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Losing Is Worse Than Death

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"Someone said to me 'To you football is a matter of life or death!' and I said 'Listen, it's more important than that'."
Bill Shankly

The characters consider losing a match to be dishonorable to the point where they'd rather die than lose. Often a byproduct of Honor Before Reason, or the explanation a Spirited Competitor uses because games are Serious Business. Far more than just a Sore Loser, this is when a person has tied up their whole identity and validation of their existence in being a winner.

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This trope applies where anything other than first is unacceptable (admittedly, if it's a head-to-head matchup with only one winner, anything other than first is the loser). The attitude usually shows up before the competition, whether before the end of the contest or even before it starts, and allows cases where losing entails a bad consequence beyond the match itself (e.g., dying by an opponent's sword for someone who believes it is Better to Die than Be Killed). As such, it tends to spur further actions ("I can't finish second, so I will do this extreme action to avoid it"), and drive the plot or character arc beyond just the Big Game.

Compared and contrast, but do not confuse, with Second Place Is for Losers. In that trope, the person who finishes second feels crummy and is probably also a Sore Loser, but it doesn't have personal or plot-related ramifications for them beyond not winning. See also Post-Game Retaliation. Contrast Graceful Loser.

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For extra Dramatic Irony, this character might get involved with Trophy Violence.


Examples

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    Advertising 
  • In one Nike commercial, a high school that enjoys "a rich tradition in the sporting arena" had a pretty bad run last year. Thus, some changes were made to the faculty - hiring current pros to coach the teams and teach actual classes. "You know sucks more than training? Losing. You know what sucks more than losing?" "...Nothing?" "Nothing."

    Anime and Manga 
  • Akagi: In the beginning of the Washizu arc, Akagi is blackmailed into losing a dice game or face death, although he doesn't cave in and chooses to win. It doesn't sound like much, but keep in mind Akagi is doing this after taking a katana to the shoulder.
  • Dragonball Z:
    • Characters often have a chance to save their lives simply by breaking conventional dueling rules, but for some reason or another that is taboo.
    • Goku tries to give his life to win the Cell Games. Doesn't work, though. Before this, Goku was given a chance by Cell to eat a senzu bean healing his wounds completely. When Goku refuses, Vegeta gives this reasoning.
  • Komugi of Hunter × Hunter is the undefeated ace of an In-Universe board game, gungi. She's brought before the Chimera Ant King in order for him to challenge her and defeat her at her own game, something he had been doing to various game masters, after which he killed them all. Komugi is unaware of this last detail, but it's rendered irrelevant as she tells the King that she plays every game of gungi as if it were a life or death situation, and intends to kill herself should she lose even once.
  • Occurs in One Piece, most notably with Zoro. In his fight with Mihawk, the Greatest Swordsman in the World, Mihawk curb stomps him with ease and, once he acknowledges his loss, Zoro declares he would rather take death to defeat and prepares to let Mihawk cut him down. Mihawk obliges, but deliberately does not kill Zoro, instead challenging him to the world, improve, and become more than a Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond.
  • Many Yu-Gi-Oh! series will have at least one rival character, villain, or hero who is so determined to win that losing is equivalent to death. In the first series, Gozaburo Kaiba taught Seto this, and in the manga Kaiba's desire for revenge was so strong he built a theme park specifically to kill Yugi.

    Comic Books 
  • The Smurfs: During The Betrayal of Smurfblossom, Smurfstorm refuses to accept the notion of even tying with Hefty during the SmurfTree Games, to the point that she falsely accuses Blossom of having a crush on him simply for suggesting it. Her bruised ego also drives her trying to prove just how much better she is than everyone else throughout the rest of the story, even after she's injured.
  • Usagi Yojimbo: Usagi and his Old Master are at a swordfighting competition. At his master's prompting, Usagi repeats his instructions that he is there to test his skills, not necessarily to win and that winning is unimportant. Also at his master's prompting, Usagi says that he knows that if he doesn't win, his master will beat him to a pulp.
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    Fanfic 

    Film 
  • Pulp Fiction: Butch Coolidge ends up getting a hit taken out on him for refusing to take a fall in a rigged boxing match. Although this may have had less to do with pride, and more to do with him having taken the money he was paid to lose on purpose, and betting it on himself to win for a retirement-worthy payoff.
  • In Snatch., Mickey the Traveller boxer will not take a dive, even when very explicitly and very credibly threatened with death. Subverted in two different ways. First, it's not honor, he's working his own angle. And second, Bricktop's retribution for the first non-dive turns out to be more brutal than he bargained for.
  • Varsity Blues:
    • Sam Moxon makes his son think that winning a football game takes precedence over the relationship with his troubled son.
    • Taken Up to Eleven with Coach Kilmer, who is beloved by the town but would coerce any of his injured high-school players into taking morphine and getting back into play rather than benching them due to the injury. This even sets off the events of the story, as the star quarterback's knee was nothing but scar-tissue by the time he was actually taken to a hospital for treatment.

    Tabletop Games 

    Real Life 
  • During World War II, the Japanese army often played this deadly straight, with units regularly fighting to the literal last man rather than surrender, and committing suicide if capture was inevitable.

Alternative Title(s): Losing Sucks More Than Death

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