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Conspicuously Selective Perception

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A cousin of The Guards Must Be Crazy. In many games, particularly those involving stealth, enemies will often be overly sensitive towards noises that are made by the player character directly, such as footsteps, but pay no attention to noises made by Non-Player Characters or by machinery the player has set in motion. In addition, NPCs will often pay no attention to alterations made to the game world by the player, such as things not being in their place or a patrolling guard suddenly not walking by a sentry's post anymore.

If the player can disguise themself or otherwise be unknown to the enemies so as to be allowed to pass, they will instantly know that it's the player as soon as they do something vaguely suspicious. And by "suspicious", we mean anything the developers want to hinder the player with, such as running or having a weapon in hand. The Video Game A.I. will happily ignore all the NPCs running around like headless chickens but if the player does it, he might as well have "spy" tattooed to his forehead.

While there are certainly technical considerations (dealing with the large range of triggers, responses, responses to responses, etc) that can cause this, there is also the simple question of whether it would be fun. After all, a Stealth-Based Game lives on predictability, and dying because a random NPC happened to walk along and screw up the guard's pattern isn't fun.

If this trope is overused in a game, it becomes blatantly obvious to the player that the game world revolves solely around their character and their actions. That the enemies know who you are, where you are and what you're doing, and are just waiting for some excuse to attack so that you'd hopefully be less likely to notice their All Seeing AI.

The worst examples of this are when you can shoot an enemy from a distance and they do not react; you're outside their designated sight/hearing range so they just keep taking hits until they die...then a few minutes later another guard comes by, takes one look at the corpse, and suddenly alarms are screaming and every guard in the level is shooting you on sight, because they just know it was you.


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Video Games

  • The game Assassin's Creed is practically based around this trope.
    • Anti-hero Altair goes everywhere wearing his distinctive white robe with red ribbons and various weapons prominently displayed. In spite of this, he can fool people into thinking he is a harmless monk merely by adopting their typical posture. Even if guards are alerted to him, as long as he manages to break line of sight and hide for a bit they will completely forget what he looks like. If he walks his horse very slowly past guards they will never realise he is an assassin, yet if he takes his mount into a trot or gallop, they will immediately realise he is a bad guy. On the flip side, the streets are filled with idiots who for some reason are eager to shove Altair about (and only him, never NPCs) and absurdly persistent beggar women who for some reason run after Altair even if he goes around pretending he is a monk.
    • Some of this is kind of justified within the plot, seeing as the Player Character is actually immersed in a computer simulation that allows him to explore his Genetic Memory. For example, the guards never learn what Altair looks like because the real Altair didn't get caught.
    • Averted neatly in almost every way in the sequel. A: Ezio's costume, while still kind of loud, is acceptable because his cape hides his weaponry and the game takes place in Renaissance Italy, where colorful clothes were acceptable. B: Beggars were replaced by Minstrels, they're still just as annoying, but there's several methods of getting rid of them, one of them being a good hard punch to the nose. C: Perform too many crimes or a main storyline Assassination, and you will become "Notorious". Guards will recognize you on sight.
  • The Thief games have many examples of this: guards react to the players footsteps, but not to the very noisy elevator the player rides on, even when it is the middle of the night and the elevator running should be unexpected. Drop a platter accidentally picked up onto the same kitchen counter it had been on and people in another room immediately shouts "Help! Thief!", knowing instantly it was you and not some random kitchen noise. In the third game, this went even further, as NPCs who found NPCs killed by other NPCs would attribute the foul deed to the player. Assassins that hunted the player would patrol the streets. Every time they bumped into an NPC guard or civilian they would announce that they had found you and promptly attack said NPC. On the other end of the spectrum, you could whack the last man in a three-man patrol, dump the body in a nearby alley, wait for the other two to come around again, knock the one in behind, drag him off, wait for the leader to come around on his own, oblivious to the fact that they're even missing ...
  • Ever Forward: Roundy-bots usually are good at noticing sights or sounds in and outside their cone of vision, but in the eighth puzzle, Maya can trigger only one member of a pair that are watching each other, by hitting the target with a cube in the right way, instead of just having the cube hit the ground without any intervening stops, which would alert both bots.
  • Thief: Deadly Shadows: Guards will react to a huge number of things compared to the original two. A door left open, an item missing (stolen) from somewhere, a light you put out earlier.. if they come by such things on their patrols, they get suspicious. One such discovery they may shrug off unless it's important, two they'll have a quick look. If they're already suspicious, they'll then go searching, and if they get clues beyond that, they'll raise a riot. This also applies to not meeting guards on their patrol routes. More than this, NPCs will run and find someone to help them if they catch you, often resulting in several guards gathering and going after you, alerting other guards along the way. All this also applies to most sounds, environmental or otherwise - including sometimes ones that you Don't make - and even if they do eventually give up looking for you, their suspicion level won't ever reset back to blissful ignorance.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Guards in Metal Gear Solid and its subsequent games had a notorious amount of Conspicuously Selective Perception. Seeing footsteps in the snow in an area populated by several dozen guards immediately warns the officer in question of an unwanted entity in the vicinitynote . However, if a guard finds another one passed out, lying face down on the floor, he'll simply kick them to wake them up and continue on. In fact, if a guard finds another one dead from a bullet wound to the head, he'll alert the other guards, but soon enough he'll forget about it and chalk it up to coincidence. A guard can hear you shoot a gun, but if you hide quick enough, he'll turn the corner, see no one is there, decide his mind was playing tricks on him, and resume his patrol. If you're quick enough and stay out of his (rigidly defined) field of vision, you can punch the daylights out of a guard, flip him over your shoulder, or even shoot him with a silenced pistol without making him do more than glance around nervously for a second. Naturally, in the game, there are Hand Wave reasons for these. Parody fanwork webcomic The Last Days of Foxhound spoofed this mercilessly.
    • Justified in one instance in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, in which a guard can be seen dancing up and down a hallway. If you get close enough, you can hear the tiny noise of headphones. As a result, he is oblivious to everything short of you walking up in front of him and socking him in the jaw.
    • In Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, the guards border on psychic at times. In the game, you can often play as a soldier whose equipment and uniform is identical to the other face-masked guards in a given mission. But they hear anything out of the ordinary, such as an explosion or gunshot, they immediately know you were responsible, even if nobody could have possibly seen you do it.
    • Then there's the infamous cardboard box trick, wherein Snake hides in an upturned cardboard box which no guards think to check unless they actually see it moving, no matter where it is? They will kick it out of the way if it's in the middle of their patrol route in the later games, but not MGS 1.
    • In Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, the soldiers always find cardboard boxes you're hiding in suspicious, and they check if someone's inside by shooting them, which renders the trick pretty useless. Also, they sometimes walk right on them, which hurts you, but somehow they still don't notice there's someone inside.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots:
      • Much of the early game takes place in various warzones. It is possible to disguise yourself as a rebel fighter during these sequences. However, if a PMC soldier notices Snake, they will immediately go full alert and ignore the other dozen or so rebels attacking them to hunt you down.
      • Remember who the PMCs are ultimately working for though and it's not much of a surprise that they would consider Snake a bigger target than some random rebel.
  • In GoldenEye (1997), guards will not react to the "pew-pew" of a silenced gun even if it originates from inches away from them. They will also not notice you shooting their helmets off their heads.
    • Also, in missions where you have to shoot out all the security cameras, nobody notices all the screens fill with static, one by one.
    • The first of these, at least, was addressed in the "sequel", Perfect Dark. Most of the time if you fire a silenced gun nobody will respond (unless you hit someone) but if you do it too close to a guard they'll mutter "that sounded like..." and come to investigate.
  • In Half-Life 2, one level is populated by creatures called antlions who go crazy and attack anything that moves on sand... provided that it's human. Explosions and moving objects have no effect. True, footsteps sound different from dragged objects and explosions, but an injured Non-Player Character attracts their attention by sitting up. This was spoofed in Concerned, where the protagonist nailed wooden planks to his feet to walk through the level undetected.
  • Hitman:
    • 47, the titular character in the games, has a rather striking appearance: he is tall, muscular, bald, very pale, has ice-blue eyes and a rather obvious barcode on the back of his head. Yet he is able to fool just about anyone, for a while at least, by taking the clothes from one of his victims and using it as a disguise. For example, he is able to pass himself off as a Chinese Triad member simply by wearing a certain costume, without having to do anything to disguise his very un-Chinese physical features. Additionally, guards will not notice the bloodstains and bulletholes where their colleagues used to stand. Despite this, if guards hear him running in a corridor adjacent to them, they will somehow know that he is an assassin and go into full alert mode. Likewise, if they see him running while in costume they will somehow know that he shouldn't be there.
    • The problem of often not being the same race is Hand Waved as 47 is a multiracial clone, made up of a Colombian, a Chinese, and two Europeans. The fact that, say, a full Chinese looks different from a quarter Chinese is Hand Waved again, by saying that at a distance, 47 looks enough like the race he's supposed to be that nobody will really pay attention unless you get close, in which case your suspicion meter starts to rise.
    • Codename 47 has the worst guard AI, being completely unable to make basic logical conclusions. You can kill a guard and stand next to his body when someone comes to investigate but as long as you don't have your gun out they won't be the least suspicious. You can actually climb into a guard tower, take the guard out, and climb back down, all in full view of his buddies on the ground without raising any suspicion to you. Changing outfits completely removes suspicion, even if it's the same kind of outfit you just wore, even if it doesn't cover your head in any way.
    • Standing over the body is vaguely Handwaved in the manual by the mention of remaining unseen at the time of the killing, and returning to the scene as an innocuous innocent bystander.
    • In Blood Money, guards actually do notice bloodstains, but are still unable to open dumpsters and find stashed away bodies, and changing clothes still significantly lowers suspicion. Unless you run.
    • In ALL of the Hitman games, police and bodyguards ventilate 47 the moment he pulls a gun (unless he's disguised as one of them), yet they completely fail to react to other trespassing NPCs who are waving guns around openly.
      • I.E., in Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, one mission involves both 47 and a Spetznaz agent infiltrating a party at the German embassy. If the Spetznaz agent spots 47, he'll start chasing him with a pistol, and the German guards will automatically side with him against 47 despite the fact he's not supposed to be there either.
      • Several levels of Hitman 2 involve disguising 47 as a soldier. The Russian army apparently has a very high standard of discipline, as the penalty for carrying the wrong gun, not carrying a gun, entering the officers' quarters, or running in the street is in each case death.
      • Hitman: Blood Money has a Mardi Gras level where 47 is trying to kill 3 hitmen who are attempting to assassinate the governor. These hitmen are dressed in bizarre bird costumes and carrying rather large weapons, yet the cops completely fail to react if they spot these gun-toting birds chasing an apparently unarmed 47 through the streets.
    • In Hitman: Absolution, if you're in an area that's off limits to you, the sound of your footsteps will alert guards and cause them to become suspicious, unless you are wearing an appropriate disguise. Apparently, they know the difference between their footsteps and yours.
  • In the game Crysis you can wander right past enemies while in stealth mode, and they won't notice you despite the large shadow you cast on the ground. Hell, they usually miss the player, even though the stealth effect is easily visible without being right on top of someone using it. Furthermore, a laser pointer on a gun will give off an obvious beam several feet long originating from the gun before it fades out and becomes the dot on whatever its pointing at, even if you're cloaked. While these things are like flares in multiplayer, enemies in single player won't ever notice. Strangely, they do notice if you have a flashlight attached to your firearm instead while you're cloaked. Then there's helicopters, who just know your exact location, even if the player run away while being in stealth mode.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: Early in the game, Link must sneak around the Forbidden Fortress without his sword, as being spotted means capture. If, however, he hides in a barrel, he can't be detected unless the barrel is seen moving. This is true even if the barrel blocks the Moblin's patrol path; he stops, seems to sniff (sometimes, thanks to lack of collision detection, sticking his nose in the barrel), sometimes looks around, but then goes on his way. Justified by Moblins explicitly being really, really stupid.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: There are a few places where Link has to sneak around. The main dungeon, in particular, is full of "Phantoms", invincible (until the end) guards that chase Link as soon as he enters their line of sight or runs on one type of floor - but have no reaction beyond brief puzzlement to being hit in the back by a grappling hook that snags whatever they're holding. Justified by Phantoms being single-minded magical guardians.
  • Sly Cooper:
    • For the most part it's decent, with thugs going to inspect anything slightly suspicious. However, they completely ignore any impact to the stage. Probably the worst case of this is in Sly 2: Band of Thieves, when you are in Canada. Nobody seems to notice you bouncing the laser saw's beam all across the canyon.
    • In Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves:
      • The guards in the first level don't seem to think anything is amiss about a guard who is a different species than any of them, plus is speaking with what Bentley describes as "the worst Italian accent I've ever heard!" and is unaware of one guard's nickname and reputation amongst the local mafia. To their credit however, they will demand that Sly recite a random password when spotting him, and his cover will be blown should he botch it up.
      • In the second level, the character Guru is able to transform himself into random inanimate objects (a rock, dead bush, pile of apples, etc.) to escape from pursuing guards, who will immediately "lose" Guru and give up chasing him, even if he pulls this trick right in front of them.
      • Also irritatingly averted in the second level. A helicopter is flying around the area randomly dropping bombs. Despite the fact that it appears to be doing this constantly, any enemy nearby will respond to the explosion as if it were a suspicious noise.
  • A typical example is in Jagged Alliance 2. If the guards don't see you or hear you (because you're sneaking around, it's dark, and you've got better night vision equipment...) they have no idea that anything is wrong. If a guard does see you, then provided you kill him silently, and without any of his colleagues seeing, before he can radio it in, his colleagues still have no idea that anything is wrong. And if those same colleagues' patrol then takes them right up to the still-warm corpse of their good buddy, complete with multiple bullet wounds or a throwing knife embedded in his throat... well, they still have no idea anything is wrong.
  • Strife: when you're walking around in the town, the guards won't be at all concerned by the fact that you're carrying a whole arsenal of weapons which were obviously stolen. However, if you dare to fire any of those weapons (without necessarily hitting anybody), you'll immediately set off the alarm and have the guards going atfer you. ...Unless you use a knife or shoot a poison bolt from a crossbow (both those attacks are silent). These attacks are completely stealthy, and even if the guards see you doing them, they won't care. Even if you kill their mate right in front of them.
  • Deus Ex:
    • In the original game, you can shoot tranquilizer darts at your enemies. If you hit one in a group of others, they will all run around on high alert, until the one you hit falls down unconscious, at which point his friends will resume standing around, next to his unconscious body, and talk about how it must have been nothing. And if you run around, guards will hear your footsteps and start frantically searching for you, but if you cause other people to run around, even if no guard sees/hears you (since the only way to get people to run around is to attack someone in their vicinity), the guards won't care. Apparently they can tell the sound of your footstep from everyone else's.
    • Dropping or moving items, or moving around in any way other than a crouch within the earshot of enemies will make them suspicious. Allies, on the other hand, will greet you even if you're invisible. Enemies will also lose interest in your presence after about thirty seconds as long as you're out of sight - and don't even notice dead bodies or blood splattered on the walls.
    • A couple of techniques to get by enemies stealthily use this trope rather ridiculously. The first involves crouching behind boxes and pushing them forward - so long as you are hidden behind the box and move quietly, enemies won't react. The second method is to throw items or shoot darts at a spot you want the guards to investigate and face. Even if the guards see items mid-flight, they focus only on the final position of the dart/item.
  • Grand Theft Auto:
    • In all games, the cops are after YOU. You could be frantically trying to evade an entire motorcade of gun-toting maniacs shooting assault rifles downtown, they won't get chased. However, if you fire back, the fuzz will be over you like stink on cheese. In the same vein, NPC streetracers can crash into police cruiser at mach 2 then skid into a cartload of cancer puppies, nope, no reaction. Race on, dude! But for you, the slightest of bumps while passing them by? That's a wanted star, buddy.
    • In some of the games, random civilians can get chased by cops; from Vice City onwards if they're on foot you can chase them down yourself and get bonus money for punching him out and helping the cop. However, if you get a wanted level, they will instantly forget about everything else and chase you.
    • San Andreas lets you grab a tow truck and tow a copcar away. With cops inside. And then drive it through the airport, onto the runway, and then over the edge into the bay. Fun.
    • The GTA games are pretty bad with this the other way, too. Say you've just gunned down the Las Venturas Strip with a minigun. The police would now like to speak to you. How to evade the choppers and cruisers and cops coming out of literally nowhere to shoot at you? Well, you can just drive into a Pay 'n' Spray, spend some cash, and drive back out and be law abiding for a while, and the cops won't mind. Even if they see you ride in on a motorcycle that gives them full view of you. Or say you're just near your house... just dive in and put on some sunglasses or something. Or sleep for 6 hours and the cops will be gone in the morning, even if they ran in after you and were in the process of gunning you down as you went to bed.
    • In Grand Theft Auto IV Pay 'n' Sprays no longer work if the cops see you go in (making them mostly useless). You can still "sleep them off," though. They'll also forget all about you if you get out of their search area and stay out of sight for a while.
    • You can cut your hair, grow a beard, change all your clothes and swap your motorcycle to a fire truck and sure enough all the enemy gang members will still instantly know it's you and shoot on sight.
  • Postal 2 is quite similar to the GTA IV example (and predated it by a number of years). Cops and armed civilians will consider anyone, not just the player, a threat if they're seen firing a weapon. This can lead to massive shootouts if the player kills someone then hides; civilians will pull out their guns in response to the threat, then suddenly see all the other armed civilians around, consider them a threat, and pretty soon everyone is shooting at everyone else.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender The Burning Earth, there are levels which require the characters to hide inside barrels and sneak into enemy locations. Guards will instantly notice if a barrel moves in their line of sight, but will completely ignore barrels which move behind their back. The worst offense is when you follow a guard — if you stop before he turns around, the guard will think nothing of the fact that the barrel which used to be on the other side of field is now right in front of him — even going so far as to walk around the barrel to get back on his appointed path!
  • Doom:
    • Due to how the engine works, monsters can be alerted by the sound of the player firing a weapon. The Chainsaw, on the other hand, makes a continuous sputtering noise for as long as it's the active weapon, but enemies won't be alerted until you actually spin the chain. The Fists work in the same way, even though there's no sound effect when punching. Generally, if there's a wall or door between you and an enemy they won't hear you using your weapons, but even then it's not perfect - one map could deliberately be set up so every enemy in the level is alerted as soon as the player fires their weapons, and then the next could have an enemy in plain sight ignore the player due to an arbitrary sound cut-off in how the hallway between them is set up.
    • This page on the Doom Wiki details a bug that causes one enemy early in the first game to spot the player through a wall, and then another one in the second to ignore the player even when they walk right in front of them; this phenomenon is not Artificial Stupidity but the line-of-sight equivalent of an Insurmountable Waist-High Fence, a property of the level itself (in this case interacting with a bug in the game engine that causes the engine to treat them as in the wrong place) that makes it physically impossible for them to see the player. There's a similar bug that causes four enemies much later in the second game who are standing at the other side of a locked door to ignore you until you pass through that door - and much like almost every other glitch in the engine, this has been deliberately recreated in custom maps to make situations such as "statue"-like enemies coming to life to attack the player after grabbing an item near them.
  • Wolfenstein 3-D has this, likely in part due to the developers stripping the game of stealth-based gameplay like in the original Castle Wolfenstein to speed up the pace - just stab the air with your knife and any guards within the room will immediately know there's an intruder. Just alert one of them, though, and none of the others will care that their buddy is firing their gun for what appears to be no reason. And, for that matter, after killing said guard and his oblivious buddies, you can then open a door to the next room and discover none of the guards in there cared about the gunfire, either, even if it included yours.
  • The Flash game Pandemic II is a variation: You play as an infectious disease, and the goal of the game is to infect and kill as much of the world's population as possible. Humanity will try to thwart you by cutting off your paths of infection, such as borders, planes, and boats. However, it is entirely possible to go through most of the game with a disease with entirely mundane symptoms, such as sneezing. This has led to odd situations when countries will completely isolate themselves to prevent the spread of a harmless virus. Madagascar in particular, being an island nation with just one seaport, is particularly prone to hair-trigger quarantines, as lampshaded in a 4chan fancomic:
    Aide: President Madagascar, somebody just sneezed in Brazil!
    President: SHUT...DOWN...EVERYTHING!
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In Morrowind, only you are capable of committing crimes in front of the guards. You can be attacked by assassins or Ash Zombies while asleep in a room with a guard, who won't lift a finger to help you. Likewise, you can taunt any NPC into attacking you, which would qualify as assault if you attacked them. However, the guards still won't intervene. The one exception they'll make is if you lead a creature into a town, in which case they'll join the fight against it.
    • Oblivion:
      • The guards don't just focus on you. If you are under attack from someone and they do not see you strike first, they will actually help you out. (e.g. If you got too close to the pirate ship in the Imperial City harbor and the pirates take offense...) Likewise, the stealth aspect is quite realistic, items that make loud noises are noticed. However, if you move an item by kicking it around or pushing it with another object, the owners of the object will ignore you until you actually grab it yourself.
      • You can enter a shop, then use either your feet or magic to kick/blast their goods all over the store. As long as you don't accidentally graze the shopkeeper, they never object.
      • It's also possible, by ridiculous over leveling, to have a Sneak skill high enough that NPCs will fail to notice you standing right in front of them in broad daylight.
      • Judicious use of Telekinesis magic allows you to pick up an object you want to steal, quickly run to a corner (the shopkeeper will usually follow you, but you can get out of sight for a half-second usually) and grab it, they won't notice that the object disappeared into thin air.
      • Incidentally, if you have a bounty on your head (even if this is a bounty for killing every other killable person in the game) they will confront you first, and if you pay off the bounty or go to prison for a few days, they let you go without further ado. If an NPC commits any detected crime (even stealing a crumpled piece of paper), all nearby guards will try to cut them down where they stand.
      • Also, shopkeepers always know when something you try to sell them is stolen. Unless, of course, you sell it to a Thieves' Guild fence, then immediately buy it back, which apparently removes the "aura of having-been-stolen" from the object.
      • Guards won't mind if you steal a horse in the middle of nowhere, ride it up to the town gates, dismount, and go in to the city, as long as nobody saw you steal it. Get back on the horse you just got off of, though, and they will act like you just stole it right in front of them.
      • Similarly, if any guard sees you do something illegal: every guard in the world instantly knows about it.
      • Occasionally guards you didn't even know you aggroed will chase you through miles of wilderness through lakes, packs of feral animals and mountains in order to remind you to "Stop right there, criminal scum!"
    • Skyrim:
      • NPCs are programmed for eyesight and hearing which usually work pretty well. Unfortunately it also means that if you put a bucket on a (non-hostile) person they no longer have the ability to see you at all. They also appear to have No Peripheral Vision, especially minor NPCs who will sit down and lock their heads straight forward instantly becoming blind to everything that occurs to their left and right. It's also pretty hilarious to stealthily kill a person and watch their friends run around to find the cause for a minute before sitting down next to the corpse of their buddy and complain about being spooked by the wind. Even funnier is when its said by someone you're trying to kill via bow, whereupon they go back to drinking with an arrow sticking straight through their skull.
      • Time won't stop when you start a conversation, so things will continue happening realistically in the background. Unfortunately the conversation will cut off the NPC's AI, so they won't react in any way, even if a dragon starts attacking the village behind them.
      • In a hilarious example, at level 100 pickpocket you can take a perk that lets you pickpocket equipped items, including clothing. People will not notice that they're walking around naked.
  • The Fallout series: Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas suffer the same problem as shopkeepers in their Bethesda Elder Scrolls sister series (due to running on the same engine), but it's amplified because both games introduce a button that allows the player to physically pick up and move an object in the world without adding it to their inventory, and the fencing system (and corresponding recognition of stolen objects) is removed. The Silver Rush in New Vegas is especially prone to this problem, as it's loaded down with hundreds of pounds of high-tech energy weapons and ammunition worth an obscene amount of caps, and has an extended hallway to the bathrooms where one can go. The player can freely move all of the objects in the store into the bathroom and steal them out of sight, and nobody cares as long as the Courier doesn't just shove a plasma rifle into his bag in front of them.
  • Far Cry 2 takes enemies distinguishing the player's footsteps from ally's footsteps to ludicrous levels. In that game enemies can detect you even if you're driving an enemy's boat, jeep, or car, from a distance of up to a half-mile, and through tinted glass. Further, both you and your enemies are foreign mercenaries of all ethnic types, with no distinguishing uniforms or badges, dressed in a variety of casual outdoorwear — how can they tell you're an enemy in the first place?
  • In Final Fantasy VII, the room in the Shinra building where Cloud, Barret, and Tifa must hide behind golden statues while guards patrol on the other side of them. The guards sure seem diligent with their work, too bad they apparently have about 10 degrees of sight. For bonus points, getting caught summons a slap-on-the-wrist battle with the guards, and then for some reason after the battle a new set of guards comes to take over where the previous ones died and the whole thing can be repeated indefinitely. If Cloud and team are caught too many times, eventually they apparently run out of guards, and you can just walk to the opposite stairwell.
  • Splinter Cell:
    • In most games, the guards are very alert, and from the third one on, it takes ambient noise into account. Nearly everything you do sets off their alarm if they walk into it. From knocked out guards, to shooting out the lights. Even if you take a more subtle approach and turn the lights off, they'll wonder why it happened. After an alarm has been set off, the guards will never go back down to their original state and will be a little bit more alert than usual.
    • In Splinter Cell: Double Agent the guards in several levels are actually at war with others. The prison riot is a good example. You can sneak around pretty easily and sometimes the guard will stop shooting at you if another prisioner shows up.
    • In Splinter Cell: Conviction, the guards have difficulty noticing Sam in the shadows, but they will spot him if they get close enough. And alerting any single guard will have him call out to all the other guards before pursuing, putting everyone on alert. However, in many cases, you want the guards to know where you are, or at least, where you were, so that they'll assault your Last Known Position (LKP in the game) while you slip, unnoticed, into an ambush position to take them all out.
  • Many MMORPGs, including City of Heroes and World of Warcraft, have this as an effect of the level system- an enemy of an appropriate level for you to fight will notice you and begin trying to kill you at a moderate distance (Specifically, around the time when you enter long-distance attack range.) On the other hand, enemies much higher level than you will spot you coming a mile away, and enemies much lower level than you will pretend they don't see you even if you're standing at arm's length from them. In City of Heroes, specifically, this is easily justified by word of your heroic or villainous endeavors getting around. By the time you're 'famous' enough for the people you're attacking to not reward you with anything, they know to leave you alone because you can wipe the floor with them in just barely more time than it would take to avoid them completely. Lastly, in the early days some instance mobs were "intelligent" and when aggroed got help instead of attacking the player. This made the instances too hard and it was later patched out.
  • Final Fantasy XI:
    • Mobs hunt by specific methods: sight, sound, magic use, and low HP are the big ones. Mobs that are significantly lower level than you will still aggro you if you stop to heal in their aggro radius, though. In addition, many mobs have their aggro range altered by the day/night cycle or weather effects. Goblins in particular are damn near blind during the day, meaning you can run right past them most of the time and they won't even blink. At night, on the other hand...
    • Many mobs also track you via scent following aggro regardless of how they aggro you. This can result in a bizarre situation where a mob who aggros by sight from 20 meters away (and occasionally through a walls) will lose track of you even if you are only a few feet in front of them simply by running through a puddle.
  • There are some odd occurrences of this trope in The Lord of the Rings Online with mobs significantly below the player character's level. If a player attacks an NPC of a low enough level that it wouldn't normally aggress them, that NPC will return the attack, and any other members of its group will also do so. The exception to this is if the NPC that was initially attacked is killed in one hit, which doesn't trigger a response from any other NPCs in its group. (This can lead to situations such as one NPC being completely oblivious while an NPC it's having a conversation with drops dead mid-sentence.)
  • Averted in Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, where there is a level that takes place on a desert world with sand worms. The sand worms will react to anything that hits the sand, including blaster shots and thermal detonators. The latter results in a particularly useful strategy for distracting them.
  • In Wasteland, there is one point where you must sneak past a squeaky board to avoid alerting the guards. However, past the board are doors to open - you can blow them open with TNT and noone will hear.
  • No One Lives Forever - Guards are pretty oblivious to dead bodies - or rather, what caused their death, like a crossbow bolt sticking out of their head. They just ask "You all right?" and continue on their merry way after spending some moments looking for the player and getting rid of the body. They got it right in the second part (and sections of the first) as the guards would raise the alarm, but it was still funny to have a guard, upon discovering his colleague dead right next to him for no reason, say "Wake up!" and when realizing that he was dead disposing of the body and saying "I'm not doing the paperwork."
  • In Mercenaries, players can hijack a faction's vehicle and disguise themselves as a member of that faction. In the first game, this was essentially foolproof, no matter what vehicle you were in, as long as you didn't engage in any hostilities, enemy soldiers would not realize that you are an imposter, unless an officer was present, at which point your disguise would be ruined. This led to scenarios where a distinctive-looking mercenary could be driving along in a stolen open-top jeep, but still raise no suspicion from the North Korean troops, but driving in a tank with no means of anyone seeing you from the outside would raise an alert if you came across one officer. The sequel changes this, where disguises are based on a timer; stay in a faction's view for too long, and they'd realize that you're not one of them. This makes for essentially the same problem; if you are careful, you can drive through a base with nobody realizing who you are in (on a dirtbike, even), despite the fact that ingame chatter shows that everybody knows who you are.
  • Dwarf Fortress:
    • Crops up where the elven merchants who visit you every spring will get extremely offended if you try to sell them goods they deem unethical, like wooden items or animal products. This can result in them packing and leaving in a huff, or even declaring war, if you try to sell them wooden trinkets that you just bought from them five seconds ago. They will also be very impressed if you go without cutting down trees for a long period of time, even if there are no trees for miles around.
    • The DF2014 update at least fixed the first issue, bringing items made from "grown" wood that can be freely traded back to them. The catch is that the implementation of this is a bit spotty, so not ALL the wood items they bring will be correctly made from grown wood.
    • Meanwhile in Adventurer Mode, stealth in older versions was utterly foolproof so long as you stayed far enough away from NPCs, as the ambusher skill was only checked when you get close enough. The DF2014 update added sight and hearing, plus made ones detectability modified by size, cover, darkness, etc. It's still prone to inconsistencies falling under this trope, and was especially a Game-Breaker when the stealth overhaul was first implemented (and complicated by the equally-buggy early morale mechanics).
  • The guards in Tenchu must be Psychic. Splashing in a puddle inside a cave - where no guard can possibly get to, but can hear, causes them to immediately shout "NINJA!" and go into !? mode, no matter how many times you splash through the water. Presumably fountains would be bad for their blood pressure. In Tenchu 3, the player can hear the player character's footsteps at all times, even when they're inaudible to guards your character is close enough to touch. This would't strain plausibility too much if the game was first person, but the player's perspective is a good eight to ten feet behind the player character.
  • Scarface: The World Is Yours. Getting cops nosing around because of gunfire? Hiding behind some dumpsters tends to work. They're pissed and chasing you? Distance, not line of sight matters. No matter how far and straight the road ahead is, pure speed allows one to evade notice. Possibly handwaved with the game mechanic that bribing the cops in general reduces their interest in you.
    • You can run up a building, beat up monsters with your bare hands and fly by firing blood out of your wrists and the soldiers don't care unless you bump into them or attack them. But if you have any transform power active, even the one that just gives you big muscles, they'll spot you a mile away. Even worse, running up a wall attracts no attention, but hand-over-hand climbing the same wall will get you caught in no time. That's right — scaling a wall in a manner that might be humanly feasible is a dead giveaway, but scaling it in a way that's physically impossible without superpowers isn't even worth a second glance.
    • The soldiers also never learn what Mercer's default form looks like, even though you always revert to that when using offensive powers, and General Randall himself has access to images of Mercer, hood and all. Stay out of sight until the meter runs out, and nobody will remember that guy in the hoodie just ate half the platoon. And once you level up the ability to point at someone and shout "that's him" — causing every soldier in earshot to shoot the poor victim full of holes — they never suspect that the "soldier" going around the base doing that to everyone might be Mercer in disguise.
    • It gets even worse during the missions that require you to enter enemy bases. Despite reaching the point in the game where soldiers are aware that Mercer can shapeshift into anyone and are paranoid enough to actually buy the whole "That's him", they still don't find it strange that two soldiers just turned around the fuel truck, but only one came out the other side. And considering that you can create a blind spot by moving some trucks... Suddenly there is only one poor soldier that doesn't find it strange that his entire platoon all went behind that truck and never came back.
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution:
    • Guards react to you running, jumping, falling and firing. They don't react to you knocking out their buddies one meter away if they can't see it. This is because despite all the yelling non lethal take downs are 'silent' to the enemy and the game world is frozen when they are performed. The box trick from the original game still works (unless you are invisible!) and they don't notice missing allies. Even weirder, if you find a hackable terminal in an area with non-hostile but alert NPCs/cameras (Detroit Police Department is a perfect example), you can ASSEMBLE A CAGE OF BOXES AROUND THE TERMINAL OR AROUND A WATCHING CAMERA YOU WANT TO HACK and if you're not visible through it, they won't be the least suspicious when you disassemble it and move to another terminal while the old one sits there hacked.
    • It gets to truly ridiculous levels when a camera in a small room pans across a man sitting in a chair, to the room's only exit, then back to the chair with the man gone and no footsteps being heard (if you kill him when he's out of the camera's sight) and not notice.
    • Illustrated in this Awkward Zombie comic, guards are apparently deaf to noises made by barrels
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age has a brief stealth segment. At one point, you need to get to a particular ladder without being seen, but there's a guard patrolling in front of it. The solution? Boxes. The guard won't notice you unless you step out from behind a box, even if you're pushing the box toward him at the time. He also won't step around boxes, and doesn't seem to notice his patrol route getting shorter as a result.
  • Sam the Sheepdog from Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf. Most notable examples include not noticing when sheep wander away, when one is obviously missing, when a jar of honey lands right in front of him, or when Ralph should obviously be visible to him, but somehow isn't. On the flip side, Sam will not notice you when you're hiding inside a bush or pressed against some very specific rocks, but will have no trouble seeing you through walls. He'll also not see anything suspicious about a bush changing its position each time he looks away, but that's just a case of Looney Tunes' flavor of Rule of Funny.
  • Chapter 15 of Ghost Trick is a Stealth-Based Mission in which you have to avoid using your ghost powers in front of a major antagonist who also has access to powers of the dead, and ones much stronger than yours at that. Despite this, he has an odd tendency to ignore things that should be suspicious just because he didn't see them directly, such as a wheeled step stool on a completely flat surface zooming across the room for a book to fall onto it, and then zooming back. This is actually foreshadowing — the protagonist was his Only Friend for several years, and this antagonist really doesn't want to call him out if he can ignore him instead.

Western Animation

  • Variant on ignoring sounds not made by the protagonist: in an episode of Batman Beyond, villain Shriek has a suit whose abilities include nullifying sound in the surrounding area. When Batman turns on the machines in a factory in order to mask his own movements, Shriek uses his suit to block out the sounds, followed by another adjustment so that he can still hear Batman moving around. He's defeated when a tossed Batarang takes out the sound-blocker in question, leading to every sound in one of Gotham's busiest districts getting amplified directly into his ears, permanently blowing them out.
  • Also parodied in an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic where Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, and Spike are attempting to sneak into the Royal Library. They do a phenominally awful job of sneaking (they might as well be making the "dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun" sneaking sound with their mouths) but the guards don't notice them. When they finally are caught trying to open the gate to the library, the guard politely greets them and unlocks the door. Turns out since Twilight Sparkle is the official protege and student to Princess Celestia, her and her friends are always welcome in the palace and library and all those guards they had "snuck" past were just ignoring them.

Live-Action TV

  • So, Dexter has made a friend. Good for you, Dex. But perhaps you would prefer not to talk about murdering people in a crowded area in broad daylight? Just a thought.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the entire student body of Sunnydale High to be extremely ignorant to what Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Cordelia and Oz are talking about. Occasionally the Scoobies will stop talking when someone enters the library, but more often than not they are discussing the Monster of the Week right in the hallway while students and teachers are bustling around. Though this also applies to most of the people in Sunnydale about anything supernatural.

    Blatant lack of awareness 
Video Games
  • Ground Control 2:
    • You're meant to be sneaking past the guards but one of the guys you are controlling (Rho) keeps shooting at people, unless you get in range of their weapons nobody notices their comrades dying.
    • You can shoot infantry with scout drones without them noticing.
  • Fire Emblem enemies, at least in the GBA/GameCube/Wii games, often seem to be a bit more comfortable with their current spot then they should, considering the situation. A common tactic against these guys is to sneak until you get a few units just outside detection range, then let a heavy defender (Knight/General) enter, lure the guy out (finally) and let him get the crap beaten out of him. Despite the low movement range of the heavy defenders, you will have plenty of time to set this up.
  • In one of the missions in GoldenEye (1997), there is a point from which you can shoot at the head of a guard who is wearing a steel helmet without him seeing you. Because of the steel helmet, the headshot is not fatal and it takes several shots to kill him this way, with his head jerking backwards with each hit. Because he can't see you, he completely ignores this and remains at his post until he dies.
  • Happens a lot in Warcraft 2: melee units will just sit and get shot repeatedly without making any move to attack the unit that's not even THREE FRIGGIN' FEET AWAY!
  • In Halo the Covenant will do almost nothing while you snipe at them from across the map. The Xbox 360 remake of the first game has an Achievement for sniping all the mooks in the beginning of a certain level without them noticing anything. Apparently, walking around the corpses of their buddies doesn't count as noticing.
  • In Disgaea enemy units won't move towards your characters unless they're in range and they'll never move away. As a result it's possible to kill some enemies with a gun (the weapons class with the longest range) or magic (which can reach the other side of the map at high levels) without any reaction on their part.
  • The Raiders in Fallout 3 can sometimes be incredibly oblivious, it is frequently possible to blow off the head of a person they are standing right next to without them noticing. In addition, you can sneak around a building, knocking around shopping carts and other junk, but they're never notice. Justified by the fact that they are high 99% of the time that they aren't stealing drugs.
  • Fallout 4: Raiders are largely as oblivious as usual, but with the added hilarity of blaming the wind even if you just popped their friend's head off right at the side of them.
  • World of Warcraft: Nexus Prince Shaffar and his guards. He has a room full of groups of five or so guards who you kill one group at a time as you work your way up to him. The kicker is that he greets you when you enter the room. He clearly knows you're there and has shouted it out in front of everyone, but his guards apparently still don't and stand there waiting to be slaughtered one group at a time.
  • City of Heroes, and presumably other MMORPGs, will sometimes have an NPC you are attacking break and run, generally toward a nearby group of oblivious NPCs. You can continue attacking the runner with ranged attacks, and can defeat the runner so that they fall down right in the middle of the other group, and they pay no attention to the body lying at their feet. NPCs will also ignore things like eye-searing bolts of fire passing through their group to hit targets beyond them.
  • Laura Bow: The Daggar of Amon Ra has a minor but interesting case. In the armory room there is a large tapestry in the far left of the screen. To collect evidence, Laura can use this tapestry to hide behind it to surprise or remain undetected while other NPCs are dropping important clues at particular time intervals. You can use it from listening to a conversation to leaping out and scaring the hell out of another suspicious party, nobody will suspect anything (although one conversation with Wolf and Olympia lampshades this). However, in Act 5 when Laura is chased by the killer, a character you could NOT use this trick against prior, hiding behind the tapestry regardless of how well it worked before (or the fact you blocked off all possible ways or indication the killer could've seen her hide there during the chase) will cause the killer to instantly know she's there and smack her with their spiked club of doom through the tapestry.
  • Both played straight and averted in Gothic. All enemies have a specific sight range, and will not react to anything outside it — so you can startle one monster of the group, pull it away, and kill it without others noticing. However, averted with most humanoids (humans, orcs and lizardmen) and some animals (wolves, rats, scavengers, and some others) — startling one of them also startles everyone in its vicinity (which, in turn, can startle everyone in their vicinity, and so on), leading to the whole group taking off after you.
  • While sneaking into the Gerudo fortress in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the guards pay no mind to seeing one of their fellow guards lying on the ground unconscious, with an arrow sticking out of their skull. They also can't be bothered to look up at the ceiling, no matter how much noise Link is making with his hookshot.
  • The enemies in Final Fantasy XIII have a detection zone. If you're standing outside of it, they can't see you even if they're almost close enough to touch you. But if you're in their zone, they can see you even through walls. They will chase you until you get out of their zone, at which point they decide It's Probably Nothing, even if you're standing right there in front of them, waiting for them to turn their backs and walk back to where they were so you could attack from behind.
  • The enemies in Hotline Miami are admittedly capable of hearing the player's gunshots and seeing him... sometimes. Apart from that, they are curiously inept, to the point where they'll completely ignore corpses of their buddies, and won't react at all when the guy in front of them is suddenly shot and killed. The "fat" enemies (who take a while to die after being shot) won't even react to getting hit with a bullet if they don't hear the gunshot, and will happily keep walking ahead while bleeding to death. Not that we're complaining - you're fragile enough without the guards being competent. For that matter, much of the game is spent with both the player character and at least some of the guards having taken so many drugs that it's impossible to tell exactly what really happened.
  • Ghost Recon: Future Soldier features a mission in which an enemy gunship is hovering overhead and the player and his team are expected to sneak past it without alerting it. While it will near-instantly go on alert if it spots the player, you can tell your teammates to shoot an enemy right underneath it and it will not care. Also, during sections in which enemies are not yet aware of the player's presence, the AI-controlled Ghosts are totally invisible to them. This can be handwaved by the active camouflage you get from the second mission onwards, but even when they're running at full tilt without camo active they are still totally undetectable. Notably, this also applies to temporary escorts - one can, after rescuing the Russian President, have him walk right into a patrolling guard without that guard noticing.
  • The monsters in Resident Evil: Revelations 2 are pretty good at spontaneously hearing you as you sneak up to deliver a Back Stab or spotting you from a good distance. They're not so good at hearing gunshots, character dialogue, or the smashing of crates and barrels, none of which they even react to in the slightest. Possibly justified by the fact that their brains are mutated, viral-infected mush.
  • Command & Conquer: Generals: Disguising a Bomb Truck as a vehicle will cause enemy units to ignore it unless they have a detector nearby. They also ignore the vehicle even if it runs over friendly units not five feet away from them, meaning you can easily clear out infantry-held positions with a single disguised truck or clear out most of an attack wave with one. Human-controlled units can always force-fire at the unit, the AI is apparently willing to forgive an inexperienced driver.
  • In The Last of Us, your AI companion Ellie will go unnoticed by enemies during stealth, no matter how obvious she's being. Since constantly having someone you can't control tripping the alarm would just be frustrating, it's understandable, even if it breaks the immersion a bit.