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"Strange, I think to myself, how we have seen so much death in the wars and we know that two million of us have fallen in vain - how come we are so stirred up by this one man and have almost forgotten those two million? But that's just how it is, because one man is always the dead - and two million is always just a statistic."

The amount of sympathy that death, cruelty or suffering is expected to evoke from the audience is often inversely proportional to the magnitude of its effects. Far more important is the degree to which the audience knows the character(s) affected.

In other words, when some sort of Tragedy befalls a character such as The Hero (or even the Big Bad), the audience is expected to sympathize with him or perhaps even cry for him. However, the Redshirt Army can be sacrificed with reckless abandon, and no one will so much as bat an eyelash. The death of a single plot-important character is a tragic and often pivotal point; the deaths of thousands of faceless Mooks, even if by torture, are simply background noise, so to speak. As long as the victims are sufficiently faceless, even a Final Solution can be considered not worth making any fuzz about.

Part of this is that the major deaths occur on stage or on camera, in detail and taking long enough to be dramatic.

Psychologically, proximity is more important than magnitude. Often ties into Offstage Villainy, since the larger atrocities can't be displayed onscreen in full magnitude. Writers who want to avert this effect must deploy such tricks as the Empathy Doll Shot, The Dead Have Names, or personalizing some victims, to suggest the faces of the faceless victims. Since Men Are the Expendable Gender, this sort of A Death in the Limelight is more often female or Children Are Innocent (especially orphans) or, if male, injured. Strong reactions by main characters can also help.

The concept of this is related to the theoretical Dunbar's Number, which says at some point, it is simply impossible for a person to truly care about so many people. This is further explored and explained in Cracked.com's article "What is the monkeysphere?"

Compare Sorting Algorithm of Evil, which operates along the same principle. Contrast Protagonist-Centered Morality, which has morality centered not on character exposure but relation to the protagonist. May be related to the Law of Conservation of Detail as well. See also Local Angle for when this mingles with Creator Provincialism in the headlines. Also, see But for Me It Was Tuesday when the villain ignores the countless deaths he commits. Also, see Industrialized Evil, where the mind numbing scale of an atrocity is part of the horror (or not). Can be subverted by listing the names instead of numbers.

Truth in Television, alas. Has even been reproduced in a lab, where increasing the number of a criminal's victims causes people to recommend a lower sentence.

Examples of A Million Is a Statistic include:


Media in General

  • Almost any Space Opera in any Media. Very difficult to avoid when you have a population that far exceeds our current one.


Anime and Manga

  • Inuyasha has a tendency to do this. The main characters have a tendency to walk by mountains of skeletons, most of which were brutally slaughtered villagers, and most of those have a reaction along the lines of, "Oh, that's kinda too bad." If they react at all. Hope and pray you don't see a main character's life endangered, though.
    • It's mostly Kagome that should be having this reaction. The lack of it from Miroku, Sango, and Inuyasha isn't really surprising - Miroku and Sango both grew up in that era and have likely seen it many times, and Inuyasha's a half-demon who is just generally not that sympathetic to most humans.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Nobody ever comments zilch about seeing entire Redshirt Armies being blown apart. But when Kamina dies, the whole cast spends three full chapters mourning his death.
    • Even more so in the movie. You can just feel the anguish that everyone on Dai-Gurren Dan feels when Kittan made the sacrifice, as well as the resulting roaring rampage of revenge.
      • Especially Yoko. Hell hath no idea the wrath of a woman so pissed.
  • Light Yagami from Death Note. Nobody turned against him for choosing a proxy-Kira specifically for a propensity to kill innocents, though multitudes turned against him past that point. Certainly L's death evokes a stronger reaction from the audience than the thousands of others killed before (and the even greater number killed after). This is somewhat Justified Trope, however, in that the majority of the people he killed were not just faceless masses but also criminals killed for the sake of Light's ambition to to make the world a better place, where the named characters he takes out are done for the sake of saving his own ass.
  • Averted in an episode of New Getter Robo, in which great care is shown to portray the devastation of a Super Robot-vs-Monster of the Week battle in the confines of a city close-up, and the effect it has on Ryoma, who had the honor of seeing a lot of it firsthand.
    • Averted to even greater extremes in the manga, where the first use of Shin Getter Robo blows up an entire city, and the carnage is so horrific that it puts one of the pilots in a coma.
    • Much of the landmark giant robot series Zambot 3 is dedicated to the devastating effects of Super Robot-vs-Monster of the Week fights, both physically (entire cities wiped out, leaving a flood of refugees) and psychologically (the protagonists are blamed for the attacks and quickly become unwelcome wherever they go).
  • Goes back as far as Dirty Pair. Entire planets get accidentally blown up on a regular basis -- and more often than not it's played for Black Comedy.
  • Averted -- hell, explicitly run away from -- in both Super Dimension Fortress Macross and Macross: Do You Remember Love? In the former, characters at times explicitly comment and agonize over the fact that there are civilian casualties -- in one later episode, the heroes stop their pursuit of the Big Bad because he's just set an entire city on fire.
    • In Do You Remember Love?, Hikaru finally convinces Minmay to sing the Title Song to halt the Zentradi assault in its tracks by forcefully reminding her about the millions who'd died during the war, including mentioning some names of Hikaru's friends and squadmates that (at least in the movie continuity) she'd likely never met. Suitably chastened, she realizes it is her human duty to sing and stop the war. He never brings up the possibility of him and her being killed, instead focusing on everyone else and the lives they sacrificed.
    • In Macross Plus, Isamu and Guld's final showdown takes them to the streets of Macross City. They punch, shoot, and launch missiles at each other with little concern for the buildings and roads they're demolishing in the planet's most populated city --made even worse when you remember that Macross City is under Sharon Apple's thrall, so the civilians can't even notice the destruction around them or try to flee.
    • Another aversion in Macross Frontier: every Vajra attack has heavy tolls on the population, and the narrative devotes some time to this. It goes particularly far in the aftermath of the Vajra invasion of Island One, where one of the main protagonists and the civilian president are killed, and the next episode focuses on a fleet-wide memorial service for everyone who died in the massacre rather than focus on those two characters.
  • The third Bleach movie has 1/3rd of Seireitei destroyed in the first 7 minutes. No one really cared.
    • Somewhat justified in that Shinigami are basically Soul Society's military. They weren't innocent civilians being slaughtered, they were soldiers dying in the line of duty.
    • And given that Kenpachi got swallowed by the gray mass fairly early on and emerged in the climax, it's possible that not all of them are dead.
      • Kenpachi is literally one of the strongest guys in existence. Saying the Mooks may have survived because he did is like saying Krillin may have survived because Super Saiyan 3 Goku did.
  • Often overlooked (since it happens before the show) in Mobile Suit Gundam, Zeon kills the majority of people living in space in the beginning stages of the war. This was once calculated as being the second-highest body count of any faction in the franchise's history (only the mass Colony Drop that preceded Gundam X, killing over 99% of the population, outdid it). Strangely, this hasn't hurt Zeon's popularity any.
    • Weirdly, the Titans have a much worse reputation than Zeon even though they only gassed one colony (Zeon did this to several, at least, and then dropped them on the Earth) and were in general only slightly more Jerkass-ish than Zeon was.
      • To be fair, when Zeon was doing it, there wasn't yet a treaty forbidding this very behavior. The Titans did it in response to peaceful protests in a part of the colony. Also, the Federation was also doing something in response to Zeon as well, since both sides lost half their population during the first week.
    • Also, of course your popularity is going to be high when you wipe out every last person in space that stands in opposition to you, leaving only your fanatical supporters alive to sing your praises!
    • There wasn't treaty at the time but Zeon loudly proclaimed their "noble" goal, Freeing the Spacenoids from the Opression of Earth Federation!! Guess who were the ones Zeon attacked first.
    • In fact, both sides were responsible for that. Zeon and the Federation were indiscriminately throwing nukes back and forth at each other (plus the Colony Drop that caused additional mass casualties on Earth), until they realized they were on the verge of both being wiped out and signed a treaty banning all WMDs.
    • Harshly averted in the miniseries War in the Pocket. Not only are you able to witness the carnage close up from a bystander's point of view, you also meet most of the mooks fighting in the story's conflict. Namely, one of the main characters is just any other mook, and no matter how you expect him to pull out a Infinity+1 Sword at the end, he dies to the gundam pilot like any other Zaku-piloting Mook. To top it off, the anime made a very specific point of making his death utterly pointless.
  • Inverted in Gundam Wing, when during the final battle Wufei confronts Treize and demands to know how many people have given their lives for Treize's plans. Treize astonishes him by giving an exact number (some hundreds of thousands), listing several names from memory, and calling Lady Une to ask how many have died so far in the current battle and to request that those names be forwarded to him so he can memorize them. Whatever else may be said about him, Treize does not take sacrifice lightly, not even that of Mooks.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima averts this. Nagi spends a good chunk of his time after the war saving refugees, and Arika went to great lengths to save as many civilians as she possibly could. Negi holds to the same philosophy; the main reason that he doesn't join Kurt Godel is because he doesn't believe in this trope, and if joining forces means that they can't save everyone, then to hell with an alliance.
  • Averted in Fullmetal Alchemist, when it is shown that Van Hohenheim actually took the time to come to an understanding with EACH and EVERY ONE of the 500,000+ souls now trapped in his body as a result of Father's destruction of Xerxes.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes suffers horrendously from this, coupled with having millions of people killed in virtually every battle.
    • However, it's never taken lightly. Most officers strive to minimize loss of life, and at least on the Alliance's side it's one of the sources of the country's problems that so much of its youth dies on the battlefields, with almost no veterans to speak of.
  • Played straight, averted, discussed, deconstructed, and used as a major source of drama in Bokurano, particularly the manga. Tens of thousands of people die as collateral damage from Humongous Mecha battles and tens of billions as enemy casualties, and every character has their own take on it. Some pilots ignore civilian casualties and only pay attention to their own plight, some stall the battle and risk losing to give civilians time to evacuate, some get Heroic BSODs... it goes on. Especially heartbreaking in the last battle in the manga: a main character has to murder the population of an entire planet in order to win. He insists on killing each person individually, to make it as painless as possible, but that doesn't make it any easier for him.
  • Code Geass does this occasionally. The most prominent example would be when Rolo tries to remember how many people he's killed. He isn't able to remember exactly how many and then uses the analogy of someone trying to remember how many times they've brushed their teeth in their lives; you've done it so many times that you're past caring. This moment is made even more scary when you realise that, to Rolo, killing someone has as much emotional impact as cleaning your teeth.
    • Lelouch plays it straight AND subverts it at times.
      • During the battle of Narita, Lelouch and Kallen destroy a small town and kill everybody in it. They only think about how many enemy soldiers they just killed. Only when they find out the father of a classmate was also killed, they feel remorse about it.
      • At the end of R1, Lelouch accidentally drives Euphemia insane, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent Japanese who believed in her, Lelouch, as Zero, is begged by these dying people to save them, but is also struck by the need to stop the destruction. It shows Lelouch's panic over doing a horrible, monstrous thing, versus allowing an even more horrible, monstrous thing - the question of being selfish or sacrificing your own sense of self for the greater good, averting the trope completely.
      • Three quarters through R2, however, it plays it straight. Millions of people die, but all Lelouch can think about is Nunnally. Everyone else averts it, though, with the respect of many of his upper-level subordinates losing trust in him by thinking that he doesn't care - when in fact Lelouch's worst nightmares have come to life to haunt him.
    • Schneizel's view on this: "Even if 100 or 200 million people's lives are sacrificed, an eternal peace is-" *Cornelia draws her sword*
      • Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't there a line about the destroyed town was evacuated prior to the battle? (The casualties were a mix of soldiers caught in the landslide and poor, poor Subversions of No Endor Holocaust]]
        • It was implied, if not outright stated, that Schniezel was lying.
  • Toward the end of Muhyo and Roji, 500 Executors die when Vector attacks the northern Magical Law headquarters, and a few panels of memorial services are shown. They get significantly less of a follow-up than many other deaths, notably Enchu's mother, Panza (whose death weighs heavily on Roji) and Kid. Even Fujiwara, a minor character who was one of Imai's subordinates before he got killed in the Arcanum, comes back as a haunt and is mentioned as an example of someone who was incompetent but determined.
  • In Mai-Otome, the death of Erstin seems to weigh more heavily on Nina's conscience and Arika's mind than that of the many other people who were most likely killed (although no casualty total is given) by Nina using the Harmonium to destroy entire cities.
  • Eden of the East has an instance of a character having this viewpoint and the hypocrisy being noted by a fellow antagonist. Mononobe and Yuki both previously conspired to build a better Japan by killing scores of people and plan to try it again, but are quite different in personality, with Yuki personally being rather meek. When Yuki is horrified at Monobe running down "Panties" with his car and making him complicit, Mononobe "reminds" Yuki that he's essentially a psycho with no qualms about mass murder.
  • In the first Read or Die OVA, one of the I-Jinn, having stolen the second part of the manuscript needed to unleash their master plan, shoots his way through an enormous squadron of attack helicopters, probably killing several hundred people in the process. Yomiko, true to the obsessive bibliophilia that is an inherent part of her Paper Master abilities, has this reaction:

 Yomiko: My book... My poor little book...

 Kyubey: Your population is six billion nine hundred million right now, and ten more of you are born every four seconds, so why do you make such a big fuss over the loss of just one of you?

  • King Of Braves GaoGaiGar averts this by having the Gutsy Geoid (later Galaxy) Guard develop new tools to protect the human populace. One of those tools, Dividing Driver, was designed because they realized that a Protect Shade against projectiles in a crowded area was a bad idea
  • Yugi, Judai and Yusei in Yu-Gi-Oh Tenth Anniversary Movie are upset by Pegasus and Grandpa's deaths, as well as everyone else who died in Paradox's attack on Domino City. Paradox however sees the massacre as only another step towards completing his goal. Considering how he didn't care about destroying Venice just to get Judai, it's no surprise.


Comic Books

  • This is why the Event of the last two chapters of Watchmen is so shocking: Care is taken to show the devastation of New York killing just about every named character who lives in the city. Rorschach at one point says it doesn't matter if Dr. Manhattan kills him as millions have already died He kills him.
    • Explicitly averted also with no less than Ozymandias, who declares that he avoided the mass million murdering plot to become a complete devil arithmetics in his mind, regarding separately each one of the million individuals sacrificed, so, in a sense he has been mourning the victims of his own crime a decade in advance.
    • In The Film of the Book, this is all but completely thrown out, since all but one of these characters have been cut, and his role is greatly reduced.
  • Karolina Dean from Runaways actually quotes this when Xavin mentions entire worlds got destroyed while she's mourning the death of her friend Gert.
    • Xavin actually comments that it's a stupid way of viewing things. Pointing out, very logically, that if person dying is tragic, a million people dying must be a million times as tragic.
  • In DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, individual characters are acknowledged according to popularity (with the Flash and Supergirl getting covers and lengthy eulogies). The entire universes destroyed by the Anti-Monitor (in infinite numbers if the title is taken literally, and several universes, some established and some new, are destroyed on-panel) pack far less emotional punch. (The destruction of Earth-3 is notable for the innumerable innocents counting for less than the handful of villains who go down trying to save it.)
  • Captain America had a story in which the villain was planning to unleash a weaponised virus to kill millions in revenge for his murdered wife. When the horrified Cap points out the hypocrisy, the villain callously responds with this trope's title.


Fanfic

  • Played creepily straight in Conquest, where most of the reaction we see from the Borg during their war with the Empire is the statistics of their casualties. By the time the casualties come to 12 trillion drones, tens of thousands of ships, and over seven hundred worlds, the Collective starts to realize something must be off...


Film

  • Austin Powers has related scenes (which were, for some reason, deleted from the American version) for two mook deaths (Mutated Sea Bass decapitation and the steamroller). Both show that the person who just died for your laughs had a life, friends, family, all of which have been grievously affected by their death.
  • On a Star Wars note, this has been a Headscratcher in the EU lately. Luke forgave Darth Vader for his part in killing faceless billions, but Jacen Solo kills Mara Jade and he's viewed as an unforgivable, irredeemable monster? Hmmph! He was still ahead by the numbers!
    • Also when Leia comforts Luke over Obi-Wan's death, despite Leia having recently seen her entire planet destroyed. Well, we didn't know anyone else from Alderaan.
      • Lampshaded brilliantly by Robot Chicken, who not only has Leia call Luke on it, but also lampshades the fact that Luke had just met Obi-Wan. Although if you want to be pedantic, Luke and Cool Old Guy "Ben" Kenobi had actually known each other for a while.
    • Well, Tarkin pulled the trigger. And Luke killed almost two million people when he exploded the Death Star when he was still nineteen. During his life, Luke killed way more people. And, let's face it, Jacen's atrocities are much worse than just killing Mara Jade.
    • The rest of the galaxy, Leia in particular, will admit that Vader's Heroic Sacrifice was good of him, but also insist that it really doesn't make up for all the rest. Fleeting mentions of the Dark Lord in the X Wing Series, by which point he has been dead for years, all associate the name with the worst kind of evil (to a point where even 150 years after his death and the Vong Invasion, Vader is still seen as one of the worst monsters in history).

 Leia: Maybe Vader had died heroically, but ten minutes of contrition did not make up for years of atrocities.

    • Leia may have maintained that sense of perspective throughout her life, but she didn't get it from her mother or anybody in her mother's era. Amidala is not shocked when Anakin confesses to her he has just massacred an entire Tusken tribe, but when he confesses to killing Mace Windu (who was just about to strike down an unarmed, drained opponent in anger) and a handful of children on her side, she tells him, "You've changed."
    • From a film making perspective; more screen time is dedicated to the death of a single Ewok in Return of the Jedi than the destruction of Alderaan in A New Hope.
  • Sort of lampshaded in Charlie Chaplin's Monseiur Verdoux: "One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow."
  • During the aerial battle sequence in Blue Thunder, the hero, flying the titular Black Helicopter, is forced to dodge a pair of heat-seeking missiles fired (over a major city, mind you) by Air Force F-16s. One hits a Japanese barbecue shop and the other hits a skyscraper square on. Even if you consider that all this was occurring toward the end of a work day, the casualty count must have been considerable; but of all the characters in the film, only the pilot who fired the missile and the beleaguered police chief give so much as a nod to the disaster. In Real Life, such an event would have everyone involved pilloried, especially when it turned out that Murphy wasn't a dangerous lunatic. There's also the F-16 that Murphy shoots down, but we don't actually see it crash so it's possible it landed in the ocean or somewhere similarly innocuous.
  • Parodied in Dr. Strangelove (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb). George Scott assures the president that "it's not like we're not going to get our hair mussed" but if they act quickly with a decisive nuclear strike then there might be "ten...twenty million casualties. Tops!!" The president responds that he doesn't want to go down in history as the greatest mass murderer since Adolf Hitler. Scott respectfully chides him for "caring more about his image in the history books than his people."
    • Not parodied in the book Red Alert on which Dr. Strangelove is based, and very definitely not parodied in the film Fail Safe and the book of the same name on which it is based.
  • The Post Nine Eleven Terrorism Movie Unthinkable dwells on this with debates on whether it is morally justified to torture a known terrorist and aspiring mass murderer to death to extract information on the whereabouts of several nuclear devices that he scattered across the United States and rigged to detonate, which would kill millions of people. While this "dillemma" will seem downright farcical to most people, a better case is presented when the interrogators are considering torturing the man's two (innocent) children, but even when the Wide-Eyed Idealist character is already responsible for the deaths of 53 people by trusting the terrorist at his word, she plays the trope horrifyingly straight when she openly voices her preference to let thousands of children all be killed to preserve the lives of his.
  • Averted in Cloverfield--the entire film presents the story from the point of view of someone experiencing the event on the ground level, thereby putting faces on the masses.
  • This was a problem in Star Trek Generations. Dr. Soran's plan to get into the Nexus involved blowing up a star, which would also destroy an inhabited pre-industrial planet. We had never heard of this planet before, knew nothing of its people, and never even saw its surface, so it may as well have been an uninhabited rock for all the audience cared.
    • Well, if it were then there'd have been no reason to stop him, would there?
    • Demonstrating the principle perfectly. The characters cared about the planet because the script required them to. The audience didn't know the planet's inhabitants from Adam, therefore had no emotional investment in the outcome.
    • It's properly averted in the new film, though. Even people who weren't fans of the original series got a view of the people and culture of Vulcan, and its destruction was treated with appropriate shock and horror.
  • 2012 has been criticized for this. Billions die, but who cares? It's Disaster Porn, and the only people who count are in a little plane.
    • Arguably this is the reason for the Loads and Loads of Characters that drag down the film. Giving the audience as many characters with actual names as possible to care about to give the audience more of a connection to billions dying.
  • The Joker's Hannibal Lecture to Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight Saga mentions this.
  • In Vantage Point, a bomb wipes out the crowded lobby of a five-star hotel. Moments later, a second bomb goes off under a podium in the middle of a large crowd. Dozens, if not hundreds, are killed. The movie hardly blinks. But one little girl whose first name the viewers know is about to be run over, and you'd think the world was about to end.


Literature

  • At the end of Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Only In Death, Mkoll is Mercy Killing the victims of the Blood Pact's tortures. When he comes to one, Eszrad stops him: it's Gaunt himself. Him, they take out of there to recover.
    • Though, to be fair, due to the time of capture and the fact they wanted Gaunt to suffer longer, and from the description, you find out most of the prisoners had lost pretty much their entire slew of eyes, legs, arms etc, leaving them just barely alive husks. Gaunt had only lost his eyes, something they could eaisly replace.
    • Though Gaunt himself averts this rather pointedly; he takes time to memorize the names, faces and details of every man he's fought with or who's died under his command, and can recite them from memory. He gets quite visibly upset when it turns out there's someone he has forgotten.
    • Also, Hark finds Soric in the midst of many tortured psykers, and kills him and no others. (Admittedly, he's the one who asked for it.)
    • In the background, the whole GRIMDARK milieu for Warhammer 40000 sees millions dying for anything more complex than making coffee (unless you're Chaos or Dark Eldar, where the coffee is probably made with the blood of children).
    • The incident that finally caused the Emperor to finally realize that Horus was beyond redemption was when he saw Horus flay a guardsman/Space Marine/Adeptus Custodes during their climactic battle. Instead of the countless billions he was already responsible for, including his own Primarch children.
      • Presumably, the later Retcon to make that Guardsman be a Space Marine and then later again be an Adeptus Custodes was to emphasize how much of the ridiculous power of Chaos Horus was given - meaning the reason for the Emperor's realization wasn't exactly because of how he killed someone in front of him without lifting a finger, it was because he killed someone of superhuman strength without lifting a finger.
      • The reason for the Emperor's realization is still stated to be him realizing that Horus was irredeemably evil. Before that point he had been hoping he could reason with Horus and make peace, but seeing him personally kill another human being without a thought made the Emperor understand that he couldn't reason with him.
      • This is also the reason why most like the Guardsman ideal better. Ollanius Pius was just a normal gaurdsman so have NO WAY at even hurting Horus at all.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40000 Ultramarines novel The Warriors of Ultramar, Uriel explicitly thinks that the Inquisitor considers the population he is willing to sacrifice as numbers, while Uriel thinks of them as people.
  • Discussed in Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

 Without individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, "casualties may rise to a million." With individual stories, the statistics become people — but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless. Look, see the child’s swollen, swollen belly, and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, his skeletal limbs: will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears? To see him from the inside? And if it does, are we not doing a disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted, distended caricature of a human child? And there, if we feel for them, are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for the flies’ own myriad squirming children?

We draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearllike, from our souls without real pain.

Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.

A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.

  • The Dune books are set amid genocidal galactic wars that are said to have killed trillions, the vast majority of which die offpage with little more than a footnote. The characters, up to and including the Emperor of the known universe, are far more concerned with their own personal issues to seemingly give it much thought.
    • Subverted in the last official novel, in which the Bene Gesserit realize that their Genetic Memory makes them inescapably aware of and responsible for each and every atrocity committed by the human race, however far removed it may be in time or space.
    • Although it's true that the internal Atreides issues get more screen time, this is basically the Emperor's entire conflict in the second book. There's a scene where he compares himself to Hitler -- "He killed more than six million. Pretty good for those days... Statistics: at a conservative estimate, I've killed sixty-one billion, sterilized ninety planets, completely demoralized five hundred others. I've wiped out the followers of forty religions..." He spends the rest of the book trying to get killed.
  • Tad Williams understands the power of this trope. In his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series, Pryrates' first act of evil is to murder a small dog.
  • When Kyp Durron in the Jedi Academy Trilogy of the Star Wars Expanded Universe causes the destruction of a world, Carida, generally thought to have twenty-five million people on it, it causes a "disturbance in the Force" which makes the heroes more determined to stop him. But all it takes is the revelation that he was influenced by a long-dead Sith spirit and his near-sacrifice sending the superweapon into a black hole before he's welcomed back into the Jedi Academy. One of those twenty-five million was his brother and he felt bad about killing his brother, wasn't that enough? Later books subverted this. Fix Fic I, Jedi made the "disturbance in the Force" deeply disturbing and personal and brought up the issue of all the other people who'd lived there once, or trained there, or had relatives who were there, asking why the Hell Kyp hadn't been held accountable at all? The books after that make Kyp into The Atoner to varying degrees, reminded of what he'd done almost constantly.
    • The latest installment of the series, "Outcast," revisits the Carida issue, when Daala threatens that if Luke Skywalker does not accept exile, she will extradite now-Master Kyp Durron to the Imperial Remnant for war crimes. Daala, the former mistress of the man who blew up Alderaan, doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. Also, in the Legacy of the Force series, for the first time, someone actually called Luke on how many ordinary people died when he blew up the Death Star.
      • It came up in an earlier book - part of The Black Fleet Crisis - where Luke was trying to befriend an extreme pacifist who claimed to have known his mother. A pacifist along the lines of "Violence is never, ever justified, in any circumstances!" Turns out he does know exactly how many people died, and most of the galaxy doesn't condemn him for it, since they were Imperials on the Death Star right after Alderaan, and although a book of the same name shows us that a lot of them weren't exactly evil, they weren't exactly innocent either - they were troops and support staff on a giant battle station that had just destroyed a pacifistic planet, after all. A lot of Imperials were uncomfortable about Alderaan - the official story started off saying that the Rebels had hijacked a mining tool, but absolutely no one believed that, so they put the blame on Grand Moff Tarkin going mad with power.
    • The roofer in Clerks parodies this whole theory.

 Dante: My friend is trying to convince me that any contractors working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when the space station was destroyed by the rebels.

Roofer: Well, I'm a contractor myself. I'm a roofer... (digs into pocket and produces business card) Dunn and Reddy Home Improvements. And speaking as a roofer, I can say that a roofer's personal politics come heavily into play when choosing jobs.

Randal: Like when?

Roofer: Three months ago I was offered a job up in the hills. A beautiful house with tons of property. It was a simple reshingling job, but I was told that if it was finished within a day, my price would be doubled. Then I realized whose house it was.

Dante: Whose house was it?

Roofer: Dominick Bambino's.

Randal: "Babyface" Bambino? The gangster?

Roofer: The same. The money was right, but the risk was too big. I knew who he was, and based on that, I passed the job on to a friend of mine.

Dante: Based on personal politics.

Roofer: Right. And that week, the Foresci family put a hit on Babyface's house. My friend was shot and killed. He wasn't even finished shingling.

Randal: No way!

Roofer: I'm alive because I knew there were risks involved taking on that particular client. My friend wasn't so lucky. You know, any contractor willing to work on that Death Star knew the risks. If they were killed, it was their own fault. A roofer listens to this... (taps his heart) not his wallet.

    • The death tally after the Yuuzhan Vong war was over 365 trillion.
      • With all the inhabited worlds of the Star Wars universe we know that for a war where the entire galaxy was fighting would probably lead to those kinds of casualties if it was on both sides.
  • Averted, even after being turned Up to Eleven, in the Star Trek: Destiny trilogy. Hundreds of space stations are destroyed and at least a dozen planets depopulated, with a final death toll in the hundreds of billions. Pathos is established partly through the reactions of the Starfleet brass, Federation President, and various officers and politicians from other races; and partly by showcasing the final moments of various incidental characters (often relatives of main characters).
  • Intentionally invoked for the Culture-Idiran War in Consider Phlebas. The epilogue quotes from a historical text which details the overall casualties, including over eight hundred billion lives, the destruction of over fifteen thousand planet-equivalent habitats, and six stars. The very next sentence notes that from a galactic perspective it was a minor bushfire war with low casualties and a small scope (".02 percent of the galaxy by volume and .01 percent of the stellar population.").
  • The Dutch satirical writer Battus once derived a formula to determine the perceived psychological impact of an event in which people died: the logarithm of (# dead / (distance * years past)). Impact goes down with distance, as well as with time elapsed since the event. It goes up with the number of casualties, and all of this logarithmically, as 1000 versus 100 casualties give about the same increase in sense of impact as 100 versus 10. The formula, he notes, is correct also for the edge case that time = 0 and distance = 0, which is indisputably a most serious event for the individual concerned.
    • The newspaper examples below are roughly similar, but as Battus is a mathematician in Real Life, this one has a scientific basis.
  • Used by name in the novelivation of Doom. At the end of the first book, the two main characters watch from space as the earth is carpet-nuked. They aren't nearly as disturbed by this as they feel they should be, until they start thinking about specific people they know who are probably dead.
  • In the Belisarius Series, soldiers die in frequently large quantities. Belisarius tries not to kill his men, but he knows that there will be casualties. And then ally and friend Eon dies, and he goes to pieces. Partly justified in that Eon's death causes a succession crisis, because his son is an infant.
  • Gotz and Meyer inverts this. The narrator claims that the titular Nazis could only have killed as many people as they did if they thought of each victim as a number rather than a person. A statistic equals a million (or five thousand, in their case.)
  • In John C. Wright's Fugitives of Chaos, Victor weighs the death of everyone on shipboard (who had taken them up when they were lost at sea) vs. the death of everyone in the universe if they let themselves get killed. Colin just wants to help the ship. (Fortunately, Amelia Takes a Third Option.)
    • In Titans of Chaos, Amelia thinks Used to Be a Sweet Kid of a maenad, but forces herself to remember all the babies who will die if the maenads wins, and kills her.
  • An in-universe example: In S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, most of Earth's population died following the Change, which rendered guns and most forms of power generation inoperable. Twenty-plus years later, most of those born since the Change take living in such a death-ridden world for granted; some of the young protagonists even ridicule most pre-Change humans for being so incompetent at survival skills. While exploring Toronto's CN Tower, however, they discover the skeletons of a woman (apparently a Change-time suicide) and her cat, and are deeply moved by the evidence of these particular deaths.
  • In the Mallorean, Zakath starts out trying to commit genocide. His Mallorean soldiers kill every Murgo they can find, adults and children alike. While he may not have literally killed a million, it wasn't for lack of effort. Granted, he's quite crazy and everyone hates Murgos, but the protagonists forgive him quite easily. It's jarring when you consider the fact that these are the same people who entombed Zedar in solid rock for all eternity, because he killed Durnik in self-defense. The prequels attempt to justify this, mostly by having him Kick the Dog, but we don't see that in the Belgariad.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Daughter, Miranda completely inverts it. She cares passionately about the deaths of thousands while behaving with such Lack of Empathy to those near to her that her siblings thinks their father put a spell on her to cause it.
  • While not involving death, this is pretty much the point of The Total Perspective Vortex from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's purpose is to show a person how insignificant they are in relation to the whole universe. The result is madness in all but one case. The creator was saddened by the madness of his wife, but was satisfied that he proved that if life was to exist in a universe this big, the last thing it could afford to have was a sense of proportion.
    • Arthur Dent goes through something similar when he and Ford escape Earth being destroyed - he can only process his planet being destroyed by thinking of smaller things that he's lost and gradually working his way up.

 "There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been close to. No reaction..."

"Every Bogart movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald's, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald's hamburger. He passed out. When he came round a second later he found he was sobbing for his mother."

  • Taken to an extreme in Nuklear Age, where Nuklear Man rediscovers his identity as Lord Arel, the incredibly powerful destroyer of entire planets, but still protects Earth from his destructive former ally, which is put down to a new feeling of empathy with the individual people of the world.
  • Septimus Heap: Many people have died by the end of Darke, but all what Jenna, Septimus and Marcia are concerned about is Beetle.


Live Action TV

  • It would be more difficult to find a Doctor Who season that didn't include the deaths of thousands, millions, or, in at least one instance, billions that were only given a passing mention, if that.
    • Logopolis involves the destruction of one quarter of the entire universe; by even the most conservative estimates that's a single-episode death toll expressible only in standard notation. And not only does nobody seem to care (including one character whose homeintergalactic supercluster was destroyed [1]), the villain responsible gets the full Draco in Leather Pants treatment despite being possibly the worst mass-murderer in all fiction (but in all fairness, it was an accident)!
      • Compare the Fifth Doctor's finale, The Caves of Androzani which involved, at most, a dozen or so people, taking place on a single planet (for the most part) and revolving around what was essentially a drug war. Widely regarded as one of the best of the original series.
    • In Genesis Of The Daleks the Kaled city is destroyed, killing at least thousands of people. The Doctor is deeply saddened... because he thinks that Harry and Sarah were in the city (naturally they escaped in time). However, it's averted to a degree as the destruction of the city still has emotional impact, mostly from the eerily jubilant reaction of the Thals.
  • Torchwood: Children of Earth is all about this trope.
  • Lampshaded in Star Trek the Original Series episode "The Immunity Syndrome." When McCoy expresses disbelief that Spock is capable of "feeling" the deaths of four hundred Vulcans, Spock replies, "I have noticed that about your people, Doctor. You find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million."
  • In Star Trek the Next Generation the episode "The Survivors" calls on this trope. A God-like being settles down with a human wife and becomes a pacifist - but then a hostile race attacks their planet, and the being's wife is killed defending the planet. This angers the being into destroying the hostile race - the entire race of fifty billion. This is where Picard finds him, alone on the blighted planet with a simulacrum of his wife.

 Kevin Uxbridge: "I saw her broken body... I went insane. My hatred exploded. And in an instant of grief... I destroyed the Husnock! ...No, no, no, no, you don't understand the scope of my crime. I didn't kill just one Husnock, or a hundred, or a thousand. I killed them all. All Husnock, everywhere."

Captain Picard: "We are not qualified to be your judges. We have no law to fit your crime. You're free to return to the planet, and to make Rishon live again. ...We leave behind a being of extraordinary power... and conscience. I am not certain if he should be praised or condemned. Only that he should be left alone."

    • The Federation has no laws regarding genocide? Then how do they justify their war with the Borg?
      • The Federation presumably has laws regarding waging war against the Federation and trying to exterminate it's citizens.
      • More to point, what could they have done with the guy? He had near Q-level powers. If he wanted to be left alone on a planet with a simulacrum of his wife, how could they stop him?
      • Furthermore, the Prime Directive would put this outside their jurisdiction, since it was one non-Federation alien wiping out other non-Federation aliens.
        • The Prime Directive isn't what put the being outside the Federation's jurisdiction. The prime directive only applies until a planet-wide civilization achieves warp drive. The being had something at least as good.
        • To violate the Prime Directive they could have done something like go back in time and try to rescue the wife, not that time-travel always works as desired.
        • The Federation didn't have any jurisdiction over others there. Neither the being nor the planet had ever been Federation members.
        • But wasn't the planet in question a Federation colony?
          • Clarification: The Federation was int he middle of a losing war with the species which killed the colonists and the god beings wife. He didn't just kill all living members of that species, he removed them from TIME. Which is why none of the main characters remember the species in question and they don't have any information on the ship in their databases. So while the Federation doubtlessly has laws against genocide, there probably aren't any laws which deal with removing the existence of an entire species from time. Which is odd considering the amount of time travel in the Star Trek Universe. This does however, leave a major plot hole in that if that species never existed why is the colony still a smoking wasteland?
  • In the final arc of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, the Cardassians finally turn on their Dominion allies - the female changeling responds by ordering the deaths of more than 800 million Cardassian civilians. Garak and Captain Sisco show some sympathy over this, but on the whole its pretty well skipped over.
  • Averted on Star Trek Enterprise with the Xindi attack. The death toll of seven million becomes almost a mantra, deliberately repeated until it is burned into the minds of both the audience, and everyone the Enterprise encounters.
    • Tucker's younger sister was killed in the attack and he spends time trying to avert this trope by insisting that she was no more important than any of the other casualties. Numerous characters try telling him that it is okay to acknowledge that she was more important to him, and that it is also okay to be more upset over her death. Finally after a costly battle, he breaks down and admits how much he misses her.
  • Many Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans lost all respect for Spike after his Attempted Rape of Buffy. They were perfectly okay with him killing thousands in horrible ways as a soulless vampire because it happened mostly offscreen. And not just killing - "Do you know what I've done to girls Dawn's age?"
  • The Cylon attack which claimed billions of lives in Battlestar Galactica is almost forgotten in comparison to the suffering of the main characters aboard the escaping ships. Seeing the baby in the Riverwalk Market and Cami die in the Miniseries is more upsetting than knowing that almost all children of the Colonies are now dead. Even the other survivors rarely get screen time, primarily because they don't live on the titular ship, but a single woman suffering from cancer takes up a great deal. Late in the fourth season during a certain mutiny it is shown that the ordinary people very much keep it at the forefront of their minds, the main characters are unusual in having a broader view of things thanks to their experiences. Put simply, the lives of everyone is pretty much a mixture of nightmare, deprivation and mindless drudgery, but at least they are alive. Better to focus on the problems happening to them now than dwell on the genocide. But it is never forgotten.
    • To be fair, that single woman with cancer is the President.
  • A terrible example of this occurs in Stargate SG-1. In order to save Teal'c's life, the main characters destroy a piece of technology that is stopping a Goa'uld invasion! (said invasion was not imminent or known about however - the defence was in place and so Goa'uld did not send troops there. Unfortunately one must have decided to send a scout at some point after the tech was destroyed). When the Goa'uld do invade in the second season, they destroy half of the planet's population. This is made worse by noting that the defense technology they disabled could probably have been circumvented by the humans. When some of the Designated Antagonists began pointing out SG-1's faults, I seriously began to believe them.
    • They are very willing to admit their own faults, including when they personally screw up and cause some major disasters. People mess up, but as they are good it is usually unintentional and they try to make it up. The antagonists may point out valid faults, but as they themselves always do worse and don't even try to be good, Stargate Command still holds the high ground. Plus, they literally free the galaxy from thousands of years of domination and stagnation in just ten years. Broke a few eggs along the way though- whole worlds dropped off the map in part thanks to them with barely a mention, as befits this trope.
      • As mentioned above, they do get called on it every now and then. Jacob after he takes a Tok'ra symbiote points out that while SG-1 has done more in a few years than other factions who have been at work for centuries, their actions have created power vacuums among the System Lords that have resulted in massive amounts of killing. One episode in particular starts off playing the trope straight, then subverts it. the SG-1 travels to a planet where Teal'c had been to previously when he was First Prime for Apophis. He is brought to trial for his crimes. He states at first that he's killed so many people that he doesn't even remember this one world. Later in the episode he states that he regrets every single act he committed as First Prime, and that the he carries the weight of every person he killed in Apophis' name.
  • There's a scene that subverts this trope in the Babylon 5 episode "Convictions", where G'Kar and Vir are on an elevator together. When Vir apologises (for his species' attempted genocide of G'Kar's), G'Kar cuts his palm.

 G'kar: [Timed to the blood drops spilling from his palm] Dead... Dead... Dead... Dead... Dead. How do you apologize to them?

Vir: ...I can't.

G'kar: Then I cannot forgive.

    • Averted a season or two before in "GROPOS:" The titular "GROPOS" are infantry, several of whom had made friends with main cast (in particular, one of the infantrywomen seemed to have developed the seeds of a relationship with Garibaldi) while using Babylon 5 as a staging area for a ground assault. The assault goes quite well (we see a news report about it), but the final shots make it clear that the GROPOS who had made friends with the established characters had died, and that many more of the unnamed GROPOS had died, and that was the real story.
      • Even the Jerkass is shown lying dead among his fellow soldiers, as a reminder of how impersonal war is.
      • And again later. Although the crew is pretty sure that President Clark is a xenophobic bastard that gradually converts Earth into a fascist state, and they receive evidence that he indeed masterminded the assassination of his predecessor, but it is only him having several civilian transports destroyed with some 10,000 people killed that truly infuriates Sheridan and Ivanova and drives them to declaring an all-open war on Clark.
    • Also averted with the fate of the Markab. When it becomes clear that there's unlikely to be a cure of the disease that plagues them, they gather together, lock themselves in and pray. Delenn and Lennier, being immune, join the ones on Babylon 5 to give them comfort. When the doors are reopened, the looks on Delenn's and Lennier's faces make it clear that they just witnessed an extinction.
      • The actions of Lennier and Delenn are even more selfless than that, they didn't know at the time that they were immune. Delenn points out that since the air on B5 is recycled, they can get infected no matter where on the station they are, though that doesn't stop Sheridan from pleading with her not to go.
  • Leverage observes that this applies to good deeds as much a bad. If you buy the town a new school it just reminds people how rich you are but if you help raise one person out of poverty you're a hero.
  • Semi-averted in Being Human. Mitchell is a stereotypical hot vampire who's killed a lot of people and is emo about it, and sees other characters as villains just because they want to punish him for the thousands of people he's killed. But the spirit of one of his victims tells Mitchell that he should stop acting like a victim, and if he really wanted to do something good, he would kill himself.
  • A memorable, early episode of Mash actually delves into this thought process and even how it can keep a man sane in war. Hawkeye had just witnessed a good buddy of his from home die on the operating table, and goes outside to get out some well-deserved angst. When Henry Blake goes out to give comfort, he finds that Hawkeye isn't just mourning the fact that he lost a friend, but that he's witnessed innumerable casualties die in the same manner, and barely gave them much thought.
  • Averted in 24. A suitcase nuke detonates in Valencia, killing over 12,000 people and its horrifying. Despite occurring immediately after the death of Curtis Manning, it is treated as the more significant event and referenced for the rest of the season.
    • Until it doesn't. In the later hours, the way the CTU crew and even regular citizens prowl around LA like nothing happened deludes the horrific attack's psychological effects.


Music

  • Played for Laughs (yes, really) in Tom Lehrer's We Will All Go Together When We Go, which notes that soon no one will have to be sad about funerals and contemplating their own mortality anymore - when nuclear war will kill everyone at the same time!

 We will all bake together, when we bake

There'll be nobody present at the wake

With complete participation

In this grand incineration

Nearly three billion hunks of well-done steak!

  • Played straighter in "People Say" by Portugal. The Man:

 What a lovely day, yeah, we won the war

May have lost a million men, but we've got a million more

All the people, they say...

  • Sara Groves has a song called "Abstraction" which is essentially about this trope. Millions of starving people in a place like Africa... hard to sympathize. Meet a few of them, and they're no longer just a statistic.
  • The Hunters and Collectors song 'What's a Few Men?' is about the British indifference to Australian casualties in World War One.

Newspapers

  • The reason the news reports massive catastrophes abroad is to mention that none of "our people" were hurt.
    • Finnish satirist news blog Lehti ran an article titled "A Finn Equals 4 Alligators", also giving the "official" numbers of tragedy in news. Ten thousand Africans equal 1,000 Asians or other non-whites, equal 100 non-nearby whites, equals 10 nearby whites, which equals four alligators, equals one Finnish person "if you know them". They also ran an article assuring that there were "No Finnish Casualties Among the Dead Pope".
  • A similar rule applied to some British newspapers: "One Brit equals 10 Frogs (Frenchmen) equals 100 wogs (Mediterranean Europeans)".
    • A different version of that is, "One dead in Putney equals 10 dead in Paris equals 100 dead in Turkey equals 1,000 dead in India equals 10,000 dead in China."


Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40000 uses this trope very effectively on both extremes of the scale-here. A Billion Is A Statistic for the Imperium, and the destruction of entire planets is dropped casually and without circumstance. But numerous short stories focusing on one particular individual can be surprisingly sympathetic and touching. This is, of course, a trap.
    • Imperial Guard Commander Chenkov of the Valhallan 18th is mentioned as sacrificing 10 million Guardsmen without using artillery or armored support in a single conflict in order to end a year long siege. He did get a nice merit for it though.
      • Chenkov also built a wall out of the bodies of his men. Not the ones that died in conflict. When he wanted a wall he just ordered them to be executed!
    • This is effectively averted for the Space Marines who are 1-in-a-100 of the already best Child Soldiers surviving in brutal worlds. Every loss sorta sucks.
      • This is brilliantly translated into the game, as even though the average space marine is only 3 times more expensive than guardsmen, their heavy equipment tends to be on the marines themselves, and their tanks are much more fragile than their guard counterparts. Every loss will be big to you. As guard, however, you can probably stand to lose a squad or two, as the sheer cheapness of your units means that you can literally sacrifice a unit that's 50 models strong just to keep a unit of 5 enemy Terminators occupied for the duration of the match (and this is actually a viable tactic, as the terminators might not even statistically have enough attacks to kill the unit in question within the given timeframe).
    • An in-universe example is apparent with the Eldar, who view the survival of themselves and their brethren as the utmost priority and the deaths of innumerable numbers of the "lesser species" inconsequential, easily willing to engineer the destruction of anywhere between entire armies to several solar systems if any Eldar would otherwise be at risk.
    • Saying Orks may die at the hands of their Warboss implies the possibility they won't. If they didn't, their WAAGH wouldn't stay together. Plus, the Orks come back soon after anyway...
    • The Tyranids potential numbers can be calculated by discerning how much biological material there is in the universe. Really.
    • The trope is played horribly straight by the setting's post-human Batman Expy Konrad Curze[2]: he transformed his dark, gloomy and rainy homeworld from a terrified crime-ridden anarchic hellhole into a terrified crime-free dystopian police state by brutally murdering lawbreakers. Not in job lots though, not until they made him their king, but one by one criminals would disappear, only to be found later brutally killed, and rarely in one piece.
  • Regular Warhammer has it's own examples. Skaven live by this rule, expecting thousands of their kind to die at a time on the battlefeild. Greenskins such as Orcs and Gobblins also tend to do this as they come in mass. Killing dozens of either probably won't affect the game too much. However Dwarves and Warriors of Chaos have very high stats and very good armor and weapons so they can take a punch and punt you across town, though they cost more. Killing a good number of a horde army such as Skaven or Orcs and Goblins, while killing a unit or two of Warriors of Chaos, Dwarves, High Elves, and Bretonnia, is a small victory.
  • BattleTech invokes and subverts this. Several sourcebooks list horrible events in the game's back story, some involving entire planets being razed. It's implied with the orbital bombardment from warships. While the Inner Sphere has Warships as Lost Technology when the Clans arrived, the Clans have several. The Smoke Jaguar Clan bombed a planet after Prince Hohiro Kurita escaped. The Clan council banned orbital bombardment as dishonorable as the backlash unites the Inner Sphere. One Jade Falcon warship captures a world by threatening to hit it from orbit, hoping no one will call their bluff.
  • In Flying Buffalo's Nuclear War card game, players track their progress by their countries' populations. A typical play will often kill anywhere from 1 million to 100 million people.
  • Risk. Granted, you're just rolling dice and moving pieces of plastic around. You never stop to consider how many Green soldiers you would be sending to their deaths just to seize Kamchatka from the Blue Army. Not to mention that the game really only ends when all but one of the armies has been annihilated.
  • In Rifts, the Great Cataclysm which brought Rifts Earth to its current state, and the random Rifts demons, and other catastrophes that came after nearly made humanity extinct. This is brought up many times in various sourcebooks, but the numbers are so huge they're hard for someone reading the books to imagine.


Video Games

  • The average strategy game has losses as an inevitability - it's about avoiding the right ones at the right times.
    • This is made especially apparent if you have a Hero-type character. You really don't pay attention to the death of the mooks, but when your hero dies you're definitely going to be panicking.
  • Star Ruler. Massive ships can have a crew in the tens of thousands or more, but are thrown into unwinnable combat by the player and AI. Planetary invasions consist of butchering the entire population via orbital bombardment.
  • On one end of the scale we have the Fire Emblem games. Each unit represents an individual character which has its own personality, skills, and motivations; as such, some people are hesitant to put even relatively unimportant characters into harm's way.
    • Lampshaded by Pelleas in Radiant Dawn: "Individual lives taken before your eyes weigh more heavily than the many lives taken during the chaos of war. If that life is someone dear, the burden is even worse."
  • On the other end... Defcon. "MEXICO CITY HIT, 12.2M DEAD".
  • Speaking of nukes, what about Civilization? Or any large-scale Turn-Based Strategy/4X war games for that matter?
    • They only count if they have individual characters more valuable than entire cities. In Civilization, the death of a single Great Person is more important than having the "city size" statistic decrease by one. Cities are counted in the millions of inhabitants.
  • Somewhere in the middle is the Total War series; while most conflicts are between large masses of troops, the game also tracks the statistics of individual units; players are less likely to sacrifice an experienced, well-equipped and well-armored unit as mere cannon fodder as a result. Also, it does implement individual characters in the form of faction leaders and heirs, the preservation of which is often an important consideration.
    • In the original Shogun - Total War you could have the game print out detailed logs of each battle you physically fought in which the game will list every soldier on your side (within reason, as it stops printing after several lines of text) with their individual name, skill, morale levels etc etc. Although this option is not available in later games, the game literally does keep track of every individual soldier separately. Something to think about when you send that peasant mob to soak up the archers' arrows.
    • One of the games, Rome: Total War even invokes this trope by name, in the trait description for 'Conqueror':

  "If you kill a man you're a murderer. Kill many of them and you're a hero!"

 "When you kill one, it is a tragedy. When you kill ten million, it is a statistic."

  • In Mega Man Zero 4, The Dragon Craft fired the Kill Sat Ragnarok at Neo Arcadia, trying to kill the Big Bad Dr. Weil. The attack, according to the manual, claimed 20,000,000 deaths of innocents. Yet the intended target ironically survives.
  • Demonstrated very clearly in Half-Life 2 and its follow-up episodes. The Combine has enslaved the Earth, killing people in such numbers it's described as genocide and subjecting countless others to transformation into Stalkers. All of that, of course, gets a very negative reaction from people... but nowhere near the reaction provoked when Eli Vance is killed.
    • Well, he was the Rebel Leader and likely a major source of inspiration and morale for the Resistance..
      • At a more personal level for the player, he was just moments away from disclosing the truth about the G-Man. NO!!
  • In Ever 17 the disaster that destroys the park the first time also releases TB, which is such a nasty deadly killer that despite high communicability still only manages to kill about 10000 people. But nobody cares that it's very likely the characters rescued are just as likely to have let the plague free as the scientist who ran away or even that all the people died. Instead, the whole gambit is around saving two characters who would have died otherwise. The best you get is Lieblich finally gets uncovered, showing that at least the rest of the world cared about the plague.
  • In a subversion, if you destroy Cradle 03 in Armored Core For Answer, the other characters WILL care about your mass slaughter. And then you get the Scrappy Level as Video Game Cruelty Punishment.
    • Of course, no one seems to care about the countless lives you take when you destroy Arms Forts, like Spirit of Motherwill, or the countless Line Ark citizens who die because you blew up the Megalis power plant, that provides energy for their Phlebotium-Clearing Air Purifiers....
  • Valkyria Chronicles has Isara's death being a major blow to all the main characters, who mope about it until the end of the game. On the other hand, your regular soldiers don't get that treatment, apart from a single last sentence as they fade away. And that's not even taking allied and enemy soldiers into account...
    • The point is moot. A REAL Valkyria Chronicles player would never allow one of their soldiers to perish, no matter how many times they may need to repeat the level in order to complete it without casualties.
    • This is only the beginning. The entire Gallian army gets vaporized at one point, and no one has anything to say about the thousands of lives that were just snuffed out; the main characters' primary reaction is, "Holy shit, what a huge explosion-- can Alicia do that!?"
      • Yeah, kinda breaks the, "Your soldiers are people, not numbers; don't treat them as such," message the whole game had in two, doesn't it? Especially considering that Selvaria specifically blew herself up in order to burn the Gallian army alive where they stood. And yet, she's still largely considered The Woobie by the fandom.
  • Dwarf Fortress, where the death of one dwarf is a tragedy, but the death of two hundred Dwarfs is a very successful use of magma.
    • It can be averted, however, in the fact that every single dwarf (and plenty of other creatures) is unique, with different personalities and tastes (and, in the new version, physical appearance). Therefore, it's not uncommon to grow very attached to your little dwarves, and mourn their loss.
    • Which means it's playing it straight, because as easy as it is to feel attached to your original 7 dwarves, as the numbers pile up, they become more and more meaningless.
  • There's a prisoner on Manaan in Knights of the Old Republic who channels Remarque in one of his responses to the player.

 Prisoner: Kill a million people with a mighty star cruiser and you are a war hero. Kill a hundred with a thermal detonator and you are a terrorist.

    • Also on Manaan, Sunry tries to invoke this when you accuse him of murder, pointing out that you've killed a bunch of Sith yourself. Jolee calls him on it, saying that killing enemy combatants in battle during war and killing a person in their sleep are just a teensy bit different.
  • You know why we forgive Sakura in Fate Stay Night? Check her targets out. The two asshole members of her family, Saber and Berserker and about a thousand people from the town they live in. Seriously, does anyone even remember that she ate a thousand people? To be fair, in story it's actually an aversion as Sakura is struggling with guilt about the town yet is no doubt pleased about Zouken and probably even Shinji. It's demonstrated that she mentally collapses if Shirou is not around to help, and Shirou himself is trying to pick up the tattered scraps of his idealism for letting it happen. But to the players? We're only mad about Saber, if at all.
    • The fact that she had absolutely no idea that she was killing any of the people in the town, and was not at all in control of her actions at that point (she saw it all as a nightmare), probably has a hell of a lot to do with it as well. As soon as she realises what she has been doing, she refuses to go to sleep, and then goes to confront her grandfather the next day in order to end it all. Granted, it goes wrong, but at least she tried.... The only people she actually consciously kills are the aforementioned asshole victims, who most definitely deserved it. However, arguably Shirou can be blamed for this, because he doesn't take the opportunity to kill her even after he finds out that she has done this (although, doing so in the game is actually a bad choice, because her servant (rather predictably) kills him if he does, and this is likely to send Sakura totally insane with no possibility of being redeemed or stopped)
    • Contrast with Caster, who hospitalizes, disfigures and castrates large quantities of people during Unlimited Blade Works. What most people will likely hold up as her primary act of evil is taking Taiga hostage and kidnapping Saber, and most of it is forgiven by the time she dies beautifully in the arms of her beloved.
  • In Super Robot Wars Original Generation, whenever a named character is Brainwashed into fighting for the Balmarians, everyone goes to whatever lengths to save them, or at least makes a big deal out of it. When you're faced with multiple unnamed human pilots wearing masks who are all brainwashed, someone asks if it's OK to fight them, someone just handwaves that they can't be helped (for some reason), and it's never brought up again.
  • In Final Fantasy IV, Prince Edward mourns the death of his girlfriend much more than he grieves the total destruction of his kingdom.
  • Final Fantasy V barely broke stride when entire cities at a time were sent to the gap between dimensions, with no promise of ever returning.
    • Assuming you don't count Bartz, the person who ALWAYS has something childish to say have a Mental Breakdown as he pilots his Ship insanely and attempting to smash into the Void in a mad fit after having his hometown erased.
    • Lenna survives getting pulled into the Void, but is at 0 HP when she rejoins your party after the Melugene battle. It's thus unclear whether being pulled into the Void is always fatal.
  • Notoriously played straight in Final Fantasy VII where Cloud's paycheck putting a dent in Marlene's educational funding is given a little more attention than the fact that Cloud and AVALANCHE just returned from killing potentially hundreds of completely innocent plant workers in an eco-terrorist bombing as well as Barret breaking down when Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie are killed by Shinra, and he thinks Marlene has been killed by the collapsing Sector 7 pillar. However, Cait Sith does call Barret out on this later in the game when he asks Barret how many innocent people AVALANCHE killed when they blew up the reactor. Barret tries to justify it using this, but Cait Sith calls him out on this as well, and even Barret doesn't seem fully convinced of his own argument.
  • Averted in Final Fantasy IX. On the three occasions that cities are attacked and/or destroyed altogether, there is a huge amount of mourning: when Cleyra is wiped off the map, the main characters (Freya in particular) are shocked by the loss of life- though they are forced into action very quickly; Zidane and Garnet are visibly horrified by the attack on Lindblum, especially since they actually have to walk through the ruins soon after; finally, Garnet actually loses her voice when confronted with the destruction of Alexandria and the casualties that resulted.
    • Doubled by the fact that the Eidolons used were forcibly extracted from Garnet.
  • Averted with a potent emotional punch in Final Fantasy X: when Auron and Jecht fade away, their deaths are given all due respect, honor, and grief by the party; Tidus' final farewell is equal parts Tear Jerker and Crowning Moment Of Heartwarming, too. But the destruction of Kilika and the mass slaughter of Al-Bhed and Crusaders at Operation Mi'ihen are the most heart-wrenching, devastating events in the game, and the characters respond to these with far, far more sorrow than even the aforementioned instances.
    • Yuna's Guardians were a TON more unhappy with the idea that Yuna has to die to accomplish the final summoning than the idea that Sin kills THOUSANDS if she doesn't. Also, it was insane that they simply didn't have a stock of fully trained summoners/final fayth ready and willing to beat up sin the SECOND it shows up. Sure it means certain death, but the crusaders sign up en masse and they have even LESS chance of surviving a Sin-encounter
      • Because even trying to reach the Final Fayth is likely to kill the Summoner, not to mention summoning it to defeat Sin. In fact, most Summoners either eventually give up and turn back at Mount Gagazet OR die while trying to pass Mount Gagazet. If the Ronso didn't help Yuna, it would of been an even more treacherous journey, though the presence of a certain Boss makes you feel it's difficulty anyway.
      • Admittedly, Yuna herself only agrees once she learns that The Final Summoning can never permanently stop Sin, contrary to belief that there was some chance that it could. Everyone else, however, including all the Guardians and the entire Al-Bhed people, do not need such an argument - a single death is apparently too much for these residents of post-apocalyptic Spira to bear thinking about, even though literally every one of them has lost someone they care about to Sin. In fact, the Al-Bhed are more than willing to kidnap Summoners who are going to sacrifice their lives of their own free will, and imprison them for life to stop those Summoners from making the honest and heroic choice to give themselves for the greater good - and the player is clearly expected to agree with them. What the Hell, Hero??
  • Again in Final Fantasy XII where the destruction of an entire airship fleet is simply a slap-on-the-wrist warning against Nethicite, and the complete annihilation of the crews on board (with the protagonists as the sole survivors) hardly even warrants mention.
  • Parodied in Discworld Noir: Lewton tells an NPC that the people of Ankh-Morpork don't react if you tell them a thousand people died in a pogrom in Omnia, but tell them an Ankh-Morpork citizen stubbed his toe on the Brass Bridge and you get a reaction. The other guy then replies: "A citizen stubbed his toe on the Brass Bridge?"
  • In Wing Commander III, with one bomb Blair (the Player Character) destroys a planet, killing billions of Kilrathi, but except in the Novelization of the sequel it's not even mentioned (and only hinted at with a brief shot of the Emperor's chambers collapsing), unlike the deaths of Jeanette "Angel" Devereaux, Mitchell "Vaquero" Lopez, Laurel "Cobra" Buckley, or the fate of Locanda IV, homeworld of Robin "Flint" Peters.
  • In the space RTS Haegemonia: Legions of Iron the conventional mean of subduing enemy planets is orbital bombardment. Preferably with viral torpedoes - they are more effective. All you get to see at that is the down-counting number of the population. 100 millions...85 millions...50 millions...c'mon, give up already...40 millions...you're not the only planet I have to conquer, you know...30 millions...25 millions...finally! Welcome to the family! As a token of my clemency, I'll now lower the taxes until you all love and admire me, savvy?
  • Dynasty Warriors Does anything more really need to be said?
    • You can say the same for pretty much any game based on a large-scale war, and in fact, there are a few instances where the plight of the common folk is integral to the story (in particular, the Yellow Turban Rebellion and Liu Bei leading the peasants out of Chang Ban). The main reason DW makes such a huge deal out of certain deaths is that's how it was in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which, as anyone who's read it will tell you, is very heavy on drama.
  • Possibly averted in Mass Effect 2, when a reporter who confronted you in the first game shows up again to demand another interview of you. One of the many ways it can go is the reporter demanding on-air to know why Shepard sacrificed thousands of people for the sake of the Citadel Council -- and Shepard replying to her anonymous, faceless "thousands" by stating from memory the names of all 8 ships that were lost, and expressing his/her respect for the lost soldiers and the great deed they did. 2400 lives vs 10000 lives during that fateful battle.
    • Mordin deliberately averts this - when enacting the genophage (a mass sterilisation of a violent race, to which only one in a thousand give birth), he chose to keep visiting the world himself to study the results, to keep the reality of what he had done in his mind. He also averts this before heading out on the suicide mission - in order to have a clear picture of what he's fighting for, he calls his favourite nephew. In his loyalty mission, he even states that all life is precious.

 Mordin: Yearly recon missions. Water, tissue samples. Ensure no mistakes. Superiors offered to carry it on. Refused. Needed to see it in person. Need to look. Need...to see. Accept it as necessary. (inhale) See small picture. Remind myself why I run a clinic on Omega.

    • As well as the scale of conflict, the First Contact war had about 623 casualties on the human side over the span of 3 months compared to what will normally happen with deaths in the thousands
    • Further averted concerning the Citadel Battle in Mass Effect 2 when you encounter an asari on Illium who first seems like a two-dimensional Jerkass, but if you manage to get through her, she will reveal thaat the cause of her bitterness was the loss of her daughters on Citadel. And if you manage to put the pieces together, you will realize that those daughters were two very minor characters you spoke once or twice in the course of the first game.
    • Mass Effect 3 repeatedly reminds you of the scale of the death and destruction that's happening everywhere that the Reapers invade. However, the real Player Punch is seeing one young boy die while trying to escape.
  • As said in Xenosaga:

  Margulis (regarding the fate of the planet Ariadne): What's one and a half billion people to us?

  • Fable III subverts this handily. In the second half of the game, you have to manage Albion's funding to prevent the absolute annihilation of the kingdom's 6.5 million people by the invading Crawler and his "Children." Every day, you get to see a "Projected Civilian Casualties" statistic, which is exactly 6.5M-Funding. It is nearly impossible not to want to save as many as possible, and damn the PR!
  • Used masterfully in the Cataclysm expansion of World of Warcraft. The updating of quests and geography in vast sections of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms (the games' oldest and original continents) has brought the deaths and vanishings of a great deal of old, familiar NPCs. One who would have slogged through the corpses of countless nameless mooks throughout the previous two expansions without batting an eyelash would be surprised at the amount of effective tear jerkers in Cataclysm.
  • In Far Cry 2 one of the central characters the Jackal, who you were hired to kill to put an end to his arms dealing which is only fanning the flames of the various civil wars that are going on in Africa, makes a very good point about this during one of his various interview tapes which can be found in the game. During one of the tapes he mentions how despite how powerful the U.S Military is (he should know he was a former Navy Seal before he became an arms dealer) they let petty morality get in the way of doing whatever it takes to win and that their media focuses too much on how many of our service men and women die in combat when they need to realize that soldiers dying is part of the cost of war. He is basically saying that the American public can't accept heavy casualties and care more about the death of individuals rather than honor the cause they died for, "The death of a 23 year old from Iwoa gets more air time than the death of 50,000 people he gave his life to protect. Even if they did give a shit about things over here their own media prevents them from taking any action." The death of even one of our troops is a tragedy, the death of those he was fighting for even if goes into the thousands or millions is a statistic, the Jackal is disgusted at the hypocrisy of this. It is for this reason that he believes that his arms dealing is actually helping the world, if the U.S Military won't do anything to stem the tide of all these terrible wars going on in the world then he will.


Web Comics

  • This strip of Schlock Mercenary.
    • Arguably, this strip, although the innumeracy isn't directly related to killing.
  • This example overlaps between Webcomics and Real Life. In The Crossoverlord for most of the people Smiling Man's Moral Event Horizon was revelation that he killed most or all alternate counterparts of main characters to get what he wanted, despite that much earlier he changed the position of all stars in the firmament, destroying all planets that were running around them and slaughtering every life form that could live on those planets. Because he wanted to make the sky smile at him!
  • The final battle in Kid Radd. We're not even shown the deaths of all of Crystal's cookie-cutter minions by Radd's ragtag band; most of the slaughter is implied. But Bogey dies. And not just dies, he forces Radd to shoot him so Radd can take the life power-up he carries. After complaining earlier in the series about how he can't contribute meaningfully to this war. Ultimately, he not only saves Radd's life, he ends up being the only casualty on that side.
  • Averted in Terinu. When the Human Federation's genocide of the Ferin is revealed, Leeza is properly horrified. It doesn't hurt that when she makes the discovery, we see an obscured autopsy photo of one of the victims
  • In Homestuck, Jack Noir kills thousands of pawns and nobody bats an eye. And then he burns Prospit to the ground and a few eyebrows are raised. And then he kills Dream Jade, who's actually characterized, and jaws drop all around.
    • Many fans hated Vriska for crippling and later killing Tavros, killing Aradia, and blinding Terezi at least as much as they do Jack Noir for killing absurd numbers of pawns. Vriska also killed thousands of other trolls to feed to her custodian (although in that case, this trope was averted and discussed when she mentionned that to John).
    • Jack got prototyped with Becquerel and eventually was sent to the Troll's Incipisphere, where he destroyed both Derse, Prospit, and the rest of the planets. Jack also caused the Reckoning in the kids' session, which wiped out Earth's population aside from the four kids. No one really cares. Since that prototyping, however, he killed several characters, including Bro, John, a Doomed Dave, Rose's Mom and John's Dad, John again, Rose, Dave, and too many to list here in [S] Cascade.
    • Gamzee hardly killed anyone, just Equius and Nepeta. But he was still treated by some as as much of a monster as Jack Noir.
    • Most games of Sburb kill off a planet's population, but the comic doesn't focus on that so much as the players' quest to create a new universe.
  • Both played straight and averted in Erfworld. "Lord Hamster" wins a siege by setting off the volcanic caldera under the city, wiping out almost everyone from both sides. He's pissed that he had to resort to that to survive. He's equally pissed that he had to sacrifice his loyal servant shortly beforehand.
  • Bob and George: Proto Man points out that sacrificing Mike might save thousands. His reasoning on why Mike has to make the sacrifice is that Proto Man is a protector of humanity, and as such "my life is much more valuable than yours".


Web Original

  Granted, destroying the entire world would be the single greatest act of dickery he's performed yet, but somehow the slaughter of six billion anonymous people seems to lack that personal touch we get when he kills Lois or ruins Jimmy's life.

  • In the final battle in Greek Ninja, several people (and not) lost their lives but only Iphigenie's death is mentioned.


Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Presumably, either the Fire Nation has the best swimmers ever, or the Avatar/Koizilla killed hundreds of Fire Nation soldiers in the Season 1 Finale, yet Aang is sternly taking a Thou Shalt Not Kill policy when it's time to face the Big Bad.
    • Granted, that was in his Avatar state, over which (at least at the point in question) he has relatively little control.
      • It's not even Aang in the Avatar State- Koizilla is Aang in the Avatar State possessed by the Spirit of the entire Ocean, who is more than a little upset over losing his other "half"- the Moon. Aang is just a host.
      • And it's made pretty clear Aang has nightmares about the battle.
    • There's also the battle at the Northern Air Temple. There's absolutely no way Aang failed to kill at least a few of the soldiers in those tanks that he tossed over the side of a cliff.
  • In Mulan the villain does indeed slaughter nameless masses by the hundreds (off-stage, no less), and no named characters died. Only two characters who die even have lines (one of the two messengers, and Shan-Yu), but the movie nevertheless manages to convince that the slaughter was a terrible thing. (An Empathy Doll Shot is used to great effect.)
    • On the other hand, Mulan's cannon trick means she single-handedly destroyed the invading Hun army, killing at least hundreds of men, more likely several thousands.
      • Considering they were an invading, bloodthirsty army that had shown no mercy to her people and were currently trying to kill her and her crew, it's more a typical war scene than a disregard for life.
      • The Empathy Doll Shot kinda erased any semblance of sympathy for the Huns. Really when you've slaughtered that many people with a smile on your face, you deserved to die.
  • Played horrifyingly straight in Titanic: The Legend Goes On. With the exception of Molly, (more commonly known as the "singer with the big boobs"), every single named character survives, including the Funny Animals, complete with a Where Are They Now? Epilogue. In a film that takes place aboard the Titanic. Molly, who for some reason shares a name with the most famous Titanic survivor, only gets a single tear of mourning from one of her pets.
  • Parodied in The Simpsons: Bart accidentally kills a bird and decides to hatch her eggs out of guilt. The eggs hatch and they turn out to be a species of lizard that eat bird eggs, replace them with their own and eat the mother once they hatch. Skinner wants to kill the lizards since they're responsible for the extinction of several bird species but Bart lets them go, after which they completely eradicate Springfield's pigeon population, causing Bart to receive a commendation. After the ceremony...

 Lisa: I don't get it, Bart. You got all upset when you killed one bird, but now you've killed tens of thousands, and it doesn't bother you at all.

Bart: Hey, you're right ... I call the front seat!

Lisa: You had it on the way over!


No Real Life Examples, Please. It got ugly.

Notes

  1. He also killed her Dad
  2. aka Night Haunter, Primarch of the scariest legion of Astartes in the galaxy. Arguably even more the case after he rebelled and got assassinated by an agent of the God-Emperor, as now his boys have no-one holding their leashes
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