One-Dimensional Thinking

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Quick! Let's run away as fast as we can in a straight line!

Logically the fastest way to avoid something that's coming straight at you is to move a few steps aside of its path and let it pass by, but in fiction nobody ever seems to do this. At all.

So like a flightless version of Acrophobic Bird, characters being chased by a car, falling rocks, or anything else that travels in one direction will inevitably run straight ahead and try to outrun the threat. They appear to only be able to think in one dimension—escaping that oncoming freight train by jumping off the track just doesn't occur to them.

This looks very dramatic on camera, but Fridge Logic kicks in a little while later and you ask "Well why didn't she enter one of the buildings instead of letting the car chase her down the freeway?" or what have you.

Note that this doesn't apply when there's an actual reason that the character can't simply leap to the side: Maybe that car is cruising down a Blind Alley, that boulder is rolling down a tunnel with no sidepaths, or those railroad tracks are currently crossing a bridge over a hundred-foot canyon. (These highly specific examples are highly specific because they're some of the few times there's ever been a good justification for outrunning the danger.)

Truth in Television: In real life, many animals (including humans) have a natural 'herding' response to danger, so having a terrified character run directly away from an approaching threat may not be tactically sound, but it does make sense psychologically. (And if the threat is a predatory animal, simply leaping to the side wouldn't help in the first place because the predator would take note.) Savvy military conquerors have exploited this fact for centuries to herd panicked civilian crowds to where they want them, although they need to keep the crowd in a state of panic so that no one has a chance to consider the tactical advantages of veering off to the side.

See also 2-D Space and Blind Alley. Slower Than a Speeding Bullet is a common subtrope of this. Can easily come off as Too Dumb to Live in especially egregious cases.

Examples of One-Dimensional Thinking include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Girls und Panzer der Film Team Rabbit momentarily does this when trying to not get hit by a Ferris Wheel of Doom until one of the pointed out they could just move out of its path.
  • During Asuna's Training from Hell in Mahou Sensei Negima, Evangeline uses her Malleus Aquilonis spell to suddenly send an ice boulder rolling down a mountain after Asuna. Having just been thrown out into the icy wilderness naked and now scared out of her wits, Asuna naturally tries to outrun the boulder until she luckily falls on a lower ledge.
  • In the Gantz manga and anime, after being caught on the train tracks, Kurono and Katou decide to try and outrun the train to get beyond where the front car will stop. Even if the train hadn't turned out to be a non-stop express, it's unlikely they would have been able to run far enough in time, and the fact that they break off an attempt to climb onto the platform in favor of running seems pretty counter intuitive. They probably would have made it up with help from the bystanders. Then again, the theme of this scene seems to be general apathy and the onlookers' interest in seeing someone die.
    • Which totally fails to explain why one of them couldn't lift the other out, then get pulled up himself. Basically this was a case of Plot Induced Stupidity, because the story couldn't happen without them dead.
  • In the second Cardcaptor Sakura movie, Sakura is on a roller coaster track with the coaster coming right at her. She first tries running straight along the track rather than taking one step sideways onto the emergency walkway. Then, when it's about to hit her, she stops time, then stays right where she is, rather than getting out of the way before the spell wears off.
  • In episode 17 of Digimon Adventure, the chosen first dodge the cruise liner in the middle of the desert by, sensibly, running to the side. When it it actually start chasing them, though, the trope promptly kicks in full force. Late, in Episode 49, it shows up again as they are fleeing a balled-up Waru Monzaemon.
  • In Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, the Tokyo Tower falls, but the characters run parallel to the direction of the falling tower rather than running off to the side.
  • In Angel Beats!, one of the traps in the hallways leading to Guild is a rolling boulder. Apparently, this is massively averted, as not only the resident ninja Shiina managed to find a small nook to hide from the boulder (and pull away most of the members, Hinata tackles Otonashi to the corner of the hallway, thereby evading the boulder (remember, a boulder is spherical, the hallway is rectangular, so the edges on the bottom won't be swept by the boulder). Indeed, the only casualty is the guy who kept running.
  • Averted in episode 8 of The Third the Girl With The Blue Eye. Honoka and her tank, Bogie, find themselves on the wrong end of a stampeding herd of sand dragons. Bogie's response, rather than drive away from the dragons, is to drive off to the side and get out of their path. They aren't quite fast enough to get out without damage, but do survive nonetheless.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The titular hero of the comic book Nightman also realizes there is space when a circle (a giant ball) rolls down a square hall. He lays down and rolls to the left, where the floor meets the wall.


Film[edit | hide]

  • In Star Wars Episode II, Count Dooku uses the Force to push over a giant pillar, directly in the path of a helpless Anakin and Obi-Wan. Yoda just uses the Force to push the pillar off to the side and set it down gently on the floor, right? Nope, he pushes directly against the pillar's momentum, brings it to a stop directly above them, and keeps it floating in the air for a moment. This visibly exhausts him, and it stalls him for long enough for Dooku to escape.
    • Or he could have just pulled Anakin and Obi-Wan out from under it before it hit.
    • Moving injured people can be risky if you don't know what you're doing. What Yoda decided to do was a bonehead move either way, though.
  • The first Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark: Close investigation of the scene where Indy is being chased by the boulder will reveal it is on rails (big viney ones) and he could have run towards it, past said rails, when it first appeared, then safely followed its path out of the cave—though he would have needed to get past it at some point, as at the end of the scene it blocks what's apparently the only way out. (This is averted in the novelization and the script, where it is explained that the ball would seal Dr. Jones in by blocking the entrance. Indy has a very good reason to outrun the boulder.)
  • In the film Aliens, everyone runs forward when the Drop Ship crashes, instead of moving sideways out of the path of the oncoming debris.
  • Forrest Gump: "Run, Forrest, run!" Try "Dodge, Forrest, dodge!" Though he does take off across a field and hop a fence at least once.
  • Directly parodied at the start of "Weird Al" Yankovic's UHF: The boulder chases the Weird Al version of Indiana Jones around various random locations until he realizes he can just run to the side... and the boulder turns to follow him.
  • In the bad TV movie 10.5, a bicyclist tries to outrace the Space Needle as it breaks from its base and comes crashing to the ground... when he could have easily biked all of six feet to either side of or behind the base, and avoided the whole problem.
  • Parodied in Wrongfully Accused, when Harisson flees a runaway train by running into the woods—whereupon the train promptly follows him.
  • Played with in Mars Attacks! when a flying saucer, planning to crush a group of Boy Scouts, demolishes the base of the Washington Monument, only for them to run out of the way. The saucer then flies around to the other side of the falling obelisk to make it fall the other way. Rinse, repeat.
  • Monsters vs. Aliens. Susan ran forward, and way from the meteor, instead of, you know, going left or right. Actually, she would've been fine where she was at originally, it only hit her because she ran straight into its path.
  • Justified in Back to The Future II: when Biff tries to run down Marty, they're inside a tunnel and Biff has the speed advantage (and can swerve his car if Marty attempts to dodge.)
    • And ultimately subverted, as Marty does eventually dodge in a second dimension—upward.
      • And in the third film, Marty has to think four-dimensionally. He's in the DeLorean being pushed along an incomplete train track, but he travels forward in time, to a point where the track is complete.
  • The remake of Nightmare On Elm Street has the human-Krueger do this for a while as angry parents pursue him through an abandoned factory complex.
  • The Rule of Funny gives an interesting twist to this one in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: A way too amorous toon is running full bore towards Eddie Valiant. Instead of running away or stepping to the side, he takes the white line on the road that she's running on and directs it into the wall. Naturally, a wall pizza ensues.

Eddie: Toons. Gets 'em every time.

  • Buckaroo Banzai. While being pursued by a Red Lectroid driving a truck, Buckaroo runs straight ahead down the road, where he would have inevitably been run down if a Blue Blaze Irregular helicopter hadn't arrived to rescue him.
  • Countess Lisl from For Your Eyes Only is killed when she tries to run away from a car in a straight line.
  • Parodied in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. As the protagonists escape on a very slow Road Roller, a lone security guard screams in terror as the roller approaches and proceeds to scream "STOOOOOP!!" multiple times as it approaches, making no attempt to move to the left or right until finally being run over.
  • Played With in Prometheus. Shaw and Vickers are running away from the collapsing Space Jockey ship, which hits the ground sideways and begins rolling towards them. Shaw falls down and realizes she can just roll sideways to get out of its path, while Vickers isn't so lucky, as she continues running in a straight line and gets crushed as a result.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Naturally, the narrator of Flatland visits Lineland, a world where this is literally true. The inhabitants of Lineland can't pass each other, and each being only ever sees two things: his two immediate neighbors' eyes/asses. Reproduction is pulled off by having sex partners sing to each other over long distances, which is handy, since at least one of a Linelaner's neighbors will always be a parent or sibling.
  • Deconstructed/Parodied/somethinged in Dr. Seuss' "The Zax", a short tale in his book The Sneetches and Other Stories." A creature called a North-going Zax and another called a South-going Zax run into each other, and both refuse to go around the other since it would require them to move, very slightly, in a direction different than they're used to. Their refusal to compromise means they basically stand glaring at each other forever while a highway overpass is built over their heads.
  • Averted in Neil Gaiman's American Gods, where the Technical Boy is able to run down Bilquis with his limo because she was trapped on a road with a sheer, muddy climb up on one side and a sheer drop off a cliff on the other. She tried to get out of the way, but the surroundings themselves had her trapped.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • An appearance of this trope in MacGyver, episode "Fire and Ice" almost suggests that there is a mystical force that compels people to run in a straight line in front of oncoming objects. A man hit by a truck at the beginning of the episode would have been perfectly safe if he had not gone out of his way to run in front of the truck.
    • Truth in Television. In real life, panicked people instinctively run directly from threats, and the panic keeps them from tactical considerations of veering sideways.
  • In the pilot episode of Lost, Jack, Hurley, and Claire run from the plane's falling wing. None thinks to run sideways out of its path.
  • Appears in an episode of Criminal Minds, where a serial killer runs over people with a truck. What makes it worse is that he's a serial killer, so he has done this repeatedly without anyone just running off the side of the road.
  • In an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, the crew learn that a highly radioactive Negative Space Wedgie is heading straight towards them, and it's going faster than the ship can. They proceed to evacuate the whole crew into heavily-shielded areas to survive. The idea of simply getting out of its way never occurs to anyone.
    • They do consider it. It's explicitly said that it is too large for them to try to get out of its way before it hits them.
  • Played hilariously straight in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in which Chakotay is running from the bad guys, and he stays on a winding path instead of just cutting across the grass.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • This is/was prevalent sometimes in Dungeons & Dragons. In cases where the players get in a minor fight and the DM decides it's not worth drawing a map, or when they go Off the Rails into a space the DM hadn't mapped, everything tends to become one dimensional, since all you generally know is everyone's distance from you.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • All side-scrolling video games (although at least in most of them you can jump very high).
  • Samurai Shodown is the first and probably only Fighting Game franchise in which you can lie down on the floor to dodge a horizontal swipe or a projectile.
  • In Naruto Shippuden Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, a giant sword is about to crash into the ground blade side down. Sasuke tries to dodge this by running parallel directly underneath the sword. (Whether it works or not is up to Press X to Not Die).
  • In Twisted Metal (2012), at the end of the final campaign, Dollface wishes to model on the "biggest runway in the world", and gets deposited on the tarmac at an airport runway. She sees a plane headed directly towards the runway she's standing on, and instead of running off to the side, she runs in the opposite direction. She then breaks her heel and stays on the ground monologuing (instead of rolling out of the way) until the plane crushes her).


Web Comics[edit | hide]

Minnesota Jones: "Well, you took all the drama out of that one."

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Disney and Looney Tunes shorts are not only blatant offenders, but the prime subverters. You know the shorts where the big, hulking bad guy is running full bore towards an oblivious (or waiting) good guy, and the good guy just steps aside, and it takes the bad guy running a good long while to notice? This is often accompanied by a freight train sound effect, complete with Doppler effect when the bad guy whizzes past. On the other hand, a character running from a falling tree will only run in the same direction the tree is falling, and thus get hit. Really, it all depends on what the writer thought would be funnier.
    • Of course, due to Offscreen Teleportation, moving a few feet to one side—or even behind the falling object—would have resulted in getting hit just the same.
      • "TTTTIIIIIMMMMM--" CRAASH!!! "--ber."
    • Bugs Bunny took advantage of this, as real bullfighters do, in "Bully for Bugs".
  • One of the Halloween episodes in The Simpsons features Mr. Burns being crushed by a statue. He hobbles as fast as he can - straight ahead, in the direction the statue is falling, rather than a few steps to the side, which would have allowed him to avoid it entirely.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: An episode has Princess Morebucks getting hit by a de-powering ray because she's too stupid evil to simply fly out of its way.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Rainbow Dash regularly tries to evade ground based hazards by flying along the ground. Given that her greatest flight skill is speed, and she is depicted as Brilliant but Lazy, it makes sense she'll go for her strengths and try to outfly things rather than just going up.
  • In an episode of The New Batman Adventures, the police have found the batcave. Luckily, Batman has a giant penny on display, which is knocked out of its stand and rolled towards the cops. They all run directly away from it.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • In real life, human beings have a natural instinct to run directly away from a threat during times of panic. Panicked crowds behave the same way, a fact that has been exploited for centuries by conquering hordes.
  • A variation for real life, if you're ever caught in an emergency scenario wherein your car is in the path of an oncoming train, the safest direction to run isn't away or to the side, but rather, toward the direction the train is coming from, to minimize the chance of getting hit by the doomed car's shrapnel. Also, don't go running back to the car for your boyfriend's class ring.
  • If your car ever stalls on train tracks, movie style, the starter engine will easily move your car tens of feet forward. Just jam your car to gear one and release the clutch, then turn the key as you were starting the car. For automatics, switch to forced gear one and apply as aforementioned.
    • Unfortunately, almost all cars with automatic transmissions have a built-in "safety feature" that prevents the starter motor from engaging unless the shift lever is in Neutral or Park. Worse, more and more stick-shift cars these days have a similar safety feature that prevents the starter from engaging if the clutch pedal isn't pushed all the way to the floor.
  • When stuck in a rip tide, instead of struggling against the current you need to swim to the side to escape it.
  • When the Gimli Glider was making its emergency landing at the decommissioned runway in Gimli, Manitoba, the pilots were horrified to see two kids riding bikes on the runway, who, when they saw the plane, turned and tried to outrun a 767 coming in at 200+ knots. Fortunately they had enough of a head start, and the 767's collapsed front gear slowed the plane fast enough, that they actually made it. This was dramatically/hilariously depicted in the TV movie; the kid in question is clearly so terrified that he can't take the obvious step, but he eventually figures it out just in time and the plane whizzes by him.
  • Emus take this fallacy one step further: when approached by a car, they have a nasty habit of dashing in front of it for a few meters before crossing to the other side of the road. The roads in the Outback are littered with emu corpses, for good reason.
    • Sheep are apparently known for doing this too... but if you are running from something chasing you and you turn, you are at a disadvantage because the pursuer can cut the corner and catch up to you. They don't know that you are (probably) not actually chasing them and they would be perfectly safe going off in either direction, so it does make some sense if you look at from their point of view.
      • This is where the sheep game comes from; the farmer(mouse) should be providing the sheep food and shelter, but sheep are extremely nervous and run away.
    • Opossums do an even dumber variant. You know the term playing Possum? Well, trying to do that against a car makes them not just play dead.
      • Birds are even worse. They'll descend on roadkill and then try to challenge oncoming cars for it.
    • There is, in fact, a perfectly good evolutionary reason for this behavior in prey animals. Every time you turn off a straight path a predator following you can take a shorter path a catch you more quickly. Anything scary (like a car) triggers the same response, unfortunately cars drivers are pretty much the opposite of predators.
    • However, rabbits and hares are more Genre Savvy: they try to outrun a predator in a fairly straight line, but when it has closed in too much, make an instant turn of ninety degrees or more. Most predators will overshoot the turn, increasing the distance again.
      • Gazelles and the like do this as well,and for good reason, most of the predators they face are bigger than them, and can only chase in short bursts, and stopping in one direction and speeding up in another is more exhausting for bigger animals than smaller ones.
    • Averted by eastern gray squirrels, but badly. When presented with a threat, they run towards the nearest tree or the tree they came down from. They will do this even if it takes them into the path of danger more so than sitting still! I can't count the number of squirrels I've seen hit by cars because, after having successfully and safely crossed the road, the presence of a car frightened them into running in front of the car to get back to "safety".
  • Averted by default and taken advantage of in police chases - officers are taught that when the car in front of them goes around a turn they'll slow down, and this can be good time to ram the car. Many police cars have reinforced bumpers for this purpose.
  • Bullfighting is humans taking advantage of this trope vs. bulls. See Western Animation above for a fictional example.
    • A very specific variant is that, when being chased by an angry rhinoceros of any species, the best situation is not to try and outrun an animal with that kind of momentum, but to stand one's ground and quickly jump to the side at just the right moment. Of course, you still have a somewhat slim chance of survival any time an animal the size of a truck is angry at you- this is just slightly better. Though if your timing and reflexes are particularly bad, you may be better off trying to run.
  • There are a lot of videos of cows, moose and camels getting run over by trains as they try and outrun the bloody thing on the track.
  • Another animal aversion is the armadillo, for their reaction is to jump straight up in the air, which works pretty good against a lunging threat such as a snake or such. Unfortunately, they use this strategy around cars too, they usually end up around bumper or grill level.
    • Another technique used by frightened armadillos is to grab tightly to the ground. That way the predator can't get any leverage to flip you over and get at your soft undersides. Turtles, of course, do something similar by pulling their vulnerable parts into their shells. This can actually work, if the animal is between the car's tires it's probably low enough to pass safely beneath the car. Otherwise, it's not very effective.
  • It is worth noting that a lot of animals simply cannot comprehend the speed at which a car moves, or indeed, anything like a car's behavior. Millions of years of evolution have not prepared most animals for something that moves 60 miles per hour, but only on marked paths, and isn't actually interested in catching you.
    • Emphasis on the last part. Although inconvenient to us, an animal's car-dodging ability is of little importance next to its natural-prey-avoidance ability. Without many more roads and cars evolution may never grant this (then again there are those crows that crack nuts with cars, if that's even related).
  • Animal experts recommend that when one must run away from a hungry crocodilian, the best way to do so is by running in a zig-zag pattern, because while crocodilians can sprint really fast in a straight line, they can't turn on a dime.