die. This gets even more hilarious when you consider the absurdly small size of Squad 7 and the massive size of the Imperial Army by comparison.
- Which makes their enemies even worse for not bombing, zerg rushing, firing artillery at, flanking, or really doing anything about Squad 7, or simply going around them.
- The Call of Duty series repeatedly has soldiers who are not only capable of using every piece of military equipment imaginable, but repeatedly ordered to use weapons that, by their military rank, they should not be let anywhere near. Of course, this is almost inevitably in some sort of highly-critical emergency with no one else available.
- This becomes more apparent in the Modern Warfare games. Private Ramirez is ordered to use anything from sophisticated Predator drones to rocket launchers to plastic explosives like C4, and Private Allen is tasked with being a Deep Cover Agent in a Russian terrorist cell.
- The Ace Combat games serve as sort of an aerial counterpart to Call of Duty: The player (and, in some games, his wingmen) literally do the work of several squadrons, from combat air patrols to close support missions to counter-naval interdiction, and have access to a wide variety of planes to do so, regardless of whether it makes sense for their country to use them (e.g. allied NPC's only ever use American jets, while the player gets MiGs and Mirages). The arcade mode in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War acknowledges this, with its story stating that the higher-ups deliberately sent Mobius 1 and his AWACS support in to deal with the situation alone because they have been repeatedly shown during the last war to be more effective than an entire squadron.
- Ace Combat at least provides some justification for this, in that air power is always the most important aspect of the wars that take place in the series - the player characters just happen to be the single most skilled pilots of those wars. AC04 in particular has its plot kicked off simply because the bad guys stole a weapon system that could destroy any plane over most of the continent the game takes place in, thus allowing them to steamroll the good guys until the player steps in.
- In the Mass Effect series, this is mentioned as one of the reasons why the batarians have failed to advance as far as the other species. Apparently, batarian commanders and other authority figures indulge in excessive micromanagement to the detriment of their society.
- Averted in the Suicide Mission, however. If you don't pick the correct specialists for each role (Tali, Legion or Kasumi for the vent; Jack or Samara for the barrier; Garrus, Miranda or Jacob to lead secondary fireteams), people will die.
- Played straight with any technological task not specifically flagged for a teammate to do - you can never assign Tali or Kasumi to bypass a door, it has to be Shepard; hacking a computer system, even with Tali or Legion - Shepard again!
- Played for Laughs in Mass Effect 3, if you assign Vega, whose tech-savvy is mostly limited to cleaning guns and crashing a shuttle, to handle a complicated engineering task on a mission; he'll still do it, but it will mostly consist of fiddling with the wires, then kicking it.
- Justified in the Halo series, as Master Chief has spent years undergoing Training from Hell to handle every human and Covenant weapon, as well as operate just about every vehicle both sides uses. Being a Spartan supersoldier, he is often the only consistent game changer on the battlefield.
- He also has the benefit of a highly advanced AI capable of single handedly operating huge battleships running in his suit. She typically takes over the tasks he cannot, such as hacking, exposition, and troubleshooting.
- Police Quest danced around this trope several times. Sonny Bonds, the protagonist, started out as a patrol officer who got a (highly unconventional) impromptu promotion to Narcotics detective for the final part of the first game. He became a Homicide detective for the duration of the second game. Then, at the start of the third game, Sonny got promoted to Sergeant and put back in a patrol car —again— only to advance back to Narcotics detective by the end of that game! Chronologically these three games cover only a few years of time in Sonny's life. Even for the police department of a small city like Lytton, CA, this "hopping around" between jobs is highly unusual.
- In the second game, Sonny believes that a recently-murdered man's body has been dumped into the local river, so he calls for a police dive team. The dive team van arrives, with only one officer in it. Of course, police procedure prohibits diving alone, but "fortunately" it turns out that Sonny can serve as the dive-buddy since he happens to have a diving certificate. This implies that whenever other detectives need the river searched, they're basically screwed.
- Also, throughout the entirety of that game, Keith's actions amount to going back to the car to call the dispatch so that you don't have to. And that diving-team specialist? While underwater, he does nothing except swim about.
- ''Dragon Age: Inquisition: Played With.
- Averted with the War Table mechanic. Inquisition power is split between three departments: Forces (Military), Secrets (Spies), and Connections (Diplomacy). The three Advisors in charge of these departments will ask the Inquisitor for clearance to send their subordinates on missions which suit their skills (although most missions can be completed by any department, some are more efficient than others). There's a massive number of missions in the game that the main characters never even have to touch.
- Averted with the in-game map areas. The Inquisitor and their companions do everything here, including raiding keeps and forts, saving villages, performing random petty deeds, and fighting dragons and demons. Sometimes this is unavoidable (Fade Rifts can only be closed by the Inquisitor), but sometimes it's downright silly (the Inquisitor could send a small company or group of agents to deliver flowers to a grave site or look for a lost pet—there is no credible reason s/he would need to waste their own time personally).
- Breath of Fire IV, given how many sidequests and minigames the main character has to do, you can invoke him to destroy the world by the end of the game.
- In the SimCity series of games, you are the mayor of the city. That doesn't explain why you and you alone are the main force handling zoning, road layout, utilities, public safety, parks and recreation, city ordinances, public transit...
- Actually justified in Assassin's Creed: player character Altaïr breaks every tenant of the Assassin's Creed at the beginning of the game and is demoted from Master to Novice as punishment. Throughout the game, Altaïr has to investigate the patterns and behavior of every target (which he previously had other, lower-ranked Assassins do for him), devise his own way to get close to them, and then kill them all by himself. The only thing the other Assassins give him is the list of targets.
- Averted in Space Station 13; everyone has a specific job and limited authority. People can get promoted by circumstances or because one of the crewmembers who can do that decided to move them a few steps ahead, or force their way into complete and total rule of the station, but nobody does everything and nobody can do everything.
- Played with in The Walking Dead: Season 2. The main character is an 11- year old girl, and as per usual, she is at least somewhat involved in pretty much everything important that happens to the group. Sometimes the trope is entirely justified, for example when someone small and/or lightweight is required. Sometimes the player is even allowed to call the other characters out for sending a child to do a dangerous task. Sometimes played entirely straight.
Clementine: That man said he had food in the station.
Alvin: Mind checking it out?
Clementine: Why don't you go look?
Alvin: I'm gonna sit with Bec' for a minute... I'll be right behind you!
- Parodied/justified on Agents Of Cracked. Their boss doesn't remember the phone extensions for any of the other employees.