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The Law of Conservation of Detail

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"Every character has a purpose. If not, why would you write them? Every single detail, every single word, everything in the background all serves a greater goal."
The Writer, To Boldly Flee

Every detail given is important.

We have 42 minutes in this show. If we give a detail, it'd better be important to the plot.

Oh, sure, we can set up a Red Herring or two, but we had better expect the viewer to attach importance to any detail focused on in the plot. Shame on us if we later expect the viewer to be surprised by the importance of the detail we let slip.

This is an Omnipresent Trope. There is a fine line between having good, rich Worldbuilding and rambling on about pointless details—conservation of detail is all about filtering out irrelevant information to highlight the actual plot points or interesting aspects of the setting or character. It is rare for an author to devote thirty pages of description to a character's choice of clothing or foods, unless those choices provide great insight into a character or are being used as a metaphor for the human condition.

When a medium has less time to tell a complete story, conservation of detail tends to be particularly pronounced. A TV show (with 25 or 50 minutes to complete a story) spends less time on details than a movie, which in turn has to provide fewer details than a comic book, and so on. On the flip side, a phone book-thick epic novel or a three hour art film might have the time to focus on minor details that aren't essential to the plot.

Have you ever wondered people on TV shows always find a parking spot right outside their destination, even in New York City? Why does a detective looking for a 50-year-old cold case file in the police station archives find it in one minute? Why aren't people shown actually traveling between their destinations? How can a couple plan a date in ten seconds without discussing details about the address of the restaurant? Why do high school classes never seem to last more than three on-air minutes? When do the characters go to the bathroom? This is why.

Video games have their own version of this law, in that any detail in the game requires a significant investment of time and manpower to develop between art asset creation, writing, programming, and insertion into the game. Details of lesser importance get economized: One-off NPCs rarely ever get anything more than a generic sprite or character model, have only the most generic walking animations, and have no name. You can tell that a character will play some role in the plot if they have an unusually complex character model or a unique headshot next to their dialog. Plotwise, this serves to separate Round and Flat Characters. Since artists create video game worlds from scratch, scenery also obeys the law. Suppose that they set a level in a supermarket; a real supermarket stocks thousands of individual products in hundreds of different brands, each and every one with different label designs, and the time it would take to design (or license) all that packaging and trademarks could easily add up to several games' worth of development cycles. So they use a handful of designs over and over. And it works to their favor: We accept less detail because it is not central to the game.

This trope has probably caused more Epileptic Trees than every other trope combined, Dying Dream not withstanding, as people expect things to have a reason. Conversely, issues that are not fully explored due to the constraints of this trope often make for good Deconstruction material later on.

Sometimes we see the payoff for a detail later, but we are still not done with it: it will prove to be important in a different way later still: the writers have used Chekhov's Boomerang. The predominant use of Chekhov's Boomerang is to let the writers surprise you.

Any time a critic or a fan refers to something as "gratuitous", whether that be an obvious narrative tangent, a scene of extended violence, a sex scene, a comic relief scene, an extended bout of Scenery Porn, etc., they are invoking this trope. However, in this context it is very subjective: one viewer's "porn" is another viewer's necessary character development; one viewer's "boring five-minute long tracking shot of a beautiful mountain range" is another viewer's "this is not a movie, it's art." If a movie has a ten-minute sequence of a chef preparing luxurious meals in a five-star restaurant kitchen, with close-ups of pan-seared steaks and buttered asparagus spears, one viewer may hate it and call it "excessive detail", but a foodie might love it.

For the drawing equivalent of this trope, see Rule of Animation Conservation. For the nonhuman equivalent, see Rule of Personification Conservation. When writers deliberately take advantage of this trope to overwhelm and confuse audiences, see The Walrus Was Paul. When a work flouts this trope and contains lots of little asides that are not necessary, that is Narrative Filigree.

This trope is responsible for One Degree of Separation, Always on Duty, Everyone Is Related, Nameless Narrative, Nominal Importance, and sometimes What Happened to the Mouse?. When an adaptation removes explanatory details to save time or attention, see Adaptation Explanation Extrication. When the creators of an interactive work account for an absurd amount of obscure variations or things the player might do in a detailed way, that is Developer's Foresight. When the characters are exactly where they need to be, when they need to be, in order to move the story forward, it's a collaboration between Conservation of Detail and the Anthropic Principle. Combine this with Rule of Symbolism, and you get Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory. Super-Trope of Left Field Description, when important details are described in unconventional ways that don't necessarily jump out to the reader.

Contrast Empty Room Psych, which a video game trope that subverts this rule, either having rooms that serve absolutely no purpose other than to screw with the player or making it seem like the room will have greater importance later while the room contains nothing but a single item.

See also Chekhov's Gun, Chekhov's Gunman, Uniqueness Value, and Inevitably Broken Rule.

Warning: Examples may contain unmarked spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In 20th Century Boys, perhaps the only thing that doesn't gain major significance later in the plot is the seven year old son of one of the protagonists.
  • The Attack on Titan anime compresses a lot of manga into 25 episodes, so even seemingly insignificant details are likely to be important or hint at future reveals. For example, paying very close attention to the actions of Annie, Bertolt, and Reiner reveals some subtle foreshadowing about their true nature.
  • Bakuman。 has Mashiro and Takagi using a trick to create an illusion of this in their manga: they reread what they've written so far and spin story arcs and ideas out of off-hand comments and the like.
  • Bleach is loaded to the brim with this if one looks close enough at the story.
    • When Ichigo first reveals he's been given the Shinigami Representative Badge, something immediately bothers Uryuu about it and Sado comments it comes across as disapproval more than approval. Then Ichigo shows the badge to Zennosuke, who claims he's never heard of such a thing. Three hundred chapters later, it's revealed the badge's true purpose is to monitor and restrict a Substitute Shinigami just in case they ever became a danger to Soul Society.
    • Chapter 7 has Isshin mention the Hospital's Director would do anything for him, implying either friendship, some kind of debt, or both. Two hundred chapters later, the Hospital Director is revealed to be Uryuu's father, Ryuuken. Chapter 241 confirms Isshin and Ryuuken know each other. Isshin's surprise at Ryuuken's unusual greeting indicates "Kurosaki" is not Isshin's original name; Ryuuken's knowledge of Isshin being a Shinigami who lost his powers indicates they've known each other for at least twenty years, as Isshin lost his power twenty years ago; the conversation hints they've been grooming their sons for some unspecified future reason, and that they both dislike what's going on. Three hundred chapters later, a flashback mini-arc reveals that the circumstances of how they met centred around Aizen's Hollowfication experiments which accidentally victimised Ryuuken's cousin, Ichigo's Quincy mother. Isshin sacrifices his Shinigami power to save her and when he later marries her, he changes his surname from Shiba to Masaki's surname, Kurosaki. Oh, and that the story's latest Big Bad is the Quincy Progenitor who can steal the power and life from Quincies whenever he wants, and that there's been a prophecy throughout Quincy history that the Big Bad would reclaim his power on a specified date that Isshin has had at least nine years advanced warning to prepare for.
    • Ichigo's strange Hollowfication while in battle with Ulquiorra turns him into a fully hollowfied humanoid being that cannot speak, can telekinetically summon Zangetsu and which is more powerful than a top-level Espada. Later, Aizen notes the reiatsu Ichigo has developed as a result of that fight and reveals he's known about Ichigo since he was born. Then it's revealed Fullbringers are created by unborn children inheriting Hollow reiatsu from mothers that have survived attacks. Eventually, flashbacks reveal how Isshin lost his power due to one of Aizen's Hollowfication experiments taking an unexpected twist. White is a Hollowfied shinigami soul designed to target Shinigami for Hollowfication. While in battle with Isshin, it detects a nearby Quincy and discards the Shinigami in favour of the Quincy. Masaki is Hollowfied instead. Aizen is shocked and excited by this strange turn. Masaki's Hollowfication is passed on to Ichigo before he's born and the Hollowfication that defeated Ulquiorra was, with only minor differences, White.
    • Zangetsu never teaches Ichigo how to grow stronger as a Shinigami, calling forth the inner Hollow to do it instead. His only direct lesson consists of reishi manipulation. He draws Ichigo into his inner world by cloaking him in shadow. The inner Hollow sometimes taunts Ichigo with claims that he is the real Zangetsu. Yhwach's reveal has him looking like a slightly older Zangetsu, right down to the flowing black cape, transporting his Quincies by cloaking them in shadow. It's eventually revealed that "Zangetsu" is really Ichigo's Quincy power manifesting in the shape of the Quincy Progenitor, Yhwach, and the inner Hollow is his real Shinigami power.
  • It'd be easier to list the details in Bokurano that aren't some form of Foreshadowing and couldn't be construed as symbolic.
  • Subverted in episode 2 of Death Note. Light spends a good chunk of the episode setting up and explaining an elaborate safety mechanism to hide his notebook, and it never comes up again. Instead, the pay-off is more immediate: it gives the audience a quick introduction to Light's personality.
    • In the manga, when he notices that someone (the people who installed the cameras) entered his room from the state of his no less elaborate door safety mechanism, he infers that they didn't find the notebook because the fire trap didn't go off. His solution to the problem of the cameras is considerably less elaborate. "Hey Ryuk. Go find the cameras and I'll give you some apples."
  • Football manga Eyeshield 21 does this with every team the main characters go up against. Except for the protagonist's team, every team consists of a few dozen generic nameless players whose faces are usually hidden behind their helmets and two or three important named characters. The latter are inevitably the stars who make all the big plays. You can tell how important a team will be to the story by how many players get names; the first team they play, for example, gets one named player, and after that game they never impact the plot again. Meanwhile, important recurring rival teams get five or six named players, plus coaching staff.
  • Subverted in Hellsing. Tubalcain Alhambra is introduced as an important character, with an eccentric personality and having a nickname...and is killed a few minutes later.
  • One arc of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind has Mista use a lamp post as a ricochet point to catch the Monster of the Week off guard. It doesn't work because the villain is Immune to Bullets. He's not, however, immune to getting impaled through the neck by a metal spike. No points for guessing where the spike came from.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi has a lot.
    • The shaking of hands of Theo and Ricardo. There are four important people in the picture. The two foremost people are the Princess of Hellas and a Megalomesembrian Senator and the other two are the Captain of the Ardiane Knights and Wild Card politician Kurt Godel.
    • Chizuru's membership in the astronomy club.
    • Makie's lack of worries about life turn out to have plot relevance later on.
    • Ala Alba symbol appears repeatedly dozens of chapters before the group is officially formed.
    • When the series is still pretending to be a standard harem series — every once in a while we see some of the more supernatural girls (mostly Kaede, Eva, Chachamaru, Chao, and Setsuna) just sitting off to on the sidelines, since they don't have any interest in such silly activities.
  • Lampshaded in Nyaruko: Crawling with Love!, in a story arc where a time-traveling alien borrows the body of the main characters' classmate, in order to track down a criminal from her own time period. The next day, we find out that another classmate called in sick. Nyarko suggests that the criminal stole his body; however, both she and Mahiro laugh at how insanely contrived that would be...and so naturally, she's 100% correct. It even diverges into Conversational Troping, with Nyarko dubbing this idea "the Law of Important Characters".
  • One Piece:
    • There is a short arc about a giant whale who had been waiting for fifty years for its pirate friends. It ended and was never mentioned again, and everything could have just been another sad but heartwarming episode. Then, about three hundred and fifty chapters later, a guy pops out, and surprise!, he was part (actually the last survivor) of that pirate crew. And he ended up joining the main hero's crew.
    • Lots of old characters, mainly villains, from Buggy to Mr. 3 and Crocodile, were freed from Impel Down and became decisive to plot development.
    • In Sabaody Archipelago, we meet Silvers Rayleigh. Mentioned initially as a man the crew needs to prepare their ship for the cottage to Fishman Island, then revealed upon his proper introduction to be the right hand of the Pirate King Gold Roger. If one checks carefully, however, his face had already been shown in a single panel of a side flashback in volume three, almost five hundred chapters before.
    • A long time ago in a flashback, Montblanc Norland is shown mentioning he once visited a land of midgets when his "story" was being explained. Just one mention. In a real life re-iteration of the original story of Montblanc. Over four hundred chapters later, we see the Tontatta Kingdom in Dressrosa, inhabited by dwarves, with a statue of Montblanc Norland in the plaza of their small city.
  • Steins;Gate utilizes this trope to the full extent. Every single character actions that were shown will have some kind of significant effect. One best example would be Mayuri's Metal Oopa from episode 1. 22 episodes later it was revealed that the Oopa set off the metal detector at the airport, preventing Dr. Nakabachi from boarding the plane that was fated to crash.
  • Inverted in YuYu Hakusho when Kurama and Hiei are introduced. They, along with another youkai, get into trouble with Spirit World, who only seems to have data on the one with the least relevance to the series as a whole.

    Comic Books 
  • Used to good effect in Jeff Smith's Bone. A map that Smiley Bone finds by random chance in the first issue ends up triggering a chain of memories in Thorn that leads to the eventual climax of the series.
  • In one early Knights of the Dinner Table story, the group decides that a cow mentioned as a random background detail must be significant, until B.A. gives up and declares that the cow is magical.
    • And in another story, they start collecting everything in the dungeon, down to random bits of junk, because they have a Bag of Holding and can sort it all out later.
    • They later do the same when B.A. mentions a Gazebo. Not knowing what it was, the players thought it sounded like the name of a monster and battled it to the death. Gets a callback years later when the team lists a Gazebo carcass in their inventory.note 
  • Parodied in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW). Pinkie claims that since she lugged those "bulky" costumes all the way from Ponyville, they have to be useful at some point in the quest. While Rainbow's costume never serves a meaningful purpose, Pinkie's costume is animated to keep an eye on the Changelings after their defeat.
  • The Sandman (1989): Dropped all over the place. Seemingly minor details end up being plot-centric on a second read.
    • The seemingly innocuous phrase "I have my responsibilities..." that Morpheus is fond of invoking early and often in the series ends up being such an integral statement of his personality that he would rather die than abandon his realm.
    • Early in the series, Desire says in a seeming throwaway line that s/he'll "Bring the Kindly Ones down" on Morpheus. That's precisely what happens, though not in the way Desire planned.
  • Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: In "Ultimate Extinction" the Ultimates and the Fantastic Four are preparing for the arrival of Gah Lak Tus, a potential end of the world disaster... and then we change focus to Misty Knight, private investigator, and a client whose wife joined a cult. What does that have to do with anything? Of course, later on both plots will be related. The cult leader is actually an alien working for Gah Lak Tus

    Fan Works 
  • Played straight in The Myth of Link & Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which adapts the events of the namesake game in novel form. Adaptation Distillation is used to remove most of the Sheikah Shrines spread out through Hyrule in the game, and instead only has the ones on the Great Plateau, the ones in towns, and the ones near horse stables, as well as the Lakna Rokee Shrine, all of which are made into Blessing Shrines. This includes the shrines near the horse stables and towns in the Faron and Lake Regions, an area that has no Divine Beasts, no memory locations, and thus no plot-relevance. However, Link makes a point to go collect the different Spirit Orbs. Link traveling to this region and collecting the Spirit Orbs is done between chapters and only detailed in Link's diary entries.
  • Child of the Storm plays this straight, mostly. Every teeny tiny detail, including ones that you've missed may well be significant, and may boomerang back over 70 chapters late but... the author has cheerfully admitted that the difference between 'hint' and 'red herring' largely depends on his mood; he's prone to adding/tweaking things and very occasionally forgets things entirely, not to mention that what looks like an Early-Bird Cameo may just be part of the Worldbuilding and have no effect on the plot whatsoever.
  • A lot of seemingly unimportant details from the earliest parts of the Contractually Obligated Chaos series become more significant as the series continues; it's particularly true of the second story, as the first was intended to be a stand-alone. It crosses into Domino Revelation territory when the Fairy Godfather reveals that many of these details, along with details from the source material, factor into his thought process regarding The Prophecy.
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, you can count on a lot of the asides and jokes in the fic to come back one way or another, whether in another joke or actually having a role in Equestrian history. However, given the clear insanity of the Lemony Narrator, the validity of the latter is quite questionable. A one-off mention of the game Yahtzee is expanded into a massive cover-up on the absence of Princess Luna and the guards during the Changeling invasion, with the narrator going as far to cite a pair of dice found in Luna's bedroom as evidence of this.
  • Played with in Harry Potter and the Natural 20. Milo, an RPG veteran, claims to be able to identify the significance of a character based on how many adjectives they have: for instance, he looks at Quirrell, counts 'jumpy', 'wears a turban,' 'stutters,' and 'smells funny,' and immediately identifies him as very important. This backfires when Lockhart forces him to answer hundreds of minute trivia questions about his life, causing Milo to conclude that Lockhart is the centerpiece of the story. Turns out he's just a narcissist.
  • Averted in Of Blood and Steel. On Erwin's first day at Raven's Peak, Mr. Gauss introduces himself as the physics teacher and gives standard information as a teacher- students must turn in their homework on time, are expected to do their own work and will be given a failing grade if they cheat. If you're expecting someone to be involved in academic dishonesty, you'll probably be mistaken, since this information never becomes relevant.

    Films — Animation 
  • The ridiculous level of detail put into the world of 9 means that a lot of seemingly innocuous details come back later, although it's sometimes difficult to tell which things are relevant and which aren't because of their sheer quantity. The little box that the scientist's dead body is holding? It contains a holographic last message from the scientist. The knife that 8 carries around on his back? Used to bring down the Winged Beast. The cape that 1 wears? He's forced to cut it loose when the Winged Beast grabs a hold of it. The staff he carries? Saves his life after falling off a ledge in that same battle. The propeller of the crashed airplane inside the cathedral? Used to destroy the Winged Beast. The gears inside the factory? Used to destroy the Seamstress. The puddle of oil outside the factory, and the mini-zeppelin drones used to guard it? You get one guess. 6 repeating "Go Back to the Source?" 9 needs to return to the scientist's lab to learn how to destroy the Fabrication Machine. 8 using a magnet to get high? Actually has no plot relevance whatsoever.
  • Frozen (2013): Multiple:
    • Used extensively in the first act, per Jennifer Lee. With a fairly complex, multi-protagonist story and only 90 minutes to work with, the filmmakers intentionally left out some side details to focus on the heart of the story. Why does Elsa have powers? She was born with them; no further explanation offered. What did Elsa do all those years? Aside from a couple shots of her outside her room to show she wasn't a prisoner, we get nothing. Who runs the kingdom for the three years before Elsa's coronation? No time for that. Lee confesses that, while the film intentionally subverts Disney/princess story/fairy tale tropes, it also uses some (e.g. a princess falls in love at first sight for a handsome prince) as shortcuts to deal with the 90-minute constraint.
    • Done using singing to foreshadow the villain. How do you show Prince Hans is not who they appear to be? Have them sing a romantic duet about how much they love and are in sync with someone, but have them do things like come in late on their part or clearly not anticipate what the other is about to say or what movement they're about to make. This from Disney, who will go the extra mile for perfect singing and in an animated film, where every movement is intentional. That's right, the love song being imperfect was foreshadowing.
  • The Incredibles: the moment Edna Mode starts making a big deal about capes being caught in things, you know that someone else is going to experience a very fatal wardrobe malfunction by movie's end... unless you've read Watchmen, in which case you might write it off as a Shout-Out. The costume for the baby can survive a wide range of extremes, all of which the baby exhibits near the end.
  • In Megamind there are several single frames where the hero isn't in the trap, which all become revealed to be important later.
  • Used masterfully in Rango, the climax of the film has the title character use a Chekhov's Armoury to defeat the mayor and save the town.
  • In Turning Red, when Mei sneaks out, she grabs her transit pass and knocks a picture frame to the ground shattering it. Later when Ming comes into her room she steps on the broken picture frame and, in the process of picking up the pieces, discovers Mei's stash of panda merch, money and flyers for Tyler's birthday party.
  • Up: Subverted. The inside of the labyrinth Kevin lives in that no one can escape ooh scary is never visited. Word of God was that one planned ending was for Muntz to get lost in it. The DVD has it (along with several other endings) as an extra feature.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Used very well in Back to the Future, which disguised its plot points as jokes. In an early scene Marty is with Jennifer and a kiss was interrupted by an activist raising money to repair the town square clock tower, which was struck by lightning 30 years prior, and took a flyer for it. Jennifer later writes her grandma's home number on the back of the flyer (with a "love you" added) so he can call her later, giving Marty incentive to hold on it. Later in the movie, as Doc tells Marty he is stuck in the past he uses the flyer to show that he has a life in 1985 AND it provides concrete information about the lightning strike they use to get home.
    • Later, as Marty is leaving for the dance and Doc is working on the experiment at the clock tower, a man in a white hat is riding a bicycle behind them, for just a second and then to off screen. In BTTF II, guess what "disguise" Doc Brown chooses when he rides a bike into the town square.
  • Citizen Kane - Playing with this trope is arguably the main conceit: it's a movie about the impossibility of finding the right details. "Rosebud" is an example, as is the famous "girl in the white dress" speech.
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, when Bruce Wayne and Miranda Tate share a moment in the Wayne Manor, you'll see her bare back and for a brief moment, the camera pauses on a scar that she's got there... a not-so-subtle hint that she's got something harsh in her past.
  • Die Hard is famous for this. Practically everything in the script other than Ellis's cocaine habit pays off later in the narrative. The "fists with your toes" advice that John McClane gets on the plane? That's why he's barefoot later, which sets up Hans's "Shoot the glass" and John's subsequent Agony of the Feet. Holly using her maiden name, and flipping down the family photo? That delays Hans Gruber recognizing who John is. The laughing couple that bursts into Holly's office for sex, only to go to the next office when they find John and Holly in there? When the woman is dragged out of the next office moments later, screaming and topless, the terrorists manhandling her are distracted just long enough for John to make his initial escape to the stairwell.
  • In-universe example in The Draughtsman's Contract. Mr. Neville insists on drawing everything exactly as he sees it, and therefore demands that nothing be moved, altered, or disturbed to preserve continuity. When items start showing up in places they should not be in his drawings (such as a ladder leaning against a wall and an abandoned pair of boots in a field), characters start suspecting that something is amiss.
  • Used to create tension in the final battle of Iron Man. When Tony creates his original power generator, he observes that it could run "something big for 15 minutes." When he is forced to use his original generator after Stane steals his improved model, there is a literal deadline for Iron Man — if he does not beat Ironmonger in less than 15 minutes, he will run out of power and his heart will stop. Also, the "icing problem."
  • Parodied in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, when the narrator sarcastically points out the importance of a conversation in his story.
    Harry: I'm so sorry. That was a terrible scene. It's like, why was that in the movie? You think it'll come back later? Hmmm...
  • In the German movie The Lives of Others, when the main character hides his typewriter (he was writing anti-government pieces in East Germany), he notices that his fingertips were covered with the red ink he used. At the end of the movie, he finds the reports of the man who was spying on him, and notices two red fingertips next to his code name, showing him who saved his ass earlier in the movie by hiding his typewriter.
  • Used by all of the Saw movies, especially the first one (for instance, remember when Jigsaw mentioned having a disease?) and even between different films. The last minutes of each installment usually review such details, and make the audience feel proud or ashamed, depending on whether they'd realized it previously or not.
  • Done exceedingly well in Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End (made by the same people), in which almost every line of dialogue either foreshadows what's to come or gets repeated in a meaningful way or as a Brick Joke.
  • In Shaun of the Dead when Ed attempts to cheer Shaun up at the Winchester with plans of binge drinking, he is actually summarizing the events of the next day.
    • "Bloody Mary" The zombie checkout girl named Mary
    • "Bite at the king's head" Phillip getting bitten
    • "Couple" David and Di
    • "Little Princess"Liz
    • "Stab the monkey" impale a zombie with a tether ball pole.
    • "Stagger back" acting like zombies
    • "Bar For Shots" is going back to the Winchester and firing the rifle.
  • In Superman II, Super brings Lois to the Fortress of Solitude, and shows her the green crystal that built it. When she goes to dinner, she leaves it in the snow where she was sitting, with the camera lingering on it for an extra second. Gee, wonder what helps Clark get back his powers later?
  • Timecrimes. From the moment Clara appears on-screen, pay attention. Any detail that seems out-of-place will get explained or otherwise become an important plot point.
  • Wayne's World lampshaded this trope mercilessly with Chris Farley's unusually knowledgeable security guard.
    Wayne: Isn't it lucky that we got all this information? It seemed extraneous at the time.
    • Also parodied in a later scene, wherein Wayne opens up a previously-unseen door in the diner to reveal a warehouse full of ninjas undergoing highly elaborate training.
      Garth: What are you gonna do with these guys?
      Wayne: Oh, nothing really. I just always wanted to open a door to room where people are being trained like in James Bond movies.

  • This is rather infamously "subverted" by pretty much all of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, almost to the point of it being memetic; it's not at all unusual in his works for there to be several pages of tangential activity that seemingly has nothing to do with the rest of the plot whatsoever. But to some extent, it's left up to the reader to determine what exactly constitutes as "important" in the greater lore of his work. For instance, his work The Silmarillion could by some people be easily misconstrued as a book of nothing but such unnecessary fluff, but in reality it serves as the entire body of ancient Elvish history spanning back to the creation of the world (and fans sometimes appropriately refer to it as the "Elvish Bible" as a result), and that "fluff" provides considerable insight into the context of the Elves' existence, their culture, and even their worldviews which tend to differ considerably from that of Men or Dwarves, and doesn't often get extrapolated upon in his other, more famous works (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), which feature only light brushes with the Elves that leave readers/viewers with a stark impression of their strange ways but no real understanding of it. And needless to say, considering his works are essentially the primordial ooze from which was birthed modern High Fantasy, no detail is truly unimportant in hindsight.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire Zig Zags this so much it can make readers' heads spin. Westeros is a very, very big kingdom in an even bigger world, and almost from the start we're given a whole mess of names belonging to people, organizations, families, deities, stories and locations, such that any first-time reader without a photographic memory or a notebook will be hard-pressed to remember who's who, even with the convenient appendix in the back. In addition, the multiple PoV characters and the people around them have many distinct priorities and focuses; the characters in the first book alone have concerns that range from national (or even worldwide) security to whether they'll get to attend an extravagant tournament. This enables the characters (read: the author) to slip all kinds of relevant information to and past each other (read: the reader) without them realizing it until it's too late. After all, with so much information, anything can turn out to be relevant when the crucial details are mixed so neatly with the worldbuilding. Even characters that had previously only appeared in the Appendixes can turn out to be important.
    • For example, Jon Connington is an exiled lord mentioned in passing as having drunk himself to death. He later turns to be alive, becomes a PoV character, and leads an attack to put a Hidden Backup Prince, Aegon Targaryen, who was believed to have died 15 years before the books began, on the throne.
    • Even the History of the world is important, such as figures in The Tales of Dunk and Egg and The World of Ice and Fire. The Blackfyres are a cadet Targaryen branch who tried to usurp the throne several times. They feature prominently in the history and are a significant threat in Dunk and Egg, along with being mentioned a few times in the main series, but are believed extinct. It is not yet confirmed but it is widely believed the boy believed to be Aegon is really descended from the Blackfyres, hence why the Golden Company is supporting him; Illyrio Mopatis tellingly says the Blackfyres are extinct in the male line.
      • This trope is the reason for a lot of the theories that "Aegon" is a fake and really a Blackfyre. Either you believe that GRRM put in a lot of cleverly disguised clues, or you believe that he chose to insert a lot of irrelevant plot points such as Tyrion finding fine quality boy's clothing in Illyrio's manor, Tyrion's assessment that Illyrio's explanation for why he's supporting Aegon is a lie, Illyrio's oddly sad reaction to being unable to meet up with Aegon, the oddity of the Golden Company supporting an actual Targaryen who are their enemies, etc.
    • Notable aversions usually are the PoV characters from the prologues and epilogues of the book. They are introduced exclusively for one chapter, get more characterization than plenty of other authors give actual main characters, and then are unceremoniously killed off; with neither their lives nor their deaths having much bearing on the overall plot.
    • This can also work for Martin's writing style itself. He is well-known for describing his style as "gardening", so by writing so many elaborate details throughout the whole story, he can later decide on which plot thread he wants to expand or develop.
  • Bag of Bones: In On Writing, Stephen King describes reducing a two page section on Mike Noonan's community-service work backstory to two paragraphs after his wife said it was boring.
  • In A Brother's Price most things end up being relevant to the plot, and if they aren't, they are there for exposition, such as showing the reader how this Speculative Fiction fantasy world works, or to establish a character.
  • In The Belgariad by David Eddings:
    • In the historical-perspective prologues of the very first book, Pawn of Prophecy, mention the High Places of Korim, which are no more in passing as the location Torak did some stuff... only for it to be the solution to one of the last mysteries of the sequel series The Malloreon 10 books later.
    • At the beginning of Pawn of Prophecy, the first book, the old storyteller brings out a story only to be told in the presence of royalty, even though he's in an ordinary (though pretty wonderful) farm, and glances at Garion. Lo and behold, halfway through the fourth book Garion is crowned the Rivan King. The old storyteller, being Belgarath himself, knew the entire time.
    • Also in Pawn of Prophecy, Garion mentions to Belgarath in a throwaway line that a fortuneteller once came to Faldor's farm and told Durnik the blacksmith that he would die twice. Funnily enough, in book 5, Durnik dies and is resurrected a chapter or two later. One down, one to go.
  • Ignored in Joe Haldeman's The Coming. The story follows a lot of characters, most of which ultimately do nothing for the plot (seriously, there was even a porn actress thrown in).
  • Conversations between Virgil and Dante that are irrelevant to The Divine Comedy are written out of the narrative, as the narrator admits in the 21st canto.
  • In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel Dead Romance lives on this. This is used to great effect because the first three-quarters of the book is written like a regular New Adventure, which are notorious for having bad editing and poor writing. Therefore you have long passages of text that go nowhere, ham-handed movements from set piece to set piece and so on. However at a crucial point you discover that everything you were supposed to ignore and chalk up to bad writing was extremely important, and then you see what's really been going on for the entire novel. There's a reason this novel was continually voted the best Doctor Who spin-off novel of all time.
  • Don Quixote: This law is invoked by the Innkeeper when he and Don Quixote discuss at Part I Chapter III the need for money being a Knight Errant who is Walking the Earth, and helps to deconstruct those tropes:
    He asked if he had any money with him, to which Don Quixote replied that he had not a farthing, as in the histories of knights-errant he had never read of any of them carrying any. On this point the landlord told him he was mistaken; for, though not recorded in the histories, because in the author's opinion there was no need to mention anything so obvious and necessary as money and clean shirts, it was not to be supposed therefore that they did not carry them, and he might regard it as certain and established that all knights-errant (about whom there were so many full and unimpeachable books) carried well-furnished purses in case of emergency, and likewise carried shirts and a little box of ointment to cure the wounds they received.
  • The Dresden Files: Written by a self proclaimed "lazy author" who virtually guarantees that every small detail in the books will matter eventually. Even seemingly minor details in the very first book end up coming back later, often times becoming more significant plot points several books down the line.
    • The identity of the eponymous traitor in Turn Coat might as well be accompanied with red circles and arrows and the notation "This Guy Right Here" from practically the instant the character is introduced, thanks to the attention lavished on obviously unimportant details which turn out in the end to have been plot-critical.
    • The party from Grave Peril. Virtually every character or event has come back at this point, and it seems likely the few things that haven't come back yet will show up again in the final few books.
  • One of Gors criticisms is that John Norman averts this with densely worded depictions of structures, ships, weapons, down to counting the beams and explaining their practical and cultural significance. He also subverts this, as one detail buried in several dry paragraphs can come back as a plot point or a Brick Joke that will go over the heads of readers who skip those portions.
  • Harry Potter:
    • The series is rife with pleasant background detail, but Rowling very carefully seeds important plotline clues into trivial mentions. Hagrid got a flying motorbike from "young Sirius Black" in chapter one of book one; in book three, Sirius Black becomes an important part of the plot. Other worldbuilding items, like "goblin wars" mentioned in history books, or the idea that Hogwarts itself will give help to those who need it, tend to come back in a big way later on.
    • Hilariously subverted with the offscreen Mark Evans, whose surname is also Harry's mum's maiden name. Long-lost relative? Nope, Rowling just needed a common surname for someone Dudley had beaten up and didn't realize until the fans did. She later issued a tongue-in-cheek apology.
    • Hermione was originally supposed to have a Muggle sister who was cut out for this reason. There just wasn’t a way to have her involved with the plot all the way back home. The same can be said for why her parents not really ever being around.
  • Averting this is one of Mercedes Lackey's Creator Thumbprints. She loves Worldbuilding and often makes large numbers of characters who play very minor roles and don't return, but are sketched out just enough to look quite interesting. This can lead to a degree of They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character.
    • The Ship Who... Searched has Tia's brainship friend Moira and her brawn, the shellperson embodied in the hospital, all of Tia's classmates and prospective brawns, the people Tia transports, Alex's friends... How many of them are mentioned or appear outside of the part of the book where they're introduced? One.
  • Discussed in House of Leaves, as the fact that "The Navidson Record" doesn't follow the law — or any other mechanics of storytelling for that matter — is one of the big pieces of evidence offered for it's authenticity. Scenes regularly drag on for far longer than necessary, conversations are messy and frequently irrelevant to the central narrative, there's little to no exposition, the cameras often miss significant events or don't give a good angle of them, and there's no real direction to the plot, which meanders from one sequence of events to the next with no regard for whether or not it's "important". It's less like a movie and more like watching the actual lives of the people being filmed, which is extremely hard to capture in a scripted work of fiction.
  • Subverted repeatedly in Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables.
  • Geoph Essex's Lovely Assistant throws a dozen or so random throwaway lines at the reader on almost every page, but paying close attention to the dialogue (especially in conversations with Vincent and Carrie Raymond) will pay off in spades. Also, the final chapter wraps up a surprising number of minor details and even minor moments from the rest of the book, in particular the things Jenny sees in the theatre lobby from Wonderland after she and Calvin do their last magic show together.
  • Magic Ex Libris: Libriomancers can pull objects out of books, not living beings. The Sensory Overload of a world that lacks this Law drives them insane.
  • Subverted in the book series Personal Effects. The main gimmick of the series is that it encourages the reader to follow up on details mentioned in the books — calling the phone numbers gives you voicemails, and all the websites actually exist. The first printed book even comes packaged with a bunch of handwritten notes and pictures.
  • At the end of Redshirts, Andrew Dahl figures out that one of his friends, to that point, had been a completely pointless character who had done little, if anything, to further the plot, and had just been along for the ride while all the other characters did all the work. Dahl therefore figured out that his friend must solely exist in the story in order to tell Dahl that he was the main character of the book. He was right.
  • If someone being invited to a banquet is mentioned in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, then chances are that it's part of a plan to kill them. Of course a banquet without murderous intent where everyone just has a pleasant meal isn't important enough to be mentioned, leaving modern readers to wonder why anyone would be stupid enough to go to a banquet in the first place when every single one ends in violence.
  • Played with in the Thursday Next series. All works of 'fiction' exist in Another Dimension: a world grounded in Conservation of Detail. Fictional characters who enter the real world sometimes suffer sensory overload, because all their senses are continuously registering details. Reality addiction is not unheard of.
    • In Something Rotten, Thursday is showing Hamlet around the "real world" when she is almost injured/killed by a random accident. She explains to him that, while in the Book World (fiction), this would certainly turn out to be an important clue to something later on, in the real world, such events are meaningless. Because Something Rotten is fictional, it does turn out to be an important clue to something later on.
  • Douglas Adams is famous for mentioning things in throwaway lines which later turn out to be what the entire plot hinges on.
    • However, he does a fantastic subversion in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (which is itself a book of this trope) — there's a scene where the protagonist is looking into a bathroom, and Adams spends several paragraphs describing the contents of the room, the paneling on the walls, the scuffs on the floor, and so forth, in intricate detail, only to end with "There was also a large horse in the room, taking up most of it."
    • This trope may also have been parodied with a fictional novel that Arthur Dent reads on the planet Bartledan: Due to a plumbing problem that is only briefly mentioned in the second chapter of the novel, the main character abruptly dies in the penultimate chapter (the rest of its precisely 100,000 words are about road-mending).
    • Adams also explains the use of this trope in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish, stating that "It makes for big fat books such as the American economy thrives on, but it's boring."
  • PD James' detective novels featuring Adam Dalgleish feature an insane amount of back-story on almost every character. Everything you need to know is in there, but so are an awful lot of things you don't need to know.
  • Tom Clancy tends to fight this tooth and nail. Paragraphs will be spent describing things other authors would just gloss over. He does love his Technology Porn.
  • Very common in the Two-Minute Mysteries, where each mystery is only about two pages long. If the text describes a minor detail like how the wax has dribbled on a candle, or the direction of a bird's footprints, it will always be key to the solution.
  • Similarly to the A Song of Ice and Fire example above, The Malazan Book of the Fallen zig-zags this. A lot of crucial plot details are foreshadowed by subtle details in earlier books, but a lot of things a reader might assume to be Chekhov's Guns turn out to have little impact on the plot. This is done deliberately and is one of the reasons the series has such a reputation as a difficult read (the other is the deliberate use of Lost in Medias Res).
  • Parodied in The Macbeth Murder Mystery by James Thurber. The protagonist sets out to deduce who really killed King Duncan in Macbeth (since it's never the really obvious suspect, so Macbeth must be a Red Herring). He eventually concludes that the murderer was the unnamed old man in Act II scene 4, since otherwise why bother introducing a new character just for one scene?

    Live-Action TV 
  • Austin & Ally: In one episode the characters keep getting packages delivered to their businesses, with a joke being about no-one tipping the delivery guy. This takes place almost at random during the main plot about their businesses constantly getting robbed. Take a guess who the thief is.
  • Averted in particular episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The fourth season finale has a series of interconnected dream sequences, with some kind of monster killing each of the four major characters in their dreams in turn. Also appearing consistently in each dream: a bald, bespectacled man in a tan suit with a strange fascination for cheese. Word of God states that the sole reason for the "cheese man" was to have one suitably random, nonsensical, dream-like image in each dream. The fact that he appeared in each dream has led to possibly more fan speculation about his purpose and meaning than all other facets of the show put together.
  • In Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed the Masked Magician demonstrates a magic trick and then reveals how it is done. Most of his tricks involve a pretty bare set with both him and his assistants wearing bland costumes. Any detail beyond this is guaranteed to be part of the secret of the trick. Magician wearing a flowing, hooded robe? He needs to switch places with a double. Assistant wearing a poofy dress? It's concealing a prop or gimmick. Assistant that we haven't seen before? This trick needed an identical twin. Extraneous scenery? Someone is hiding behind it.
  • In an episode of Charmed Prue finishes talking with someone in her office, that person leaves and then the coffee girl (who we've never seen before) arrives, gives her coffee which had apparently been ordered, receives a compliment, and the scene ends. Yeah. The feeling "why did they just show us a scene of someone receiving coffee" was pretty strong, but it did help remember the coffee/sandwich girl character for when it turned out that, without her knowledge, she was actually the mother of the person who will eventually find a vaccine for demons.
  • Played with in the video game episode of Community. Upon entering a house, Britta immediately tries to straighten a crooked picture on the wall. Jeff tells her to "stop playing like a girl". Then Britta succeeds, opening a secret passage.
  • In the Season Four episode, "Partners in Crime", the taxi that was meant to pick up Stacy, who died from Adipose conversion had an ATMOS sticker on the front, foreshadowing "The Sontaran Stratagem".
  • It may just be nothing, but in Series 1, Mickey Smith finishes one of Captain Jack's anecdotes for him:
    Mickey: I knew we should have turned left!!
  • In "Forest of the Dead", Miss Evangelista lampshades the trope to convince Donna that they're in a simulation, pointing out that she appears in different places at different times without actually traveling anywhere.
  • In Eureka, any and all interesting new technologies presented or talked about early in the episode is inevitably going to turn out to be either A) part of the cause of that week's crisis, or B) part of the solution to said crisis.
  • In the Goosebumps (1995) episode "My Best Friend is Invisible", we see the parents of the kid protagonist working on something. It turns out it was a device to expose invisible people and the plot has an invisible friend.
  • How I Met Your Mother: A example comes from the reveal of the mother's name. In an early episode, Ted has a conversation with a stripper named Tracy, joking to his kids that this was their mother. The mother's name really is Tracy.
  • Lampshaded constantly on Jonathan Creek in which the titular detective notes apparently pointless bits of general knowledge which become crucial in solving the mystery. At one stage, after ascertaining that an elderly client buys fish-food at a market and getting a baffled look in reply, The Watson wryly comments: "Don't worry, it'll have some deep significance that is invisible to us mere mortals."
    • But also quite often averted, as well; especially in the longer episodes where we learn a lot of details about the crime that ultimately turn out to be meaningless. At least once, Jonathan has noted an observation aloud, and when asked what it means, he says he doesn't know. Some of those things simply never get mentioned again.
  • The Leverage team needs to create elaborate schemes in order to manipulate their mark. This means that side comments to the mark often end up being important later, and their importance becomes apparent during the "how it was done" flashback scenes. This is a trait shared with its spiritual predecessor Hustle.
  • On an episode of Merlin, the bad guys kidnap Gaius and take him to an Abandoned Mine, where there is an extended shot of their feet walking through the distinctive reddish-brown mud. This becomes an important clue that Merlin uses to deduce where Gaius has been taken, after noticing it on their boots.
  • Used judiciously on Monk. Every single random detail comes into use. Character pronounces a word differently? Clue. Has only an aunt for family? Clue. Orange juice jug empty? Clue. Bike comes with a lock? Clue. Meanwhile, the protagonist's skill is noticing and remembering everything, even though he sees more of his world than the viewer and it thus doesn't follow this trope for him. A viewer aware of the trope can still use it to guess the answers before him.
  • Parodied on the DVD commentary for the final episode of The Office (UK). Gervais and Merchant lampshade the "Secret Santa" game, commenting on its apparent insignificance to the plot, and how it definitely won't become relevant later.
  • On an episode of Once Upon a Time, Kathryn bumps into a character we've never seen before at the school, and the camera dwells for a moment on his confused face. Back in fairytale land, he ends up being her true love: a knight turned into a gold statue, whose face was hidden beneath a visor up until the end of the episode.
  • The end of the first episode of Pretty Little Liars takes time to show every main cast member leaving Alison's Funeral, except for Mona. The A tag at the end then shows A staying behind at the funeral.
  • Psych takes it to a whole new level though, by zooming in and highlighting the clue (or flashing back 10 seconds to some relevant thing someone said) while Shaun makes his squinty-I-just-saw-a-clue-face (as Lamp Shaded by Gus when he eventually points out that he sees many of the same clues Shaun does, but doesn't need to make a face about it).
  • Seinfeld did the opposite and focused on silly things (like the parking spots mentioned above), yet it was still funny. Curb Your Enthusiasm after it, however, was completely made up of small details and barely had anything else, which is why it is awesome.
  • Babylon 5 took this to new extremes with throwaway lines and scenes to have huge ramification on the entire series. The best example is an early episode of Delenn getting worried about a 'soul-catcher' in a seemingly filler episode, but is actually the answer to the mystery of the first season that recurs throughout the show.
  • On a time-travelling episode of Smallville Clark and Chloe walk through the busy work-space of the Daily Planet in which their colleagues are partaking in some rather noticeable activities: someone gets a huge bouquet of flowers, someone else trips over, and so on. The camera lingers on them the first time around so that Clark can accurately describe their activities to Chloe when the time-travel kicks in and he needs to convince her of their situation (that the day is repeating).
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Played straight during a series regarding the Dominion, which was mentioned in passing in the first episode it showed up in and was on the verge of taking over the Federation a few seasons later. The extra material on the DVDs even makes note that they were first mentioned in a Ferengi episode, where fans expect nothing to have a lasting effect.
    • In the episode "Time's Orphan", it's done a bit heavy-handedly when Keiko gives little Molly a shiny silver bracelet and the music swells for a moment before going back to normal. Guess what feral Molly is wearing when they pull her back from the past?
  • On one episode of 24, Jack is captured and forced to give bad tactical information to CTU. He ends the information by declaring he is in a "flank-two position". Given that the series is all about time constraints, it's reasonable for viewers to assume that any apparently-innocuous dialogue that's not technobabble is important. In-character, the terrorists holding Jack just assume its standard tactical talk. Naturally, it turns out to be the duress phrase. Except that CTU changed the duress phrase since Jack was last part of it, and they barely pick up on it before it's too late.
  • In the mini-series Whitechapel (TV Series), the police investigative team occasionally visit the local hospital for information where the camera always takes the time to linger on a red-headed nurse. This being a History Repeats premise concerning a Jack the Ripoff, many viewers probably guessed in advance the significance of a red-headed woman...
  • On Murder, She Wrote almost invariably someone will make an offhand remark that will trigger Jessica's memory of some minor detail that didn't seem important at the time, but which she suddenly realizes is the key to the whole mystery.
  • Castle is fond of this one as well. Usually it's Castle's daughter or mother who makes the seemingly-innocuous comment.
    • Lampshaded in one episode where Castle suggests that his daughter Alexis might be the culprit since she's tangentially involved in the case and doesn't have an alibi.
  • Lampshaded on an episode of Raising Hope. At the end of a two-parter involving acting on a children's show, the family agrees that their own wacky lives would make for a pretty interesting TV show too... but only if they edited out all the boring parts. Cue a whole minute of the gang staring into space, coughing, and commenting of the shapes of clouds on the drive home.
  • A sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look involves a filmmaker who doesn't appreciate this trope, and whose films are constantly full of irrelevant, everyday details which are at best a waste of time and often actively misleading for the audience. They have delicious names such as "Sometimes Fires Go Out" and "The Man Who Has A Cough And It's Just A Cough And He's Fine".
  • Adverted by Twin Peaks which is filled to the brim of Big-Lipped Alligator Moments which give the show its particular flavor, subverted since despite all of its BLAMs it kept a tight hold on the central plots and when that was lost the series became one as a whole and was canceled.
    • In The Return, there's whole scenes who are paid importance, that have not a bearing on the plot, although an argument can be made about bearing importance on an atmosphere and emotional level.

  • Writing lyrics involves fitting rhythms into bars which, as one can expect, doesn't give much space to convey information. For example, one can fit eight syllables (in this case quavers) into one bar which tend to get syncopated due to vocal infections. It's much better to say something like "Hair of fire, crouched much higher/than anyone on the ground" than "Hair the deepest shade of ginger/quite the fearless ninja/towering above you and me/crouching high; defying gravity". We know from the first example that this is someone who is being sneaky and out of sight. The second example, while providing extra detail and feeling, is two bars longer than the first and doesn't really provide any more useful information. In a lyrical sense over-providing detail, as in the second example, is tantamount to Purple Prose.

    Puppet Shows 
  • On The Pajanimals, the Pajanimals don't appear to have teeth except when they brush them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons occasionally uses this trope to explain why all the magic and gear seems designed for folks crawling into caverns, killing ugly people, and taking their stuff. The local magicians probably do make magical plows to help farmers, magical compasses for navigators, and so on. However, since players don't care about most of this stuff most of the time, let's cut back to the stuff that will affect the world as players experience it. Eberron outright states this in its campaign setting. Several articles in Dragon Magazine have been dedicated to listing such mundane magic items.
  • Paranoia recommends that Game Masters occasionally roll the dice for no reason other than making the players nervous. It's a detail: it must be important!
  • Risus too in order to help with improvising off what the players speculate the roll was for.
  • A very common mistake for new Game Masters who will vaguely describe a room, but go into minute detail about one feature of the room. All Genre Savvy players will immediately gravitate towards this item. This can also be used intentionally, by only describing a certain part of, or item in the area, you can ensure that everyone notices it.
  • One RPG group went by the tenet that "Any woman or plant the GM bothers to describe is a trap." The GM caught on and ran them through an adventure that could roughly be described as "The Magic Greenhouse Land of Amazons".
  • Similarly, whenever the DM makes a hidden roll or asks for a spot or listen check (that they fail), the players will assume something is going on and, if they're bad metagamers, try to act on it. Incidentally, few things unnerve a player as much as rolling really well on a spot check and being told, "No, you don't see anything of importance..."
  • An article detailed strategies for GMs who had forgotten their notes, with advice such as asking the players one by one to describe the contents of their characters' living spaces, specifically asking about the presence of potted plants. By the time the last boring description was out of the way, the GM should have been able to think up a new adventure for the evening. Which, if the GM was being sadistic, should offer the characters the chance to buy potted plants, leading the players to wonder if it would save their necks to have potted plants, or if it would put them at risk...
  • F.A.T.A.L. is one of the most notable aversions of this trope.
  • In Fate RPG, conservation of detail is made into a game mechanic. If something is deemed important to an NPC, group, player character, or even a situation or event, it can be given an Aspect - a short description ranging from a single word to a simple sentence. A major mechanic of the game is to either Invoke or Compel them - that is, spend the game's meta-currency (Fate points) to bring the Aspect into play, either giving a roll a bonus/penalty or changing the narrative of the game in the moment. Since the Aspect can be anything as long as it's meaningful in-game and interesting, the fact that your hero has, say, a Fabulous Mustache (and you decide to make it the character's Aspect for whatever reason) can very well be more important than his backstory or his gear. The latter is further reinforced by the fact that the game mechanics explicitly state that if you have a skill, you also have all the tools needed to use it (so if you're skilled at Shooting, you implicitly have *some* sort of a bow or gun or something else appropriate to your game - without needing to go into any detail as to the specifics, if your gaming group doesn't think it's important).

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Every piece of evidence in the Court Record — besides your badge — is used in the case in which you gather it.
    • Profiles in Justice for All and Trials & Tribulations, a notable case in the latter being the one time in the entire series when the character you're currently playing shows up in the profiles screen. Of course you're bound to present it at some point. The lawyer's badge gets used once or twice outside of the courtroom. You even had to present the screwdriver, which had importance exactly because it has no importance at all, which throws suspicion on the suspect's reasoning for having Edgeworth personally pick it up in the first place.
    • A "unique" one happens in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth. In Case 5, "Turnabout Ablaze," which is the last and LONGEST case, Edgeworth tidies his evidence several times, removing used and useless evidence. This also helps let you know that the empty box of Samurai Dogs is going to be used at some point because it survived the first two clean-ups.
    • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies plays with this. Several pieces of evidence may not be used for more than reference, and characters make a point of tidying up unnecessary evidence between chapters. Some items, despite having an icon, may not actually show up in your court record, and at one point evidence previously thrown out is swapped back in when they become relevant again. In fact, a lot of evidence is kept, and ends up being used for a completely different reason that you think it's gonna be used for. One particular example coming in the DLC case, where you carry around a piece of fish for the entire case, with it never leaving the court-record throughout despite the many "unnecessary evidence disposed off" moments. This obviously leads you into thinking the fish will be one of, if not THE big piece of evidence that'll crack the case. In actual fact, you don't even use it until the episode's epilogue, and then it's just to give it to Orla the Orca as a treat.
    • In the fourth case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, even when it seems like everything is about to be wrapped up nicely, it's obvious a twist is coming up because you were told much earlier about a dog eating dumplings and burying the leftover in the backyard. Of course, these dumplings end up being an important clue.
    • In Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney's first case, Phoenix is reading a newspaper article about a gem heist. Then, the trial for a seemingly unrelated case of assault starts, and he brings the newspaper with him into court. And it's filed as evidence. They might as well have just said that gems were being smuggled on the ship right at the start.
  • Ace Combat:
    • Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies mission "Deep Strike" is set in an area with a ravine leading from the target area back to the RTB line. After splashing the targets, you get notice that Stonehenge is firing your way and have to take your plane below 2000 feet in order to make it out of the area. The only way to do that? Why, the ravine. (This scenario is later reused in the Ace Combat Infinity mission "Rescue," serving as one of many deliberate narrative parallels.) It also shows up in the "Megalith" mission. Those other missiles within reach aren't just for show. Another cue is in the briefing: If you pay attention to the map, you'll see that the mission site is in Stonehenge's range.
    • Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception is also in love with this. It's particularly obvious after you play both halves — or, in one case, all three thirds — of a Remixed Level. Most of them.
  • In Amnesia: The Dark Descent there are many many books and shelves full of books but there are only about five book models in the engine. However they are often cunningly arranged on the shelves to give the illusion, albeit paper-thin, of variety. In fact it's not something you really notice, what with trying to keep from being eaten by monsters, until you have to solve a bookshelf puzzle fairly early in the game. The books you have to pull to open the secret passage are all tall, thick, protrude farther out on the shelf than the other books, and are white (whereas every other book in the game is either red, blue, green, or brown) making them incredibly easy to spot even without any light. It's a bit disappointing because the in-game dialogue sets it up as something really challenging.. After that, it's hard not to notice it.
  • In Ar tonelico II: Melody of Metafalica, you can tell which characters are important to the plot because they have full-body pictures used when they speak; everybody else has only a small sprite. This leads to strange situations like a visible character speaking to an "invisible" one, or identifying a character that turns out to be very important later during an otherwise innocuous scene.
  • Played with in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, where there are a good number of rooms in the castle that feature a regular enemy that can be found in other places, and with no powerups or unique drops or secrets. One room contains a Killer Fish, out of water, helplessly laying on it's back. They're not entirely useless as they're intended to be a free spot to farm a soul the developers knew would come in handy for the area (the Killer Fish soul, for example, is extremely helpful in that area of the castle) but aren't entirely necessary either as you can very easily find said souls elsewhere.
  • Subverted in Chrono Cross. Of the portraits that characters have, forty of them are playable characters, five of them are alternate versions of the playable characters, and twenty six of them are NPCs. Of the NPCs, one is unimportant: a shopkeeper you meet early on. Throughout the game you become convinced she'll be important, but she never does, being the only one of the characters who isn't. The shopkeeper, however, is related to Funguy. Every single NPC with a character portrait seems to be related to one of the PCs.
  • Danganronpa, like Ace Attorney, often prominently features important bits of evidence before they become relevant. For example, in the first game, Makoto sees a lint roller in his dorm room, has a bathroom door that gets stuck easily, and takes a katana with a gold-painted sheath and hilt back to his room. All these become important pieces of evidence for the trial.
  • Averted in the Deus Ex series, there's dozens of characters you can talk to that have no impact on the plot and serve no purpose, and there's lots of virtual books that are interesting to read but don't really serve any actual purpose.
  • RPG Classic Divine Divinity takes this trope and uses a sledgehammer to destroy it. It contains innumerable amounts of plot-unrelated or useless things like kitchen ware, pictures, junk and all sorts of other things that can be bought or sold for no reason or moved around yet not used for anything useful. It also contains a lot of books, most of which are highly entertaining short stories and at least two longer series, one about an Ork pirate and his adventures. Others show spells and demon summoning or are about the ingame world, describing plants, animals and monsters.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, if a party member didn't have an approval bar he wouldn't be a permanent party member.
  • Subverted in Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening where they introduced Mhairi, a potential Grey Warden. Before the game got released she got treated the same as any other character, receiving her own trailer and character page. When you play the game, she has an approval bar and can gain XP. All this trouble only for her to die during the Joining after the opening segment.
  • Dragon Quest IX:
    • Subverted with the world map: it's a fairly large place, but not all of it is covered with interesting things. A lot of the dead-ends are covered in item gathering points, and eventually you find maps to grottoes, randomly-generated dungeons that are invisible on the world map until you "search" them with the A button. However, most of these grottoes rarely stray far from the beaten path, and a noticeable amount of areas on the world map end up never becoming the slightest bit notable. The Eastern Stornway area is particularly empty; the enemy encounters there are nearly identical to the Western Stornway area, there's very few grottoes in the area, and a single item-gathering point (seashells, on the southern stretch of beach). The bulk of the Eastern Stornway area, including the entire northern beach, remains unused.
    • Played straight with characters. Plot-important NPCs generally get 3D sprites. Generic ones are all 2D sprites, recycled throughout the game.
  • Averted in DreamWeb. There's plenty of items you can take, but the most of them are useless, and would just clutter your inventory. (things like plates, cups, lighters, and so on).
  • Averted somewhat in EarthBound due to useless items like the Protractor and Ruler. Some NPCs don't say anything useful, but are there to add witty lines. Finally, there are plenty of food items that are usable, but impractical by the time you reach them. Sure, eating a hamburger in combat (effectively instantly, and with no chance of indigestion!) is funny, but PSI powers are generally far more practical.
  • The Elder Scrolls: The five games in the main series are a shining example of this trope played to opposite extremes. To note:
    • Arena has an infinitely-large world, randomly-generated once you leave towns. All villages that are not plot-significant are also randomly generated and repetitive.
    • Daggerfall limits the world to only part of two provinces, Hammerfell and High Rock, but makes the world a bit more detailed and less repetitive as a result. It still relies in large Procedurally Generated areas and Randomly Generated Levels for the dungeons themselves.
    • Morrowind scales further down to part of the eponymous province while hand-crafting the entire thing and adding all sorts of detailed features to the terrain. It also adds an incredible amount of decorative and flavor items (bottles, dishware, standard clothing, etc.) that are of no real use to the player (most of them being of too little value to even qualify as Shop Fodder) but help to fill out the game world.
    • Oblivion, while slightly bigger in terms of raw space than Morrowind, is less detailed, as everything not related to geography is randomly generated outside of towns. It too includes enough flavor items (paintbrushes, mugs, flatware, etc.) to boggle the mind.
    • Skyrim is about the same size as Oblivion in square mileage, but the level of detail is noticeably higher — the majority of locations, even random, out-of-the-way dungeons, typically have some unique features or are related to a quest.
  • This trope is extremely prevalent (and usually justified) in games of the "escape the room" genre, keeping extraneous details to a minimum in order to draw focus to what's relevant for solving puzzles. This goes double for their real-life counterparts, mainly because those throw time pressure into the mix: having too many irrelevant objects and details leads to players wasting valuable time trying to figure out what's actually part of a puzzle versus what's merely decoration. There has been no small amount of debate regarding how much extra decoration is appropriate; some believe that having a small amount of decoration is fine as long as it doesn't interfere with the puzzles, whereas others believe that having any details not directly related to a puzzle are tantamount to adding Fake Difficulty.
  • Fallout and Fallout 2:
    • The point-and-click aspect leads to a prevalence of "examining" objects similar to Wasteland. Therefore, even if the character sprites are the same, a player can tell the difference this way. Upon examining two men in leather jackets, you might see this:
      You see a bar patron.
      You see a short, stocky man. He has the confident, relaxed stance of an experienced fighter.
    • Used hilariously for innocuous items that aren't really meant to be examined. Upon examining a pile of rocks:
      You see a large pile of rocks.
      You keep a close eye on these rocks, in case they move to attack you.
    • However, a shrewd player will be able to tell important items from the rest of the trash and Cow Tools that litter the level. The older ones had TV dinners, popcorns, nuka-colas, pocket lint, and others that do nothing but take up space in your inventory. You can also examine rocks. Do it enough times and your character will cry out in frustration.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Square's been subverting this trope since the first Final Fantasy. Coneria Town, the first city you can visit, has a well that you can inspect:
      This is a well. You might think that there is something to it... But in fact it is just an ordinary well.
    • Final Fantasy VI:
      • Subverted with Ziegfried; the character is interesting and appears throughout the game, but is completely unimportant. This characteristic has its own entry on The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Clichés. Ziegfried's Contradiction: Just because someone is weird doesn't mean they're important.
      • Subverted as you can go to an auction house where they are auctioning off multiple airship parts. This may seem important especially at that point in the game, where the plot revolves around getting an airship. But it is impossible to get them (nor the talking chocobo) as a bratty kid screams for her father to buy it for her, and the game doesn't let you outbid him, so the game is trolling you.
    • The infamous "1/35 Soldier" items in Final Fantasy VII ("Collect all 12!") were hard to find more than a handful of and had no function (also the 'Custom Sweeper'). In a game famous for its confusing translations, these may have been supposed to be actual toys in-universe.
    • Averted in Final Fantasy IX. An NPC having a name isn't a hint of anything... unless there isn't an earlier Final Fantasy character with the same name. If there is, it's just a Mythology Gag.
  • In Fire Emblem, almost all enemy units or NPCs with unique sprites and more than a few lines of dialogue is either a boss or recruitable. Which is understandable, considering how many enemies you end up facing. There are aversions, though:
    • Anna, as she's just a Running Gag. Subverted in Fire Emblem: Awakening, where she pops up as a merchant. You then get a sidequest where she helps a village. Unlike other NPC characters, she has a unique model, color scheme, and voice not only in her lines but going so far as to have quotes for critical hits and a picture as well. This points to her being playable, even getting the option for your lord to talk to her if he moves next to her, but absolutely nothing will recruit her. If she survives, you get another sidequest where she pops up again, and this time IS recruitable. Then she explains that there are multiple Annas and that you've never met her before.
    • Two major examples in Fire Emblem Fates:
      • Once your Avatar returns to Hoshido, their mother makes them sit on the magic Hoshidan throne so that she can see their true nature. It makes sense, since she could be worried about her child's comeback being a deceit, but it was done mostly to introduce the throne's power. Around halfway the Conquest route, making Garon sit on the throne in order to reveal his true nature becomes the Avatar and Azura's goal in the war against Hoshido.
      • In the Revelation route, Scarlet pins a flower onto her armor before jumping into the Bottomless Canyon, stating that doing so is tradition in her hometown. This detail doesn't come up in either of the other two routes, or in Scarlet's supports with the Avatar. Right after, it is incinerated when Scarlet is killed during the jump, and it allows the Avatar to prove that Gunter is the traitor who killed her, since he mentioned the flower when no one else besides Corrin and the killer had seen it.
  • The Godfather: The Game subverts this. There are various places that appear different on the map, many a locked door... While some of them are indeed significant, quite a few of those are Red Herrings that aren't of any consequence whatsoever, even in sidequests.
  • Subverted in GoldenEye (1997) where levels have plenty of unnecessary rooms and characters. The developers have explained the intent was to have rooms that, while unnecessary from a narrative and gameplay standpoint, would reasonably be found in these facilities if they existed in real life in order to supplement the game's focus on impressive AI and make the game feel more real.
  • Ling in Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars was prominently featured in promotional material, has a spot on the box cover, and has her own character bio at the official website, so it's a bit surprising that she's killed off as soon as you meet her.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV, the dirt bike seemed to be an incredibly useless bike: not as fast as the speed bikes, not as cool-looking as the choppers, not as cool-sounding as any of the bikes. But, provided you choose the right storyline, Niko uses a dirt bike to chase Pegorino in a helicopter. (Needless to say, the dirt bike also enables a Crowning Moment of Awesome).
  • This is something Valve deliberately sought to take account of in the creation of Half-Life 2 and Portal. Fully aware that people would (in the absence of some other prompt) treat something that looked like it could be important as important, they would carefully watch playtesters going through each level, take note if there was something or somewhere unexpected that a player chose to fixate upon despite it not actually being part of the intended flow of the game, and either de-emphasise it or remove it entirely.
    • Conversely, the Weighted Companion Cube in Portal is an inversion. The dev team noted that playtesters were loathe to carry a crate they needed through a level, because it looked just like any other boring crate they'd seen a million of before so they had no reason to do so. They got around this by giving the crate a unique design and name and getting the narrator to heavily reference it - coincidentally creating one of the most recognisable (and memetic) parts of the entire game.
  • Subverted in Knights in the Nightmare. The added artbook gives details on all of the units and all of the knights, including age, personality, relationships with the other knights, and character portraits. This is actually important to using the transoul feature.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask:
    • Near the beginning of the game, we find a masked character that manually opens doors unlike every other NPC in the entire game. This tiny fact foreshadows just how long his particular sidequest will go on for and how important he really is. He even temporarily becomes a PC.
    • You get a notebook that is useful for sidequests — of which the game has many. Most NPCs who appear in this notebook after talking to you have a mask to give you. Characters that do not appear in the notebook are not important for sidequests, though they may still be important to the plot.
  • Subverted in Mega Man ZX Advent due to its attempts to avert You All Look Familiar, where everyone you meet has different designs and personalities, except for the guys in uniform, who still act different. In other words, trying to rely on this trope to see who is important is completely pointless for this game. Though, as in all Mega Man games, the only ultimately really important ones are the robot animals/things actively shooting you.
  • The Mega Man Battle Network series is a strong example. Since there seem to be Only Six Faces used for all the generic NPCs ever, anyone with a unique sprite is bound to have a NetNavi that you will eventually fight and/or befriend. It is particularly noticeable in Battle Network 5, since you are in the process of building an anti-terrorism task force; if you're told to be on the lookout for a new member, expect the very next place you enter to have an NPC with a unique sprite, and expect that exact same member to be the operator of the next Navi to join your team. The fourth game subverts it, with a number of your tournament antagonists having generic portraits, Navis, or both, but given how little importance the tournaments have to the overall plot anyway...
  • In Monster Girl Quest, other than kings and other rulers, only the monster girls get any paper dolls (the rest are just human-shaped blobs of colors), and they're usually the only ones with names as well. Like many other tropes in the game, this is lampshaded.
    Alice: Hey, Villager A, come over here.
    Villager A: Why would you call me that when I have such a glorious name? I'm Cervantes!
    Alice: I don't care.
  • Persona:
    • In Persona 3 Portable, the PSP rerelease of Persona 3, a random faceless character was added in the game's bar/night club. He makes some pretty ominous statements throughout the game, but the last thing he says near the end of the game is followed by a portrait. This leads fans to believe that due to the Law of Conservation of Detail, he is important. Turns out he's a character named Vincent, protagonist of an Atlus psychological horror game titled Catherine.
    • Persona 4 exemplifies this trope. Every detail has meaning. The guy who gets rejected by Yukiko at the beginning of the game? Serial killer suspect. Turns out to be a copycat. The council secretary who is having an affair? Serial killer suspect. Turns out he was being duped. The TV announcer he was having the affair with? Murder victim. The bumbling detective who can't keep his mouth shut? The serial killer. The gas station attendant you shake hands with in one of the very first scenes? The one behind everything that happens in the entire game. The list goes on.
    • Most seemingly minor characters and scenes in Persona 5 play into the overarching plot or one of the other character's backstories:
      • The drunken molester who got you convicted of assault? He's the leader of the conspiracy.
      • That stupid conversation about how the TV station building is shaped like a pancake? Eventually allows Morgana and the Protagonist to deduce Goro Akechi is the traitor.
      • That blue Butterfly of Death and Rebirth that keeps showing up? It's Caroline and Justine's real personality, trying to help you expose the Greater-Scope Villain.
  • Pokémon:
    • There is a recurring key item in the franchise, usually called the Dowsing Machine, which helps you detect invisible items laying around. However, the hidden items are often found in very conspicuously empty dead ends. Due to the increasing pace of Pokemon games being released since the 2010's and thus the lack of development time available to put in Empty Room Psyches, it's gotten to the point where you'll very rarely need the Dowsing Machine to find hidden items because their location is usually telegraphed by the map layout down to the exact spot.
    • Pokémon Red and Blue and their remakes:
      • Subverted with a one-of-a-kind truck in the game (vehicles aren't seen anywhere else in the game since the preferred methods of travel are walking and flying or surfing on Pokémon) that can only be seen under very specific conditions at a certain point in the game before becoming inaccessible (although there are ways to return to it later in the game); a very high percentage of players would not see it while playing through the game, Endless rumors were spouted about the truck, such as finding a Mew there using Strength, etc.; however, the truck actually had no real significance at all. The rest of the series just follow this trope in every possible way.
      • The truck is given a subversive lampshade in the Gen III remakes on Game Boy Advance; the truck is still there and still totally unique, but if the player interacts with it, they'll find a Lava Cookie underneath.
      • Cinnabar Island: We're told that its an island resort and a popular tourist destination with a lab where they resurrect fossils, a burned abandoned mansion where experiments were done and the Fire typed gym all in the shadow of a volcano. In-game? The lab, mansion and gym are there but those are the only buildings (apart from the Pokemart and Pokemon Center) on the tiny square-shaped spit of land. Later games have islands that make Cinnabar seem dinky in comparison.
    • Subverted with the building foundation in Vermilion City, where a man is having his Machop "stomp the land flat" in preparation for building. It appears in every version of Kanto in the series, and the building has still never been finished.
  • In the first Resident Evil game, there's a single empty room in Jill's storyline. No puzzles, no items, no enemies. Turns out it's only important in Chris' scenario.
  • In Metal Gear Solid there is but one room in the entire game that is entirely useless. In the Armory South (near where you fight Ocelot) there is a LV. 6 door that contains three gun cameras and nothing special other than some ammo you could find anywhere. The entire reason it exists is to have a diesel generator in it, which a character mentioned way back near the beginning of the game was the reason the base had air vents big enough to crawl through.
  • Avoided in Metal Gear, Snatcher, Policenauts and anything Hideo Kojima does, because of his obsessive-compulsive insanity. He cannot stand to not worldbuild. The only people who care about the incredibly elaborate tragic backstories, sex lives and namedropping pertaining to characters who show up once and then die — and the endless infodumps about guns and items and nuclear weapons and the future and useless metagame trivia — are going to be fanfiction writers. For the most part, backstory events will be mentioned inconsequentially to add a little flavour to a character.

    For example, Hideo Kojima designed every desk in the first Metal Gear Solid separately. Every single desk! You have to respect a man who puts in that much work. And at least in MGS Kojima-san was nice enough to let players skip all that and go right to the neck-snapping if they want.
  • Averted in Shenmue. The town is full of buildings you can enter and characters you can talk to, but only a handful of them are important in any way.
  • Enforced in Starfield with the ruins of Earth, which as of the timeframe of the game has been biologically dead for over 125 years after side effects from the development of the GravDrive destroyed its magnetic field. Earth in the game has exactly ten decaying but otherwise easily-recognizable ruins.note  But the rest of the planet is a giant cold ball of sand with no evidence it was ever a warmer, wetter world teeming with life and geological activity. Not even random fossils.
  • Suikoden:
    • In Suikoden you can tell in the games who is one of the 108 Stars: If they have a portrait and a name, they're a Star (or a villain, but those are often the same thing).
    • Subverted in Suikoden II, however. There's a character with a portrait and a name (Ellie) that is neither a Star nor important to the story at all. She exists for one reason: In the quest that's unlocked if you load Suikoden I data at the start of the game, Tir McDohl joins your party while Gremio occupies a Convoy space. However, if you failed to resurrect Gremio in the S1 file you loaded, he'll be dead in this game, and Eilie will take his place in the plot, occupying the convoy and speaking his lines instead.
  • Team Fortress 2:
    • This trope is guaranteed to drive Soldiers and Demomen to madness, especially on new maps, because the maps are all highly detailed, with lots of items to interact with, but also to give a map more flavor. The main reason for the frustration is that these are the two classes who get the most out of the Rocket Jump (or Bomb Jump for Demomen), and a map with a lot of detailed protrusions will not necessarily indicate which ones are solid platforms which can be jumped to and either traversed or used for a height advantage, and which ones are intangible set dressing. For instance, Thunder Mountain which takes place on a cliffside logging mill. There are models of logs suspended over a Bottomless Pit that look like dangerous but rewarding paths to target areas...where some parts of the crane holding up the log are solid, useful platforms and others are not, with no indication as to which is which. Some players will jump onto the log, find it solid, then try to jump onto the crane, thinking it's also a platform, and finding out it isn't after plummeting to their doom.
    • The whole point of the "Prop Hunt" mode, which is Hide and Go Seek with fire. One team of Scouts is disguised as a collection of world items and must remain Hidden in Plain Sight against a team of Pyros who must hunt them down with flamethrowers. The challenge is that Pyros lose health when using their weapons, and must avoid dying while discerning which of the numerous highly detailed, cartoony objects on the map are decoys to be ignored and which are Scouts to be ignited. Certain Prophunt maps even intentionally clip two pieces of scenery together just to make it look like a bad attempt at hiding.
  • Aversion: The later games in the Ultima series try to create a realistic world that operates regardless of the player's involvement. In addition to armor and weapon shops, towns have jewelry stores, bakeries, restaurants, and other "useless" buildings. This also helps avoid an Interface Spoiler, as sometimes the next step in the Avatar's quest requires unusual materials that have to be commissioned from civilian artisans.
  • Lampshaded in .hack//. Several characters wonder why the graphics in the Hülle Granz Cathedral are so gorgeous when there's absolutely nothing there. Adding to the confusion is the fact that it's stated multiple times that private chats don't work there, leading to speculation about being unable to hide secrets from god. The Cathedral is, in fact, one of the most important areas in the entire franchise (every single story has something important happen there), but within the context of the Game Within a Game, there really isn't anything there.
    • There IS an explanation in universe. It's part of a special area that was partly dummied out during the transition from Fragment (the game's beta version). It was probably too closely tied to the black box that is the Aura system for CC Corp to remove it from the game. A specific item or spell could at one point be used to dispel the mists revealing the "Twilight Eye" and dried up lake bed, that in Fragment, was full. This ALSO adds more to the bridge revealing a red-tinted Chaos Gate, which normally only appear in Root Towns. By the time of the .hack// tetralogy, the ability to reveal this is also dummied out.
    • By the time of The World R:2, it's one of many similar areas that have cropped up, known as Lost Grounds. They have official stories in the game's backstory as to their existence but again, there's nothing there and only serve to look pretty in-universe despite many story events happening there. (A few are repurposed as event areas, though.)
  • Many an Urban Legend of Zelda was started thanks to this trope. Back in the day, when more rudimentary technology meant a much stricter enforcement of this, people took it for granted that only the important stuff would get detailed. So as technology got better and developers started averting this trope for the sake of providing a richer gaming world, gamers payed attention to neat but nonessential details (e.g. the Mario character portraits seen through a window in Ocarina of Time) and thought that they had some greater significance.
  • Modern Interactive Fiction loves this. One-room games where the player must use everything in the room are common—if there's a wad of gum in the trash can, sooner or later that will be an important wad of gum. From playing these games, audiences come to expect this, too, making it a self-fulfilling cycle: If your game mentions the walls, players will get mad if the walls aren't fully implemented.
  • Since every object in a game has to be created from scratch, unlike, say, movies, where the world conveniently exists already, this is inevitable in video games of all types with regard to the environment. There simply aren't the resources in terms of textures or manpower to create, say, five hundred unique cars, or thousands of different books to fill a library that only makes up part of a single level. Some games have started creating procedural plant life and mooks, but man-made products are likely to always be subject to this trope.
    • Any newspapers you see will always be either the cover or a single page with a story relevant to the game, even if they're supposed to be random pages blowing in the wind.
    • Books will usually be relevant to the plot or at least relevant to its message; an evil doctor might have fifty copies of Frankenstein lining his various shelves, for example.
    • Industrial equipment will usually look brand-new and catalog-fresh, with no signs of wear and tear and everyone mysteriously using just one brand of any given piece of equipment. (If an object does look worn, every other one of those objects will be worn in exactly the same way.)
    • Buildings that aren't falling down for plot reasons will look like they've just been finished and certainly never lived in.
    • In any game without an inventory system (and many with), no matter what is displayed on a vending machine, using or destroying it will cause it to dispense exactly one type of product, usually cans with no discernible logo.
    • If you're going through an office, any desk, office or cubicle which contains significantly more objects than normal will belong to a character important to the plot in some way. This also tends to apply to houses in Adventure Towns. If not, the clutter will be part of a puzzle of some kind.
    • People have an odd habit of barricading any rooms of their house you don't actually need to visit, often using their inexplicable collection of identical furniture. This works even if the furniture and doors are wood and you have a gun that one-shots tanks. Alternatively, a Master of Unlocking might be part of your team to only open the doors that actually have things behind them.
    • All guns use the same types of ammo. If you do get ammo for a gun you don't have, you'll have a chance to acquire it later. Even uncommon types tend to be just lying around in plain sight. Any given type of ammo will be in the same type of box, and any gun cabinets will be unlocked. If it is locked, you'll need a puzzle to find the key, instead of just finding the owner, or their body. Strangely, gun cabinets tend to the same types of problems encountered with barricaded doors above.
      • This last one is amusingly subverted by Bungie's early game Pathways into Darkness. You start the game with a .45 pistol and an M-16 rifle. The former you never find any ammo for, the latter has a bent barrel. Both are completely useless.
  • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors has a number of moments where characters will give speech and lectures about seemingly unrelated things: Chemical morphing, The Ship of Theseus paradox, Titanic's sister ship, a myth about a mummy, morphogenetics, telepathy, experiments on British TV involving pictures, the infamous 'predictions' made in the book Futility, and a number of other things. Everything seems random and without a connection...that is until the game's climax where every single detail of every single speech made throughout the game suddenly connects together to form a logical basis behind Junpei sending the answer to a puzzle through time to save Akane's life in the past.
    • The most striking example is when you're locked in a freezer, obviously needing to escape as soon as people - Then your two companions suddenly start talking about chemicals seemingly "communicating". It comes off as especially odd when the game gives you to option to either say you're interested or that you think they should probably get out the freezer before they start casually chatting about science. The correct option to pick to reach the game's true ending is the former. Although it's justified that your two companions would suddenly talk about it, since they're purposefully trying to drop information about such things to the protagonist. It was just a convenient time for them to do so, when they found some dry-ice, sparking a comment about how it's just solid carbon dioxide
  • The Witness: Blow made a point of noting in the run-up to The Witness' release that adventure games of the past didn't use this trope well: they would either render too many things in the game environment, confusing players on what objects to interact with; or, if text based, have a text parser so rudimentary that it couldn't be programmed with all of the nuanced phrases a player may randomly come up with. In The Witness, anything that can be interacted with is generally easy to spot (even if it's not easy to solve.)
  • Plumbers Don't Wear Ties averts this, since many extraneous details are brought up. All you need to know about the story is that John meets Jane in a parking lot while she's on her way to a job interview, he saves her from the perverted hiring manager, and they fall in love.

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive the author had intended for a minor character (the principal of a school specifically) to have a massive scar and eyepatch. Due to this law he chose not to since he had no intention of spending the time necessary to make them relevant.
  • Goblins - A strip introduces a prominent glass window on an inn. Prominent and shiny. MinMax is forbidden to smash it. There is exactly zero chance the window will remain intact.
  • Homestuck. Every detail is either important or will later get reused for a Call-Back or Running Gag. Every. One. And there are a lot of them.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Lampshaded when Elan meets Julio Scoundrél. Elan, who wants to get on an airship to get to Azure City from Cliffport, starts a conversation with a random man in the tavern. It turns out that this man is actually an airship captain. See quotes page for the conversation.
    • Also doubly subverted in chapter 454, where Haley fires an arrow to hit the goblin leaders so they take notice of them and fight them instead of entering the castle. After four panels, the arrow misses:
      Haley: I mean, why spend four panels watching the arrow if it wasn't going to do anything???
      Hinjo: It got someone's attention, all right... Just not the right someone's.
      [cue the entire goblin legion aiming their bows at them]
    • Lampshaded on page 889, when they awaken from a wish-fulfillment illusion:
      Elan: Plus, it woulda been weird for everyone to mention that Girard was into illusions and then not see, like, any. Who wastes perfectly good foreshadowing like that?
    • Conservation of detail is name-dropped by Tarquin when he arranges for Ian to be blamed for the assassination of Ambassador Gourntonk. He could have pinned the crime on anyone, but went with Ian because he's an established character.
    • Word of God is that in Start of Darkness, some of the paladins who slaughtered Redcloak's village probably Fell, and the reason it wasn't shown is (partly) that it wasn't relevant to Redcloak's Start of Darkness, which was the story being told at the time. As he put it, "Everything you see happened. However, everything that happened is not necessarily seen."
    • In #1112, Durkon subjects the High Priest of Hel to a workplace orientation to torture him. However, the priest giving the orientation points out Wall of Names Of Very Rich Donors, which Durkon seems to be interested in. We find out later Durkon saw his mother's name on the wall, and confronted her about it, which led to Durkon's epiphany about "worst days of one's life", which then led to him using his memories to defeat the High Priest of Hel!
    • Lampshaded in #1268, when Roy asks for everyone to list even random background skills, because you never know what might be useful. When he gets basketweaving, crochet, blowing smoke rings, soapmaking and beekeeping, he's pre-emptively annoyed that one of these is going to be useful.
  • Invoked by Gabe in a Penny Arcade strip where, while playing Skyrim, he insists on carrying 270 pounds worth of brooms because he didn't "want to get to the fucking Broom Dungeon and be, like, 'why didn't I pick up all those brooms?'"
  • qxlkbh:
  • In The Search For Henry Jekyll, Hyde doesn't know or care about his first murder victim, but the fact that she keeps coming up gives clues as to her importance. Her sister wants revenge on Jekyll for it.
  • In Cobweb and Stripes, expect that a lot of things from the early chapters - particularly things said by Betelgeuse - to become important later. Good luck figuring out which ones, though.

    Web Original 
  • The known reroll situation from Noob becomes relevant in Noob: Le Conseil des Trois Factions. Several characters have rerolls, all implied to be on the same gaming account as their main avatar. The only exception to the pattern is Gaea, who explicitly has her two avatars on different accounts, but is also the only one ever seen using both at the same time, which could explain why she needs two accounts despite the possibility of just making a second avatar on the same account. In Noob: Le Conseil des Trois Factions, it turns out that she has made other avatars on her main account, but they're mules. There's five of them and they're loaded with in-game currency, which makes her fortune six times the maximum sum she would have been able to keep with her main avatar alone.
  • The Phase novels of the Whateley Universe seem to run on this trope. There's so much detail you can't tell what's going to be important in this chapter, and what's going to matter at the end of the book, and what will be crucial three novels later. In book 4, Phase becomes insistent that fellow student could be an avatar of Hera. (He's right, but no one believes him then.) Then he works out from that who the other Greek gods are. In book 7, this knowledge is critical to getting the team out of a holographic simulation that has been rigged to kill them.
  • RWBY: In Volume 1, the budget and team were extremely small, so all background characters are black silhouettes. The only detailed characters are plot-important; the silhouettes are also a mixture of generic and blacked out plot-important characters. This technique only occurred in the first volume, but even with increased resources, background characters in later volumes tend to remain less detailed and duller in colour schemes than plot-important characters. This stands out in Volume 7, where it's easy to spot the main cast on the city streets because they have bold, colourful and unique designs whereas the background characters are either wearing work clothes or are bundled up against the tundra cold. This is itself significant for that story arc, as the state of the dour, poverty-stricken city is a plot point in its own right.
  • Dream cuts out the parts of his videos that are boring or don't have any action in them.
    • In the final minutes of the Minecraft Manhunt grand finale, after Dream blows up the End spawn trap, he goes to the End and shoots the first pillar. It then cuts to him fighting the Ender Dragon, suddenly at low health. He edited the video the way he did so that the viewers wouldn't know if he died or not, and after going to the End, no viewer would have to worry about Dream dying to the Ender Dragon.

    Web Video 
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. The series is about the length of a standard hour-long TV show, and in that time it manages to fit in every bit of character development, deconstruction of various tropes, Foreshadowing, stealth humour and all the other minute details which are mentioned on its page. As of October 2016, there are 930 tropes on the trope page for 42 minutes of musical (and more on the subpages). Every last second counts.
  • Jet Lag: The Game: In New Zealand, the series brings a lot of attention to a particular curse that Sam & Toby bring up, which involves Ben & Adam forcing them to go down a much longer road, which could potentially cost them the game; Ben & Adam are also hoping to pull that curse. Surely enough, the latter team pulls this exact curse right before the former team can get on the road that would almost guarantee victory.

    Western Animation 
  • A Gargoyles episode started with Brooklyn making a remark about mosquitoes. While that alone was unusual, by the time a second one was mentioned, it became obvious they will be vital to the plot. Turns out they were drones used by Demona to collect blood samples from the Gargoyles, so Sevarius could clone them.
  • Averted by Pixar with the Pixarpedia - even sub-minor characters, such as nameless, faceless, do-nothing bystanders get an entry in the encyclopedia. This is still ultimately played straight, as we don't learn the names and backstories of minor characters in the films because of this trope.
    • This aversion can be attributed to another trope: the Universe Bible. For any given book, movie, or television series, the people making it more likely than not have developed aspects about the characters and the world far beyond either what can be shown in the work itself; be it due to time, being hard to naturally work into the plot, and (of course) being too unimportant to the story being told. You don't need to know the first name of a character's mother, or how the city was built, if they has nothing to do with the events of the story after all.
  • One episode of Stōked featured the Ridgemounts (minus Lo) planning a trip to Thailand and one of Lo's friends recorded on Smartphone what she thought of them for that. Later, they record evidence that Lo's big brother's girlfriend was a Gold Digger. Guess what Lo showed her family.
  • The show Gravity Falls zig-zagged this quite often. Plot points like the bunker, the gobblewonker, and 8 1/2 president Quentin Trembley were dropped after their first episode and only referenced off-handedly once or twice throughout the rest of the series; other points, such as the agents and the "Time Police" ended abruptly in rather anti-climactic ways. On the other hand, several important details, such as McGucket's seemingly random ability with robots, the journals, and the vending machine secret door were played straight and became extremely vital to the plot as a whole.
  • In Winx Club season 3, viewers expected that Chimera being a fairy studying at Beta Academy would become important, and complained about plot waste when it proved otherwise. During the same season, Aisha briefly mentions that some places still have Arranged Marriages, and later she discovers that she's been placed into one.
  • One episode of Futurama involves another identical bending unit robot named Flexo who has a goatee. When "Bender" suddenly appears wearing scarves and things that cover his chin, the audience is supposed to immediately assume something is up, because cartoon characters never dress differently than normal unless their new outfit is relevant to the plot or a gag in some way. Of course, in the end the trope is subverted: "Bender" was Bender, he just felt like dressing nice for a change. A somewhat more straight incident happens in another episode where Leela is unexpectedly wearing a garish green tank top instead of her usual white one. Bender appears and insults the outfit, which the plot uses as an example of his meanness.
  • There are many random mutants released from Genosha in the Slave Island episode of X-Men: The Animated Series. Except they aren't so random at all, seeing how Mystique is one of them. The Blob is also there, and several others who will become important in later episodes.
  • Steven Universe is filled with so many examples, that when asked by a fan why there was so much "filler", a writer immediately countered that nothing is filler.
    • In "Cheeseburger Backpack", the Gems are careful to mention how many of Steven's ideas worked along their trip to the Lunar Sea Spire, conveniently seeming confused or frustrated at every challenge, only for Steven to find a creative solution. Tellingly, Pearl is oddly dismissive of the fact that their apparent goal of restoring the statue to the spire is brushed off as unimportant. Half a season later, it's revealed that that entire mission was a test to see if Steven was ready to accompany the group on dangerous missions.
    • Garnet ends the episode "Steven’s Lion" with a humorous quip about the group keeping Amethyst. Yet again, half a season later, and we learn that Amethyst was found abandoned in a Kindergarten and was adopted by the group's previous leader.
    • Everything spouted by the resident Conspiracy Theorist, sounds hilarious if utterly pointless. In his debut episode, they are...until the end of his rant in that episode, where he is now obsessed with rock people, with most of his theories — their alien nature, the existence of a Diamond Authority, a suggestion that Gems are burrowing into the Earth, etc. — proving to be true. Later episodes continue to have his theories serve as foreshadowing to future events.
    • A number of background elements seen when the Crystal Gems visit old Gem locations on Earth hinted heavily at the Great Gem War that took place thousands of years ago.
  • The characters of Toot & Puddle aren't normally shown to have teeth, but Opal's loose tooth is shown in the book Charming Opal and her full upper teeth, including the loose one, are shown in the television story "Opal's Looth Tooth." Also, both Toot and Puddle flash full, toothy smiles at her in this story to show that they grew all their teeth back after losing them.
  • On the Prime Video animated version of Pete the Cat, the characters have Disembodied Eyebrows, but you don't generally see visible eyebrows unless they're actually being used to show expression. Also, Pete the Cat, like the original books, doesn't normally have a visible mouth. However, one will be shown when he actually speaks, which is generally Once per Episode. Also if he's eating.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Law Of Conservation Of Detail, Conservation Of Detail


A Little Louder For The Back

Ryuji Sakamoto has a nasty tendency to blurt out the exploits of the Phantom Thieves within earshot, something that has both gotten the group in trouble and has been a running gag for him in the games and fandom. In one scene, RTGame, a Lets Player who is streaming the Royal version, brings extra detail to a character in the background who is suspiciously more detailed than the other students who is well within range of Ryuji's latest ramblings.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheLawOfConservationOfDetail

Media sources: