In Role Playing Games, once a stat is increased it will usually never decay on its own accord. If a character uses a bow, say, and uses it a lot for a while his archery skill will increase. If he subsequently never uses it again, the skill level will remain constant no matter how long it was since he used it last. Games that track the characters' age will usually not simulate the weakening effects of aging.
This is one form of Acceptable Breaks from Reality; most players would find it tedious to constantly use various skills to prevent them from decaying. Often it's compensated by the way stats scale up as the game progresses, such that enough archery skill to kill same-level enemies at level five can't scratch them at level 20. On the other hand, some games let the player intentionally reset all stat scores (usually refunding all points to distribute once again).
On the other hand, from one game to the next if there isn't a good in-game explanation, it seems the characters really let themselves go.
As this trope is almost always used in video games, only exceptions will be listed.
- Shira Oka: Second Chances decreases points in skills that aren't necessary for the particular activity you're doing each week (i.e. if you choose to study art and literature, you may receive a slight decrease in your math skills until you choose math as your next activity), so it's important to try to switch up your activities every week to keep from falling behind.
- Tokimeki Memorial has some of your stats decrease slightly almost every time you perform an activity (e.g. focusing on increasing your Art parameter will ding your Fitness over time), so you'll have to rotate between various activities to keep all of your stats high enough to pass the school exams and attract the boy/girl you want.
- In EVE Online your skill points can decrease drastically upon death unless you've prepared a clone, which costs a tidy sum.
- Having a Strategic Cruiser blow up around you will decrease a rank in a (random) SC skill (the skill setup for the ship type is... complicated). Ejecting before it blows or self-destructing will avoid this.
- The Sims Online features stat decay. You can train your skills like you could in the offline version, but after your total amount of stats reach a certain amount, your untrained stats will begin to decay.
- Ultima Online averts this, to the point that while the game was popular a number of people paid for people to play their characters while on vacations or business trips to avoid losing grand master status.
- In fact, for a while after launch it was worse than that. You had a total skill cap, so if you had 700 skill points worth of skills, any skill raising will mean a random skill was lowered. However, they also had "learning by watching"- if someone used a skill near you, there was a chance you would learn some of that skill. Cue people creating macros to spam lighting campfires at Britain Bank and causing maxed out people around them to lose points in their grand master skills. Learning by watching didn't last long, and eventually UO implemented "skill locks" where you could designate which skills you don't want to have ever raised or lowered.
- Final Fantasy XI:
- You can lose experience points (and levels if you lose enough XP) through death. Crafting also has skill decay: you can level all crafting skills to 60, but you can only level 4 crafting skills to 100 (i.e. you have 160 more skill levels available). If you try to take a crafting skill beyond 60 after using up all your 60+ skill levels, one crafting skill would lose a level for every level you gained.
- Combat and magic skills "decay" when switching to lower level jobs: every job level has a cap for a particular skill, so even if you have a level 90 Warrior with maxed sword skill at 325, switching to a level 1 Paladin will limit your sword skill to 5. This is only temporary, however. The game keeps track of your actual skill level, and merely caps the "effective" level until the job you're using get high enough. To use the above example — Paladins actually have better 1-handed sword skill that Warriors do, so they will regain access to those 325 points in the skill at some point before they reach Paladin level 90. As a bonus, up until that point, it also means that they instantly jump to the next level's cap as soon as they gain a level in the "new" class (here, Paladin); thus, they don't have to worry about having sub-par skill in 1-handed sword for their level for a long, long time.
- When World of Warcraft implemented weapon skills, neglected skills did not decrease, but level scaling meant that if you maxed out Axes at, say, level 40, and then picked up an axe again at level 60, you'd have 20 levels worth of skill points to catch up on, during which you would be pitifully ineffective. As this proved annoying, working in practice to discourage changing weapon types rather than as a fun mechanic (Oooh, look, a shiny epic dagger. Now I have to go spend 3 hours grinding my skill up!), Blizzard dropped it in patch 4.0.
- Dynasty Warriors: Online has all your stats reset at the end of the battle. You need to pick up flasks, the arguable Booze-Based Buff in the game, to return your strength to where it was at the end of the last battle. This is mostly used to balance fights.
- This trope is mostly played straight in Fallen London, with the exception of the Making Waves quality which drops every week and Notability which will drop too if Making Waves is lower than it.
- Infuriatingly averted in Hearts of Iron III, where a particular area of research "theory" will decay as you are researching it.
- Idol Manager: Averted in that stats associated with things that are expected to deteriorate as a person ages, such as appearance and physical fitness, will take a hit on an idol's birthday. Some idols have a trait called "Live fast" that causes those losses to be more consequential.
- A variation: the Chao virtual pets in the Sonic Adventure series have values and experience levels for each of their stats. Feeding them certain fruits and letting them play with animals (not including yourself) will raise their experience in some stats and lower them in other stats. However, the experience level of a stat cannot drop below what was necessary to previously level up that stat. This creates the interesting situation where it's actually not beneficial to be balanced in what items you give, instead spamming a whole lot of one item and then, once the stat in question levels up, spamming another.
- In Formula Racer you can't max out all stats for your car, so for example at level 1 you can have 40% Engine, 10% Handling, and 10% Turbo but if you try to increase Handling or Turbo your Engine and likely the other stat will drop.
- In NetHack stats can be exercised and abused, causing them to rise and fall accordingly. For example, starving makes you feel weak, eventually causing your strength to deplete. However, losses due to abuse are considered the same thing as stat drains from monsters, and can therefore be "cured" in certain ways. Memorizing a spell from a spellbook imparts it to memory for a fixed amount of time, after which is must be re-memorized. In the spin-off Slash'EM, however, reading a spellbook commits it to memory for a much shorter amount of time, but every time you cast the spell boosts how long it will stay memorized, so a spell you use all the time will only need to be memorized once, while spells that are rarely used will quickly fade from memory.
- Starting in DF2010, Dwarf Fortress implements a very rough system of skill decay: a dwarf who doesn't use a skill for a while will become "rusty", and then "very rusty". A dwarf who stays "very rusty" for too long will suffer permanent experience loss in that skill.
- In Cataclysm, skills that go unused will first drop to 0% of advancement towards the next skill level, then degrade until they hit -100%, when they do degrade a level, which must be relearned. As having to relearn it as if you never had that level is quite harsh, there are options to disallow skills from going down levels or degrading in any way.
- Final Fantasy:
- In the original version of Final Fantasy II, building up magic would reduce your weapon abilities and vice versa, but this was removed in the GBA version.
- In Final Fantasy IV, the old sage Tellah increases his Intelligence and Spirit when he levels up, but his Strength and Stamina decrease. This is meant to simulate the effects of his old age.
- Final Fantasy V has a status ailment called "Old" which gradually weakens the target. Fortunately it's fairly rare, easily cured, and the weakening effect is removed along with the ailment.
- In Final Fantasy VIII, where increasing your affinity with a Guardian Force to summon it faster came at the expense of losing affinity with others.
- In Final Fantasy X, some Blitzball players would actually lose stats on some level-ups. Extremely minor and rare, however.
- Realmz always had character aging, but it didn't used to have any effect. In version 5, each race was given age groups (youth, young, prime, adult, senior) which alter stats when a character enters that age group. In order to avert whining from players, characters past their race's maximum age didn't die, but instead merely got a large penalty on XP gains as a hint that the character should be retired.
- In Darkstone characters can and will age, and once you hit a certain age your stats begin to decrease. There are potions in the game which can reduce your age to make you younger and stronger, but they are extremely rare and hard to find.
- In SaGa Frontier 2, Wil Knights loses half of his stats due to old age in his granddaughter Ginny's scenarios, but they can be built back up via prodigious grinding.
- In Lost Kingdoms II, the main character has an affinity level for each of the seven elements of cards used. The maximum of said level was 8 but no matter how much you tried balancing card usage, only one element could attain (and keep) this level at any given time. Somewhat justified, since several maxed-out affinities would be too gamebreaking.
- In Disgaea, reincarnating will cause your character to lose some of their weapon and skill proficiencies. Spending more Mana will ameliorate the losses, but you can still potentially forget spells if you reincarnate repeatedly without practicing the spell.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- In general, the only way to permanently lower a statistic is by going to jail, and even then, it is only very slight decreases. Temporary ways exist in the game by means of spells, diseases, and enchantments but are restored after the effect wears off or is cured. (It is also possible, depending on the game, that your Lockpicking or Pickpocketing skills will increase, presumably because you learned something new from the other inmates.)
- Played straight in Skyrim, where even going to jail only causes you to lose your progress towards the next rank in a skill. Your skill cannot actually atrophy.
- Averted for Battle Chasers: Nightwar: it's possible to achieve stats below zero into negative values by equipping accessories, armor and weapons that decrease them.
- In the Dragon Quest games, vocations grant skills that can be used from one job to another (such as increasing your dodging ability or lowering the chances of monster encounters), even if the character's physical stats (HP, MP, speed...) change. No matter how long you spend in one vocation, you can pick up from where you left off (and in Dragon Quest VI, you even keep the spells you learned across classes, so you can field 4 Gladiators who can fully heal and resurrect each other after maxing out the Priest class.)
- While Might and Magic VII and VIII does not decrease skills if they are not used, the age has an impact on your stats. In the case of Intellect and Personality, this can even increase the values for characters that are 50 - 99 years old, but otherwise they decrease with the age and may be reduced up to by 90% of the true value in the case of really old PCs. This is why magic aging is really dangerous in this game.
- In the Mario Tennis and Mario Golf series, not leveling skills would make them gradually decrease.
- In the Inazuma Eleven series, every character has an individual total stat cap. After hitting that cap, any further stat training will cause another stat to drop by an equal amount as an Anti-Grinding measure.
- MLB: The Show: In some iterations of the "Road to the Show" mode, if you don't work on something every two months, your ability will begin to decrease.
- Fight Night Round 3 not only had your training let your off-stats atrophy a little, but as your boxer aged, they'd decline faster. And faster. Retirement was suggesting itself ...
- Punch Club reduces your stats by a set amount each day based on how much experience you've earned in that particular stat. It is possible to lose levels due to stat decay, but certain perks can prevent you from dropping below a minimum level.
- A fairly common trope in Sporting Management Sims; after players pass a certain age, their stats will begin to decrease and they will eventually retire.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Editions have age categories for playable races, usually proportional to their lifespan; as characters age, their physical abilities fall and their mental abilities rise. However, skills and other class features rarely decay, so the loss is relatively minor for a high-level character.
- Prior to 4th edition, many spells and monster abilities can permanently drain statistics or even levels. Subsequent editions largely did away with this as an Anti-Frustration Feature.
- The XP penalty seems to be a nod to this trope, although it's not related to aging. In 3rd edition, if you have levels in two classes and neither is favored for your race, you receive a 10% experience penalty. The assumption is that when you're not adventuring, you're training to keep up your skills, and this becomes more difficult if you're training in multiple disciplines.
- In GURPS your stats drop as you age and start dropping faster as you reach the limit of your species lifespan. If a stat reaches zero the character dies naturally, though in practice a stat below 5 can quickly be lethal even in domestic life.
- Technically skills fade if you unused (unless you have an Eidetic Memory) but that's usually a bit of book-keeping that no one finds necessary.
- In the latest edition of the BattleTech RPG both physical and mental stats start to drop past middle age. Additionally the character will eventually receive the Glass Jaw (increased vulnerability to damage and fatigue) and the Slow Learner (increased exp cost for all skills) traits. Clan characters even take negatives to their Reputation to reflect the ageist sentiments within their society. All of these can be countered by spending experience but eventually characters will see a slip in their performance to the point that they die of old age when their BOD hits zero.
- In King Arthur Pendragon, the player knights do age as part of the game, with a yearly check after a certain age to see if a stat drops. Characters whose stat drops to 0 die - even if that stat is Appearance. Yes, you can die of ugliness.
- Ars Magica averts this big time - aging and its effects are a major part of any long term game, and concocting your longevity potion or ritual is a goal for most magi. Every year past middle age has an increasing chance to permanently reduce an ability score or cause a life-threatening illness.
- A minor aversion overlapping with Discard and Draw exists in games based on the Fate System, such as Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files: every so often player characters will be allowed to swap their ratings in two — generally already adjacent — skills (one goes up, the other down) or trade a stunt or aspect they had in for another. This results in no actual loss of overall competence, but does allow a character to evolve, shift focus, and actually potentially grow worse in one or more specific areas (of their player's choice) over time.
- Vampire: The Requiem predominantly plays this trope straight, but vampires who spend decades hibernating in torpor can have their power degrade significantly as their blood weakens and The Fog of Ages obscures their memories. Normally this only jeopardizes stats that they've honed to superhuman levels, but long or traumatic torpor can leave a vampire badly drained; extreme examples are ancient Egyptian vampires who came out of torpor as weak as new-made fledglings, centuries of knowledge and experience worn away to nothing.
- In Lace & Steel, if you don't use a particular skill for a year, you must roll dice to prevent it from dropping by one level.
- Pathfinder 1st Edition has stat atrophy exactly as it inherited it from Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. Several classes have specific high-level abilities to grant either the ability to avoid it as one ages or to retain one's youth. A unique case appears in the Kingmaker adventure path. One of the bosses is a cyclops lich, who after spending 10,000 years in torpor in a sealed tomb has lost a considerable portion of his former knowledge. While he was originally a 20th-level wizard, only nine of those levels remain in the present day. In addition to severely cutting down his selection of spells, the fact that he's now below the normal minimum level for a lich (11th) means his phylactery is nonfunctional. When the PCs kill him, he stays dead.
- Pathfinder 2nd Edition has no rules for aging written as of September 2020, and states that age does not change a character's stats. Some loose guidance for considering what your age should mean is given, but no mechanics are given. Additionally, the above-mentioned Lich is due to come back when the adventure path he is in is re-released note
- Played with in the MS Paint Adventures story Problem Sleuth. As this fake Adventure Game becomes increasingly more of a fake RPG, there are only three main stats for the three main characters - "imagination", "vim" and "pulchritude". Each character starts out with one stat insanely high ("pulchritude" for Problem Sleuth, "vim" for Ace Dick and "imagination" for Pickle Inspector) and the others virtually empty. Throughout the "game", each time a character gains a level their stats go up - but only the one they're already proficient in. Their other pitiful stats might go up by a point or two, stay even, or drop - at one point Pickle Inspector actually had negative vim.
- The Order of the Stick: Lampshaded and parodied by a crotchety old man who turns out to have better hearing than the young PCs. In Dungeons & Dragons, physical abilities atrophy with age, but Wisdom rises, and that's what the Spot and Listen skills are tied to.
- GTA: San Andreas. Physical exertion will consume the character's energy, first in the form of his reserves of body fat. If that is used up, his muscles will start to decay, making him weaker.
- This is also an example of why it's rarely used. Many gamers complained about having their wanton violence, setting things on fire and parachuting off of high buildings interrupted by mandatory visits to the nearest restaurant. It was removed in Grand Theft Auto IV despite it being the most realistic of the series otherwise, possibly due to complaints.
- In Grand Theft Auto V, exercise can only improve a character's strength and stamina stats, while shooting, driving, flying, and stealth skills are increased by performing their respective actions. In the online mode, however, time offline will gradually decrease these stats for your custom character.
- In Sid Meier's Pirates!, all your stats (but swordfighting and dancing in particular) decay as your pirate ages. Choosing Medicine as your preferred skill at the start of the game reduces the effect somewhat.
- Averted in Legacy (Sekiro/Kimetsu no Yaiba). Sekiro's skills have atrophied from hundreds of years of inactivity. He's still a formidable swordsman and warrior, but he's no longer the unstoppable One-Man Army who has slain gods and dragons. Wolf acknowledges this, as his swings are rough and jagged compared to the Clean Cut he once doled out regularly. This is best shown when he struggles against a single apparition, forcing Yushiro to light his own hands ablaze with Divine Confetti.
- An unusual variant occurs in David Brin's novel The Practice Effect. In it, it's the tool itself that must be used often, lest it decay back into its original, probably very primitive form. Why bother spending a lot of time and effort crafting something nice when simply using the bare minimum will improve it dramatically? On arrival, the protagonist finds a extremely high-end ax and takes it with him in a rucksack, but after a few days of not using it, is surprised to discover it has turned into a barely serviceable chunk of wood and metal. In this world, the upper classes hire whole teams of people to 'practice' their belongings and keep them at a state of perfection.
- Doc Savage, in contrast to most pulp adventure heroes, does an intensive training ritual every day, even in the middle of an adventure, to keep his amazing stats as high as they are.