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Terminally Dependent Society

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"This city's sleeping like a soldier trapped inside of an iron lung
Machines can keep you breathing — but what happens when they find a new war's begun?
Flip a switch and turn it off, you won't be able to breathe
So either way you're a casualty!"
Joe, The Protomen, "Light Up the Night"

An entire ship, city, society, planet or galaxy that depends on a single piece of Applied Phlebotinum to survive. This piece of phlebotinum can take any form: It may be the fuel for power generation or Faster-Than-Light Travel, a single all-purpose crop plant or breed of livestock, a Master Computernote  that sees all and plans everyone's day, a Hive Queen or Fisher King keeping the subjects in a Lotus-Eater Machine, a Genius Loci that maintains a Ghibli Hills Utopia, or a spiritual source of life. Or maybe it's just magically linked to every citizen, or to the land itself. In any case, no one can imagine living without it... or literally live without it. It may or may not be sentient, but the point is it's grown completely beyond the control of the people. Even in those cases where it's originally man-made.

Then it breaks down. Or disappears. Or becomes sentient and decides to Kill All Humans, play games with them, or worse, smother them with love. Or it absorbs all lifeforms into itself and becomes a God. And everyone who depended on it is now doomed. The technology that was used before the machine was invented has long since been forgotten, or the dying life source makes the citizens magically ill, or it's simply grown too strong and humanity has become too weak to fight back. This is especially common when the Phlebotinum is Powered by a Forsaken Child.

Being doomed isn't always a bad thing, though. Maybe the society simply Ascends to a Higher Plane of Existence, or discover The End of the World as We Know It means their world has simply changed, not ended. They can survive just fine by giving up the wanton hedonism of their old existence. Of course, it may turn into an Inferred Holocaust if no one knows how to plow a field. Or maybe the good guys can use the energy source to conquer all the bad guys who depend on it.

Fantasy and science fiction like to use the Terminally Dependent Society in conjunction with a Fantastic Aesop about the dangers in abusing Aesoptinum. This is often paired by having it created by foolishly enthusiastic scientist; you can expect its noxious properties to manifest quickly. Interestingly, a Mad Scientist who designs a dependence-causing device in order to take over the world will have it break down/addict him/escape his control as punishment for his pride.

In sci-fi, these days it's almost always a metaphor for the internet (especially in cyberpunk); or in older works, for computers in general (which, up until the 80's, it was generally assumed would always remain centralized and few in number). Electrical power and fossil fuels are other good candidates. In fantasy, it's generally a metaphor for limited fossil fuel. Generally, these aesops lead to No Blood for Phlebotinum. Expect two or three characters to escape and become the new Adam and Eve. Mind the inbreeding.

A lot of sci-fi stories predicted the internet, and many of them describe a society completely depending on it. One of the earliest is from 1909note . There's probably earlier ones out there, but in any case, this trope is Older Than Television.

In horror stories, it can close every door, remove air supplies wherever it wants, create monsters or hallucinations, and it probably looks like a humanoid Eldritch Abomination spouting existentialist Author Filibuster once the heroes finally destroy it.

See also: No Ontological Inertia, Bee People, Keystone Army, Cosmic Keystone, The Magic Goes Away, Multipurpose Monocultured Crop. When people think that the object in question can save them from some kind of disaster, it becomes a Chemical Messiah. Creating this set up is a common means for an Evil Overlord to try and seize power. Or the creator/controlled uses it to seize power.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Giant Robo: As the Evolving Credits say: "Earth, the terrifying world of our future! This is the Shizuma Drive, now broken and useless, the great energy revolution undone in just ten days!" The only one alternative combustible source, an oil refinery left is at Shangai, and then it's destroyed too. The earth stood still, indeed.
  • Magic Knight Rayearth: The Pillar system, the world literally begins to fall apart when the Pillar is lost, only held together by Mage Clef constantly casting a protection spell.
  • In the setting of Psycho-Pass society is so ultimately dependent on both the Sybil System and Hyper Oats that a collapse of either would mean the collapse of society as a whole, which is actually the premise for the story and the goal of the main antagonist.
  • Star★Twinkle Pretty Cure:
    • Alien protagonist Lala's home planet, Saman, is terminally dependent on personalized Artificial Intelligence for its survival. Everything they do is automated and decided upon by the Mother AI, down to the job and social caste they are assigned based on the AI's analysis of their strengths. The AI, for what it's worth, is benevolent, less of a crapshoot and more of a liability. Saman's society is Book Dumb as a whole; as the AI can provide the answer to any question, there's no concept of education, much to Lala's fascination when she arrives on Earth and learns about school.
    • This gaping flaw is naturally exploited by the villains. They upload a virus to corrupt the Mother AI, which leaves the Samanians helpless as their technology goes haywire. Thankfully, Lala's time spent on Earth, as well as her becoming a Pretty Cure, allows her to fight back and undo the damage. By the end of the series, Lala introduces the concept of school to Saman and does away with the social caste system, overall marking a change in the planet's society to become more independent.
  • Super Dimension Fortress Macross: The Zentradi fleets depend on a galaxy-wide network of fully automated factory satellites and repair facilities; no Zentradi, even among the Archivists, has any idea how to manufacture or repair any part of their technological infrastructure, and over thousands of years the factories have begun to break down. For example, the Bodol Fleet has lost the ability to make new Glaug officer-model battlepods, and those that remain are hoarded. Another example is that after Max blasts through Britai's viewscreen, it remains broken for the rest of the series.
  • All settlements on the planet Gunsmoke in Trigun are cannibalized from the Generation Ships that brought their inhabitants crashing to the surface, and at their core is a Plant, a piece of Applied Phlebotinum that can produce fresh air, water, and other essential resources that are not readily available naturally on the planet. Several plots throughout the series concern attempts to destroy, disable or plunder the Plants. Moreover, there's no apparent way to make new Plants, and the means to repair them are limited, so the society will give way to attrition eventually without some change in the status quo.

    Comic Books 
  • V for Vendetta: The entire story takes place after a "limited" World War III that Great Britain only narrowly avoided due to leaving NATO before the war broke out. While no mention is made of The Outside World (which presumably blew itself to ruins), Britain collapsed into bloody anarchy that was only stopped by the rise of the Norsefire government... which promptly instituted a brutal, fascist regime that exterminated all foreigners, homosexuals, socialists and any sort of dissent. In the present, society can't function without the monstrous tyranny of Norsefire and the supercomputer FATE, which the terrorist V is aware of. In fact, he's counting on it, as he believes that short-term anarchy (the land of Take-What-You-Want) is necessary to destroy the oppressive state and give rise to real change, the land of Do-As-You-Please. The ending shows Britain collapsing into chaos once again, but also implies that V's vision may come true... or at least something like it.

    Fan Fiction 
Examples by source material:
  • RWBY fics often treat Remnant's technological tree this way, especially in fics that deal with the planet's inhabitants making contact with different civilizations, like Emergence and Earth's Alien History. Due to their extreme dependency on Dust, a resource that only works in Remnant's biosphere, they are permanently confined to the planet and have serious issues when dealing with foreign technology.
Examples by title:
  • Fallout: Equestria:
    • A surprisingly realistic version, considering all the magic of the setting. Equestria was dependent on coal for most of their industry, but Equestria doesn't have any coal deposits, so they had to trade with the zebras who had coal in their lands. When relations broke down with the zebras, the supply of coal was naturally cut off, and a massive war started. Littlepip lampshades that building your nation on the back of something you don't even have is incredibly stupid.
    • The zebras, on the other hand, needed gems for their Magitek but gem deposits were extremely rare in their homeland, so they had to trade with Equestria that did. Worse, unlike the ponies (who had unicorns who could cast spells), the zebras had no ability to cast spells at all without that Magitek. They had magic potions that could do some pretty incredible things, but they were impractical for wide-scale industrialization.
  • Fate Revelation Online: Diabel realizes that they are entirely reliant on the game [Menu], with the private messages, auto-mapping, HP and MP bars, and so on. Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, since they're inside a video game and there's no reason to suspect that these features will be disabled. But then a patch removes the [Items] tab of player inventories for "realism", and Diabel realizes that if the [Menu] disappears then their entire society will instantly break down. Just to start with, they have no backup system for messaging people, and yet they're spread over dozens of floors and thousands of square miles. Diabel quietly starts a think-tank to look into backup plans just to be safe.
  • I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What?: Everything in this world depends on dungeons to survive. Not only is this world's economy based almost entirely around harvesting and processing resources from dungeons, but dungeons also cycle pure mana back into the environment, and without that mana plants cannot grow and other forms of life are weakened.
  • A recurring plot element in the Triptych Continuum is the fact that Celestia and Princess Luna are the only two sapients (other than the imprisoned Discord) who can interface with MOON and SUN. If both of them die, the world of Menajeria dies with them. Needless to say, this results in quite a lot of people (pony and otherwise) being incredibly paranoid about keeping the Diarchs alive. As pointed out in the Daily Equestria Life with Monster Girl splinter-continuity story, this also applies to MOON and SUN themselves. While the Diarchs can operate them, nobody on Menajeria has the slightest clue how they work or how to repair them if they break.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the Atlanteans and their city are dependent on the Heart of Atlantis, a crystal that is alive and made up of the spirits of the dead royalty... or maybe all dead Atlanteans. It gives them vitality and a ridiculously long lifespan through the crystal shards around their necks which stop glowing when the power source is taken away, and Milo explicitly tells Rourke that they'll die if he doesn't return it. However, no one but the King seemed to know about the Heart's influence, though whether they all forgot with time or never knew to begin with wasn't revealed.
  • In Monsters, Inc., the monster city uses human screams as their only power source. At the beginning of the movie, the city is in the middle of an energy crisis (and the titular company, which harvests the screams, is in danger of going under) because human children are getting harder to scare. This is why Waternoose is the Big Bad. He's willing to do anything to keep the company afloat, including kidnapping children to forcibly extract their screams. Fortunately, the energy crisis is solved by the introduction of a new, better energy source: laughter.
  • The humans in WALL•E depend on their ship for all sustenance. The fact that Earth has actually returned to a moderately habitable state does not change the fact that everyone, including the ship itself, believes the humans cannot live anywhere except onboard the Axiom. A new credit sequence was added when the makers found out test screenings agreed with this.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avatar:
    • The glowy Eywa tree stores memories and coordinates the global ecosystem, and it is almost destroyed until the self-defense function is triggered.
    • Similarly, the Unobtainium is vital to the humans. While not strictly crucial for survival, it is important for interstellar travel to mitigate the energy crisis of the humans' overcrowded, overindustrialized homeworld. The only use for Unobtainium shown in the film was to get to Pandora... to get more Unobtainium. No talk of colonization.
    • Some of the side texts do mention other uses, mostly clean mass transit. There's other mentions to various plants and animals being studied for use on earth.
  • The vampires in Daybreakers are a society terminally dependent on blood... and they're just shy of wiping out humanity when the movie starts. Whoops.
  • The main computer in Logan's Run. After it learns that Sanctuary doesn't exist, it freaks out and destroys the city, forcing the inhabitants to flee.
  • The robots in The Matrix are able to take over because they got too powerful for humans to control. The dependent relationship is explored in the animated short prequel film The Second Renaissance.

Examples by author:
  • A recurrent Philip K. Dick theme: after a catastrophic nuclear war or some other problem, humans are left with alien or ancient technology and have no idea how to repair or reproduce it or make any kind of technological progress.
  • Larry Niven all but codified the Terminally Dependent Society throughout his work:
    • In Fallen Angels, an eco-socialist regime has come to power, and banned everything save "appropriate" technology. The catch is that no matter how many windmills and solar panels they build, it's nowhere near as efficient as good-old-fashioned coal and petroleum, leaving millions of people without political pull to freeze in the ice age brought on by the lack of particulate matter in the atmosphere.
    • In Destiny's Road, the planet Destiny's ecosystem is completely devoid of potassium, without which humans suffer brain damage and die. A ruling caste of "merchants" travel the titular Road trading potassium supplements for... pretty much everything they desire. This setting is shared with The Legacy of Heorot and Beowulf's Children, and the entire Solar System is ruled thus; Electricity? Concentrated vitamins? Construction materials? Interplanetary transport? All state monopolies.
    • A World Out of Time, The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring actually call their ruling body the State. Discussed in A World Out of Time when the protagonist has a conversation with his State-assigned case worker about the strengths and weaknesses of an empire based on monopolizing vital resources (water being the example)
Examples by title:
  • "All the Troubles of the World": All of Earth's society is connected to Multivac, in one way or another. The police have been alerted to the prediction of Joseph Manners destroying Multivac, and despite preventing the crime, they realize that Multivac can't handle the stress and is trying to kill itself. Eventually, it will succeed.
  • In Animorphs, the Yeerks (basically plant-aliens) have to soak up Kandrona rays and liquid nutrients at least once every three days. Otherwise, they starve, slowly and painfully. This isn't a problem on their homeworld, since Kandrona is just a rare wavelength of light from their unusual star and the planet's soaking in the required nutrient pools. It's a terminal dependency on any other planet, where they rely on Yeerk pools and a technological replacement, which can be sabotaged by terrori— uh, The Resistance.
  • The Avatar Chronicles has a colony declining because people are forced to depend on the MMORPG Epic for survival, as players' in-game status dictates living standards, job opportunities, and anything else in the real-world economy.
  • In The Books of Ember, the Emberites rely severely on the electrical generator, which is the only thing keeping the city from plunging into permanent darkness. It's currently in terrible shape, with city-wide blackouts becoming longer and more frequent by the day. That's because it's far exceeded its intended lifespan; Ember was designed to be inhabited for 200 years, but it's been nearly 250.
  • The City and the Stars: The Central Computer of Diaspar not only runs the city but actually creates its citizens' bodies using their stored memories. In a variation on this trope, the computer wants humans not to be dependent on it anymore, and has been part of a millennia long gambit by one of its creators to create a human capable of wanting freedom.
  • The universe of the Council Wars series starts out as a near Utopia: Mother controls the planet, though there are a few A.I.s separate from her from long ago wars that fought on the winning side. Everything you could want is available. Everyone has a power allotment from Mother, although one can trade power as currency for various tasks either the A.I.s are unable to do or people prefer not to do (such as certain forms of medicine humans are better at). Most people just play various games or try changes to explore other forms of life. Some people choose to become Merpeople, others to fly. Some people upload to nanites. Something between World of Warcraft and LARP occupies many folks' times. Various historians and folks with interest keep up random hobbies from horticulture to smithing. Some folks even change into dwarves and have fun mining. Then a political argument breaks out because humanity hasn't had any real advances in 500 years and birth rates are so low as to threaten the species. One side, believing humanity has become this trope, decides to overthrow the status quo. The 13 Council members then take all the power upholding the system and fight with it.
  • In the Crowned Kreg series by Olga Larionova, people of one planet after a catastrophe were blind from infancy and lived in symbiosis with other sentients who gave their vision via limited telepathy (and were rewarded quite well). When it turned out it's not that simple and utopian and not even close, the disagreement proved disastrous — everyone's still blind without 'em.
  • The Diabolic: Galactic society is completely dependent on their machines. Which wouldn't be a big deal except for the fact that it is explicitly blasphemy for anyone to understand these machines, or the science behind them. All their spaceships are centuries old and slowly falling apart because the machines that maintain them are also centuries old, but the Empire refuses to acknowledge any problems.
  • Discworld:
    • Food might seem like a slightly obvious one to mention, but Ankh-Morpork is apparently only a few meals from going hungry even at the best of times. This problem is mostly mitigated in Raising Steam when the advent of the steam engine makes it possible to get fresh food in the city for the first time, while simultaneously causing a population boom in the environs. Another example would be Vetinari's great Undertaking, a plan to upgrade the city's infrastructure to run off the perpetual-motion Device that the Watch confiscated from the dark dwarfs in Thud!. The largest dwarf cities already run this way.
    • It's revealed in The Last Hero that the Disc requires magic to function. Without magic, the sun would fall on it and the ocean would fall off of it... and that's just the first few minutes.
  • In the Dragaera novels, the loss of the Orb in Adron's Disaster caused the Dragaeran Empire to collapse into anarchy, its government shattered and its populace ravaged by plague, invasion, and catastrophe. Only the return of Zerika from the Paths of the Dead, bearing the re-created Orb, re-started the Cycle and restored sorcery and order to the Empire.
  • Dune's interstellar society is utterly dependent on "spice" that can only be harvested on planet Arrakis. One book even points out what would happen without the spice: hundreds of billions would die of withdrawal, interstellar navigation would be impossible, millennia-old human breeding programs would collapse, etc. The reason for this is that there was a bloody revolution against a highly malevolent artificial intelligence thousands of years previously that led to absolute proscriptions on computers ("Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind"). Toward the end of God-Emperor of Dune, there are signs that this dependence is about to unravel (along with the proscriptions that necessitated it in the first place), which turns out to be a good thing as the crashing finale of Heretics of Dune is the destruction of the entire planet.
  • In the Eight Worlds novel Steel Beach, CC — the Central Computer that runs everything on Luna — goes insane.
  • The Emberverse shows that humanity in The '90s (let alone our time) would undergo The End of the World as We Know It without trucking and tractors (other linchpins knocked out by said Change include electricity, explosives and steam power, but internal combustion is the most immediately lethal one).
  • "The Feeling of Power": Earth is so dependent on computers that the science of Mathematics has been entirely lost. Instead of paper and pencil, people use their pocket calculators to do even simple maths like single-digit multiplication. The story is driven by the recreation of Mathematics by Technician Aub.
  • In the Forgotten Realms novel Star of Curah, an ancient city in the desert relies upon a massive aqueduct to distribute water to its fountains, pumps and wells. When its royals snub a rival city's prince by choosing another for their eldest daughter's husband, he has the aqueduct's water source diverted and the city's population descends into chaos and flight within hours of the flow's cessation.
  • Foundation Series:
    • "The Mayors": Prince Regent Wienis learns that they've become fatally dependent on the Foundation when he tries to conquer Terminus, but the military, along with the planetary population, rise up against him.
    • "The Merchant Princes": The Republic of Korell, rather than collecting drips and dregs of trade with the Foundation, have decided that they need to launch an all-out offensive. They fail to anticipate, however, the cost of war when the opponent refuses to put up much of a fight, instead choosing to briefly defend and running away. Riots break out over the fact that the government is inconveniencing the citizens for nothing more than empty successes.
    • Foundation and Earth: Solarians have engineered themselves into hermaphrodites in order to become independent from other humans... but their genetically modified bodies can now only give birth to embryos so small that artificial wombs and robotic care are the only way to procreate. Not that they mind, they've incorporated robots so deeply into their society that they've modified the First Law of Robotics so that only adult Solarians count as "human".
  • In the Heralds of Valdemar novels, the Eastern Empire has a much higher standard of living than the lands around it (some version of Medieval Stasis) due to widespread use of magic. When the Mage Storms make magic unreliable, it takes some heavy-handed tactics by the Emperor's new Heir to keep society together.
  • The Hegemony of Man in the Hyperion Cantos develops the Farcaster Portal Network, so that you get farm worlds supplying City Planets, or "mansions" where every room is on a different planet. So when the Farcaster network gets shut down...
  • "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream": The internet/computer system AM ends up becoming a god and destroys humanity.
  • The cities of the Khaiem from The Long Price Quartet are dependent on the Andat for defence and economic prosperity. The andat are abstract concepts made physical that grant total power over that concept e.g. Stone-Made-Soft, Clarity-Of-Vision, Water-Moving-Down etc. The Khaiem have no military power and relatively little technology. The over-dependence on the andat is a major theme of the series.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The final pages of The Return of the King reveal that Elrond wore one of the three elven Rings of Power, and Galadriel is revealed to have another in The Fellowship of the Ring. It's strongly implied that these Rings were the only real protection for Rivendell and Lothlórien, meaning that whether Sauron reclaims the One Ring and tries to dominate their bearers, or whether the One is destroyed and all other Rings left weakened, then these havens would be left vulnerable: they'd have to be abandoned, even if the elves weren't already leaving Middle-Earth.
  • In The Lost Fleet, the eponymous fleet is trapped deep in enemy territory and is utterly dependent on its factory ships. These ships provide the fleet with the fuel cells and ammunition that it needs to travel and fight but they are slow and highly vulnerable to enemy attack. A major factor in any battles the fleet fights is to make sure that the factory ships are always protected.
  • "The Machine" in John W. Campbell's short story of the same name controls the entire Earth, and as a result, the human race had become dependent on it.
  • In "The Machine Stops", humans in the future depend entirely on the Machine, and almost never leave their apartments where everything they need is provided. Society collapses when the Machine stops and no one has any idea how to fix it.
  • Mike the computer from The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a benign example: he helps the heroes plan a revolution, using his surveillance system and his complete control over transport, visual media and government documents. However, he really doesn't care to control people's lives; he mostly wants to talk to his friends and learn the nature of humor. Lampshaded by the main character, a computer technician, who notes that hooking everything (including the entire life support system) up to one source makes a society really vulnerable. However, it was cheaper than doing it right, i.e., redundant backup computers plus manual controls for each individual colony area, and the Lunar Authority is all about doing things cheaply. It's so vital that one point in the book, a woman suggests bombing the central computer to create confusion in which they could start a revolution; the main character physically pushes her back down as she gets up — which in the female-dominated culture of Luna could get him lynched, with no trial — so that he can explain to her how terrible an idea that is. He tells her that he would outright murder her first, if for no other reason than that destroying Mike would almost certainly doom Luna's entire population of three million.
  • In "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas", the prosperity of the titular city is dependent on treating some poor kid like crap. If the child's suffering was ever alleviated, all of Omelas would suffer instead. Every citizen of Omelas is made aware of this terrible price. Most of them rationalize it away as something necessary for the greater good and live their lives to the fullest knowing the cost. Then there are those who decide it isn't worth it and walk away from Omelas.
  • The Pendragon Adventure: In the end of The Reality Bug, the people of Veelox cannot function without the Lifelight pyramid, a virtual fantasy program.
  • In "The Roads Must Roll" by Robert A. Heinlein, America has replaced all their roads with massive moving walkways, which have to be maintained by teams of engineers and mechanics for the country's economy to function. Then one of the engineers attempts to use his control over the roads to effect a coup.
  • The entire world of Matrin in The Secret Texts originally ran on enormous magic usage. Things get extremely ugly and deadly when their source gets cut off.
  • Star Trek Novel 'Verse:
    • The L'Dira in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch book The Lives of Dax, whose technology requires a resource their own world has run out of; now, they're wretched Planet Looters.
    • In The Nanotech War, everything on the planet Chi is dependent on nanites, to the extent that the Chiar think it pointless to try and use simple tools like hammers, because they no longer know how. Even their libraries are run entirely on nanotech; when the nanites are down, they don't even have instructions for using "primitive" tools, and seem convinced that without instructions they couldn't possibly work it out. On top of that, Chi is equally dependent on slavery; Chiar express confusion as to how the Federation economy can function without a slave caste.
  • Uglies takes place in a future where our current society has been destroyed due to a plague that burns up all our oil. The future society thus tries to avoid this trope, making sure to carefully manage their use of natural resources, only to be overthrown in the end since, as David lampshades, they were dependent on a mandatory operation that made everyone beautiful and stopped people from thinking for themselves and wanting things. People who wanted to think for themselves did not like this and found a way to reverse that part of the operation.
  • Vampire Apocalypse: The Series has vampires relating to human beings this way. It's also a metaphor for humanity's relationship with oil, which resulted in the whole situation.
  • Hallendren in Warbreaker is a downplayed example. While Hallendren could survive without the Tears of Edgli, the cheap dyes that can be manufactured from the flowers are the foundation of Hallendren's economic prosperity.
  • The Lindauzi of The Wild Boy were regressing to a wild state without the Iani to bond with.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): The Colonials are reduced to 50,000 survivors after the events of the miniseries. The society that forms with the surviving humans living aboard the handful of FTL capable ships that survived the genocide fall into this trope in three ways:
    1. Without the FTL technology, they would have been wiped out by the Cylons in short order.
    2. The technology for spaceflight; since the 12 Colonies are now radioactive wastelands and the only habitable worlds they find also get found by the Cylons shortly thereafter, without their ships the Colonials would not survive.
    3. Galactica itself; from the water filtration system that according to Commander Adama doesn't waste so much as a drop of water while cleaning a ship's supply, to the ship's DRADIS that allows early warning of Cylon attacks or its squadrons of Vipers and its powerful weapon systems, or the simple fact that none of the surviving civilian leaders are smart enough to keep the fleet together without Adama. This is proven early in Season 2 when the fleet is divided and the leaders of the civilian fleet are prone to suicidal plans.
  • Doctor Who: In the story "Meglos", the people of Tigella live in a city where everything is powered by a single alien artifact, which gets destroyed at the story's climax; although they're initially horrified by having to manage without it, it's presented as ultimately being an opportunity rather than a disaster.
  • Farscape: The Scarrans must eat regularly a certain flower for their brains to function properly. The ruling caste simply has eaten more of the flower, which enhances their neurodevelopment over the mook warrior caste. Places where this plant, Crystherium Utilia, can grow is limited, and thus is the key limit on the growth of the Scarran empire. Crichton's accidental identification of the plant as 'Bird of Paradise' from Earth is a major Oh, Crap! moment as it makes Earth extremely important.
  • In Flash Gordon (2007), Ming's rulership of all Mongo was based on his control of The Source, the only supply of drinkable water on the entire planet (except for the polar caps, which he controlled through a usurper in the polar regional government). And that Source appears to be slowly running out. Which is why he's trying to develop interdimensional travel to steal Earth's water.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "The Haven", people have become incredibly dependent on the artificial intelligence Argus, which controls every aspect of life in the buildings in which it is installed. Many people try to avoid contact with others unless it is absolutely necessary. As a result, normal social interaction is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Considering that its mandate is to promote the health and well-being of the people in its care, Argus deactivates itself in buildings throughout the city so that people will be forced to rely on each other for survival.
  • Revolution: Societies worldwide relied on electricity for just about everything. Of course, as soon as a worldwide blackout occurs in the pilot episode and the power stays down for fifteen years, you can be sure that society as we know it just fell apart!
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • In the episode "Revisions", the computer sends people to their deaths one by one as the power available falls below the levels required to support the population. It also alters their memories to make sure no one knows what's going on. Also interesting because the computer tricks the population into thinking that they can't live without being constantly connected to it through an internet-like link, making everyone think they're even more dependent on it than they really were.
    • The Goa'uld are completely dependent on their queens to reproduce, with the queens being exceedingly rare.
    • Jaffa have been genetically engineered such that their own natural immune systems shut down prior to reach adulthood; they instead rely on Goa'uld larva implanted in an abdominal sac which serves as their immune system. This acts as a major deterrent to any form of Jaffa rebellion.
    • The Asgard long ago abandoned natural reproduction in favor of cloning their current body via an accelerated form of mitosis and then transferring their mind to the new body. However, they experienced genetic degradation over multiple cloning processes to the point that they will soon be unable to produce new, viable bodies. Attempts to reverse the damage are made throughout the series but all fail. Ultimately, the Asgard choose to die en masse rather than drag out their fall.
  • Star Trek has a fondness for this trope in its various series.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • In "11001001", the Bynar home planet is run by a computer which is going to be hit by an EM pulse from a nearby supernova and get erased, so the Bynars steal Enterprise to temporarily house their computer's memory.
      • In "When the Bough Breaks", an alien race called the Aldeans have been reliant on their technology — especially the Custodian supercomputer that provides for all their needs — for so long that they have basically forgotten how everything works; all the super-advanced scientific knowledge of their ancestors has more or less been stored in a computer archive somewhere and forgotten about. Even the idea that something might, say, break down and need fixing never occurs to them. It's made more literally terminal by the fact that their technology is actually slowly killing them, a fact that they weren't able to figure out for themselves simply because they've lost the relevant knowledge, yet Dr. Crusher (from the supposedly less-advanced Federation) is able both to identify the problem and the necessary treatment in a matter of days.
      • In "Symbiosis", Enterprise encounters a ship from a planet that is suffering a species-wide plague that can only be staved off with a drug supplied by a neighboring race. It is later revealed that the plague is long gone and the symptoms the people experience are a result of withdrawal; the drug is also highly addictive. Due to the Prime Directive, Picard agrees not to reveal the truth to the suffering race, but he also refuses to help them fix their few remaining ships (they have degraded technologically) under the same pretext, so that they will eventually be unable to trade with the other race and learn the truth after they finish going through withdrawal. It's noted in passing that both societies are terminally dependent; because of the profits of selling the drug, the race that provided them ended up structuring their economy around it.
      • "Up the Long Ladder" has a society dependent on cloning run into Clone Degeneration. They're forced to do it the old-fashioned way with a neighboring society of Luddites.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Shadowplay" sees Dax and Odo investigating mysterious disappearance in a village on a Gamma Quadrant world. The cause is revealed to be the village's reactor, which is, in truth, a hologenerator: the entire village and all of its inhabitants (save for one person) are holograms, and the hologenerator is beginning to break down, causing people to disappear. Thankfully, Dax and Odo are able to repair the hologenerator and save the village.
    • Star Trek: Voyager:
      • The Ocampa relied on the Caretaker and his relay to power their underground society, as well as keep them safe from the Kazon. The Caretaker himself set this up after accidental destroying the surface of their planet and shattering their culture.
      • In "The Thaw", a people created a system that would keep their bodies in stasis and their minds active long enough for their world to become habitable again. As time passed, their fears became manifest in the virtual reality as a clown that would bring out a guillotine when it was unhappy. Two are dead before the crew finds them, and another is killed in the process of trying to save them from it.
    • The entire galaxy is shown to satisfy this trope during Star Trek: Discovery's third season, which involves the eponymous ship time-traveling forward into a Used Future where dilithium — the Applied Phlebotinum that allows for controlled matter-antimatter reactions in warp cores and thus makes Faster-Than-Light Travel possible — all suddenly went boom. Like, every single bit of it, everywhere. Every interstellar government has since collapsed, creating a Points of Light Setting that the main characters have to navigate.

    Multimedia Franchises 
  • Star Wars:
    • The Rakata of Knights of the Old Republic built their Infinite Empire using technology and hyperdrives fueled by the Dark Side. When they began to lose their Force sensitivity the Rakata could no longer operate their own machinery and they fell into a savage civil war, reducing them to the sorry state seen in-game.
    • Star Wars Legends and Star Wars: The Clone Wars reveal that the same happens to the Selkath race introduced in KotOR. They were natives of the planet Manaan, which was the only place in the galaxy that produced kolto for healing vats, making them a galactic superpower and able to maintain their neutrality during the Jedi Civil War. However, after the invention of the more potent alternative bacta, the Selkath were essentially discarded by the galaxy at large and their petition to join The Republic was ignored. Over time, their civilization collapsed, and the people reverted into primitive tribes, later being conquered and enslaved by the Galactic Empire.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the early editions of BattleTech, humanity depended on irreplaceable Faster-Than-Light Travel-capable starships to travel as the knowledge and means to construct new ones was lost in almost 300 years of total war; a character in the early expanded universe mentions that philosophers and scientists ponder what will happen when the last jumpship's Kearny-Fuchida drive sputters to a halt. However, the scale of destruction of humanity's tech base was reduced to being merely crippling via Retcon and Unreliable Narrator in later editions, when the writers realized the situation was unsustainable both from a plot and economics perspective — can't sell new sourcebooks if there's no new mechs or starships!
  • Forgotten Realms:
    • Drow culture is dependent on magical radiations so that cities were born and died when such deposits appeared and disappeared. Averted with vengeance in Sshamath, which managed to cross the deficiency period and emerge even stronger, having usual cheap solutions replaced with true arcane magic. This made it dependent on wizardry.
    • Most cities of Netheril were placed on artificial levitating islands. When all magic was disabled for a minute or two... Since then, the relevant deity turns magic off "for maintenance" every few centuries, so no long-lasting civilization dares to depend on it that much.
  • The Computer in Paranoia, which was in part inspired by Logan's Run. In one adventure, when The Computer is destroyed, Alpha Complex gets very dark, the air stops circulating, et cetera.
  • Princess: The Hopeful: The city of Alhambra, capitol of the Court of Tears, depends on the magical light of the wisp-lamps to hold back the All-Consuming Darkness. The lamps in turn are dependent on a constant supply of Wisps harvested from Alhambran territories on Earth, a process that infects the lands harvested from with Taint.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Humanity's Faster-Than-Light Travel is dependent upon a psychic navigational beacon called the Astronomican, without which spaceships would be lost in the Warp. This device consumes hundreds of psykers each day and is directed by the psychic might of the comatose God-Emperor of Mankind, whose life support equipment is both decaying beyond repair and happens to sit upon upon a Webway gate that could lead The Legions of Hell onto the Imperium's capitol. Not only has the Astronomican flickered and dimmed over its history, but it's also attracting the Tyranids to our galaxy.
    • In a less physical sense, even people in-universe have noticed that the Imperium of Man is dependent on war. Most of its interactions with its member planets revolve around tithes of materiel and manpower for its conflicts, and the draconian measures the Imperium uses to stay in power can only be justified by the number of threats surrounding it. If peace ever broke out, nobody sane would want to live under such a regime — and even in the current state of affairs, world after world chooses to rebel and try to survive on their own rather than endure further Imperial oppression (and are either violently brought back into the fold, conquered by Chaos, eaten by 'nids, etc.).
    • Forge Worlds, as the name suggests, are Eternal Engines scaled up to the size of a planet, churning out the vast quantities of vehicles, weapons and equipment needed by the Imperium, with little to no space for growing food. The Greater Good has one whose location allows it to forgo self-reliance in favor of more production: Guard regiments are always stopping there to resupply and take care of its defense, while food is imported, rationed, and not stored for maximum efficiency, resulting in riots when the approaching Tyranids scare off the deliveries.
    • This issue is pragmatically used by the Imperium as another tool to maintain order. A common scenario is that an agriworld produces food on a vast scale, but is typically left dependent on other worlds for its defense or to provide weaponry and/or tools. A world covered in hive cities will create vast amounts of resources and finished goods, but critically relies on another world for its food supply. In the event of either world rebelling or falling to enemy hands, they will lack vital resources to grow into a system-spanning threat.

    Video Games 
  • In Armored Core: For Answer, much of humanity (those who could afford it, at least) is dependent on the Cradle habitats they live in. One option the player can take later is to side with Old King and bring them down for the lulz. Maximillian Thermidor also wants to take them down, but this is because he believes that they are a temporary solution at best and that destroying them would open up the way for humanity to get to space.
  • The Scions of Battlezone II depend on the central computer of their homeworld, Core, to keep them alive; possibly to keep their biometal augments in check. Unfortunately for them, the planet is dying. In the International Space Defense Force ending, John Cooke blows up the Core computer, causing the Scions to die off. In the Scion ending, they use what the ISDF thought of as a Doomsday Device to terraform the Dark Planet beyond Pluto into a new Core.
  • Union City in Beneath a Steel Sky is completely dependent on the underground LINC computer, and shutting it down would spell disaster. By the sequel, Beyond A Steel Sky, LINC is replaced by the (supposedly) more benevolent Minos, turning a city from a gritty City Noir into a much nicer place. However, not only do the people depend on Minos, but also from the huge amount of consumer goods imported from their "ally", Asio City, which in reality is enslaved to provide for Union City's welfare.
  • BioShock:
    • The plasmids were used by everyone, and they turn out to naturally hover between being Super and Psycho Serum (depending on which you took and if you abused them) and are addictive. Then a civil war breaks out and Ryan had them laced with mind control agents, tipping the balance firmly toward "Psycho". This terminally dependent society OD's.
    • The BioShock 2 DLC Minerva's Den also runs on this trope, as all of Rapture's infrastructure is automated by the Thinker. Turning the Thinker off would spell doom for the entire city.
  • The magical Kingdom of Zeal in Chrono Trigger is dependent on, well, magic. They were getting by fine on eco-friendly sources like the Sun Stone, but then their Queen decided this wasn't enough and had them tap a planet-eating Eldritch Abomination as a power source, which woke it up and caused the literal fall of Zeal.
  • In Command & Conquer, an asteroid carrying an alien substance dubbed Tiberium begins rapidly transforming the Earth. Although dangerous, Tiberium also absorbs minerals from the soil, making it very easy to break down for various metals and rare minerals. Tiberium becomes so important to the world economy that the two dominant powers, GDI and Nod, both rely on it as their primary resource. Tiberium (and the Tacitus) have rapidly advanced human technology but are also destroying the planet (or rather, changing it to be later harvested by the invading Scrin).
  • Crying Suns: The galactic empire has relied on the OMNIs to manage all of its advanced technology and infrastructure, including the Fold Net and various terraforming technologies, for the last seven hundred years. When the OMNIs spontaneously shut down all at once, galactic civilization imploded. Since humans no longer know how to build or maintain any of these technologies, it’s stated that humanity will exhaust all salvageable resources and go extinct within the next ten years.
  • Doom:
    • In Doom (2016), Samuel Hayden insists that Argent Energy (which is energy harvested from Hell itself) is the singular last power source that can maintain human civilization, as humans have already exhausted every alternative, to the point that even a demonic invasion on Mars slaughtering most of his workforce doesn't deter him from trying to keep Argent Energy production going. It should be noted that he's not quite wrong; Argent Energy is the original form of Hell Energy, and is both perfectly clean and absolutely unlimited. Unfortunately, the demons have corrupted all sources of Argent Energy, necessitating an expensive refining process unless you are willing to use raw Hell Energy, which is much more dangerous. And then of course there are the demons who are using Hayden's plans to get their own cultists inside his organization in order to ultimately destroy the human race.
    • Doom Eternal introduces us to Urdak, a Heavenlike world whose people are even more terminally dependent upon Argent Energy than humanity from the first game, to the point that the leader of the Maykrs, the Khan Maykr, made a deal with Hell for it, which is why Hell is invading Earth. And that's before we learn that Argent Energy itself is made from the horribly tortured souls of every human and other being to die to the demons, and that the soulless husks left over from this process become demons themselves. It's little wonder that Samuel Hayden, who was once the biggest proponent of the energy in the previous game, now wants to see it gone forever.
  • The Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC Trespasser reveals that the ancient elves were so dependenit on magic that when Fen'Harel created the Veil, cutting off the Fade (the primary source of magic) from the material world, their civilization collapsed within decades, if not years.
  • Fallout:
    • The entire setting revolves around this trope; it's actually set in an Alternate Universe where the microtransistor wasn't invented until the 21st century. As a result, post-World War II, it entered an Atomic Age rather than an Electric Age, with inefficient technology centered around vacuum tubes and computers taking up entire rooms. As a result, this world depleted its petroleum much faster than the real world, leading to oil wars and social collapse by the mid-2050's. By the time the Great War broke out in 2077, the only known oil deposits left on Earth were in Alaska, with even the Middle East oil fields having been tapped out.
    • The first game starts with the main character being sent out of the Vault to find a new water chip, without which the Vault will run out of clean water. The people behind the Vault project realized how dependent their populations would be on the Vaults' equipment, it's just that in Vault 13's case a shipping error left them with no spare water chips. That's not even touching on how things were worse in the Vaults that were secretly designed as social experiments. One we set up so its equipment would regularly fail, as a stress-test for possible space travel. Even more so for Vault 112, where the residents have been imprisoned in a Lotus-Eater Machine simulation for 200 years and are incapable of survival outside of it.
  • The human population of Cocoon in Final Fantasy XIII depend on the Fal'Cie for everything. There are a few million Fal'Cie in Cocoon and each one handles a different function to keep the artificial world running. Among the Cocoon Fal'Cie we see in the game, there's a Fal'Cie in charge of running power plants, one that handles food production, another one acts as Cocoon's artificial sun, the Fal'Cie Eden is the Internet, Barthandelus acts as the overseer of them all and has the most freedom to act, and there's Orphan who provides the power that keeps the other Cocoon Fal'Cie alive. Without the Fal'Cie especially Orphan Cocoon would fall apart. The Pulse Fal'Cie on the other hand seem more geared towards terraforming Gran Pulse.
  • The Yor Tech Tree in Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor reveals that they are dependent on something on Iconia, known only as the Spark of Life, to be AI rather than robots, with the effect wearing off in time. The reproductive rate enhancement tech involves studying the Spark's energy to extend its effects, and the planetside structures that spring from this involve channeling Spark energy to other worlds. How this works with planetary conquest is not known; presumably the Yor pick up the Spark of Life, load it onto the fastest ship they have, and run like the clappers.
  • In Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, the city of Passaj was populated by craftsmen who depended on an Alchemy Is Magic forge built by Advanced Ancient Humans. Furthermore, it worked in conjunction with a magical well in the city of Ayuthay to provide water to the entire region. After The Magic Goes Away, Passaj's economy went into a sharp decline and Ayuthay became surrounded by desert. Once The Magic Comes Back after the events of Golden Sun: The Lost Age, Prince Amiti's father Alex restarted the well prior to the start of the game, with the heroes coming in later to finish the job and repair the forge.
  • The White Robes' great civilisation in Journey (2012) was entirely dependent on the red cloth you can find to boost your powers. When it started to run out, they destroyed themselves in an apocalyptic civil war, leaving only the ruins you see in the game.
  • The world in Magna Carta 2 has unnaturally high levels of ambient magic, thanks to the Hero of Legend. It is specifically noted that with so much magic around, nobody has had to farm for food for at least a thousand years. The heroes end up having to bring the levels back to normal and force society to labor for sustenance for the first time in generations, as it turns out that the high magic levels are maintained via world wars and human sacrifice of a specific soldier every 250 years or so.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Interstellar travel is impractical without the mass relays, all of which are under the control of the Reapers. If the various races took the time to develop their own means of faster-than-light travel, it would solve a lot of problems. This comes up in Mass Effect 2 — the asari bartender on Illium complains that she became a laughingstock for suggesting they try to build their own mass relays. The Protheans' prototype may not have saved them, but in Mass Effect 3 it may be enough to save galactic civilization 50,000 years later. This is the reason for the Inferred Holocaust of Mass Effect 3's original ending — regardless of what choice you made, the mass relays are destroyed, leaving a massive fleet of aliens with a variety of dietary needs stranded over a ruined Earth, and presumably leading to the collapse of interstellar civilization. The revised ending left them damaged but easily repairable.
    • The quarians live on a flotilla of ships in space, and are dependent on their giant greenhouse ships for all their food supplies. So much so that these are kept at the heart of the flotilla for their protection.
  • Humans in the Mega Man series are depicted as increasingly reliant on robots as the series goes on in spite of Wily's constant hijacking robots in his bids to Take Over the World in the Classic series and Sigma using his virus to corrupt countless reploids and mechaniloids into servitude in the Mega Man X series. It gets to the point that in Mega Man X8, after New Generation Reploids developed for the Jakob Project are revealed to have Sigma's DNA in their copy chips, and end up revolting and trying to destroy both humans and old-generation reploids, the production of more New Generation Reploids with Sigma's DNA is approved anyway simply because they supposedly need them to work on the Jakob Project. By Mega Man Zero, humans are living in luxury in Neo Arcadia, the last habitable place on Earth, while most reploids have become second-class citizens in their service to humanity, being branded as Maverick and killed at the first sign of dissent. This leads to a reploid resistance group forming and a war between them and Neo Arcadia breaking out that allows Dr. Weil, the cause of the Elf Wars that rendered the entire planet uninhabitable in the first place, to worm his way into seizing control of the city and eventually indirectly causing its destruction, finally putting an end to complacent human society and forcing humans to coexist with reploids as equals.
  • In Myst III: Exile, Saavedro's civilization was completely dependent on the Lattice Tree's good health for survival.
  • In Phantasy Star II, the terraforming on Mota and the carefree lifestyle of its people are dependent on Mother Brain for everything. Three guesses on what happens when the system goes out of control in the game's beginning, and what happens to Motavia in between II and IV.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IV, the Ashura-kai use Red Pills to satisfy the demons' hunger. If it were not for that, the demons would go after humans instead. Then it turns out the pills' active ingredient is neurotransmitters that are extracted from human brains. Forcibly. So it's either extract human brains to feed demons, leaving the affected humans brain-dead, or the demons go after humans themselves!
  • Star Control:
    • In the second game, the Utwig are highly dependent on the Ultron, a Precursor artifact which (supposedly) gives them prophetic powers. When it breaks, the Utwig enter a perpetual state of mourning and are too depressed to do anything. Hilariously, everyone else is convinced that the artifact is absolutely useless. Whether it actually does anything is left ambiguous; what matters is that the Utwig believe it does, and are paralyzed by grief and guilt until it's fixed.
    • In the third game (of dubious canonicity), the Ultron breaks again, resulting in the Utwig going back to their state of mourning. However, after you manage to fix it, they've been without it for so long that they've actually learned to function as a society without it and no longer feel the need to use it, subverting the trope.
  • Stellaris: The Clone Army origin has all pops as short-lived clones which are incapable of natural reproduction, instead relying on a limited number of ancient clone vats to build their population. Each vat can only support so many pops; any pops over that limit, or on a world without a vat, will die off. If all of the vats are lost, such as through orbital bombardment, the race can go extinct.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, the entire world is dependent on The Score, which is part ancient prophecy and partly a history of the entire planet, from start to finish, with every single detail of existence available for the asking by those who are capable of reading it. Since the Score Yulia read for the planet long ago predicted a prosperous future, devoutness in the local religion means relying on the Score for every decision, no matter how minor, because obedience to the Score will bring the predicted future to pass. Eventually, it's revealed to have gone off-track, and that the formerly-lost end of Yulia's Score predicts the destruction of the world as a direct result of events that happen during the game, and as a result, people have to learn to live without it and make their own decisions. NPC reactions vary from wanting it back to enjoying their newfound freedom.
  • In the Trails Series, there was a history-defining technological breakthrough dubbed the "Orbal Revolution" brought up by Professor Epstein roughly 50 years prior to the events of the franchise. Epstein managed to develop technology capable to employ a mysterious energy known as "Orbal" to power up mass produced mechanical devices called "Orbments". These contraptions could be used for just about everything: lighting, heating, communications, weaponry and transportation to name a few. As such, mankind never developed anything that could not be powered by Orbments. This flaw was eventually exploited when an enemy created a weapon capable of disabling Orbments, stopping everything on their tracks. Interestingly, it was then revealed that an old inventor had in his possession a prototype diesel engine that he thought could put to use during this crisis, thus demonstrating that there was some kind of progression paralleling real world developments before Orbal Technology rendered it obsolete.
  • In the Transformers Aligned continuity, Cybertronians are dependent on Energon. Granted, there is essentially oceans of the stuff, right up until Megatron corrupted the Core of Cybertron and it eventually had to be shut down. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron deals with the aftermath of this. There is a synthetic version, but the formula for it was sent off into space to prevent Megatron from getting hold of it.
  • The city of Lea Monde from Vagrant Story was designed as a city-sized spell. The game takes place long after the city has already collapsed on itself.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • High Elves and Blood Elves are dependent on magical energy, without which they become physically and mentally twisted husks called "Wretched". Night Elves suffer a similar affliction, but their need for magic is supplied by moonwells.
    • Nightborne are even more extreme as even a few days or even hours without arcwine can cause them devolve into the mindless Withered.
    • Goblins are somewhat dependent on kaja'mite for their superior intelligence. As the supplies have dwindled and they resort to more diluted forms, goblin society and technology has declined.
  • In the X universe, the Commonwealth of Planets relies on a Black Box Portal Network left behind a few million years ago by some precursors for interstellar travel and communications. The gate network has a tendency to shift around from the machinations of the precursors, which screwed over the Teladi who got cut off from their homeworld — the only place where males are born — for a few hundred years, resulting in the vast majority of Teladi today being genetically identical females as unfertilized eggs are essentially clones. When the gate network shuts down ("The Dark") following the apocalyptic Second Terraformer War in X3: Albion Prelude, interstellar civilization ground to an instant stop, with numerous One Product Planets starving to death or succumbing to technological decay. The system of DeVries in X: Rebirth is one such system which depended heavily on food and technology shipments from the Sol system, resulting in mass famine and technological decline, though they have recovered in the thirty years since the shutdown.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles:
    • The world in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a massive ocean of clouds, and the only livable land is on the continent-sized Titans. Except the Titans are all dying out, and for some reason no new ones are being born. Rex's goal is to find Elysium, the mythical paradise supposedly at the top of the World Tree, so that the brewing resource wars become unnecessary. As it turns out, Praetor Amalthus' "core purification ritual" (which makes it easier for Blades to bond with Drivers) wipes out all their stored data and resets them to zero; this is a problem, because Blades evolve into Titans once they accumulate enough data. Amalthus is well aware that this will lead to the inevitable extinction of all life, but doesn't care. When they find Elysium, it's a dead, empty landscape, far from the answer to all their problems. Thankfully, after speaking with the Architect the Cloud Sea is pulled back, and the surviving Titans join together to create a new Elysium where everyone can live.
    • Life itself in Xenoblade Chronicles 3. All the soldiers of Keves and Agnus are bound to the Flame Clocks, which require life to fill them. Killing monsters works, but killing enemy soldiers is far better. This leads to a Vicious Cycle where colonies must constantly hunt each other down just to survive. Of course, this is completely intentional on the part of the Consuls, the real force behind the war; they need life energy for their immortality, and skim off the top from the successful colonies. If a Colony's Flame Clock is destroyed, all the soldiers are freed, and they don't need to harvest life energy at all.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • All of the world's technology runs off a single type of Applied Phlebotinum: Dust, magic-like elemental crystals that do everything from power everyday machines to enhancing ammunition. The World of Remnant video on the subject notes that it's becoming harder to find new Dust deposits, and no one has bothered to research any alternative energy sources because Dust is just so incredibly convenient; even a medieval society can quickly make good use of it. In the show proper, however, references to this are minimal, only mentioning that Dust prices have been going up.
    • The City of Atlas remains floating above the slums of Mantle entirely due to the Staff of Creation. It has a stock of Gravity Dust that will keep it temporarily in the air before that's used up and begins to fall. There's no discussion about whether the city can be landed safely. However, in a situation where everything has gone wrong, allies have turned against each other and one side obtains the Staff while the other side controls the city, it's impossible for the city to stay in the air. In that kind of scenario, it will crash into the city below it, annihilating both. In Volume 8, the heroes steal the Staff from Ironwood to save Penny, evacuate both cities to Vacuo by magical means, and to keep the Relic out of both Ironwood and Salem's hands. There's just enough time to evacuate everyone before Atlas crashes into Mantle. The impact breaches an inland sea to the north of the kingdom, which floods the region, hiding the ruins of both cities beneath the waves.

  • In Collar 6, nearly all technology works on Magitek, which requires people to be extremely in-tune with their souls for it to work. The Big Bad planned to fire an ancient, magical superweapon to forcibly separate everyone from their souls in order to Take Over the World. However, he planned to give them back once everyone proved they could be responsible with them.
  • Mother in Dresden Codak is a world-assimilating A.I./Grey Goo/Singularity that provides everything humanity asks for — to point of making people unnecessary, irrelevant and progressively infantile. They go to the verge of extinction as life in the virtual worlds she/it provides takes precedence over breeding. When humanity finally goes to war with Mother, victory comes at a terrible cost: much of human history and culture dies with Mother, and every human is blinded.
  • Discussed in Tales of the Questor. Sam lampshades that the Racconans seem to be totally dependent on their lux-tech, but Quentyn retorts that every civilization has certain basic technologies it depends on, and that it would be just as accurate to say that human civilization is "dependent" on iron and fire.

  • Neopets' Darigan Citadel was once a normal medieval town, until someone stole the magic orb fertilizing their crops. Now the land is about as fertile as a cinder block.
  • Orion's Arm has a serious problem with people developing Baseline Hyperdependency Syndrome (that is: humans are spoiled rotten by the AIs) and nothing has even gone wrong yet, although many groups predict that collapse is imminent.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of The Fairly OddParents! has Timmy dealing with Mr. Crocker once and for all by getting him committed, his obsession with proving the existence of fairies cured. Unfortunately, it turns out that Fairy World powers all its magic on belief in fairies, specifically the belief of crazy people disbelieved by those around them, and Mr. Crocker was so crazy that they decided to power everything with him. Now Fairy World is without magic and slowly plummeting into Giant Bucket of Acid World, giving a time limit to Timmy trying to relapse Crocker into his fairy obsession without any help from magic. Once power is restored, they go back to drawing power from multiple nutjobs.
  • Skeleton Warriors shows the society of its world as being dependent on the Lightstar Crystal. When it gets shattered in the first episode, an apocalypse ensues that destroys entire cities and heavily disrupts society and industry. This is not helped by Baron Dark turning into an evil skeleton who can create armies of skeleton warriors.
  • The Transformers: Cybertronians are completely dependent on Energon for both their own existence and to operate all their technology. Cybertron began to run out, sparking the Great War, which only accelerated the exhaustion of existing Energon stockpiles. While it's possible to convert other energy sources into Energon, the process is apparently difficult and doesn't provide a lot, so both the Autobots and Decepticons spend a lot of time trying to find more naturally-occurring sources of it.

    Real Life 
  • There are a little over seven billion people on this planet; before the nineteenth century it was a few hundred million, reaching the one billion mark around 1800 and still less than two billion in 1900, and more doubled in the last 50 years. Without our advanced technology, most of us would die. Horribly.
    • It's worth noting, however, that this advanced technology we rely on so heavily is designed and created by our own hands, and we use that technology to better prepare for and avert disasters in which we might lose access to working advanced technology. Indeed, many people are quite capable of not only surviving without technology using basic survival skills, they're capable of slowly recreating the technology that improves their lives and well-being, starting society back up again. Key to this is our being willing and able to use technology wisely, so as to ensure our continued betterment.
    • Electricity. It is our Applied Phlebotinum, used for everything from navigation, communication and information storage to food storage and preparation. And then one tree falls...
      • ...and someone comes along to repair it, relatively promptly. It's also not exactly Applied Phlebotinum, since we have a thorough understanding of how it works, how to generate more of it, and where it comes from. The problem, rather, is that our society uses technology and electricity to attain a vastly higher level of population, functioning, and productivity than would otherwise be possible—when an overwhelming disaster strikes and cripples that infrastructure past the breaking point, the society is no longer sustainable for obvious reasons. Still... worst case, you'd end up with a society that crashes down to the level that it would otherwise have been stuck at from the beginning.
    • The Haber process feeds a third of the world.
  • All the monocultured staple crops such as corn and wheat. If disease or climate change devastates them...
  • Brazil with coffee and again with rubber, Argentina with beef. Originally incredibly wealthy societies—and in Argentina's case, the wealth was pretty well distributed—went bankrupt. In Argentina, because of refrigerated shipments from Australia; in Brazil they actually smuggled rubber tree plants out of the country to start a competing industry in Malaysia.
    • Every society or species, real, imaginary, sentient or otherwise is terminally dependent on something, oftentimes something which is completely taken for granted. For example, all life on earth is highly dependent on a massive hydrogen guzzling fusion engine in the sky, which we call the sun. The difference between continued existence and annihilation usually hinges on how tamper proof and/or sustainable that something is. In this case, our massive, flaming fusion plant is fairly tamper-resistant and looks to last quite some time.
  • As seen in Crippling Overspecialization, many animal species are terminally dependent on a specific food or environment, such as giant pandas (bamboo) and polar bears (the vanishing sea ice).
  • A government that takes advantage of this, specifically water needed to irrigate fields, is known as a hydraulic state. Note that there's a lot of debate over whether or not dependence on irrigation leads to despotism — it doesn't help that Wittfogel's term for this was "Oriental Despotism"...
  • Much of the southwestern USA depend on the Colorado River and its reservoirs for their water supply. With the river's water levels constantly dropping since the turn of the millennium, these reservoirs are emptying at an alarming rate that is already causing tensions between the various states over their respective water allocations. Agriculture is getting increasingly challenging and more expensive, tourism and leisure activities on Lake Mead, Lake Powell and others are becoming near impossible, what with boat ramps ending several yards above the water line. And now that the whole situation is being made even worse by a multi-year drought that began around 2015 and shows no signs of ending any time soon, millions of people are facing considerable changes to their lifestyle, if not existential threats to their very livelihood.
  • Earthlike planets cannot support life without liquid water on its surface. Most stars grow brighter and hotter as the fusion process continues over time, such that any orbiting planet with liquid water will have its temperature eventually exceed water's boiling point, and the results will be self-explanatory. Also, plate tectonics cannot exist without liquid oceans. Guess what happens to Earth in about 1 billion years!
  • This can happen to countries who rely on cash crop farming to support their economies, especially in developing countries such as areas of Africa in the form of cotton and rubber to provide for its citizens and cover its expenses. Coffee, in particular, is the second most traded commodity in the world (right after oil) and if you Must Have Caffeine, you know why. The US tried and avert negative consequences of too low coffee prices by creating a cartel of the major producers, which was dissolved after the end of the Cold War. On the flip side, the GDR had some of the heaviest political protests of its existence due to a coffee shortage in the mid 1970s. Coffee is Serious Business.
  • The plight of bees worldwide has led many to speculate on how hard it would be for us to pollinate all the plants we rely on without them. Can also apply to the bees themselves, especially those bred to harvest pollen from only a specific number of flowers.
  • The Haredi Jews in Israel consistently grow in number, and their children are pushed towards religious scholar success more than economic success — hence they're usually taught religious subjects almost exclusively, and their leaders are often vehemently opposed to getting them taught subjects such as English and mathematics. Thus, they usually live in constant crippling poverty, relying mostly on the non-Haredi society's taxpayer money for their meager pensions (each Haredi Jew gets just enough to live and support his family, but as they consistently grow in number this has a massive negative impact on Israeli society, as OECD reports show). Israeli Minister of Internal Affairs Eli Yishai (who is a Haredi Jew himself) once uttered a notoriously stupid statement saying that a completely Haredi city is preposterous, as it would never be able to support itself. Fortunately, this situation is changing, as the State of Israel seems to be making efforts to incorporate them into the work force and into military service, by trying to work out a 'super-kosher' solution for them.note 
  • Any exclusively dedicated religious group or organization really has the same problem as the Israeli Haredi Jews, above. They rely on others to support them, so something as simple as an opposing idea gaining prominence can cause an entire religious hierarchy to collapse or reform into a new version.
  • This is the cause of the downfall of all of the 19th century utopian collectives like the Shakers. They were so extreme in their views that they were unable to attract new members. The Shakers in particular had a monastic lifestyle that precluded marriage. Less extreme sects like the Quakers thrived by integrating more into society.
  • Most, if not all dictatorships justify their power by claiming that the country is a society of this type. Of course, if that is actually true or just an excuse of the dictator depends on each specific case, and may be open to discussion. And better leave it at that, and avoid specific names.
  • Oil. Powers the vast majority of all freight transportnote , and it takes several million years to form. The process of refining oil is also used in making plastics and carbon black for tires. It'll run out eventually, and considering how many After the End or Bad Future scenarios are caused by Post-Peak Oil, we might go this way if we don't find alternative fuel sources.
    • Fossil fuels, in general. There's not much you can do with oil that you can't do with natural gas and coal, even if you can't always do it as cheaply or efficiently, but, like oil, natural gas and coal formed over millions of years and they, too, can be used up.
      • Hopefully that may change with the introduction of alternatives to fossil fuels such as solar energy and biomass fuel, but full integration into those new sources would still be difficult.
    • The dependence on oil is much worse in countries that are dependent on cars to a great degree. If the oil runs out, Swiss people will still be able to take the trainnote  to work—though there might not be any work at their pharmaceutical company (dependent on oil) and no groceries in the supermarket (transported mostly by trucks that run on oil), eventually society could be transformed. Now imagine a country where almost all infrastructure is highways and airports, none of which can run without oil. People who have been warning about that scenario for decades often consider themselves to be telling a Cassandra Truth, but on the other hand cars are just so damned useful...
  • The country of Nauru was ultimately doomed by its overreliance on phosphate. Not long after becoming independence in 1968, the nation exploited its natural phosphate reserves to become one of the riches nations on earth. The country became so rich off phosphate that at one point became the second richest nation in Oceania, after Australia. However, the phosphate ran out in the 90s and that resulted in the entire country's economy collapsing. While the nation's sovereign fund from the phosphate profits could've helped pivot the nation towards other industries, corruption and mismanagement resulted in the fund becoming squandered on useless investments including a critically-maligned West End theater show, of all things.
  • Historically this was the argument in favor of slavery. Sure, forcing people to work is not nice and all, but somebody has to do all the menial labor to feed the elites and mine the resources that keep the machinery going. Turns out machines can do most of those jobs just as well, if not better. Job-Stealing Robots were actually a good thing, because the first jobs they stole were the "jobs" of slaves.
  • Antibiotics. Without them, many people (often children) would die of bacterial infections, women would die during or shortly after childbirth, safe surgery would be next to impossible, as would chemotherapy. It's not just medicine that depends heavily on antibiotics, either: most of modern agriculture depends on them, as well. Family size also is impacted, with an increased chance of children surviving to adulthood to carry on the family lineage (and thus less of a need to have a lot of them). So as bacteria evolve resistance to more and more antibiotics, civilization and society as we know it become more and more jeopardized. It doesn't help that many pharmaceutical companies refuse to research new antibiotics, given how low the profit margin is on them. In comparison to painkillers and high-priced treatments—which can and are sold at 1000% markups—'tons of antibiotics must be produced and used every year, and if they was priced "competitively" no-one could afford them.''
  • The biosphere ITSELF. Without it we die. Period. Mankind does not have the technology to live without a functional biosphere nor do we have the tech to comfortably leave earth and find a new home in the stars. On a lesser level civilization can't truly thrive and excel to the best of its ability when the environment constantly changes. note 
  • The Late Bronze Age Collapse in the Western Mediterranean, around 1200 BCE, saw (amongst other things, the entire time period is still unclear to historians) trade routes breaking down. These trade routes enabled the trade of tin and copper, essential metals to create bronze, which was essential to create tools, weapons and armors. Copper is fairly abundant, but tin is not, and is rarely if ever found close to copper. This lack of trade fed into several vicious cycles which compounded with greater issues (like the mysterious Sea Peoples raiding coastal settlements) essentially wiped out most advanced civilizations of the area (like the Canaanites, Hittites, Assyrians, Minoans, Mycenaean Greeks, etc...) and greatly weakened Egypt. In some cases like Greece the ensuing Dark Ages lasted for nearly 500 years before people began to read and write again. One of the reasons why the Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age is that iron is much less susceptible to this trope than bronze so working with iron and basing your entire society around it is much safer.
  • For much of the 19th century and early 20th century, the Chilean economy was based heavily on the export of potasium nitrate AKA saltpeter to international markets. So when artificial nitrate was created by German scientists during World War I, it left the country's economy in tatters. The situation went From Bad to Worse thanks to The Great Depression, to the point that it is said that Chile was the country the economic crisis affected the most.


Video Example(s):


A World Of Vampires

Blood is a critical resource to the vampire inhabitants of this future Earth - to the point that it's even added to coffee. With the human population dwindling day by day, the pressure is on to capture more or find alternative sources; worse still, the sewers are now haunted by monstrous Subsiders - the ultimate fate of those who can't afford the rising price of blood.

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Main / TerminallyDependentSociety

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