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Personal Gain Hurts

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"We stepped up on our important things
So we could reach the highest apple
We realized how precious they were after we lost them
Just another mistake we made when we were young."
Shangri-la, "angela" (opening to Fafner in the Azure: Dead Aggressor)

Whenever a character consciously goes against the rule of With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, he soon finds out that using supernatural abilities for personal gain can be very bad for you. Karma seems to have it in for people who want to use their powers for something other than saving people or fighting crime. This seems to be limited to The Hero, as the Big Bad is able to get away with anything.

If you suddenly found out you had superpowers, wouldn't you use them for, shall we say, questionable ends? Well, don't, because Personal Gain Hurts!

A Fantastic Aesop.

See also Reed Richards Is Useless, Ambition Is Evil. Contrast with Mundane Utility, With Great Power Comes Great Perks, Power Perversion Potential, and Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Booster Gold: Booster Gold initially became a "hero" because he wanted to make money off the fame and the endorsements that would follow. It didn't go so well. After decades of being a Butt-Monkey, comic relief, and going through Break the Haughty on more than one occasion, he has finally given up on this idea. Instead he's now the protector of time itself; to avoid being erased from history by his enemies he can't let anyone else think that he's anything more than a stupid greedy coward.
  • Civil War: The story arc opens on the New Warriors, who now have a reality TV show, which ends very badly. Borders on Diabolus ex Machina given that the ensuing disaster was predicated on a villain who'd previously been C-List Fodder at best suddenly becoming a Person of Mass Destruction.
  • Irredeemable: Subverted, as one of the Plutonian's foster fathers taught him that he should never use his powers for personal gain, so he didn't say anything when he saw the early stages of his mother's cancer.
  • Spider-Man:
    • The definitive example is of course Spider-Man's origin story — very soon after using his new powers to earn some cash in a wrestling ring, Spidey's uncle dies. Harsh. Might not directly count, however — Spider-Man could have conceivably had both a profitable wrestling career and Uncle Ben still being alive if only he'd bothered to stop that thief running right past him. It's more true that he was punished for refusing the call, but the selfish nature of his refusal is also this trope.
    • This aspect of his origins is explored in a What If? story, where Spider-Man realizes that stopping the thief would be good for his publicity. He later becomes a manager for other costumed heroes wanting a taste of the superstar life, including the X-Men who gains a much better public image as a result. Unfortunately, ignoring the crime-fighting and neglecting their combat skills gets them killed.
    • He does continue to make some money on the side by selling pictures of himself to the Bugle... which uses those photos to tarnish Spidey's reputation.
    • In Ultimate Spider-Man, Spidey can't control his image to such a degree that footage of him actually doing stunts is cheaper than CGI because they didn't have to pay the stuntman. Spidey is annoyed. Later down the line, the Kingpin gains controlling interest of the movie studio that made the Spider-Man movie and all related merchandise, setting up the simple problem that if Spider-Man does nothing about his criminal empire, the Kingpin makes money off of crime. If he does something about the criminal empire, the Kingpin makes money off of tourists buying Spidey-shirts.
    • In contrast, Tony Stark and Reed Richards have made a ton of money selling Iron Man and Fantastic Four merchandise, movies, comics, etc. Spidey has tried to get legal control of his image, but he has no recourse unless he reveals his secret identity.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Back to the Future Part II, Marty decides to take a sports almanac back to the past for financial gain. He doesn't manage to use it, because Doc berates him that he did not invent the time machine for financial gain. However, Biff overhears and then he steals the almanac, returns to the past and makes himself rich, murdering Marty's father and marrying his mother.
    • Still played straight though in that while Biff becomes a very wealthy and powerful man, this eventually gets him killed at a much younger age that he would have when Marty's mother ends up murdering him when she can't take him anymore, deleting old Biff from existence and proving he would have a much longer and healthier life without being rich.
    • Oddly, the background material reveals that Doc himself made lots of money via purchasing surplus items on the cheap that would be worth alot in the future through time travel (such the first Superman comic) and reselling them in 2015 netting him several million dollars, which is how he has all those various currencies in the 2nd film. This might seem hypocritical of him though given that he sunk his entire family fortune (and also destroyed their home for insurance money) into building the time machine it's possible he sees it as a fair way of getting back his investment. It also helps that Doc uses this money solely to fund his time traveling adventures and other inventions and otherwise lives a relatively modest life rather than just trying to get rich and powerful like Biff did and Marty wanted to.
  • In Jumper, teleporting teenager David draws the attentions of the anti-Jumper Paladins because of the "impossible" bank robberies he performed using his abilities in order to fund his hedonistic lifestyle. Teleporting a guy you have a beef with into one of the locked vaults you robbed when you already have Paladins on your trail, but they don't yet know where your family is, was another ill-thought out selfish act that didn't work out well for him.

  • In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Roald Dahl opens a digression from the story to describe the inventive Karmic Death he would have given Henry Sugar for using his powers for personal gain, "had this been a made-up story instead of a true one."
  • In the novel Powers by Deborah Lynn Jacobs, Gwen and Adrian both have Psychic Powers and generally use them for heroic purposes. However, Gwen is prone to using her heroism to her advantage as a photographer for her school newspaper. Near the end of the novel, she's horrified to realize that the price of benefitting from her heroism is that the original heroic act gets undone, meaning that a man she saved ultimately died anyway because of her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Trope name partly taken from Charmed and its obsession with this subject, one example even leading to an alternate Bad Future!
    • Lampshaded in "Mr. Wrong", after Paige is done sexing up the titular character (whom she conjured for that sole purpose):
      Paige: Oh my god, if someone mentions the words "Personal Gain" one more time I am going to scream!
    • For "good" characters, the use of their powers for minute tasks such as retrieving something from another room with telekinesis is Hand Waved. However, manipulating events to improve your life is grounds for the removal of one's powers...
    • The rules on personal gain are actually fairly reasonable when you see what the consequences are. The Charmed Ones using their power to make a rude neighbor step in dog poo is the catalyst for Phoebe murdering a man in the future. It all goes back to the Wiccan Reed stated in the first episode: and it harm none, do what ye will. Using their powers for minor things in their own home or to repair the damage from magical incidents harms no one, but using their powers to, say, get the winning lottery numbers harms the person who would have won the lottery without magical interference.
    • The reboot series also uses this, although not as often. It seems that Mundane Utility is fine, but overusing magic on something creates an opposite effect. Maggie using a lot of beauty glamours at a party results in an ugly glamour on her face when they're dispelled.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, everyone treats it as very wrong when Willow uses her magic to do mundane things. This was mostly because Willow couldn't — and wouldn't — control it. Tara would use magic for fairly mundane things as well, but she could control her power, being much more experienced and mature than her girlfriend. In the context of Willow's "magic addiction" that season, Willow is like the alcoholic who is constantly sneaking a beer during the day and drinking herself to sleep each night, while Tara is a social drinker who has a drink or two to relax but never lets herself get drunk.
  • Sometimes played straight, but mostly averted, in Heroes. In Volume One, Hiro and Ando are beaten up and declared Persona Non Grata in Las Vegas after using Hiro's power to cheat. Just because their method of cheating is completely undetectable doesn't prevent the casino from knowing they are cheating, since nobody wins every hand of poker. On the other hand, the leaders of the Company explicitly used their powers to make money, as does Micah Hawkins.
  • Out of This World (1987): When Evie used her powers to benefit herself (such as stopping time so she could ace a test in school), her alien father would "ground" her by preventing them from working for a while afterwards.
  • In Kamen Rider Gaim, protagonist Kota differs from his predecessors by trying to use his Rider powers in mundane situations (such as his part-time jobs) and later makes money off by fighting in the Mons battle game. Though it isn't directly related, shortly afterwards he has his first encounter with Kamen Rider Zangetsu, who beats Kota within an inch of his life. This makes Kota realize that being a Rider is a Matter of Life and Death and terrifies him so badly that he undergoes a 10-Minute Retirement entirely out of fear that if he becomes Gaim again, Zangetsu will find and kill him.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mage: The Awakening: Played with. Using one's powers for self-indulgence and gain can ding the old Karma Meter... except really most characters start at Wisdom 7 (out of a maximum of 10) and lower levels are more relaxed about such things. A Wisdom 10 mage would get hit with a degeneration roll for using his magic for personal gain (but you have to be almost a living saint to get Wisdom 10 in the first place), but for most starting characters dabbling in alchemy to cover your bills won't hurt unless you perform vulgar magic around a Sleeper and suffer Paradox as a result.
  • Dead Inside: This is a constant threat. Selfish acts strongly risk further soul decay, which puts your life at risk — and losing soul points hurts. That said, if you do anything selfless or giving to cultivate soul growth, growing a new soul point is a wonderful, invigorating feeling. Soul points are also usable as currency and power in the Spirit World, meaning that, in this case, Personal Gain Is Pleasant as long as you use ethical means.

    Western Animation