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Plug 'n' Play Technology

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I guess they don't call it the Universal Serial Bus for nothing.

Hermes Conrad: Professor, can you wire my head directly into the BattleGrid?
Prof. Farnsworth: I can wire anything directly into anything! I'm The Professor!

This does for computers and technology what Translator Microbes do for living beings.

In fiction, all computers, machines, hardware and software are 100 percent compatible and interoperable with each other, and then some. It's as if everything was built according to some universally agreed technical standard.

Plug any computerized control unit into any arbitrary machine, and the computer system will automatically have full communications and control over the device, regardless of how superficial the installation is or whether the device even has any electronic components to begin with — if you plugged a computer into a wheelbarrow, your computer would display (in real time) how much potting soil and garden tools it currently holds, and you'd be able to drive it by remote control.

A similar phenomenon occurs when two or more computers need to establish a network to communicate with each other. When the intrepid Wagon Train to the Stars makes their first contact with Starfish Aliens from halfway across the universe, nobody ever stops to figure out how those electromagnetic waves emenating from each other's ships are supposed to represent a communications channel (assuming it even is a communications channel at all) ... or how those aliens suddenly managed to hack into the ship's computers (bypassing whatever passwords and encryption) to steal a copy of all their technical schematics and tactical blueprints. Their starships must run on Plug 'N Play Technology!

This is obviously not the case in Real Life: Without an agreement for everyone to follow fixed technical standards, computers would not be able to tell their precious 0's and 1's apart from each other in the datastream — compatibility is the exception, not the default. You can't open or shut your closet door by plugging a computer into it, or pick up FM stations on an AM radio. US-made TVs aren't built for the higher voltage levels of European electrical outlets (or the PAL broadcast encoding); you can't play Nintendo GameCube discs on your PS3, you can't run macOS executables on the Windows operating system, and the World Wide Web simply would not exist (at least not as we know it) without everyone communicating according to the HTTP technical standard. It's true that at the most basic level, transmissions and instructions (for now anyway) are binary, but there can be no interoperation without a mutual standard for what the binary digits mean, rather like how you can probably read Ojibwe, Vietnamese, or Wolof since they all use the Latin alphabet but will have no clue what it's saying. And all this is assuming both systems are based on binary electricity - compatibility between liquid state or quantum energy based computers is going to be another can of worms.

Plug 'n' Play Technology borders on Forgotten Trope territory these days with the widespread adoption of certain technical standards being something that we take for granted, even when it only enables certain kinds of communication between certain kinds of electronic devices.

The matter can even be Hand Waved entirely if the fictional devices are, in fact, based on Lost Technology left behind by the ancient Precursors. But don't expect any characters to actually address the matter in fiction (at least beyond declaring that A Wizard Did It), when even the universal translator requires time to analyze and decipher the latest new alien language.

Please note that this trope has no relation to Plug 'n' Play Friends (which is actually named after this trope's Real Life inspiration), and is not a double entendre for certain adult toys.

Related to Possession Implies Mastery, with the computer being the master. Compare Everything Is Online; contrast No Backwards Compatibility in the Future. A biological equivalent is No Biochemical Barriers.

When occurring with Artificial Limbs, this becomes Plug 'n' Play Prosthetics.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A few Combining Mecha are made of things that weren't originally designed to work together. Examples include Vandread (all components concerned had been extensively modified via Green Phlebotinum), Super Dimension Fortress Macross and a few of the older Brave Series mechs. Worst of all is probably Exkaizer, an alien AI who takes over a car, turns it into a Transforming Mecha, and later gains the ability to combine with other vehicles.
    • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, the ability to combine mecha is limited only by Rule of Cool, eventually reaching the point of matrioshka like robots that are lightyears in size. In the manga a particularly ridiculous looking combination (the giant Gurren on top and the small Laggan on the bottom) completely fails to work.
    • It should be noted that Plug-N-Play Hijacking is explicitly Lagann's special power.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bonds Beyond Time, duel disks work with each other even if they're created in completely different eras. Not only that, but somehow, duel disks that are supernatural, made by aliens from other dimensions, and even organic disks are compatible with the regular ones.
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Everything Is Online and can be easily accessed by plugging leads from a computer into the brain. There never seems to be a problem with interfacing, although there is the risk of having your brain hacked and being forced to act against your will.
  • Justified and Lampshaded in Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, when Banager takes a Neo-Zeon double beam gatling and plugs it into his Federation-built Unicorn Gundam, it works perfectly without any compatibility errors (though it does take a few seconds to install drivers for it). The reason being that pretty much all Mobile Suits and associated weaponry is built by Anaheim Electronics, who sell to both sides of the conflict.
  • Sword Art Online: near the end of the Fairy Dance story arc, Kirito receives a program from the digital ghost of Akihiko Kayaba called the Seed. Once released across the internet, it became used as a development kit for new VRMMOs, with player data being easily transferable across games running on the same engine. In the Phantom Bullet arc, Kirito takes advantage of this to investigate the murders in Gun Gale Online: while items cannot be transferred between games, Kirito could transfer his experience and stats from Alfheim Online to GGO.
    • Before this, he was able to play ALO in the first place because Nerve Gear can play games designed for the Amusphere. Not only that, he also accidentally stumbles into an Old Save Bonus because of that, with his ALO character having all his stas and skills from SAO. This is a hint that they're running on the same engine.

    Comic Books 
  • In Ultimate Nightmare, the Ultimates are trying to get into an abandoned Russian bunker. It has an 80s keypad stuck on a 60s computer system. According to Sam, the Russians did that stuff all the time. "Take two things that work and nail them toguether".
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Lampshaded and Justified when George manages to hack into an Apokoliptian Supercomputer with her laptop, as she says the only reason it worked was that the extraterrestrial tech started modifying her hardware as soon as she plugged into the man-made-looking interface it was hiding behind.

    Fan Works 
  • In A.A. Pessimal's Discworld/The Big Bang Theory crossover The Many Worlds Interpretation, Discworld supercomputer HEX has no difficulties in using and manipulating modern American technology for his own ends, usually with a snarky comment about how primitive or non-existent the artificial intelligence is.
  • In Fractured and its sequel Origins, this trope is mostly played straight, with a few aversions.
    • The salarian Special Tasks Group cannot interface with Trans-Galactic Republic computers to spy on them and are actually caught due to trying and failing.
    • Played for Laughs between a mobile shipyard and Trans-Galactic Republic computers—six adapters are required to translate from one machine to the other.
    • First averted, then played straight with Element Zero and hyperdrives. The first experiments were disastrous, but later attempts work very well (with other, universe-bending consequences).

    Films — Animation 
  • Capture the Flag: Double Subverted: Marty wants to connect his smartphone with NASA's rather old computers to restore communication with Mike and Amy on the moon, but is told this can't be done due to the huge differences in technology. Being a Gadgeteer Genius, Marty promptly creates an adapter that allows him to do it anyway.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 1959 B-Movie The Atomic Submarine, the sub has to shoot down a Flying Saucer before it returns with an invasion force, so a couple of scientists on board combine a homing torpedo with an ICBM to make a water-to-air nuclear interceptor missile.
  • The quintessential example might be in Independence Day, where David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) uses his Mac laptop to plant a virus on the alien mothership and bring down all the shields. (A deleted scene explains this as human computers being partially back-engineered from alien technology and the scientists having enough knowledge of the captured ship to work out the rest.)
  • In the Stephen King movie Maximum Overdrive, the unknown alien force that affects machines serves as the "control box". It's acceptable that a weird alien energy could fire up the electrical systems in machines and make them go haywire, possibly homicidal, so that an electric knife could actually turn itself on. But how does that help the same knife move itself across the table to attack someone? Or how does it allow a truck to adjust its (non-powered) rear-view mirror? Well, it does help when you know that King himself calls the film a "moron movie".
  • The My Favorite Martian movie shows Martin replacing his ship's "electron accelerator" with a car's alternator. Possibly more of an Expospeak Gag; Alterators/Generators do accelerate electrons.
  • Avatar: The planet Pandora is populated by creatures which have a universal biological cabling system. The planetary Hive Mind can even interface easily with a human brain.
  • In Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie, the Nerd and his friend Cooper play an MMORPG together. Cooper is shown playing on a modern gaming PC and the game appears to have modern 3D graphics. The Nerd is then shown playing on a Commodore 64, which renders the same game with 2D 8-bit graphics and requires a handheld microphone for voice-chat as opposed to a headset.
  • Early in The Hunt for Red October there's a casual reference about a DSRV being modified with a universal docking system that can allow it to dock with a submarine of any country. Like the Soviet submarine that's just about to defect.
  • Averted in Aquaman. Mera has a data storage device that contains the location of the trident they need, but it's old and outdated, so none of their technology can read it. They have to journey to the middle of the desert, of all places, to find an Ancient Atlantian computer that can read the thing. Of course, the fact that said computer is still functioning after so long without proper maintenance is another problem... but hey, they tried.

  • In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, any computing device placed in a particular place in Professor Chronotis's time machine will interface with the machine and become its control mechanism — even the old-fashioned Professor's preferred device, an abacus. It's explicitly noted that the technology that makes this possible is considerably more complicated than the technology behind the actual time travelling.
    • In fact, it's stated that the computer running the time machine is more powerful than every other computer in existence, including itself. And more than 90% of the computer is used for this plug-and-play feature.
  • Averted in Soon I Will Be Invincible, where Fatale, only a few years out of date, has a hard time finding a port she can still plug into.
  • In Iain M. Banks's Surface Detail, a character defending her home orbital against a massive surprise attack ends up plugging her neural lace into into an ancient, virtually forgotten piece of heavy-duty, last-ditch effort machinery. The author notes casually how two systems written millennia apart perform a standard discovery sequence and quickly agree on an efficient data exchange protocol. (Yes, The Culture is even a software utopia!)
  • The Gamma World Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book "American Knights" issues the player with a prototype battlesuit and part-time Robot Buddy named HOBART, who is capable of assimilating technology from the robots you fight on the surface - and justifies it by claiming that as the prototype, HOBART's design is inherited by all the things you cut to pieces and thus he's compatible with just about anything you bolt on to him.
  • Averted in Have Space Suit – Will Travel (not surprising as Robert A. Heinlein was an engineer) when Kip has to fill the bottles on Peewee's spacesuit because she's Almost Out of Oxygen, but his oxygen bottles are the screw-in type while Peewee's have bayonet sockets. He's able to jury rig a connection using hose and surgical tape.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica. Athena is a humanoid Cylon based on Kobollian/Old Earth technology that was lost thousands of years before Colonial civilization rediscovered cybernetics. She resembles a human being to the point that the differences between her and an actual human are almost imperceptible even under a microscope, and she even has a baby with one. And yet, she's somehow able to interface with and control Galactica's computers by attaching a network cable to one, stripping the other end, and jamming it into her forearm.
    • In their defense, they probably installed some sort of software package to allow her to interact with the Galactica's computers.
    • Also, the Cylons learned to hack the human networks long before Athena defected. She's just running it the other direction for once.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The TARDIS console has been patched with a wide variety of implements, such as odd items like a bicycle pump. As far back as the very first episode of the classic series, the Doctor replaced a "faulty filament" in the TARDIS with something he presumably obtained from 1960s Earth.
    • In "Full Circle" the TARDIS happily interfaces with Alzarian technology, which is from a completely different universe.
      • Perhaps justified in a Fridge Logic sort of way when you realize that the TARDIS is psychically linked to the Doctor and at least semi-sentient. Presumably any technology he figures out how to use, she can too.
      • According to the spin-offs, the TARDIS is built out of mathematics. Presumably all it takes is for her to change a few constants in the equations here and there.
    • Partially averted in book The Pirate Loop — at one point, the Doctor plugs the TARDIS into the Starship Brilliant, which apparently gains him full control over the ship's systems. However, the cable he uses doesn't actually fit into the ship's ports, and space-glue is used to hold it into the best port. It still works brilliantly.
    • "Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel": The Cybus Cybermen — supposedly they're compatible or able to forge compatibility with nearly everything they come in contact with. The Doctor turns this against them in their first appearance: when Mickey gets the code that will deactivate their emotional inhibitors, all he has to do is text it to the Doctor, who plugs the phone into their central computer.
    • It is really remarkable how many devices have a port for the sonic screwdriver. (See "Silence in the Library" for example.)
  • In Dollhouse, Topher develops a device that disables all actives in a fifty foot radius. Bennett Halverson suggests that to disable a specific active at a distance they should just plug it into her computer. That's not what she ends up doing though.
  • This is a core trope of Jake 2.0. The title character is basically a modern-day supergeek — a nanite-powered technopath. Over the course of the show, he learns how to interface with a variety of electronic devices. Most of these make some sort of sense, but in one case Jake remarks "Cars are all computer-controlled nowadays, right?" and then proceeded to stare intensely at a car, remotely start the engine, and drive it through a parking lot as a distraction. *facepalm*
    • Of course, there's also the time he nearly got a ticket because he couldn't interface with a parking meter.
  • Knight Rider has done this on occasion.
    • It was especially abused in one episode of Team Knight Rider: after transplanting the computer core of one supervehicle into an ordinary sedan (an operation which, it is implied, is hurried and completed within a couple of hours at most), the computer has full control of the vehicle, including the (non-automatic) doors.
    • Something very similar happened in Knight Rider 2000, where the original KITT AI gets first installed in Michael's '57 Chevy, and then in the body of the more advanced Knight 4000. Rather subverted, in that KITT's capabilities while in the Chevy are severely limited.
    • We can't talk about KITT without mentioning the numerous times he uses his electronic short-circuiting equipment to open mechanical locks.
  • Stargate:
    • Stargate SG-1 did this on occasion, but the spin-off series Stargate Atlantis took it to a whole other level, when Rodney would regularly stumble across some long-forgotten piece of technology left behind by the Ancients, and have it running from his laptop (or sometimes his Windows CE-powered tablet) within five minutes.
    • Justified in that the SGC has been working closely with Ancient technology for quite a while, so has probably come up with software and hardware to interface human and Ancient devices.
      • In one episode, you see a device that they can connect to a USB port on a laptop, that has an Ancient crystal/optical connector on the other end, specifically designed to interface with Ancient tech. They've had access to Ancient technology for years (since SG-1 first discovered it), and they also have complete access to the entire Atlantis database (which is enough information so that thousands and thousands of multi-terabyte hard drives is only enough to back up less than 1% of it, with a very efficient compression codec).
    • It's also mentioned that the dialing computer in Stargate Command is only minimally functional: it took them forever to build a computer that controls the Stargate, and even then it ignores half the signals the gate sends it (this is the reason Earth's Stargate malfunctions so often).
    • In Stargate Universe, Icarus Base personnel were using a special dialing laptop in place of the planet's DHD. Eli Wallace managed to import and edit Kino video on his laptop. The crew also discovered "recharging" plates which provide power to all of their electric and electronic devices.
  • The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Enterprise Incident": After stealing a Cloaking Device — a big, bulky control unit — from a Romulan ship, miracle worker Scotty manages to wire it up to Enterprise's engines within minutes, whereupon it works perfectly.
    • Justified very thinly by the implication that the cloaking device is a single, self-contained unit rather than lots of emitters and other stuff all over the hull; all Scotty had to do was get it wired into the internal electrical grid and fiddle with the field diameter settings. And also by much dialogue from Scotty about how difficult the procedure is, and how the alien device will likely overload systems, blow power grids, etc.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Contagion" averts this. When the Iconian virus attempts to operate on Federation, Romulan or Android computer systems, the incompatibilities cause numerous glitches, as well as attempting to rewrite their operating system with its own. The Enterprise's sister-ship Yamato was destroyed when the virus infected engineering, shutting down the anti-matter containment and causing the ship to blow up.
  • Star Trek: Voyager
    • Averted in an early episode "Prime Factors". The crew manages to acquire a long-distance teleporter capable of getting them home and discovers it's completely incompatible with their systems, forcing them to blow it up (ironically it's played straight at first, with the alien teleporter literally plugging straight into a Starfleet console despite having been acquired minutes before, so they wouldn't have had time to construct an interface). They managed to do the same thing with a quantum slipstream drive they encountered later on, again failing because it wasn't compatible and thus had ship-destroying faults, so they dismantled it. They also had a Borg transwarp coil at one point, which plays the trope straight as it worked flawlessly with both the ship and shuttles until it burnt out (though they did have an ex-Borg on hand to help). Averted by Voyager itself, as it's revealed in "The Cloud" that the power system for the holodeck is completely separate and incompatible with the rest of the ship (as a handwave to excuse why they have scenes set on the holodeck when they're supposedly short on energy for the rest of the ship).
    • It is also averted in the other way: many technological advances from the Voyager are fully integrated into the ship's main circuits, and can't work elsewhere. In the very first episode they clarified it to the Kazon: they have replicators that can make water out of thin air, and can give the resulting water, but they can't "give" the replicator itself. This becomes dramatically explicit when they found a Kazon ship where everybody had died in an explosion: they had sneakily stolen a replicator, tried to plug it into their own ship, and things had Gone Horribly Wrong.
    • The first act of "Prototype" involves B'Elanna Torres trying to configure Voyager's power systems to reactivate a damaged android they've discovered. Later this becomes a plot point — the reason the android's power system isn't easily transferable is so they can't make more of themselves.
  • Justified in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where they spend many early episodes on the effects on O'Brien's psyche and stress levels caused by being tasked with getting Federation and Cardassian technologies working (and remain working) together. Several other characters note that nobody else could ever have gotten the station up and running like he did.
  • In Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, John is able to analyze a T-888 CPU by plugging it into the PCI slot of a computer motherboard. The CPU is not even the same width as the slot, but somehow it manages to work.
  • Toei Tokusatsu shows Super Sentai and Kamen Rider revolve around little collectible items that serve as power sources and several pieces of gear (like Transformation Trinkets and weapons) that can channel their power. While such items can be expected to hold to technological standards, the wide variety of power source items and their possible effects in different gadgets mean that incompatibilities should reasonably happen more often than they do. Most of the time, the only time an obvious incompatibility comes up is when an item is a Mid-Season Upgrade with a unique shape that physically cannot fit in gadgets that it wasn't designed for.
    • As a specific example, Kamen Rider Ghost uses spiritual power from Magitek icons, while Kamen Rider Ex-Aid is technologically-based and draws power from video games. Despite the diametrically-opposed power sets, they were able to channel each other's powers without issue during a crossover (Ghost used an icon with Ex-Aid's spirit, while Ex-Aid got a Ghost-based video game).
    • In the movie Kamen Rider × Super Sentai: Super Hero Taisen, the Goseigers share some of their Cards of Power with Kamen Riders Ryuki, Blade, and Decade, who also use cards. Except all four have entirely different sets of cards and card-reading systems, with no real explanation why the Riders' gear can scan the Gosei Cards beyond the fact that they fit in the card slots. Usually there's some sort of Handwave that shared power takes the form of the receiver's existing trinkets, but not this time.
    • Averted in Kamen Rider Wizard, where Haruto and Kosuke use different sets of Rings of Power, and accidentally swap them once. Kosuke's rings, which usually equip him with Mantles that grant animal-themed abilities, just act weird with Haruto's system; for instance the Dolphin ring lets Haruto swim through the ground. Meanwhile, Kosuke runs into the "physically doesn't fit" issue when trying to use Haruto's rings.
    • Another aversion occurs in Kamen Rider Zero-One. The power source items are keycards, with the heroes and villains using different types. Villains can hack and use the heroes' keycards just fine, but the end of the series and a later spinoff DVD reveals that trying to use a villain card in one of the heroes' Transformation Trinkets is a very bad idea, as the resulting form is unstable. In one example, the Transformation Trinket soon explodes, and in another, the mismatch possibly kills the user.
    • Kamen Rider Dragon Knight has a more mundane example, as both Xaviax and the Ventarans use USB, despite the fact that Ventara is an Alternate Dimension and Xaviax comes from an alien planet in that dimension.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Old World of Darkness setting, the Glass Walker tribe of werewolves devised a magic item called "Vulcan's Interface", which allowed any two electronic items to be linked together in this fashion.
  • It is specifically stated in Eclipse Phase that there are no standard software formats. But AI conversion tools are so common that it isn't an issue.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Orks can loot anything (steal a weapon or vehicle) and Orkify it (adding guns, spiky bits, guns, flame decals, guns, and maybe a few guns if there's any space left) and make it work, when the laws of physics say otherwise (or explode spectacularly, which to them is just as good). Human techpriests believe that where they entreat and pray to the machine spirits, the Orks just beat them into submission.
  • Battletech zigzags this trope all over the place. Inner Sphere technology and Clan technology don't necessarily play nice with each other without some interfacing work due to the divergent technology development, but there's nothing stopping Inner Sphere techs from slapping a centuries-old laser or autocannon on a factory-fresh mech, no matter what company or nation-state built either one, without even mention of a software patch or jury-rigging a coolant connection. Mechs cobbled together with parts from radically different designs (sometimes even of different weight classes) are common enough to be known as FrankenMechs. Clan OmniMechs justify this, as the equipment is deliberately designed with standardized connectors so you can just slot the weapon into place on a mech, fighter, or vehicle.

    Video Games 
  • "Backwards Compatibility" was a big deal for a long time in console development, where newer consoles were designed to play older games. The Playstation 2, for example, was able to play PS1 games just as well as PS2, as well as use controllers and memory cards from the previous console.
    • This was used as a selling point by Sega with their Power Base Converter for the Sega Genesis, which is essentially a cartridge passthrough for Master System software to run — the Genesis, otherwise known as the Mega Drive outside North America, is built upon and extended from the earlier Master System, and is thus backwards compatible with Master System games through the use of the Power Base Converter. Sega perhaps used this to throw potshots at Nintendo, who had to deal with negative press brought up by the lack of cross-compatibility between the NES and SNES.
  • The Atari 2600 uses a controller plugin that a fair few other, later consoles utilized as well. While not all will work on an Atari, a list of the ones that do are found on the console's page.
  • "Plug 'n' Play" describes a whole range of consoles, some liscenced, some not, with all (or at least, all the classics in the case of re-releases) games pre-installed. You plug the wire(s) into the TV (or cimputer monitor if it's HDMI/AV compatible), and you can play without needing to buy any games for it. Some need batteries, some have a power lead.
  • This tends to apply to the Power-Up system in Video Games.
  • Most versions of Mega Man have this, as the title character is usually able to use built-in weapons collected from defeated enemies. Handwaved by Mega Man possessing a "Variable Weapons System" which allows him to scan and copy the powers of his defeated foes.
    • The Mega Man (Ruby-Spears) cartoon takes it even further, where Mega Man is able to not only scan a bomb (not Bomb Man; an actual IED) to gain a complete schematic, he's able to transfer the information to Rush to take to Dr. Light (I guess the system can't work over wireless, only Personal Area Networking).
    • In the Mega Man X series, this is further justified by all the other robots being duplicates of X's technology (poor ones at that).
    • Legends averts this trope, as Roll has to modify the weapons you pick up in her workshop before you can equip them.
      • If you call building fully functioning combat weaponry from a laser pointer modification.
    • Averted in one story in Mega Man Battle Network when a virtual idol jokes about being affected by a virus that affects the main characters, but turns out to be unaffected since she is a different type of program. Averted later on with the same character, when she and Mega Man fall in love. Because they are different types of programs, they are unable to even touch each other.
    • Justifiable in the first game since Dr. Light actually built the original robot masters, so Mega Man could have been specifically designed to be able to operate their weaponry. Through most of the rest of the series, Dr. Wily could still be using hardware and software similar enough to ex-partner Dr. Light's stuff to still be compatible. Mega Man IV is the first major exception, with the robot masters having been built by Dr. Cossack.
  • Strogg computers in Quake IV. Human computers are surprisingly compatible with Strogg computers.
  • The cyberjack implant in System Shock.
    [The cyberjack implant] is a wonderful piece of kit. You can take anything with a battery in it and plug it directly into your brain. Hoo! Even more magical, whatever you install, it always works and you never ever have an IRQ conflict. So my player is called PNP man (plug'n'play man).
    System Shock Hacker's Guide to Sin
  • Justified in Mass Effect, because all advanced technology in the universe comes from Reaper artifacts, made to influence the development of intelligent species.
    • Then played straight in Andromeda, as the titular galaxy was not under the Reaper influence, and yet, the Andromeda Initiative encounters very little technological barriers when dealing with local technology.
  • In the Metroid series, Samus' Powered Armor is "modular" and can add new gadgets on the fly. It's somewhat justified by both Samus' Power Suit and most of the gadgets having at least the same creators (the Chozo), but she can also easily adapt Federation, Luminoth, Bryyonian and Space Pirate technology. There are two aversions in the series, however: in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes the Suit can at first not analyze the Energy Transfer Module, and in Metroid: Zero Mission Samus' original Suit is incompatible with the Plasma Beam, Space Jump and Gravity Suit upgrades, and she only gets them in the Extended Gameplay after traversing a Chozo temple and acquiring a new Power Suit. Subverted with the Ice Beam in Metroid Fusion: while there is no indication that she can't equip it right away, the Metroid vaccine she took to save her life from the X Parasites makes it dangerous for her to use it without tech to overcome this weakness.
  • Subverted in Fallout: New Vegas, where Mr. House had the Platinum Chip specially made so that only certain equipment (which he built) could read it.
    • But also played straight, in that every single terminal and robot in the Mojave uses Robco code. The terminals even all use the same Robco Unified Operating System. Robco's coding is so ubiquitous that a quest in one of the add-ons can be resolved when a sufficiently tech-savvy Courier realizes that the cyborg he's talking to can be understood despite his broken voice module by paying attention to the code fluctuations in his radio chatter.
    • Played straight in Fallout 3, it doesn't matter if you're hacking the a home computer or a nuclear launch facility, same operating system, interface, same code.
  • In Chrono Trigger smart girl Lucca has the skills and knowledge necessary to repair and reprogram a robot from the distant future to be her friend and party member. Good thing the future still uses C.
    • Robo's weapons include an arm made from stone from 65 million BC, and one from 12,000 BC. Both flawlessly interface with him, and work better than the one he was built with.
  • The Data Uplink in Perfect Dark is compatible with absolutely every computer you come across, including alien starships. There is a loose Hand Wave in that the game's futuristic tech is based on reverse-engineered alien devices, but it's still pretty flimsy.
  • Averted in Marathon: sure, you can pick up and shoot the alien guns, but your HUD returns static and an error code in place of an ammo readout. Durandal also provides you with an "alien energy converter" as a stopgap measure, before making your Powered Armor fully compatible with Pfhor recharge stations between games.
    • On the other hand, late in Infinity, Durandal (or what's left of him) merges with Thoth, an ancient Jjaro AI whose architecture shouldn't be anything like a human-coded AI's.
  • Any obtained weapon, shield, FTL drive, thrusters, or misc. system can be fitten on a specific slot on any ship in Strange Adventures In Infinite Space. Some limitations are added in the sequel/remake Weird Worlds, where fighters can only be fitted with the most basic shields and short-range weapons. However, there's nothing preventing your Terran ship (considering your people have never encountered aliens before) from finding and fitting a Hyperdrive (which works completely differently from a standard FTL drive) into the same slot in a matter of weeks. You must have some excellent engineers aboard the ship.
  • Averted in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Dr. Vahlen and Chief Engineer Shen have to do a lot of studies and work in order for X-Com to make use of any of the alien technology captured. Justified in that in the case of the weapons and armor technology, they're not so much figuring out how it works as they are figuring out how to fit it for human hands so you can start using it as quickly as possible. Played vaguely straight with the Hyperwave device, but it's also demonstrated that the device almost blows out the base's power grid when first activated with the initial surge.
  • Justified in XCOM 2, as it's been twenty years since Earth fell and most of the advanced technology you're using is either based on or directly stolen from the aliens.
  • Played straight, averted, subverted, and justified in Crysis: At first, it's a shock that Prophet has somehow jury-rigged an alien weapon to work, but then we find out the nanosuit is reverse-engineered from Ceph technology. By the time Crysis 3 rolls around, Prophet can make use of alien weapons, but the heads-up display glitches trying to recognize the weapon when he picks it up and he's the only non-Ceph who can get the weapons to work.
  • Toyed with in .hack: following a disastrous computer virus destroying most commercially available operating systems and damaging the infrastructure of the internet, the governments of the world have made ALTIMIT, the only OS unaffected by the virus, the standard OS of all computers made thereafter. With only one OS on the market, all computers became compatible with each other.
  • Justified in Halo: Cortana is designed to interface with both Covenant and Forerunner technology. Why both? Because Covenant technology is all reverse-engineered from Forerunner relics. On top of that, Forerunner tech seems to have an in-built ability to configure itself to the user.
  • In FTL, players can pick up any ship component and it'll slide easily into their ship, no matter the source of the item or the ship itself (which can be from human or alien origin). This is from simple examples such as buying weapons from far-off shops in foreign systems or random events with civilians gifting parts to you, to extremes like lucking into Mantis Pheromones for an Engi ship (in very rare events). Most of the time this is justified as the universe was formerly part of The Federation, but even isolationists like the Slugs and the Crystalmen have shops that happily sell gear to your ship, no matter the origin of the ship.
  • Escape Velocity: Downplayed in the original gamenote , present in Nova (everyone involved is human and started from Colonial Council tech, but that was centuries ago, with the Polaris in particular going off in their own direction), used to the fullest by Override (it is entirely possible and indeed encouraged to mix and match ships and outfits from multiple species).
  • Astroneer: A majority of base modules can work both on a regular base and on a vehicle. Small ones can also work when plugged into your backpack. And somehow, giant alien teleporters use compatible sockets as well!

  • xkcd #644 wants a doctor to install a USB port. The hardware won't work yet, but the patient is hoping the software will come later.
  • Justified in Commander Kitty: the iKnow wasn't meant to be used as a Mind-Control Device, but Fortiscue tempted fate by using Zenith's code in them.
  • Justified in Homestuck, as the alien technology of Trollian is the same chat client as Pesterchum, just with time-travel capabilities for added frustrations in just trying to have a sane and linear conversation.
  • Penny Arcade parodies the use of this trope in Halo.
  • Schlock Mercenary
    • In Book 14: When investigating a gigantic, presumably vacated, space station, Captain Tagon ask Coxswain Ventura to access a parked fleet of ships left behind. Reasonably enough, she points out that the systems are completely unfamiliar (and alien in design, besides). When he points out that the group that they're working with somehow accessed the central computer enough to give them limited door access, she then grips that there are now two incomprehensible systems she's expected to break into. It does eventually get done thanks to using Ennesby who stole data from the guys that researched the derelict for five hundred years. Plug'n'play principle nonetheless shines when he straight-up ports himself and an echo of Tagii over into the alien hardware and runs on it with no trouble.
    • As an emissary of All-Star, a Dyson Sphere supercomputer full of several entire civilizations worth of virtual people, Putzho can instantly hack any contemporary technology. He slips into the same station with ease despite its defences being much more active at the time.
    • Semi-averted with the Paanuri technology. Petey, as a super-AI, is able to hack into it by hardware access through both mechanical and biological disassembly. However, he comments that even for him, it was very difficult. Once he does figure out how it works and shares the information, Ennesby can work with it too. Schlock, on the other hand has no hacking skills, but manages anyway on a very lucky shot.
  • Averted in S.S.D.D., when Tin-Head is locked up Sticks explains that he can't interface with him to figure out what's wrong because the "Steve Jobs" model has persisted into android hardware.

    Western Animation 
  • Code Lyoko:
    • On at least one occasion, Jérémie has had to borrow one of Odd's portable game systems for a quick memory boost to the Supercomputer. Despite, you know, the fact that the Supercomputer was built anywhere between the mid-1980s and 1994, and even modern computers not having any first-party components that can connect to a video game system or accessory. The portable game was connected to a laptop used as interface with the Supercomputer. That still leaves plenty of compatibility questions, though.
    • A later aversion of the trope occurs when Jérémie has Yumi connect his laptop to a radio antenna by touching loose wires into the laptop's port — there simply isn't enough time to solder a proper connection.
  • Lampshaded by Dib of Invader Zim: while attempting to hack Zim's computer, he says, "I only hope the Irkens just happen to use the same operating system as me". Of course they do.
  • One particular episode of South Park has Cartman buying a Trapper Keeper that can interface to anything, electronic or organic, prompting a Cyborg like the one in The Terminator to return and try to stop it from taking over the world. Rosie O'Donnell becomes involved, and, eventually, Cartman/Trapper Keeper end up an AKIRA-like mountain of flesh.
  • Danny Phantom: The ghost Skulker was able to instantly integrate Tucker's PDA into his ghostly mechanical battle suit basically just by sticking into a compartment on the arm. This made his suit's functions more reliable, but also allowed Tucker to hack into it—even when he travels back from decades in the future.
    Tucker: Wow, I can still hack his system with my PDA. I don't know if that's exciting... or sad.
  • In the Futurama movie Bender's Big Score, the Professor links Hermes' bottled head up to an entire fleet of spaceships.
  • Much of the technology in Megas XLR works this way. While the eponymous robot may be explained as coming from the future and having some of this compatibility built in, Word of God states that the race that built this robot didn't even exist at the time of the story. Also, with some effort, Coop is able to wire a several billion year old intergalactic prison (with English prisoner names into an outdated game console.
    • One episode spoofed Combining Mecha by having Coop desperately cramming some Power Rangers Zord expies onto Megas' limbs. Even though there is explicitly no interface his attempt to pull of their finisher move works.
  • During an episode of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Iron Man doesn't know what to do when he confronts a supervillain from a thousand years in the future who has technology that makes his look like sticks and rocks. The situation is eventually solved when he is able to plug his armor into said technology (using apparently compatible jacks on both his armor and the future tech) and turn it off using command overrides that still work because the future tech was based on his. This is similar to saying that a lock maker from the 10th century should be able to open a modern bank vault with his skeleton key because the vault is an evolution of his medieval locks.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: In "No Small Parts", the Pakleds are revealed to have developed the ability to improve and enlarge their ships by adding the wreckage of alien vessels to them; the one that encounters the Cerritos has pieces of over thirty cultures' ships assembled into a functional and effective whole. This turns out to also result in their primary weakness — interfacing so many different systems together means that Pakled computers need to be extremely open, which in turn makes them extremely vulnerable to viruses.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender subverts this. It turns out that a classic video game console from Earth cannot just be plugged into a spaceship made of 10,000 year old alien tech. In a later episode, Pidge managed to daisy chain a whole bunch of connectors to make it work.

    Real Life 
  • One of the most simple and nigh-universal technological standards that has endured since the 1970s and 80s is the basic Stereo Audio signal, which can be transmitted via simple sound cables that can terminate in either a 3.5mm small pin, a 6.35mm large pin, or a pair of RCA audio pins. Yes, your ancient vintage Walkman from the 80s can be plugged into a latter-day Soundblaster audio card's line-IN, and its old earphones can be shared with both your first-generation iPod and your newest Android flagship smartphone.
    • With more and more smartphones dropping the 3.5 jack, this might not be a case for long. Fortunately, some Android manufacturers are still building their phones with a jack even if as of early 2023 most are mid-range devices at best.
    • The 3.5mm jack does come in a snag with TRRS headsets (stereo headsets with a microphone). For some reason, two standards were created. One for computers, which use the tip as the microphone input, the other for mobile devices, which uses the second ring (closest to the tip) as the microphone input. While the audio output side is unaffected, you can't use the microphone in an incompatible plug.
  • Region 1 (North America) DVD players exist that have the option to output to the European PAL format as well as the North American NTSC format... even though it only has a regular North American power plug.
    • "Region 0" DVD players also exist, which can play any region of DVD without any problems. They're particularly common in East Asia, where at least three of these regions exist in close proximity, and people often buy discs from neighboring countries.
    • Some DVD players can be "unlocked" into region 0 by entering a special code with the remote. Doing so usually voids the warranty on the player, however.
  • Saab market their Gripen fighter aircraft by saying that the aircraft can interface with both NATO and Warsaw Pact weaponry, unlike other fighters of that generation. It's paid some dividends — the Czech Republic and Hungary, both former Warsaw Pact members who are now in NATO, have bought the aircraft.
  • Intel Macs can run both OS X and Windows (not out-of-the-box, some work is required). The reverse (running a Mac OS on non-Mac hardware) is even trickier, requiring third-party software and drivers, copious troubleshooting, and a lot of luck, but it can be done.
    • Technically, most if not all Intel machines (Linux, Windows, Mac etc) can run most modern OSes as they are built around the x86 architecture. The only reason you can't easily run Mac on a non-Mac x86_64 computer is because Mac doesn't want to: it checks for a hardware module only present on Mac computers that does nothing but verify that the computer is a Mac.
  • Ironically played straight in '70s and '80s, when the Soviet Union adopted PDP-11 compatibility as an industry-wide IT standard. It was done exactly for the reason stated above: the interoperability makes life so much easier, and adoption of an already established standard gives you the access to all the software and hardware already developed for it.
  • USB, Universal Serial Bus, for the most part has solved the problem of having various connectors to connect peripherals and needing to install a driver for said peripheral. While it had a rocky start in that drivers were often needed to use the device, today, all but the most niche or specialist devices are plug and play thanks to standardized device profiles. You may need to install software to get the most out of the device (such as keyboards or mice with configurable keys), but for basic features they can work as-is.
    • Special mention goes to the Mass Storage Device and Human Input Device standards, used by flash drives, SD card readers, mice, and keyboards - the majority of software platforms that support at least USB 2.0 specs will support most or all of these.
    • As a happy consequence of Not the Intended Use, most small electronic devices these days will use USB if they need to plug into something for power or needing to hook up to a computer, in part due to a European standards regulation that strongly encouraged the use of standardized Micro-B USB cable heads for charging smartphones.
    • Unfortunately, the USB-C part of the USB standard zig-zags this trope. As it's a physical connector standard, what it actually supports, be it what data it carries and how much power it can provide, largely depends on the manufacturer of the device the port is in. For example, a laptop may be output video on one of its USB-C ports, but not the other. In another case, some devices may require one of the higher power delivery profiles of USB-C, but only ports marked as supporting such will provide it.
  • An interesting side-effect of the Compact Flash memory card's design is that it is actually compatible with the legacy IDE hard drive data connector on older desktops. This has resulted in some hobbyists coming up with ways of using CF cards as replacement hard drives for machines that are from the early age of desktops. It is possible to find such a CF-IDE adaptor on the third-party hobbyist market.
  • Another hardware standard that has gained mass market support is the Bluetooth standard, which is most commonly used for headsets and keyboards/mice, and they will work on a majority of desktop and mobile platforms, from Windows and Apple to Android and 'nix. The same small Bluetooth portable keyboard can be moved from an iPad to your laptop and then to an Android device.
  • On a related note to the USB standard, the FAT32 and EXFAT file system standards are very nearly the lingua franca of file storage systems in a massive majority of modern computers and smartphone/tablet derivatives, as the extremely widespread USB flash drives and SD/SDHC cards ship preformatted for FAT32 and are compatible with Windows (specifically from 95 OSR2 onwards), Apple (both modern OSX and iOS systems), 'nix, and Android platforms. EXFAT, the file system that higher-capacity SDXC cards are preformatted in, will probably suceed FAT32 in this arena of multiplatform support as support improves in future OS releases. In addition, all these SD cards will work perfectly fine with your digital cameras/camcorders, Smart TV sets, IP cameras, and other such embedded systems - photos captured by your programmed IP camera can be moved via SD card to an Android phone, then uploaded to Google Drive and accessed on your desktop, before being copied to another SD card and transferred to your Nintendo 3DS or Wii U.
  • If it has a CPU, you can run NetBSD on it, period. Linux is a close second.
    • If a piece of software has been built to be POSIX-compliant, it'll run on just about every unix-based system out there, or be 90% of the way to working. A simpler piece of software could be made once and then immediately work on $20 embedded boards, Android phones, Macs, and million-dollar supercomputers.
    • In a similar vein, a lot of old Windows apps that used mostly Microsoft supplied libraries and API, work on modern Windows. For instance, a YouTuber demonstrated installed Windows 1.0 and upgraded all the way up to Windows 10 32-bit (as of 2017) and found that a lot of apps from Windows 2.0 work in Windows 10. 64-bit versions will axe compatibility with 16-bit apps, but there's no reason to believe the 32-bit apps won't work.
    • To an even greater extent, C: if it can compute, there's a C compiler for it. C is the basis for POSIX and Unix and is the lingua franca of the open-source world (and by some estimates accounts for as much as a third of all software ever written). If there isn't a C compiler for your system, don't expect it to see much (any) use.
  • QEMU is a CPU virtualizer. If you don't mind some things being really slow, it can theoretically be made to run pretty much any operating system (and by extension, its software) on pretty much any host computer.
    • Not QEMU, but same idea: here is an example of stock Ubuntu running on an 8-bit microcontroller. It takes six hours to boot, but it works. The processor is similar to the kind of thing you'd see in a game console's controller.
  • The standardized ATX form factor for computer parts insures that anything compliant with the standards will at least fit. Rest easy that you can in fact fit a new top of the line motherboard with a screaming fast CPU, a motherload of RAM and a pair of hyper-fast, limited edition 3D cards into the case of the PC you initially built in 1999 (and you upgraded the PSU accordingly. A modern PSU will still fit into said case as well).
    • There are a lot of standards from the IBM PC that are essentially plug and play. At least in theory. But these standards got incompatible upgrades over time. Only three today are both forwards (supposedly) and backwards compatible: USB, SATA, and PCI-Express.
  • The Trope Namer may be the ISA bus PnP standard from the early 1990s. It allowed peripheral cards inserted into one of a PC's ISA slots to automatically determine which IRQ and DMA channels it should use. Previous generations of ISA cards required the person installing them to manually flip dipswitches on the cards to set the IRQ and DMA channel assignment; woe be to the user if you accidentally set two cards to use the same channel. It was widely known as "plug and pray", as in "plug it in, pray it works".
  • Interpreted and scripting languages source files, assuming that the interpreter or whatnot and libraries are available to run them, are essentially plug and play programs. You can reasonably expect the same exact source file will run exactly as you expect it from one platform to another.
  • littleBits are basically the electronics equivalent of LEGO. Connect two pieces and turn it on, and it will work. There are some limitations, but new pieces are easily engineered and just about anything can be built with the right bits.
  • Most amateur radio transmitters have a jack for connecting a telegraph key for transmitting Morse code. Because telegraph keys are just switches that open and close a circuit, you can connect a key made in the 19th century to a modern radio with a simple passive adapter.
  • PCI Express aims to be this, at least on the hardware level. That is, if it's a PCI Express device, it'll work in any PCI Express receptacle regardless of how many lanes it needs, what revision it was designed for, and what physical interface it plugs into. So for example, a PCI Express 4.0, 4-lane, M.2 NVMe SSD can plug into a PCI Express 3.0, 1-lane slot with a passive converter. Even graphics cards, which normally require 16 lanes, will still run in a single lane receptacle, albeit with reduced performance.
  • While the world's electricity varies in spec (being either 100-115V or 220-230V at 50 or 60Hz), most power supplies from reputable electronics manufacturers have made them universal, meaning you only need a passive adapter at worst to use said device. This can either be a doodad at where you plug into the mains socket, or getting a cable with an IEC connector of the correct shape (the other end obviously using the local plug shape). Though if you want to doubly make sure your device is universal, make sure it has the numbers listed before somewhere on the power supply itself.

Alternative Title(s): Plug And Play Technology