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Video Game Cruelty Potential

"One thing's for sure: if someone's controlling me, he sure has a sick sense of humor."

This is the potential a video game has for the player to do awful, horrible things to enemies or even friendly and neutral NPCs.

It can be knee shots causing screaming, telekinesis to literally play catch with guards, punching out scientists, or many, many other things. Something Awful has dubbed two specific variations of video game cruelty as Asshole Physics and Asshole AI.

Some games specifically cater to this; these often skip out on a Karma Meter. This can also be the carrot along the path to The Dark Side for players in a game with a Karma Meter.

The severity of this trope varies. Some games only let you be cruel to your enemies and give harmless Non Player Characters immunity. (Harmless enemies will still be fair game.) Other games let you torment random NPCs you meet along the way. Still other games give you absolute, unchecked control over your subjects.

This trope is often used for laughs. Remember, though: Just because a game lets you do something doesn't necessarily mean you should do it.

Contrast Video Game Caring Potentialthough sometimes helping your little drones means doing horrible things to their enemies... See also What the Hell, Player? and Video Game Perversity Potential. If the game or genre usually does not permit cruelty even though there's no particular in-game reason for that, but this time they do, you have Reality Ensues.

One of the Acceptable Breaks from Reality. You may laugh at video games, but if someone did this in Real Life? You probably wouldn't be laughing. And if you are, then you're a sick freak.

This trope has a few Sub Tropes. Please make sure that your example does not fit better in one of these.

For examples where someone takes joy in being a dick to other players, see Griefer.

Note that, since such actions are not mandatory in the story, these actions cannot qualify a player character for Complete Monster status.

Please only list aversions and non-Video Game related examples here. This page had to be split because of its length. For Video Game related examples, go to the links below.


Straight Examples:

Aversions

Adventure Game
  • One part of the Nancy Drew game Danger on Deception Island has your friend Katie ask you to make a sandwich to eat. You can then make the most volatile sandwich ever (Peanut butter, tomatoes, Koko Kringles ice cream, expired mayonnaise, jellyfish, and baking soda) and then either feed it to Katie or eat it yourself, and get food poisoning, causing a Second Chance screen.
    • A bizarre reverse-aversion in the Nancy Drew series: dying. Losing the game at any point means that, well, you lost the game. But watching Nancy kill herself with food poisoning, cliff jumping, and burning to death should not be as funny as it is. The most recent games have stopped all pretense of dying not being hilarious by adding a screen of text full of Black Comedy.
  • Averted in Below The Root. The society is so Actual Pacifist that you can't even pull Kleptomaniac Hero - unless it's out in the open, you have to find the owner and ask nicely. Better is if you find the Wand of Befal (machete). Use it on a living creature, and you've just made the game Unwinnable.
  • In Tomb Raider 3 it's impossible to shoot Lara's butler, as he always shields himself with the dinner tray.
  • The Insane Children in American McGee's Alice can't harm Alice (except maybe to get in the way) and she cannot hurt them even if the player wants to; if she tries, it just doesn't work.

Driving Game
  • In Midnight Club Los Angeles, you cannot run over the pedestrians however hard you try. They always jump out of the way when your car comes down on them. Always.
    • Ditto the Driver series.
    • Crazy Taxi also does this. Pedestrians run out of the way while customers leap or roll away.
  • The same applies to the Grand Canyon track in Gran Turismo 4, which features tourists standing in the middle of the road to take photographs and jumping out of the way just before you'd end up hitting them. If you actually do, you'll just clip through them.
  • In The Simpsons Hit & Run, you can run over civilians (including actual characters of the show) however many times you want. Nothing happens to them, however, but the sarcastic retaliation comments are hilarious.
    Thanks a lot, Mr. Break-My-Leg.
    I regret nothing!
    I'm not afraid to die!
    Takes more than that to kill me.
    Spines don't bend that way!

First-Person Shooter
  • In all three of the Marathon games, you are not only capable, but encouraged by Bungie to kill BOBs, which, in the first game, are unarmed civillians who have no hope of survival without the Player's help. In Marathon 2: Durandal, they are volunteers risking their lives and listening to the batshit Durandal to help the player, however, like in Halo, killing two of them will cause them to shoot at you. In Marathon Infinity, it's actually the player character's mission to kill them in more levels than they help him in, and for some reason they're a lot better at killing you than they are at killing aliens. The aliens that so easily killed them before, while working at your side, get mercilessly mowed down by the BOBs.
    • The BoBs are actually beefed up in the game physics for most of the levels where you're fighting them. Notably, unlike aliens, they do not generally scale in difficulty when you are fighting them, which means that if you are playing on levels below Normal, the levels where you fight humans will generally be more difficult than the levels where you do not, and if you are playing on levels above Normal, the levels where you fight humans will generally be less difficult than the surrounding levels.
  • In Soldier of Fortune II, killing any NPC's results in an instant game over.

MMORPG
  • In World of Warcraft, the schoolchildren in Stormwind that travel in a group are not hostile to Horde players, so cruel mages cannot use AoE spells on them. Children can't be targeted at all, although you can pointlessly give them buffs.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, in Coruscant there is a child quest giver that is inordinately higher level (maxed at 50) than all the other quest-realted NPCs in the area. Almost as if the devs are protecting her in case PVP ever makes it way to that area.

Platform Game
  • Despite the appearance of its sequel above, the original Jak and Daxter game went so far as to make all the NPCs invulnerable to avoid this. Of course, this was before Renegade sent it Darker and Edgier.

Sports Game
  • In some Madden NFL games, if you make a dive at a CPU player who's crossing the endzone, the CPU player turns invincible and your player just bounces off of him, the intent being to stop people from invoking this trope by trying to hit players as revenge for the touchdown. The issue is that they give human players no such invincibility from CPU players. They'll fall to the ground from hits while in the endzone as though they're still in the field of play.

Simulation Game
  • The Sims is well-known for the cruelty which players may inflict on their little computer people. My Sims, on the other hand, avoids all that. Eating and drinking is merely recreational, the toilet is a place to read the newspaper, there's nowhere to drown in, and if you could so generously give them an item that separates them from the door, they'd just teleport through it. The cruelest thing you can do is Be Mean, which chooses from a random set of mean actions (yell at, stomp on foot, throw water balloon at, breathe bad breath at, start a fight, pop an inflated paper bag...), and that doesn't even reduce your relationship below "Acquaintance," like repeatedly being nice raises it up to "Best Friend."
    • Really? You can take all their furniture, replace it with tacky furniture in their hated Interest and even leave them without a place to sleep, eat, or even use the bathroom, and they can't do anything about it or even die a mercy death. Put Goth Boy or Violet into a house made of flowers and rainbows. Light Is Not Good.

Turn-Based Strategy
  • The Fire Emblem example above is averted in the 9th and 10th game. Trying to make Jill kill her father will actually have her decide that she can't do it and rather side with him instead, fighting you. In the 10th game, you have playable units on both sides, often also related in some way. Some of them simply will not have the Attack command appear if you put them next to that enemy. Of course, Brom would never raise his weapon against his own daughter and so on...
    • However, if you've gotten an A-support for her, you can re-recruit Jill after she turns against you, and if you re-issue that attack command...
  • Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem had a chapter where you fight four previous recruited characters from a previous arc. You can kill three of them, leaving a specific unit to survive and be recruited later. In the Remake, where killing them won't give you nothing as they are recruitable.
    • Bonus points that that two of the three are Game breakers from the Prequel's Second remake.

In Fiction

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Kid Paddle when he plays SimCity. He put barbed wire around the city so noone can leave it, and raised taxes to 100% to pay for the police he needs to oppress the population. Not surprisingly, when asked what the biggest problem is, 100% of the people say "the mayor!"
  • This happens in FoxTrot a lot when Jason plays games. For example, he giggles excitedly when he plays one that sounds a lot like Carmageddon. And in another strip, Paige complains to her dad that Jason and Marcus are playing a bloody and violent fighting game called Primal Instinct, and is upset because they won't let her play too.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In WarGames, David and Jennifer definitely get into the spirit of this trope when they start playing the "Global Thermonuclear War" and gleefully discuss which U.S. cities they should bomb first.
    • They then decide to nuke Las Vegas. A bit later, a person who learnt what they did applauded their decision, saying it was very biblical in nature.
  • In TRON and TRON: Legacy (and the TV series TRON: Uprising), there is a gladiatorial arena called "The Games" where programs fight to the death at the crowd's encouragement, in a parody of ancient Rome. Many sentient lifeforms are regularly murdered in a way utterly contrary to anything else Disney has created in the modern era (approached only by Motor City) which they get away with since they are mere computer programs and not real people. Ignoring that unlike a setting such as ReBoot, real people have entered the Grid on multiple occasions and a program has exited it and been able to exist in the real world.

    Literature 
  • In Animorphs, the Ketrans had a god game called Alien Civilizations. The Capasins wiped the Ketrans out because they caught their transmissions and thought it was real.
    • Crayak's Howlers gleefully wipe out entire species for their master because they are children who believe that their victims are game constructs and not real people. Jake compares their playfulness to that of dolphins' after morphing one. The Howlers become useless to Crayak after Jake infects their Hive Mind with the memory of a kiss (and with it the realization that their "victims" are as real as them).
  • In Enderís Game the battle school students are basically forced to use this to its furthest extent in order to beat the game on their electronic desks.
    • Hell, this is essentially how the plot is resolved: Ender is tired of playing games for the military, and does what he thinks is the most despicable and cruel thing he can possibly do in order to get out of it - slams the device into the alien planet and destroys the whole thing, including all of the ships in orbit from both sides. Turns out that's exactly the response they wanted.
      • It was also his only choice for victory when faced with overwhelming odds. "The enemy gate is down" indeed.
    • And this also comes into play even earlier with "The Fantasy Game", the recreational computer game that the students play. Ender not only discovers he can kill the Giant that commands the unbeatable "Giant's Drink" minigame, but also has to kill the "wolf-children" that he finds, and then repeatedly kills the snake he finds in the tower. However, it's inverted in that final level. The way around the snake in the tower challenge is not to kill the snake, but to love it.
  • In Daemon, Loki sees humans who are not part of the Darknet as NPCs. The Daemon does not allow him to outright kill them for no reason, but he can torment them in various ways (like destroying their bank accounts). When he is able to kill them (as part of a mission or in self-defense), he does so happily and in the most gruesome way available to him.
  • The mid-80s collection of computer articles Digital Deli includes the "Crunchy Computer" comics. When hippie Crunchy tries to steer his son away from violent video game fair by giving him the "Save the Whales" game, Crunchy Jr. finds it far more fun to shoot the whales.

    Live Action TV 
  • Spaced mentioned this in an episode where Tim is playing Tomb Raider. When Brian notes that Lara Croft is drowning and asks if that's the point, Tim replies that it "Depends what kind of mood you're in."
  • The Star Trek holodeck gives the characters to plenty of chances to do horrible things to their in-universe fictional worlds.
    • One Star Trek: Voyager episode features Tuvok strangling a hologram of Neelix to death.
    • In an episode of Deep Space Nine, Nog invites Jake Sisko to spend their day looting and pillaging a city in the holodeck.
    • Another episode centered around a Holodeck Malfunction with a James Bond theme. In order to buy time so they could rescue the crew, Bashir pushes the "submerge the world" button, drowning all but the highest mountaintops. Everyone is just shocked at this, including the villain who was planning on doing it.
    • In The Next Generation, after Data inexplicably experiences anger during a fight with a Borg drone, he creates a Holodeck program where he kills the drone repeatedly in an attempt to replicate the emotion.
    • In a very intentional case, Seska sabotaged the Holodeck into a death trap that reprogrammed itself to torture its occupants.
  • The concept is explored in "The Game" episode of Stargate Atlantis, where Sheppard and McKay discover and play what they think is a Civilizations-type strategy game, and they engage in some friendly and not-so-friendly competition with each other. Only to learn later that what they thought was just a game was really a Lantean social engineering experiment, and that there are real people on the other end, doing what their "Oracles" tell them to. People who believe their Oracles are infallible, godlike entities who have their best interests at heart and will eagerly throw themselves into whatever activity they've been ordered to do. Including fighting with neighbors with whom they'd been getting along just fine for centuries, before their long-absent Oracles returned and showed them the error of their peaceful, tolerant ways. Oops.
  • Community features an episode with Troy and Abed playing a war game that turns out to award points for killing innocent civilians, as they learn when they start playing with a guy who is unbeknownst to them an actual war criminal.
    • Another has a Legend of Zelda-esque shopping trip turn into the brutal murder of the shopkeep and his wife, the shop being burned down, and their daughter now forced to marry or live in the woods.
      Troy - What kind of game is this?

    Tabletop Games 
  • Related to this trope, Exalted has an inherent metaphysical bond between two player character types. While it was meant by the divinities who put it in place to be the stuff of eternal romances and battle-forged friendships, the nature of the bond between the Solar and the Lunar Exalted has the potential for great abuse, both within the world and with certain magical abilities the Solars possess that can subjugate their Lunar Mate even more. There is a reason, after all, one Solar charm was dubbed the Lunar-taming Leash.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Joe's character in Statless And Tactless loves this. He'll viciously attack innocent people and kill non-innocent people in excessive ways purely because he can.
  • Deconstructively parodied by College Humor in "The Sims Horror Movie" trailer. The characters are plagued the same way as is possible in the game: drowning them by removing the pool ladder, keeping the police out with a waist-high fence, blocking the exits with furniture, and keeping them deprived of food and sleep.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of X-Men: Evolution, a teenage (but not evil) version of Arcade hacks into Cerebro and commands it to attack all the X-Men who show up in the Danger Room, believing it is simply an advanced computer game.
    • For some reason he doesn't recognize any of the "characters" as his schoolmates.
      • Well, obviously, he thinks everyone except Kurt created a "character" who looked just like them.
  • Averted in The Venture Bros. where 21 and 24 are discussing Tomb Raider and how Lara could drown, which a horrified 21 described as grisly.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Regina Monologues", Bart and Milhouse are playing a video game called Hockey Dad, which, as the name implies, is a fighting game that involves two dads at their kids' hockey match. Bart manages to win essentially by ignoring the child of his character pleading for him to stop, as he didn't want the dad to resort to murdering Milhouse's character (note that when the kid was begging him not to, the dad in question was literally stomping the snot out of his opponent's face [well, blood, but still], and his final blow involved strangling his opponent with the opponent's own tie). The winning screen has the winning dad doing a victorious pose and is implied to be arrested by the police, although whether this was supposed to be Video Game Cruelty Punishment was debatable, given the fact that there was a winner sign, the dad smiling while being carted away by the police, and the announcer saying "You're a big man! BIG MAN!!"

    Other 


Video Game Caring PotentialNot the Way It Is Meant to Be PlayedVideo Game Cruelty Punishment
Video Game Caring PotentialVideo Game CultureCruel Player Character God
Unsympathetic Comedy ProtagonistThe Jerk IndexWe Want Our Jerk Back
True Meaning Of ChristmasImageSource/Web ComicsWalking Techbane

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