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Heroic BSoD

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"Well, lad, the brain be a funny thing. Sometimes, it just stops workin' right when ye've been through a bad scene."

A stunning revelation or horrible event affects a character or someone they care deeply about, leaving them shocked to the point of mentally shutting down for a while, analogous to the Blue Screen of Death. The effect is similar to passing a Despair Event Horizon, but is temporary rather than permanent. Alternatively, if, say, this occurs during a fight, a hero may have a violent outburst, killing Evil Minions and hurling their own companions aside. They may run off and have to be tracked down by their friends for Epiphany Therapy. Alone in a Crowd typically represents a milder, non-disabling form of BSOD; a related trope is Heroic Safe Mode, wherein the hero "defaults" to a fight or flight mindset before rebooting in safety. A Shell-Shocked Veteran may have a BSOD in their back story.

The trope name notwithstanding, the character suffering a Heroic BSOD may not necessarily be a fully-fledged hero. However, if something like this happens to a more ambiguous or mundane character, it is much more likely to be Played for Laughs or just taken less seriously. But a BSOD is never brief or trivial; the effect must involve some kind of total mental shut-down to qualify. Also, an outright villain suffering a similar effect will usually experience a Villainous Breakdown (often involving them going completely crazy instead of shutting down) or a Villainous BSoD (whereby they gain a conscience).


Possible triggers include failing in something crucial such as saving a loved one or being restricted in what you can do to help, being betrayed by a close friend, being forced to make an "impossible" choice (e.g. having to choose between using "evil" methods or laying friends open to attack), or being hit with a Breaking Speech or Armor-Piercing Question. Other tropes such as These Hands Have Killed often overlap. When the trope is Played for Laughs or used for melodramatic effect, the cause can be less substantial; deranged behavior from someone supposedly sane, seeing something completely surreal, or being hit with a Wall of Text, say.

Other people can attempt to reboot the character; Get a Hold of Yourself, Man! may work (especially in the stories where violence is always the answer), as may telling them to Quit Your Whining. The best thing that can happen to a hero suffering from a BSOD is meeting a friendly Warrior Therapist; the worst thing is meeting a hostile Warrior Therapist, as such a foe can ensure that the hero crashes completely, driving them over the edge into the Despair Event Horizon.


Even after regaining some function, a BSOD sufferer may evince a Thousand-Yard Stare, or go into 10-Minute Retirement. In the longer term, a hero may become emotionally comatose (entering an Angst Coma), obsessive and guilt-ridden, mute, or in really bad cases, a jaded violent amnesiac. A really long-term BSOD would be catatonia; Go Mad from the Revelation is the worst case. Those who remain functional but don't find a cure for the problem may eventually find Safety in Indifference or Emotion Suppression; other people may fear that they have become a Fallen Hero.

Comedy and melodramatic uses of the trope (such as a film or game reviewer having a Critic Breakdown) are far less likely to lead to long-term problems; the character simply snaps back after a few minutes. A character in a slapstick comedy show may be thrown into several blue screens in one episode, as a Running Gag.

If opponents discover a character's BSOD trigger, they may employ it as a weapon — although if they over-use it, the victim may wise up and seek treatment. Even comedy characters can find that a BSOD leads to Character Development, marking the start of a series of new experiences, or causing them to revise their world-view. Hope Is Scary is a frequent reaction to the beginning of recovery for any character. He's Back often marks a character's full recovery, perhaps accompanied by a "World of Cardboard" Speech. Conversely, a character who never recovers has fallen over the Despair Event Horizon.

Compare Heroic RRoD (the physical equivalent), Freak Out!, and Deer in the Headlights. One common reaction is I Think You Broke Him. In Real Life psychology, this sort of thing is known as an acute stress reaction, or a mental breakdown, and is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If a character starts singing about their (or someone else's) Heroic BSOD, then it's also an example of BSoD Song

The trope is named in honor of an infamous Microsoft Windows error that indicates that the system has screwed itself big time (the technical term is "stop error"). A particularly literal version could involve a character (preferably a supercomputer or other Artificial Intelligence) literally displaying a Blue Screen Of Death.

Individuals afflicted with this trope are often seen exhibiting the classic Thousand-Yard Stare, with its blank, emotionless expression and unfocussed, empty eyes.

Examples subpages:

Other examples:

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  • David Byrne & Fatboy Slim's album Here Lies Love has the song "Walk Like a Woman". In it, the newly-married Imelda Marcos has trouble adjusting to life as the wife of a politician. She has a nervous breakdown, undergoes treatment at a psych ward in New York, and returns to the Philippines a changed woman.
  • 2D of Gorillaz has a couple, most notably when he was drugged and kidnapped by Murdoc. In the "Stylo" music video he can be seen slouching helplessly in the car as they speed toward Plastic Beach, chanting, "overload, overload, overload, comin' up to the overload..."
  • "One More Time" by Madeline Harper Guest. Madeline has a Heroic BSoD after someone close to her either abandons her or dies, and she spends the song trying to figure out how to make peace with her loss while still keeping the memories.
  • The Scorpions' Heroes Don't Cry is about a man who goes through this after a disaster of some sort — the song leaves it unclear — but, heartwarmingly, resists being Driven to Suicide and decides to live on, even though he's broken.
  • The title character of The Who's Tommy, the result of him witnessing the murder of, depending on which version of the story you're watching or listening to, his father or mother's lover. In any event, Tommy goes into a catatonic state, staring blankly, at any given point, into space, his reflection in a mirror or a pinball machine. He comes out of it due to a combination of his new found celebrity and the frustration of his folks, leading him to think he's some sort of messiah, but goes back into Heroic BSoD mode at the end when his followers start leaving him in droves.
  • The Megas: Mega Man hits this in "Fly on a Dog", after wavering between functionally and severely depressed ever since "Lamentations on a War Machine" back on the band's first album. Unlike the Robot Master songs, where Mega Man is indicated to be actively fighting, "Fly on a Dog" has him spend his time railing at his father for treating him like a weapon rather than a person, and even though Rush seems to be helping, the song still ends with him lamenting that Rush can't give him a shoulder to cry on. 6-7 songs later, depending on how you interpret "Make Your Choice", he gets over it.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Achilles gets two of these. In The Iliad, he mopes around mourning for his BFF Patroclus until the ghost of Patroclus has to tell him to snap out of it and burn his body on a pyre. Later in the Trojan War, Achilles kills the Amazon Queen Penthesilea and then falls in love with her corpse. He is inconsolable for a while until he finally burns her body as well.
  • Hindu Mythology:
    • The oldest and probably most famous example of this is Arjuna, from the Mahabharata. He stops in the middle of the battlefield, overcome with distress that he is fighting against his own kin, and has to be talked out of it for hours by Krishna, who is his charioteer. This event forms the basis of the Gita, of course. Given that the battle involved approximately four million combatants on either side, that's pretty damn dramatic.
    • By some accounts Krishna STOPPED TIME during this occurrence and this is also considered by Hindus the moment where he reveals his divinity.

  • Jemjammer: Jylliana has one in episode 9 when she tries to pray at a shrine to Ethla and hears nothing. This is furthered by one of the groundskeepers nearby informing her that most gods can't hear their subjects in wildspace and vice versa, which shakes Jylliana to her core because she's always been able to feel her goddess.
  • Interstitial Actual Play:
    • Edith falls into one after Roxanne dies. She's so distraught that not even a talking chipmunk can phase her.
    • She falls into another one when Criss lets it slip that her world was consumed by darkness, though this time it's played for laughs.
  • The hosts of Bad Anime Sunday have raged many a time at horrible shows but nowhere is the spite more apparent than when the fans voted for the hosts to review the School Days OVA's. Samven was utterly disgusted by how the show blatantly sexualised underage children and, to punctuate his sheer contempt for the OVA in question, the podcast is delivered in a sad, bitter tone with next to none of his usual snark, while all Jake could say was, "They fucking suck."
  • Random Assault: Alex has one in the Christmas Special, after his Christmas dinner, plans, and the mansion are ruined.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Werewolves can go into a state of deep spiritual sadness called Harano. However, overcoming it provides the Werewolf with permanent Willpower.
    • If done correctly a GM can even get a player to do this. It's immensely satisfing when it happens.
  • An occupational hazard of Astartes and Guard officers in Warhammer 40,000. One of the more typical comes from the Primarch Corax: after resorting to desperate measures to rebuild his devastated Raven Guard during the Horus Heresy, he reluctantly and personally executes the horrific monstrosities his orders created, then locks himself in his room for a year and a day, after which he emerges and takes a ship on course for the Eye of Terror, his only word being "Nevermore..."
    • Hlaine 'Mad' Larkin, the unhinged sniper from the Gaunt's Ghosts series, has one of these during basically every battle.
    • As mentioned above in Dawn of War, The Tau have a chance of getting the blue screen if their Ethereal dies. Or, they could go into Unstoppable Rage... with plasma guns.
    • While were talking about Dawn of War, I would like to take you back to the First game's Single player campaign, after grinding through Orks, Eldar and Chaos troops, Brother Captain discovers his Long Time buddy and Company Librarian turn to Chaos, though the mission's scene doesn't show exactly how long his BSOD lasted, but it was hinted that he got real mad and by the beginning of the next mission his anger was made manifest by a orbiting Battle Barge.
    • In the Dark Heresy expansion: Ascension an event specifically designed to cause a Heroic BSOD is one of the ways a character can be promoted to the rank of Inquisitor.
    • Roboute Guilliman's reaction upon being revived and seeing the theocratic hellhole the Imperium had become in the absence of him and the other Primarchs is to break down and weep, even saying that it would have been better if Horus had won during the Heresy.
    "Why do I still live? What more do you want from me? I gave everything I had to you, to them. Look what they've done to our dream. This bloated, rotting carcass of an empire is not driven by reason and hope, but by fear, hate and ignorance. Better that we all burned in the fires of Horus' ambition than lived to see this."
  • In the free Matrix game "There Is No Spoon," the Sick At Heart optional rules model damage to a character's belief system, and reduces their Matrix stat (the stat that gives them their ability to kick serious ass) on a failed Matrix roll when they choose (or are forced) to act in a way that contravenes or works to destroy their beliefs, personal code or deep abiding reason to live, or are severely tortured or have something else extreme happen to them. A character can actually be worn down to no Matrix stat at all this way, making them little more than another mook under the system's rules, and recovery of Matrix points is difficult, as it involves rebuilding the character's faith in themselves. The notes on this particular optional rule says that it should not be used excessively, as this is meant to be an action game, not a dark tale of the fragility of the mind.
  • Exalted has a defined set of these as part of the Great Curse afflicting all Solar Exalted. Called "Limit Breaks" (unrelated to the trope except by name), they occur whenever Exalts reach a particular threshold of stress related to their Compassion, Conviction, Temperance, or Valor traits. Effects include catatonia, Unstoppable Rage, wallowing in vice, collapsing in a fit of crying, and plenty more; all are highly destructive, incapacitating, or both. The other Exalted types where afflicted with the Great Curse has well, but it usually doesn't take this form. Sidereals, for example, run a bigger risk of everything going to hell if more then a few work together on something. (Unless you're a Lunar, where you get similar issues to the Solars, plus the ability to turn into a 2 ton killing machine at will.)
    • The webcomic Keychain of Creation has a particularly good example. #220 is an example of a Compassion Limit Break, 'Heart of Tears'.
    • The Unconquered Sun went into one shortly before the Usurpation, and has pretty much withdrawn for 2000 years as a result. Let's put it this way: in his stronghold at the heart of the Daystar, there's a courtroom. In that courtroom, there is a list of people found guilty by the judgment of the Unconquered Sun. The last name listed is his own.
  • The psionic power Brain Lock in Dungeons & Dragons enforces a bluescreen on the victim.
  • Call of Cthulhu, the Trope Codifier and possibly Ur-Example and Trope Maker for the Sanity Meter, has these in spades. A character can have a Heroic BSoD any time they take too much Sanity damage too quickly, and given that you are facing off against the creations of the Trope Maker for Eldritch Abomination in modern times, you can bet Sanity checks will do characters in quickly. Standing there gibbering because you've gone mad from the revelation does not stop the cultist from gunning you down or the horrible monster from fourteen dimensions from deciding to introduce you to them all at once.
  • The table of possible results for a failed "Fright Check" in GURPS include a number of blue screen-style effects, of varying severity and duration. In addition, all sorts of spells, powers, surprise effects, etc., can produce "mental stun", which is essentially a very short-term BSOD.

  • In Ajax, after having been induced to madness and very publicly slaughtering livestock while under the impression they were his allies, Ajax is fairly subdued once he is in his right mind again and discovers everyone knows what he's done. This is a prelude to suicide.
  • In the 2013 West End musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie Bucket, up to this point a Cheerful Child who makes the most of his meager lot in life, falls into one of these after learning that the fourth of the five Golden Tickets has been found just after his one chance at finding a ticket failed. For the next week he is glum and quiet, not even asking to hear one of Grandpa Joe's stories. Even when his father suggests they could look for shooting stars in the sky to wish upon, Charlie's response is a mere "Don't waste a wish on me". Thankfully, the next day fortune finally smiles upon him when circumstances result in him finding the final ticket.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Viscount de Valvert tries to bully Cyrano telling him his nose is very big. After Cyrano ends his own Hurricane of Puns (a Long List of genially funny Gag Noses), he provokes a mini Heroic BSoD to Viscount De Valvert.
    De Guiche (trying to draw away the dismayed viscount): Come away, Viscount!
  • Hamilton:
    • "Tomorrow There'll Be More Of Us", often called "Laurens' Interlude", in which the titular Hamilton receives news that his friend and implied lover John Laurens has been killed in battle. He stays silent for a while, and then finally responds with a choked
    I have so much work to do.
    • "It's Quiet Uptown", in which the company observes him undergoing another one. He paces up and down the streets of New York end to end, all day, every day, Talking to the Dead (specifically his son).
  • Hector has one in The History Boys
    WILL YOU SHUT UP ABOUT THESE EXAMS! Shut up, all of you! [crying] What made me piss my life away in this godforsaken place? There's nothing of me left.
  • In Into the Woods, the Baker, after hearing some terrible news, goes into one of these, in song form. Literally, he sings a song about how he just wants to stop everything.
    "No more feelings... Time to shut the door ... Just no more ..."
  • Miss Saigon: John, to Kim, about Chris. "He went crazy when he lost you, spoke to no one for a year. Then he finally said I'm home now, my life has to go on here." Of course, it didn't really go on—earlier in the play we see him waking from a bad dream and his wife's lyrics indicate that this is a nightly occurrence.
  • Next to Normal, several characters have them:
    • Natalie has one during her piano recital.
    • Dan has one when Diana starts to remember Gabe.
    • Diana is having one throughout the entire show.
  • The Play That Goes Wrong: Jonathan/the Inspector has this when he's unable to find the prop he needs, Max having moved it after accidentally sitting on it. He repeats "a ledger?" over and over as he looks for until he's screaming, then curls up on the couch sobbing. The audience pointing out said ledger is sticking out from under the couch does not help.
  • Spring Awakening, Melchior suffers from one when he sees Wendla's grave.

    Web Animation 
  • Shandala goes through a serious one in Broken Saints after her adopted brother is killed as result of her own actions. Considering she's also surrounded by mysterious foreigners on a boat half an ocean away from the only home she's ever known, it's even less surprising.
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • the Reds eventually discover the true purpose of their battles: They're basically labrats and are set up in situations to train the Freelancer and see how the Freelancer would act in that situation. They also discover that the Reds and Blues were intentionally chosen to be idiots to make things easier for the Freelancers. After Sarge realizes what this means, he winds up hastily constructing a Red Base out of scrap parts, deciding that if he's trash, he should be a sergeant of trash. He also relinquishes his rank as leader of his trio. This also breaks Simmons.
    • A literal example from Season 13 - Epsilon is starting to fail, and is having trouble running the systems of Carolina's powered armor, even with the assistance of other AI fragments. So during a critical fight, he lets her down when she needs him the most.
      Theta: It's too much! What do we do? (fizzles out)
      Epsilon: ...I don't know. (stares in silence for a few moments, then fizzles out)
  • Super Mario Bros. Z heavily implies that Shadow's current Jerkass nature was the direct result of the immense trauma of having to witness the two only friends he ever had (or at least the two only people he could openly refer to as friends), Rouge and Omega's, deaths at the hands of Mecha Sonic during his decimation of Mobius.
  • Koden goes through a temporary one in the DSBT InsaniT episode 'The Camping Webisode' after he discovers the gang's campsite has been trashed.
  • In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, the Emperor shuts down after realizing what the Imperium has turned into and that he actually started the Inquisiton. The worried Custodian spends a few hours poking him with a halberd before getting any reaction and the second thingnote  the Emperor does after recovering is ordering the Inquisition to be disbanded.
  • In the Team Service Announcement Class Balance, the BLU Medic can only stare in horror upon seeing his worst nightmare come true: his entire team is nothing but Snipers.
  • Both Scrooge and Vegeta, undergo this in episodes 3 and 7 of Ducktalez, respectively. Scrooge, because he failed his nephews, and Vegeta does this because he let Scrooge down.
  • In Dreamscape, Dylan goes through a couple of them in his tale of his experience in the Unworld.
  • RWBY: Yang suffers a huge one by the end of Volume 3 and spends a huge chunk of Volume 4 in this state, being hit pretty hard to the point of giving up, nearly to the point of hitting Despair Event Horizon. Getting disgraced in the tournament, losing your right arm trying to protect your friend, and then having that friend abandon you shortly after, in addition to losing Penny, Pyrrha and Beacon to Cinder and the Grimm, will do that to you. By Volume 4, she's getting a bit better, but she still shows signs of PTSD - when she accidentally drops a glass in the kitchen, it triggers a flashback of Adam slicing her arm off, causing her to panic and hyperventilate, and it takes a bit for her to calm down. Given her bubbly Boisterous Bruiser personality before, it's really upsetting viewing. Fortunately, by the end of the Volume, she not only gets a new arm, but recovers enough to head out into the direction of Mistral, presumably, to look for Ruby. Volume 5, however, shows that she hasn't recovered fully as she has a number of minor panic attacks that she has to fight through and she ends up sobbing to Weiss that Blake's abandonment hurt her the worst.
  • Happy Tree Friends. Sniffles has one at the end of "Dream Job" after suffering many horrible nightmares.
  • Lori from Snowy the Frostman has one in the series finale when she realizes she was too late to stop her past self and friends from creating Snowy.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Heroic Blue Screen Of Death, Heroic Breakdown, Heroic Bluescreen, Music, Mythology, Podcasts, Tabletop RPG, Theatre, Web Animation



Learning the truth about Penelope, in that she's a greedy yandere who hates his two best friends, causes Bentley to tuck inside his shell in despair.

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