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World Gone Mad

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"We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe."

A world that would be utter hell to live in. But instead of everything just being depressingly rotten like in the Crapsack World, everything is depressingly ridiculous. Nothing in the world makes sense, and the very laws of physics seem to exist for the purpose of making things turn out unfairly. Any attempt to find meaning or validation is answered with an Anvil on Head.

The protagonist is usually the Only Sane Man, who never comes out well and sometimes winds up Giving Up on Logic.

For some reason, writers who work in this genre tend to only do this genre. This tends to be a specialty genre for its creator, who is usually very, very bitter, and almost always a Sadist Show (or Sadist Book, or whichever).

Compare Cosmic Plaything, Finagle's Law. May be a result of stepping into a Cloudcuckooland or Crapsaccharine World, or of a Mad God or Reality Warper taking over. Compare and contrast World of Chaos, which is chaotic, disorganized and unpredictable, but not necessarily hellish or a torment to live in (although the two tropes can certainly overlap).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Digimon:
    • The Digital World in Digimon Adventure. The weather is forecast as: "Sunny with occasional ice cream". Sadly, it fails to actually rain ice-cream. Also, the scenery can be quite weird and random at times (like The Forest of Irrelevant Road-Signs). It's literally subconsciously pieced together by random crap the Digimon dig up on the internet. Take a moment to appreciate that Digimon is rated for younger audiences... Gennai says that anything weird (factories that don't produce anything, phone booths to nowhere) is the result of broken or missing data.
    • Digimon Adventure, Digimon Frontier, and Digimon World all give us the wonder that is the meat plants: trees that grow apple lookalikes that taste like various kinds of meat, bushes that grow legs of lamb and chicken and sirloins that can be planted from seeds and grow in a garden. They all have to be cooked a little before they're eaten, but their very existence stuns Hiro into silence at one point.
    • And the Digital World as presented in Digimon Adventure gets even weirder during the Dark Masters arc, when the entire thing (except for a few crumbling pieces of ground) gets twisted up into Spiral Mountain — which, when viewed externally, can be seen as mountains, cities, forests and oceans twisting around each other up into the sky.
    • The Tamers version of the digital world was probably the single most surreal. It's comprised of numerous layers that shape themselves to the inhabitants (the newest layer being a barren wasteland because it hadn't been customized yet), the physical laws are completely subjective (i.e. you don't need to eat or even breathe if you don't think about it), raw data appears as pink tumbleweeds, gigantic data streams can randomly warp anything caught in them to any part of the world, day and night change instantly with no transition, and the physical world is visible in the sky of the lowest plane as a computerized graphic of a globe at all times. It's nowhere near as whimsical as the other series efforts, but every bit as strange.
  • The world in the year 300X in Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo basically runs on this, Hurricane of Puns, and Rule of Funny.
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. Whatever topic Nozomu is ranting about for the chapter, there'll be some ridiculous thing going on nearby to provide examples, whether it's a relay race for people passing responsibility off on other people, an art gallery for "self-completing" artists who ignore criticism, or a literal battlefield in the middle of town full of battles where nobody wins.
  • Daten City from Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt is chock full of ghosts and demons, and every character seems to be a living embodiment of sex drive.
  • Paprika: Tokyo more or less becomes a warped dream reality thanks to the DC. Thankfully Paprika stops the whole disaster before it goes any further.
  • Soul Eater: The afterlife is ruled by gods that represent extreme aspects (Death being the Top God), and their world is wacky to reflect that. At the end of the show, the God of (Ordered) Madness inherits his father's empire, making the afterlife even more irrationally perfectionist.

  • Isle of the Dead: While all of the arhats are exaggerated to great absurdity, some of them take it a few horizon lines too far, be it one of the largest ones sporting eight-eyes, one being literally black-skinned with a tree growing out of its head and various, arguably mythical animals among them.

    Comic Books 
  • In an issue of Grant Morrison's Animal Man called "The Coyote Gospel", it shows what a Roadrunner cartoon would be like from one of the participants (the titular Coyote). It's a living hell, a continual and weary cycle of violence. Eventually, the Coyote begs his cartoonist-creator for the cycle to end and it does, but only with the Coyote leaving it for the "real" world (the world of Animal Man) and eventually dying. Almost anything by Grant Morrison ends up involving this trope, whether the original writers intended it that way or not. Seaguy, of course, started out and remains this way.
  • In the Emperor Joker storyline in DC Comics, The Joker, having gained godlike powers, turns the entire world into a surreal hell. The world of the Joker's mind in Superman & Batman: Generations II is similar.
  • All of the works of Jhonen Vasquez are based around this trope. Every character in his fictional worlds are either oblivious, batcrap insane, or both. Characters can routinely mutilate bystanders and fly around in spaceships and no one notices.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The world of Brazil would be a good example... depending on how much of that is just in Sam's head.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valiant must get himself back into the proper, insane frame of mind to be able to cope with Toon Town.
  • Dr. Strangelove is what happens when you give Cold War paranoia that last little nudge into the abyss, then watch it fall.
  • The Crucible, as explained under "Theatre".
  • Weekend (1967) by Jean-Luc Godard. Everything is Serious Business, half the population are Cloudcuckoolanders, and everyone is constantly hyped up to his maximum.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World: You can see a bunch of perfectly normal people degrading into this in the matter of minutes — and you'll be hard pressed to find a single unaffected character in the whole film. Bonus points for actually not breaking any laws of human psyche.
  • Wonder Woman 1984 features one of these as more and more wishes are granted by the dreamstone via Max Lord. It starts off small and simple enough, but as time goes by and more people get in on it, especially the final act, when wishes are being made on the fly, reality simply checks out as bombs start to fly, people inexplicably drop dead, waitresses become celebrities, borders are being drawn and re-drawn, and cows start appearing on lawns. It's beautiful in a nightmarish sort of way, and it could have easily lead to the complete destruction of humanity (or even the Earth itself) if allowed to continue.

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: Once, things were united behind VFD — then the schism happened, and everything went straight to hell.
  • Almost anything written by Douglas Adams. Both the The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gently series fit this. Most of Adams' heroes maintain their sanity by being ready to abandon it at the drop of a hat. Also, Arthur Dent is in a Universe that appears to have gone mad, but that stands to reason when viewed from the eyes of an alien. Wonko the Sane lampshades this when Arthur returns home to find that he's built an inside-out house called "Outside the Asylum" to keep the crazy world in — like the Earth, everything inside is sane, outside is crazy. Dirk Gently doesn't live in a mad world, it's just that being a Weirdness Magnet makes it locally insane.
  • Almost anything written by Alexis Gilliland. His cartoons for the old RPG GURPS Illuminati set the tone. ("It'll be tough to test my theory without destroying the universe... but what the heck... it's a really neat theory!" or "Paranoid police, sir. You're under arrest. Nobody could look that innocent unless they were plotting against the state.")
  • The Discworld sometimes verges on this, especially in the books that star Rincewind. Played with in Moving Pictures: when one man wonders why all of CMOT Dibbler's movies (or "clicks") are set in a "World Gone Mad", Dibbler's nephew comments "Because he is a very observant man."
  • Of Two Minds is set in a world that used to be one of these, before the local Reality Warpers got their act together and turned everything internally consistent. The sequel, More Minds, sees the whole thing falling apart again. It's not quite as dangerous a place as most examples on this list, since everyone has some influence on what the world is like, and Death Is a Slap on the Wrist, but the constant shifting isn't very good for one's psychological stability.
  • Inverted in a short story by Robert Sheckley. The protagonist, who lives in one of these, finds himself crossing dimensional boundaries into a universe where your physical surroundings don't change completely at random; the implication is that he finds ours to be the real World Gone Mad. By the end of the story he's a raving street preacher who spends his days ranting about how of course nothing can ever truly change and it's stupid to pretend otherwise.
  • Pretty much everything by Dave Stone, to a greater or lesser extent. Some of his most successful work has been for the Judge Dredd franchise, where it fits right in. Another example is his first Doctor Who New Adventures novel, Sky Pirates!, which is set in a pocket universe where everything veers between hilariously disturbing, disturbingly hilarious, and just plain disturbing; for instance, there's a snowbound Single-Biome Planet shaped like an enormous snowman, where the inhabitants live in dread of the fearsome Snata, which hunts people down in a sleigh drawn by reindeer with glowing noses. It eventually turns out that the universe was deliberately set up by an Eldritch Abomination to be hostile to all forms of life, and the inhabitants view it through a filter of bad jokes because it's the only way to retain some grasp on sanity.
  • Wonderland, from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and the Looking-Glass House from Through the Looking Glass read rather like this, more than once reducing Alice to tears of frustration at trying to deal with their nonsense.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One Foot in the Grave. The Meldrews are afflicted by a constant barrage of cruel and surreal events at their expense. Nothing nice ever seems to happen to them, or indeed anyone in the Purgatory-like suburbia they live in.
  • Red Dwarf, where the whole universe can be summed up in Rimmer's closing line for one episode: "It's a smegging garbage pod!"
  • Wellsville from The Adventures of Pete & Pete normally is just a slightly off-kilter suburb, but when a heat wave strikes in "The Call", practically everyone goes utterly nuts trying to deal with it.



  • The 1950s "Theatre of the Absurd" (especially Eugène Ionesco's work) may be the Trope Maker. Ionesco, by all accounts, based his World Gone Mad on bad experiences with Romania's Communist bureaucracy.
  • Absolutely every play written by Christopher Durang. Summed up in the famous Peter Pan Monologue, which would be the opening quote for this page if it weren't so long. His play 'Dentity Crisis, where the Peter Pan Monologue comes from, may be the best example of this trope. Jane lives with her mother, her brother, her father, her grandfather, and a visiting French count. However, Jane is the only person who realizes that the brother, father, grandfather, and count are actually a single person with multiple personalities. Everyone else thinks they're separate people, even though they see him switch personalities in front of them all the time. When Jane points this out, they think she's crazy.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. As Hamlet puts it, "the time is out of joint."
  • The Crucible definitely has this vibe, as is frequently pointed out by the few sane people, who also have to contend with people who have not fallen victim to the hysteria, but are just exploiting it for their own goals. The play is made all the more disturbing because a) it's based on real events, and b) one of Miller's motivations in writing it was to criticize Senator McCarthy, whose out-of-control hunts for communists were proving that modern people could be just as gullible and subject to hysteria as they had been at the Witch Trials (he himself became a victim when held in contempt for refusing to name others while questioned before Congress, although his conviction was overturned).

    Tabletop Games 
  • The RPG Paranoia, where the heroes are secret Commie Mutant Traitors assigned to capture Commie Mutant Traitors, the Bond gadgets never work right, and Friend Computer executes anyone who leaves their color-coded zones. One adventure for the game has the "heroes" on their way to a briefing. Missing the briefing is punishable by death... but a badly programmed robot painted the hallway the wrong color, so walking to the briefing room is also punishable by death. The game does encourage Friend Gamemaster to let things work sort of right sometimes, especially if the players are ruthlessly clever, and/or can be set up for an even bigger fall. If you're not dying several times in the first hour or so, you're doing it wrong.
  • GURPS Illuminati University is about a Extranormal Institute university where everyone has learned to adjust to an utterly futile universe. For instance, blood feuds between professors are fully regulated and organized by the school bureaucracy. You're not cleared to know what the O stands for.
  • Warhammer 40,000 creeps into this territory at times. It's a Crapsack World taken up to such a ludicrous extreme (along with every other trope) that you can't help but think the setting has well and truly lost its marbles.
    • The God-Emperor of humanity is a ten thousand-year-old husk in a life-support machine. Every day thousands of psychics are slowly sacrificed to him to provide a navigational space beacon, in the same way that you can see the burning bodies of a million people from quite far away. Once what's left of the emperor fails, all the ships will be lost in hyperspace and all the colonies will be cut off from each other. Also, there's probably a death god under Mars. There is some speculation that the Emperor will be reborn as a warp entity when he goes, which is not really worth looking forward to.
    • The Eldar are cursed with enslavement to a god who will appear out of hyperspace and kill anyone who feels excesses of emotion. This means that procreation is at an all-time low. Also, the Eldar race is unimaginably old and is slowly dying off in an universe that no longer can sustain them. The best case scenario (as stated by their religious beliefs) is that they'll manage to raise a new god of their own to combat their old nemesis... after they're all dead.
    • The Tyranids are an all-consuming race — killing the populations of entire planets, turning the remains into goo and then sucking it up into their giant organic spaceships so they can breed more terrifying engines of oozing death. The only option is to run away from them, and what's been seen so far looks like a "scouting" party. There's probably a bigger hive fleet moving towards our galaxy from what used to be another. There's been hints that the Tyranids are on the run, and are being chased by something even bigger and scarier.
    • The Necrons are undead metal killing machines, created in concert with a race of star gods to kill one of the oldest races in the galaxy. They can't be killed, and when they are heavily damaged they simply teleport back to base to be repaired. They once attacked Sol, the most heavily guarded solar system in the Imperium, to get at the aforementioned death-god inside Mars. They were repelled only because the Necron force was a "scouting party" and the Imperium threw millions of soldiers at them before they escaped.
    • The Tau are a race who have taken fascism/communism to the extreme, giving all discovered races a "submit to our happy collective or die" ultimatum under the name of the Greater Good. If anyone resists their benign takeovers, they blast their worlds into cinders and move on. They are the setting's fluffy liberals.
    • The Orks are fungus-creatures with the ability to reproduce their entire biosphere anywhere they go thanks to the spores they shed when they are killed. To make up for their crazy breeding rates, they seek out battle constantly, 'cause it's fun. Personality-wise, the entire species resembles football hooligans who have been given guns and axes. These brutal planet-raiders are the setting's comedy relief.
    • The forces of Chaos are empowered by warp entities to pursue their deepest desires. Unfortunately, they are shackled to those desires and are mostly twisted to the point that the terrible mutations induced by their patrons are of no concern to them. Also, their patrons are not exactly nice, at least in human terms.
  • JAGS Wonderland is a great one: Other realities are invading our world, and if you're not careful, you'll get infected by them and dragged away in the night. And it's all available for free download from the publishers.

    Video Games 
  • The Shivering Isles, in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, seem to fit in, particularly in the realm of Mania. It's the realm of the god of madness and he is, unsurprisingly, a Cloudcuckoolander.
  • The Wonderland of American McGee's Alice has gone from playful weirdness to cracked insanity.
  • This trope pretty much sums up the entire world of the Dead Rising series thanks to both the unending atrocities of the government and the wacky psychopaths that want to defile you before they kill you, making the rampant Zombie Apocalypse look tame in comparison.
  • Pretty much the entire setting of Pathologic, coupled with Just Before the End.
  • The city of Stillwater in Saints Row is practically a playground for various gangs, criminals, and other forms of mayhem. Driving a septic truck around spraying sewage on people's houses to lower property values is pretty par for the course. The mixture of Surreal Humour and social commentary in the second game has drawn comparisons to Death Race 2000, and the rest of the series ups the ante each time.
    • Steelport, of Saints Row: The Third is even worse. Aside from The Syndicate consisting of hackers and Luchadores, costumed mascots seem to be a sizable minority within the city and is also home to Professor Genki's Super Ethical Reality Climax (not to mention Professor Genki himself occasionally running around and killing civilians himself). As such, only a man such as Burt Reynolds is capable of being the mayor of such a city.
    • And all of that combined is acceptably sane compared to the final chapter and spinoff, Saints Row IV. After Cyrus goes insane from being exiled from America and tries to nuke the White House, the boss thwarts his plans only to crash into the president's office and gets themselves elected President. After five years of making the world a better place and throwing their polls in the trash, the White House is interrupted by an alien invasion. The boss is kidnapped, breaks out, yadda yadda yadda, only to find out that the Earth exploded. Yup, 90 percent of humanity go boom. Finally, the boss uses a computer simulation that gives hackers superpowers to assassinate the emperor of the aliens and take his place, thereby becoming "God Emperor of the Universe for Life" despite the sheer stupidity of a complex intergalactic empire giving total power to a former slave. And then they meet Jane Austen and Santa Claus.
    Pierce: Sh-ah... yeah.
    Pierce: Yyyeah, pretty much.
    • And finally in Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, the boss gets sent to hell. Not because they died, but because they became so notorious throughout the universe that Satan himself wants the boss AS HIS IN-LAW. Johnny Gat becomes the main character of this game and goes on a power ride to conquer Hell.
  • The Rook Islands in Far Cry 3. Two islands dominated by Ruthless Modern Pirates and a full-fledged private army working for a slave and drug trafficking operation. Pretty much anyone you meet apart from your captured friends is insane in some way, whether by drug addiction, the violence in the area having gotten to them, or just pure evil. Even the animals are insane, as most of them will defy their species' usual instincts and suicidally attack humans with guns. There's implications that there's something fundamentally wrong with the islands and anyone there will go nuts eventually. By the end, the player character is one step away from madness, and it's left to the player to choose whether to give in completely or turn back at the last second.

  • Adventurers! takes place in a console RPG. Needless to say, all the normally Acceptable Breaks from Reality instead become blatant absurdities, and the Only Sane Man is perpetually astonished and dismayed by how little sense everything makes.
    • This gets deconstructed in the sequel, where the antagonist tried to alter the game's code and make their world slightly more realistic - and then the apocalypse happened without an Overlord and has been stuck in wasteland anarchy ever since. Turns out, if Insane Troll Logic is literally responsible for maintaining the ecosystem, you shouldn't poke it.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "The Return of Harmony", Equestria gets turned into this by Discord. Everything gets crazier and more chaotic as the episode goes along and almost everyone is driven insane in some way, with the main cast being turned into mockeries of their previous selves. The landscape is likewise warped — roads turned into soap, houses are turned into flat props, trees uprooted and floating, rapid cycling of day and night, etc. Twilight is one of the few characters left completely sane by the second half of the episode, forced to deal with one-dimensional parodies her friends and Discord’s constant mocking.
  • The world of Codename: Kids Next Door. Not only is there the titular organization of under-13-year-olds armed with advanced weapons and technology cobbled together from garbage and household items, but there are candy pirates who sail their ships on the streets (destroying whole neighborhoods in the process), living neck ties that are more like snakes, families of sharks that visit fast-food drive-thrus in minivans, and that is just scratching the surface. Each season seems dedicated to increasing the limit of how whacked-out the setting is.
  • On Regular Show, the characters are Funny Animals and Animate Inanimate Objects who live in a predominantly human world. But that's not the weird part; it's where mundane things escalate into something bizarre. For example, playing rock, paper, scissors. In the pilot episode, if you manage to tie 100 times in a row, you'll will summon an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Gravity Falls has this be the ultimate goal of Bill Cipher, who wants to remake the universe in his own image, turning it into "a party that never ends with a host that never dies!" The fact that this means The End of the World as We Know It doesn't bother him at all. The end result is an apocalyptic wasteland full of monsters, burning ruins and "bubbles made of pure madness", all ruled by a horde of nightmare demons under Bill's command who look like something out of a psychedelic trip. The humans and "regular" supernatural creatures — those that haven't joined Bill or been trapped in Crapsaccharine dreamlands — are left to hide in the warped ruins of their world from the giant bat-winged eyeballs Bill sent to hunt them down.
  • The world of Milo Murphy's Law (and, by extension, Phineas and Ferb) has its main character cursed with Murphy's Law, meaning that anything that can go wrong for Milo and those around him will go wrong. This can range from llama stampedes to sudden alien abductions. And that's to say nothing of the things that aren't a result of Milo, such as a underground society of trapped construction workers or time travelers that want to save pistachios from going extinct.
  • Bimbo's Initiation: The short is about a Funny Animal dog named Bimbo who falls into a strange underground realm home to a cult named Do-It-or-Die, which promptly forces him to undergo a series of ridiculous initiations to try to force him to join them. Bimbo spends the rest of the cartoon undergoing one surreal, terrifying trial after the other — blades cut off pieces of his shadow without harming him, flames and reflections take a life of their own, liquid water solidifies the moment he jumps into it and there is some new surreal phenomenon around every turn. Everything is constantly subverting expectations, offering false hope or just causing bewilderment or worsening Bimbo's situation, ensuring he remains as confused and terrified as possible throughout.
  • Tigtone takes place in a surreal world based on fantasy and video game logic where almost everybody is a Large Ham and can barely form coherent sentences. The world doesn't even have an Only Sane Man, everyone seem to be just as insane and stupid as Tigtone is.


Video Example(s):



In the anime's most iconic scene, Tokyo more or less becomes a warped dream reality by the DC.

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Main / WorldGoneMad

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