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Low Culture, High Tech

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"The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite."
Thomas Sowell

While you don't need to know how a gun works to know how to use one, the society as a whole must be able to support the thinkers and builders of such a device for it to see widespread and sustained use. Not so when you have Low Culture High Tech; this is a faction, culture, or race that uses technology far in advance of their scientific and cultural knowledge, often for warfare.

Usually this group has pirated the technology from someone else. It may be Lost Technology that they have recovered and use, often very sturdy, self-replicating lost tech that only requires raw materials be input, if even that. Or it could be a Black Box tech that none of their existing machines can do without. There may instead be a group of "thinkers and builders" who use the primitives as shock troops or even as a Slave Race. It's also possible the tables are turned and the primitives have either taken the builders hostage or killed them all and taken all of their goodies (without bothering with the instruction manual). If the original source of the tech is Shrouded in Myth, they may become a Cargo Cult.

Typically, the primitives will only use a fraction of the technology's potential and not know all of its abilities. At best they will be able to maintain the equipment without knowing how to repair it should a major malfunction happen. It's highly possible that the original creators, or a group with sufficiently advanced science (even just curiosity and a working knowledge of the scientific method), can pull the rug out from under these primitives by either confiscating, hacking, or better using their pirated tech against them.

It's worth noting that a civilization doesn't have to be at stone age or Medieval levels of technology for this trope to apply. They just have to routinely use tech far in advance of their ability to comprehend. A story set in 21st-century Earth could have this trope apply if the planet were given Imported Alien Phlebotinum. Even space faring peoples can have Low Culture, High Tech if they use stuff they don't understand.

Lastly, we want to draw attention to the following from the first paragraph "far in advance of their scientific and cultural knowledge". It's important to point out that not only are they using things they don't understand technologically, but for which they haven't considered the cultural, social, or ethical ramifications. It's one thing to give a hunter-gatherer society an Energy Bow, but giving them a cloning device? Their society may crumble from the onset of massive cloning, not to mention the ecological disaster of the massive population growth. It's because of this that many aliens (and future humanity) tend to subscribe to an Alien Non-Interference Clause or a You Are Not Ready attitude.

Related to Insufficiently Advanced Alien, which is about a race that's interstellar, but every other tech they have sucks comparatively, and they probably don't understand it. Compare Crystal Spires and Togas. Contrast Rock Beats Laser. The Noble Savage is the inversion: High Culture, Low Tech. See also Bamboo Technology, Aliens Never Invented the Wheel, Scavenger World, Space Orcs, Giving Radio to the Romans, Technology Uplift, Schizo Tech, and Cargo Cult. Not to be confused with "High Tech and Low Life". Compare Klingon Scientists Get No Respect, when a society undervalues the profession that makes its desired lifestyle possible. Not to be confused with No Tech but High Tech.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Aldnoah.Zero, the Vers have access to some of the greatest technology in the known universe, but their culture is so lacking that the only thing holding it together is an incredibly half-baked religion and resentment against the people of Earth.
  • Dragon Ball: The Saiyans are a brutal race of violent barbarians with a constantly warring society built entirely on an Asskicking Leads to Leadership political system. They initially lived in stone huts and wore simple fur, but (depending on who you listen to) they gained high-tech after they reverse engineered the technology of their advanced neighbors after wiping them out, or got it after being recruited into the Planet Trade Organization as Elite Mooks. They have access to technology far beyond their normal capabilities, such as interplanetary spaceships, healing pods and incredibly durable, flexible and lightweight body armor, Scouters capable of reading Power Levels, as well as an assortment of other high-tech goodies.
    • The initial Fractured Fairy Tale riff on Journey to the West utilized this as part of the humour. Alongside all the other things Dragon Ball does completely differently from the original work, the central characters travel around on motorbikes, a hovercraft, a double-decker camper, a Fiat 500 and a WWII Jeep as they travel through wuxia China.
    • Following from the above note, this occurs overall in regards to Earth. While the story always had light science fiction elements, the introduction of West City showed a clear divide of Jetsons-like cities with traditional Chinese countryside. Where this trope comes into effect is when the technology from the cities pops up in said countryside: Master Roshi, an old hermit living on an island, is able to transport his house by shrinking it into a Capsule, while the Ox-King rewards Goku and friends with a hovercraft (this after they put out the fire engulfing his castle full of treasure). This even gets mixed in with vehicles that use tech from World War II, which is still high-tech for the areas it appears in.
  • Last Exile: The nations of Dissith and Anatore qualify by virtue of not having anti-gravity technology which they lease from the Guild. The best they've developed is small fighter planes.
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The airships rely on engines that reflect technology from before the Seven Days of Fire. Several times throughout the manga, characters scramble to recover the engines from downed ships as they are the only components that are irreplaceable.
  • Super Dimension Fortress Macross: This is the case for the Zentraedi. They have access to very powerful warships and Casual Interstellar Travel, as well as reproduction exclusively via cloning. However, they don't have a clue how any of their technology actually works. They can't innovate new technologies, and can't even repair what gets broken. Everything they have is a Black Box manufactured by fully automated factories, which are themselves a Black Box. This is one reason they were so interested in human society even before they discovered music and entertainment: humans had demonstrated the ability to repair broken tech, which the Zentraedi wanted to obtain for themselves.

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: Nowadays generally averted, as the setting tends both towards less technology and more social progress, making it the inverse, but there are a few examples in early flavor in the form of the Thran, an advanced technological empire with so minimal actual understanding of technology that it borders on the idiotic.

    Comic Books 
  • Astonishing X-Men: The Breakworld seen in Joss Whedon's run possesses some very impressive technology, but exists in a constant state of warfare and tyranny. Most of the Breakworlders don't think this is a bad thing, and the one that does is the true Big Bad of the arc and an Omnicidal Maniac who wants to blow up her own planet to boot.
  • Aquaman: Atlantis in DC Comics is usually portrayed this way. They have advanced technology and powerful magic, but they culturally haven't moved since they sank, with all the Fantastic Racism, xenophobia, institutional sexism, militarism and rigid class structure that implies. They are ruled by an absolute monarchy with power concentrated in the hands of a small number of nobles and organisations, and every time Aquaman or Mera try to introduce liberal reforms there's usually a quick and harsh backlash.
  • Black Panther: Wakanda is a subversion. It is a small yet high tech nation in the center of Africa with access to Vibranium, a super element. While its people still live in tribal lifestyle and maintain an absolute monarchy, they single handedly developed high tech capabilities and a beyond first world industrial base. While many westerners think it's odd that such a technologically advanced society is still rooted in tribalism, the Wakandans usually point out that they have a higher standard of living than most western countries because their social roots remain strong. For this reason it also retains a very isolationist stance. On the flip side, the post of king is open to Klingon Promotion. On the flip flip side, the current king happens to be Marvel's nearest analogue to DC's Batman.
  • Den: Neverwhere is a primitive Sword and Sorcery planet where Queen Kil has occasionally supplied weapons through magic, ranging from primitive knives to fully loaded automatic firearms.
  • An issue of House of Secrets had a group of white men discover a tribe of natives that had been gifted extraterrestrial technology. They had things like hovercraft for travel and a miniature sun to use for cooking.
  • Masters of the Universe : The early mini-comics from the original toyline have the primitive barbarian tribe He-man belongs to, the Eternians, use technology that had been left by their technologically-advanced ancestors.
  • DC has the New Gods of New Genesis and Apokolips; they possess super high tech, and depending on how they are portrayed, are a super advanced alien race or Physical Gods. Apokolips is styled in Greek/Roman aesthetics, with slaves being lorded by the New Gods.
  • Runaways:
    • Chase's Mad Scientist parents created a host of advanced technology, but Chase's curiosity about it ended after he figured out that the Fistigons make fire and the Leapfrog has lasers. At one point, he discovers that the Leapfrog included holographic records of his parents' exploits, but never decided to look through them.
    • Nico's family has wielded the Staff of One for centuries, giving them access to the kind of power that could scare gods, but Nico's mother used it as if it were just a melee weapon that could channel spells. When Nico meets her ancestor Witchbreaker, the old witch laments that her descendants stopped exploring how to use the staff properly after figuring out how to cast simple offensive spells.
  • In Seven Soldiers, the Sheeda's entire civilization is based around travelling through time and plundering the technology of past civilizations. This has left them with a lot of technology and magic (including a giant time machine, a cauldron that restores life, and various sophisticated means of Mind Control), but all they do with such technology is continue plundering other time periods for more.
  • Strikeforce: Morituri: The Horde is a race of alien invaders who plunder other worlds for technology and resources, but have a culture built on tribalism and terror. Human characters who manage to board their spacecraft quickly note the numerous jury-riggeed systems used to adapt it for the Horde's needs.
  • Thorgal: Done in an issue where a "sun sword" used by a minor warlord to conquer his neighbours turns out to be a phaser left after the villain of one of the previous arcs.
  • The Warlord (DC): Some of the civilisations of Skartaris have access to advanced Atlantean technology, but no understanding of how it actually works.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • In the Golden Age, Paradise Island has this feel, with everyone running about in togas and practicing archery while also developing invisible planes, casual time travel, and healing purple rays. In truth their society does not reflect ancient Greek culture in the same way their aesthetic does even though most of the Amazons were born in ancient Greece. What makes Paradise Island a paradise and part of the deal that makes the Amazons immortal while on the island is that their society is a peaceful monarch ruled commune.
    • Post-Crisis this was eventually played straight after editorial deemed the status quo too confusing and cast the Amazons back into the Bronze Age culturally and technologically. Writers then brought back in some of the Amazon's old tech but had it be things granted to them by the gods rather than inventions made by the women on the island.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Battlefield Earth: Much of the Psychlos' technology was stolen from their rivals — at one point they had a slave race of scientists which they later destroyed. They get away with this by using massive and sudden deployments of chemical weapons in their conquests, so that enemy races were defeated by the time they knew they were under attack regardless of technology. The humans end up this way towards their own and Psychlo technology.
  • Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: Played for laughs when Beethoven gets access to modern synthesizers and when we see cavemen chewing bubblegum.
  • Black Panther (2018): Wakanda is a developed country with highly advanced technology, but has a number of cultural practices which are pre-medieval, such as men of noble birth having the right to challenge the reigning king to a fight to the death for the throne.
  • Cowboys & Aliens: The aliens give off this distinct impression. They have interstellar travel, powerful energy weapons, and all sorts of other advanced technology, and it's claimed that a single ship with a few scores of these things is enough to destroy all of human civilization, but when it comes down to it, Wild West humans come off as more civilized (let that sink in for a second). They seem to prefer brutally ripping their enemies in hand-to-hand combat, and some even eat humans, or at least try to bite out throats, despite having ubertech guns that can blow up houses.
  • In The Fifth Element, Arms Dealer Zorg agrees to sell crates of ultra-cutting-edge assault rifles to Omnicidal Maniac Warrior Race the Mangalores in return for their finding him the Macguffin. (They screwed up and grabbed a decoy, but threatened their way into keeping one crate for at least risking the attempt.) And then as soon as he walks out of the room, he deconstructs this trope by pointing out that anyone smart enough to use the weapon would be smart enough to ask about the one button he didn't demonstrate. The Mangalores promptly blow themselves up by triggering the Self-Destruct Mechanism.
  • Idiocracy: A bizarre example. The futuristic technology was built before the human race began its slide into stupidity, so now the descendants of the people who built it have no idea how it works.
  • Planet of the Apes (1968): The original film has the apes wield repeating rifles (the movie props are modified M1 carbines) at least a century more advanced than any other tech they're shown using.
  • Predator: The Predators are an ancient alien race that have advanced technology like plasmacasters, cloaking devices and advanced metallurgy for melee weapons. However, their society seems to be extremely primitive, almost tribal in nature, with no visible culture beyond hunting and warfare.
    • According to some Expanded Universe sources and Word of God, this is because their species scavenged technology from failed alien invaders and they neither develop their own technology or have any understanding of how the advanced stuff works. So, as a species, they're stuck with what they've got.
    • Other sources claim that they did make their own technology originally, but they've become so culturally fixated on hunting over cultural or technological development that they've become stagnant and have made no meaningful improvements for thousands of years — the weapons they were using before human civilization arose are the same ones they're using roughly contemporary with the Alien films.
    • Yet another interpretation backed up by other works is that their technology is still advancing and that they do have more advanced tech back on their own worlds, but while on hunts they don't use anything beyond what we've seen because it's not considered "sporting" to use against humans or other lower-tech species.
  • Star Wars: Several species are pretty undeveloped compared to the galactic norm when they became part of the Republic or are conquered by the Empire. The Tusken Raiders are comparable to Bedouin nomads but have access to blaster rifles, the Gungans have developed force field technology leaps and bounds above the rest of the galaxy but mount the force fields' generators on beasts of burden, etc.
  • Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning: A partial example. Pirk, Dwarf, and Info are stuck on modern-day Earth after traveling from their own time. When the First Contact with the Vulgars is messed up by a rock star (the Vulgars are too busy partying and doing drugs), Pirk takes it upon himself to establish the P-Fleet by using a bunch of disgruntled Russians to build the CPP Kickstart (Expy of the Enterprise-E) based on Info's remembered plans and the Vulgar Anti Matter reactor. He then allies with the Russian President and retools the Russian military with futuristic technology, quickly conquering the world and establishing the P-Union with himself as The Emperor. However, Info reveals that the comparatively low level of human technology means that the ship's systems are not up to their usual standarts (due to impurities in Anti Matter, the Kickstart can only go to "twist" factor 2). As such, despite Pirk using the resources of the entire world to build a space station and dozens of ships, they lack the power to actually reach other stars in any reasonable amount of time (years at best). The CPP Kalinka (an Expy of the original Enterprise) looks so crappy compared to the Kickstart because they ran out of good-quality materials and had to make due. During the Space Battle, the Kalinka sustains damage despite the fact that it was never fired upon. Hell, the enemy doesn't even bother attacking the rustbucket, figuring it'll fall apart on its own. Pirk's entire reason for invading the Babel-13 universe is to conquer habitable planets and get more resources.
  • Yor: The Hunter from the Future has, as Spoony called them "Cavemen with Lasers".
  • Zardoz: The barbarian Exterminators are given rifles and guns by the more advanced Eternals.

  • All Tomorrows features the Ruin Haunters, a race of ape-like post-humans whose home planet was ravaged by an alien invasion. They discovered the technology of the invaders and rebuilt their own civilization, but never fully understood the great power they controlled. After going through several conventional wars, followed up by a few more nuclear wars, they sacrificed their bodies and evolved into the decidedly more high-tech Gravitals, gaining a higher culture in the process… but with all the more malicious goals.
  • Animorphs: The Yeerks were at a stone age tech and society level when the Andalites made contact in 1966. They learned enough about Andalite tech from Seerow that they were able to ambush a group of Andalites using primitive weapons and one stolen Shredder. They then stole the Andalites' ships, loaded a quarter of a million Yeerks onto them, and fled into space. For the first few years, all their technology was stolen from other species, though they did eventually apply their new tech and acquired knowledge to develop uniquely Yeerk ships and weapons.
    • The fact that Yeerks have been fighting the Andalites since the rebellion means that there are no "civilian" Yeerks to speak of (maybe some back on the home world, but that's cut off from the Empire). Their entire culture is based around constant war and conquest of other planets.note 
  • Book of the New Sun: The ruling class have access to anti-gravity, energy weapons and genetic engineering. But since they get all these things by trading with aliens, they don't actually understand how any of these technologies work. The actual technological level of the society is more primitive than ours, though it's not clear how much of that is lost knowledge and how much is simply that their desperate material poverty makes it impossible to maintain a technological society.
  • The Guns Of Avalon: Inverted. The inhabitants of the mythical land understand very well how firearms work and how to build them; the problem is that the intrinsic magic of the land blocks the use of explosive agents, so... no gunpowder. Until the climax, when everything is at stake.
    "We won because I brought rifles. I finally found an explosive agent that functions here."
  • In The Familiar of Zero, there are caches of weapons from Earth scattered over the continent of Halkeginia, which is a Medieval European Fantasy land. It is the result of a spell that is constantly pulling weapons from Earth for quite some time.
  • Foundation: This is one of the major themes in the first book. As the Galactic Empire begins to come apart at the seams, planets on the very periphery of the Empire lose the ability to build nuclear reactors. Even in the heart of the Empire itself, scientific knowledge has stagnated so much that they can only perform routine maintenance on their power plants. As early as 25 years after Hari Seldon predicted the fall of the Empire, a reactor on a planet experiences a Chernobyl-like meltdown, and the response by the Empire is to restrict further nuclear testing. The Foundation first manages to establish hegemony in the fringes of the Galaxy by providing the independent Kingdoms around them with nuclear technology, as well as technicians able to run and maintain the devices (and keeping for themselves anyone smart and educated enough to design new technology). In the first sequence, the kingdoms surrounding the Foundation power their interstellar spaceships by oil and coal.
  • Hammer's Slammers: In At Any Price the generally stone age natives have powerguns purchased from human traders, which actually makes them better armed than the human colonists whose army is equipped with shotguns. But not the Slammers of course.
  • Honor Harrington: In the first novel, the Havenites gave a faction of the primitive Medusan natives flintlock rifles in an attempt to manufacture an incident that would give them an excuse to invade the system (and claim its wormhole) as a "peacekeeping action". Unfortunately for them Honor discovered the plot and sent a platoon of marines in Powered Armor to curbstomp the offending faction. Also unfortunately for the Havenites, they underestimated the Medusans' skill and tech base, and found that the primitives were now mass producing the weapons, leading to their Havenite handlers losing all control of the situation.
  • The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad, features "The Steel Commander", a metal truncheon that has an apparent weight and mass of tonnes and yet can be effortlessly wielded by a person of sufficient genetic "purity". It was created by an enclave of scientists who'd survived "The Fire" (a global nuclear war) for Heldon, the father of a fascist movement to preserve a core of unmutated humans (and who slew them for their trouble).
  • John Carter of Mars: Barsoom is littered with artifacts from the more advanced White Martians who once ruled the planet, but most of those ruins have been overrun with Green Martians, who aren't intelligent enough to appreciate anything more complicated than the fact that the radium rifles kill things.
  • Jon Shannow: The Hellborn ride horses, practice human sacrifice, wear goats' horns on their helmets... and pack high-quality firearms.
  • Known Space has the Kzin, tribals bootstrapped by an alien race as mercenaries turned galactic conquerors. Had no idea reaction drives could be used as weapons. Their culture also is heavily influenced by what happens when Bronze Age cultures get genetic engineering and try to engineer their men into Heroes and make their women become less naggy. They make their women effectively non-sentient, and their men into buff warriors with few skills but leaping and yelling.
  • Alastair Reynolds: "Minlas Flowers" and the short story "Merlins Gun" take place tens of thousands of years after humans had colonized the Galaxy, and while protagonists (and their enemies) have interstellar flight and other technology far beyond 21st century, they are in awe of things built by people long lost in the past (but far future for us).
  • My Teacher Is an Alien has humans seen as this as a result of Humans Advance Swiftly. Most species have enough time to culturally mature out of warfare and other social ills long before they get anywhere near space travel. The Federation is thus utterly terrified of what will happen when humans discover the technology to leave their home system, and some factions are actively advocating Kill All Humans as an act of immediate self-defense.
  • Old Man's War: One alien faction was gifted a device by a more advanced species that allowed them to predict exactly when and where ships would be arriving via FTL. This immediately grants them a massive advantage in their war against the humans, who have to come up with an exceedingly risky plan to counteract it.
  • Orphans of the Sky: The characters live on a Generation Ship whose crew mutinied several generations back. By the time the novel takes place, the crew has become so backward that they think the ship is the whole Universe, and a large portion live as subsistence farmers. The only reason the ship still works is that its reactornote  can convert any matter into energy at pretty much 100% efficiency. Everything that is no longer useful, including the dead, are used as fuel for the reactor.
  • Rocannon's World: The protagonist is attacked and captured by barbarians: savage, primitive nomads who wield explosive heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles. The dissonance is Justified because the nomads are being covertly supplied by The Empire.
  • The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin has the Sisters of Ruin, a tribe of misandristic, cannibalistic Blood Knights with stolen hovercrafts and energy weapons.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: The novel Ishmael (1985) by Barbara Hambly posits that the Klingons received a sudden technology boost when they were briefly conquered by alien invaders called the Karsids. Being Klingons, they eventually beat the Karsids and retook their world, gaining all the Karsids' technology and weapons in the process, while still being a warlike and feudal society, and thus became a huge threat to all their neighbors. Hence, they are the universe's best object lesson in the importance of the Prime Directive. Note that the Trek novels have never been considered official canon, certainly not in those days, and the rest of Trek canon has never supported this idea. But it's a nifty notion.
  • The Tommyknockers: The titular aliens (and the people who are transformed into them) create devices that have incredible power, but which they have no philosophical or ethical insight into. As the main protagonist puts it, they're "Thomas Edisons rather than Albert Einsteins".
  • Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle is a medieval fantasy setting in which knights use suits of Mini-Mecha known as Drag-Rides. These are salvaged from the ruins of an ancient civilisation that had much more advanced technology. People can repair and maintain Drag-Rides but generally can't improve on them — Lisha's ability to do so is seen as exceptional.
  • Uplift: Every single extant alien race was uplifted by another and got their technology from "the Library", several species uplifted as warriors seem downright barbaric to humans who had to develop a near-utopian society through trial and error. It eventually turns out the Library had several key scientific concepts removed by the Precursors, such as Calculus, which the aliens dismiss as silly human superstitions until one of the galaxies drifts away from the other three inhabited ones.
  • Worldwar: The British, unable to build a lightweight radar unit to install in their planes, cannibalize surviving radar units from the Lizards' planes that they've managed to shoot down, citing this premise in doing so. Similarly, the Nazis develop armor-piercing, discarding-sabot shells based upon shells they've captured from the Lizards.
    • It helps that the Race's military technology is ahead of that of humans by a few decades at best. It's heavily implied that the Race arrived at just the right time in our history to pose a threat to humans without being able to completely steamroll over us. Had they arrived only a decade earlier, this is what would've happened. Had they waited a decade or two (as some of their superiors wanted), they would've faced a Cold War-era world with thousands of nukes and two superpowers gearing up for war, not to mention the beginnings of space exploration (i.e. orbital delivery platforms) and advances in computing.
    • Their first action is to detonate several nukes in the upper atmosphere, planning to scramble Tosevite electronic systems. Except, humanity hasn't developed integrated circuits yet, and vacuum tubes/valves are a lot less affected by EMP. Had they arrived during the Cold War, circuits would have been in use already, except military tech would be, for the most part, shielded against EMP.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5 is interesting in that most of the races qualify to varying degrees. Much of the Narns' technology is reverse engineered from captured Centauri examples, and while the Narn seem quite capable of building and using the weapons, they never acquired the Artificial Gravity technology used by the Centauri's ships, meaning they were still at a marked disadvantage. Similarly, the Minbari were given advanced technology by the Vorlons, and the humans ended up acquiring Shadow technology. In both of the later cases, the younger races were hard at work figuring out how the technology worked so they could apply it to their own designs.
    • The Centauri have this happened to them multiple times. The first time it was actually passing Technomages teaching them enough things to advance their technology from Renaissance-era level to 20th-century level (enough that, with Technomage assistance, they succeeded in repelling the Shroggen when they invaded their homeworld while chasing the Technomages themselves), but after that they started grabbing every piece of advanced or unknown technology they could buy, conquer or get away with stealing, study its inner workings and use the knowledge so obtained to both improve their technology and build a copy of it (an example are Earth's magnetic monorails for moving inside space stations: the Centauri first saw them brand new on Babylon 5, and a couple years later their capital city has a whole transportation network of them). Between this and their pride imposing them to perfect everything, they became the most advanced of the Younger Races bar the Minbari, and, at least in some fields (most notably energy weapons), aren't too far behind them either.
    • The Centauri and Minbari, despite being technologically more advanced than humans, resemble a late medieval/Renaissance European or Indian society and still have stuff like legalized duels, arranged marriages, a caste system and absolute monarchy.
  • Black Mirror: A recurring point is that the human race is this. Nearly every episode presents a scenario where advanced technology is misused by people who are either outright malicious or at least just don't understand what they're doing, with negative ethical or cultural consequences. The plots are very often Ripped from the Headlines and the show has often been called prophetic in its predictions. For example, "The Waldo Moment" is about an obnoxious cartoon persona, managed by a comedian with zero political experience, running as a candidate in an election; though other politicians and pundits consider the situation utterly farcical, the character gains mass public support through populism and apathy towards political corruption.
  • Dave Allen At Large: One sketch shows Allen as a native American chief who a British explorer is negotiating with; he is offered trinkets for various tracts of land. He wants the "stick that goes boom" (a rifle) but is refused. Finally he offers all the land they're trying to acquire for the "stick that goes boom", and the Brit, seeing this as a huge bargain, agrees. Brit gives Chief the rifle. Chief shoots Brit, and then he and his tribe members take the chest full of trinkets.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "The Time Warrior", a Sontaran gives rifles to a 12th-century English warlord.
    • "The Power of Kroll" has the boss of a mining rig hire an arms dealer to sell defective weapons to the natives of a moon that orbits his planet. This is to justify removing the natives because his company wants that moon.
    • In the early 21st century, humanity is in possession of a weapon that can one shot spaceships out of orbit, salvaged from alien technology that has been recovered from Earth. The Valiant was built with a smaller version of this weapon, in addition to using designs given to them by the Master.
    • The Big Finish audio drama "Spare Parts" reveals that Mondas, homeworld of the original Cybermen, was this. Their technology was centuries ahead of Earth, their society was stuck in The '50s, and culturally dead. The Doctor notes that the church and movie theatre are boarded up and abandoned, and magnificent golden statues have been left to gather dust, as all resources are devoted to base survival, and nobody cares about things like art and religion anymore.
    • The Daleks in all of their appearances are this. They're one of the most technologically advanced races in the universe but all of their advancement has gone into proving their might by destroying lesser races (i.e. everything that isn't a Dalek). When a Cyberman dismisses the design of the Dalek casing as "inelegant" the Daleks proudly reply that they have no concept of elegance.
  • On Earth 2, the Terrians (underground-dwelling humanoids who share a symbiotic relationship with their homeworld) appear to be tribes of Hunter-Gatherers, but due to the green rock-like properties of their planet, wield staffs that shoot lightning bolts. It's implied several times in the series that the Terrians used to be much more like humans, and may even have had more conventional, industrial technology, before they evolved into a species of benevolent symbiotes. It's also implied that the Terrians are also not native to Earth 2 and are colonizing it as well.
  • Lexx: In one episode, the Lexx visits a planet populated by a seemingly medieval-level society composed entirely of men. When Kai wonders how they reproduce, one of the elder members explains to Kai that their ancestors left behind special pods that produce new brothers. In the end, he reveals the truth: their ancestors wanted to create a simple society free of sexual competition, believing that was the only way to maintain peace. Their advanced knowledge was passed down only to a select few like the elder. Believing that Xev's presence has permanently "tainted" them, the elder triggers the self-destruct sequence of the entire planet.
  • Saturday Night Live: The alien invaders in one sketch apparently had this problem. After landing and threatening the people of Earth with destruction, they overplay their hand, as the Earthlings do not, in fact, tremble before the power of their mighty flintlock muskets. It seems all their technology other than starships was woefully behind that of 1990s Earth. The police dealing with the situation suspect their ship was stolen.
  • Spellbinder:
    • The Land of the Spellbinders is an agrarian/mining society with technology equal to the medieval era. The land is ruled by the Spellbinders, an order of scientists masquerading as sorcerers. Their power comes from technology based largely on electricity and magnetism (such as radios, flying ships and electrical combat suits). The Spellbinders' technology was created so long ago that the current Spellbinders do not even know how their own equipment works, nor can they repair it if it breaks.
    • The Big Bad Ashka manages to make it to our world and tricks an engineer into re-creating one of those combat suits using late 20th-century tech. The resulting suit looks less like ornate Medieval armor and more like a sleek black body-hugging jumpsuit with gadgets. Not only that, but it's better than the original Spellbinder suits, able to fly. It's also waterproof, since that would be one of the things an engineer would do to a piece of tech, unlike the original suits that could be stopped by a puddle.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • It has this apply to humans and the slaves of the Goa'uld. SG-1 gets a lot of tech they only barely understand, and later on the Asgard gift humanity with a database and replicator for all of their advanced tech (which most likely will take centuries to reverse-engineer everything). The Goa'uld purposely make their (also pirated) tech user friendly for the Jaffa to use.
    • The Jaffa, whose society is almost identical in theme to the page image. They expertly utilize the extremely advanced technology provided by the Goa'uld, even to the point of flying their motherships for them. Yet Chulak, the Jaffa homeworld, is apparently still stuck in the Middle Ages.
    • The Tollan deliberately invoke this with "primitive" societies that haven't reached their technological level. They once gifted their technology to another species to help them, and as a result the species wiped itself out in a single day. Since then they have been extremely leery about sharing tech with anyone else, even Earth.
    • One episode in particular has SGC retrofit a Goa'uld fighter with Earth-tech modifications and show it off to other members of the military. On a test run they accidentally triggered a homing program that tried to return it to its point of origin across the galaxy at sublight speeds. Given that SGC didn't have anything nearly fast enough to retrieve the ship and crew they had to call for help from the Tok'ra, who berates them for slapping an Air Force label on a ship they didn't understand. Later episodes showed they learned enough about the technology to build comparable fighters from scratch and eventually made their own battleships. Bonus points for the person berating them being a former US Air Force general (implanted with a Tok'ra symbiote), so he knows how things work on Earth.
    • It is often pointed out that the Goa'uld aren't all that different. They are just as 'unready' for certain Ancient technologies and this seems to be one of the things that causes the large amount of infighting that allowed human and Jaffa to overthrow them. Despite the Goa'uld having stolen the capacity for interstellar flight thousands of years ago, the Ancients and Asgard are still sufficiently far beyond them. Both of those races had reached intergalactic flight technology (with at least the Ancients even having traveled to galaxies outside their original local cluster long before their technological peak) before the Goa'uld even got off their original planet.
    • An early episode had O'Neill resolve a problem late in the episode by giving a local Mongol warlord his handgun, which the warlord celebrates by Firing in the Air a Lot, and O'Neill lampshades that they should get going before he uses up the ammo in the single magazine.
    • Provides an Establishing Character Moment in Stargate Atlantis, when it's revealed that the Athosians are not the primitive society that they initially appear to be, but merely The Remnant of an advanced society that had been repeatedly bombed into the stone age by the Wraith. For instance, not only does their settlement reside in the shadow of ruined high-tech city, but one of the rare pieces of Athosian technology to survive is a lighter that uses energy beams to ignite objects.
  • Star Trek: The Prime Directive, which bans interfering with the development of less advanced societies, exists to prevent this from happening.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • There's an interesting example with the Talosians from "The Cage". Their brains are actually significantly more evolved than those of their ancestors, to the point that their powers of illusion essentially (though not technically) make them Reality Warpers. However, this also caused them to lose any motivation to do anything besides entertain themselves with their fantasies, and their more cerebrally primitive ancestors' technological knowledge was lost.
      • In "A Private Little War", Kirk and McCoy discover that the Klingons gave flintlock weapons to the natives who didn't have them before. To restore the balance of power, Kirk provides another group (a bunch of cavemen) with them. McCoy compares their situation to the "Brush Wars" of the mid 20th Century. Also in this episode, Nona steals Kirk's phaser and tries to make a deal with some enemy soldiers. Since she's only seen it used once at a distance and has no experience with pushbutton devices, she has no idea of how to use it and gets stabbed to death for her troubles.
      • The episode "Bread and Circuses" features a world with 1960s-level tech (television, firearms) but a society that mirrors the Roman Empire, complete with the slow rise of Christianity (albeit 2000 years late).
    • The Ferengi were introduced in The Next Generation as a cutthroat, mercenary people that many outsiders regarded as this, a Warp-capable civilization with the It's All About Me mentality that caused late 20th century-to-mid-21st century humanity to nearly destroy itself in the Eugenic Wars and World War III. However, there were too goofy-looking to take seriously as the Klingons' replacements for many viewers and they mostly disappeared until they were revived as a Mr. Vice Guy species in Deep Space Nine.
    • The Pakleds are bright enough to steal whatever technology they can get their hands on (as well as abduct Engineer Geordi LaForge), but express themselves in infantile terms (they want LaForge to "make [their ship] go" so that they can be "strong") and are fooled into surrendering by a harmless, if Technobabble-laden, pyrotechnic display. Whether these two Pakleds are representative of their entire species is never really addressed, however.
    • The Kazon from Voyager don't exactly inspire confidence with their technical abilities. There's a reason the Borg deemed the Kazon to have absolutely nothing worth assimilating. However, they only recently acquired it, namely by overthrowing their Trabe conquerors.
    • The Bajorans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine became a variation of this, similar to Babylon 5's Minbari, after the arrival of The Orbs and their devotion to The Prophets. Until the Cardassian occupation, their culture and civilization remained rooted as it had been 10,000 years prior, and despite having had space flight many millennia before the beginning of human civilization, they never attempted to purposefully move much beyond their star system - colonizing only local moons and developing only minimal new technologies in that time while continuing to live by a caste system of farmers, artisans, and religious leaders. Ironically, one of the few places they may have visited outside their star system was Cardassia.
    • The Hirogen from Star Trek: Voyager appear to be this, courtesy of being Predator Pastiches. From all appearances they are a fully nomadic civilization totally dedicated to the hunt. It's unknown how old their current technology is or how long they've been at it, but if the communications array they claimed was theirs in their first appearance was built by them, it seems to be quite ancient. When Janeway broke The Prime Directive and gave them holodeck technology they lacked the cultural understanding to use it wisely, resulting in massive numbers of deaths in and out of the Hirogen population and creating a new photonic civilization, and also had to task a select few with being its sole maintainers and operators.


    Tabletop Games 
  • 1001 Science Fiction Weapons: This trope is one of the reasons suggested as a potential explanation for the existence of the many melee weapons in the book created with advanced technology, from regular swords made from alloys and composite materials far beyond modern technology to warhammers made out of hyperdense materials with a little antigravity motor inside in order to allow the use of little anime-esque schoolgirl characters wielding hammers that weigh five tons or more (they become unusable when the power runs out, as not so many sci-fi settings allow playable races that can lift that.) The idea being that advanced races develop these things for their more primitive hirelings who are more familiar with more primitive weapons but need a technological edge when it is uneconomical to train them with gun-shaped energy weapons, unlikely as that sounds. It also provides the rationale for many of the disposable weapons in the book; the "idiot guns" series are meant for warlords to issue to their Child Soldiers who can't read with a minimum of training (hence the pictorial instructions on the outside) resulting in not so much a gun as a claymore mine that is held onto, while the Liberator assault shotgun is an automatic shotgun meant to be dropped to rebel and extremist groups who can't be trusted to care for a firearm, for purposes of slaughtering many people as messily as possible, and therefore cannot be reloaded and may as well be tossed out when empty, as it doesn't make a very good club.
  • BattleTech: The Successor States don't know how the Lost Technology they rely upon, most notable Faster-Than-Light Travel, works or how to replicate it. In a twist they're more or less the same civilization that invented them, it's just that most people who knew how it worked died in the first Succession War. In a subversion the Clans have a culture that seems like it would fit bronze age warriors (as opposed to the Successor's feudalism) but they know how their technology works (or at least their scientist caste does) and have even improved upon what the Inner Sphere considers "Lostech".
  • One of the many Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG is give feuding TL1 tribes TL12 weapons and post the results on Pay Per View.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: In Dark Sun, the civilized halflings have actually lost most of their life-shaping technology (though it is still miraculous to anyone else). They can still replicate life-shaped tools and creatures, but only in a ritualized manner, much like using a cookbook for doing advanced chemistry when you don't know anything about chemistry, but still having it work.
  • Exalted: A few societies are in this boat, most notably the Realm, and to a lesser extent Lookshy in the Scavenger Lands. Both societies have control of significant amounts of technology left over from the Old Realm, but this technology requires a degree of infrastructural sophistication that can't be maintained without the oversight of the Solar Exalted. The Realm embraces this fact, and its power is largely built on ancient Ancestral Weapons while the average peasant grows rice in the fields. Lookshy tries to avert this, and much of their society is organized around maintaining their tech and even building new stuff. To the extent that this trope applies to them, it's because they still have lots of Black Box technology that they could never hope to replicate — their culture has adapted to work with most of the Magitek that they use.
  • Numenera is all about this. The game takes place during the eighth post-post-apocalypse, where everything has regressed to a Feudal Future but Lost Technology still persists. Many fiefdoms are centered around some ancient artifact that produces massive wealth, but is too complicated to understand, let alone replicate. Warriors, rogues, and wizards fight alongside diplomats, explorers, and combat engineers, and everyone has frequent access to Cyphers, bits of partially working gadgets that each have one charge of their miraculous effects remaining. As such, an adventurer might hack a supercomputer with an omnitool in one round, and then go back to stabbing a horde of dire ferrets in the next.
  • Pathfinder: The savage technologists of Numeria are barbarians, full of rage and violence and living in tribal groups. They're also adept with the alien technology found in Numeria, and often fight with Sword and Gun.
  • Traveller: The Aslan are a Proud Warrior Race with little social organization above the "clan" level. They somehow developed Jump drive and became a major race, it's been suggested often that they reverse-engineered it from one of the "true" major races.
  • Warhammer 40,000: This is fairly common:
    • Humanity's scientific knowledge peaked several millennia ago in the fabled Dark Age of Technology, and, in the modern Imperium, technology is monopolized by the Adeptus Mechanicus, a religious order that turns activating a new engine into a mystic ritual involving incense and chants in Binary. Weapons like a lasrifle can be reliably produced across the galaxy, but more advanced devices like plasma weapons are less understood, and some of the Imperium's oldest technological artifacts are irreplaceable because no one knows how to build them anymore. How much the AdMech knows about their sacred technology is dependent on the author — in some accounts they're the only humans in the galaxy aware of the scientific method, or are deliberately playing up the rituals to keep laymen from getting involved, while it is generally held that high ranks do know how at least most things work but are too afraid of potential AI rebellion to apply it to anything but special cases. But in general, any technological progress the Imperium makes happens very slowly, and for the most part its tech level is either stagnant or in inexorable decline.

      In the backstory, the technology humans used to colonize the galaxy was deliberately designed to allow this. The STC systems that contained all the plans for things colonies might need were themselves incredibly advanced technology based on a deep understanding of physics, but the plans they produced were cunningly designed so that no particular understanding or even mechanical skill was needed to build even the most advanced of technologies. All of these systems, and the knowledge behind them, were lost between an AI rebellion ruining the old human government and in a five thousand year long galactic Dark Age, the Age of Strife, immediately following said AI rebellion in which FTL travel collapsed for long distances. This makes intact printouts the most valuable things in the galaxy, and a working system is practically the Holy Grail.
    • Orks are a starfaring race capable of building energy weapons, force fields, and teleporters, but what "kultur" they have is all about using those technologies to wage war (and yes, they've found ways to weaponize force fields and teleporters). They don't have scientists that we'd recognize, but Mekboyz and Doks who are born with an instinctive ability to build machinery or perform surgery. Some of their stranger creations shouldn't even function in the first place, but Orks are unconscious pyskers, and expect them to work, so they do. Justified since the Orks were a last ditch effort by the Old Ones to create a race of living weapons to fight the Necrons and the C'tan in the War in Heaven. Their instinctive engineering ability, psychic powers, and "kultur" revolving entirely around warfare are deliberate hardwired design choices. Unfortunately for the rest of the galaxy, the Old Ones vanished (implied to have been rendered extinct at the hands of the Daemons who first appeared after the sheer scale of devastation in the War in Heaven) before they could get around to installing the "off-switch" on their living murder machines.
    • Eldar Exodites seem like this trope, but are actually a subversion. They live a low-tech, pastoral existence on the galactic fringe, yet have access to the same laser and fusion as their Craftworld Eldar cousins, as well as Knights. The Exodites still retain the knowledge to make all this themselves, but choose to use only as much as necessary in order to avoid succumbing to the decadence that led to the Fall and the ruin of their race. The Eldar were also created by the Old Ones to fight in the War in Heaven.
    • The Necrons have extremely advanced technology millions of years old, but all of its construction and maintenance are automated. After eons in stasis and having their souls eaten by the C'tan and being placed in robot bodies, only a small caste has a clue to how it works, the race's leadership comports itself like Bronze Age warlords, and the rest are non-sentient drones (or worse, sentient but unable to anything in their robot bodies) or completely insane due to the Flayer Virus, caused by one of the C'Tan, the Flayer, in its death throes after the Necrons betrayed them as revenge for their souls near the end of the War in Heaven (the other C'tan were torn into shards or went into hiding).
    • The Kroot can build Warspheres to travel through space, and use the odd plasma-based weapon gifted by their Tau employers, but for the most part live in a tribal society focused on hunting and eating. This is deliberate, as their Shapers want to keep their people strong without becoming reliant on technology, so they focus more on picking up evolutionary upgrades from their prey then on inventing things. They only learned how to build spaceships in the first place after eating some Ork Mekboyz.
    • Rogue Trader has the Rak'Gol, a race of aliens that makes the Orks look positively cultured — their bionics are crude and bulky, their FTL-capable spacecraft are powered by unshielded nuclear reactors instead of plasma drives, while the aliens themselves seem to be little more than extremely violent, Chaos-worshiping beasts. It's hinted that they are merely the pawns of some other power that presumably uplifted them.

    Video Games 
  • Analogue: A Hate Story: The people living aboard the Generation Ship Mugunghwa have somehow degraded culturally into something resembling Joseon-era Korea. It's implied that none of them understand the principles of how the ship works, or know anything about astronomy.
  • Somewhat the case involving the Pieces of Eden in Assassin's Creed, although by the time of Revelations (the fourth main game) the Abstergo Industries articles given to Abstergo Industries' secret insiders reveal that they knew a lot more about the Pieces than was let on in the first game.
  • In Borderlands, the various Bandit and Scav clans are groups of criminals, outlaws, and lunatics who are the broken leftovers of the endless corporate wars and expansions across the galaxy. Most of them are poorly-educated or completely insane and have become obsessed with violence, looting, destruction, torture, and cannibalism, and live in squalor, struggling to feed themselves. Nonetheless, they manage to have access to some highly-advanced technology, which is often the leftovers from various corporate colonization efforts or stolen from established settlements with normal, functional people. They have the capacity to build and maintain advanced firearms, construct vehicles and aircraft, and even make enormous mobile structures like Carnivora, all while living in scrapyard settlements made of rusty metal and adorned with the skulls and bodies of their victims.
  • Civilization: Not at all uncommon due to the general universality of science over all other stats, including culture. This is especially true in VI - scientific technologies and cultural civics have their own trees of development, and betting on the former is usually more profitable, as the vast majority of military units become available through science, which allows you to quickly defeat those civilizations that invert this trope and focus on culture instead. In particularly neglected cases, a certain civilization may know the nuances of robotics and nanotechnology while preparing for interstellar flights but have no idea about, say, nationalism or even the institutions of The Enlightenment.
  • Endless Space: The Vaulters have technology far in advance of all the other factions. In Legend they possess firearms and electricity; in Space they possess the portal technology of their Mezari ancestors. However their cultural trapping are pure Space Norse, their political system is feudal, and depending on player choices they can drop their tendencies towards science and exploration in favour of a militaristic culture. However Subverted in that there is no sex discrimination present: women are viewed as equally capable of being warriors and leaders as men.
  • Fallout:
    • Every game is like this, with only a few of the most advanced factions (Brotherhood of Steel, Enclave) actually understanding any technology more complicated than basic firearms and explosives, although other factions do utilise them, thanks to it being a Scavenger World.
      • And all of the factions who understand the technology selfishly guard this knowledge because of the advantage it gives them. In Fallout games with a crafting system, this allows the player to become a Badass Bookworm.
      • Even the Brotherhood of Steel and the Enclave can be argued to fall under the "low culture" part of this trope. The Brotherhood of Steel in the West has fallen into dogmatism and fundamentalism and makes no attempt to improve their technology, research new ones or actually put it to use, and they mostly focus on military technology to the detriment of more mundane but still incredibly practical ones like agriculture. The only thing they do is hoard technology and wait for "when the time is right" while other factions like the NCR or the Followers of the Apocalypse just move on and in the case of the NCR, manage to actually force the Brotherhood of Steel into hiding. It's gotten so bad that when Elder Lyons of the Capital Wasteland attempted to actually use their technology and manpower to make a difference in the Wasteland he was branded a traitor by the West Coast and suffered a civil war. The Enclave meanwhile attempts to pursue cruel genocide of the entirety of mainland North America and even the world beyond so that the "Master Race" (read "any human who has not been exposed to mutagens, such as the Enclave or people in Vaults") can reclaim the world.
    • Applies to the Pre-War society as well. Even in 2077, with an abundance of futuristic technology at their disposal, America (and perhaps the entire world) remained culturally locked in the 1950s.
    • In Fallout: New Vegas, due to House's machinations the Mojave was spared the worst of the Great War, allowing for a lot of advanced technology to survive the collapse of civilisation. Later he would "civilize" three tribes into governing his casinos, while he himself maintained New Vegas' independence from NCR annexation by using his Securitron army to prevent any attempt to take over the Strip.
    • Taken to new heights in the Fallout: New Vegas add-on ''Honest Hearts." The entire reason the plot is in motion is because the White Legs tribe were given automatic weapons by Ulysses, as well as a huge store of ammunition and the knowledge of how to clean them. The White Legs never developed past a Stone Age level of civilization because they have no knowledge of agriculture, animal husbandry, or the other necessities of civilization. If something they stole or scavenged breaks, they just throw it out. Joining Caesar's Legion is the only way they have forward to survive, but even then it might not really be enough.
    • This is twisted a bit in Fallout 4, where most of the settlements in the Commonwealth have a comparatively modern and progressive culture, albeit still stuck in a state of scavenging to survive against the monsters and lawless band of raiders roaming the land. The faction that most fits this is, ironically, the East Coast Brotherhood of Steel. While they've mostly abandoned the part about hoarding technology, they still combine vertibirds and Powered Armor with a system of feudal militarism and techno-religious fundamentalism. Then there's the Minutemen who wear American Revolution getups, and are armed with cranked powered laser rifles.
  • In Final Fantasy X the population of Spira has existed for a thousand years under the control of an anti-technology theocracy. People do not understand how what little advanced technology they have access to even works. The Al Bhed tribe actively salvages and studies advanced technology and are deemed heretics for their trouble. Even with their better understanding of engineering principles, the have learned almost everything through painstaking reverse-engineering and still don't understand how some of their most advanced technology (i.e.: flying ships) works.
  • Halo: The theocratic Covenant base most of their technology on Forerunner artifacts, and despite their copied tech being vastly inferior to the Forerunner originals, any attempt to even better understand it, much less actually improve it, runs the risk of being seen as blasphemy. It's gotten to the point where their grasp of Maxwell's equations is actually worse than that of humanity's.
    • While operating a captured Covenant ship, Cortana rewrites the firmware to make the ship's slow-moving plasma mortars shoot pinpoint focused ion beams. The native shipboard AI is so enraged by her simply fiddling with the settings that it accuses her of blasphemy and notes her changes as one of its chief grievances in a distress signal.
    • Even on a social level, many of the Covenant races are somewhat old-fashioned; the Elites live in a feudal society complete with serfdom, the Brutes and Grunts still organize themselves by clans and tribes, and the Jackals have no real governments of their own outside of the Covenant High Council, though it's worth noting that both the Jackals and Elites still managed to independently develop space colonization technologies not only back when humans were still using swords and bows, but before either of them ever began reverse-engineering Forerunner artifacts. And the only reason the Elites did the last part was because the Prophets were beating them badly with a single Forerunner Dreadnought, making them finally realize that they had to commit sacrilege and study the Forerunner relics in order to improve their tech to match the Prophets'.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Throughout the series, the plot has involved several technologically advanced civilizations in the distant past who either disappeared or lost their knowledge of their tech, leaving the advanced artifacts behind for Link and others to figure out and use:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: the unnamed civilization in the Lanayru Desert region had built large industrial complexes that produced mining facilities, advanced ships, "Time Stones" capable of locally shifting time, and intelligent autonomous robots maintaining them all. But their unchecked expansion led to the desertification of what was once a region of lush fields and seas and the collapse of their civilization. By the time Link arrives there, he must use the Time Stones in order to shift time back to when things were still functional, and even then he must rely on the robots to work some of the more complex devices.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: at a time when Hyrule produced many advanced technologies, the Sheikah decided to develop a variety of high-tech Magitek tools to help the future Hero fight Ganon: the Divine Beasts, the Guardians, the Shrines, and the Sheikah Slate. Millennia later, when a less advanced Hyrule unearths these things in preparation for Ganon's imminent return, they set up the Divine Beasts and Guardians and try to decipher the Shrine entrances and the Sheikah Slate's runes. They actually do pretty well in putting these artifacts to use, but the fact that Ganon had turned into an Eldritch Abomination capable of possessing the Divine Beasts and Guardians and turning them against Hyrule was a major unforeseen factor.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Professor Mordin Solus refers to the "uplifting" of the Krogan as "like giving nuclear weapons to cavemen".
    • This technically applies to all races in the setting, since the Reapers made “Mass Effect” technology accessible to the various races and had them purposefully manipulated from trying to explore or understand the technology and principles behind the Citadel and the Mass Relays, or even the benign Keepers who maintain the Citadel. Before the Protheans altered the Keepers to prevent them opening the hidden Mass Relay built into the Citadel itself, millions of years worth of Cycles ended with the Reapers showing up and taking control of the Citadel, locking down the Mass Relays and declaring Game Over to the entire galaxy.
    • Humanity freely admits that discovering the Prothean archives on Mars jumped their technology level upward by over 200 years. Upon their entry to the galactic scene they were roughly on par with the turians in term of technological development, despite having only having mass effect technology for 11 years at that point, while the turians had possessed it for little over a millennium.
  • Might and Magic VII: This turns out to be a hinge point in the conflict between the two groups of eight mysterious visitors once their origins are revealed — they're the protagonists of III, so while they have acquired an impressive knowledge of Ancient technology, they're still using technology far beyond their cultural background and with limited knowledge outside how to repair and use the machinery. Half recognise this, and want to keep looking for the Ancients on the logic the people who actually built the things in the first place would be far more capable at uplifting their lost colonies. The other half... wants to take over the world. They try to spin it as uplifting where they are instead of keeping on looking for a civilisation that might be long gone, but their actions and less restrained dialogue make clear they mostly just want to rule as kings.
  • Mortal Kombat 9: Shown in passing, with Kano supplying modern weaponry to the Tarkata who clearly have no idea how to use them. One nearly blew their own head off by curiously looking down its barrel.
  • Perfect Dark: The Skedar, who have spaceships and cloning technology but no culture to speak of besides warfare and violence.
  • RimWorld plays this both forwards and backwards, as the background concept is that on any given rim world there are distinct cultures that interact with each other but are nonetheless living at very different tech levels.
    • In game terms, your own faction begins at either "tribal" or "colony" (space-faring but stranded) level, which dictates which technologies on the extensive tech tree will be pre-learned. Anybody can use the products of any technology (e.g., scavenged weapons, advanced medicines bought from a trader), but to make something yourself may require research—a lot of research. It works both ways, in that beginning at a higher tech level leaves some more primitive techs locked, and actually puts you at a disadvantage when you try to research them. For example, colonist types have forgotten how to brew beer. This is however Averted in the strictest sense that a tribe or futuristic colony can produce art which can enhance the beauty value of a room or be sold for profit. The limiting factor isn't technology but rather that the basic survival needs of your colonists can be sufficiently met, so that you can afford to have a colonist sitting around sculpting rather than all hands desperately scrounging up the day's meal.
    • There is also implication that the low technology if the tribals is by choice rather than forced on them. The planet is infested with both colonies of giant insects and mechanoids, and both are active threats which scale up based on the wealth and technology of a colony. Remaining at low-tech hides one's presence and reduces the chances of being attacked. And as of the Biotech expansion, insects actively attack any colony producing excess pollution, which is generated through building one's own mechanoids.
  • Rise of Legends: The Cuotl is a Mayincatec empire ruled by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens. Their warriors give off a distinct Stargate feel. Their battle dress looks similar to that worn by Jaffa, and they wield energy weapons shaped as staffs.
  • Starbound:
    • The Avians received spacefaring technology from a precursor race, and yet still have priest-castes and human... well, avian sacrifices to their god, with atheism being a crime. So, you have Mayincatec Bird People in space.
    • Much, much worse are the Florans, a race of tribalistic, flesh-eating Plant Aliens who somehow managed to reverse-engineer a crashed apex spaceship and subsequently became a menace to the galaxy, going so far as to drive the Hylotl from their own homeworld. It's only recently that SOME of them are beginning to understand the concept of sentient animal life and the value thereof. Expect the occasional tasteless remark.
  • StarCraft: Downplayed with the Protoss. They possess a highly advanced civilization with a deep understanding of both technical prowess and psionic abilities. At the same time, however, their culture retains a strong spiritual and tribal framework, as well as at least until Artanis abolishes it in Legacy of the Void a rigid caste system. Given that they were uplifted by the Xel'Naga in their distant past, it's justified.
  • Stellaris:
    • A few of the pre-set empires have some elements of low culture as part of their ethos. Most if not all of the Fallen Empires are also of low culture despite having the most advanced technology in the game. Likewise, it is also possible to create a custom empire with some low culture tones to it as well.
    • The Marauders are entirely housed in massive, complex space habitats, often in stable orbit of black holes. However their society is split into small tribes which frequently feud and raid one another for supplies when they're not raiding empires that can't defend themselves. The "dwamak" personality in particular comes off as a race of shrieking buffoons, with the First Contact team questioning if they're actually a sapient species or not.
  • Warframe has the Orokin - they had achieved the greatest technological level that humanity ever reached in practically all fields, to the point that the original 'Prime' variants of weapons and Warframes are significantly stronger than their modern recreations - they also basically ran an extremely classist feudal society where the nobility held all power and hoarded all technology for themselves and used it for hedonistic reasons like extending their lifetime indefinetly or creating entire slave clone races to serve them. They were also extremely suspicious and wary of machines capable of working on their own, opting to use hordes of previously mentioned inbred slave clones for automation or digitizing the brains of humans to turn them into AI assistants as punishment. The higher ranks of the Orokin nobility are almost universally depicted as sociopaths that have completely divorced themselves from things like human empathy or even pragmatical governance. The one time they did try creating autonomous drones in order to colonize other solar systems (because they were slowly but surely destroying the Origin system), their fears ended up being correct and the drones rose up in rebellion against their creators...but only because they gained sentience and realized that their creators would also ruin other worlds if left unchecked. Despite all their advanced technology, they had regressed humanity to a culturally more barbaric and selfish era, and the consequences of their actions still affect the system in the present. Their destruction is mourned by almost nobody.
  • In Wings of Dawn, this is the case for the Nordera. Their spaceship technology is crude and primitive compared to the other species' (it works, but only just), but even that much was given to them by the Hertak. On their own, the Nordera had gotten about as far as discovering large-scale metalwork and explosives.
  • In the MachineGames Wolfenstein games, the Germans use extremely advanced technology to grind the free world into dust. By 1960, they have entire armies of combat robots and Super Soldiers to terrorise the enslaved populations with, and even have a Humongous Mecha named the London Monitor to (literally) crush any resistance under a stomping boot. They put a man on the Moon in 1951 (and consequently started drawing up plans to build a concentration camp there) and are beginning to colonise Venus. They're even getting the hang of laser weapons. Ironically, they owe all this progress to stealing the Clarke's Third Law-level technologies of a sect of Jewish priest-scientists. Where the low culture part comes in, is that the series pulls no punches in showing how horrifically brutal the Nazis' racist and reactionary ideology was.
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown: Humanity itself is this; you spend the game furiously reverse-engineering alien tech just enough to know what it does and how to build more of it. Justified by humanity being at war, fighting against extinction or enslavement. Your R&D teams seem pretty confident that, given time, they could take the tech all the way apart and learn how it works. For now, though, "here's a new gun, it shoots plasma, we can build it, ASK QUESTIONS LATER" is pretty solid tactics. That being said, XCOM's Chief Engineer Dr. Shen openly states his fears about pretty much this trope coming into action after the war. It's implied in some of the fluff that this is true for at least one enemy race; Mutons apparently have some kind of tattoos or ritual scarification, which combined with their observed behaviour in combat (including some sort of war chant) leads Dr Vahlen to theorise that they're some kind of tribal society forcibly uplifted as Mooks.
    • Later in the game, the Big Bad explains that they forcefully uplifted many species in an attempt to forge the ultimate psionic-warrior race, then left them culturally stunted when they all failed the trials. Sequels show that the Mutons developed a Cargo Cult based on spaceships, while the Andromedons live in enclaves due to their restrictive biology.

  • Jix: The Ambis acquired much of their advanced tech from another species who tried to invade their homeworld.

    Web Original 
  • In the story Malê Rising, the Kingdom of the Arabs (OTL's southern Algeria), a sparsely-populated desert state, suddenly finds itself flush with money upon the discovery of oil. The nomadic way of life and traditional social structures that prevailed before oil begin to break down as young people head to the boom towns, producing crime and unrest. As a result, the government starts heavily subsidizing the remaining nomads to prevent further flight to the oil towns (and all that that brings with it), leading to the evolution of a nomadic lifestyle of luxurious RVs and shopping and entertainment brought to them by motor caravans.
  • Orion's Arm: Downplayed. Ultratech is an important and pervasive component of Sephirotic and other important civilizations and ranges from technologies that could potentially be invented by Modosophonts, devices that can only be created and even often operated by beings of a higher singularity level, to artifacts whose function itself are incomprehensible to non-transapients.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-2039 is a pair of hillbilly Feuding Families stuck in a Forever War with random weapons, sometimes primitive, sometimes futuristic.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: Justified in "The Core and the King". Ancient Newtopia had advanced enough technology to travel to other dimensions and build advanced robotic war machines and holograms, yet it was still a medieval-looking monarchy with a colonial set of values and no moral objections to looting other worlds. It's heavily implied that this is because Amphibia's technological development was radically accelerated by the discovery of the Calamity Gems, and without the gems, all their advanced technology rapidly loses power and shuts down.
  • Justice League: At one point, two time-traveling Thanagarians crash landed into Ancient Egypt. They couldn't get home, so they spent their days giving technology to the nearby villagers. Naturally the village became a grand kingdom within a generation. The people never learned how to make the tools though - only use them - and when the aliens died, the society collapsed pretty quickly.
  • Steven Universe: The Homeworld Gems are extremely advanced, forming an intergalactic empire with faster than light travel and instantaneous communication across galaxies. Their society is incredibly stratified (a good amount have no exposure to art or music) and have actually declined culturally over the last five thousand years. Furthermore, their empire is stagnating due to resource-loss.