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Metaphorical Staredown

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Two (or more) characters attempting to outdo each other until the other backs down.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
Rytex on Jan 12th 2018 at 8:07:31 AM
Last Edited By:
Rytex on Jan 15th 2018 at 10:15:14 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Do We Have This One?, Needs More Examples

In a Staring Contest, two people lock eyes and stare at each other for as long as possible without blinking. The one who blinks first is the loser. In a Game of Chicken, two people get in vehicles and race towards each other at top speed. Like the staring contest, whoever backs down first is the loser.

Which brings us to this more metaphorical interpretation. Rather than literal games of chicken or staring contests, this is when two or more characters find themselves locked in some sort of competition (not necessarily a game), be it for fun or with some kind of actual stake, and attempt to just out-do each other until the other(s) all back down.


Film - Live-Action

  • In The Dark Knight, the Joker continues to up the ante with his scale of crimes in the hope of getting Batman to take off his mask and reveal himself to the public, or making other heroic characters fall. A good portion of the film involves the lengths that this "game" goes, including Batman's allies taking bullets or turning themselves in for him to keep Batman from giving in, but the Joker succeeds when he kills Rachel Dawes and sends Harvey Dent over the Despair Event Horizon, unleashing Two-Face on Gotham. Batman continues the game to the very end, taking the blame for Harvey's murders, all so that the Joker would not win.
  • The Prestige follows two rival magicians attempting gradually more dangerous tricks to scare each other into backing down.

Web Original

  • In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Tien/Tenshinhan notes that after several episodes of antagonizing Vegeta, it's become a game between the two of them. Tien will continue to antagonize Vegeta, and if he can get Vegeta to attack/kill him, Vegeta will have blinked. If he can't get Vegeta to do that, he simply continues antagonizing Vegeta, which he clearly enjoys doing.
  • In Sword Art Online Abridged, Kirito and Asuna get married, and both seriously regret it. Rather than talk it out, they both get into a contest to try and make the other "blink" first by taking on as many children as possible in the hope of overwhelming each other. The "game" never finishes due to Yui's arc, and they eventually talk it out.


  • A common invocation involving British Royal Guards (or expies thereof). People (usually tourists) will walk up to them and try all manner of actions or phrases to get them to laugh or break composure. Anything short of laying hands on them is usually fair game. More often than not, they fail.

Real Life

  • Auctions. All about people trying to outbid others on how much they will pay for a "lot." The game of this one is to bid enough to get others to back down, while still keeping it as low as possible. Ofttimes it will come down to two or three people who continue to raise the price until one of them stands down.
  • Liar's Dice, where players take turns trying to correctly bid how many dice of what face there are, while also trying to bait their opponents into calling their bluff, or trying to bluff their opponents without them calling it.
  • The card game "BS", where players take turns sliding cards facedown into a pile and saying how many of what face value the cards are. The catch here is that if someone's bluff is called, or a called bluff is incorrect, they have to take the entire pile, which turns the game into a multi-faceted staredown of who can bait their opponents into blinking as well.

Feedback: 8 replies

Jan 12th 2018 at 8:10:16 AM

I would like to point out, where the two tropes I mention in the description are concerned, those appear to be very literal invocations of it, whereas this is where the same concept is in place, but it isn't the games themselves.

Jan 12th 2018 at 8:41:36 AM

Also, could probably use a better laconic description (and/or title) and I am open for input on that.

Jan 12th 2018 at 10:24:53 AM

  • The Prestige follows two rival magicians attempting gradually more dangerous tricks to scare each other into backing down.

Jan 12th 2018 at 10:26:34 AM

The laconic looks good to me, except for the grammatical ambiguity (fixed).

Jan 12th 2018 at 12:36:49 PM

Isn't any kind of competition all go like this? Both sides (or more) compete until one goes down (or there's the last man standing)?

Jan 12th 2018 at 1:02:30 PM

No. In organized events, there's usually a time limit or some kind of limitation on how long it goes. These are, like the trope says, metaphorical staring contests. Pure tests of will, endurance, and sometimes guile and audacity. Here, time is irrelevant, Alice simply needs to outlast Bob. No score, no physical confrontation (usually). It goes until either Alice or Bob gives up (they blink).

Jan 13th 2018 at 5:42:16 AM

^ Sounds like Victory By Endurance

And, say, can a Fighting Game that adjusts its timer to infinity count?

And why no physical confrontation? This doesn't apply to fistfights or wars, then?

Jan 15th 2018 at 10:11:21 AM

If they set the HP to infinity too, I guess. The point of the trope is that there's little that the two players can do to win outside of simply not giving up. There is no way that the two parties can win the game by themselves. There are no points, there is no HP bar, nothing like that. The game only ends when one person gets the other person to "blink," for a given value of it. you don't win a staredown by scoring points or reducing an opponent's HP bar to zero. You do it by not blinking when they do.

That's why this trope is metaphorical. Two (or more) characters know they are trying to outlast each other, or that they are trying to get one player to give in. This game only ends when either everyone but one fails to endure, or either the target "blinks"/the antagonizers give up trying.