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Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate

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"Free will! By the Titans' toe-cheese, they told me you were sharp but I had no idea. Yes, Parson Gotti, Lord of Hamsters, do you believe Fate is a mighty wind? One that propels us inexorably to our final destination? Or do you believe... that the individual can steer the ship of self, to the port of his choice, however emphatically the world may try to blow him?"
Jojo, while speaking to Parson of defying fate, Erfworld.

How much free will do characters really have?

The relationship between free will and fate is not necessarily constant. It can vary between stories and even inside those stories, although how much this is actual change and how much it is simply the revelation of the true nature of Fate also differs.

The relationship between fate and free will can be classified this way:

  • Neither Fate Nor Free Will Exists
    • This one denies free will, stating that our choices are just brain-made "echoes" while also denying any "higher power" that decides fate. In theory you can predict people's actions, but you would run up against the same problems as predicting the weather, and such predictions are in no way mystical.

  • Because Destiny Says So

  • Fighting Fate Is Hard
    • Fate exists but is not the be all and end all. Either only some people can defy fate or defying fate takes a lot of effort or resources, almost as if Fate is reality's path of least resistance. Unless a lot of effort is expended or a hero gets involved at some point the father will act in such a way as to kill his son.

  • Prophecies Are Guides, Not Rules
    • While there is fate it is simply the expression of what will happen if nothing else changes and is predictable, but knowledge of fate allows you to overcome it without extraordinary effort. If the people involved are not warned then at some point the father will act in such a way as to kill his son but as soon as someone involved knows that then it may not end up happening.

  • Prophecies Are Predictions
    • Predicting the future is like predicting the weather. There is no plan but it is possible to make prophecies and identify destinies by extrapolating from now. The father killing the son is simply the most likely outcome given the current situation but it is open to change at any time.

  • Prophecies Are Optional
    • Much like how one can find over a dozen different brands of coffee and chocolate and milk at the supermarket, there holds as many possible futures. There is a Chosen One for every crisis and a divergence for every choice made. When the future is a multiple choice question with no wrong answers, one Self-Fulfilling Prophecy means a near-infinite supply of Self-Defeating Prophecies.

  • Screw Destiny
    • Either there is no such thing as fate or there is no way to find out what is "fated," no way to see into the future and no prophecies, two effectively indistinguishable states. If the prophecy exists then it is little more than a portentous guess with no actual power or fate behind it.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk lies somewhere very high on the scale. Causality plays a big role in the Berserk universe. People like Guts can struggle against causality but are unable to completely overcome it and/or maintain their struggle indefinitely. One character who would know (but who may not be the most reliable source) compares him to a fish in a stream: the fish can leap into the air, but it cannot alter the course of the stream. If accurate, that would put it somewhere between You Can't Fight Fate Because Destiny Says So and Fighting Fate Is Hard, depending on how much importance you want to place on the fate of the fish versus that of the stream.
  • Cardcaptor Sakura is high in the Fate scale.
  • In Future Diary the Future Diaries can be changed almost immediately as they predict.
  • Magi: Labyrinth of Magic exists on the Free Will end of the scale, but the primary villains want to change that. Ironically, they recruit people by claiming that destiny is to blame for all of their problems.
  • The ultimate message and conflict of Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny revolved around this, as a battle of Freedom vs Destiny.
  • The Naruto manga can't seem to make up its mind where it is on the scale. Naruto's fight with Neji contrasts the viewpoints of Screw Destiny and You Can't Fight Fate, with Neji advocating a belief that everyone's abilities are determined from birth, and only those with great parentage can truly excel, with Naruto contesting that anyone can succeed if they try hard enough. Naruto wins the fight, which would seem to vindicate his position, but it turns out that Naruto is the son of the Fourth Hokage and his mother was the previous Kyuubi jinchuriki and a descendent of the Sage of Six Paths. Furthermore, Naruto's own skill proved insufficient to overcome Neji's and he won that fight entirely because of the inherent advantages of being a jinchuriki. On the other hand, Neji didn't know who Naruto's parents were, and based his opinion of Naruto primarily on his academic performance. The issue is definitely worthy of debate. YMMV on whether it's simply a Broken Aesop or if the message all along was that it's not as easy to determine the future's possibilities as Neji presumed.
  • Penguindrum is all about working the scale: On one hand, we have a crazed stalker character (Ringo) who firmly believes in fate and sets out to fulfil the fate that's written down on her diary, and on the other, we have the Takakura siblings (Kanba/Shoma) who hate "fate" and wish to take destiny into their own hands. Then we have their sister Himari, who bestows fate according to her own rules.
  • Princess Tutu has themes regarding these. The show's catchphrase is "May all who accept their fate find happiness. May all who defy their fate find glory."
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE- is considered high in the fate scale.
  • ×××HOLiC ranks quite high: "There is no such thing as coincidence in this world - there is only inevitability."

    Comic Books 
  • In the DCU, the Guardians of the Universe currently believe willpower is the source of chaos, when their attempt to make a corps defined by willpower went awry. Thus, they had created the Third Army to eradicate everyone's free will.
  • Robin: Tim discusses why he doesn't buy into the idea of everything being caused by fate and disagrees with those who feel everything happens for a reason, especially to absolve people of responsibility; "Fate has never been in the business of committing murder. That's always been left in our capable hands."

  • The Inside Out fic Intercom includes this in its discourse on the relation between a human and their (living) emotions. On one hand, when a human is awake, their emotions do have great control over memories and general emotional responses to certain things. However, when Riley visits her own Headquarters and asks about how much they control her reactions, the emotions say they only provide the general mood to react with. It's Riley who chooses how to move those moods into action.
  • The Star Trek (2009) fic Written in the Stars has this as a theme. The Fem!Kirk of the Alt Reality wants to make her own choices, while her Prime counterpart tries to convince her to hook up with Spock, since the Primes did in the original universe. When it's revealed that Fem!Kirk and Spock hooked up in two other realities, it leaves the question of whether they're all just making the same choices or whether the two are just fated to be together.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic The Meaning of Harmony, Sunset is afraid that Because Destiny Says So is in effect, but she later discovers that the truth lies between Prophecies Are Predictions and Prophecies Are Optional.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Lawrence of Arabia, Lawrence's batman disappears in the desert. The bedouin refuse to try to save him because "it is written" (and because a bedouin would know well enough to be afraid of the desert). Lawrence rides off claiming, "nothing is written" and comes back in a few hours with his batman. However it is ultimately revealed that it really was written, given that Lawrence ultimately has to execute the batman.
  • This was a major theme in the The Matrix series, with Smith and Neo becoming the embodiments of fatalism and free will respectively. The climax of the trilogy in the third film sums it up nicely with this exchange:
    Agent Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why do you persist?
    Neo: Because I choose to.
  • In Push Watchers see the outcome of decisions, not really fate. But their predictions usually either come true or get worse.
  • The Terminator films absolutely cannot make up their minds about where they stand on this because of the Timey-Wimey Ball. The dominant theme overtly stated in the second film was "No Fate But What We Make," but the film's Screw Destiny finale was offset by film three which just showed it as delaying the inevitable, and then there's the fact that none of the series should work if not for the Stable Time Loop.
  • Minority Report showed us that he who knows his own future can change it if he wants to.
  • In Avengers: Infinity War, fate wins over free will. Both the Villain Protagonist Thanos and one of his main Hero Antagonists Thor are fatalists who've come to believe that destiny guides them. And plot-wise, heroes struggle against the Mad Titan who claims to be synonymous with Destiny and lose:
    Thanos: Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same.
    Thor: I'm only alive because fate wants me alive. Thanos is just the latest of a long line of bastards, and he'll be the latest to feel my vengeance – fate wills it so.

  • Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism in which the men were sent away by Solomon. The story usually ends with Death saying he hadn't meant to frighten the person, it's only that he was so surprised to see them when he had an appointment with them in the town they were fleeing to.
  • The Elric Saga: Elric is quite probably a 2. He could have fought Fate (in his case, by abandoning his sword Stormbringer), but he was unable to do so, despite many bitter soliloquies bemoaning his circumstances.
    • The books seem to claim that the Lords of Chaos come in at 3, "Fighting Fate Is Hard". There may not be much doubt that the Cosmic Balance will have its way, and the world will not go to eternal Chaos; but there are also some lines that claim, fairly explicitly, that the Lords are so powerful that they have a chance of thwarting Fate.
  • Harry Potter is at least a 3. Because people care a lot about prophecy. However some prophecies do not come to pass. Dumbledore also makes it clear to Harry that the prophecy about him and Voldemort fighting to the death will only happen because Voldemort chooses to follow it; according to Dumbledore, it's a type 4.
  • This crops up a lot in the Alex Verus series, as you'd expect when the main character's power is to see the future. Alex's magic works on the "Prophecies are Predictions" model — he can see the probable consequences of any action, but it's explicitly stated that people do have free will and he can't see past a choice that hasn't been made. However, a character encountered late in the first book can apparently control fate, and the draconic prophecy seems closer to Because Destiny Says So.
  • Un Lun Dun: Its heroine Deeba is the Trope Namer for The Unchosen One. She fought the Big Bad even though the Book of Prophecies listed her as Plucky Comic Relief.
  • The Belgariad: Both the Belgariad and its sequel, the Malloreon, focus on two sides working towards two mutually exclusive prophecies. However, as absolute as these prophecies appear to be, at the same time there is a lot of scrambling by folks such as Belgarath to make certain events go as outlined.
    • It's later stated that they purposefully make sure to follow either of those prophecies, because it limits the world to two predictable outcomes, one of which is desirable. Failure to keep up will cause the emergence of a third prophecy with Unpredictable Results. Oddly, they don't take the third option here, and stick to accomplishing the good prophecy to the end.
  • Modern literature is filled with examples of vague prophecies that are stoppable, twist-able, or just plain wrong since You Can't Fight Fate fell out of favor and was replaced by Screw Destiny.
  • Discworld:
    • There is definitely a Destiny — the History Books kept by the Monks of Time describe the complete history of the Disc from beginning to end, Death's life timers start with the appropriate amount of sand, something ensures Carrot arrives in Ankh-Morpork just as it needs a dragon-slaying king, and so on. But the History Monks can change what the books say, life timers can be smashed, turned over, or just mutate to eke out the sand as much as possible, and Carrot can decide Ankh-Morpork doesn't need a king after all. The Companion says "On the Discworld, the future is set. The job of everyone is to fight back."
    • It helps that several of the books are explicitly framed as a game being played, using the world as a game board, between the Anthropomorphic Personification Fate and The Lady (i.e., Lady Luck), so the position on the scale largely depends on who's winning at the moment.
  • The Twilight Saga: Alice's predictions of the future will change if somebody involved in the vision makes a decision that would change the future.
  • In Slaughterhouse-Five, the main character jumps through time at random to different points in his life — his honeymoon to his death and back to the war where he was taken prisoner — because all time is happening at once. Even the end of the world "has always happened and will always happen". In fact, according to the aliens that visit Earth, it is the only planet where people believe in free will.
  • Deverry uses the term "Wyrd" and states that the future is shaped as much by chance as wyrd. You may inherit certain traits and tendencies from past lives as your wyrd (such as a talent for magic, a crush on a certain person or a tendency to get in a certain kind of trouble) but this can be influenced at changed by conscious choices or random chance. Occasionally, a sorcerer can create a true prophecy but these are susceptible to Prophecy Twist (e.g., "He shall not die in battle except by a sword, but no man can kill him with a sword" — was killed by a girl, but he could also have been killed by his chief rival who turned out to be a half-elf).
  • The Wheel of Time weaves how people live and what they do, and although there are people, ta'veren, around whom the wheel weaves, even they don't have anything to say in their own lives, because You Can't Fight Fate.
    • The entire series is weird in regards to how much power the wheel actually has. On the one hand you have the main character who's constantly struggling with why he fights, The Dragon trying to convert him and only recently finding that motivation, during his attempted destruction of the world, then you have cases like Verrin, who was completely unable to use her magic properly because the wheel wanted her in a specific spot.
    • This series has an oddly Magic A Is Magic A approach to prophesy and destiny, maybe to a unique degree. Everyone has a destiny for their lives from start to finish, and detailed millenia-old prophesies explain the only possible way the world can be saved from the Big Bad. However, free will exists - just because someone is destined to be a peddler doesn't mean they couldn't choose to pursue a career at a smithy, or kill themselves. How do both free will and destiny exist? Because of people called ta'veren, an in-universe term that almost literally means "main character." Ta'veren have the involuntary power of Winds of Destiny, Change!: when one is nearby, random events happen that push people in the direction of what destiny has in store for them. Heads, Tails, Edge suddenly becomes common and people will make impulsive decisions that completely change the course of their lives. So basically, people in the Wheel of Time world live by "Prophecies Are Guides, Not Rules," except for when a ta'veren is in town, when everything becomes Because Destiny Says So. (Note that this is involuntary for the ta'veren, and the changes destiny causes result in misfortune for others and themselves about as often as not.)
  • In the Foundation Series, psychohistory makes quite good predictions about how masses of people will behave but it can go off-course — the predictions are not 100% sure, as clearly demonstrated by the Mule.
  • In Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings the Fool describes fate as like a wagon wheel in a rut, getting deeper entrenched as it continues going back and forth over the same kinds of events until it finally breaks, taking the world with it into unending misery. But a specific person known as a Catalyst, guided by a true prophet, can act as a wedge that jars the wheel of fate out of its rut and on to better things (at least until it begins wearing a new rut). The Catalyst gets treated exactly as harshly as the metaphor implies, even if he succeeds.
  • In Dune, the Seers do not prophesy to others but use their prophecies to guide their actions, as the prophetic visions themselves are not absolute inevitabilities but rather one of several possible paths (although the longer you fulfill a particular vision, the harder it is to avert the rest of it).
  • This is a major theme in the works of R. Scott Bakker, and he may be one of very few authors whose works are squarely Neither Fate Nor Free Will Exist.
    • Second Apocalypse: One character has been raised by a sect of monks dedicated to pure logic. Among other things, he can read people's emotions and thoughts in their faces and can manipulate people to a high degree. Being a fantasy series, there are prophecies, but it is unclear if they really mean anything.
    • Neuropath: The brain is a physical organism, therefore it is governed by the same laws of nature as everything around us. People's actions are completely predictable and can be manipulated to an extreme degree, as one character does using a futuristic device.
    • Disciple of the Dog: The main character has a perfect memory and can see the patterns in people's behavior that those people are themselves often unaware of.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In the short story The Warrior, the archangel Uriel explains that beings like himself can look downstream in the "river of time" and make a good estimate of what's going to happen. But he also explains that nothing is set in stone. If someone exercises free will, the effect is like digging out a trench and changing the direction the "river" will "flow". Harry improved peoples' fate this way three times over the course of the story, almost inadvertently.
    • A recurring character of Sirgun Gard, a genuine Valkyrie, has limited perception of future events when it comes to a strong warrior about to die. She gets a glare and fixates on the person who will soon perish and believes it is their destiny. However, this is not guaranteed because mortals have free will and if another mortal were to step in, what she foresees may not come to pass. She is miffed when her mortal employer saves Harry from his death, and states there will be repercussions. The employer's response:
      "What is the point of having free will if one cannot occasionally spit in the eye of destiny?"
  • The Idhún's Memories trilogy by Laura Gallego has an interesting variation, since prophecies are actually commands given by the gods to their people, which is implied they're fulfilled by the people's subconscious. Thus making it a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy where the ones involved don't need to know of the prophecy. Since there are different races created by different gods and each god can only "move their pieces", it doesn't really fall under any of the categories given here (though it might be a mix of Fighting Fate is Hard and Screw Destiny).
  • This is the nature of a theological debate in Tales of the Branion Realm, in which precognitive Seers play a major role.
  • Both fate and free will exist in The Lord of the Rings, where several characters appear to have a fate planned out by Eru Ilúvatar but only comes to pass through their own decisions and those of others. Aragorn is fated to become king but can only do so if he accepts his destiny and saves Gondor from Sauron's invasion force. Gollum is fated to destroy the One Ring but only because Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam spare his life. Faramir's fate to go to Rivendell and become part of the fellowship is actually averted because Boromir Jumped at the Call and Faramir let him take his place.
  • Wings of Fire is type 4. NightWings (though far fewer of them then the NightWings would have you believe) have the power of prophecy, but there are multiple potential futures even when it comes to random events and they are ultimately just predictions. Even the most talented seers are marked by being able to see all of the potential futures, not a single one.
  • The Sight is type 2 — characters can have visions of the future and it is difficult and requires effort to change them, though it is still possible. Larka realizes this just a bit too late to save herself, but it does provide some hope given that the most likely future is humanity nuking everyone and destroying the environment.
  • Warrior Cats basically subscribes to Prophecies Are Guides, Not Rules. StarClan can warn cats that bad stuff is going to happen, and with this foreknowledge cats are often able to avert terrible events. Warriors probably exists somewhere between this and Fighting Fate Is Hard, because only some cats succeed in thwarting fate. On the other hand, Rock claims to have seen the whole future in a vision and is the one making sure it plays out exactly as it's supposed to. And it does. He's the source of all StarClan prophecies, who themselves have no clairvoyance. So you might say that any signs of free will simply come from StarClan not knowing the original vision.
  • In The Divine Comedy, Dante's crusader ancestor explains that God's absolute knowledge of the future (what we'd call "fate") in no way limits man's freedom, in the same way knowing a ship on a river will move downstream in no way causes it to go downstream.
  • In The Affix, the words of the gem's previous long-term keeper imply that fate and free will are both valid and should be kept in balance. Just because the universe is deterministic doesn't mean that a person's choices aren't their own. Various characters have wildly differing beliefs on the subject, but Matt sides with his predecessor's embrace of compatibilism.
  • Defied in I Do Not Want To Do This. Gareth claims that, rather than being in conflict, free will and destiny are exactly the same thing, with the only difference being the passage of time. The choices a person makes shapes their character, molding them over time into a person that will or will not do certain things, which is all there is to the "predetermined choices" concept of destiny.
  • The Stand: God exists, and He has a very definite plan worked out, but humans always have free will, and must choose whether or not they're going to go along with said plan. Interestingly, the novel hints more than once that the villain Randall Flagg may be the one exception, since, well, he's not really human...
  • Banished from the Hero's Party centers around the Blessings, divine gifts given to each person at birth determining what skills they will have in life. The problem is that not all people have Blessings compatible with their personalities, or what they want to do in life, making the story an extended debate between accepting one's fate and choosing one's own path. An example is shown early on of a boy who wants to follow in his father's footsteps as a guardsman, but his own Blessing is one better suited for drunken brawlers. The main character's sister, whose Blessing makes her The Chosen One, hates her Blessing so much that when she comes across a drug that allegedly can suppress Blessings, she downs a vial on the spot.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, firmly believes in "No fate but what we make" and the entire series comes down to Sarah and John trying to prevent the events of T3 right up to the end. Then the series throws the whole thing for a loop when John Connor jumps ahead through time past the point of Judgment Day, and it turns out that the resistance is still alive and kicking without him.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel:
    • It comes very close to "you can't fight fate" (although you certainly can make it literally true but mean different things). A prophecy showed Buffy was destined to die fighting The Master. Despite Buffy's attempt to avert it by not fighting him (she changes her mind), Giles' attempt to avert it by wanting to be the one to fight the Master (Buffy knocks him out), and an attempt by Xander to fight it as well, it happens...but then Xander brings her back to life with mouth to mouth. Oh, and just to screw with them further, Buffy's first attempt to fight the Master is what gives him the power to escape his prison.
    • "Becoming Part One" ends with things going From Bad to Worse for the heroes, and Whistler narrating how "the big moments" in your life are always going to come, no matter what you do. He then refutes the idea that that makes us puppets, saying that it's what you do after those moments that defines you.
    • Then there's "The Father Will Kill The Son" relating to Angel and Connor. Even though it was placed in a prophecy book to mislead the heroes, it nevertheless came true, though again just literally: Angel "killed" Connor, but as part of a deal that gave Connor a new, more normal, life. The demon who planted the fake prophecy to try to stop the real one — that Connor would kill him — nevertheless was in fact killed by Connor. The only aversion of literal fate in the two series might have been Jasmine's defeat in Angel Season 4; and while the Tro-Clon prophecy sort of suggested something like Jasmine's rise, whether it ruled out her eventual defeat is questionable.
  • The Good Place: "The Worst Possible Use of Free Will" has Eleanor and Michael debating determinism vs. free will, with Eleanor taking the former and Michael taking the latter, because Eleanor believes that her sleeping with Chidi was predetermined by Michael, but Michael insists otherwise.
  • Merlin (2008): everything the Dragon advises Merlin to do is Because Destiny Says So. The Dragon gives advice to save Arthur. But when it comes to Mordred or Morgana, he advises Merlin to make them die to prevent destiny from happening. But Merlin never follows this advice.
  • Power Rangers: Sometimes, through tremendous effort, fate can be changed... and sometimes it can't, and trying to change things changes only the details. Prophesies tend to be fairly spot-on, and time-travelers usually need several attempts to come even close to changing things, although with one notable exception, they're usually successful if they're Rangers.
  • FlashForward (2009): free will works but fate will take steps to 'correct out' any changes you make (i.e., if you kill yourself to prevent your flash-forward, someone else will end up doing what led up to your flash-forward). Nevertheless, Demetri surviving to the end of the series shows that while it's a severe uphill struggle, fate can be changed.
    • Specifically, FlashForward's verse is based on the concept 'what would happen if quantum mechanics worked on a macroscopic scale?' — so you can screw destiny on the small scale but not on the large.
  • As indicated by the page quotes, Smallville experiments with this trope quite a bit. While Jor-El pushes Clark to fulfill his destiny (completing tasks that seem to push him towards becoming Superman), Clark manages to defy Jor-El and his own destiny on occasion in character-establishing moments that push him towards... becoming Superman.
    • A season three episode features a character who can see people's deaths by touching them, but Clark manages to prevent one of these deaths, something no one before had been able to do. Clark is speculated to be able to change people's destinies.
  • Supernatural: Starting in Season 4, the angels try really hard to convince the main characters that the world is immutable — for example, sending Dean back in time to save his parents only to inform him he was doomed to fail because You Can't Fight Fate. Undaunted, in Season 5, Team Free Will (Sam, Dean and Castiel) make it their mission to "Screw Destiny. Right in the face!" and they ultimately succeed, though at significant personal cost.
  • Babylon 5: Although averting fate is clearly possible, only Londo, manages to do so over the course of the series, and even then the option of changing his destiny had already been predicted. Other characters have no luck in averting fate. Sheridan tries to avert destiny and actually causes the future to happen, Babylon 5 is blown up at the end of the series, and Lennier betrays the Rangers despite all efforts not to.
  • Charmed (1998): Premonitions usually come true, but it is possible to stop them from happening with such knowledge.
  • Fringe is difficult to place, but the general rule seems to be that prophecies are predictions. The Observers are a group of emotionless cyborgs who have the ability to jump around in the timeline with a great deal of freedom, but their predictions are probabilistic in nature and they can't be certain that their manipulation of the timeline will succeed, as they are ultimately destroyed by their failure to stop a Butterfly of Doom: A genetically anomalous child Observer (later named Michael) proves to be a Superior Successor by possessing advanced cognitive and empathic abilities without needing an emotion-removing implant like the rest. The Observers realize that the child is a threat to their existence and attempt to dispose of him, but Michael is eventually sent back in time to stop the research that created the Observers in the first place.
  • The premise of Early Edition is that the mysterious paper Gary receives every day shows what will happen if Gary does not intervene. It's intended for Gary to use the knowledge to save people, putting it firmly in the "prophecies are guides, not rules" category.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: While there is free will, many character strongly believe in role of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies, There Are No Coincidences and Signs of the End Times. Gil-galad sends Galadriel away fearing her quest for Sauron will bring him to their doors, Nori believes that she was meant to meet the Istar from the meteorite, Galadriel thinks that meeting Halbrand -who is Sauron in disguise- goes beyond even fate, and Sadoc Burrow believes that something malicious bothers the natural order of the things.
  • Westworld discusses extensively on this debate about free will vs. determinism. Some characters, such as Ford, believe that the Hosts have more free will than the humans who are bounded by their code for survival. The Forge A.I., who analyzes all the guests' data, also believes that humans are doomed to fate because they are incapable of change and that their "free will" is just an illusion because they're passengers of causality. However, in Season 3, Caleb's inclusion in the story shows that there are humans who are capable of making choices, which is why Dolores chooses him to lead humanity. In fact, Dolores concludes in the finale that "free will exists; it's just fucking hard to get."; hence, the tagline of Season 3 which is "Free will is not free".

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Greek and Norse Mythology are high up on the fate scale as not even the gods can escape it.
  • The concept of Wyrd in Nordic- and Germanic-derived Neo-Pagan traditions (Heathenry, Asatru) basically states that every choice people make is woven into the web of Wyrd, and that web determines the choices which will be available to be made from there on in.
  • The Bible varies. If God makes a prophecy about something He wants done, it will be done. Prophecies about the future decisions of people tend to be more like suggestions. According to one interpretation based on Paul's writing though (taken up by Calvinists) everything has been predestined by God, specifically everyone's fate (Heaven or Hell).
  • Islamic doctrine also includes the idea of predestination (essentially synonymous with Fate of Destiny). Interpretations obviously differ, but as generally taught to non-scholars it ties into the concept of Omniscience as possessed by God. God knows everything, so He knows what's going to happen. The popular interpretation is that humankind's actions dictate the map of the future, and not the other way around. God just saw how it would all pan out from the Beginning. So... the future's like the weather, with the assumption that God is the best weatherman ever. If we could see the future, then theoretically it's more of a guide, with the assumption that God saw it all coming anyway.
  • For believers in God generally, the above is how free will vs. divine foreknowledge is reconciled. God sees what people will do, but doesn't cause them to act. Not everyone agrees that it works of course.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Gerrard from Magic: The Gathering is an interesting example. He's a very Screw Destiny Guile Hero kind of person, and when prophecies start turning up calling him The Chosen One, he scoffs at them and tells his friends that destiny isn't real. It gets harder and harder, however, when prediction after prophecy all agree on his being The Hero, and all of his friends and allies begin to view him as such. Still denying fate, he then discovers the truth: his bloodline was genetically engineered for a thousand years by a godlike Chessmaster named Urza as part of a master plan, and his entire life he had been Batman Gambitted into being The Hero. Bitter, he eventually duels a depowered Urza to death in the Big Bad's arena in both an attempt to both bring his friend Hanna back from the dead in a Deal with the Devil and to Screw Destiny. He does kill Urza, but he later escapes the Big Bad as the Big Bad becomes a nightmarish, sentient cloud of murderous death that begins to swallow the world. In the end, Gerrard resigns himself to his fate, sacrificing himself to save the world. It's left open whether it really was his destiny, or whether it was his decision alone.
    • In the novel of Mercadian Masques, he seems to conclude the nature of prophecies. He believes that prophecies are not predictions for what will be, but prescriptions for what should be.
    • Indeed, one of the main reasons Black and Blue are enemy colors to Green is that they dislike Green's belief that You Can't Fight Fate.
  • In Exalted, fate is the plans of the Five Maidens and the Sidereal Exalted. Mortals, gods and Exalted alike are caught up in it, but those with sufficient power and will can break the chains and forge their own destiny.
    • The contradiction between Fate and free will is actually a relevant source of trouble for the Sidereal Exalted. When you've devised the pattern of history according to one assumption of what somebody will do, and that person just plain doesn't do it (even if they're a mortal), it creates problems with the general fabric of causality that need to be addressed.
    • Of course, then there's Samsara, the pattern that develops from Creation's cosmological foundations, although the setting is vague on how much this is "incontrovertable future" or "unshakable compulsion in the only people who can observe it". It hasn't been wrong yet, but that's at least partly because everyone who can read it is immensely powerful and devoted to bringing about its existence.
    • Interestingly, fate only applies to Creation itself. The Wyld, The Underworld, and Malfeas are all outside Fate, and people from those places don't have a destiny. Even then, though, their destiny may be written in samsara, and lesser beings from the Wyld may be ensnared in fate simply by entering Creation.
    • One of the reasons that everyone wants to make sure that the Yozi Sachverell doesn't awaken is because if he does, he will (so far as anyone knows) lock the world into absolute predestination.
  • In Scion, Fate can be overcome but is very powerful and some individuals and pantheons have been totally ensnared by it (the Norse for one).
  • Changeling: The Lost is somewhere in the middle (and particularly dark) with fate working for and against the Players as well as being avertable.
  • Genius: The Transgression includes time travel and thus is complicated. The past used to be immutable and you could not change it. However, after the elimination of the Terminals you can change the past but it takes a lot of resources. The setting overall depends on who you ask and what wonder is being used to make the prophecy. It isn't that they disagree, it is that the laws of metaphysics differ depending on what they think they should be. The timeline currently exists in a causality trench, but if it breaks out (which the Guardians of Forever work overtime to prevent) the universe would probably become chaos.
  • In the Eberron Campaign Setting, the Draconic Prophecy tends to give "if A then B" scenarios, with various groups trying to cause or prevent A. It's more of a suggestion than a prophecy, really.
  • Fate is a very strong theme in Legend of the Five Rings; it is said that everyone has their Dharma, their place under Heaven, and that they WILL fullfill their destinies. Of particular importance are the Seven Thunders, the champions of Heaven that define the destiny of the world every 1000 years, when they fight the Champion of Hell; the outcome of the battle, however, is anyone's guess. So, destiny can be changed, only by a few, select, destined individuals...

  • Invoked by the Narrator in Murder Ballad: "Free will and fate both played their part..."

  • Ever After High has this as part of its theme. The characters are children of fairytale characters and each have their own views on their destinies. The Royals believe that they should follow their parents destiny, Apple White is sure to have a happy ending, but Duchess Swan is doomed to become a swan permanently. The Rebels choose to not follow the destinies set before them, Raven Queen for one refuses to follow her mothers footsteps as the next Evil Queen.

    Video Games 
  • By the end of Asura's Wrath, it is definitely Free Will that wins in the end, via Screw Destiny.
  • Baldur's Gate is complicated, with both free will and fate being strong. The Player Character is saddled with a role in a divine plan that could be expected to make them evil, but all choices between good and evil are left to the player. In the first game, whichever they choose, it is also made clear that they are their own person — not a pawn to the god even if they choose evil. In the last part, Throne of Bhaal, it turns out that all their actions are nevertheless within the bounds of fate and parameters set by the prophecy of the seer Alaundo. The prophecy turns out to be contingent for its outcome on just the actions of the Player Character — not their choice of who to be and what to become, which is free but does not affect the outcome, but whether they or their opponents prevail.
  • While the Central Theme of BlazBlue is one of Screw Destiny, hence why every round starts with the announcement "The Wheel of Fate is Turning! Rebel 1! ACTION!", the intricacies are much more complicated:
    • You cannot change your fate if you refuse to change yourself. The hot-headed Idiot Hero who refuses to think, or at least listen to the advice offered by those who know better, will always tread the same path down the same road towards the same fate. The stubborn Knight Templar can, at best, only reinforce his own fate to such an extent that it overwrites the overall fate of the world. The main Big Bad cannot defy his destiny at all, because he was created by The Powers That Be to be a world-destroying Necessary Evil, so even his Rage Against the Heavens is playing into his destiny, and it's driving him insane.
    • A sufficient amount of Seithr expelled in a burst can cause spacetime distortions that can forcibly set fate off course, hence why Limit Breaks are called "Distortion Drives" and using them in story mode can trigger Multiple Endings... But since Seithr is also highly volatile, and The Powers That Be are desperately trying to keep things going towards some kind of Golden Ending in their own way, these changes generally tend to be of a Butterfly of Doom nature: You may avoid the fate you were set down towards, but the fate you've given yourself by screwing destiny is likely to be far worse... unless it is just plain silly.
    • The Powers That Be, in the meantime, are nigh-omnipotent, but they can only realize existing possibilities, not create entirely new ones. Ergo, they cannot, for example, replace the current timeline with one in which the Big Bad isn't evil because no such timeline exists. This issue of The Powers' limitations is eventually revealed to have had massive consequences since there is not a single timeline in which The Powers don't get killed in the end. And since The Powers happen to be a scared little girl who's been desperately trying to avert her fate, this has pushed her into creating multiple time loops that keep sucking her deeper and deeper into despair... It is quite telling that one of the Big Bads of the series is essentially an Antropomorphic Personification of The Powers' growing suicidal urges and willingness to just give up and let her fate become a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
    • The titular Artifact of Doom is capable of rewriting reality to such an extent that fate can be forcibly screwed over and it is even capable of bringing entirely new possibilities into existence... however, this comes with whole host of other caveats and issues... Not least of all that most of the possibilities the BlazBlue brings into being are of an apocalyptically bad sort for everything and everyone.
  • Chrono Cross is an absolutely free universe that's presented as a deterministic one thanks to an absurdly powerful supercomputer from the future.
  • Whole point and theme of the aptly named Exit Fate. "Fate" merely refers to a non-universal way of pre-determining someone's life. The game is (among other things) about the main character's discovery that his life is fated and his struggle to break the control over him. Interestingly enough, the game does feature a supernatural entity called "the Hand of Fate" that has the power to manipulate destiny in whatever way it wants but, since it's part of the Big Bad Duumvirate, it's actually working with the mortals to create their own naturalistic system of destiny.
  • Final Fantasy XIII: It is stated that fate is undefeatable. However, later it is not only revealed that can fate can be fought, but that humans are the only ones with true free will — something not even the Fal'cie had. Hence the reason Fal'cie turn humans into l'cie, to use their unlimited potential.
  • God of War: While the initial trilogy leans toward You Can't Fight Fate, God of War Ragnarök reveals that the games are set in the absolute middle of this scale — predetermined fate doesn't exist, but beings like the Norns can make exceedingly accurate predictions of how people will react to their prophecies and to other stimuli. It is possible to Screw Destiny, but to do so you have to acknowledge and accept your flaws and actions and from there make an effort to change yourself to some significant extent — Kratos still killing gods, but now "feeling sad about it" is refuted by the Norns as not good enough to change his destiny.
  • The House of the Dead has James Taylor - and about every hero - with a Screw Destiny attitude, especially toward any villains he faces, who are always with You Can't Fight Fate.
    James Taylor: Only man can change the fate himself! You (the Magician) are nothing!!
  • Fate plays a really big role in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. The setting is at the far end of the sacle and for everyone in the world You Can't Fight Fate. Some people have even learned to read the tapestry of fate and while they cannot predict when they can predict what will happen to someone. The hero is special in that having died and come back they no longer have a fate and can do what want which ends up having some consequences on the world unforseen by the person who brought you back.
  • Legacy of Kain shifts back and forth. Several times You Already Changed the Past is demonstrated, such as in Soul Reaver 2 when Raziel kills his human self in the past. However, history can be changed by creating a temporal paradox powerful enough to distort the timestream, at which point it will restructure itself according to the outcome of the situation that created the paradox, adjusting to the new chain of events in a butterfly effect-like ripple. Raziel has a future version of his own soul bonded to his arm as a sword, so by nature of simply existing Raziel is a walking paradox and has the power to change history with every action he takes. However, even he isn't completely immune to destiny, as Soul Reaver 2 ends with Kain warning Raziel about the Hylden, which means Kain remembers the results of something Raziel hasn't done yet. Defiance clarifies this with Moebius saying that Raziel's free will means his path can't be foreseen, but the results of his actions based on his current path can be seen, though he can still change his mind.
  • Shadow of Destiny basically uses this scale like a teeter toter, using both ends at the same time.
  • Shin Megami Tensei slides between both fate and free will.
    • Devil Survivor and its follow-up put a spin into this - it's possible to Screw Destiny, but not only does it require a lot of willpower and strength to do so, and unless you're extremely careful, you will wind up being nothing more than a toy of Fate.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, we have the Yulia Score, a prophecy that cannot be avoided in any way. Turns out the main character, Luke, is a replica, and thus isn't predicted in the Yulia Score, so he isn't bound to it. The Big Bad plans to bring forth The End of the World as We Know It and then replacing it with a replica world that isn't bound to the score. By doing so he is actually fulfilling the Score of destruction predicted by Yulia. Luke manages to deviate from the Score a couple times (mainly in the Tower of Rem, where Asch was supposed to die), and in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon he manages to overthrow the Score.
    Lorelei: So the world did not vanish. To think the future I saw would be rewritten. You have done admirably.
  • The Talos Principle: A bit of a running theme throughout the game, especially when talking with Milton, who is convinced there's no such thing as free will. The game itself falls roughly into the idea that fighting fate is hard, at least for the robots running around in the program, as it takes at least 100 generations to find one bot that is willing to defy Elohim's guidance, climb the tower, and be able to climb to the very top and end the simulation.
  • Undertale and Deltarune contrast each other in this regard. In Undertale, you have complete control of how the story goes: you can either be a complete pacifist and make everyone happy, slaughter the underground, or a mix of both. In Deltarune, however, you are told from the get go that you have no control over anything in the world. Not even the player character.
  • This trope is the core of the ideological conflict between the cosmic forces of the Light and the Void in World of Warcraft. Both forces are strong enough that they can see into the future, but have opposing beliefs in what they see. The Light sees a single future that must be true and must come to pass. If events begin to play out not as forseen, the light will make destiny play out. The Void sees an infinite number of possibilities and sees all of them as potential truth, reveling in the madness and choice.

    Visual Novels 
  • Where the Shinza Bansho Series stands on the scale tends to vary between entries, but in general it tends to lean towards the "Neither Fate Nor Free Will Exists" end of the spectrum. In the earlier eras, your future was always pretty much set in stone with no chance of divergence. Even the great Hegemonic Gods, who themselves can toy with fate of lesser beings, are slaves to their future. And there is no way to accurately predict what that future will be, at most you can get educated guesses based on available data. Then the era of the 4th Heaven happened and things got messy. During this time The Multiverse was born with each universe a possibility made into a reality and the possibility to manipulate fate to an extent came into reality. While there technically is no free will in each universe, they still represent the results of peoples choices.
  • Steins;Gate solidly demonstrates that Fighting Fate is Hard. Timeline alterations tend be to ultimately inconsequential, as "Attractor Fields" lead diverging world lines to converge and lead to the same result... unless, that is, you locate a critical event and alter time drastically enough to shift to a world line in a different Attractor Field.

  • Existential Comics: The issue of how much (if any) free will people have, plus what it even means at all, gets discussed in detail with "A Dialogue On Compatibilism". Cory later argues that in fact the compatibilist view makes more sense and is less counter-intuitive, contrary to many claims, using Back to the Future (and time travel in general) as an example.
  • Goblins: When Minmax briefly becomes a god by accident and experiences all of time for one singular moment, he reveals to Kin that both fate and free will are real: every possible reality that could exist is set in stone, but every decision we make hops us from one reality to another where everything is the same except for the choice we just made. He ascribes this to free will existing fifth-dimensionally, even though he admits he has no idea what that means.
  • Hitmen for Destiny's backstory states that its world is actively sliding along the scale, and every prophecy that someone manages to break causes destiny to weaken throughout the universe. Both Destiny and Free Will have secret agents actively trying to keep/prevent prophecies coming true.
  • Homestuck: The universe and Sburb seems to be custom-engineered to prevent the characters from using Time Travel to change anything because it automatically crafts a Stable Time Loop so You Already Changed the Past. The Trolls always maintain that the kid protagonists are doomed to fail and mess up their session so badly that it retroactively broke the Trolls' as well. However, none of this stops the kids from continuing to try and Screw Destiny, especially Rose. We probably won't know where for sure the series comes to rest between the two extremes until the story ends, and we find out whether the kids really do manage to succeed in their quest or not.
  • Roommates is pretty high up on the fate side. As at least "Fighting Fate Is Hard" high but probably closer to "Because Destiny Says So" and because it's as meta as it is fate should be read as the Theory of Narrative Causality. This doesn't stop the characters from trying (Jareth even desperately tries... it earned him the Cosmic Plaything standing if nothing else) though and results in most of the series' tear jerkers.
  • The Water Phoenix King has Tamantha, which is a mix between fate and karma. Rather than being an inherent part of the world, it is instead a metaphysical construct of a powerful god (who is now dead). Because Tamantha operates on a morality that is somewhere between Blue-and-Orange Morality and Lawful Stupid, the protagonists are out to destroy it altogether.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender plays with this often, as seen in The Fortuneteller and Aang's final decision against the Fire Lord.
  • Futurama: Despite all the crazy, time-altering crap Phillip J. Fry has managed to do over the series, he's still managed to be born to save the universe from giant evil brains, Mom, nudists, and a tentacle god thing, even though he had to be his own grandfather to do it.
    • Not so much fate as it is programming when it's revealed that Bender ironically has no free will but every decision he makes is part of his predetermined program, which raises the question what kind of nut programed Bender to do the things he's done.
  • Gargoyles puts a You Already Changed the Past clause on time travel, but from the various Word of God statements it appears the universe overall is mutable.
  • Steven Universe plays with this a lot, as two main characters, Garnet and Sapphire, have future vision
    • The way Garnet describes her Future Vision in the eponymous episode makes it out to be a "Prophecies are just predictions" scenario- she can see every choice someone might make, and the consequences of each choice, but cannot know which path someone will take until they make that choice
    • However, Sapphire's is presented a bit differently in the episode "The Answer," seeming to be more of a case of "Fighting Fate is Hard," as Ruby, a foot soldier assigned to her, was fated to die in battle. When she instead escapes her fate to fuse with Sapphire, she's astonished, to say the least, and it's revealed in the end of the episode that the only way Ruby managed to escape her destiny was through The Power of Love .
  • In Beast Wars, since everyone is stuck on prehistoric Earth, Dinobot spends most of the second season agonizing over whether he truly has freedom of choice, or if You Already Changed the Past is in effect. He gets his answer when he witness Megatron directly changing the future by blowing a chunk off a mountain, which causes an image of the future version of the same mountain to change and show the chunk missing. Since Megatron plans to wipe out the human race before it even exists by exterminating its prehistoric ancestors, Dinobot notes the irony that knowing he can, in fact, make his own choices is the very thing that makes him feel he has no choice but to pull a Heroic Sacrifice and stop it from happening.
  • In Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Owlman discovers that neither free will nor fate exists. Any time anyone anywhere makes any choice, the universe itself splits into multiple branches, so it doesn't matter whether you chose A or B, because another universe was just created where you chose the other one. This revelation causes him to go very much off the deep end and attempt to make what he feels is the only choice that truly matters: destroying the entire multiverse.
  • A case of Fighting Destiny is Hard, shows up in Gravity Falls, when Dipper tries to impress Wendy. No matter what he does, or how he tries to counter it, he will end up hitting her in the eye with a baseball, causing Robbie to comfort her and the two of them to begin dating. The only way around this was to sacrifice Mabel obtaining her pet Waddles, which was ultimately something Dipper wasn't willing to do.

    Real Life 
  • It isn't agreed what governs reality, but the main theories among philosophers are:
    • Neither Fate Nor Free Will Exist: Hard incompatibilism. The future cannot be determined from the past, but that's just due to inherent randomness in the laws of physics, not to any sort of free will.
    • Because Destiny Says So: Determinism. This theory has hard and soft variants, for whether or not free will exists. For example, in the hard variant, the father will kill his son. He has no choice. In the soft variant, he will have a choice, but certain influences will help make that choice.
    • Prophecies Are Predictions: Libertarianism (not the political ideology).
    • Prophecies Are Optional There are several theories of cosmology that suggest the future might not be fixed and/or there might be multiple futures, either due to their being multiple universes or the universe being more probabilistic than deterministic (I.E X is 50 percent likely to happen, as opposed to X is predetermined to happen.)
  • Religions run the gamut, as it's largely just a question of to what extent God intervenes. Screw Destiny is probably one of the most debated issues with various schools of thought having different standpoints and justifications for them.
  • Existentialism is essentially Screw Destiny: The Philosophy. There is no higher meaning in the universe, and thus no such thing as fate or destiny. Free will is both a gift and curse, and whatever destiny one has is self-created and they must take responsibility for it.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Sliding Scale Of Fate Vs Free Will, Sliding Scale Of Free Will Vs Destiny, Sliding Scale Of Destiny Vs Free Will, Fate Vs Free Will, Free Will Vs Fate, Destiny Vs Free Will, Free Will Vs Destiny, Sliding Scale Of Free Will Versus Fate


Soul Reaver 2

Compelled by history to slay Kain while in the past, Raziel barely manages to resist its pull, much to Kain's relief. (Subtitles provided by Ugly93 on YouTube)

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / SlidingScaleOfFreeWillVsFate

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