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Villainous Badland, Heroic Arcadia

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In fiction, especially in visual media where Black and White Morality is in play, it's very common for the home bases of the heroic and villainous factions to be easily distinguished by the way they reflect their inhabitants' morality and philosophies.

Typically, the heroes will live in lovely, peaceful settings bursting with life. These may include rural, pastoral arcadias, peaceful wildernesses, well-kept, clean and bustling settlements, shining castles and the like. Plants and animals thrive, the sky is bright blue and things like poverty, refuse and the more unpleasant sides of civilization all seem blissfully absent.

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The villains, by contrast, will all live in godforsaken wastelands barren of any green life, often little more than stretches of sand and rock surrounding the villains' ominous base. If anything can be found here besides the villains themselves, the local life is typically dominated by monsters, leafless trees and traditionally reviled animals such as vultures and rats. When these areas aren't good old-fashioned deserts, expect to find copious amounts of pollution, refuse and sprawling, chaotic urban growth to contrast the heroes' cleaner and lusher homes. If the sky isn't always dark or overcast, it'll often be a sickly yellow or an ominous red.

Sometimes, it's established as a motivation for the bad guys to embark on that war of conquest in the first place: The others have better land, let's take it.

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One corollary is that, should the bad guys be able to take over the good guys' territory, the heroic arcadia will shift to match the villains' own landscaping preferences. Sometimes this will be explained or justified on-screen, such as through the effects of pollution, warfare or urban neglect. Sometimes this will happen for no particular reason, with the land withering and the sky changing color as soon as the villains move in.

See also Arcadia, for depictions of idyllic pastoral lands in general. For a more extreme version of the first half of this trope, see Mordor, where the land is outright evil, hostile and corrupted as opposed to just barren, ugly and inhospitable. If this appears in video games, expect the Sorting Algorithm of Threatening Geography to apply — generally, the game will start in the pleasant heroic lands (typically represented as a Green Hill Zone) before moving into more villainous levels (the Lethal Lava Land, Eternal Engine and so on).

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Compare Sensible Heroes, Skimpy Villains and Good Republic, Evil Empire. This trope may come into play in works centered around Dreams vs. Nightmares. Fisher King is a Sub-Trope, where the land will shift between Arcadia and Badlands based on the personality of who rules it. For the same basic concept applied to individual characters, see Beauty = Goodness. Subtrope of Shadowland.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • The New Gods centers around two locations: one, New Genesis, is a beautiful paradise world led by the wise and benevolent Highfather; the other is Apokolips, a grim, dystopian planet led by the tyrannical Darkseid.

    Fan Works 
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: Wastelands are the result of environmental changes from corruption spewing from Dark God-worshipping Keepers' dungeon hearts. Light God-worshipping surfacers get medieval towns, while the elves live in forests.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Land Before Time: This is largely played straight in the first few movies, where the peaceful herbivores live in the lush and idyllic Great Valley, seemingly the only hospitable land left in the world, while the outside lands where the villainous carnivores live are wastelands of rock, deserts and tar pits. This falls by the wayside by later movies, however, as the outside lands come to be green, lush and with their own populations of peaceful dinosaurs, with the only inhospitable part remaining being the continuing presence of predators.
  • The Lion King: The villains live in benighted, inhospitable wastes in both the original movie and its sequel, contrasting the fertile savannahs of the Pride Lands where the heroic lions live and Timon and Pumbaa's green and idyllic jungle oasis. In both cases, the sky above the villains' lairs manages to be always dark and overcast.
    • In the first movie, Scar and the hyenas lurk in the Elephant Graveyard, a grey, rocky wasteland filled with bones and massive skeletons and visible from Pride Rock as a patch of shadow on the horizon. Scar manages to turn the Pride Lands into a second version of this once he takes over — somehow, he's such a terrible ruler that the rain stops falling, the rivers dry up and all the animals leave; the first thing that happens when Simba kicks him out is that the rain starts falling again. A big part of the hyenas' motivation for following Scar is based on getting access to the Pride Lands and the abundant food there, which they normally can't get because the lions keep them out and their own home base has nothing to eat.
    • In The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Scar's old followers were exiled into another empty patch of wasteland outside the Pride Lands. This seems to be mostly empty, dusty desert, the only feature of note being a titanic termite mound where the exiled lions live. Much like the hyenas, the lions' motive is to get out of the wasteland where they were sent and take back control of the Pride Lands.
  • Pooh's Grand Adventure: In contrast to the peaceful, lovely Hundred Acre Wood where the main characters live, the Skullasaurus' lair is in a gloomy, fog-shrouded land of gray crags, bare rock and leafless trees under a slate-gray sky.
  • In Twice Upon a Time, dreams are created in Frivoli, a candy-colored land of whimsy, and delivered by Greensleeves and his Figmen of the Imagination. Nightmares, on the other hand, are produced in the Murkworks, a logics-defying spire cobbled out of dark, ominous architecture, and delivered via bombs by vultures.
  • Wizards mentions in the prologue that thousands of years After the End by way of nuclear war, the uncivilized areas of the Earth regained their greenery, whereupon elves and faeries reappeared. It is here that The Hero Avatar and The Chick Elinore reside. The irradiated wastelands are home to misshapen mutants who are the descendants of humanity, many of whom dwell in the Wretched Hive called Scorch. There, The Villain Blackwolf launches his Evil Plan to overrun the world.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Descendants: The Isle of the Lost is a dingy, bleak, almost shantytown-like place where the air is filled with smog 24/7 and where the villains of the Disney canon were sent to after their defeats (even if they canonically died; yes, it's odd). Compared to that is the United Kingdom of Auradon, a lush, sunny and pristine area like you would expect out of a fairy tale, where the heroes and their descendants live.

    Literature 
  • The Lord of the Rings: Tolkien's preference for the traditional English countryside shines through in how the heroic and villainous factions' homes are portrayed in the novels:
    • The Shire is very much an idyllic pastoral countryside, while Rivendell and Lothlorien are closely intertwined with the natural setting around them — Lothlorien itself is seamlessly integrated with the forest it's built into and out of.
    • Saruman's fortress in Orthanc is a heavily industrialized waste, filled with smoke, burning forges constantly churning out weapons and military camps packed with orcs.
    • Ironically played with in regards to Mordor itself. The northwestern parts of Mordor fit the bill of a hostile, deserted wasteland, but its southern half is covered in great swaths of incredibly fertile farmland and a large freshwater lake. Sauron needs to feed all those orcs somehow.
  • Warrior Cats: Downplayed. All the Clans are technically neutral, but ThunderClan is predominantly the protagonist Clan and ShadowClan is the traditional antagonist Clan. In the first arc, ThunderClan lives in a lush forest full of wildlife while ShadowClan lives in a dirty, scraggly, swampy territory full of vermin and next to a garbage tip infested with rats. This is even reflected in their diets — ThunderClan cats typically feed on tasty game such as songbirds, wood pigeons, mice and squirrels, while ShadowClan is frequently noted to chiefly eat frogs, toads and rats, much to the other Clans' disgust.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the nature documentary series Savage Kingdom, the protagonist Marsh pride has a lush territory with an abundance of prey. The exiled lionesses live in the northern outskirts.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • With only a couple of exceptions, the Outer Planes are not supposed to be places of punishment for the dead. Lawful Evil characters go to a place of rules and ambition, Chaotic Evil characters go to a place where the strong rule the weak, and so on. Yet the good-aligned Upper Planes are pastoral and beautiful, and the evil-aligned Lower Planes are various flavors of wasteland and inhospitable wilderness.
    • Played with in Dark Sun. The evil wizards who rule the world literally wither the land when they use magic. Being green and pleasant means a place has no evil wizards; this can be because goodly folk are in charge, or it can simply mean the place is stuffed with cannibal halflings and the wizards figure it's not worth conquering.
  • In Princess: The Hopeful, the Radiant Queens's Kingdoms are currently utopic places in a literal Dream Land, while the All-Consuming Darkness' plane of origin, the Dark World, is Exactly What It Says on the Tin- a warped, wasteland-looking version of the real world where everything alive freezes. Interestingly, there is a justification for the Dreamlands being like this- they were originally created by minions of the Darkness as a Lotus-Eater Machine where they could trap the Radiants, so it'd make sense they designed the place to be as pleasant as possible.
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • While the Old World isn't exactly Arcadia, being a rough copy of the European continent and thus mostly filled with crowded cities and darksome woods, the Norscans come from the Chaos Wastes, which in addition to being as cold and unlivable as the real-world arctic circle are filled with vicious beasts and are frequently invaded by daemons.
    • The High Elves live in Ulthuan, a large island covered by wide fields, green woods, shining fortresses and majestic mountains. The Dark Elves instead hail from Naggaroth, a dark and cold land of harsh peaks, icy wastes and monster-haunted forests dominated by the black spires of the dark elven cabals.
  • Given that the entirety of Werewolf: The Apocalypse (in the Old World of Darkness) is built around a Green Aesop, it's not surprising that the heroes rule the wilderness and the villains squat in toxic waste dumps.

    Video Games 
  • Black & White 2: Each faction's territory changes in response to their Karma Meter. Evil territories become volcanic wastelands with cities of grimy black-and-red stone beneath a dim, reddish sun. Good territories are brightly lit, teem with wildflowers and butterflies, and have Shining Cities with fountains and plenty of hanging vines.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • In Fire Emblem Gaiden, Zofia, where The Hero Alm hails from, is blessed by the goddess Mila to have lush, fertile vegetation and a comfortable climate. Meanwhile, her brother Duma is the patron god of the militaristic Rigel, which is cold and barren to force its inhabitants to grow strong or die. Rigel invades Zofia at the outset of the story, prompting Alm and his friends to join a rebellion to push back the Rigelian forces.
    • Subverted in Fire Emblem Awakening. Ylisse is a pleasant, Ghibli Hills region and the home of the heroes, surrounded on one side by Regna Ferox, inspired by Mongolia and with a climate about as pleasant, and on the other by Plegia, which is mostly deserts and swamps and is ruled by a Religion of Evil. However, the Feroxi prove to be astute diplomats as well as proud warrior race guys, and quickly become allies; and it turns out most people in Plegia are not evil, simply loving their country and way of life (plus, they have a very good reason to hate Ylisse).
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • In Ocarina of Time, the Big Bad Ganondorf hails from the harsh Gerudo Desert, while Link spent his whole life in the idyllic - albeit somewhat muted — Kokiri Forest. Sure enough, when Ganondorf takes over Hyrule, it turns into a wasteland of death. Lampshaded in The Wind Waker: Ganondorf admits that his initial reason for wanting to conquer Hyrule was that the land was green and fertile with winds that brought life while in the desert the wind brought nothing but death.
    • Zant in Twilight Princess is spreading the same twilight he lived in his entire life throughout Hyrule. Downplayed in that the climate and environment aren't really affected by the change, and the Twilight Realm where he hails from is nowhere close to as dystopian as the one would think.
  • Mega Man Zero: Inverted. For most of the series, our hero's group, the Resistance, has their base in the deserted outskirts of the large utopian city-state, Neo Arcadia, where our villains belong. Played with in the fourth game where our heroes and a bunch of human refugees find lush, untamed wildlife in a place called "Area Zero" and settle there while Neo Arcadia has become a hellhole under Dr. Weil's tyrannical rule.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Professor Robotnik invariably turns the lands he rules into cold, urbanized, hopelessly polluted wastelands made up of factories and overrun by Mecha-Mooks. Any given game's final world, generally taking place in the heart of Robotnik's domain, will be a robot factory owned and operated by the doctor himself. In a few cases, such as Oil Ocean Zone, these factories also affect the environments around them.
  • In Terraria, ordinary grasslands and forests are the safest places to explore, with wilder biomes like jungle and desert a little worse. What isn't safe? The bare discolored stone wrapped with thorns that makes up The Corruption. Played with, though, in that the hard-mode Hallow biome is a literal fairyland ... with Everything Trying to Kill You.
  • Super Mario Bros. games typically have Princess Peach's castle grounds being pleasant grasslands with clear blue skies, while Bowser's domain is a barren wasteland with dangerous lava and hazardous mountains.
  • In Toonstruck, the cartoon world features the land of Cutopia, a green and lush land inhabited by cute and cuddly characters, and the Malevolands, a land consisting of dark, cracked barren soil inhabited by villains and other unpleasant folks. The Big Bad, Count Nefarious, uses a ray called the Malevolator to convert parts of Cutopia into more Malevolands.
  • StarCraft: The Protoss, who while not always heroic, tend to be despicted on the side of good, originate from Aiur, a jungle-based world with rich vegetation. By contrast, the Zerg, who were the primary antagonist for most of the franchise, have their primary hive on the hostile, volcanic world of Char. It's theorized in-universe that Zerg actually prefer planets like this to build their hive because the hostile environment push their ability to evolve to its full potential while making the planet easier to defend against hostile invasions. Interestingly, StarCraft II reveals the Zerg's native world, Zerus, is an inversion of how this trope usually work— it used to be a volcanic planet similar to Char, but millenia of evolution from the Primal Zerg native has resulted in it becoming full of life forms and vegetation, albeit of the Everything Is Trying to Kill You kind.

    Western Animation 
  • Flowers and Trees: The protagonists live in an idyllic open woodland full of living trees and flowers and friendly woodland critters. The evil tree, by contrast, lives in a barren patch of the forest full of broken stumps and with sickly gray soil.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The villains tend to make their bases in decidedly unwholesome places, in contrast to the idealized farmland, green woods, pastoral towns and shining castles of the main setting.
    • The dragons, who depending on the individual in question tend to be either villains or simply violent jerks, live in the Dragon Lands, an area of volcanic badlands and jagged rocks bereft of vegetation, crossed by rivers of lava and filled with sulphuric smoke. The actual boundary between Equestria and the Dragon Lands, shown in "Campfire Tales" and "Sweet and Smoky", is very clearly visible: on one side of an invisible line, the land is green and softly hilly and the sky blue and dotted with white clouds; on the other, the land is barren and dominated by jagged rocks and the sky is covered by menacing gray clouds.
      Smolder: The stink of sulfur. Sharp rocks under my claws. sigh It's good to be home.
    • In "To Where and Back Again", the changelings, a species of love-eating, shapeshifting insectoid ponies, are revealed to be based in a barren dustbowl under a yellow sky, housing nothing but rocks and the occasional dead tree. In the center is the hulk of the changelings' hive, a dull grey, hole-ridden cone of thin, gnarled spires and jagged edges that dominates the horizon. This state is explicitly stated to be due to the changelings themselves — once they turn good and stop sucking the love out of everything around them, plant life returns to their land and covers both their lands and the hive itself with lush green growth.
    • In "The Beginning of the End", one of the first things to happen once Sombra destroys the Tree of Harmony and starts to take over Equestria is that, as soon as he leaves the Tree's cave, the sky inexplicably turns a lurid yellow. When he's defeated at the end, the sky is instantly turned back to its normal cheery blue by the World-Healing Wave that did Sombra in.
    • Grogar's lair is in a giant skull-shaped monolith rising from a putrid swamp covered in slime and moss, in the middle of a stretch of flat gray rock.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: The Horde makes its headquarters in a hivelike mass of smog-shrouded industrial sprawl that would give Greenpeace members fits, situated inside a massive crater in the center of a desert wasteland, the whole of it under a perpetually yellow sky and collectively referred to as the Fright Zone. A far cry from the idyllic, peaceful fairytale woodlands, villages and castles where the heroic factions live.
  • Sonic Sat AM: The Freedom Fighters, refugees from Dr. Robotnik's conquest and other sympathetic factions, reside in beautiful pastoral or forested lands such as the Great Forest, a lush, green environment whose foliage is too thick for Dr. Robotnik's machines to navigate.
  • The Superhero Squad Show takes place in the bustling pristine metropolis of Superhero City. Separated by a wall is their close neighbor Villainville. The air pollution stays in Villainville and the grass doesn't grow.

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