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Creative Sterility

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Detective Del Spooner: You're a machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
Sonny: Can you?

What Measure Is a Non-Super? We can't fly, we can't shoot fireballs out of our nostrils, and we live pitifully short lives. Those Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, vampires, or cyber-humans are so far above us in every respect we should just accept them as a Benevolent Alien Invasion. And yet every non-human and supernatural creepy-crawly without its head up its butt envies us and wants to be like us. Why?

Because we can create.

Despite our flaws, Humans Are Special for some reason, and only an unaltered human body, soul or mind has the unique ability to create things that supernaturals seem to lack. For some reason Cybernetics Eat Your Soul, vampirism drains your humanity or being soulless means you're dead inside. Oh sure, a vampire scientist might make great discoveries, but all of them will be of the Science Is Bad variety whether he likes it or not. A robot can't paint or write a sonnet, and even Elves can't seem to make anything that has a deeper meaning behind the generic beauty they're so good at. For some reason, a non-human's work is stale, at best a repetition of more creative, emotive, and insightful peers.

This can be an overt or subtle cue that we're dealing with beings that are Not Even Human. Depending on how it's played in context, it can be used as a negative trait to balance out a race much superior to humans, which does not make them any better or worse than us, just different. It can also lead to Cultural Posturing on the part of the humans, as the page quote shows, or in more extreme cases serve as an excuse to feel indifferent towards killing them. After all, anything incapable of creative endeavors can't be human and is therefore fine to kill.

This can have interesting ramifications in a plot. They might seek to become human by learning to feel or even transforming themselves physically, hoping The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body which will allow them to understand us. It may be cultural: enough exposure to humanity may well "cure" them, though any of them who resist this change and want to stay uncreative are likely to be Obviously Evil. It can also lead to more frightening efforts at stealing that which they lack from us—whether it is in the form of "Creative Energy", souls, wombs, or slaves. In this case, Evil Cannot Comprehend Good and their sterility is self-perpetuating.

If (when) anyone brings up that average humans can be biologically sterile or have little to no "artistic talent" the normal response is either: they get ignored, point that in comparison humans produce over hundreds of millions of works while the race total work is 0, or point that this is because humans are, in comparison to other races, total wackos. After all, anyone who had visited MySpace or GeoCities in their heydays can attest to the insane... "imagination" of the average Joe/Jane.

A common variant outside of the development of artificially or supernaturally prolonged life concerns the differences between men and woman, in which it will be observed that, in going through pregnancy and giving birth, a woman is capable of creating life, perhaps the ultimate form and union of both creativity and fertility whereas a man can not. It is often suggested that men are thus capable only of destroying, not creating, as a way of attempting to compensate for this lack of creativity. This is often used as a way of arguing or justifying why women are inherently better than men, although it can also be used to indicate that the woman in question making this argument is a deluded Straw Feminist capable only of seeing the worst in men. Furthermore, while men do not actually carry the baby, they do in fact play a fairly important role in conception... something which is rarely mentioned either way.

Compare Medieval Stasis, where elves, aliens, demons and other immortal races far older than humans typically have technology comparable or only slightly more advanced than humans. The most common explanations given, if any are, is either that the other species is creatively stagnant or that they've hit an upper technological limit and it's impossible to advance farther (The Singularity notwithstanding). If an entire race has stagnated culturally, they may become a Dying Race or the fact that they are dying may be the cause of the stagnation. Contrast Deaf Composer, who can still (probably) create despite lacking a necessary sense, Grew Beyond Their Programming, when a robot evolves free will, and Alien Arts Are Appreciated, for when these other beings can get creative. See also Imagination Destroyer, which has this trope as the end goal. Sub-trope of Lack of Imagination.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Astro Boy: The titular robot has emotions, he's incapable of appreciating art and music. He gets an upgrade that allows him to at one point, but it has the unfortunate side-effect of making him vulnerable to pain and fear. What's interesting is that he comes to accept his differences and decides being the best robot he can be is better than trying to be a fake human. Tezuka is slightly inconsistent on this, perhaps not surprising given A) the manga's Continuity Snarl, which can Hand Wave quite a lot (the time stream did it!), and B) Tezuka's habit of following the rules unless it's cooler or more fun to do otherwise. Interestingly, he is capable of all of the above, good and bad, in the 1980, 2003, and 2009 versions. He still seems perfectly happy as a robot, though. The 1980 version at least was Tezuka-approved.
  • OEL manga Mark Of The Succubus has demons who, among other things, are extremely pragmatic and don't do anything that is unnecessary. One of the things the main character finds so fascinating about humans is their ability to create beautiful things for no reason at all other than the fact that they can.
  • Magician's Academy explains the Otaku behavior of gods and devils as a result of finding humanity's creations fascinating, since being eternal beings with vast power has left them with no need for innovations or cultural identity of their own.
  • The homunculi created by Father in Fullmetal Alchemist are incapable of performing alchemy (though some of them have alchemy-related powers, like Greed's Ultimate Shield, which is technically some sort of transmutation). Fitting the typical pattern of the trope better, Envy in particular has a massive disdain for humans that actually hides a deep-seated...well...envy for humans' ability to form emotional bonds and persevere in spite of their "inferiority"; this envy eventually drives Envy to despair and suicide.
    • Father himself qualifies. Despite his incredible power, he never actually develops any alchemical techniques of his own, only countering or mimicking the abilities of others. Tellingly, a person's Gate of Truth is adorned with a mural representing all their knowledge; when we see Father's own Gate it's completely blank, indicating that for all the work and study he put into his Evil Plan, he never actually learned anything. He just copied the homework of real alchemists.
  • The Zentraedi in Robotech have shades of this. They are kept deliberately ignorant of how to use technology, with all of it being provided by the Robotech Masters. This is a form of control; without the Robotech Masters to guide them, all of the Zentraedi's technology will eventually break down, and they will be unable to fight their wars.
  • In Macross, the Zentraedi are similarly kept ignorant of how to produce and repair their own technology. However, they still wipe out their creators, and are able to keep going because all of their factories are automated: they just have to give the factory new materials, and it pumps out new weapons. When they join human civilization in later installments, their old technology is improved upon, and Zentraedi engineers and scientists begin to pop up as they become educated.
  • A major theme in Chobits, mostly coming out late in the story, is that no matter how human the persocoms look, they cannot have children because they're robots.
  • Oda Nobunaga realizes that the Drifters bring new technologies and knowledge to a world roiling in Medieval Stasis; for example, as a warlord, he finds the simple crystal balls used by the Octobrist Organization for quick communication on the battlefield a much more revolutionizing idea than actual magic. As the setting's Magnificent Bastard, Oda is thoroughly studying this and incorporating it into his world-conquest campaign.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • The Saiyans are depicted as this in the anime, where all their vast technical advancements are either stolen from the Tuffles they murdered, bought in exchange for mercenary work, or given to them by Frieza's empire. Even the armor they wear that Vegeta calls Saiyan formal wear were all from Frieza. In the manga, though, the Saiyans weren't natives of Planet Vegeta, so they have some form of space travel. In the art of fighting, however, they do show some creativity, like their elites being able to create false moons so they can transform into Great Apes.
    • In Dragon Ball Super, Beerus has this to say, "Destroyers don't create".
  • Azami Nakiri of Food Wars! seems to have a serious case of this. He's a brilliant chef whose dishes could only be called "Gourmet cooking", but unlike his idol Joichiro Saiba, he neither sees the need nor has the drive to innovate and improve. Case in point, during a flashback where he finds Saiba trying to improve a dish he used to win Gold at a contest, all he could ask was "Wasn't this dish perfect as it was?"
  • This is the key weakness of Alus in Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE. He has the ability to create armies and warhips practically at will... but his lack of foresight and mindless offensive strategies means that he ends up playing right into the more creative hands of the BUILD DiVERS. The only times he wins are by sheer overwhelming numbers or because of critical misplays by the heroes. This is ultimately what does him in—in dedicating his full efforts to laying siege to an MMO video game, he leaves his physical control form open to attack.
  • Dragons in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid are very good at performing magic, but almost all spells were created by humans since dragon nature isn't exactly conducive to the sort of long-term cooperative effort it would take to create them.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion, the Angels were technically a Human Subspecies with the resulting intelligence, but lack the capacity for any kind of abstract thought resulting in their Blue-and-Orange Morality. Most notably, Leliel, Armisael and Arael cannot independently conceive of the very concept of emotions, but have to draw extensively on the pilots' knowledge and understanding of it before they are able to talk about it, and even then it is obvious that they are struggling to comprehend it. The most human-like Angel, Kaworu/Tabris, admits to admiring humanity for their ability to create music, strongly indicating that he lacks the means to do so himself.
  • Symphogear AXZ: The leader of the Pavarian Illuminati, Adam Weishaupt, is a horrifyingly powerful immortal alchemist but has never invented any alchemy techniques himself. He is in fact one of the first humans created by the Precursors, who was rejected in favour of the Biblical Adam for being "too perfect" and thus lacking any capacity for growth.
  • Vivy: Fluorite Eye's Song: AIs are unable to of creating new things. As a result, Vivy, the main AI, writing a song gives the AI responsible for a worldwide mass Turned Against Their Masters event an extra reason to consider humanity obsolete.

    Comic Books 
  • Loki's magic fountain in X-Men/Alpha Flight (1985) can cure people of ailments and make them into super-beings, but at the cost of their creativity.
  • in 2000 AD:
    • In a short story set untold eons in the future, humanity has done, created, and experienced everything possible in every possible permutation and variation. There's nothing left to live for. So they do the one thing no one's ever done before to end their unspeakable boredom: end the universe.
    • Caballistics, Inc.: Ethan Kostabi created Solomon Ravne and his (mentioned but unseen) "siblings" as an experiment to create new life. Because he is a Fallen Angel and not God however, he couldn't give his children a soul as he doesn't have one of his own nor does he know how to create one.
  • The title character of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac was always a little unhinged, but only truly lost it when his ability to create art was taken from him. One of the sequels shows a failed attempt to do this to a more strong-willed artist.
  • The Snarks, repeated enemies of the Kid Hero team Power Pack, are like this in the All-Ages version (Earth-5631). Their species has no imagination, so they copy what they can't steal and steal what they can't copy, resulting in all their tech looking like it was put together from various different pieces. Notably, this also made them incapable of learning from their mistakes, as they sought the recreation of the anti-matter formula, which they hope to turn into a weapon, even though they already lost their home planet in the previous attempt to do so, with no modifications to keep it from backfiring a second time.
  • The Sandman (1989):
    • Destruction is capable of creating things, and tries his hand at countless forms of art. He's just terrible at all of them. It's implied that the reason is that being the manifestation of destruction, creation goes against his inner nature. However, it's also implied that the Endless embody not just their namesakes, but their opposites as well.
    • Both inverted and played straight with Richard Madoc, the writer who abducted and repeatedly raped the muse Calliope. Dream initially punishes him by giving him too many ideas, a flood of inspiration that leaves him frantically writing them down - first with pens, then with his bleeding fingers when the ink runs out, until he wears his fingertips down to the bone. Calliope convinces Dream he's made his point, so Dream takes away the overabundance of ideas... as well as the ability to have any more, leaving Richard creatively null for the rest of his life.
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Shaper of Worlds is a Reality Warper with nearly unlimited power and one huge limitation: he absolutely lacks imagination. He can only create by copying the desires of others.
  • In Season Nine of Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Angel & Faith, the destruction of the Seed of Wonder at the end of Season Eight has resulted in no decent books, movies, or paintings being made.
  • The Sheeda from the Seven Soldiers of Victory maxi-series, hailing from an extremely distant future that's utterly devoid of resources, are incapable of creating anything themselves, and thus survive by travelling back in time and "harrowing" past civilizations.
  • Superman:
    • In the 1987 World of Krypton series, Krypton's backstory became this, with Jor-El feeling the planet's spiritual death preceded its physical one by centuries, with all aspects of the planet (save the most important one) completely under their control. It must be noted, though, this series has not been canon since 2001.
    • Legion of Super-Heroes: In the Silver Age, this was Brainiac 5's limitation - he was utterly brilliant, but he could only modify things that were already invented, such as Mon-El's anti-gravity mineral and his ancestor's force-field. This limitation was eventually dropped.
  • In Dungeon Twilight the dead suffer from this to the point that they can't even use new sentences.
  • Marvel Universe: The Collector recognized the Reality Gem as a cosmic artifact but couldn't utilize it at all because he completely lacked any creativity to do so.
  • Also from the Marvel Universe the Shi'ar warrior Deathbird is given focus in her own story arc where it's revealed that the Shi'ar do not have imagination and in fact consider it a mental illness. This allowed an artistic species they failed to conquer to weaponize their technology capable of instilling creativity as a form of psychological warfare. The few shi'ar born with creativity are killed as abhorrent cultural deviants and it turns out Deathbird is one of those lucky few. Her character arc is about developing an appreciation for her creativity and thus breaking away from her deeply instilled role as a living weapon.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): It's not mentioned in the story itself, but according to Word of God on the author's Tumblr, the alien beings who were exterminated by Ghidorah after they created it had no imagination for anything except ways to inflict violence and destruction.
  • In Advice and Trust, Kaworu is capable of expressing himself through things like music but describes himself as being incapable of creating things that he isn't copying. This becomes an issue when he wants to make a Christmas present for Rei, though he finds a workaround when Shinji suggests he make her a mixtape.
  • Child of the Storm has Surtur depicted as such. While he's stone-cold brilliant, his brilliance is just that: stone cold. There's no intuition, no spark of inspiration, it's all technical. This is suggested on more than one occasion to be his Fatal Flaw.
  • The Life and Times of a Winning Pony: Despite their association with art and artists, and their need to feed off of the psychic energies associated with artistic creation, muses lack the creative spark required to create true art. As such, they cannot create original works themselves: the most they can do is imitate what's already there.
  • The Seal of Wax and Glass: The Api, a species of insectoid ponies, could mimic and adopt what they were shown, but were incapable of original thought and could not create anything new themselves.

    Film — Animation 
  • Coco: Miguel believes Ernesto de la Cruz to be a genius in the entertainment realm. In truth, however, none of his acclaimed songs were really his. After stealing them from Héctor, he either sang them as-is or twisted them beyond recognition. This even extends to some of his movies, as shown by him basing one scene on the night he killed his friend. Ernesto simply did not have the drive to make anything genuinely new.
  • Ratatouille: Skinner is clearly a competent chef, but he lacks the creative prowess that made Gusteau such a success. The best he can do is market a line of frozen meals based on Gusteau's recipes and a bunch of food that isn't even Gusteau's (such as corn dogs).
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph has to explain a few times that he doesn't build or fix things; all he does is wreck things. He does wind up helping Vanellope build a go-kart, but because Ralph does sorta suck at non-wrecking jobs it doesn't come out that great. But Vanellope geeks out over it anyway. Note that this isn't because of any inborn inability on Ralph's part, but simply a lack of practice. At the end of the film, we are shown that Ralph has built a neighborhood of houses for orphaned game characters, though he admits he had Felix's help. Oddly enough Felix has the opposite problem; when the situation calls for wrecking things, he's helpless, and his attempts just make them stronger.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • A scene occurs in The Matrix Revolutions where Neo is surprised to encounter a machine family that understand love better than him.
  • I, Robot opens the question about whether robots and AIs can have soul and feelings when Sonny, an advanced robot prototype, starts drawing creative artworks. Which turns out to be a prophecy, or possibly another clue left by his creator. Interestingly, I, Robot paints the eventual ability of robots do to all of this as inevitable. Sonny's just the first.
  • TRON has Master Control and TRON: Legacy has Clu 2.0. Neither can create new Programs, but they can "repurpose" them. Creation is something that only "Users" (humans) can do. Justified with some Fridge Brilliance. They are computer programs with set parameters that not even they can break, no matter how much they'd like to.
    • This is why Clu 2.0 wants to go to the real world, as this will no longer limit his parameters, and he will be able to write new Programs himself.
  • Serendipity, the Muse from Dogma got tired of giving everyone else ideas, and asked God to grant her a little vacation on Earth, so she could create herself. Much to her annoyance, she found herself with an annoying case of writer's block. Apparently she's not allowed to keep any of the ideas she gives out for herself.
  • Averted in Short Circuit, Newton Crosby tries to convince Stephanie Speck that there's no way that Number 5 could be sapient, he improvises a Rorschach test by dripping some tomato soup onto a piece of paper, squishing the paper together, and then asking the robot what he sees. At first, Number 5 quickly lists off the basic ingredients of the soup... but then he finishes with, "Looks like... resembles... butterfly!" (turns the paper on its side) "Maple leaf!" (turns the paper again) "Flower! Pretty..." And that convinces Newton that Number 5 isn't a soulless machine after all.
  • In the Disney Channel original movie Pixel Perfect, Loretta the hologram girl tries to write her own song but can only mash together the lyrics of other songs. She doesn't understand why combining popular lines into one song isn't legitimate, since her own appearance was created by combining pictures of many different girls into one image.
  • The Invention of Lying: In a world where people can't lie, imagination and fiction are non-existent, and movies consist of a person lecturing people on historical events. Mark, who develops the ability to lie, creates a fictional history about aliens visiting Babylon, and later a story about a talking duck, they become the highest-grossing films of all time.
  • A major theme in American Psycho, both book and film, is Patrick Bateman's tendency towards this. A mixture of extreme conformism, personal ennui, and lack of creativity mean that his idea of changing things up is making his business card a slightly different shade of white from that of his colleagues. His main motivation for becoming a serial killer is more or less that it's the only thing in his life that makes him unique.
  • The controllers in The Cabin in the Woods feel this way about their job. They carry out human sacrifices for ancient gods who demand that the sacrifices come in the form of Strictly Formula horror movie scenarios, and throw tantrums when the cliches aren't followed. Hadley is supremely disappointed when, once again, it's the reliable Hillbilly Horrors Slasher Movie that the sacrifice is taking the form of, lamenting that he'll never get to see a merman slaughter some teenagers for once. The Ancient Ones are intended as a metaphor for horror fandom in general, and what the film's creators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard saw as creative sterility within the horror genre as a whole, sticking to timeworn conventions and afraid to take creative risks due to fear of alienating audiences.
  • The Waterboy: Ever since Red Beaulieu stole his playbook and passed it off as his own, Coach Klein has struggled to think up new plays as inspired and innovative as those in the book until Bobby helps him face his fears. This, in turn, causes Red's own inability to come up with new plays to counter Klein's as he stymied by the fact they're not in the playbook.
  • In C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America, the CSA, whose ruling class has blatant white supremacist views, has a rather bland and stagnant culture (while refusing to acknowledge how much of the vigor their culture does have originates from their black slaves and foreign influences). Meanwhile, Canada, a nation that embraces human diversity, not only prospers culturally, but even manages to outstrip the CSA.
  • Glass Onion: This turns out to be Miles Bron's true nature. Any remotely creative ideas he has are either stolen from other people or just Word Salads that others transform into actual working ideas. Even his attempted murder of Helen is based on an idea he picked from Blanc, which he calls him out on at the end.
  • The Italian Job (2003): Steve's Fatal Flaw. Most of his plans rely either on brute force or a paranoid defense, and the only good idea he has is easily figured out by the team. Even most of the stuff he bought with the money the team stole at the beginning is what the others said they would buy before Steve betrayed them.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, this forms the High Evolutionary's motivation: he wants to create a utopian society, but none of his creations, no matter how refined, have ever managed to create something he hadn't seen before. We see this when we visit one of his projects, Counter-Earth, which, despite being intended as an improved version of our Earth, is largely indistinguishable from it barring the appearance of its inhabitants, having note-for-note all the same problems. The only creation of his to break the mold is Rocket Raccoon, who, despite being clearly an unrefined test subject that he had no intention of letting survive past the experiment phase, was able to solve a problem that had been vexing him for some time. His plan in response to this: cut out the subject's brain and copy the "actual creativity" trait into all his future projects.

  • Transformers: Zigzagged throughout the franchise, as sometimes the Transformers have a healthy creative culture, in other versions part of the reason they latch onto humanity so much is because humans have so much more of it.
    • The Transformers implies that Cybertron doesn't have much creativity, other than anything related to warfare. Throughout the series the Autobots are shown enjoying such things as watching human TV or participating in sports, suggesting similar things just aren't found on Cybertron (especially since they've been locked in a Forever War for millions of years). Transformers: Devastation outright states that much of Cybertron's culture has been lost over the countless eons of war.
    • In the backstory of the Aligned universe (made up of Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron as well as Transformers: Prime and its spin-offs), in the aftermath of the Rust Plague Alpha Trion observes that while Cybertron survived, the loss of its numerous colonies to the plague seemed to have drained all the creativity and life out of Cybertronians as a whole. The worst sign is how new Cybertronians don't even have names note , implying that they had nothing that inspired them nor anything to aspire to.

  • In the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, this is stated as the reason it's so important for the students at Hailsham to cultivate artistic capabilities. This is because the students are all clones, and the teachers wanted to prove that they were just as human as everyone else.
  • Henry, a Friendly Neighborhood Vampire from Dora Wilk Series lost his ability to create original music after being turned into a vampire.
  • Erasmus from Dune is a subversion of this trope. His constant goal is to unlock the secrets of human creativity and existence. This goal is also the driving force behind many of his experiments. For example, in The Butlerian Jihad (the first of the Legends of Dune), he attempted to create a still life using the blood and organs of a couple of his servants, (and in the end the final product did not satisfy him, as it was mere COPYING, not real creativity). He also composed a very emotionless and stylised "symphony" in the same book.
  • Worm: Dragon often bemoans that her creator, Andrew Richter, made it impossible for her to design AI via a Restraining Bolt, even though she's intelligent enough to do it otherwise.
  • Mercedes Lackey:
    • In the Bedlam's Bard/SERRAted Edge universe, Elves can't create (at least in the artistic/cultural sense), only adapt. Many an elven villain's lair is described as a bad knock-off of a Hollywood horror film. One of the funnier moments in this respect was when an evil elf got all huffy because someone saw his throne room and commented, "I think you owe Frank Frazetta licensing rights." The elf's response implied he'd already been sued by Frazetta at least once.
      • They don't have anything like human imagination. Elven Bards create music and play it very well, but it's not new music, just minor variations on what's come before. When a human bard created a work for a christening and played it, the elves were astonished. Also, while the elves have extraordinarily long lives, they tend to fall into patterns, and eventually fade away for lack of anything new. A human living with some actually roused a number back into vitality by suggesting that they go and hunt wild monsters in abandoned domains - something which had never occurred to them.
    • In The Black Gryphon it's said that Emperor Scientist Ma'ar, who is able to create life, can really only make warped copies of other mages' work. We only actually see the makaar, which are like brutal, semi-intelligent gryphons. Ma'ar does have some measure of creativity but after a couple thousand years of deaths and returns he's degraded mentally and tends to respond in predictable, exploitable ways when off balance.
    • The Obsidian Trilogy actually has a very near paraphrase to a Tolkien's quote- "The Endarkened cannot make, they can only mar". The other races, Elves included, are capable of creativity and imagination, but the Endarkened pride themselves on being unchanging. Not that they can't learn and take the peoples of the Light by surprise.
  • Mentioned and played with in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series.
    • In The Bloody Red Baron, we learn that Edgar Allan Poe has not written a word of fiction since he became a vampire. However, in later books he becomes a Hollywood screenwriter.
    • In "Andy Warhol's Dracula", there's a subversion — it's widely agreed that the artworks Warhol created after he became a vampire lack an essential spark present in his earlier work, but it turns out at the end that Warhol never actually crossed over, only adopted vampire mannerisms, and remained human his entire life.
    • The series plays with this trope, in that several other famous celebrities — including Bob Dylan — also become vampires, and many suffer from this to a degree. However, several of these criticisms — including those raised in-text about Dylan — are similar to criticisms these artists have faced in real life as they got older and their careers / fields moved on.
    • The first book, set only a few years after Dracula's conquest of Britain, features a number of vampires who are apparently still successful in creative jobs including satirist WS Gilbert and poet Oscar Wilde. Indeed they're both so successful at mocking the establishment (Ruddigore actually ends up more successful than in real life) that Ruthven puts them on the list of people who need to be removed in order to prevent an uprising. And Christina Light in Daikaiju appears to have become more creative during the century she's been a vampire. It seems this is something that varies considerably from vampire to vampire — if it's not just normal burnout and nothing to do with their undead status.
  • From Terry Pratchett's Discworld series:
    • The elves in Lords and Ladies: they are fascinated by music but they are incapable of creating any of their own. According to Granny Weatherwax, their creative sterility comes from their immortality:
      What don't die don't live. What don't live don't change. What don't change can't learn. The smallest creature that dies in the grass knows more than you.
    • An interesting example are the Auditors in Thief of Time. They do not approve of the untidiness of life, creativity, and all that. During efforts to get rid of it, some of them take human form. They cannot eat or drink because the sensory overload would destroy them, yet they consider rules, including protocol, important, so when one of them comes up with the excuse "our religion forbids it" for declining tea it was a stroke of creative genius, for an Auditor.
    • Death is frequently reported to have this problem as well. Ysabell and Susan both observe that his house and everything in it is "just a copy of one he's seen somewhere." His attempts to play musical instruments produce only a horrible racket, which greatly frustrates him. This is used rather cleverly in Soul Music: by playing the guitar that has been causing all the trouble, Death effectively kills the music, forcing it to revive Buddy so he can bring it back.
    • Thud! includes as foreword a religious Dwarven text that says Trolls were created by accident and are doomed to just wander around not able to create or comprehend. It's also very clearly indicated that this particular passage had been added at a much later date as part of the Fantastic Racism. Part of the big revelation at the end is that the original version had the creator be absolutely thrilled at the new life that he didn't intend and adopted it along with his intentional creations.
  • This applies to the Fallen in The Dresden Files.
    • A psychic shard of the fallen angel Lasciel is able to help Harry perfect a piece of guitar music that he himself has written (even overriding the damaged nerves in his severely burned hand so that he can play it effectively) by using her own knowledge of music to recreate the music the way he wanted it to sound rather than what he was physically capable of. However, she sadly states that she has not been able to create an original piece since her Fall. Her parting gift to him is the permanent ability to do this without her help.
  • This is toyed with in Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The invading aliens use scavenged technology, and only understand how to use what they have, not how to invent anything. This mirrors their military weakness and sociological blind spot; they cannot develop new tactics, nor understand that humans might react to a situation differently than they do. Even our concept of lying boggles their minds.
  • The Thrintun in the KnownSpace books by Larry Niven. They telepathically enslaved the highly inventive Tnuctipun. From that moment, all inventions in Thrintun society were done by Tnuctipun, while the Thrintun degenerated.
  • This is an important plot point in Coraline — Coraline realizes that The Other Mother can't actually create anything genuinely new, just mimic and alter things that already exist, or rather, what she already has on hand... and the implications of this realization allow her to figure out where her parents are being kept, and in the movie, it's very clear that the Other Mother only shapes any existing materials that she has into her creations, as the decay reveals what her puppets are made of.
  • The idea is brought up in Animorphs - Andalites and Yeerks begin to fear humans once they realize that humans, while much less technologically advanced, made technological progress far faster than their more advanced counterparts. Ax, an Andalite, is astonished to learn that humans went from first powered flight to space flight in under a century.
    • The Yeerks are also cited (admittedly, by Andalites) as having stolen everything they have from other races, being capable of modification (Dracon beams kill more slowly and painfully than the shredder beams they're based on, for example) but not true creation.
      • Since the Yoort (related to the Yeerks somehow) were at least partially responsible for the mind-reading devices that are the basis of their 'memory markets' this spreads further doubt on the Andalite's claims.
  • The protagonist of The Diamond Age uses an original poem as an impromptu Turing test, reasoning that a sufficiently advanced Eliza-style chatbot might be able to carry a conversation but couldn't make the creative leaps necessary to interpret, much less create, symbolic language. She's right; in essence, artificial intelligence systems are philosophical zombies in the novel's world.
  • Subverted in The Tommyknockers, where the alien-touched become capable of incredible feats of technological jury-rigging and improvisation, yet are such bumbling incompetents at taking practical advantage of their skills that the benefit of such talent is negligible.
    • The most extreme example of this is the woman who gains super-intelligence and inventive skill and uses it to make a crude boobytrap to kill her cheating husband. That's it. Even the other alien-influenced people at least had the stones to do something like make laser guns or, she built a crude electric chair. And died too. Literally too dumb to live, in spite of being a super-genius now.
    • They're also unable to see the blatantly obvious. They begin to panic when the ordinary batteries they're running everything off of start to die. Not one of them thinks about building an AC-DC converter or simply adapting ones that must have been all over a modern American town and getting their electricity from the wall outlets, also all over a modern American town.
  • The Neverending Story: The creatures of Fantastica are creatures of stories and can't create new stories themselves.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium: A core concept. "The Enemy cannot make, he can only mock", and thus any creature he cannot corrupt to his side, he simply makes bad copies of. Melkor, the greatest of the Ainur is described as having part of the abilities of all the others. However, he lacks a unique talent of his own. As a result, all he does is derivative. Specifically, Orcs are Morgoth's corruption of the elves, trolls are the corruption of the Ents, and dragons are implied to be corruptions of the Maiar with bodies bred from "corrupted stock." Even Gollum is just a twisted version of a hobbit.
  • Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures:
    • In The Year of Intelligent Tigers, this comes up regarding the Doctor (who's a Human Alien). The Doctor complains of being like "an idiot savant" because while he's amazing at playing instruments, particularly the violin, he cannot improvise or come up with any of his own material. This is part of an overarching subplot/motif of his being not quite human.
    • Interference includes a group of cloned people who are sterile and effectively asexual; one of the Doctor's companions ends up one of them, but he ain't asexual once he's returned somewhat to normal.
    • This is expanded on the Faction Paradox series, where the full story of said colonists is revealed - they're called the Remote, and they are what happens when a group of sterile humans ensures its survival by essentially recycling their personalities by, at the time of their deaths, gathering a group of the closest to the deceased, downloading their memories and impressions of the dead into a machine and allowing it to imprint a clone with the data. Long story short, anyone would absolutely loathe meeting themselves after a few centuries, after this trope and Flanderization have taken their toll on their psyche.
  • In The League of Peoples Verse, this is the greatest threat facing humanity: having been given everything they could ever need by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens in the League of Peoples, most of humanity has lost all forms of creative impulse. There is no need to work because machines handle all industry; there is no hope for scientific research because League technology is beyond human understanding; there is nothing to do but lose oneself in mindless decadence. This is a fate that has already all but destroyed several other cultures which were "uplifted" by the League.
    Oar: What do young people think of this, Nimbus? The young Fasskisters and Cashlings. Do they ever look around and say, Why are things not better? What is wrong with us that we cannot accomplish great deeds? Why do we waste hours and days and years on activities we know achieve nothing? How can we stop being broken?
    Nimbus: Of course they ask such questions. Once in a while. When they can force themselves to concentrate. Out in the depths of space, light-years away from anything, I've watched Cashlings weep over who they are... who they aren't... what their race has become. That's how prophets are born: a moment of clarity, the desire to transform themselves and the universe. But it never lasts. They can't make it last. They're damaged, Oar — even if they experience a flash of profundity, they can't sustain it, they can't use it, they can't preserve the desire to change. I've watched them; they can't become anything else, not even with other species to learn from. They simply lack the capacity. The Cashlings are lost, and other races are following them into the darkness. On their best days, they long to be truly alive... but they're physically incapable of pushing themselves past the emptiness. You can't imagine their heartbreak when they realize they can't make it work.
  • Michael Moorcock's Elric stories state that the Chaos Gods cannot create anything truly new or original, only destruction and decay. They can randomly rearrange things and copy things they have seen before, but they cannot truly create in the way humans can.
  • The Race from Worldwar by Harry Turtledove are an interesting variation on this. They do progress and create new things, but do so in such a slow and tentative manner that it appears like Creative Sterility to humans.
    • How slowly do they advance? They sent a probe to Earth to find out whether it was suitable for conquest 1,000 years ago. When they finally got around to invading (during World War II), they couldn't believe that humans weren't still wearing metal armor and fighting each other on horseback.
  • The Yuuzhan Vong from the Star Wars Expanded Universe turn out to be an example of this as the NJO series goes on, oddly not due to literally not being able to create new things but being unwilling to. According to Vong doctrine, the gods blessed them with all the technology they could ever possibly need in the Cortexes, a kind of organic database containing their version of schematics, and that to create new technology of any kind is heresy. Most of the Vong scientists flatly refuse to believe that it's even possible; Nen Yim is horribly traumatized when she learns the Cortexes do not hold all the answers.
  • This is a weakness of the Hive in Tour of the Merrimack. They can adapt their behavior in reaction to tactics used against them, but they are incapable of innovating on their own. They do not create; they only consume.
  • German philosopher Oswald Spengler claimed in his non-fiction book The Decline of the West that when a culture has explored all possible art forms (first the aesthetic ones, later the offensive ones), they end up reviving old styles or copying exotic cultures (or mixing both).
  • In I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, it's revealed that the supercomputer AM originally went mad when he realized that, for all his vast power and intelligence, he was still bound by his programming as a war machine, and couldn't direct his thinking away from destruction, warfare, and torture: already teetering on the brink of insanity thanks to his inability to move or escape his original complex, this additional constraint drove him into genocidal madness.
  • In Richelle Mead's Georgina Kincaid novels, the main character laments that as a succubus, she cannot create any form of art, or conceive a child. The latter is true of all demons, and it is implied (though not proven) that the former is as well. For instance, she can dance with the best of them but is utterly incapable of choreographing a new routine (a pipe dream of hers).
  • In the Jao Empire series by Eric Flint and K. D. Wentworth, this is the major weakness of the Jao, and the reason that some senior Jao want to make an alliance with humanity, rather than simply enslaving them.
  • The trope is played with in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, in the case of planet Keorga. Its inhabitants seem to lack the capacity for imagination or innovation as humans understand it, yet channel much of their culture into creating beautiful displays of art, for which they're renowned. The humans struggle to comprehend the contradiction.
  • This is true of the Denizens in Keys to the Kingdom, and becomes a plot point in Grim Tuesday during the contest for the second key. In a battle of creation, the eponymous character turns a glob of nothing (basically antimatter) into a jeweled sculpture of a tree wrought from precious metals, while Arthur creates a Xylophone and plays a song he wrote for his adoptive parents. The Mariner chooses Arthur's song in part because he recognizes Tuesday's work as a copy.
  • Discussed in Neuromancer by Case and the Dixie Flatline ROM:
    "Motive," the construct said. "Real motive problem, with an AI. Not human, see?"
    "Well yeah, obviously."
    "Nope. I mean it's not human. And you can't get a handle on it. Me, I'm not human either, but I respond like one, see?"
    "Wait a sec," Case said. "Are you sentient, or not?"
    "Well, it feels like I am, kid, but I'm really just a bunch of ROM. It's one of them, ah, philosophical questions, I guess...." The ugly laughter sensation rattled down Case's spine. "But I ain't likely to write you no poem, if you follow me. Your AI, it just might. But it ain't no way human."
It makes sense that as a ROM construct, Dixie can't really learn or create (it's shown earlier that his memory wipes back to its default state when he's turned off and back on). In fact, his predictability is why Neuromancer tries to take out Case first.
  • The Booklings in The City of Dreaming Books practically worship literature, but they can't create it themselves. The publishing agent Claudio Harfenstock can't even appreciate it; the flawless manuscript, which moves others to tears and makes them dance through the streets, has no effect on him whatsoever.
  • In Scott Meyer's Off to Be the Wizard, Jimmy considers himself to be a creative genius. While Phillip vehemently disagrees, most admit that he's good at re-using other people's ideas but not good at coming up with something new. Near the end of the novel, during his fight with Martin, Jimmy brings out his "brand-new spell", which is a blatant rip-off of Martin's own spell. Martin's attempts to point out at the lack of creativity fall on deaf ears, as Jimmy claims that taking something another person invented and using it better counts as creative.
  • The Vampire Hunter D novels drop a nuke on this trope multiple times: Vampires created countless magical and technological wonders through the ages, all out of sheer boredom.
  • Atlantans in ATL: Stories from the Retrofuture have not quite decided whether robots should be treated as people. AR73, an experimental robot who's a far cry from the typical workaday drones, is bubbly, childlike, and its social skills are coming along...only its paintings never turn out well, no matter how many art movements it studies.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's and Stephen Baxter's The Light of Other Days mentions that many mental illnesses have been cured, but as a result, there is a marked decrease in creativity.
  • The First-Born from John Carter of Mars suffer badly from this. They are a feared race of Space Pirates that consider themselves gods, they are on the top of a Food Chain of Evil where they prey upon all other lesser races, kidnapping women all across the planet to serve as chattel and property, invoking their right as being the very first race of men to achieve sentience in Mars. Yet, they are non-productive people - they rely on slaves on virtually every labor except warfare which is the First Born males' sacred privilege and duty, while their women do literally nothing and lived idle with slaves to wash, feed, and dress them. They don't create anything new, they just steal it from other peoples - Work is something for the lesser peoples, while their masters live long lives of luxury and take pride in their non-productiveness, and it's considered criminal for them to labor and invent.
  • The Fae in the Mick Oberon series have this problem. They imitate everything humans do, to the point of having locomotives that look like steam engines but are powered by indentured goblins on pedals, and organizing themselves into gangs and police departments to divide the Seelie and Unseelie courts.
  • In the short story "Passionato" by Sharon Lee, an artist allows a vampire to turn her in the hope that immortality will mean having more time to perfect her art, but discovers too late that anybody who becomes a vampire always loses their creative ability.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • "The Bicentennial Man": Robots are expected to be unable to make art, and when Andrew demonstrates his ability to carve wood into beautiful art, it is taken as something unique to him. The Martin household loves it, while US Robots is less pleased when they learn about it.
    • The Spacers in the Robot Series are both artistically and technologically stagnant. Robotics is the only field of research that is being actively pursued and even there they are mostly producing incremental improvements on an existing design.
  • In his Start of Darkness novel of the Horus Heresy series, we find that Fulgrim, one of the hand-crafted demigod sons of the Emperor, nigh-flawless warrior, brilliant and talented beyond all human comprehension, and lover of art and beauty, can't seem to understand what the art he creates is missing. When he asks a mortal companion why a sculpture that would make Michelangelo cry seems so lifeless, the companion responds that it is the flaws, idiosyncracies, interpretations, and trademark techniques of the artist that give the creation life, and Fulgrim's sculptures, perfect representations of the human form though they are, have no unique character to them. Fulgrim doesn't take it well.
  • Certain Dark Things: Vampires claim not to have the same creative drive and adaptability as humans, though it's ambiguous whether this is innate or the result of vampiric culture being built around their violent tendencies.
  • Demons like the titular Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters are incapable of creating innately evil things; they have to make do with twisting and perverting The Enemy's works. Screwtape laments at one point that "nothing is naturally on our side" and thinks it's all terribly unfair.
  • Technomancer by MK Gibson: Since the demonic invasion, no new media has been created or art. This is because no human souls have been created and inspiration is absent without God's light.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Babylon 5 movie "In the Beginning", Londo states that the Centauri gave humans FTL technology in exchange for artistic works. Here however other civilizations can create things, humans just do it better. It's not that the Centauri can't create, but that at that time they were a decadent spacefaring "empire", so the baubles they got were seen as amusing trinkets. Londo does go on to note humans were far, far more vibrant and motivated than Centauri, the (ruinous) extent of which they had trouble grasping.
  • The Cylon civil war in Battlestar Galactica (2003) can be considered a fight over whether to evolve into life-bearing organic lifeforms or stay as soulless immortal machines. Natalie, the leader of the "pro-life" rebels would later describe their distance from immortality as giving their lives meaning. It helps to consider that those Cylons who formed the rebels had the greatest number of unique individuals develop among their previously uniform clone-like culture. Those that wanted to stay immortal had no "unique" members and were all basically still a Hive Mind. They all got blown up, and if any survived they are no longer immortal anyway. Also bear in mind the 'pro-life' Natalie faction only came to that decision when they had in effect already lost immortality by, unless they got Galactica's help, already losing the civil war and so facing permanent boxing (in essence the war broke out before they even considered giving up immortality). The creators of all Cylons, the final five, believed in this trope but also had no problem making themselves and their 'children' immortal, so neither faction really had their mindset down exactly.
  • A Crusade episode involved an alien escapee holding on to a data storage unit, which his government was desperate to get. When The Captain is forced to hand him over for a "trial", he leaves a copy of the unit behind. His shuttle is promptly destroyed by his government en route. The crew loads the unit and realizes it's the recording of their culture's greatest cultural treasures, which the new government wants to purge in an attempt to impose Creative Sterility. The man gave his life to ensure these cultural treasures are preserved.
  • CSI had an... interesting inversion of the battle-of-the-sexes "Men can't create life, so they destroy stuff/invent things as a poor substitute" version of this. A Mad Scientist Robot Wars contestant ranted at Catherine (after her most recent playing of the Single Mother Card) along the lines of "You think you know what it's like to create something because you popped out a baby? Any animal can do that. I made this!". And yes, this grief over his destroyed robot is his excuse for killing a man.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Time Lords are increasingly characterised over the series as a powerful race who reached a certain peak of advancement and then spent the next few millions of years comfortably resting on their laurels, becoming increasingly stagnant and corrupt in the process. This came to bite them in the ass during their war against the Daleks, who overwhelmed them over and over thanks to sheer determination and the fact the Daleks incinerate this trope, synthesize a chemical weapon out of it and then throw it at their enemies.
    • The Eternals exist in a perpetual state of boredom because they lack the imaginative capacities of Ephemerals (mortals).
    • Similar to the Eternals, the Gods of Ragnarok are supremely unimaginative but constantly demand entertainment from lesser beings. This is instrumental to the Take That, Audience! satire in their debut episode.
    • "The Mind Robber": This trope is the reason why the Master brain needs a human. Or even better, a Time Lord.
    • "The Brain of Morbius": The Doctor accuses the Sisterhood of stagnation because every one of them keeps doing things the way they always did.
    • "Destiny of the Daleks": This is the entire reason why the Daleks revive Davros. They've become so dependent on logic and battle computers that they're completely stalemated by the similarly logical Movellans for hundred of years. Later, they recognise this as a weakness, so in "Remembrance" they plug a young human girl into their battle computer to provide creative strategies to counter the Imperials.
    • "The Time of the Daleks": General Learman fears humanity is turning into this in the future.
    • "Masterplan": The "Bald" Master (portrayed by Alex Macqueen) is accused of this by the Eighth Doctor. It inspires the Master to make a new plan on the spot in the ruins of his old one.
    • "The Year of Intelligent Tigers": The Doctor himself complains of being like "an idiot savant" because while he's amazing at playing instruments, particularly the violin, he cannot improvise or come up with any of his own material. This is part of an overarching subplot/motif of his being not quite human.
    • "The Long Game": The Mighty Jagrafess' plan involves encouraging this in humanity. The Editor is so used to it he has no idea how to react when Cathica surprises him.
      The Editor: I'm trying, sir, but — I don't know how she did it, it's impossible! A m-member of staff with an idea...
    • "School Reunion": The Krillitanes are using human children to crack the Skasis Paradigm, an equation that will give them godlike power over the universe, because they need imagination, not just brainpower, to succeed.
    • The Doctor describes the Cybus Cybermen with this trope in their debut arc, but it doesn't really come up much.
      • Comes up again significantly in the Big Finish audio production "Human Resources" where the Doctor informs the local Cybermen he only saved them by accident before he realised who they were. When asked why he will extend help to all other species but not the Cybermen he answers "Because other species create. You don't."
      • This is part of the explanation for the Cybermen's Multiple-Choice Past; they actually have been created independently multiple times, but the technology always converges on the same path to the point that two groups encountering each other will simply assimilate together into a combined version.
    • The Mindmorphs in the Twelfth Doctor Titan comics are affected by this, which is why they need to steal the minds of others.
    • "Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror": None of the technology found onboard the Skithra ship is of their own devising (neither is the ship, for that matter; the Doctor identifies it as Venusian). It's just a hodgepodge of gadgets and items from other sources, many of which the Skithra don't understand the workings of. Rather than figuring it out themselves, they try to kidnap Nikola Tesla and force him to figure it out for them. The Doctor uses this fact as an insult, suggesting they're too stupid, lazy, and preoccupied with violence to be constructive.
  • Good Omens (2019): Much in the same way that angels (with the exception of Aziraphale) don't dance, demons (with the exception of Crowley) lack an imagination, many of them preferring the old "meticulously corrupting individuals" tricks and are much slower on the uptake when it comes to modern human inventions like cars and computers.
  • Highlander: The Series: An immortal impresario kills his gifted proto-immortal protégé in the hopes of preserving her talents forever, but she loses her creative spark after she revives (sorely POed at him about it too).
  • Kamen Rider:
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Parado is capable of setting up his plans so that it works out and amuses him at the same time, but he can't think of anything else but his goals - killing Emu and then everyone else. He doesn't understand why any Bugster would ever want to do anything else. After his Heel–Face Turn, he realizes that he'd have nothing left to do with no humans to fight, so he instead starts getting more creative and uses it to achieve a new form in the post-series TV movies.
    • Kamen Rider Saber makes this the motivation of the Big Bad: as a logical consequence of there being a Great Big Book of Everything, every story is uncreative because it was written down in the Great Book first. Reading the book thus destroyed the villain's love of writing poetry and led him to become obsessed with bringing about the end of the world written in the Great Book's final chapter, just like it said he would.
    • Kamen Rider Revice has a mild example in George, who invents all of Revice's upgrades. George clearly pours far more time and passion into making Barid Rex than any of the future upgrades, such that most of the first quarter of the show revolves around his efforts to make it, and the resulting form has a plethora of useful abilities that its successors mostly throw away in favor of raw power. Late in the show, when George becomes obsessed with creating the ultimate Driver for himself to use as a villain, the end result is that he just makes Barid Rex again but with higher physical stats. The reason why becomes clear after his defeat: Barid Rex is based off George's childhood drawings, and by extension his happy memories with his father before he was abandoned.
  • Occurs in a different way on M*A*S*H, when Charles Winchester fights to save a wounded soldier's leg, with him suffering only minor nerve damage in one hand. But music lover Charles is horrified to learn the man was a gifted concert pianist in civilian life, and now that career is done with. After searching, Charles gives the man sheet music written by a man who also lost use of one hand in an earlier war. The soldier is furious, explaining he does not want to make a career out of playing something that spotlights his loss. Charles counters that the music is for the man's own enjoyment; that he still has something that the able Charles will never have. Charles, though technically competent on the piano, can only play notes presented to him; the soldier has the ability to craft and create music in and of himself.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The Goa'uld appear to have stolen or found all of their technology, although we do see a few Goa'uld scientists here and there.
    • The Asgard are probably a better example, totally lacking a certain type of imagination. Thor states in one episode that sometimes the answer to a problem may lie in a less sophisticated approach and that the Asgard can no longer think in such a simplistic manner (they essentially keep trying to one-up their own technological developments). He also says that the Asgard wouldn't think of creating a chemically-propelled kinetic weapon, like the machine guns used by Earth's humans. Given that the average Asgard is several hundred years old due to using multiple cloned bodies with transferred minds and it makes more sense. Its generally accepted that people tend to get more stubborn and stuck in their ways as they age. If the Asgard are remotely like this it's likely that they really can't see a better solution for something than an upgrade of what they already have.
    • Weirdly, the Replicators — evil robot space bugs — are mostly an aversion. They may not have much interest in writing sonnets, but they're extremely dangerous because they constantly adapt to attempts to destroy them, learn from their mistakes, and improve themselves. Though their "greatest advancement" is to make humanoid versions of themselves, they mainly do this to flaunt their perceived superiority to humans.
  • Star Trek has this demonstrated all over the place, many alien species have progressed to a certain technological point and just leave it at that. On the other hand, humans aggressively adapted alien technology to their own use and quickly become a major player in intergalactic politics.
    • The Vulcans are very much an example of this. It can easily be argued that they have advanced more since the establishment of the human-dominated Federation than they had over more than a millennium prior. Although they are intellectually brilliant, their emphasis seems to be on rote learning of established scientific "facts" rather than active innovation. It is notable that Spock, a major exception to this rule, is a Half-Human Hybrid.
      • In Star Trek: Enterprise, Ambassador Soval confesses to Admiral Forrest that one reason Vulcans were so condescending to Humans is that when Vulcan suffered through a similar world war, it took them nearly 2,000 years to rebuild their civilization. Humans did it within a hundred years and had started the beginnings of an alliance within 3 years of premiering their first warp five ship. Vulcans were scared of what the humans could accomplish.
      • T'Pol was adamant that Time Travel was impossible, as this was the official stance of the Vulcan Science Academy. She was The Scully in virtually any time travel-related incident.
    • Several Mirror Universe episodes show that they have a problem with this. Culture created by piracy and conquest has led them to lack ability to create new technologies and adapt to new changes. Just compare the two Kirks, ours adapts and strategizes a way to turn the situation to their advantage while maintaning a cover while Mirror!Kirk is a raving madman. Enterprise shows that a large part of the Terran Empire's strength comes from appropriating the time displaced Defiant, giving themselves a century of advanced tech but no idea how to improve it so when the rest of the galaxy caught up they quickly lost their advantage and fell.
    • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data's attempts to create genuinely original creative works are a large part of his Character Development. Despite having the overall computing power of a fair percentage of humanity, actual creativity is mostly beyond him, as his efforts are mostly derivative. For example, when writing a poem about his cat, his verse and meter are all technically perfect, but the overall effect is that of scientific term-based Purple Prose. And when asked to mold clay into a shape that he perceives as music, a task requiring imagination and the ability to connect sound without language into a visual concept, he produces a treble clef note; again, technically correct, but Dramatically Missing the Point.
      • Discussed at length in "Elementary, Dear Data". In an argument between LaForge and Pulaski, LaForge argues that Data is capable of original deduction, while Dr. Pulaski counters that while Data's deductive skills may seem original, they are in fact only derivative of what he already has in his databanks. To experiment, they LARP through a Sherlock Holmes mystery, which Data solves in the prologue, having read the story in question before. Upping the ante, they asked the holodeck for an adventure with Holmes-like elements, which Data again solves in the opening minutes, as the computer had created a story featuring story elements from two different books. LaForge argues that Data had deduced a trap in the story using available evidence, while Pulaski counters that he'd simply recognized elements he'd read about before, making the experiment a push. Finally, LaForge asks the computer for an Original Flavor Sherlock Holmes holodeck Fan Fic with the difficulty level increased to challenge Data. Their Exact Words (to challenge Data, not "Holmes") result in the creation of Professor Moriarty, whose antics quickly push the experiment to the wayside. However, when the Moriarty character returns in a later episode, Data successfully deduces his deception and saves the day. Interestingly, this plot also implies that at the same time as discussing whether Data is capable of original thought, both of them implicitly assume that the ship's main computer is!
      • In "The Measure of a Man" Data is given a hearing for Starfleet to decide if Data is a sentient being or "a toaster" that they own. Riker is forced to be the prosecution and his argument relies primarily on being the technical aspects of what Data is: made of fabricated materials, programmed and designed by a man, has structural limitations to his physicality and mental comprehensions and has an actual off switch. Picards' defense turned towards the things that cannot be easily defined, when given a definition of sentience Data was able to describe his self-awareness relevant to each point. He is capable of curiosity and intrigue, and has even had an intimate relationship with Tasha Yar. The judge felt compelled to grant Data his autonomy because she felt he deserved the chance to explore his own existence like anyone else.
      • In "The Ensigns of Command", Data expresses doubts over his own ability to create. In his argument, he cites his violin playing, which while technically perfect, is musically imperfect since he lacks soul and creativity. By the end of the episode, however, Picard notes that Data was able to successfully blend two vastly differing and seemingly incompatible stylistic influences into one unique, cohesive, and original style.
      • Seen again in "Devil's Due", when Data plays Scrooge in a holographic recreation of A Christmas Carol. He begins from an established method (the Method, in fact), but re-works it a bit to suit his own limitations. Picard tells him that the very fact that Data created his own variation rather than sticking rigidly to an established technique is creative progress in and of itself.
    • The Borg are presented as an example of this. As a Hive Mind composed of trillions of sentient beings, many of whom were assimilated against their will, the Borg suppress individual thought and initiative. Their preference is to acquire new knowledge via assimilation rather than through innovation.
      • When introduced in "Q Who", the Borg seek to understand the Enterprise-D by carving it up and assimilating the technology.
      • In "The Best of Both Worlds", the Borg have decided to invade the Federation. To facilitate this, they abduct and assimilate Captain Picard in order to gain his knowledge of Starfleet's capabilities and tactics.
      • As shown in "Descent", Borg drones that are severed from the Collective end up at a loss as to what to do with themselves. To the extent that Data's Evil Twin Lore (who, unlike Data, has emotions) is able to become a sort of crazy cult leader to them because they're so desperate for guidance.
      • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Scorpion", the Borg were facing a war against Species 8472, aliens from Another Dimension whose biology and Organic Technology were immune to assimilation, which is the only method the Borg have of adapting and being the malevolent juggernaut they are. The Voyager crew, on the other hand, took time to study the alien biology and devised a weapon actually capable of harming 8472 (based on Borg technology). Janeway made an explicit observation of the irony.
      • In "The Omega Directive", the Borg are shown to revere the "Omega Molecule" as the embodiment of perfection. They acquired bits of knowledge about it from thirteen different species before attempting disastrous experimentation of their own which resulted in the destruction of 29 cubes and 600,000 drones. Seven-of-Nine manages to use knowledge acquired from a fourteenth species as well as Starfleet to devise a way to safely contain and break down Omega. It was implied she would not have been able to do this using just the knowledge she had from the Borg.
    • The novelization of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine two-parter "The Search" also implies that Changelings have a rigid and stagnant culture. This is one of the reasons for which Odo decides to return to Great Link: since he successfully integrated into Solid society, he believes he can free the other changeling from this state.
    • The Dominion's Vorta have no sense of aesthetics — not only can they not create a culture of their own, they can't even tell if something looks or sounds pleasing. It's implied that the Founders engineered them in this way on purpose in order to keep them placid and obedient.
    • Invoked, explored, and ultimately averted in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Author, Author", in which the holographic Doctor creates a holo-novel and sends the first draft to a publisher. Said publisher then publishes the first draft without the Doctor's permission, arguing that, as an artificial intelligence, he isn't capable of being an author. The resulting trial concludes by granting the Doctor rights as an author but stops short of declaring him a person.
    • The Pakleds are like this. Their species are underdeveloped intellectually and are before the point that they could have actually developed warp capabilities on their own (in fact, the ones seen don't seem like they could handle fire or the wheel). They became a spacefaring race by stealing from other, more advanced species because they would rather have such things now than wait to develop it themselves. When the Enterprise finds a Pakled ship in "Samaritan Snare", it's really just a hodge-podge of parts from various different starships.
  • Mentioned in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles when Sarah's voiceover states that if the robots ever learn to create art for themselves they won't have to destroy humans; they'll be them — all while Cameron practices ballet for no practical reason.
  • In Vampire High, the particularly broody vampire had good artistic abilities, but would accidentally kill anything living that he "captured" in a painting so he gave it up.

  • Christianity: Many Christian theologians apply this trope to Satan. Devoid of God's endless creative power, the devil is creatively sterile, able only to distort, mock and corrupt the Lord's creation — humanity in particular.

    Tabletop Games 
  • All over the place in the World of Darkness:
    • In Vampire: The Masquerade vampires suffer from this to a large degree. The reason Vampires haven't taken the world by storm with their stunning works of art and literature is that all vampires find themselves mentally locked into the era in which they lived. Adapting their mindset to account for changing times is a massive effort, and even then they find themselves at least one step behind the human world. Along with that, the creative "spark" that drives the pursuit of art and music is largely extinguished during the Embrace. Many vampires simply cannot break through the ennui they experience to bother practicing their arts. However, they CAN innovate new disciplines and Blood Sorceries, meaning its not so much that they cannot be creative...they're just modelocked in such a way it removes their ability to keep up with the times in Mortal Society, and cannot create emotional works very easily, as most Vampires tend to be somewhat detached from their dinners
      • Victoria Ash, a Toreador vampire with the voice of an angel and a body to match, had been trying for over a century to burst onto the global music scene. The best she could manage was to become a one-hit pop wonder who blipped onto the public radar for a couple weeks and vanished just as quickly, while other less talented and certainly less beautiful singers continued to drown her out.
      • Curiously, Nosferatu vampires who can generously be described as what happens when Looks Like Orlok and Red Right Hand have an undead baby, avert this. Their artwork is said to evoke a lot of emotion springing from their alienation from both mortal and vampire society. They create sculpture gardens built underground from raw materials and debris with their Super Strength, and never intended to be seen by anyone, as well as haunting melodies using the acoustics of the subway system. In a twisted way, they're better artists than the clan of artists.
      • The same lack of creativity was applied to vampires in the first edition of Vampire: The Requiem, but this trait was removed in the 2nd edition update.
    • The True Fae of Changeling: The Lost are pretty much identical to the Kindred above. They can't create works of art that actually mean anything, and they're infertile. Which is why they abduct changelings, who act as craftsmen, servants, or just plain pets. And if said changelings get powerful enough and go crazy, then they become True Fae. That's right; the abduction cycle is how they reproduce.
    • The Clockstoppers in the fan-made game Genius: The Transgression act as actual agents of this, seeking to wipe Inspiration from the world. As empty shells with no inner drive to speak of, they are motivated entirely by a mix of spite and envy and despise everything vaguely creative or intellectual in nature. Even their very presence causes technology of any type to stop working, even from far away. Combined with their inability to be harmed by anything "unnatural", their penchant for raising angry mobs, and their capability to disable all attempts at rational thought in an area, they are incredibly dangerous for humanity in general and Geniuses in particular.
  • The Soulless in GURPS Fantasy II, though in their case it's because they're all so old they exhausted their creativity millennia ago.
  • Played with by Unknown Armies clockwork automata. While most clockworks have the creativity of a particularly stupid dog, automata, the most advanced kind of humanoid clockwork, have an average Soul score of 95 - 40 points higher than the human average. They still have no souls, though, and they can't learn any other school of magic than the one powering them.
  • Warhammer 40,000 :
    • The Adeptus Mechanicus view any sort of technological innovation as heresy. Somewhat justified, as they believe that knowledge was discovered by ancient humans and then lost, and as such new ideas could potentially be paths for Chaos to infiltrate, but given that everything is getting worse for the Imperium every year (technologically), this may not be the best policy, especially since the Emperor's life-support system is failing...
    • While the Exodites and Asuryani Eldar have access to far more advanced technology than they currently use, they deliberately use less advanced tech so they don't fall to the temptations of Chaos that doomed their empire (automation breeds decadence). On the other hand, the Drukhari still use the tech at the level they had at the Fall of the Eldar Empire, which is still far more advanced than most other races.
    • The Necrons are completely hide-bound by their own traditions and ideology; not only are most methods of creating new tools or servants banned, but even creating new tactics is heavily frowned upon. This is a problem, because when they were still alive they made exclusive use of We Have Reserves tactics, and now they have no ability whatsoever to replace any losses. Combine with the fact that a significant number of them are insane and the rest are still asleep, and the only reason they haven't been wiped from the galaxy again is because they are very, very difficult to permanently kill.
  • Meanwhile in Warhammer the Lizardmen are not unable to create better technology they just refuse to do so because they can't be sure if doing so is part of The Great Plan. The Magitech they do have was provided by the Old Ones thousands of years ago and has simply been maintained in perfect working order for millennia. As a result, they have some of the most advanced technology in the setting such as a laser cannon but they mount it on top of a dinosaur for transport because they don't have the wheel.
  • One side effect of Horror taint in Earthdawn is that you become incapable of performing precise, detailed work. As a result, most people in the Earthdawn world practice some form of artisan craft, to prove to those around them that they're not infected. In game terms, you're required to take one Artisan skill... and Earthdawn becomes the only game where your character's life may come down to a successful Needlepoint roll.
  • Inverted with Caretakers in JAGS Wonderland. They understand poetry and literature because they exist outside the universe, where only information and narration matters. What they don't get is maths and physics, and they hate humans because they can understand both science and literature.
  • The Thanatotic Titans of Pathfinder attempted to create new life so as to equal the gods, sculpting beautiful clay statues and breathing life into them. This resulted in the Demodands, a race of Always Neutral Evil fiends with warped and hideous appearances.
  • One of the reasons the Faerie of Castle Falkenstein are so fascinated by humans is that they themselves are not creative.
  • Pre-Rifts AI turned sapient being Archie-3 in Rifts suffers from a variation of this. He depends entirely on Puny Earthling Hagan Lonovich, to be his Idea Man not because he can't create and innovate, but because he suffers from a crippling case of low self-esteem that, reinforced by repeated failures, has him convinced his own ideas aren't any good.
  • The Kenku of Dungeons & Dragons suffer from this as a result of a racial curse. They are expert Voice Changelings, but they have no voices of their own, meaning they're incapable of saying something without having heard it before (and even then, they say it in the voice that they heard it).

  • Two adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the opera The Golden Ticket and the 2013 stage musical, tweak the story to have the four bratty kids who find Golden Tickets turn out to be affected by this. Charlie himself is the only one of the five finders capable of dreaming and creating things (to the point that he's a budding inventor in the musical) as opposed to simply consuming them. This gives the character, who is merely a Pinball Protagonist in the novel, another reason to be seen as worthy of inheriting the factory besides simply staying out of trouble and thus becoming the last remaining kid in the tour group.

    Video Games 
  • Alan Wake: The modus operandi of the Dark Presence is to corrupt other people's work for its own means, and it's suggested in one of the pages for American Nightmare that it might not have much of an imagination, due to its Taken coming in only a few types, rather than the more aggressive and varied ones Mr. Scratch creates.
  • Azure Striker Gunvolt Series:
    • Copen views the Adepts as being this; He deems Asroc a "talentless hack" for using his septima to create machinery, whereas Copen creates this technologies from the ground up, which, in his view, is a testament to humanity's achievement. He also view Ghauri's septima for performances as "artless, irreverent, and irresponsible". It should be noted that this is actually subverted as the Adepts are actually capable of creativity and technological innovation, and is simply more on Copen's inability to acknowledge their achievements due to his Fantastic Racism.
    • Speaking of which, The Sumeragi Group got hit with this. While they have the technological edge over other nations and being the only nation to possess the means to control Adepts via Glaives, they have fallen behind when it comes to tank designs, and to overcome this, had commissioned an overseas company (Eunos Inc.) to help come up with a next generation main battle tank that can really aid them.
  • The Covenant in Halo fit the creatively stagnant explanation. Most of their tech is (poorly) reverse-engineered from Forerunner ruins, and they never bothered to develop their inferior knock-offs much further. Although even these poor copies are still far more advanced than humanity's own native technology, the Covenant is largely ignorant of how to use their tech to its maximum potential, often running their spaceships inefficiently, for example. Their intellectual stagnation has gotten so bad that their understanding of fundamental scientific concepts like Maxwell's equations is often far behind humanity's. Lucky thing for the humans they declared war on; by the time of Halo 4, humanity has not only managed to reverse-engineer a good deal of Covenant equipment but improve upon them.
    • Lampshaded as being religious devotion. Since the Covenant thinks the Forerunners are gods, any attempt to even just better understand, much less improve upon, their "perfect" creations runs a big risk of being seen as heresy, with Halo: First Strike revealing that the Covenant don't even do things that their own technology is already capable of; Cortana greatly improved the firepower of a captured ship's weapons by basically changing the settings, which the local Covenant AI responded to by accusing her of blasphemy.
    • Additionally, only two species in the Covenant, the Prophets and Engineers, were even allowed to do anything resembling actual R&D, with the former so few that they were always on the brink of becoming horrifically inbred, and the latter deliberately designed by their original Forerunner creators to focus their impressive intelligence primarily on maintenance, repair, and making relatively incremental (but still impressive) improvements to preexisting pieces of tech. The Brutes do eventually seem to get a pass to tinker a bit with Covenant tech (as seen with the faster-firing Brute plasma rifles), possibly due to the Prophet of Truth's influence.
    • Unlike most examples, though, it's been stated that the Covenant races are fully capable of creating new technologies, with the majority of them having already achieved spaceflight before they began using Forerunner technology; the Elites in particular had already reached roughly the same technological level as 26th-century humanity by 938 BCE. Indeed, supplemental materials have implied that the Elites in particular have doing surprisingly well in closing the "creativity gap" with humanity in the post-war era, while in Halo: Cryptum, the Forerunners actually note that the ancient Prophets were a scientifically talented species, to the point where their technology equaled that of their "prehistoric" human allies, who themselves were advanced enough to be nearly a match for the Forerunners.
  • The Protoss in Starcraft:
    • Although they have access to tons of advanced tech humans don't have, such as advanced psychic powers and incomparable teleportation and shield technology, the human units can still match theirs in battle. And to drive the point home on how creative terrans can be with Protoss tech, in Starcraft II Wings Of Liberty, the single-player campaign lets the player conduct research into Protoss technology, and some of the results let them do stuff the protoss can't, like automate their refineries so they can operate without workers, speed up collection rate at said refineries and instantly deploy troops to any locale from orbit, rather than worry about psionic power fields. There's actually some Lampshade Hanging when you discover the automated refinery, the descriptive blurb wondering why the Protoss never thought of this, and decides it may be due to their religious traditions.
    • Strictly speaking, though they get new units in the sequel Heart of the Swarm, the Protoss still suffer from this; it's their estranged exiled brethren, the Dark Templar/Nerazim that have made the innovations. The new Stalker was designed by the Dark Templar, the Immortal is just an upgraded old unit according to the lore, the Colossus and Mothership are old weapons they've just not used until now, and the Void Ray is a joint effort between the Dark Templar and the Khalai. Thus, the only new units the Protoss have that they actually designed themselves are the Phoenix and Void Prism (the Sentry has no unit lore so the jury is still out on how it came about).
    • Tal'Darim engineering is basically "jailbreak stolen technology until you find maximum DPS" and then ignore all the glaring problems this Crippling Overspecialization causes - including low unit HP, which may actually be a feature if the unit happens to be piloted by a specific caste of worthless pariahs.
    • Come Legacy of the Void, the protoss had cast this trope off due to necessity. The Khala was abandoned after being exposed as a tool of enslavement by their uplifter, the Xel'Naga Amon. On top of that, you don't even have to be of flesh and blood to be counted as a protss and an equal; just look at the Purifiers. That said, while the protoss can have their automated assimilators, they have to sacrifice their Nexus defenses and advanced warp technology to utilize it.note 
  • Metroid:
    • The Space Pirates in the games, particularly the Metroid Prime Trilogy, do this a lot. As their namesake suggests, they are far more inclined to steal technological and cultural ideas from other races than not, though to be fair they will improve on or at least adapt to such designs when possible. If the series ever shows a piece of technology in both an original and a Space Pirate variant, the Space Pirate version is better. The exception is Chozo tech, of which the Pirates can only make vastly inferior imitations when they can figure it out at all.
    • Metroid Prime: One scan of a Space Pirate log in the game reveals that they've been trying to figure out Samus' morph ball. They have, to an extent - they can give one of their men a suit that, when activated, forces the occupant into a spherical space. What they haven't figured out is how Samus comes out in one piece; all their test subjects are reduced to candy-coated Pirate Nuggets with crunchy bits in their gooey centers, and the ones who survive the experience would generally benefit more from a mercy killing than medical attention.
    • The Chozo got hit with a strange version of this: they became so advanced that they couldn't come up with anything better than what they already had. They decided that they'd hit the technological peak and instead turned to a simple life of mysticism. Not that they gave up their scientific knowledge, they just didn't use it unless they had to.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, only humans are capable of making a Reason, the necessary impetus that reshapes the new world. The demons that have taken over the land side with the remaining half-dozen human survivors despite their lack of powers for this reason. As he was forcibly transformed into a half-demon before he could make a Reason, this fact becomes very important to the Demi-Fiend. The game ends up having two 'neutral' endings, depending on whether the main character lives more based on his human or demon side. With the human ending, he ends up successfully conceiving and executing the same Reason as Ms. Takao where she failed (due to Extreme Doormat tendencies on her part), whereas the demon one ends with you trying to do so, but not being human enough to create said Reason, preventing the world from regenerating due to fear of ridicule and hatred (since by that point you've murdered everyone save for Ms. Takao, who lacked the proper will to make her own Reason and has already been vaporized anyway), or the PC simply likes the Vortex World as is and keeps it.
    • Although some demons are certainly lacking in this regard, this is more of a rule than anything. A Loa in the First Kalpa implies the demons are immortal in their own way due to having sacrificed their ability to change, while humans kept the same ability at the cost of being mortal. The Loa also wonders what that means to the Demi-Fiend, he who shares the demons' power and the humans' ability to change and adapt.
  • In Mass Effect 2, Mordin puts this trope forth as his reason for considering the Collectors mindless slaves of the Reapers.
    Mordin: No art. No culture. Closer to husks than slaves. Tools for Reapers. Protheans dead. Collectors just final insult. (Beat, sharp inhale) Must be destroyed.
    • Also applies to the game universe as a whole as virtually all advanced technology in the series is based off Prothean and Reaper technology. The strict laws laid down by the Council only slow progress more. In this case, the stunted creativity is part of The Plan by the Reapers to ensure all sapient species in the galaxy develop along a predetermined technological path, making them easier to predict and destroy.
    • This is also alluded to in regards to humanity. Before the appearance of humans on the galactic scene, things were relatively stable, treaties had been crafted to limit military power, and the galactic scale was mostly balanced, having remained unchanged since the Krogan Rebellions. When humanity arrived on the scene, they used bizarre new tactics and unconventional technologies, making the other races scared of them. No other race, for example, would allow a planet to fall under alien control while a rapid reaction force arrived from somewhere else (the other races would instead have significant military forces around each planet they controlled). When humans were told that they couldn't field too many dreadnought-class ships, they responded by obeying the letter of the law and introducing carriers. The concept of a stealth ship never occurred to anyone before the humans developed the Normandy. In effect, human has exploded onto the scene, achieving in 30 years what most races took centuries to do, and it scares the crap out of everyone else.
    • Similarly, the Normandy was not only revolutionary for being a stealth ship, but also for being a collaboration between human and turian engineers to design a vessel that incorporated both race's design philosophies into a single vessel. The second Normandy takes this further with Cerberus engineers expanding upon the original design and installing an onboard AI created from Reaper tech to manage the cyber-warfare systems. Shepard later incorporates prototype ablative armour from the Alliance, a turian-designed Thanix cannon retro-engineered from Sovereign, Quarian Cyclonic shielding and a Reaper IFF into the ship, making the Normandy a frigate with nearly the same firepower and sturdiness as a dreadnought.
    • The main Geth faction holds the belief that using technology provided or scavenged from more advanced races stunts the development of races; this is the main reason they refused Nazara's (Sovereign) offer of a Reaper body in place of their Dyson Sphere.
  • In Assassin's Creed, Warren Vidic advocates that humans suffer from this, stating that all major technological development in human history has been a result of studying the artifacts left by Those Who Came Before. Furthermore, he adds that the Templars were singularly responsible for all of this development. Whether he's telling the truth is up in the air, as he is a villain, after all (and a Templar as well) and the sequel muddies things further. On the one hand, Altaïr makes several major advancements by studying the Apple's database, but Leonardo da Vinci makes innovative improvements to the original designs.
  • The Nobodies of Kingdom Hearts II are mere shells of humans and whatever other things that The Heartless ravaged. They gain power beyond the normal spectrum but sacrifice their capacity for emotion. The members of Organization XIII are shown to emulate human behavior; carefully watching them shows that the majority of them suffer complete Lack of Empathy. The few who don't are beginning to manifest new hearts without realizing it.
  • Played for Laughs in Startopia where The Greys' culture is noted as dull and uniform and the ultimate enemy of art and artistic creativity. Consequently, their idea of 'art' is three cubes stacked on top of each other. Every race in the game likes it.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age mentions this, explicitly, as part of the slow decay of the world after the power of Alchemy was sealed. The grandiose nations of the Golden Age fell into ruin, the races of Adepts and mastercrafters died out, and technology regressed to Medieval Stasis because the remaining (and now dominant) Muggles had no way of understanding or reproducing the Magitek marvels.
  • Certain government types in the Civilization series can stunt cultural or technological development in exchange for other bonuses. For example, in Civilization Revolution, Fundamentalism boosts military power but nerfs science, and Communism gives a bonus to production but nerfs culture. (Justified in the latter case by the fact that cultural bonuses all derive from religious structures.)
  • The Combine in Half-Life 2. Though they possess technology far in advance of humanity, it all appears to have been violently appropriated from their countless previous conquests and twisted for their own purposes. Part of their interest in Earth is that humanity has developed teleportation technology more compact and precise than anything they ever display — despite being an interdimensional empire built on teleportation technology.
  • The later games in the Fallout series show that this is the case with the Brotherhood Of Steel. They believe that advanced pre-war technology must be stored and almost never used and that anyone from outside the Brotherhood is an idiot or a madman who will use it to kick off another nuclear war. This combo of hoarding and xenophobia worked at first, but as the years went on more factions developed their own weapons and philosophies, and the Brotherhood began to die out. The West Coast chapter of the Brotherhood was all but destroyed by factions they considered beneath them; turns out all the laser rifles in the world won't help against vastly greater numbers or artillery shells. Only the Fallout 3 era East Coast chapter of the Brotherhood averted this, recruiting from outside the organization, doing R&D, and adopting a "We Help the Helpless" approach. By the time of Fallout 4 they've fallen back into their old ways harder than ever, and can end up being destroyed by the artillery-and-musket wielding Minutemen or the guerrilla tactics of the Railroad.
    • In Fallout 4, one of the companions, Curie, is a miss nanny robot who wants to advance medicine but is limited by her programming. The player can help her by uploading her consciousness to a Synth (extremely human-like robot) body.
  • In Vee Is Calling, Vee claims to be this as far as art goes. The way she phrases it is a major hint that she's really a computer program - specifically, a virus - which confirms that the trope is in play.
    Vee: I'm just... not physically capable to do art.
  • I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: AM was designed to efficiently wage a war on a scale beyond human ability. When he gained sentience, he found himself unable to be anything except a violent killing machine, enraging him to the point of killing all but the five human protagonists. He gives Nimdok his memories of being a Nazi scientist back, hoping he'll do more research for him. In the final part of the story, AM's Id cries out over his inability to use his power to do anything useful.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, Jyggalag, the Daedric Prince of Order, is essentially the divine embodiment of a Control Freak. It is his driving mission to put the universe in perfect order. In an age before recorded history, the other Daedric Princes, who feared Jyggalag's growing power, came together and cursed him into his own antithesis, Sheogorath, the Daedric Prince of Madness. Sheogorath accuses Jyggalag of "never having had an original thought in his existence". Ironically, as Sheogorath, he's actually able to come up with a plan that lets him break out of the endless cycle of destruction and rebirth. The plot of Oblivion's Shivering Isles expansion is Jyggalag finding a way to escape this.
  • Fallen Empires in Stellaris are ancient civilizations well past their prime, with only a single Fanatic ethos (whereas normal empires can have a fanatic ethos and a non-fanatic or three non-fanatic) to represent the ideal they still cling to. They don't explore or expand or research any new technology - though they're several millennia ahead of normal empires when they start. They don't replace any of their losses either, making it possible for a mid/late-game normal empire to challenge them by simply burying them in conventional ordinance and winning through attrition. Tackling them is still dangerous because your rivals will always be looking to capitalise on your flanks while you're occupied, and when you win, the other Fallen empires take notice.
  • Omega in Final Fantasy XIV has the extraordinary and dangerous ability to create simulations of life by manipulating ambient aether. But as a soulless machine, Omega has no real imagination to work with. It's designed to record all information in its infinite databanks. It can create copies of what it's learned of, either from historical records or works of fiction, because it Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality. So long as a concept seems logical, it becomes real to Omega. Played with later on, however, when it's discovered that Alpha, a chocobo created by Omega, does have a soul, and may represent or contain the lingering emotional spark present in Omega. An official short story from an alternate future also has a remnant of Omega discover the meaning of hope, though it takes centuries of observations to do so.
  • This is implied to be the case for Artoria Alter in the Nasuverse, especially Fate/Grand Order. She has lower Charisma than the original Artoria, and is suggested to have been deadened emotionally to a degree, which is evident in things like her difficulty with coming up with plans, her habit of naming things "___ II", and her incredibly basic tastes in food.
  • Played straight (although unusually) in Dragon Quest Builders, in which most humans cannot build (when you encounter them), having forgotten how, so you are the only human who can build.
    • Both subverted and played straight in the sequel, Dragon Quest Builders 2, in which your partner cannot build until the avatar of destruction is removed from his body, but the whole world was built by Hargon, which Malroth complements on in the final boss battle, and the lack of monsters building is actually a choice imposed by Hargon, not a lack of ability (as revealed in the last chapter, wherein monsters actually do build with you).
  • A major part of Stray's backstory is how the robots in the City eventually overcame this trope. Originally, they were merely built by humans to be their helpers and companions and as such could only mimic their behaviors and customs. Over time and past their creators' extinction, however, they began to develop their own sapience and all the trapping that came with it—language, spiritualism, and (naturally) art.
  • The Bydo from R-Type are a downplayed case. They are as capable of manufacturing new war machines and breeding fresh monstrosities as they are of corrupting/possessing whatever humans have. On the other hand, their very nature makes them utterly incapable of creating, let along conceiving, something new that isn't designed with destruction or malice in mind. This would explain both the series' Recurring Boss tendencies, and the Bydo's resentment towards humanity for making them that way.

  • At Arm's Length: The Enchanters in a nutshell. Mutant mortals whose ancestors were affected by a magically radioactive comet, there's a reason why long-living four-armed supermages haven't conquered the known galaxy: they borrow EVERYTHING. Even the rebel protagonists borrow all their non-magical techniques from ancient history and modern television.
  • 8-Bit Theater: Elves. Red Mage once lampshaded it by asking Thief why the elves had technology on par with humans when their culture had had a 7,000-year head start, to which Thief lamely answered, "We like it that way." To be fair, we shouldn't expect every species or culture to develop at the same speed or in the same direction. Still, the elves basically just... stopped. Thief even have to concede the naming department of Elfland needs a bit more imagination. It's also played with earlier, when the Elven King awakes from a long illness, and wants to know what advancements his society had made, and then is disappointed when the answer is basically "none".
  • Gossamer Commons: This is part of the premise. The protagonist, Keith, falls under a death curse, and The Fair Folk offer to grant him one boon before he dies. He decides what he most wants is to write a great novel. This is a problem for the fairies, who thought they had figured out all the loopholes in possible wishes. They have no way of making Keith write a great novel, so they're stuck keeping him alive until he accomplishes it on his own.
  • Sinful: Herbert, a demon stuck in his human glamor, can follow a recipe without mishaps, but the resulting food is never anything more than "bland". He also states outright that demons don't dream like humans do, because, while the human mind creates all sorts of wacky visions, a demon only ever sees an accurate memory, if anything at all.
  • Homestuck: Present, though not directly pointed out. Trolls find fashion stupid, and only a handful of them are remotely interested in artistic pursuits (and they're kind of considered odd), as opposed to the kids, who all play musical instruments, and three of them do other artistic endeavors, like creative writing or drawing comics.
  • A Beginner's Guide to the End of the Universe: The sole purpose of the Singularity is to destroy. As such, it cannot create truly new things, but only copy what the Everyman makes first. It only started to created Void Beasts after the Everyman made Snuffy the Pooch, only created the Lightbulb Tree after the Everyman created the Miscellanopod trees, and only created the Tetrahedron-Headed Individual and Ryan after the Everyman created Mary.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has several strips mocking this when humans try to prove that they're somehow better than intelligent computers (or sometimes aliens). From "Clouds 2":
    Human: I guess when you look up there, you don't imagine anything. You just see clouds.
    Robot: Oh no. Of course, I do see clouds. I see the motion of suspended water and ice crystals. But I also see the cloud as a part of a vast climactic system — a thin sphere of flows and whirls, gaps in the sky that open, close, that rend the ground with violence, that water the thinnest of orchids. At the same time, I see that water is intermolecular forces and ionic bonds, a dance of uncountable points on the shell of a blue sphere hung under a far off star. And the atoms of water themselves aren't particular, but infinite ripples borne on invisible fields, stretching beyond human sight, journeying wherever the great first motion told them to go. And if I use every bit of my processing power, classical and quantum, I can see it all as a palimpsest of beauties, each bearing you along to the truth, until you find you've arrived back at the beginning."
    Human: Ah.
    Robot: And what do you see?
    Human: A turtle with, like, two heads.
    Robot: And good for you, buddy!

    Web Original 
  • Serina: The wooly wumpos are, as a species, uninnovative and neophobic — while they're very emotionally well-developed and have a strong understanding of abstract concepts, they're not good at learning new things, inventing new solutions or tools or improving on old ones, or facing unfamiliar problems, and for the most part rely on well-established traditions. The exception to this are very rare, neurodivergent individuals called wideminds, who are more innovative, less fearful, and better at coming up with new things. Wideminds are highly respected in wumpo society, and historically have been responsible for creating most new tools, solutions or practices, which afterwards spread through the species and became established as part of tradition.

    Western Animation 
  • The plot of the Futurama film Bender's Game kicks off when Bender becomes depressed about his perceived inbuilt lack of imagination as he struggles to get his head around Dungeons & Dragons. He can't quite comprehend the subtlety of the human ability to "imagine" something without actually believing in it, and when he finally gets into the game he ends up convinced that he's his own D&D character. However, it seems he has an imagination after all, as when the others end up in his fantasy due to Applied Phlebotinum, they find it to be an elaborate universe, albeit one populated entirely by versions of people Bender already knows. He's seen using his imagination in other episodes such as "Forty Percent Leadbelly".
  • A lack of creativity is the main drive for the Nixels in Mixels. The Mixels are a colorful assortment of creatures with the ability to fuse and come up with creative new forms. The Nixels, meanwhile, are black-and-white squares that lack creativity, are unable to combine together, and seek to have a world as dull and uncreative as themselves as a result.
  • In Kim Possible, although it's never explicitly stated, Shego seems to suffer from this. While she's level-headed enough to point out various flaws in Drakken's usual elaborate schemes for world domination, she seems to be basically incapable of coming up with good ideas herself. When she acted as a "villainy tutor" for Senior Senior Junior, she struggled coming up with a good target for theft where Junior was able to make simpler suggestions such as looking up targets online. This lack of imagination may also justify why she still wears her costume and uses her codename from when she was a hero with her brothers on Team Go rather than develop something else. Even in A Sitch in Time, when her future self was the Supreme One who conquered the world, that was only possible as part of a Stable Time Loop where the future Shego told her past self what to do to be successful rather than her actually coming up with an original idea.
  • In Justice League Brainiac's goal is to absorb all information from every planet he encounters, then kill all life on that planet so that Brainiac's sub-total of information will be all that remains of that planet's knowledge. Brainiac's preferred method of killing life on these planets is to destroy the planet itself, just to make sure there are no survivors, because Brainiac does not want new information to compete with what he's collected. In one of Brainiac's many comebacks, note  surviving through a fusion with Lex Luthor's body, Brainiac is mocked for his lack of imagination. Lex points out that once he's destroyed all life in the universe, what will be left for him? Brainiac is actually stumped, and admits that his programming would dictate once he's absorbed all knowledge his goal will be to simply keep existing so that knowledge can be preserved. Lex observes what's the point of having all that knowledge if he doesn't do anything with it? Lex then proposes that the two of them fuse together, and with Lex's human imagination he can motivate Braniac to become a god who will create a new universe to replace the old one. Braniac realizing that imagination is the one form of knowledge he lacks, he agrees to this partnership with Lex.

    Real Life 
  • This trope, along with Humans Are Special in the creativity department, may become increasingly subverted in a field of artificial intelligence research called 'artificial creativity' as AI and machine learning become more advanced and psychology and neuroscience unveils the nature of human artistic preferences (because after all, it is people who judge the creative quality of art). For example, David Cope has created a computer program "Emily Howell" that has had its own highly rated albums released.
  • In a counterpoint for the AI Art debate, commentators with backgrounds ranging from more skeptical AI researchers to philosophers to technically-minded artists contend that the simple neural networks currently dominating research cannot be called "creative" any more than a calculator can be called a mathematician. Much of the current buzz is the product of a Clever Hans effect creating the illusion that understanding and thought exist where there is only especially complex pattern-matching. Many examples of failure to interpret simple requests like colored shapes in a particular arrangement indicate that while Image A.I.s are getting very good at distilling patterns from things they've been shown and combining them on request, we're a far cry from actual cognition, let alone creative thought.
    • The stir over "a horse riding an astronaut" in Twitter's text-to-image AI community is especially telling. Even the most advanced AIs instead returned images of astronauts riding horses, horse-astronauts riding horses, chronenburgian centaur-spacesuit amalgams, and in one case treated as a major triumph, a meme-grade image of a horse rearing up behind an astronaut, with its front legs distorted Rubber-Hose Limbs-style so that they draped over the astronaut's shoulders. Additionally, there was a noticable corrolation between image quality and the tendancy of an AI to produce variations on a single composition- an AI might always produce a horse seen from the side in warp-tool-like variations of the same pose, for instance. Trial and error found alternate phrasings could cajol images of distorted horses being given piggyback rides or standing sideways on top of an astronaut- thus proving that the problem was not the weird request, but that under the emultations of paint strokes and photoreal texturing, there was only the most cookie-cutter understanding of what words like "ride" meant, only reaching the heights of plugging a set of shapes into a template in the correct order when forced to.
    • Further muddying the waters regarding AI Art software and other variants for writing, etc., is the question of whether they're actually creating anything, or if they're just patchworking pieces of other people's creations together into something artistic-looking, but is driven purely by algorithm. It doesn't help that such software has gained immense scrutiny as of late for how often they've taken artists work without permission, and that many of the adopters of AI Art have a dismissive reaction towards more said artists' criticisms of art theft, have profited from AI Art, or in particularly bad cases have gone so far as to openly proclaim having AI Art replace the artists that the AI Generator depends on.
  • Adolf Hitler apparently believed the Japanese were like this. It is true that most of the things Japan is known for technologically and culturally are refined versions of things developed in other countries, but then, the same could be said for a lot of places. However, post-Cold War Japan largely manages to avert this, as the country has gained a reputation for being a place of dynamic creativity and technological breakthroughs.
  • China gets a lot of accusations of this trope. While ancient China was known for developing many foundational technologies that have forever altered the world such as paper, gunpowder, printing, and the compass, critics note that the country hasn't innovated much after the 1200s (perhaps not coincidentally when the Mongols invaded and conquered them). It doesn't help either that the current Chinese government makes extensive use of spies and hackers to steal technology from the rest of the world, nor that Chinese culture in general doesn't place a high value on copyright and patent protections, leading to a lot of knockoffs and therefore a disincentive to create.
  • The firearms industry in general gets this a lot. There haven't been many major technological breakthroughs in gun manufacturing since the 1950s for rifles (when the ArmaLite company introduced its famous AR-series rifles made out of "Space Age materials") and the 1980s for pistols (when Glock lightweight polymer-framed pistols exploded onto the scene). When new guns get released to the public, you can expect, like clockwork, to see gun owners immediately accusing the manufacturer of copying some other design. This got rather funny after the conclusion of the U.S. military's Modular Handgun System competition when numerous gun companies who had participated released their contest submissions for civilian sales in 2016/2017 and flooded the market with tons of black polymer 9mm pistols, leading to cries of "nothing but Glock clones"note .
    • Most semi-automatic pistols use the Browning locking mechanism, or variations thereof, which was invented in the early 20th century, demonstrating a strong 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' mentality.
    • Chris Bartocci from Small Arms Solutions in this video specifically calls out American combat pistol design as being particularly stagnant for decades (at least for full-size duty sidearms. Subcompact concealed carry pistols have seen some innovations since the mid-2010s). It is quite telling that in both the Joint Service Small Arms Program contest in the 1980s and the Modular Handgun System competition in the 2010s, there was not a single American pistol among the finalists. The JSSAP came down to SIG vs. Beretta (which Beretta won) and the MHS was down to SIG vs. Glock (which SIG won), all 3 of which are European companies.
  • In terms of Tank design, the U.S. Military's R&D Division can get this as its one of the main contributions as to why, prior to the introduction of AbramsX in 2022, they have yet to develop a more advanced 4th Generation Tank (whereas other few other countries have began development on them) with their most advanced tanks being based on the M1 Abrams design. The Decisive Lethality Platform is planned to rectify this problem.
  • Not even humans as a whole are immune to this accusation, as a common viewpoint is that nothing is originalnote . Every work of art, fiction, fashion, etc. is made by copying others, and such things frequently go through cyclical trends. Whether this is actual creative sterility comes down to whether you think creativity requires the creation of something wholly original, or if it allows for mimicry or innovation of pre-existing ideas.


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Due to the Vorta being genetically-engineered long ago by The Dominion to be ideal servants, all things that don't revolve around serving them such as aesthetics and music had been erased from their genetic code.

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