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TV Tropes is a wiki that collects and expands descriptions and examples of various conventions and devices (tropes) found within creative works. Since its establishment in 2004, the site has shifted focus from covering only television and film tropes to covering those in other types of media such as literature, comics, video games, music, advertisements, and toys. The nature of the site as a provider of commentary on pop culture and fiction has attracted attention and criticism from several web personalities and blogs.
The content of the site was published as free content from April 2008. TV Tropes changed its license in July 2012 to allow only noncommercial distribution of its content while continuing to host the prior submissions under the new license.
TV Tropes was founded in 2004 by a programmer under the pseudonym "Fast Eddie", who described himself as having become interested in the conventions of genre fiction while studying at MIT in the 1970s and after browsing Internet forums in the 1990s. As of 2018, it is privately owned. The site publicly lists two owners besides Eddie.
Initially focused on the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, TV Tropes has since increased its scope to include television series, films, novels, plays, professional wrestling, video games, anime, manga, comic strips/books, fan fiction, and many other subjects, including Internet works such as Wikipedia (referred to in-wiki as "The Other Wiki"). It has also used its informal style to describe topics such as science, philosophy, politics, and history under its Useful Notes section. TV Tropes does not have notability standards for the works it covers.
The site includes entries on various series and tropes. An article on a work includes a brief summary of the work in question along with a list of associated tropes. Trope pages are the inverse of articles on works: after describing the trope itself, it lists the trope's appearances in various works of media. In this way the wiki is fully interconnected through the various connections made between works and their tropes.
For example, the trope "I Am Spartacus" is a specific type of scene that appears in multiple works. It refers to scenes where a character is shielded from identification by other characters who are also claiming to be that particular character. The trope name references a famous scene in the film Spartacus. This example is included, along with examples from South Park, Power Rangers in Space, the Talmud and even recent stories from real life. Not all examples of a trope may be cases where it is "played straight". They may also include cases where the trope is parodied, played with, inverted or even averted (i.e. avoided altogether in a context where it would be expected).
In addition to the tropes, most articles about a work also have a "Your Mileage May Vary" (YMMV) page with items that are deemed to be subjective. These items are not usually storytelling tropes, but audience reactions which have been defined and titled. For example, the page of the well known trope "jumping the shark," the moment at which a series experiences a sharp decline in quality as in the notorious story point in Happy Days, only contains a list of works that reference the phrase. TV Tropes does not apply the term to a show, that being a subjective opinion about the show, but cites uses of the phrase by the show ("in-universe"). Most articles also have various pages within them. For example, the article may have an "Awesome" page to describe crowning moments of awesome (i. e., a moment in a show or other fictional work that the majority of the readers or viewers regard as one of the high points); a "Fridge" page which describes examples of the tropes, "Fridge Logic" (issues of a given work's internal consistency that do not typically occur to one until later), as well as the related "Fridge Horror" and "Fridge Brilliance"; a "Laconic" page which describes an article/trope in a few short words; and more pages that focus on a particular aspect of an article/item.
Trope description pages are generally created through a standardized launching system, known as the "Trope Launch Pad" (TLP, formerly "You Know That Thing Where" [YKTTW]); site members, (referred to as "Tropers"), can draft a trope description and have the option of providing examples or suggesting refinements to other drafts before launch. While going through TLP is not necessary to launch a trope, it is strongly recommended in order to strengthen the trope as much as possible.
The site has created its own self-referencing meta-trope, known as "TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life". The trope warns that some readers may become jaded and cynical as an unanticipated side effect of reading TV Tropes, "[replacing] surprise almost entirely with recognition," referring to the inability to read books, watch films, etc. without identifying each trope as it occurs. Also mentioned is that many frequently-contributing community members self-describe themselves as addicted to the site. The community has dubbed the pattern of many tropers as taking a "Wiki Walk," starting an edit on an intended article, and subsequently following links from one page to the next for hours on end without intending to, pausing occasionally to add examples the troper notices to the listings or rework articles. In the process, this leads to the discovery of entirely new tropes to analyze, edit, and add examples to. This self-perpetuating cycle of behavior has become the subject of much lampooning for the community, with tongue-in-cheek references being made in the articles for tropes such as "Brainwashing," "Hive Mind," and Tome of Eldritch Lore (a book of cursed knowledge which infects the reader with obsessive madness).
Considerable redesign of some aspects of content organization occurred in 2008, such as the introduction of namespaces, while 2009 saw the arrival of other languages, German being the most developed. In 2011, TV Tropes branched out into video production, and launched Echo Chamber, a web series about a TV Tropes vlogger explaining and demonstrating tropes.
In an interview with TV Tropes co-founder Fast Eddie, Gawker Media's blog io9 described the tone of contributions to the site as "often light and funny". Cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling once described its style as a "wry fanfic analysis". Essayist Linda Börzsei described TV Tropes as a technological continuum of classical archetypal literary criticisms, capable of deconstructing recurring elements from creative works in an ironic fashion. Economist Robin Hanson, inspired by a scholarly analysis of Victorian literature, suggests TV Tropes offers a veritable treasure trove of information about fiction - a prime opportunity for research into its nature.
In October 2010, in what the site refers to as "The Google Incident," Google retired its AdSense revenue for affiliated advertising from the site because of its coverage of mature and sexual tropes and fan fiction. In response, TV Tropes changed its guidelines to restrict coverage of such topics. Feminist blog The Mary Sue criticized this decision, as it removed a classification of violent tropes that enhanced discourse about sexism in video games or rape tropes in young adult fantasy.ThinkProgress additionally condemned Google AdSense itself for "providing a financial disincentive to discuss" such topics. The site now separates NSFG articles (Not Safe for Google) from SFG articles (Safe for Google) in order to allow discussion of these kinds of tropes.
Regarding these and other concerns of re-licensing and advertising, a wiki called All The Tropes forked all the content from TV Tropes with the original CC-BY-SA license in late 2013. Authors of the fork attributed several actions of taking commercial rights over what is published on its website, censorship, and failing to comply with the original license to TV Tropes managers. Some editors raised concerns that keeping the content submitted with the previous copyleft license at TV Tropes is illegal, as the re-licensing had occurred without the permission of the editors and the original CC-BY-SA license did not allow its distribution under the new terms.