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Weirdly Underpowered Admins

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In Real Life, administrators of online games and other systems like forums or servers are generally absolute in power, with access to a suite of commands to instantly kill, delete or ban players/users, and control them in other ways. This is necessary because the internet is full of jerks that will destroy anything they touch if not kept in line.

In fiction, this is often not the case. Administrators are simply very powerful characters than can be fought and defeated, or they just don't seem to have any commands that can eject or ban problem users. Often this is an intentional choice since these sort of admin abilities are Story-Breaker Powers. But it tends to be glaring to anyone familiar with Real Life computer security issues.

Compare God's Hands Are Tied, where deities have seemingly arbitrary restrictions on their omnipotence.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Belle (2021): The administration of the virtual community of U is strange. While the Voices of U (the ones running the system) do seem to have absolute powers, they almost never intervene in anything. Actual policing of users is deputized to a vigilante group called the Justices, who have been given a few tools to assist them by the Voices, but not only have no admin commands, they can't even seem to report problematic users, having to physically battle them to kick them off the system.
  • Gundam Build Divers spends its first half dealing with cheaters using Break Decals, physical modifications to Gunpla models that inject cheating software when scanned by the Gundam Build Nexus's systems. The game master and moderation team never intervene during reported incidents, requiring normal players to fight them off even in designated non-combatant zones. It's later justified in that kicking or banning a cheater wouldn't actually help much since the actual problem is the large number of overflow errors that accumulate while they're active, therefore requiring a patch for any punitive action to have a lasting effect (or for administration to even be able to work on doing so without everything crashing down.) Furthermore, the Break Decals run on legacy code integrated from a real-world version of the game, meaning the admins could forget thinking about anti-cheat since it'd just target the very servers and codebase the Break Decals are frying.
  • Various points in the .hack franchise show many displays of the admins not using their powers through any means outside of the game of The World. A major part of the plot for the first generation is that the creator of "The World" programmed the game to "give birth" to an actual Artificial Intelligence behind the scenes that the game devs didn't know about, so it falls outside of the devs' know-how to deal with them and they take Aura's presence as a threat. You would think that they would just look up a database of player accounts to determine if they're using illegal hacks or modifications or notice game code that should not be there, but they can only ever confirm such suspicions and account bannings directly in the game itself.

    Films — Live Action 
  • In The Matrix series, agents are programs that are more or less the equivalent of admins, and they are far more powerful than any humans, but they are still strangely hobbled. They have to search out people rebelling against the Matrix, and fight them. They can't simply teleport to them or command the system to detain or kill them.
    • In the sequels, it becomes clear that there is a minor yet impactful Enemy Civil War between squabbling admins. In general, the Designers get the authority to control entire worlds, but have been banging their heads trying to fix an ages-old social problem that they still can't understand, while the Programs have a sophisticated balance between calculation and empathy, but don't get permission to do much since they're all a lower caste. And both groups are forced to babysit humans. The cherry on top is that the apparent 'super-admin' is an angry narcissist who has to be called out by Neo before he can face the fact that he failed his job, even though he has enough admin powers to simply soft reset the Matrix and fix this existential threat in seconds. In short, all these Machines have OP haxx over our reality, but everyone is so dysfunctional that it takes all this godlike computing power just to barely keep humanity (and the Machines themselves) in line.
  • Free Guy: Played with; the admins are certainly powerful (almost ridiculously so, able to reconfigure the world itself on demand), but the problem is that Guy is not a player but a Non-Player Character that became self-aware. Thus, most of the usual tools the admins have to deal with rogue players (like banishing them from the game's servers) simply don't work on Guy. It's still strange that they have no tools for dealing with malfunctioning NPCs, or that they can't for whatever reason recognize that Guy is one (for a while, anyway), simply assuming him to have hacked the NPC and using it as a skin. Possibly justified since the creator of Free City stole his code from Walter and Millie meaning he doesn't fully understand his own game.
  • Ready Player One: Despite being completely owned by 101Inc, the game's technology its has a last will and testament that can effectively grant most of the company's stock to one lucky player, and the admins have to pull all kinds of tricks instead of canceling the event. Like the above example, the creator of the technology didn't like the company he sold it to, so he put a bunch of Easter Eggs in the source code (including an engram of himself) and made a treasure hunt out of it.
  • In Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, the Programmers can remove a player's lives with a jab of their finger, but they do it one at a time while mocking the player in question and another player can simply walk up behind them and grab them while they're distracted.

  • Bofuri: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense.: Justified. Maple keeps finding overpowered exploits in New World Online. The admins repeatedly patch the game to Nerf her more broken abilities, but she keeps finding new exploits so quickly that they eventually give up. However, it's partly a financial decision since her popularity has made her an unofficial mascot of the game and brings in new players.
  • Sword Art Online:
    • In the Aincrad Arc, admin Akihiko Kayaba sets up Sword Art Online to trap several thousand players from around the world in The Most Dangerous Video Game as an insane social experiment. Problem players such as Laughing Coffin, a guild whose members deliberately hunt and murder other players for their own enjoyment, don't get removed because the whole point of the thing is to see how people behave. Kayaba himself is playing the game as Heathcliff, the leader of the top guild Knights of the Blood, and uses his admin powers to put himself in permanent God Mode so he can watch to the end as the players try to beat the game so they can get back to real life.
    • In the ALO Arc, Alfheim Online admin Nobuyuki Sugou has the full suite of admin powers and uses them to full effect to torture Kirito and Asuna, until Kayaba, who has uploaded himself onto the Internet, hacks the game and transfers the admin powers to Kirito, partly out of a liking for him and partly as a screw-you to his former underling Sugou for stealing his life's work (ALO uses SAO's engine) just to have Asuna for himself.
    • In the Gun Gale Online arc, two people are coordinating a Player Character in the game and a person in the real world to murder high-ranking players. Once Kirito figures this out, and since he's working for the Japanese police this arc, you'd think the next step would be to subpoena the account details from the game company. However, said company is overseas and not providing any contact information, making it impossible to do this in anything close to a short enough time.
    • The second half of the Alicization Arc revolves around an attempt to steal data from an Artificial Intelligence project. The good guys for some reason have to have Kirito get Alice to a particular place in Underworld so she can be retrieved IRL and kept away from the thieves, can't lock the attackers out of the system, can't order the in-game "Final Load Test" (The War to End All Wars between the humans and demons) stopped, and left the Player Character account for the Demon King in God Mode and unprotected.
  • Durarara!!: Played with. Izaya has the normal privileges one would expect a chat room admin to have, yet finds himself unable to deal with a user named Saika, who repeatedly enters and spams the chat with disturbing messages. Every time he bans them, they reappear and continue their spamming, with no one understanding how it keeps happening. It turns out that the chat is being accessed by multiple Saika zombies, who just re-enter every time she's banned.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Shadowrun: Being based on Neuromancer (which was written by someone who had never used a computer,) it has laughable computer security. If a system's security detects a decker (hacker) intruding, the admins have to engage in matrix combat to try to remove him. They have a "home turf" advantage, but no administrator commands to simply eject users.

    Video Games 
  • An invoked case happened in Asheron's Call, when a group of players inexplicably decided to protect a crystal shard whose destruction was required as part of an event that would usher in the game's next update, some of them even sacrificing themselves to the crystal in order to raise its hitpoints to nigh-invulnerable levels. Rather than simply rewriting the shard's code to reset its hitpoints or banning the players, or any number of other solutions they could have taken, the developers tried to beat the players in-game, using high-powered avatars with high-level weapons, assisted by two high-level players to give the whole thing legitimacy. They lost. Three times. It was only on their fourth try that they finally got lucky and beat the "Defenders of the Shard," allowing them to move the event forward.
    "The admins donned their epic weapons, sallied forth... and promptly got their asses kicked. They were killed by their own players in a world they'd built, making this officially a science fiction movie. 20 Turbine staff watching on a break room screen were treated to players jumping up and down on the admins' corpses. Because Asheron's Call doesn't have a crouch button."
  • Hypnospace Outlaw: A recurring theme in this game, Justified by the people behind the Hypnospace Alternet being extraordinarily unqualified to run a service like that. The admins and moderators, including you, are underpowered even by in-universe standards.
    • After the first Time Skip, Hypnospace is a mess. Rulebreaking has run rampant in the time that you've been gone, because your hardware wasn't the only enforcer unit that was damaged by Dylan Merchant's incompetence. For about three weeks, there were only two moderators left in all of Hypnospace, and they could only do so much due to being overwhelmed.
    • invokedEven when things are calmer, Enforcers aren't as powerful as they should be courtesy of Merchantsoft's in-universe Idiot Programming. Namely, they can only take action when someone breaks a rule on a page they published. If someone else uses their page to report harassment that they received over instant messaging, or if their page was altered by a hacker, they're the one who gets the warning points while the perpetrator gets away with a clean record. And if someone makes a second account to cause trouble, they're completely untouchable because it isn't their main account breaking the rules.

  • +99 Reinforced Wooden Stick: The protagonist has created an invincible super weapon in an MMORPG due to a bug and can run amok pretty much at will. When he's wreaking havoc (or more importantly, using the in-game real-money market to take a fortune from the company), the game's admins are often shown panicking, since he technically hasn't hacked the game and they can't ban him without getting sued.

    Western Animation