The optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears it is true.
—James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion, misattributed to Robert Oppenheimer
A Crapsack World is a horrible setting where the pessimistic notion of "anything that can go wrong will go horribly wrong" almost always applies, and it corrupts its inhabitants into perpetuating that nastiness against each other. More succinctly, trying to survive in one of these places is gonna suck.
Although there are countless ways Crapsack Worlds can be depicted (often with Scenery Gorn), it is usually dark and on the cynical end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism, so it will have either Grey and Gray Morality or Black and Grey Morality, if not outright Evil Versus Evil in the worst of cases (beware of Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy if you decide to go this route though). Settings like these are not kind at all to idealists, who usually get traumatized and/or die horribly when their attempts to change the world through idealistic means meet up with cold hard reality.
Heroes in this setting are usually Anti Heroes on any level of the Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes, and often have at least a bit of the Deadpan Snarker about them. Being good will suck, and if there are genuinely good heroes in this setting, expect them to be Knights In Sour Armor and/or Hurting Heroes—more idealistic heroes such as the Knight in Shining Armor tend to not last long in this kind of setting.
Villains tend to run the gamut from sympathetic Anti Villains (on any level of the Sliding Scale of Anti-Villains) right down to the most horrific Complete Monsters to grace any kind of media. Complete Monsters are especially common in these kinds of settings, both to represent the misery of the setting in general and to give the Anti-Hero someone to whom he can look good in comparison. In truly extreme cases, even the most popular or powerful of these monsters suffer just as badly as everyone else. And Anyone Can Die.
From here, these worlds can be depicted by authors in various ways, whether it would be dramatic or comedic, immutable or mutable.
- A dramatic Crapsack World has plenty of angst to go around, and often makes Woobies out of its sympathetic cast, particularly the protagonist, as they suffer horribly in their attempts to do the right thing or pursue their dreams. Expect characters who do the right thing to suffer for it. Expect characters who do the wrong thing to prosper... and then suffer. See also World of Woobie. Examples: New World of Darkness, Old World of Darkness, Sin City and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
- A comedic Crapsack World is Played for Laughs and is made up of idiots, Jerkasses, Butt Monkeys, Chew Toys and the occasional Only Sane Man, with plenty of Comedic Sociopathy to go around. These include the Black Comedy, the Sadist Show and the World Gone Mad. The "upside" is that it's usually parodic and funny in its extremes. Though people die left and right, it likely has Negative Continuity to facilitate the inhabitants' suffering. Examples: Invader Zim, Happy Tree Friends and South Park.
- An immutable Crapsack World has agony Inherent in the System, both physically and metaphysically. Trying to break The Corruption will instead always result in breaking every bone in your body and it winning, and any positive changes that you try to make will ultimately be torn down and revealed to be All for Nothing -- or even worse, they will only succeed in making things even worse for you and the people that you were trying to help, and/or even accomplish whatever the villains wanted in the first place. Example: Nineteen Eighty-Four, Warhammer 40,000 and the Lovecraftian Fiction genre in general.
- A mutable Crapsack World simply starts out as crappy, but a determined protagonist and his True Companions, be they the Knight In Shining (or in many of these cases, Sour) Armor or a simple old PI, can actually cause some, but mostly few, positive changes in the setting. See also A World Half Full.
This kind of world often occurs After the End. Wretched Hive and City Noir are tinier versions of the Crapsack World. A Dystopia is a speculative Crapsack World ruled by repressive forces modeled after real-life politics. A Teenage Wasteland is a Crapsack World run by kids. If the Crapsack World's continued misery is caused by supernatural forces, see Dark Fantasy, Hell on Earth and Cosmic Horror Story.
If a Sugar Bowl (usually the antithesis of this trope) turns out to be one of these under the surface, then you have yourself a Crap Saccharine World. A Villain World is likely to be this, and Bad Future is a Sub-Trope. Someone who just thinks the world they inhabit is this is a Cynic or a Nietzsche Wannabe (or a Grumpy Bear if he lives in a pretty nice world).
For worlds that are almost literal sacks of crap see The Dung Ages. See You Would Not Want to Live In Dex for other crapsack environments. On a less negative note, the World of Badass will also be likely to have elements of the Crapsack World, to give justification on why kicking ass is very important to survive.
This trope is also known as World Half Empty, for the expression of pessimism being a state of seeing a glass with half the amount of water in it as being "Half empty". By definition, contrast A World Half Full.
No real life examples, please; This is a metaphysical trope that's clearly defined by the writer, not an opinion by people complaining about the world as a whole. Localized places that are very horrible in Real Life should perhaps go to Wretched Hive and other non-metaphysical tropes instead.
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