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Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy

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"Ruined World + cast of Jerk = I don't care what happens to these guys"

It is often said that "conflict is the soul of drama". Without some form of conflict to fuel things there's no engine to drive the story and thus little reason to engage with it. However, we here at TV Tropes would like to propose an amendment to this phrase which includes something important but sadly all-too-often forgotten:

MEANINGFUL conflict is the soul of drama.

Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy occurs when a conflict exists that simply lacks any reason for the audience to care about how it is resolved. This is often because the setting is extremely but meaninglessly Darker and Edgier, and/or all sides are abhorrently, equally evil—or at least, far enough gone that any difference between the two is splitting hairs. As such, consumers of media affected by Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy tend to approach conflict between parties or factions with remarkable indifference; because no matter who wins, the universe will still suck. (And while it would be really nice to see them all lose, that likely isn't going to happen.) In other words, there is nothing at stake. While there is a conflict happening, for all that the audience is concerned there might as well not be because they likely have little reason to care about who wins or loses. And even when there are characters intended as “the good guys”, they can be so smug, priggish, hypocritical, violent, extremist, unpleasant, and/or just plain annoying that it's hard to feel too sad if the bad guys defeat them, especially if the bad guys actually have a good reason for hating them.

This is the emotional result of Evil vs. Evil. Because the conflict between the two equally horrible sides is essentially meaningless, there is no dramatic tension. Maybe one Eldritch Abomination eats you in a slightly less painful manner than the other one, but either way, you're still screwed. You can't support any factions or hold on to any ideals after this effect has set in. All you can do is sit agape as the writers apparently attempt to outdo themselves at making the setting even worse and more unpleasant and more nihilistic to the point where the media is a bland miserable monotone. This trope is not just about a Crapsack World, but about excessive cynicism. A sure sign of audience apathy setting in is if they start rooting for the Omnicidal Maniac—the setting is so bleak that no part of it is worth saving. When total oblivion looks like your best option, something is wrong.

A variant is when Yank the Dog's Chain meets True Art Is Too Angsty; a story is simply too bleak, hopeless, and...well, angsty for the audience to really care what happens. Leaving aside how obviously and overly depressing this is to read; even if there are true, clear-cut good guys, if they are doomed to failure no matter what they do, and it is too obvious that they are doomed and their every action to avert this is pointless and hopeless, then the ending is inevitable and can be seen a mile off—so why bother continuing on with the story? (Especially if Developing Doomed Characters is done badly and you can't care about who's in it.) This, of course, does not mean that all stories have to end happily—but most of the time, a good Tragedy works because the characters involved are given a chance to escape their Downer Ending but, for whatever reason, fail to do so; take away this chance, and usually what will happen is that the story just ends up being a lengthy description of unremittingly unpleasant things happening to someone. It must be said that despite the presence of this trope, it can still be a story worth telling if it has a deep character study and complex issues, just not one that the audience will care about the plot.

When applying to individuals, this is one of the reasons why the "Wangst" trope happens. Often results in readers saying the Eight Deadly Words, or concluding that the plot boils down to a Wangst-fest.

Status Quo Is God is usually the result of the trope when the audience knows that all and any changes that could have made a positive impact in the setting won't stick.

If the hero of the story openly lampshades their own apathy toward the outcome of the story, they might be a Nominal Hero.

Earn Your Happy Ending can risk inducing this in the middle of the story, but ultimately all that doom and gloom and sacrifice and pain leads to victory for good people.

Keep in mind that this trope is subjective. Just because one considers a work of fiction this trope doesn't mean that others do.

Compare Angst Dissonance, Audience-Alienating Premise and Only the Author Can Save Them Now.

Contrast Tastes Like Diabetes, this trope's polar opposite, and also Rooting for the Empire, but only when all sides involved are evil and yet the audience still likes them. Compare and contrast Glurge, which is what happens when you combine the sickeningly sweet and the depressingly dark.

See also Too Happy to Live and True Love Is Boring.


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    Interactive Fiction 
  • Adam Cadre's Varicella attempts to avert this by having its Villain Protagonist, while still amoral and self-centered and willing to murder people to claim the Regency, not as evil as his rivals for the Regency, nearly all of whom are truly horrible people who seem to enjoy their acts of abuse and rape. But Varicella is still a short-sighted person who can't foresee just how horrible things become when the prince takes the throne and becomes even worse.

  • Iron Maiden:
    • The album The X Factor is widely disliked, largely because it is relentlessly dark and slow in tempo from "Fortunes Of War" onwards. Virtual XI gets this a bit too, though is balanced out a bit with the unnaturally happy sounding track "The Angel And The Gambler" (which is basically the "Can I Play With Madness" or "Holy Smoke" of this album, but fans saw it quite differently due to it running close to 10 minutes and the chorus being repeated 22 times).
    • Many fans feel this way about A Matter Of Life And Death, as well. With the exception of "Different World", the album is all about the horrors of war, and represents this in long dirges like "These Colours Don't Run" and "Brighter Than A Thousand Suns". As older fans have pointed out, this is quite similar to The X Factor, but has received far better reviews due to Bruce Dickinson singing. Newer fans, and music journalists, regard it as one of the band's best albums, mostly because it virtually lacks the pop sensibilities that are on the band's other albums and thus fits in better with the modern image of metal as being dark and serious.
  • Joy Division. Ian Curtis' lyrics and low-key vocals make his self-inflicted death of little surprise. Martin Hannett's spartan production adds to the effect; even Bernard Sumner says in the "Joy Division" docu-film that Unknown Pleasures is almost too dark, and he prefers the more varied arrangements of Closer.
    • On a lesser note, The Smiths and The Cure, while happier than Joy Division, also have no dearth of depressing songs that depend on equal mood to properly enjoy (8-Bit Theater even joked: "Look at those Cure albums. No emotionally balanced, healthy person would listen to that. This is obviously our perp.").
  • George Michael 's album "Older", written after his boyfriend's death, is widely regarded as being extremely dark and slow and a pretty difficult listen. It and its singles were very successful at the time (helped largely due to a four year gap since his last single), but tastes changed and it is very commonly found in charity shops in the UK.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Peanuts: Though the comic did generally achieve an agreeable balance between the light-hearted charm of the other characters and the morose nature of Charlie Brown, the strip did always have its critics who found it too downcast overall. The infamous "Lucy and the football" running gag is particularly polarizing; some found the joke increasingly sadistic as the years (and decades) went on. The animated cartoons generally received harsher criticism for being "too mean," with It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown actually having some scenes softened for syndication.
  • Funky Winkerbean: Very little goes right for the characters, jokes about death are frequent and everyone is just generally depressed from a melancholy in the air. Lisa's death by cancer is a good spot to mark when the strip moved into its darkness setting.
    • Crankshaft, from the same creator, has this to a lesser degree. It's not as perpetually glum, but the main character is very hard to like as a person and the occasional death joke pops up now and then.
  • This has happened with a lot of politically-oriented Mexican comics, like El Santos and Los Miserables: After suffering decades of government censorship, the political comic industry experienced a resurgence during The '90s with its gritty stories and Deadpan Snarker Anti-Hero characters being praised as a welcome reality-grounded change from the rosy picture readers were being fed before; however, more than 20 years later, the Black and Gray Morality themes were turned Up to Eleven, and several of their readers got tired of the Crapsack World themes, crude humor, irredeemable Jerkass protagonists and the overall message of This Loser Is You.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Ignoring the insanity of Vince Russo's endless use of the Shocking Swerve, this trope was one of the main causes of WCW's decline. While the nWo were cool for a while, they were the heels, which meant that they ultimately needed to suffer defeats, and meaningful ones. This, however, was a fact seemingly lost on everyone there (especially those members of the nWo who were involved in booking the stories - funny that). After years and years of watching the villains run roughshod over absolutely everyone, gloating and laughing, the whole thing just became pointless and depressing - they were never going to be defeated, and that was that. So people just changed the channel. In the end, the one saving grace was that the group's leader, "Hollywood" Hogan, reverted to being Hulk Hogan and returned to being a face - but that in itself could be considered a Karma Houdini. Most people would probably argue that the New World Order storyline should've ended at Starrcade '97, after Sting finally defeated Hulk Hogan (albeit in controversial fashion), thereby proving that, if nothing else, the nWo wasn't invincible. Of course, that arc itself came close to resulting in DIAA, since Sting was early on made to look as if he were secretly working for the nWo, and his immediate reaction - abruptly quitting WCW and entering into semi-seclusion for a time - didn't exactly allay suspicion. Indeed, Sting's enigmatic, smiling declaration of "The only thing that's for sure about Sting... is that nothing's for sure" - the last words he ever spoke before completely whitening his face and refusing to speak publicly for more than 14 months - kept people guessing for quite a while.
  • The Death of WCW talks about this from a booking standpoint. According to the author, the best way to make money is to create a match fans want to see and one that they're willing to pay for to see. However, fans won't pay to see a bout if they can easily perceive a winner. In context to WCW's own entry on this page; the apathy factored into money bouts as well. Not only was Bischoff trying to put PPV matches on regular TV, but the sheer apathy of the heels running roughshod constantly make it a drain to see. Fans began to perceive who the winner would be (especially on the Souled Out PPVs) that money stopped coming into the PPV matches.
  • The inVasion angle of the summer of 2001 also suffered from this. WWE fans, WCW fans, and ECW fans had hated each other for years, so when WCW and ECW unexpectedly decided to team up against the big bad WWE, it looked like a battle for the ages. Except... the WWE writers sabotaged the whole concept by casting every WCW and ECW representative as a heel, even though many of them had done nothing wrong. Worse, the leader of the WWE team was Vince McMahon, hardly a likable character; his opponents were his children Shane and Stephanie and ECW chief Paul Heyman, all of whom were likewise Jerkasses. Finally, at the actual pay-per-view event WWE trounced the WCW/ECW Alliance so thoroughly that when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin defected to the Alliance and helped them pull off an unexpected victory, it was hard not to see this treachery as WWE getting its just deserts. (And all the Alliance members ended up joining or rejoining WWE shortly afterwards anyway, so what was the point?)
  • Triple H has been responsible for this at times, most tellingly during 2002-2004, when he made a career of burying faces so completely that even today (coupled, it has to be said, with WWE's almost decade-long refusal to properly build new stars), WWE has an extremely small amount of top card faces, as there are so few people left for fans to take as credible threats. Granted, the Heel–Face Revolving Door makes it possible to turn a top heel into a top face at the drop of a storyline, but the top heels tend to spend most of their careers as heels for a reason: they're better at it.

    Triple H has also been largely involved in the "The Authority" storyline since mid-2013. Borrowing largely from Vince McMahon's "Mr. McMahon" character from the late 90s, Triple H and wife Stephanie set themselves up as bad guy corporate leaders of the company, pushing guys who aligned with them into the main event title scene under the guise of such actions being best for business. The difference between this scenario and the one back in the 90s is that The Authority has not had any face presence to counteract their actions. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin brought the fight directly to Vince and fans delighted in watching him make Vince's life a living hell, while Vince could never come out and fire him because he made him too much damn money. The Authority has no such counterbalance, as top faces like John Cena are never really setting themselves up in opposition and simply acting within the confines of the boundaries The Authority establishes. Former top heels either align with The Authority and lose a great deal of their autonomy (like Randy Orton), or wither like dry weeds (like The Miz, Damien Sandow, Vickie Guerrero, or AJ Lee) when Triple H or Stephanie tell them it's their way or the highway, get in line or it's the unemployment line. And the fans know it. Unlike with the nWo, there is not even the hope of a masked savior waiting in the wings to bring down the machine, and so fans watch as The Authority rules the roost as the top bad guys either until a game changer comes along or until they get tired of the role.
    • The few superstars who have tried to stand up to the Authority have failed in their efforts. Any victory they achieve has only been temporary, and the Authority always wins out in the end. Examples of those who've tried (and failed) to get the better of the Authority include Daniel Bryan, Big Show (who eventually joined them after over a year's worth of on and off feuding), John Cena, The Shield (who, despite going 3-and-0 against a reunited Evolution, ended up being dismantled by the Authority after Seth Rollins turned on them and joined the Authority himself, and has since replaced Randy Orton as the group's main in-ring competitor), Dolph Ziggler (who actually succeeded in ridding WWE of the Authority, though it was another temporary victory, and they returned after a month's absence and got the last laugh as always), Randy Orton, and even Sting.
    • Another issue with the Authority is that during their long reign of terror there hadn't been a true face champion ever since Daniel Bryan had to vacate it due to injury. John Cena, a major Base-Breaking Character, won it, only to lose the title to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014. Lesnar later lost the title to Rollins at WrestleMania 31, who would hold it until he got injured in November of that year. The title was left vacated and a tournament was created to determine a new champion in his place. A face did win the title — Roman Reigns. Problem was, Reigns was regarded as a Creator's Pet due to his transparently obvious status as The Chosen One to succeed John Cena's role as face of the company. The fact that he was completely bland as a face made him a major recipient of X-Pac Heat. Then, not even five minutes later, Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to become champ. Problem was Sheamus had gone through a lot of Badass Decay and basically had no storyline direction ever since he won the briefcase, making him so irrelevant that fans wanted him to be champion even less than they did Roman. Roman then managed to get briefly over at TLC 2015 by returning to his badass Shield character and won the title the following night on RAW. However, they went back to booking him as a bland face, turning him into The Scrappy again. Then he lost the title to mega-heel Triple H at the Royal Rumble match to set up the main event of WrestleMania 32.

      This is where things utterly fell to pieces. The fans hated Roman. Hated him. They hated him so much that they began to root for the Authority, the ones responsible for starting all this Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy. It was for naught, as Hunter lost and they got another reign with Roman. Things didn't get better until Roman violated the Wellness Policy three months into his championship reign, forcing the company to suspend him, meaning they had to take the title off him as soon as possible. He dropped the belt in a semi-clean match to a returning Rollins at Money in the Bank 2016. While fans liked Rollins or at least sympathized with him, he was still a heel. However, not even two minutes later, Dean Ambrose, one of the most popular wrestlers on the roster, if not the most popular, and the last member of the Shield, cashed in his newly won briefcase and won the title, finally breaking the chain. The fans were absolutely elated. That being said, the past two years had made the fans extremely cynical, to the point that they were convinced that Ambrose was a transitional champion and that Rollins and Reigns would win it back soon enough. It wasn't until Ambrose pinned both men clean to retain the title (Rollins in a one-on-one title match, Reigns in the Shield triple threat) that fans finally realized they were getting a nice, long reign with the first true face champion since Daniel Bryan himself.
    • Another issue with the Authority angle, which has persisted beyond "The Authority" being explicitly mentioned, is Stephanie McMahon. While she is great at being the utterly loathsome authority figure like her dad, it seems to have been forgotten that what made the old Vince/Stone Cold dynamic work is that Stone Cold would routinely give Vince his comeuppance. Vince would be a dick about something, the crowd would boo, Stone Cold would beat Vince up, the crowd would cheer, Vince would have Stone Cold arrested, the crowd would boo, and Stone Cold would make bail in time to beat Vince up at the next show where the crowd would cheer. In WWE's particularly cheesy, politically correct PG era, they'll never have someone beat up Stephanie to payoff all the heat she builds up.
  • Also during the same time as the Authority storyline was Brock Lesnar and his complete dominance over the WWE roster since ending The Undertaker's WrestleMania undefeated streak. Although still technically-booked as a heel, fans still cheered him at first, since his "Suplex City" gimmick was used on traditional X-Pac Heat recipients Cena and Reigns. But as the WWE entered the latter half of 2015 where Lesnar first refused to be beaten cleanly by Undertaker in their SummerSlam rematch that year then defeating him again in Hell in a Cell, people began to start seeing problems with Lesnar's overprotective booking. It got worse in 2016 when at first Lesnar feuded with Dean Ambrose, arguably WWE's most white-hot babyface who fans believed could be the one to get the victory on Lesnar, only for their WrestleMania Street Fight to end up an embarrassing squash match in Lesnar's favor due to him not wanting to get injured before his fight at UFC 200, then fighting Randy Orton at SummerSlam resulting in a finish that ended with Lesnar giving Orton a legitimate concussion. The darkness abated somewhat after Goldberg squashed Lesnar in less than two minutes at Survivor Series, but now that Lesnar has defeated Goldberg in their WrestleMania rematch, becoming Universal Champion in the process, the apathy is sure to come back in full force.
    • Adding to this is Lesnar's own apathy. When he disappears for months at a time with the championship, why would the audience care about the rest of the scrubs on the roster who feel like placeholders killing time until the champion comes back four PPVs down the road?
  • Looking at the entire history of the WWF, it's understandable that one would see "sports entertainment" itself as this. Due to the Heel Face Revolving Door described above, almost everyone has been a heel at some point in his or her career. Even worse, many of these heels are unrepentant for their past actions even after turning face, simply laughing along with the audience or just resorting to the Hand Wave whenever anyone tries to bring up the crimes they committed in the past. So with the exception of John Cena (who's been a face for so long now that all of his past evil deeds have been effectively erased from memory) and a few others, it's hard to truly care for any of these characters. Particularly true when they exhibit Jerkass behaviors even while playing the face, or when one realizes that they're just one Shocking Swerve away from becoming heels again.
  • An ongoing angle in SHINE is whether the promotion should be honoring long time veterans or showcasing up and coming talents. The angle worked by pitting a heel on one end of the argument against a more compromising or apathetic baby face, giving matches good heat. But then the angle ran into SHINE's tendency to book heel vs heel, so the audience wasn't too enthused by "Dinosaur Hunter" Leah Von Dutch vs 1940s throwback Thunderkitty...till Dutch turned face later that night.
  • This trope is why heel vs. heel matchups are typically undesirable from a booker's point of view: the audience would have no one to cheer. When there is a heel vs. heel feud, it's usually a sign that one of them is about to turn face (for example, Sheamus versus Randy Orton in January 2010 — and even then, that only happened because Randy was getting cheered so often despite being by far and away the biggest dick in the company (not named Batista) at the time that they had no choice but to turn him face).
    • Jack Swagger's first Raw match against Big E. Langston was a great example of how not to book two heels against each other, as the audience crapped all over both guys and their match, despite them not messing anything up. They did appreciate Alberto Del Rio coming out though, in one of the few moments his response really wasn't tepid on Raw.
    • As for an example of how to avert this, The Wyatt Family versus The Shield. Careful build-up and Bray Wyatt's charisma led to a heel-on-heel match that had fans cheering before anyone stepped in the ring. This was a rare case when all the stars aligned for such an event, as the Shield featured three of the top new ring workers in the company breaking into the main event scene, while Bray Wyatt's convincing portrayal of a Deep South cult leader gave the company the first top heel of his kind in nearly twenty years since the debut of Mick Foley, so despite being the bad guys, fans had ample reasons to cheer for both sides. Careful coordination then made sure that both groups had largely differing agendas that made a feud between them believable from a fan standpoint.
    • Another aversion was a brief 2002 feud between Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle before their reluctant tag team alliance. There were two big factors in why the audience embraced this (and Benoit, who elevated into the upper midcard again post-neck surgery) despite the heel vs. heel slant: first, their quarrel was over something pretty funny (Benoit laughed at Angle getting Stinkfaced by Rikishi; Angle held down Benoit so he could get the same treatment), and second, both were such phenomenal workers that they could get the crowd engaged even as bad guys. Thus, their Unforgiven 2002 match was an instant classic that received multiple mid-match ovations and was part of the beginnings of the fabled SmackDown Six.
      • In short, heel vs heel matchups can be saved if one invests enough Rule of Cool into the angle.
  • WrestleMania 32 was a unfortunate study in this; every match leading to the main event either was undone the next night on Raw (Zack Ryder winning the IC belt, The Undertaker def Shane McMahon), or had the heel win (The League of Nations def The New Day, Jericho def AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar def Dean Ambrose, Charlotte winning the Triple Threat for the new Women's Championship, Baron Corbin winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal), and the final bout crowned major Creator's Pet and X-Pac Heat recipient Roman Reigns WWE Champion over the heel-but-still-preferred Triple H.

     Role Playing 
  • Survival of the Fittest can either avoid this one or play it straight, depending on the character and scene. The setting essentially means that most of the cast will die in some way or another, occasionally in horrific ways and often at the hands of each other. While with a bit of skill handlers do avert this one entirely, there still have been moments where it feels like this trope in practice. Fortunately, there have been a fair amount of avoidance with specific examples.
  • Disney World Of War has this problem at times. With the setting being a Darker and Edgier version of the traditional Disney universe. Added to this problem is the Black and Gray Morality which is exhibited by all three sides in the war, including the "Heroes" who are not above brutal means to win the war, makes it hard to really root for any of them because they are so willing to throw ethics out the window at times. There is also the problem of so many characters, particularly child characters, dying or traditional "good guys" being turned to the dark side because of either trauma or the realisation that The Dark Side Will Make You Forget means even rooting for Disney protagonists is hard. Fortunately, however, the personalities of the Disney characters saves this somewhat as they still can be the characters everyone knows and loves in the brief moments of levity.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech can reach this level if you care to check its backstory. The clash of multiple Deadly Decadent Courts (a clash which did not even so much as slow down when the Clans invaded) and continuous wars (against the Clans, against the Word of Blake, against each other, etc) that have constantly knocked down the whole Inner Sphere can make the fluff feel to some like A Song of Ice and Fire IN SPACE with Humongous Mecha. There are plenty of sympathetic characters on the canon, but in the end the Inner Sphere is just not going to ever change from being a war-wreaked Crapsack Galaxy, no matter their efforts, so why bother about seeing their success if you know in the long run it will all go to hell again?
    • This was especially bad in the early days of the Mechwarrior: Dark Age series, which bumped everything ahead by about half a century—not only did this mean that most of the characters that fans had come to know and love were dead (often Killed Offscreen), but the setting had reduced the availability of 'Mechs and made them frustratingly expensive to field, which, while somewhat realistic, is also anathema to pushing the setting's unique selling point, as a Humongous Mecha Space Opera. It did not help that the powers that be set up some thirty-odd preset characters to try and give a sense of stability to the setting (and continuity with the fan-preferred Classic Battletech) and then proceeded to kill off or write out approximately a third of them within six months, including most of the major Clan characters introduced to set up that portion of the universe. As a result, many long-time fans ended up uninvested in the new Dark Age setting, declaring it a Dork Age.
  • Dead of Winter can fall under this, depending how bad the secret objectives are. You could use that medicine to save your friend's survivor, who could really help the community... but if your secret objective requires that you keep the medicine...
  • In the view of some of the current authors, large chunks of second edition Exalted fell into "shitdark", defined by Holden Shearer as "a setting so relentlessly shitty and miserable and hopeless that it becomes impossible to emotionally invest in it or care what happens to it."
  • GURPS is too diverse a system to fall into this generally, but several of its Alternate Universe Earth settings fell into this for gamers; most notably, Reich-5 was retooled into a new villain for crosstime campaigns because your options there consisted of "Nazis, Nazified Americans, Imperial Japanese, and the inevitably doomed resistance". Reich-2 was this in-story for Americans after the British signed a truce with the Nazis—no one much cared whether Hitler or Stalin won the war.
  • While Wraith is the worst in this regard, the Old World of Darkness as a whole tended to fall in this trap. Throughout each game, the main villains tended to be vast unknowable forces that could never be truly defeated: ancient conspiracies, corrupt corporations, secret government organizations, the spiritual force of evil itself, etc. And they're winning. Regardless of the player characters' victories in a campaign, you're unlikely to have any effect on the large-scale machinations at work. A recurring theme throughout each game is that the heroes are fighting a losing battle against the end of the world. Have fun.
    • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the world is threatened by the Weaver (the cosmic force of order who seeks to lock the cosmos into unchanging stasis) and the Wyrm (the cosmic force of destruction and renewal who has gone insane after being imprisoned in the Weaver's "web" of reality). In best case scenarios, these forces can be restored to sanity and balance, at the cost of billions of human and non-human lives. In worst case scenarios, one of these beings emerges triumphant over the cosmos and proceeds to either destroy it or render it a horrible crapsack world. Meanwhile, their minions are inflicting untold suffering on the world. The Gaia-aligned factions trying to stop the Weaver and Wyrm are often depicted as short-sighted, bigoted, bloodthirsty, and in the case of the Ananasi, outright sociopathic, making it difficult at times to root for them.
    • Wraith: The Oblivion is a game where upon death your soul incarnates in H. R. Giger's worst BDSM nightmare, is taken in by a society whose repressiveness would embarrass a fascist, finds that there is no happy afterlife for him, and then must struggle to survive as a mad force of Eldritch Abominations and their howling-mad servants of Oblivion seek to unmake the world. One source book went so far as to deal with the ghosts born of the Holocaust. The bleakness drove it straight into Audience-Alienating Premise and it was definitely one of the less popular games. This is the game where your character's sweater is made out of the soul of another person who is experiencing And I Must Scream.
    • Hunter: The Reckoning had this problem at release. It was advertised as a World of Darkness game in which the characters would play regular people attempting to take back their streets from the assorted vampires, werewolves, mages etc. that populate the setting. When the book was actually released, though, it was revealed that Hunters themselves also had supernatural powers granted to them by an unknown entity.. and since every powerful unknown force in the setting up to that point was a Big Bad, and "I'm a monster but I have to be to defend you against the other worse monster" a central theme of all the games, Hunters appeared no longer to be the champions of regular humanity but just another type of supernatural creature.
  • With the revelations in the last two Horizon adventure packs that the only four major factions (The Draco Foundation, the Great Dragon Hestaby, Buttercup, and Horizon) that could still be said to be in any way 'good' (or even anti-heroic) are really as expedient and guilty of atrocity and terror as the rest, and only differ in the nature and scope of their self-rationalizations but are as mired in the basest of motivations as every other setting villain, some fans believe that the Shadowrun universe has finally hit this threshold.
    • The part where several of the writers openly expressed scorn on forums at the idea of shadowrunners having any kind of ethics (even antiheroic ones) instead of just being people who gladly do horrible things for money, and the promotion in storylines and flavor text of several NPC shadowrunners who exemplified that utterly amoral attitude from 'the runners even other shadowrunners look down on' to 'well-respected and widely admired figures of their professional community' isn't helping much either. One of them (Haze) is canonically a serial rapist who uses drugs to incapacitate his victims. Another (Clockwork) is a Fantastic Racist who makes money selling fellow runners with technomancer powers to megacorporate vivisection labs, and openly admits to anyone who asks that he'd cheerfully sell out anyone, including other team members, to the authorities in return for money (something that's normally considered an unforgivable sin among even the most depraved criminal community, and yet is entirely ignored in-setting). Another (Kane) has been the reigning world champion of excess collateral damage and carelessness with the lives of innocent bystanders for two editions. All of these characters have been promoted to signature NPC status, instead of their prior canonical treatment as cautionary tales/shadowrunner antagonists.
  • Unhallowed Metropolis takes this trope to an extreme. It is set in a world where a Zombie Apocalypse has warped most of the earth, resulting in barely-surviving societies which are surrounded by blighted, polluted, unholy hellscapes. The default setting, Victorian-esque England, takes inequality to such extremes that for every stuffy noble using the blood of the poor to stay young while enjoying macabre orgies, there are thousands who die for want of a gas mask. Speaking of gas masks, the air is so polluted that one is essential for survival. What few leaders remain are all invariably corrupt and decadent to a level that cannot be exaggerated, while bomb-throwing anarchists and worse are ready to dismantle the system. Of course, anarchy would only lead to a failure of the few systems stopping the ghouls, vampires, mad-scientists, and other evils from visiting horrors on the populous. Nation states have fallen - there is no world system, and all the people of this new society know of other peoples is that France is even worse off. Even the heroes are inherently corrupt, and draw power by accepting further corruption. Finally, all the undeath of this setting is hinted to be a symptom of the world being fundamentally wrong on a far, far more terrible level, as observed through the unspeakable behavior of its human inhabitants.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The universe skirts this, as a setting based on unending war and horror that runs on Black and Black Morality (well, maybe Black and Very Dark Grey Morality). However, most fans accept it as part of the basic premise of the setting, and most stories are told from a smaller scale perspective where there is good and evil, and good can indeed triumph despite the bleakness of the setting as a whole. Other bits of source material and licensed novels turn things up to 11 and use the bleakness as a source of black comedy (which is what how 40k started before becoming more serious).
    • Horus Heresy novels in particular can fall into this range after enough Doomed by Canon, unpleasant people on both sides, obligatory war crimes scenes, and downer endings.
    • The Gaunt's Ghosts series avoids this by presenting the 40k universe through the lens of the eponymous regiment, detailing how ordinary human soldiers deal with the horrors of the setting and yet still managing to triumph via ingenuity and sheer determination (and a bit of luck), though not without loss.
    • Ciaphas Cain outright defies the grimdark setting by pointing out a lot of the grimdark depictions - such as Commissars who execute willy-nilly and use Imperial Guard as little more than fodder - tend to get fragged, and depicts the Imperium as willing to negotiate with the Tau over an unimportant planet that's already been half-swayed to the Tau cause (because realpolitik means their military resources are better employed against the tyranids and necrons), something that wouldn't fly in stereotypical WH40k. The series also avoids the A Million Is a Statistic treatment of warfare common in the setting by humanizing it, such as in the sequence in Death or Glory where Cain enters a town orks have passed through and imagines the orks' treatment of the populace.
    • The fans also coined the term Grimderp, which is a variation on this: An event or setting so dark and horrible it becomes Narmtastic, often throwing away logic for the sake of being grittier. Something has entered Grimderp territory whenever it gets too stupidly dark to take seriously anymore (such as the much-reviled 5th edition Grey Knights codex, featuring the Knights slaughtering a Sororitas convent to use their blood as holy protection... which canonically they wouldn't even have needed to begin with because they are already the Antimagical Faction).

  • The big plot twists of Act 2 of Ebenezer are so dark and cynical it can be hard to care about anything that happens before or afterward, even A Christmas Carol itself. Jacob Marley was in love with Scrooge's mother, swore vengeance on the family when she died in childbirth, impregnated and killed Scrooge's sister Fran, concocted a plot to make Scrooge think Emily was cheating on him, and upon purported proof, foreclosed her orphanage, killing everyone there. It's then revealed Scrooge knew about it all from the start and didn't care, even though he himself attacked Emily viciously and ordered Marley to foreclose her orphanage beforehand. Scrooge's speech detailing this revelation hammers it home.
    Scrooge: You must think me a simpleton, sir. Don't you think I've known about everything from the start? Don't you think I've known about Marley's motives all along?
    Dickens: Then why stay here?
    Scrooge: Because I learned a long time ago that there is no goodness in this world—and whatever goodness there is is extinguished like a sputtering candle.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera in both a musical and the film of the musical. The basic premise is that a company controls the supply of organs needed to live, and they remove them by force if you are late making payments. The characters include an heiress addicted to drugs and surgery, a mass-murdering heir, a man who wears the removed faces of women, a Corrupt Corporate Executive who sends hitmen out to remove the organs of those who fail to pay him, and the titular Repo Man. There's only three characters with a shred of decency - the tragic opera singer, the Incorruptible Pure Pureness Ill Girl, and the grave-robbing, drug-dealing Greek Chorus. It just keeps getting worse.
  • Sweeney Todd pits a barber who murders innocent men and sends them to his Psycho Supporter to be baked into pies, against a corrupt judge who drugged and raped a woman and then holds her daughter hostage with the intent to marry the girl he brought up. There's a Token Romance (or Romantic Plot Tumor) between a couple of flat characters, but other than that it's a revenge story between a mass murderer and the monster who wronged him.
  • Titus Andronicus: The protagonist is a horrible person, the antagonist is a horrible person, the side characters are horrible people, there's overreactions galore, rape, cannibalism, murder, torture, insanity, but it's so over the top and over done it just ends up unpopular and buried in the back folder of Full Annotated works of Shakespeare.
    • Though it was probably meant to be a parody of similar Revenge Dramas that were very popular at the time by going completely over the top. Also, there are a some likeable characters (such as Titus' brother Marcus), and the ambiguity in some areas (such as Aaron's baby), allows some characters to be more likable.

    Visual Novels 
  • Amnesia Otome: The heroine is incredibly Too Dumb to Live, the world's out to kill her, the bad endings far outweigh the good ones, and the love interests aren't great people either. Many players find it hard to care.
  • Corpse Party, even in its first incarnation, was pretty bleak, featuring a setting where ordinary high school students are pulled into an alternate version of their school, featuring a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl and other ghosts that all want them dead, along with the Darkening, which turns them into undead monsters if they lose all hope. Even then, the protagonists usually solved the mystery and escaped relatively intact in the first few incarnations of the story. Later adaptions, however, go straight for the Kill 'em All route. Even the OVA adaptation of the first story kills all but two of the protagonists, one of whom ends up sitting in a rocking chair for the rest of her life, too traumatized to even speak.
  • The Dangan Ronpa games. The premise for them is already dark, in that the protagonists are all stuck in a school or on an island and the sadistic Monokuma tells them that, in order to be free, they need to kill each other and get away with it. With that as your beginning aspect, there's not much else one can do to make it even darker, but the game does, by including the revelation that The End of the World as We Know It has occurred outside of the school and the air is tainted, food is scarce and what little of 'society' remains is filled with violence. And the Gaiden Game Absolute Despair Girls flips things around and shows how bad things are outside in the world. For a game that started with simply killing students and solving murders, this got dark so fast, it's in absolute darkness.
    • In Absolute Despair Girls it actually seems to be playing with your apathy by shocking you back into being horrified again and again. What is worse than senseless murder? Senseless murder committed by children. Worse than that? Those children being abused. Near the end the main character temporarily falls into a state of this because she is shown something so horrifying to her that she stops caring about the decision she was supposed to be making, but recovers before the final boss battle soon afterwards.
    • This reaches new depths in New Dangan Ronpa V3. The events of the first four installments of the series were apparently works of fiction in this universe, and the events of V3 are actually the 53rd season of a reality show spinoff. The students were brainwashed into "real fictional characters" for the show and have no way of reclaiming their original identities. On top of that, only three students survive the game (compared to six in the first game and five in the second), and now have to somehow reintegrate into a world that was enthralled with 53 iterations of a killing game between teenagers. On top of that, all that might not even be true—one of the game's central themes is the power of lies, which mainly manifests as the villainous characters lying so much that the ambiguity is just irritating.
  • This is a problem a lot of people have with Diabolik Lovers and the main reason the franchise is mostly despised outside Japan. The female lead/player character is a Too Dumb to Live Extreme Doormat who is also trapped in terrible situations without any ways out (and develops Stockholm Syndrome), the romantic options are horrible people with little to no redeeming qualities (with poorly written "excuses" that fall utterly flat because all the guys are callous brutes), there's lots of gross and squicky elements that are clearly there just for shock value, and most of the game's Multiple Endings are overly cruel or esoterically happy. And the game uses a very poor understanding of sub/dom relationships to justify all this.
  • Katawa Shoujo's creators discussed this trope and their efforts to avoid it on their blog. Originally the game included many more alternate bad endings ranging from depressing to absolutely soul-crushingly depressing, but they eventually decided that the game's very premise - a Romance Game where all the character have disabilities - was sad enough as it is, and decided to cut the bad endings down to just one for each route(two for Hanako and Rin). Among the endings cut included several where Hisao dies, ones where Hanako and Misha commit suicide, and even an option to rape Hanako.

    Web Comic 
  • Ever since the December arc, Bittersweet Candy Bowl has become solely about grinding the characters (Especially Lucy and Mike) into the dirt. Friendships are destroyed, characters are given bleak, depressing backstories, every storyline since December has ended in tragedy, and any happy moments the characters experience are quickly and cruelly shattered.
  • Almost certainly one of the reasons Chainmail Bikini didn't work out as opposed to DM of the Rings is that, separated from the connection to Lord of the Rings with its characters and story people were familiar with, the gaming group came off less as a parody/commentary on gaming tropes and bad gaming and more just a group of people being complete dicks to each other.
  • Draconia Chronicles is about a genocidal war between two races, Dragons and Tigers, which are full of horrible, horrible people ranging from genocidal madwomen, racist jerks, and just plain incompetent fools. Many of the participants of the war are involved for purely selfish reasons. The madwomen, jerks and fools are constantly rewarded and have good things happen to them, while the few characters who are in any way decent either get broken, die, or get broken then die.
  • Nothing has gone right for any of the good guys since day one of Ghosts of the Future. The comic even starts with the main heroes of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise dying. The Scourge arc, in particular, is one long sequence of "one step forward, two steps back." The author has lampshaded this, saying "I show my feelings of admiration through doing horrible, horrible things to the characters I like."
  • Goblins: Every time something happens in the comic, more tragedy will result than happiness. The author himself seems to have noticed this, since he's started killing off characters less often, though some may still be turned off regardless.
    • The Brassmoon arc kicked off because a party member got imprisoned there, through his own idealism no less, and ended with the party recovering him in a catatonic state after he'd been tortured by the sadistic Big Bad. And one of them got half their soul destroyed during the events.
    • The Well of Darkness arc started because the characters involved were enslaved and forced to enter a dungeon and retrieve a magical item for the Big Bad. In the aftermath, two are dead, two characters are forced to cut a limb off, and a new terrifying monster has been created.
    • Perhaps the grandest example of all in the comic; the romance built up between Minmax and Kin over a long period is absolutely destroyed in two pages.
  • Nineteen-Ninety-Something: A lot of the stories are really bleak and cynical and most of the characters range from jerks to just straight-up horrible people. It got so bad that the author himself started noticing this and set out to try and make the stories more uplifting and the characters more likable (Keyword being "try" as this has had varying degrees of success).
  • Prequel's Katia just keeps losing everything, leading to many readers quitting the strip after Sigrid takes almost everything she has.
  • The protagonists are unrepentant and hypocritical murderers, there's no point in the people who die learning last-minute lessons, and everyone else is apparently so stupid they never put two and two together to figure out the protagonists commit such horrible acts, and so they are never stopped. Congratulations, you just read everything wrong with Suicide for Hire. The only thing it has left is the Black Comedy.
  • Survivor: Fan Characters:
  • Nearly all the characters in 8-Bit Theater are either complete sociopaths or borderline mentally challenged, and near the end of the comic, the "heroes" aren't even trying to save the world anymore. This can make the comic feel very bleak at times, especially when the few actually sympathetic characters are around, but of course, it is a very dark comedy.
  • Las Lindas is an inversion of Prequel, but in this case, the main character having everything good happen to her happens to be a major bitch who barely got any better at all, and pretty much spits in Karma's face. Considering that she's pretty much reaching God-Mode Sue territory currently, and the Protagonist-Centered Morality is in full swing, it can be very, very difficult to get invested in what happens.
  • Sonic the Comic – Online! has this badly. When a bad Smear Campaign ruins Sonic's reputation (who here is a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing), the entire planet of Mobius, even Sonic's old friends within the Freedom Fighters, turn against him. The only one who doesn't turn against him is Tails, who is now christened Mobius' Ultimate Hero. Sonic is attempting to pull a Clear My Name by Walking the Earth in search of a way to prove he's a hero, but with his main source having pulled a Karma Houdini by escaping to another dimension, he has his work cut out for him. Making this worse is that the title suffers from an irregular schedule, so this particular plotline has dragged on for years.

    Web Original