Why Would You Possibly Want to Take Over the World?

I’ve really been enjoying the HBO show Game of Thrones lately. It’s all swords and sorcery, political posturing and trickery, and an abundance of nudity. That pretty much covers everything I love.

However, there’s one key component of the show that I don’t quite understand: Almost every character is trying to be king of the world (or Westeros). Hence Game of Thrones. 

We see this motivation a lot in summer movies. In The Avengers, the main bad guy wants the world to bow to him. In fact, as Netflix reminded me when I added The Avengers to my queue a few minutes ago, the Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes version of The Avengers has the following plot: “Their impossible mission: thwart Sean Connery’s diabolical plan to bring the world to its knees by controlling global weather.”

Why are all of these people motivated by taking over the world? Don’t they know that once you get to the top, people are going to try to do everything they can to knock you from the throne? It puts the biggest possible target on their back.

I guess I just don’t buy it. People are motivated by plenty of things–money, influence, sex, fame, etc–but complete control of everything in the world? Sure, you could get all those things, but the job of running the world must be exhausting. And I’m sure it breeds the most extreme of paranoia.

So yeah, I don’t buy it. Whenever I see a character in a movie or a book who wants to take over the world, I lose my ability to suspend belief. Give me a real, human motivation and I’m all in. You’ll see that in my novel, which doesn’t exactly have bad guys, but it does have people who are willing to take less moral and ethical paths to get what they want than other characters.

What do you think? If  you had the option to be king of the world, would you take it?

15 thoughts on “Why Would You Possibly Want to Take Over the World?”

  1. Absolutely. Memphis sits just south of the New Madrid Fault, and I often declare my intent to take over as king when the big one hits. And the world will be a better place for it. A few things on my to do list…

    A W-2 will be required to buy alcohol.
    A license will be required to procreate.
    If you let someone into traffic and they do not wave, you will be allowed to bump them.
    You must be within a quarter mile of water to wear flip flops.
    Telling someone about last night’s dream without being asked will be a felony.
    Schools will not be allowed to teach that no two snowflakes are alike, as this is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

    • I thought you were just going to try to be the King of Memphis, not the king of the world?

      I’m particularly a fan of your mandate regarding telling someone about dreams you had last night.

  2. I think the things you listed as motivations that you understand–money, influence, sex, fame, free unlimited pizza and a world full of people to constantly make it for you–are the underlying reasons that people (and aliens) actually want to take over the world. In the minds of many, ruling the world translates to being able to have whatever you want. Sure, you’ll have a target on your back, but most people who are in a position to make a real run at taking over the world already have targets on their backs.

    In summation…unlimited free pizza? Heck yeah I’m taking over the world.

    • Trev–I appreciate that your motivations are so transparent. You’re entirely motivated by pizza. Reminds me a little bit of the Woody Harrelson character in Zombieland, who is almost entirely motivated by finding Twinkies in the post-apocalyptic world. It’s a simply motivation, but it makes more sense that a grand sweeping motivation like wanting to kill all the zombies. Rather, he wants to kill zombies who get in the way of him getting Twinkies.

  3. It’s possible that it’s just the motivation of “bad guys” in movies that I don’t understand. Like, look at Voldemort. He’s supposedly pure evil, right? He wants to let darkness plague the world or something like that. But why? What happens if he actually wins? If Voldemort had beaten Harry and all the other wizards and took over the world, would he just sit around being evil for the rest of his eternal life? I don’t buy it. Maybe he THINKS he wants that, but what does he really want?

    • They probably become perceived as “Bad Guys” BECAUSE they want to rule the world, and the story is being told by the someone they need something from to succeed (willingness to be ruled).
      I figure the desire to rule the world comes in Steps. Say I want to start a bakery. But I’m not that good a baker. Maybe I need better flour. But I can’t afford better flower. So I need to impose myself on some entity to get better flour at a reduced price (and Sam’s is closed). Well, now I’ve got a great local bakery, and I’m making money hand over fist compared to my local competitors. But there’s a guy in the next town who makes cannolis that taste like heaven. And he’s stealing your juice. You’ve got to find a way to undermined, whether by cutting him down, or making something better yourself. And on and on it goes until at four o’clock one morning, you finally conquer Kamchatka to achieve total world bakery domination. Your megalomania then turns to Deli meats, and suddenly you’re a super villain.

    • Forgive me for taking a relatively light-hearted discussion serious, but I’m going to defend the legitimacy of fiction where “bad guys” want to take over the world/let darkness plaque etc. I believe this character construct works because it rings true to readers who are even remotely familiar with human history/nature.

      Voldemort/Stalin/Charles Taylor/Robert Mugabe/Hitler/The Kim family etc. probably don’t have the primary objective of spreading darkness, but they do want to rule as many people as possible and in order to do that they unleash darkness/pain/suffering to reach their end goal of “ruling the world”. They don’t view it as darkness because they reap all the benefit and don’t care about those that suffer in the process. Stalin didn’t sit down and say “how do I starve as many Ukrainians as possible?” he said “Who is a threat to my rule, let’s destroy them.” So off goes the Red Army to induce millions of deaths via starvation. The Ukrainian peasant who has his harvest stolen and watches his family starve to death views the whole process as darkness sweeping the land, but Stalin just sees his rule cemented. So when you write a novel the protagonist views this as darkness and we the reader feel the weight of that, even if that isn’t exactly how the antagonist sees it.

      Now, I would quibble with the popular depiction of “bad guys” reveling in their dark/dank lairs. It probably would be more “realistic” if they sought to enjoy all the good things in life. E.g. Kim Jong Un drinks Bordeaux and eats caviar while children of political prisoners in his gulags are beaten to death for stealing a couple kernels of corn (citation: https://www.amazon.com/Escape-Camp-14-Remarkable-Odyssey/dp/0670023329)

      • My response was going to be quite different if you were talking about plaque. Too bad.

        Okay, so I did consider the various people who have tried to take over the world (let’s include Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Genghis Khan in that group). The reason I didn’t speak to that is that I don’t know their intentions or motivations. I guess what you’re saying is that once you start to get power, you want more power so that no one can take away your power. And thus the only way to have absolute power is to take over the world.

        I guess I just think that Voldemort would be really bored if he had won.

  4. I think taking over the world mission is a guy thing. I don’t remember any lady that wants to do that.

    And did anyone start singing in their mind the Pinky and The Brain theme after seeing that picture and continue as they read the post? I don’t think I’ll be getting that song out anytime soon.


  5. actually they are afraid of BEEING controlled by others (following early developmental
    traumas ; specially when their early care taker was experienced as a predator)

  6. You don’t understand how stress-free being the ruler of the world would be, after the time-consuming and labor-consuming task of eliminating all opposition is accomplished. According to the inscriptions on the Georgia Guidestones, only 500 million people will be left alive on the planet. Fewer “Useless Eaters” to feed and hassle with, and no elections. You get to hand select the survivors and their designated functions, all in service to you and your elite families and friends. If you want all your serfs to look different from the Mater Race, you get to choose them to be different in appearances to you, by selecting them by a different skin color. Breed them for strength, breed them any way you like. A satisfying feature of being of the ruling class, would be to deprive the population of all the creature comforts they enjoy today, such as air conditioning, freedom to travel, beef, that’s a big one. Healthy sources of protein, needed for optimum health. The only people privileged enough to live in houses, will be the elite, while all others live in individual apartments, no family units. I can go on and on, but the ruling class are stark-raving sociopaths! You want an answer, you got it, and it’s selfish as hell!


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