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Black and Gray Morality

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"'Let me give you some advice, Captain,' he said, 'It may help you to make sense of the world. I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.'"
Lord Vetinari, Guards! Guards!
"When will you fools learn that there are no battles fought by heroes?"
Talpa, Ronin Warriors

It is often found in fictional media that the protagonist/antagonist conflict takes the form of the shining knight whose breath smells of flowers and has holy light shining from his every orifice versus the very fount of all evil who Eats Babies as a hobby, and Kicks Dogs as a profession.

In an effort to portray "realistic" conflicts, writers often introduce flaws in their heroes and redeeming qualities in their villains.

These can be deeply unsatisfying. Movie-goers want a hero to celebrate and a villain to vilify. But if both sides have flaws and redeeming qualities, how do they know which is which? How can a writer create such a satisfying world without making it all impossibly unrealistic?

It's simple: leave the job half-done. Only the white gets removed, leaving behind a world where the choice is between mundane corruption and baby-eating supervillainy. This is the essence of Black and Gray Morality; the only choices are between kinda evil and soul-crushingly evil.

Obviously, the heroes of such settings tend to be antiheroes In such a world, any characters who appear to be good in any way will eventually be revealed as a Knight Templar in disguise, a Dark Messiah inches from the edge, or a deeply flawed Anti-Hero. And if there are any genuinely good characters on the show, they'll either 'come around' to the The Dark Side, die horribly, remain a figure of perpetual mockery or, if very lucky, grow a protective shell of cynicism.

A good litmus test for this trope is as follows:

  1. Do the main characters do seriously reprehensible things to their opposite number?
  2. Are they still unquestionably painted as being "on the right side?" By virtue of the other side being worse? Whether the author is successful or not does not matter.

If so, you've got a classic case of Black and Gray Morality.

See also Shades of Conflict, Grey and Gray Morality, Black and White Morality, Evil Versus Evil, Crapsack World, Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. The inverse is But Not Too Evil. Contrast with White and Grey Morality, where everyone has some nobility to them, and the thematically similar Designated Hero, a much more parodied trope which features a protagonist that is selfish and cowardly as opposed to a bastard.

Also compare Nominal Hero, where a character on the side of good doesn't have any good intentions.

If there are 'true' heroes around along with the 'kinda bad' and 'very bad' characters described above, it's The Good, the Bad, and The Evil.

Examples of Black and Gray Morality include:


Anime and Manga Edit

  • Akira. You know something's screwed up when the members of a biker gang who take drugs, vandalise property and violently attack their enemies with no remorse are the main good guys. Still, this was a story about society, so Paladin types wouldn't really fit in very well.
  • Baccano, just about every character is criminal of some sort, ranging from petty thief/delinquent to Mafia assassin. The protagonists just happen to be nicer about it, usually with some sort of moral code.
    • Even Isaac and Miria, who are the most innocent and purehearted ones of the lot, are robbers wanted by the FBI.
  • In Berserk, apart from Puck and the Elves, you will be very hard pressed to find anyone genuinely good who's not doomed to a horrible fate.
  • Black Butler tends to fall into this, as while Ceil Phantomhive sometimes qualifies as evil and his predatory demon of a butler is always evil, they are able to look a lot better by taking down utter psychopaths in the name of the Queen.
    • The ambiguous morality is somewhat subverted in the anime, wherein Ciel is much more cynical and less sympathetic as a character than he is in the manga.
  • Black Lagoon. This show is basically a see-saw battle between evil and selfish mercenaries and insanely evil people like Hansel and Gretel who love to kill. While the Lagoon Company kills mostly really bad guys like Nazis, the worst people in this anime are so bloodthirsty they make Revy and Roberta look like Mother Theresa.
  • Many of the Shinigami from Bleach are not terribly nice people, and they have done some not terribly nice things, including the employment of psychotic killers and have looked the other way on at least one instance of genocide. So how are these people (eventually) on the same side as the heroes? Because they do it in order to keep the world from ending, and because the other team wants to eat your soul.
    • Tosen, on the other hand, got fed up and left, believing Aizen to be an anti-villain who would implement a place better than the "worst heaven ever" that currently exists.
    • Also, by Ichigo's talk with Uryu Ishida Post Aizen's defeat, months later, it doesn't seem like much has changed one way or the other, as Urahara is still exiled and Uryu remains under threat of being killed by Shinigami for fighting Hollows. Sure, the heroes won. But did they deserve it?! Actually, the only Shinigami Captains who are somewhat truly good in Soul Society are Retsu Unohana, Shunsui Kyoraku, and Jushiro Ukitake. The rest, however, is up for debate. And let us not talk about Genryusai Yamamoto, please. And even the above "good guys" stand by and watch/allow Soul Societies injustices.
      • After the initial Arrancar Invasion arc, the series seems to be slowly moving away from this, with Byakua Kuchiki being more willing to bend the rules, and captains like Soi Fon and Yamamoto showing softer sides during the Fake Karakura Town arc. Most importantly, Yamamoto went against tradition to get Ichigo's powers restored, which is even commented on in-story as something he never would have done in the past.
        • The Vandenreich arc fits in here somewhere. The Quincies are justified in wanting revenge on the shinigami, but their methods and intentional disruption with the balance cause them to be placed here. If it wasn't for the fact that they apparently didn't try to negotiate with the shinigami they would be still evil but not too evil. However the shinigami did attempt genocide albeit with noble intent and were thought to have pretty much succeeded until the Vandenreich appeared as that would have left only Uryu and Ryuken left. Again were it not for the threat they present/have presented to the world and their disregard of the damage their doing the conflict would fall more towards the Grey and Grey Morality side of things.
  • The main conflict of Code Geass, a battle between a Social Darwinist regime and a tortured young revolutionary fighting for a more peaceful world yet is willing to resort to any necessary means, is very much this initially.
  • D Gray Man is a bit of an odd case, as while the protagonist is unquestionably a good guy, the Church Militant he works for displays a terrifying lack of reservations about doing anything necessary to stop the Omnicidal Maniac they're up against. The more we learn about them, the worse the Black Order looks.
  • Pretty much everyone is Ax Crazy in Deadman Wonderland. Whether you're in the 'black' or the 'grey' bit is basically determined by whether you torture anyone. Or take away anesthetic. That's pretty much it. If you give someone painkillers, you're a good guy.
  • The authors of Death Note have declared that L (who sacrifices the life of a (death row) convict to get some clues, and only takes on cases if they interest him) is a little evil and Light (who kills thousands of criminals and a bunch of innocents in order to create a perfect world) is very evil. The cover of the first live action movie adaptation even has Light against a black backdrop and L against a gray one.
    • Soichiro, his wife, and his daughter are described by the creators as being the only totally good characters. The other task force members seem decent as well, even if Matsuda runs into some Not So Different issues.
  • Equation Of The Immortal has a kunoichi fighting against a drug-using cult with a literal Deal with the Devil. The fact that she's a ninja is not the bad thing (she only uses said lethal ninja skills on demons,) its her actual power and willingness/need to use it on any random guy that comes her way that puts her in the gray area.
  • Ghost in the Shell, following much the same vein as Akira. It's more evident in the Stand Alone Complex verse, although Innocence also features Batou mercilessly shooting down what looks to be an entire group of Yakuza simply for getting in his way.
    • The members of Section 9 rarely show any reservations about using theft, murder, blackmail, and invading peoples cybernetic brains, all outside of legal regulations. But they are mostly good people at heart and often save lots of innocent people from harm, while the antagonists can be found at any points on the scale of blackness.
  • Most UC Gundam series use this, wherein the heroes work for the lesser of two evils. For example, in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, the heroes fight for The Federation, which is run by greedy, elitist old men, while fighting Zeon, which is...well...Nazi Germany IN SPACE.
  • Gungrave is an excellent example of this, everyone (especially the heroes) are murderers, gangsters and criminals. Despite this, there are very few characters that aren't either innately likeable or worthy of great respect. Maria Asagi and her young daughter Mika are probably the only characters who qualify for "white" status.
  • Hellsing, where the protagonists include a viciously sociopathic super-vampire and the master who has to sanction his actions. On the other side you have Knight Templar Church Militants and a Nazi remnant organisation who employs baby-eating synthetic vampires, would-be rapists and have as a leader someone who wants to plunge the world into war and destruction For the Evulz. Seras is the only main character that might truly qualify for "white" status.
  • In Highschool of the Dead, a couple of the protagonists have already crossed the Moral Event Horizon in their own respective personal opinions, and it's stated by the protagonists at several points that they're all already prepared to cross a moral point of no return in the event that it's the only way to kill the zombies.
  • Though the main characters of Maiden Rose never do anything that crosses the Moral Event Horizon, being able to see their motives and redeeming qualities excuses them for quite a bit. We have yet to see more of the antagonists than that they're remorseless and wicked (and cool and sexy).
  • Samurai Champloo to a certain degree. Or maybe it's just Mugen.
    • Jin. He was a ronin[1] because Jin killed him in self-defense.
      • Actually, who isn't either a righteous bastard or a tragic figure in that anime?
  • Slayers. Lina thinks mostly in terms of how things can benefit her, and if that means the loss a few lives or a couple of villages wiped off the map, so be it. The others are mostly better about this – Amelia seems to make a conscious effort to think of Lina as being on the side of “justice,” Zelgadis forces himself to live with it, Gourry for the most part couldn't care less, Xellos is evil anyway, and the various other part-time members of the party tend to be against it or ignore it. The villains, on the other hand, are generally out to destroy the world.
    • Though Slayers TRY is a case of Gray and Grey Morality, especially because both sides are trying to save their own world.
    • NEXT also has a certain amount of this, since the Disc One Final Boss actually only wants to kill Lina to prevent his old boss from attempting to destroy the universe by forcing her to cast Giga Slave… Which is exactly what Lina does. Even the first season qualifies to an extent, as while the Big Bad is an evil sadist, he's operating under the mistaken impression that his plan's success would consist of him summoning and destroying a monster bent on the world's destruction, rather than being instantly possessed by it.


Comic Books Edit

  • Dark Age comics in general.
  • Likewise, Garth Ennis' bad guys are usually the epitome of pure psychotic evil, but morally speaking his good guys often aren't anything to write home about either, as they generally tend to be a bunch of murderous sociopaths themselves. His intense dislike of and tendency to savagely parody or mock any generally 'noble' or 'heroic' superhero or otherwise heroic character (although he does make some exceptions) doesn't help matters much.
    • Unless he's writing Superman.
    • In fact, most modern comic writers fall into this category. Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore just to name a few, often have morally ambigious protagonists.
  • 300, both the comic and film, have the Unreliable Narrator describing the Spartans as "the ultimate good guys"... who are just as insane and bloodthirsty as their Persian enemies, who are only worse for being a gigantic army bent on destroying and enslaving everyone on their path.
  • The Authority
  • The usual state of being in Fallen Angel's. On the "black" side is The Hierarchy, the people and demons who run the city of Bete Noire, where the book takes place. The "gray" comes from Liandra, a cynical, consistently tipsy fallen angel who serves as a court of last resort, and is willing to do anything, including torture, in order to fulfill her missions. Among her sometimes-allies are the city's major drug dealer, the snake from the Garden of Eden, and a man who may or may not be Hitler.
  • A very large portion of Judge Dredd stories fall into this. Dredd is a straight-up fascist protagonist, after all.
  • Lucifer is like this, but oddly, not The Sandman which was more Gray and Gray. The main character is, ya know, Satan, who is caught between The Legions of Hell and the angels of heaven, who soon turn out not to be very nice either.
    • Dream himself could probably count. At the start of the series, he's self-important, petty and vindictive; 10,000 years before, he sentenced a woman to Hell because she didn't love him any more. Yet we side with him because a) he does undergo Character Development as the series progresses, and b) he's not John Dee/Doctor Destiny.
  • The Punisher. Pick a version, any version. The Punisher is the kind of character who, when trying to explain why he's on a list of Superheroes rather than Villains, you have to use the word "Technically" a lot.
  • The Secret Six are a group of Anti-Heroes/Anti-Villains that has a tendency to fight other, more evil supervillains. Interestingly, their stories tend to more lighthearted than most superhero stories set in the DC Universe.
  • Generally a Signature Style of Frank Miller, especially in Sin City. All his heroes are fascists, sociopaths or both, but the villains they face are even worse.
  • Suicide Squad is pretty much the poster comic for this. It's about supervillains who have been captured and recruited into the U.S. government to go on most probably deadly missions for the good of America.
  • In V for Vendetta, the only real options are suffer under horrible fascists that are the only surviving piece of civilization, or rebel with a vicious killer for freedom before the collapse causes the apocalypse. The film made the rebel option better as there was never a nuclear holocaust (though a terrible pandemic substituted nicely and reduced the United States to a "leper colony"), so though V is still pretty crazy, he does have an ultimately admirable goal, and thus "less gray".
    • There's some hope in the comic too, but in a rather absolutist way -- V basically leaves the people of England a choice between taking responsibility and pulling together voluntarily, or starving.
    • Indeed, it is quite common for films to increase the contrast setting on morality. One reason may be that the goal of literature is more often to provoke reflection, while a film is intended to inspire. A full success on that score: V's comic book identity would have fit more among the cast of Watchmen, but if the film showed him that way, he would never have become a cultural icon of popular movements.
    • Also note in the film, the populace's will hasn't been thoroughly crushed under the fascist regime. They are still able to rise up against their leadership with proper inspiration.

Fanfic Edit

  • The New Earth Government from Aeon Natum Engel and Aeon Entelechy Evangelion is much, much more ruthless than its Cthulhu Tech counterpart, and the Migou have a very good reason for invading Earth.
  • Christian Humber Reloaded has this, although which side is black and which is gray depends on whether you're willing to accept the author's perspective that Vash is supposed to be a hero. One way of seeing it is that Vash is a highly ruthless yet effective Type V Anti-Hero who fights against villains who are arguably more consistently malicious, despite killing many innocent people himself. Alternatively, Vash is the Villain Protagonist, and his enemies are less of a threat than he is, if only because the story doesn' touch on their evil deeds.
  • Embers has Zuko, who admits he's 'no good at being good,' even in the original series and is willing to hang Aang out to dry, not to mention that he isn't going to even try to prevent a genocide of his own people because even he admits that they basically deserve it. Then there's Aang, who is well-intentioned but does a lot of stuff that should have killed him and his friends in the series: Hanlon's Razor is true because ignorance can do just as much damage, or more, as malice. The closest thing to an unambiguously good guy may be Kuei, who still ordered the Dai Li to set fires in civilian homes, traps in streets and so on as part of the Ba Sing Se resistance because this is war and he's the Earth King. In contrast to them, there's Azula, who deserves her own content warning, but still has nothing on the Big Bad and his allies, whose plans constitute a Zombie Apocalypse and horribly painful deaths in the works for anyone unlucky enough to survive the various genocidal wars they've stirred up over the millennia.
  • Exoria has the nation of Valent conducting a surprise invasion of both Hyrule and Gerudo. It is implied through the Exoria Files, however, that neither Hyrule nor Gerudo are exactly "white", though, and hints have been dropped insinauting that Valent may have a very good reason for launching a continent-wide invasion.
  • The Council vs. Ronan in Naruto Veangance Revelaitons. The latter is a Jerk Sue who hurts anyone who even looks at him wrong and outlaws everything he doesn't like. The former kills crowds of people in frustration over losing a Cooking Duel, after taking over Konoha, outlaws everything that Ronan favored, and is willing to destroy the entire world.
  • Thousand Shinji sees Shinji doing nasty things in defence of or as revenge for Wrongs done to his friends, but compared to what Gendo or the SEELE men have done he is much preferable. The Open Door mixes things up slightly more, as while New!Chaos are pretty damn dark grey by any objective standards, yet compared to canon!Chaos - or for that matter even the lightest grey of the canon!40k factions - they are practically saints. Of course, there are less grey factions around, and with the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha girls people around there are also "white" factions.


Eastern Animation Edit

  • The protagonists in Aachi and Ssipak are black market drug runners who don't care about the carnage around them and simply want to exploit a hooker for money. At least Ssipak is in love with her. Aachi just tends to be annoyed with having to save her life all the time. The villains are worse in that they are willing to kill and force the hooker into labor.


Film Edit

  • A number of comedies in the late '70s/early '80s (e.g., Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes) centered on a group of rakish loser protagonists aligned against cleaner-cut but authoritarian antagonists. The tagline for Caddyshack, for example, was "The Snobs Against the Slobs." While the viewer will almost certainly find himself rooting for the losers, these are not people you would trust around your kids.
  • The James Bond movies Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace explore this, with Mathis even giving a short speech about heroes and villains being indistinguishable in far too many cases, and many bits of the latter shed light on the extents to which governments and agencies have to go to in order to ensure their continued survival. Still, Le Chiffre, Greene and Quantum are all evil, no doubt about it.
  • Any film based on The Mafia, by necessity (this is the Mafia we're talking about, after all). This includes The Godfather series, Goodfellas, The Departed, etc.
  • Most Guy Ritchie crime films, especially as even the main characters/protagonists tend to also be crooks, usually matched up against other, worse ones. Not counting the mandatory Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains, lets look at some characters from several of Ritchie's works:
    • Snatch. The most sympathetic characters are Turkish, Tommy, and the Irish Traveller clan. Turkish and Tommy are shady characters in the London underworld who run unlicensed boxing matches, gambling houses, etc. Turkish in particular is a rather cutting Deadpan Snarker. The Travellers participate in the sale of fake gold and jewels, rip off their business partners in transactions, then intimidate them with force, and at one point consider killing Tommy over a misunderstanding. The least sympathetic character is Brick Top, who routinely kills off his mooks, brutalizes dogs and puts them into lethal dogfights, kills people and feeds them to pigs to dispose of the bodies, sets fire to the caravan of one of the gypsies, (burning her alive) and threatens to wipe out the rest of the clan if they don't cooperate with him.
    • Rock N Rolla. The most sympathetic characters are Archy, Johnny Quid and the Wild Bunch. Archy is The Dragon for an underworld boss who kills or beats people without hesitation. Johnny is a drug addled rock star who routinely steals from people, (and threatens them with a knife if they protest) hands out No Holds Barred Beatdowns to bouncers who try to stop from getting into clubs, (and keeps going long after they have stopped being able to resist) and constantly physically and verbally abuses the people around him. The Wild Bunch are a trio of career criminals. The least sympathetic character is Lenny, (Archy's boss and Johnny's step-father) an arrogant man, abusive father, Politically-Incorrect Villain, a crime boss who lowers victims into water to drown/be eaten alive by voracious crayfish, rips off the people who make deals with him so that he can get them in his debt, and has secretly given testimony that has put most of his men and partners into jail at one time or another in order to save himself from prosecution.
    • Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The main characters are a group of street hustlers, con men, and gamblers. There are two groups of least sympathetic characters: the underworld bosses that cheat them in a card game, and whose entire purpose for this is to get the father of the character that they cheated to sell his pub so they can buy it cheap, and a group of brutal crooks who steal from, torment, and shoot the pot head marijuana growers who trust them.
  • Anything made by Martin Scorsese when it involves the Mafia, the Irish Mafia, or any criminal element whatsoever.
  • Anything made by Quentin Tarantino.
    • Greatest example being Inglourious Basterds. One of the "good" guys is Bridget Von Hammersmark, a double agent working for the Allies who kills an unarmed and highly sympathetic German soldier in cold blood to stop her cover being blown (unfortunately it is anyway because she forgot she left an autographed napkin at the scene of the crime). Note that of the major characters in the film she has the least controversial blood on her hands. You know your film has a morally gray cast when a Jew-murdering Nazi and a Jew who beats Nazis to death with a baseball bat while quoting baseball celebrities are the Ensemble Darkhorses.
  • The Blade and Underworld franchises do this to get around the fact that vampires are Card Carrying Villains in Western fiction.
  • Blade Runner was certainly an example of this, though whose morality was black and whose was gray remains up for debate.
  • The hero of The Chaser is a dirty detective-turned-pimp who's less than friendly towards his women. He comes out better compared to the film's villain, a sadistic and misogynistic serial killer.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick -- Riddick is a sociopathic mass murderer with a knife fetish, but his opponents are nihilistic necrophiliacs that want to enslave and then murder the entire universe. Riddick doesn't want to save the universe, he just wants to kill the guys that killed the people he had claim on.
  • John Constantine, of the eponymous film (and the comic that inspired it), is a foul-mouthed, suicidal sonuvabitch. And he's one of the good guys. Not that Gabriel was much better.
  • District 9. You know it's bad when the "hero" of the film is a barely competent, racist, and selfish Obstructive Bureaucrat. The one white spot in the film is the alien Christopher, if his blog is anything to go by. You have to hand it to a guy who's been horribly oppressed by us for twenty years, yet still has some faith in humanity
    • No, District 9 is an example of Heel Face Turn (aka, redemption of the sinner), not of grey morality. It was quite clear that the character was unsympathetic at the beginning; he changed.
    • But everyone Wikus is up against once he's forced to take refuge with the Prawns (MNU - from which he left - and the Nigerian drugdealers) is worse.
  • The Element of Crime. A more than questionable Anti-Hero pursuing a child killer, (un)assisted by the worst police force ever in the crumbling ruins of dirt poor and morally corrupt post World War II Germany? If this isn't it, then…
  • The Elite Squad has BOPE, a special forces team which employs cruelty in both training and the police work, against drug dealers that even burn people alive. The villains of the sequel also count: corrupt cops, aiding and aided by corrupt politicians.
  • Escape 2000: the heroes are a pack of gang members and hoodlums, whose efforts to keep the Bronx safe for drug dealing and petty crime only come out looking heroic because the bad guys are killing people with flamethrowers more or less indiscriminately.
  • A staple of Film Noir.
  • The Villain Protagonists in The Final are a group of teen outcasts who torture and mutilate their school's popular kids as revenge for a lifetime of humiliation. As one can figure from the last sentence, neither side in the situation is all that nice. The only real "good" guy is Kurtis -- and even that's pushing it, seeing as how he kills Andy in cold blood.
  • The heisei era of Godzilla films occasionally border on this. Godzilla is, once more, a bad dude, but he's all that defends us from creatures like King Ghidorah, Space Godzilla, and Destoroyah, who are downright diabolical. Meanwhile, the minds in control of Mechagodzilla are extremely iffy, and Battra, Biollante, and Rodan are very very insane. Mothra is nice enough, but promptly dies to save us all.
    • Mothra didn't die in the Heisei series. It was in the Rebirth of Mothra series that she did the heroic sacrifice, which was part of a different continuity.
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as a result of its Deconstruction of the typical morality in Westerns. The eponymous three characters are: a Type IV Anti-Hero con artist, a merciless cold-blooded hit man, and an all-around cad, respectively. As a result its "good guy" is really only sympathetic compared to the bad guys he is going up against and because of the occasional Pet the Dog moments he has.
    • It is perhaps worth noting that there are a few very minor characters who seem to fill in the position of being truly good, although for one reason or another they often come off as Good Is Impotent. This is most notable with the Union prison commandant, who attempts to stop The Bad's torture of and stealing from the Confederate prisoners for no other reason than because those are truly horrific things to do. Unfortunately that commandant is effectively powerless within the prison camp, can barely walk due to a massive gangrene infection, and is slowly dying.
  • In the Loop is ostensibly about the backroom sausage-making behind a war in Iraq an unnamed Middle Eastern country, though the real focus is on epic language. Proponents of the war are depicted as clueless, cavalier bureaucrats with zero appreciation of the consequences of what they are doing. Meanwhile the opponents are shameless weasels mostly interested in milking it for political favors.
  • The Infernal Affairs films, spectacularly. Wong appears to be mostly White in the first film, but then you get hit by the prequel....
  • Killing Zoe takes place in a world best described as Tarantino meets Bret Easton Ellis. From the co-writer of Pulp Fiction and director of The Rules of Attraction.
  • The Mechanic is a good example with its Knight in Sour Armor existentialist assassins as protagonists, and the ones who they kill.
  • Narc follows the story of two detectives who are trying to solve the case of a cop who they believe is murdered in cold blood. Although some of the people they question and interrogate are bad people, the film often shows the corruption and willingness to break the rules of the two main characters.
  • Payback is all about an Anti-Villain getting revenge on even worse people for setting him up. This is done somewhat literally too, as the cinematography emphasizes dark colors, cloudy skies, etc.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean slowly turns white-as-snow Will and Elizabeth into lying, stealing, killing pirates, although all in the name of saving their skins from the undead and the corrupt. Jack Sparrow is a bullseye grey Anti-Hero who cares enough about freedom to free slaves (Backstory) and save his friends, but cares more about himself than anything. It seems to try to avert the trope by having the gray villains and harmless lackeys around. But then there's Beckett, the epitome of repressive order and the only person in the whole trilogy (except his Dragon, Mr. Mercer) you can properly hate, who kicks various dogs and doesn't stop for two movies.
  • The Professional. It's a hitman who relucts about giving shelter to a girl (who is not that pure either) versus a drugged and corrupt policeman willing to kill anyone.
  • The Proposition -- The protagonist is a notorious criminal who is forced to kill his psychopathic older brother in order to save his innocent, mentally handicapped younger brother. The younger brother is a rapist. The cops are basically thugs stuffed into uniforms, and even their well-meaning captain is a chauvinist and a bit of a racist, and his innocent wife is extremely naive and foolish. And as for the governor, well... The ending is bittersweet, which is as cheery as you're going to get with a screenplay by Nick Cave.
  • Star Wars is a clear example of Black and White Morality, but Revenge of the Sith alludes to Black and Gray by hinting that the Jedi Order were on the brink of falling to the Dark Side as they tried to take over the Coruscant court for themselves even though their intention was to eradicate the Sith Lord from ruling the galaxy.
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?? looks like a straight case of black-and-white, with bitter, angry former child star Jane Hudson intimidating her more popular, crippled sister and feeding her rats for dinner... until the end, where it is revealed that the accident which crippled Blanche was caused by Blanche herself as she was trying to kill Jane, and not by Jane in a drunken bender. Notably, Jane, the "villain," is blonde, and Blanche, whose name means "white," has black hair.
  • The Wild Bunch stars a gang of seasoned bandits, who routinely kill a not inconsiderable number of people in the course of a heist, and have no compunctions about using little old ladies as human shields. They look alright compared to the folks they go up against, though.

Literature Edit

  • Tadeusz Borowski's Holocaust stories feature the occasional good character, but they don't tend to live long in the atmosphere of the camps. The characters who do survive (at least for a while) are those who're willing to steal from others, to betray each other to the guards, to help in the execution of the Jewish inmates, and even to eat the corpses of their fellow prisoners so as to avoid starvation.
  • Many writings of Robert Sheckley.
  • In Andrew Vachss's Burke books, Burke and his True Companions are mostly ex-cons who skirt or break the law frequently. They cross paths with pedophiles and other Complete Monsters from time to time.
  • The Acts of Caine qualifies for this trope, if only due to what the protagonist must become to stop the antagonists, and how badly the "pure" heroes like Deliann and Pallas Ril manage to fuck things up.
  • Animorphs pitted six children against the Yeerk Empire, a expansionist and militaristic alien confederacy that occupies and enslaves Earth in secret. The main characters, all kids under the age of sixteen, are hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered, and are pushed to using ever-more desperate and morally reprehensible tactics against an enemy that grows stronger no matter what they do. By the end of the series, the kids are just as ruthless as the people they fight.
  • Best Served Cold. Way to go, Monza. You too, Orzo.
  • Played with and subverted in Glen Cook's The Chronicles of the Black Company. The soldiers work for an obvious Big Bad, and the rebels on the side of good turn out to be nasty little bastards. But every time it looks like the story's going down a familiar route, it ends up going somewhere even more interesting. In the end, the first book (The Black Company) ends up looking like a neutrally-portrayed reality while standard fantasy epics look like the propaganda put out after light's victory, and it gets more interesting from there.
    • The front-cover blurb for the first book reads, "Darkness wars with Darkness ... until the new Light breaks."
  • No trope describes A Clockwork Orange better than this one.
  • Conan the Barbarian, especially Robert E. Howard's original stories. The hero is a mercenary/pirate/bandit/professional thief albeit one with a code of honor. Most everyone else is worse.
  • In Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal, the OAS are far right terrorists. The eponymous Villain Protagonist is a consummate Professional Killer. However, the French Action Service are secret police-like, going to use Electric Torture on an OAS captive.
  • Martha Wells' Death of the Necromancer has Nicholas Valiarde, a coldblooded thief, murderer and all around Magnificent Bastard. Nic has spent years sabotaging his enemy on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge; at the start of the narrative, Nic's nearing the completion of his ultimate scheme when he and his subordinates run afoul of an unknown person using Black Magic. Somehow, this leads to the group spending the rest of the book fighting an insane mass murderer. And the reason they do it is at least partly because it's bad for business.
  • Discworld's Vetinari sees the world in these terms, although the books themselves have genuinely good people.
    • It's worth noting that after giving the page quote, Vetinari talks for about a page and a half about just how much Humans Are Bastards, at which point Vimes asks him how he manages to get up in the morning, which he answers with his usual calm, kind-of-cheerful manner.
    • Also worth noting that Vetinari rules his own city, which is the most efficient city on the Discworld and has people flocking to live there. Whether he's right or not, it works.
  • Both the novel and film Double Indemnity
  • Dragaera: Vladimir Taltos is pretty much a low-level mafia boss, with all the unpleasantness that implies. However, he tries to be benevolent to his underlings and the inhabitants of the area he runs, and his antagonists are usually those causing or planning something that will cause widespread suffering. After leaving the Jhereg, while he tries to help the downtrodden, he does so through rather brutal methods.
    • This also applies to Vlad's friends Aliera and Morrolan. Both are ruthless and quite selfish, but are nicer to humans/arguably less of a danger to Dragaera than their fellow nobles. Thus, in Dragon, Vlad sarcastically notes the irony of calling Morrolan's army in which he is a member the "good guys", since all they are doing is trying to take some artifacts of doom/empathetic weapons so that a somewhat worse noble can't have them. Similarly, the plot of the upcoming novel, Iorich involves Vlad trying to defend Aliera after she is arrested on a charge of using illegal magic (the same type her father used and accidentally destroyed the old capitol and killed everyone there). This isn't because Aliera is innocent. Rather, it's because so many nobles break this law, that there must be a conspiracy at play for Aliera to be arrested for something she does in essentially plain sight.
  • The civil war in Dread Empires Fall; The "good side" is a massive, tyrannical empire that bombs worlds if they don't join them, and torture is an encouraged form of punishment.
  • The Dresden Files often works in this area. On more than one occasion there was no "good" solution so Harry often has to make do with what he can. An example in White Night occurs when Harry offers criminal Anti-Villain Marcone even more power to both get his aid and offer Chicago more protection against the supernatural.
    • It's also Lampshaded in Turn Coat, when Harry dubs the clandestine group designed to combat the equally clandestine Black Council the "Gray Council." Oddly enough, they're probably less morally ambiguous than the stagnant, zealous, overly traditionalist leadership of the White Council.
  • Brian Herbert and Kevin J Anderson's much-maligned Dune prequels actually do a fairly decent job portraying the free humans in terms of Grey morality. The Machines and their cyborg servants on the other hand are pretty much Card Carrying Villains. Although some are treated with some sympathy (especially in the last two books where the authors get better at making some of them like Erasmus actual three-dimensional characters), they're basically a bunch of bloodthirsty enslaving bastards who perform Mengele-style medical experiments on humans, get thrills from torturing them, force them to slave away like the Jews in The Ten Commandments apparently just because it strokes off their egos (little else makes sense, given that they can build sapient robots and contented humans would be less likely to rebel), and respond to any defiance with horrific atrocities. It's especially grating because superhuman machine intellects that run on cold logic should logically be Magnificent Bastards or at least dispassionate Chessmaster types, not a bunch of gratuitously sadistic Obviously Evil loons (in fairness, it's justified by one of the human Titans having programmed Omnius with his own personality).
    • The original Dune itself is very black-and-gray too. The vast majority of the protagonists, including Paul, are not nice people and in many cases not good people either. And then there's Leto in the sequels...
  • The Executioner novels, which inspired The Punisher, has Mack Bolan, the eponymous "hero" of these books.
  • Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series is based on this principle, pushed to the point where you wonder at the end whether the protagonists were really the least evil, or if, perhaps, they weren't actually even worse than their antagonist.
  • Gone started out having Gray and Grey Morality, but, by Plague, has solidly veered into this. The heroes are still quite far from white, and the bad guys, after a year of enduring even worse Nightmare Fuel than the protagonists, are now growing increasingly sociopathic and kicking morality pets right and left.
  • Near the end of Good Omens, the forces of Heaven and Hell line up across the sky, and the narrator mentions that if you looked very closely, and had been specifically trained, you could tell the difference.
  • J. K. Rowling was very fond indeed of doing this with her characters in the Harry Potter series. Word of God says that there were concerted efforts made to remind the readers that Harry is a flawed person (see his Order of the Phoenix "wangsting", and is certainly no saint (his ready use of the Cruciatus curse on Amycus, and before then, Bellatrix). James (and specifically Sirius) are shown to have very good hearts overall, but could definitely be Jerkasses at times (Sirius and his treatment of Snape/Kreacher, his recklessness). Ron (who never went through what Harry did but accomplished more than most Hogwarts students could ever admit to) left Harry and Hermione in the woods. Dumbledore, of whom so many people "thought the sun shone from every orifice", made plans in his youth with another to take siege of the general Muggle population, during which time he neglected his remaining family. Paradoxically, Regulus turns out to have been not as Black as first painted- same for Snape, of course. Draco is a tricky one, who at first doesn't turn Harry in, but then later tries to capture him, accompanied by his old henchmen who, by now, are not just brainless brawns and are unafraid to kill.

 Sirius Black: The world is not divided into good people and Death Eaters.

  • By the final book, The Hunger Games devolves into this. On one hand you have the Capitol, who among oppressing the majority of their citizens in day-to-day life, force children to kill each other on television each year. On the other hand, the District 13 rebels are shown to be inclined to using drastic measures to attain "freedom," and by the end of the novel their leader is shown to be completely corrupt.
  • Common in the works of China Mieville. Kraken, for instance, has a Lovecraftian doomsday cult as one of the nicer factions.
  • The Tribulation Force versus the Global Community (and also God versus Satan) in the Left Behind books. Thing is, it's hard to determine which side is black and which side is grey.
  • The various races in Lord of the Rings could be this. Tolkien makes it pretty clear that any of the "good" races, even elves, are capable of evil. But you aren't likely to see a goblin or ork turning good any time soon.
  • Tom Holt's Paint Your Dragon does this to the story of Saint George and the Dragon. Both are absolute assholes, but the dragon seems a little more sympathetic...although considering he at one point annihilates an entire (occupied) theatre in an attempt to deal with George, this is more a statement on how unlikeable St. George is than anything else. The dragon's status as the Least Evil? character is cemented at the end, when the two end up switching forms and George's first action as a dragon is to kill the entire audience for their deathmatch in order to ensure that nobody with a rocket launcher is lurking in the stands).
  • R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy exemplifies this trope. The most important character in the series, Anasurimbor Kellhus (there are several protagonists, but Kellhus is really the central character of the trilogy), is a ruthless, brilliant manipulator, part of an order of ascetics who have spent nearly two thousand years in isolation breeding and training for intellect, rationality, and the ability to "read" other people by their actions, mannerisms, and faces, thus "possessing" them and turning them to their will. Over the course of the trilogy, he comes to be seen as a Prophet, and eventually dominates the entire Three Seas area that composes the main setting for the books (he also comes to believe that he really is a Prophet). That sounds pretty horrible, until you remember that the primary antagonists, the Consult, are a cabal of human and non-human sorcerers and generals (including the Inchoroi, an alien race that fell into Earwa thousands of years before the books' story and who are defined by cruelty and an utter obsession with slaking their lust) seeking to resurrect a being that causes all children of races with souls - namely, humans - to be stillborn, so that they can drive the number of ensoulled beings in the world down below a certain number in order to prevent the certainty of their facing damnation and hell-fire upon their deaths. So Yeah.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events, especially from book eight onwards.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: As the series goes on, the morality of the stories turns into this. The good guys are called the Vigilantes because they break the law in capturing a bad guy and inflicting a cruel and unusual punishment on hir. The good guys don't kill anybody, but since their punishments tend to be of the Fate Worse Than Death variety, that fact may not be very comforting. Also, the good guys have acted like big-time Jerkasses a number of times. That's okay, because the bad guys have virtually no redeeming qualities to speak of!
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Being a deconstruction of typical High Fantasy, there are no snow white heroes (with life expectancies longer than mayflies), only bad people fighting flawed people. Would be Grey and Gray Morality, except the Lannisters and loads and loads of people are real assholes or Complete Monsters, and worse, the Others, creatures from beyond the Wall which are impervious to most weapons and breed zombies, are in the process of returning after centuries. In fact, the character Sansa Stark exists pretty much just to hang lampshade how different this story is from other High Fantasy, often getting those around her killed as a result.
  • Trainspotting -- Almost all of the main characters are amoral drug addicts. The ones that aren't are either dead, going to be drug addicts in the near future, or berserker psychopaths. Or dead. Or are going to suffer because of the main characters.
    • And it's even more complicated than that. The book talks about how people who are going to be drug addicted are better before taking any drug: for instance, everyone says that the drug dealer was a nice man before taking heroin. It's more something like "white and gray morality."
  • When Heaven Fell, by William Barton. The protagonist—a mercenary working for the conquering extraterrestrial overlords—is not a nice guy by any means; nor are most of the people around him. However, they're sweethearts compared to what the alien overlords are fighting against...
  • Help the Gods who are often jerkasses and sometimes cause problems, or serve a Titan who devoured his own kids and uses humanity as a source of cheap amusement or as a snack.


Live Action TV Edit

  • The works of Joss Whedon
    • Both Buffy and Angel are somewhere between this trope and Black and White Morality in the sense that while the protagonists usually do the right thing when it's clear what the right thing is and their enemies clearly don't care about doing what's right, the protagonists also have some What the Hell, Hero? moments and are sometimes thrown into morally gray situations where even they don't agree with each other as to what's the right thing to do.
      • In particular, Angel wallows in Black and Grey Morality for its final two seasons. In the fourth season, the characters initially oppose what they perceive to be a Cosmic Horror intent on bringing about The End of the World as We Know It; later, it turns out to be a goddess (Jasmine) who would have ended all war, hunger and disease. Admittedly, she did eat people, and paradise would have come at the price of free will, but the heroes are somewhat in doubt they did the right thing after the evil law firm Wolfram and Hart ends up thanking them. In the fifth season they are actually running Wolfram and Hart; this comes with a lot of questioning whether or not they are doing more harm than good.
      • Also in Angel, Wesley, who has done some questionable things, is taunted by Lilah during his search for redemption.

 Wesley: There is a line, Lilah. Black and white. Good and evil.

Lilah: Funny thing about black and white: you mix it together and you get grey. And it doesn't matter how much white you try and put back in, you're never gonna get anything but grey.

  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes "This Year's Girl" and "Who Are You?" -- as well as the Angel episodes "Five by Five" and "Sanctuary" -- Faith, after having spent the last half of the last season on the side of evil, makes a genuine effort to redeem herself for her crimes. She does this after making a Xanatos Gambit by trying to kill Angel, punching out Cordelia, and torturing Wesley, all while struggling with the will to live. The Watcher's Concil, though, actively try to kill Faith, Buffy, and the cast of Angel, while leaving each other to die at times, and one of them takes joy in killing people.
    • Dollhouse. The show is all about a business that brainwashes people to act like other people and service the needs and wants of the business' clients (sometimes sex, sometimes other things). Most (but not all) of the brainwashed people "volunteered" for it, so YMMV on wheather or not this is wrong. The business sometimes uses the technology and brainwashed people for clearly good things (rescuing kidnapped people, trying to help an abused child grow up into a healthy adult etc.) and sometimes for clearly bad things (theft, ruining an innocent man's reputation etc.) In any case, they are never as bad as their enemies, which include The Ghost (a child molester) and Alpha (a sadist who carves up people's faces with a large knife For the Evulz).
    • Firefly and Serenity, the protagonists are thieves but usually non-violent except in self-defense; the main antagonist is a corrupt government that tortured an innocent little girl.
  • Battlestar Galactica skirts this, particularly during the middle of the series, but for the most part is Gray and Grey Morality instead.
    • Uh, no. When one side of the conflict starts out by killing fifty billion people for no reason, "gray" is pretty much out the window for them.
  • The old British Sci-fi show Blakes Seven is a classic example of this. The "Good Guys" start out on their way to prison, with only the main character being actually unjustly convicted (Or was he?), and proceed to fight against the even worse Federation by stealing things and blowing stuff up. They also tend to leave a swath of dead bodies in their wake.
  • Caprica is pretty much this. It plays with Gray and Grey Morality but so far the various players are a fundamentalist monotheistic terrorist group, a racist and corrupt gilded society, a ruthless crime syndicate "family," and a corporate CEO who's willing to enslave another race (albiet one he believes has no free will to begin with) in order to save his personal fortunes.
  • Chuck: The NSA and CIA and their agents are shown to be clearly on the right side, fighting to protect the country and its citizens (and often the world in general) from extremely evil terrorists and corrupt spies. However they are ready and willing to do some pretty nasty things, such as killing a completely innocent guy who happens to have all the government secrets in his head, or summarily executing an unarmed, defenseless, surrendering (albeit very dangerous and evil) enemy agent, for national security.
  • CSI: Miami has been guilty of this for years. The head of the lab, Horatio Caine, informed an unresisting pedophile that he was "resisting arrest," meaning he was about to get a serious beating. Horatio and his brother-in-law went to Brazil to kill the man responsible for his wife's murder. The instances of police brutality are too numerous to count, all excused by the idea that the victims are all bad guys and the 'good guys' needed information from them.
  • Dexter. The eponymous character is a serial killer. But, he only kills other killers, most of whom are even worse than him. (Likewise in the novels, as well as the serial killer in Bradley Denton's book "Blackburn," which is similar to Dexter (but earlier: 1993).
  • The Kaleds and Thals, as portrayed in the Doctor Who serial Genesis of the Daleks. They're even verging on black and black, given the Kaleds are A Nazi by Any Other Name and progenitors of the Daleks, and the barely less evil Thals are planning to wipe out the entire Kaled race with a "distronic" missile (strongly implied to be something like a nuclear weapon).
  • Farscape, by the end. The villains start a galaxy-wide war, so to fix it John Crichton decides to destroy the whole damn galaxy universe. And he's not bluffing. By the end of the series, the cumulative body count of the good guys is such that it probably counts as a natural disaster.
  • Heroes has most of the many characters with some sort of fatal flaw, but none of them fit this trope more than Bob Bishop. He is introduced at the start of season 2 as a reasonable man, directing a previously villainous company, and trying to steer the way forward to a brighter future for everyone. Although there are subtle hints as to his true motives, he appears to listen to Mohinders advice over the shanti virus. However in episode 9 it's revealed that Mohinder and viewers alike were a little wrong. It's made clear he experimented on his daughter leaving her as a psychopath. From then on, none of the characters trust him.
    • In the graphic novels we also find out he's a torturer and murderer. He was also directly involved in the plot to blow up New York city and apparently worked alongside Linderman during this time. He also was the one who had Candice save Sylar from Kirby Plaza.
  • Intelligence. The nicest character on the whole show runs a multi-million-dollar drug smuggling racket.
  • Mad Men. Due to the nature of the times, the men more so than the women. Most men tend to be lying cheating assholes, and the women either act this way too or they are screwed.
  • Merlin. The antagonists of the show tend to be DesignatedVillains in that their goals are not very evil at all, i.e. killing Uther. Uther executes anyone related to magic at all, even if they just let a magic user sleep in their house for the night, having committed a "Great Purge" of magic users before the series even started. He even killed children born of magical parents in fear that they inherited magical blood. However, the main villains, Morgana and Morgause do tend to be a bit extreme in their methods, but they are nothing compared to Uther. In fact, some times, they can be downright heroic, like when they put the castle to sleep to assinate Uther without sacrificing any innocent lives.
  • Oz has a few Complete Monsters among its prisoners, but even the most 'innocent' characters- Beecher, Cyril, Rebadow and Hill- are killers.
    • Tom Fontana did not want any of the prisoners to be innocent of the crime they were put into prison for.
    • The show has a few truly moral characters, like Father Mukada and Sister Peter Marie, and even some prisoners like Hamid Khan (put in jail for preventing a rape) and Father Meehan (in jail for hitting a cop in self defense during a protest), but they are very few and far between in a show with Loads and Loads of Characters.
  • Profit: However, the protagonist, Jim Profit, might be the character with the blackest take on morality.
  • Puppets Who Kill: Everyone is a Jerkass to some degree and deserves the horrible things that will inevitably happen to them.
  • The Shield, big time. Apart from, at the most, one character (Claudette), everyone in the show is either outright villainous or at least very shady. This includes the apparent "good guys". In fact, the most corrupt and immoral of the supposed "good guys" (as in the police) are the four man Strike Team, whom the protagonist leads and the show revolves around.
    • Don't you think that Dutch counts as good as well? The only morally dubious thing he did was strangle that cat and plant evidence, but he even took that back.
  • Sons of Anarchy. The title biker gang is mostly composed of Heroic Sociopaths (except for Tig (Psycho for Hire), Jax (Anti-Hero or Anti-Villain depending on ones viewpoint) and Opie (The Woobie). The cops are all hopelessly corrupt or psycho except for Hale, the Knight in Sour Armor and Stahl, the Knight Templar. And then there are the really nasty gangs.
  • As Supernatural is becoming more and more of a Crapsack World lately, it's only right that they should start to wallow in this too. Dean and John's deals with the devil are seen more as selfish suicides than Heroic Sacrifices, they now kill demons without any thought to the human host, John was a suicidally broken man who fucked up everything, Dean's annoying martyrdom, low self esteem and messed up death wish frustrates the hell out of Sam and Bobby and Sam's willing to destroy everyone and everything that might hurt Dean. After all this, you start to get the impression that becoming evil might look like a much better deal.
    • Listen to Castiel's speech to Dean about how every human is a work of art and thus all precious to God, and reconsider. When Uriel's disdain for humanity is answered by an icy cold "You're close to blasphemy," you can't say that Good doesn't exist or that it doesn't care. It's just very outnumbered right now.
  • The Thick of It and its film In the Loop both have this view on the morality of humanity and the political workplace. Here, no character is without his or her flaws, and are all varying degrees of moronic, cowardly, backstabbing, manipulative, or just generally unpleasant bastards in general, all more concerned with keeping their jobs than with doing the right thing.
  • Trailer Park Boys: The heroes are criminals, but the law is insane and the citizens are apathetic.
  • The British miniseries Ultraviolet. On one side is a cabal of vampires who plot to enslave humanity in order to save us from ourselves (thus eradicating their food supply). On the other is a shadowy government organization that answers to no one and follows a very end-justifies-the-means kind of program.
  • Anything involving Marlo Stanfield in The Wire, which eventually results into two mostly good cops faking murders in order to bring him down.

Mythology Edit

  • Norse Mythology is fittingly this. The head god Odin is demands human sacrifice, practices questionable magic, instigates wars, and is known to turn on his favorites in mid battle ensuring their deaths. However, all this is necessary to make sure he gets great warriors so his army is strong enough to keep the forces of evil from winning at Ragnarok so that a golden age can emerge afterwords. Oh, and he and his entire army don't get to see that golden age. All of his other gray features tend to be to either delay or prepare for that day.
  • Many world mythologies were at one time or another this. The gods may be jerks who screw around with mankind from time to time, but they were almost always far better than the alternative of monsters and demons.
  • Classical Mythology rules this tropes. In contrast to the above, the gods aren't even contrasted with anything particularly terrible, they're just generally dicks who happen to be in charge (Zeus, fittingly, epitomised this, being a violent rapist and Magnificent Bastard but also powerful enough to defeat all the other gods combined). Well, some were alright - but you never hear about them, because the Greeks generally considered any story that doesn't involve both sides of the conflict being colossal jerks to be one not worth telling.


Professional Wrestling Edit

  • Historically rare in the annals of sports-entertainment (except for some Values Dissonance, such as "all-American" wrestlers attacking communist Russian wrestlers from behind and getting cheered for it) until the "Attitude Era," which occurred roughly between 1995 and 2000. The trend was arguably kicked off by Shawn Michaels, who despite being a weaselly, self-centered, preening Jerkass, was so funny and charming as the leader of the D-Generation X faction that fans cheered for him anyway; it certainly helped that his greatest nemesis, the Canadian Bret Hart, was playing an Evil Foreigner at this time. But the Trope Codifier for the ages was undoubtedly Stone Cold Steve Austin, the very epitome of the rebel-as-people's-hero. Though Austin never truly reformed his bullying, obnoxious ways from when he was a heel, his courage and charisma won the respect of WWE fans far and wide.
  • Today, aftershocks of the Attitude Era can still be felt, albeit more in TNA than in WWE. Perhaps the best examples are "The Viper" Randy Orton, an outright Heroic Sociopath, and "Asshole" Mr. Anderson, basically a modern-day Stone Cold.


Tabletop Games Edit

  • Warhammer 40000 is nothing but this. Intentionally. Every time it looks like another race, usually the Tau or Eldar, is starting to look more sympathetic than the fascist (among other things) Imperium, they'll start pulling off new atrocities in the next edition. In most games, the scale starts at Knight in Shining Armour and ends up at Complete Monster. In 40K, about the best you can hope for is a Well-Intentioned Extremist or Knight Templar who won't kill you too painfully.
    • On a general scale, you can't find any faction that is good by our standards, but some sub-factions and characters, like several Space Marine chapters, a few Imperial Guard regiments, the occasional Craftworld Eldar protagonist, Ravenor and Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) or the Tau count as good. Unfortunately, they are far outnumbered by less moral groups, Bad Bosses, people who go too far for their cause, and the Dark Eldar, Necrons, Tyranids and the forces of Chaos.
    • It is saying something about the setting when the "good" faction, the Tau Empire have a "join us or die" plan of galactic conquest.
  • Warhammer Fantasy is almost as bad as Warhammer 40000. The main "good" races are arrogant elves, isolationist elves, power-hungry humans, grim feudalistic humans, Mayincatec lizards who practice human sacrifice, and dwarves that are all the same, only with fatalism and grudges against everyone under the sun. You get the occasional hero; you also get regular sociopaths. Fantasy does, however, have good people like Emperor Karl Franz, Prince Tyrion, Alith Anar, and Tsarina Katerin, so it's not nearly as dark as 40k.
  • Most of the gamelines in both incarnations of the World of Darkness present a system where the playable factions are some shade of Grey and are opposed by a faction who is Black. The majority of vampires vs Belial's Brood, the Pentacle Orders vs the Seers of the Throne, the regular Changelings vs Loyalists to the True Fae, and Prometheans vs Pandorans and (most) Centimani. The exception would be the werewolves, with the main factions being the Tribes of the Moon vs the Pure, who are both Gray. The Black faction in that gameline (the Bale Hounds, worshipers of the Maeljin Incarna) mostly sit on the sidelines. They are also one of the only things the other two can agree on fighting against.
    • In Genius: The Transgression, the Peerage deliberately chose to be Grey because if you have a Genius go off on his own he'll often become Illuminated, and if the choice is between accepting jerks or have them wander off and turn into Mengele, you'd better get used to putting up with jerks. The Storyteller is advised to keep the players wondering whether the Ancient Conspiracy Lemuria is really that bad compared to the barely human nutbars in high-up positions in the Peerage. (The "black" role here is played not so much by modern Lemuria, which is just going through the motions, but by Clockstoppers, the Illuminated, and the occasional Hollow Earth Nazi or Phantom Slaver Yeti.)
  • BattleTech does this a lot as well. The state usually tagged as the good guy, House Davion, was led for years by the Magnificent Bastard to end all Magnificent Bastards, Hanse Davion. A man who engineered a massively destructive war and faked the brutal cashiering and disgrace of the son of his best friend and intelligence adviser... all so he could gain revenge on one man. Yet this same state is (almost legitimately) the beacon of freedom and rights in the Inner Sphere.
    • Granted, the 'one man' he wanted revenge on was the leader of another Successor State, who very nearly managed to actually replace Hanse with a brainwashed doppelganger who'd have acted as his willing puppet. All events laid out in the (very early and thus possibly now somewhat obscure) BattleTech novel The Sword and the Dagger. Wars have historically been fought for less...
    • Or ComStar, who are shown to be a manipulative and secretive organization, that can easily bring a state to its knees just by shutting off all communications between planets, and which is not above intriguing to keep its own interests secure -- there are a few hints that the Succession Wars may well be a Xanatos Gambit by ComStar intended to preserve its own autonomy and power within the Inner Sphere. At the same time, it is the last holdout for many destroyed technologies that humanity would need to survive and thrive.
  • In Call of Cthulhu, the heroes are insane and the villains are even more insane.
  • Cthulhu Tech: A crossover between H.P. Lovecraft and Neon Genesis Evangelion was bound to be pretty hard on everybody -- an ongoing theme of the setting is how the horrible, soul-rending evils wage a tireless war to keep the really bad stuff at bay. To quote the Corebook's intro fiction: "Some people say war is hell. Well, I've seen Hell. This is worse."
    • Basically, the main factions are a police state, a number of secret societies (the Eldritch Society, the Children of Chaos, the Esoteric Order of Dagon), and the Rapine Storm (who are significantly more evil than they sound).
  • The Dungeons and Dragons campaign world Greyhawk lives for this trope. The world of Oerth is always on a knife's edge between Law and Chaos, and there is an organization led by Mordenkainen the Mage (who must people will recognize because his name appears on a few spells) that ensures that neither gains ascendancy... by any means necessary. Literally. Mordenkainen, in canon fiction (Word of Gygax, however, has it that this wasn't intended originally, had he not been ousted from TSR) will work with the Big Bad one week, and then lead a group of paladins against him the next... all to keep the balance between Law and Chaos correct.
    • So does Dark Sun. A Death World reduced to a scorched, mostly lifeless desert of rocks and dust (the ocean has been renamed the Sea of Silt... take a wild guess why they call it that), where there isn't one creature (or plant) that isn't dangerous in some way (a sandcrawler looks like an adorable, fluffy, foot-long black furry caterpillar... it uses its cutesy appearance to get close to people, waits until the poor fool falls asleep, then implants its parasitic larvae in their flesh), one of the facts emphasized is that people will do terrible things merely to survive. That this is a Justified Trope for the setting goes some way towards explaining why it's a Crapsack World.
    • The city of Neverwinter, which has its own campaign book as of 4th Edition. Sure, you have the standard Obviously Evil factions such as the Abolethic Sovereignty, Thay, the Ashmadai, and a criminal empire of wererats, but even the "good" factions don't come off particularly well. Lord Dagult Neverember is unquestionably helping the city recover after being ravaged by an erupting volcano, but he's a bit of a sleazeball and his reasons for devoting resources and money to the city aren't entirely altruistic. And the Sons of Alagondar, while certainly well-intentioned in their desire to see Neverwinter back in the hands of its people, are willing to murder, riot and hop into bed with the Dead Rats and Thay in order to see their goals achieved.
    • Forgotten Realms as a whole runs on this beneath the surface, at least according to Ed Greenwood. See here.
  • Though there are heroes in Eberron, they are few and far between. In the core Eberron setting book, there's only 1 high-level Good NPC, and she is a young girl who only has such power while in the same city as the Silver Flame (a metaphysical source of elemental good) itself. And that person is responsible for trying to make sure her church full of Knight Templars doesn't cause too much death and destruction.
  • Exalted, because they wanted any kind of Exalt to be an acceptable player character. Let's see: the Solars used to be the mind-raping fascist overlords of the First Age and were fond of creating and later destroying entire races, the Lunars tend towards the Social Darwinist end of the scale, the Dragon-Bloods are ruthlessly militaristic tyrants, the Sidereals are Manipulative Bastards, the Abyssals poison the world merely by existing, the Infernals have made deals with Eldritch Abominations to screw up the world as part of a frankly insane plan, and the Alchemicals are the propaganda face of a totalitarian state modelled on Nineteen Eighty-Four. These guys, even the Infernals, are the Grey. You don't want to know what the Black are like.
    • There is a slight distinction in between the Exalted splats that are the Grey when they play to type, and the ones that are the Grey when they play against type. For example, while its entirely possible to have an antiheroic Abyssal or Infernal, the default Abyssal is a loyal servant of the Neverborn seeking to bring Oblivion to all that is, and the factory standard Infernal (Depending on the Writer) is a loyal servant of the Yozis seeking to free their hellish masters plunge Creation into an eternity of ultimate pain. It's the rebels of those two splats that are the grey.
  • Typical for Kult, except when it's worse.
  • The Necessary Evil setting for the Savage Worlds game-line starts out with all the superheroes of the world getting killed by a precision strike by invading aliens. The only ones left to oppose them (the PCs and their allies) are the supervillains.
  • Morality is a very minor point in Shadowrun. Generally characters don't question whether it is right to take a job, they question how much they get paid. Though some groups draw the line at assassination.
  • Winterweir is an Anti-Traditional Fantasy RPG in many respects. As such, the Trow and humans killing each other are more likely to be decent people suffering Fantastic Racism than not.


Theater Edit

  • Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta is about a Jewish merchant who seeks vengeance against the corrupt government of Malta because they essentially stole all his property. We might feel sympathy for Barabas’ victims if it were not for the fact that most are Machiavellian opportunists, hypocrites, or complete monsters. The only purely good characters in the play are Barabas’ daughter and her fiancé. Things don’t end well for them.
  • The True Art Is Angsty approach was rather prevalent in early to mid-20th century opera, resulting in Type IV/V anti-heroes who are only sympathetic because they're in an extremely Crapsack World. Alban Berg's two operas (Wozzeck and Lulu) are as bleak as they come. Some of Benjamin Britten's operas also qualify, such as Peter Grimes.


Video Games Edit

  • Alpha Protocol. You work for a shady, accountability-free government agency that 'recruit' you by kidnapping you and are secretly collaborating with the Big Bad to escalate global politics for money. Your enemies include a Corrupt Corporate Executive, a Captain Ersatz of Osama Bin Laden, a psychopathic torturing gangster, and an ex-rogue agent who takes hostages and blows up museums because it's his job to do so. It speaks volumes that the only person who doesn't openly mislead, lie to or manipulate you is the game's Heroic Sociopath, who's only in it to hurt people you point him at.
  • The protagonists in the Assassin's Creed series are members of an ancient Assassin Order that routinely works with mercenaries, thieves and courtesans to kill their targets. Said targets are usually members or associates of the Templars, a shadowy group that counts nearly every prominent historical figure (from Cain to Pope Alexander VI to Adolf Hitler to Mahatma Gandhi) as members that have been secretly guiding humanity since the dawn of civilisation, with the ultimate goal of controlling the entire human race via the removal of free will. With only a handful of notable aversions, they're all Complete Monsters.
    • Then again, some of Abstergo files in Assassin's Creed Revelations seem to suggest the Templars took a bad turn even for their regular standards during Renaissance, as the Borgias and their allies were more interested in personal ambition and profit than creating a better world, and most of them were part of corrupt cleric and greedy aristocrats. The Templars from the Crusades were all, except for Majd Addin, interested in actually stopping the crusades and bringing peace to the Holy Land. Most of their amoral actions are based on the idea that there is no God or Afterlife, as the Pieces of Eden were instruments from an ancient civilization to create and manipulate mankind as a slave race, which they use as justification to create a better world, no matter how cruel they must be. Abstergo seems to follow this same line of thought, along with a hinted goal of evolving humanity to a stage similar to Those Who Came Before. It's safer to say they think they're Necessarily Evil and have good intentions, with just some of their members actually being Complete Monsters, since they don't hold many hiring moral standards.
  • This is the overall setup that was used in the sadly defunct MMORPG Auto Assault with the Humans, Mutants, and Biomeks. Each faction had reasons for wanting the other two dead, although the Humans may have been the biggest bastards of the bunch depending on how justified you think their desperate measures to protect their own existence were.
  • In Baldur's Gate 2, only two options are open to the player concerning allies who can help locate your kidnapped childhood friend: One option is to side with a guild of thieves. The other is to side with a guild of vampires. Vampire thieves. And just in case you were wondering: No, these are not thieves with a heart of gold. Inside their guild-hall you'll witness Training From Hell with actually lethal results, torture, and worse. Needless to say, this makes roleplaying a paladin in this game an extremely difficult task. This is driven home by the fact that Keldorn Firecam, a Paladin in his own right, will just flat-out leave your party forever should you pick the vampires over the Shadow Thieves. (Keldorn isn't happy about working with the Thieves either, but, fortunately, he's very pragmatic for a Lawful Good sort).
  • Blaz Blue features very few unambiguously good characters.
    • On the side of the villains, we have the Novis Orbus Librarium, (NOL, the "Library" for short), an oppressive, all-powerful organization ruled by the menacing, unseen Imperator. Although the institution itself is gray when it comes to morality (in fact, it's a neccessary case of Well-Intentioned Extremist), and there are good people in it, its enforcers include; Hazama/Yuuki Terumi, a Complete Monster Troll who has meticiously planned, manitulated others into, outright caused, or is in some other way related to almost every single bad thing that has happened in the Blaz Blue verse, all of it strictly For the Evulz. Then there's Relius Clover, another Complete Monster who transformed his innocent wife and daughter into weapons using alchemy. And finally, there's Jin Kisaragi, who's a total dick to everyone he meets and has Ax Crazy Yandere tendencies towards his brother, Ragna. (He does get better later on and ends up siding with the good guys., but he's still a dick, but at least he's not a total one anymore).
    • On the side of the heroes, we have the aforementioned Ragna the Bloodedge, a ruthless One-Man Army who's on a quest to take down the NOL and all its personell, Complete Monsters and Punch Clock Villains alike, by any means necessary. And not because of any greater, idealistic purposes, like peace or freedom, either, but simply because Hazama royally fucked up his life. Believe it or not, he's one of the less ambiguously heroic people in this game. Also on the supposed good side, we have Sector Seven, who are also opposed to the NOL, but only as far as 'We're not listening to you', and have kicked many dogs in whatever they do. Of particular note are the actions of Kokonoe, who is so crazed in her pursuit of revenge against Terumi, she is fully prepared to nuke Kagutsuchi should her plan to use Lambda as a vehicle for her revenge go awry. Also helping Ragna is the vampire Rachel Alucard and her butler Valkenhayn R. Hellsing. She had the best intention, but not only she is a bit lazy to take actions (she's not allowed to, but lately, she got better), she's just very haughty and full of disdains, and seemingly no better than Terumi in making nearly everyone pawns for her speed chess with Terumi. Valkenhayn used to be one of the world-saving Heroes, but his utter loyalty to Rachel made him look like a Yes-Man to her. To note: They're not exactly united greatly.
    • So, um, in that case how about Taking a Third Option? Maybe there's some unaligned people who can be accounted to be good. Well, first off there's the bounty hunter Carl Clover, who, deep down is a sweet boy, but thanks to Relius' (his father) atrocity, he has no qualms of murdering you while still acting polite if he wants any information from you. Hakumen is an unflappable Badass who is damn effective at leaving a trail of pain in his wake, and one of the few who can force Relius to bail from his mere presence... except he believes the only way to save the world from destruction is to mow down both Ragna and Terumi, and then go burn this world for he thinks it's been too corrupted and the only way is to restart the world anew, and he is not open to alternatives whatsoever. Moving on from that, there's Litchi Faye-Ling. She's motherly, caring and compassionate and at least cares for the normal townspeople. But then, this is a case where her Love Martyr-ism is cruelly manipulated by Hazama to the point that she's right now siding the NOL to save her 'beloved' and herself. Said 'beloved'? Arakune, your resident Eldritch Abomination who'll eat you if he finds you tasty. And what of his human self that Litchi loved? Lotte Carmine, a glory-seeker, fame-hunting scientist who's just in Sector Seven for his own glory, not helped with his inferiority complex against Kokonoe. There's also Makoto, who is roughly Litchi's equal in terms of Blaz Blue goodness. She's kind, friendly, caring and compassionate to pretty much everyone, but if you make the mistake of threatening her friends, she'll hunt you down and pound you into hamburger. Also, Chronic Backstabbing Disorder is game for her, if it'll lead to that. So yeah, I think your only hope for straight morally-white characters in this game are Taokaka and Bang Shishigami. They both have good hearts and goals, and they're not quite broken yet... wait, they're the designated Joke Characters of the series? Well, fuck.
  • The main plot of Book of Mages the Dark Times consists of a struggle between the White Robes and Black Robes. The Black Robes are exactly what you would expect; the best of them are either Punch Clock Villains or fitted with an Explosive Leash, while the willing members are tyrannical villains. The Great Mage is actually an Anti-Villain who wants to become a Retired Monster, but he's also guaranteed to die before the end game. The White Robes, however, are willing to commit some questionable deeds to accomplish their goals, including attempting to rig a mage tournament to prevent a Black Robe from taking the top spot, and while most of their members are fairly light grey, Flamier is only in it for personal power, and the White Robe PC can cause a Full-Circle Revolution and oppress the other mages every bit as thoroughly as the Black Robes' Great Mage did. Meanwhile, neutral mages generally don't care about morality one way or the other; they only care that the Great Mage is elected according to the rules, and whether the Great Mage is good or evil is irrelevant to them.
  • Borderlands. The four protagonists are all Only in It For the Money and more than a bit sociopathic (especially Mordecai and Brick). Their main allies are a greedy arms dealer who only helps them because they keep buying his WM Ds weapons, an overly eccentric mechanic who cares more about his combat cars than anything else, an utter bitch who also happens to be the only sane woman, a medic with a Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate who may or may not have an Evil Twin who is most definitely not just him in a disguise, and an elitist, egotistical Insufferable Genius with a questionable mental state. And yet, despite all this, they're still about 100 times better than the Bandits, Crimson Lance and Eridians.
  • The Soviet Campaign of Call of Duty: World At War consists of hoards of pissed off Russians smashing their way through Nazi Germany, brutally killing anyone that stands in their way. Granted, the Germans did the same to them, but the Soviet's payback gets so bad that one of your squadmates will frequently protest the slaughter.
    • The loading scene before the last level consists of Reznov reading a diary passage from said squadmate, after his death by a German flamethrower. If you have your character fully participate in the slaughter of the Germans, he will denounce the character. If you restrain yourself, he will praise you. If you do a mixture of both, he will simply paint you as a moral question mark.
  • The Tiberium series of Command and Conquer gives you a choice between playing several factions. One is the Brotherhood of Nod, a fanatical army of terrorists who have no problem with killing civilians, torturing prisoners, and conducting horrific experiments with Green Rocks on the same. The second, "grayer" faction is the Global Defense Initiative, which is selfish, corrupt, and bound by countless rivers of red tape, and is focused entirely on improving the wealth and life of its own population at the expense of the majority of the world, which is rapidly falling apart into worldwide civil strife and poverty. Later games introduce a third faction named the Scrin, who are homicidal Scary Dogmatic Aliens.
    • Command and Conquer Generals has this in spades. While the GLA are pretty much hypocritical assholes exploiting their "just cause," the "good guys" aren't entirely altruistic on their part either. The Americans can come across as obnoxious and self-righteous patriots, while China is not above using napalm-based or even nuclear weapons if it means securing victory.
  • Darksiders follows this to a tee. You are War, a horseman of the Apocalypse. The game opens with Heaven and Hell battling it out, with humans stuck in the middle, during a premature Apocalypse. You are later accused of starting it, and go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge to take them down, and find out who really started the war, allying yourself with a high-ranking servant of the Devil, as well as a benevolent "Old One" along the way.
  • Darkstalkers can tend towards this. Even most of the "good guys" are morally questionable... but the villains are incredibly nasty embodiments of pure malevolence. Oh, and the sweet, innocent-looking little blonde girl resembling Little Red Riding Hood? She's one of the latter.
  • Both Deus Ex, where basically one less evil conspiracy faction is fighting the more evil one, and its sequel, where everyone is somewhat ambiguous except for The Knights Templar extremists.
    • And said extremists are, well, basically Hitler.
  • Believe it or not, Mario's world was like this in his debut game. In the arcade Donkey Kong, Mario had captured the eponymous ape and wasn't very nice to him, leading to DK escaping and abducting Mario's girlfriend as revenge by proxy. Nintendo of America workers even named Mario after their landlord as a result of being mad at him, which backfired in a truly epic fashion.
  • The hero of Dragon Age: Origins is a member of the Grey Wardens, an order of warriors, rogues and mages dedicated to battling the darkspawn. The latter is a race of Always Chaotic Evil monsters who would destroy the entire world if given the chance. The Grey Wardens enlist anyone strong enough to battle the darkspawn, which can include street thugs, bandits, assassins and even blood mages. They can also forcibly conscript anyone they want into the order, which may be how you were chosen as a candidate. When you ask Alistair if the Grey Wardens are heroes, he tells you that the Grey Wardens do whatever is necessary to end the Blight, which can mean some pretty extreme things. You can be a total bastard in this game, but you will still be fighting to save the world.
    • Many of the quests in the game force you to make a Sadistic Choice, such as the ending of the Redcliffe castle quest. You have a choice between killing the Arl's son because he's possessed by a Demon or sacrificing the Arl's wife with Blood Magic (which is illegal) so you or another mage in your party can go into the Fade and destroy the Demon, leaving the child unharmed. And it's really not clear which of these options is worse. You can't win, as the morally correct characters disapprove either way.
      • Or, you could Take a Third Option and get help from the Circle of Mages, allowing you to destroy the demon without needing to sacrifice someone. And while the third option indeed seems to be the "best" way to solve the problem, technically it does involve leaving the Redcliffe villagers to fend for themselves at the mercy of the abomination that's been terrorizing them while you go off and solve the Circle's problems - a detail that seems to have been glossed over, especially since it's something that should have been available to justify your choice to Alistair, for example. This is, of course, assuming you didn't slaughter the Circle. Then you're stuck.
  • Like its predecessor, Dragon Age II also has very little "purely good" characters and choices. Which of the many sides of Kirkwall are Black and which are merely Gray is a bit up in the air, depending on one's interpretation--the Templars are on paper tasked with stopping mages who consort with demons from harming innocent people, in practice they believe that apparently any mage is only a moment's temptation away from throwing everything away and summoning demons to slaughter their neighbors and crack down harshly on any mage suspected of not toeing the line, hitting them with either death or Tranquility. Meanwhile the mages are visibly cracking under the strain of dealing with the Templars, many of them resorting to Blood Magic out of either desperation or building resentment and hate towards the Templars. The Chantry (i.e. the Church) tries to mediate between the two, in addition to the standardly churchly things of charity of various sorts--but this is undermined by the Templars being an actual branch of the Chantry, as well as the Chantry opposition to the Qunari living in Kirkwall. The Qunari, meanwhile, are terrifying fighters who sack the city pretty thoroughly halfway through the game...after suffering repeated insults such as rampant racism, ill treatment by the ruling class, and high-ranking Chantry elements torturing and murdering innocent Qunari for no other reason than being Qunari and refusal of anyone in charge to do anything about it--you know, things they cannot be reasonably expected to to take lying down. Then there's the elves, the rich/poor divide in the city--the short version is that in Dragon Age II, no one comes out smelling like roses.
  • The bread and butter of Drakengard. The protagonist is a bloodthirsty psychopath with a penchant for vengeance; your allies are a pedophile, an insane infertile child killer, and a dragon with an unbridled hatred for all of humanity; your former "friend" goes nuts with jealousy and grief; and the most innocent character, your sister, wants to jump your bones and because of this she kills herself after revealing that. This is all much less clear in the American version, where they greatly toned down these quirks, but they're still there... and to think, you're the ones trying to save the world. The rest of the world is trying to kill you. In the sequel Drakengard 2, this is much less so.
  • The Earth RTS series. The Eurasian Dynasty is The Empire, combining the worst aspects of Soviet Russia and the Mongolian Khanate. Against them in Earth 2140 are the UCS -- a group of lazy hedonists completely dependent on machines for labor. Sequel Earth 2150 introduces the Lunar Corporation, who start off as A Lighter Shade of Grey... but get worse fast due to actually having to participate in the war. By Earth 2160, they're confirmed to be working on chemical weapons.
  • The Elder Scrolls series, particularly Daggerfall. Daggerfall's king may have helped sell-out his own father to a power-hungry lord from Wayrest, Sentinel's king and queen killed their firstborn son (by burying him alive) because he A) was constantly ill, and B) preferred scholarly pursuits over swordcraft, and Wayrest...just Wayrest. Oh, yeah, there's a quest where you kill a kid to cure yourself of Lycanthropy.
  • Evil Islands, Zak falls into the Anti-Hero trope, and while the Khadaganian empire is undoubtedly evil, the Canian empire is not much better.
  • In both Fable games, you can be as evil as they come, and still be expected to defeat the Big Bad. Thus, making you the Black, and Jack/Lucien the Gray.
  • Fallout revels in this. Aside from the entirety of the game world's premise, every single organization or group of people in the game are either gray or black. For example, the Brotherhood of Steel works towards a better future for humanity by trying to save every single piece of technology and creating a utopia for its members, but is generally disdainful of, and ignores, other people not in the Brotherhood of Steel. In the third game, the East Coast branch becomes more humanist, but suffers a schism early on in their history that leaves them horribly ineffective at actually helping people aside from keeping a radio station on air, they also shot Ghouls on signt, something not even The Legion does.
    • In fact, some quests are there to hammer this point home, most notably the infamous Tenpenny Towers quest.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has this in spades.
    • The NCR is an expansionist, corrupt, overly bureaucratic state where citizens are taxed heavily.
    • Mr. House is an Insufferable Genius who has great plans for an independent New Vegas state, but one that is tightly controlled by him alone.
    • Caesar's Legion is a brutal but incredibly effective autocracy that brings true stability and security to its territories, but enforces slavery, views women as little more than breeding stock, traps its populace in Medieval Stasis and submits its enemies to horrific executions.
    • The Brotherhood of Steel are Lawful Stupid Jerkass technology gatherers who are known to rob and kill people to get their technology.
    • The Boomers are Proud Warrior Race Guys who will join up with anyone if it means bombing "savages," and by that they mean everyone who isn't a Boomer.
    • And then there's you, yes you, who can chose to turn the Mojave Wasteland into a new Wild West; completely independent and free, but everyone has to look out for themselves with no one but the person standing beside them to rely on. You do this by essentially burning every other group to the ground and letting the flames sort it all out.
  • Geneforge approaches into this after the well-intentioned, hopelessly naive Awakened are canonically exterminated in the second game, and falls headlong into it by game five. The funny thing, though, is that every faction except game two's Barzites has some people arguing (occasionally vehemently) that it's the grey to everyone else's black. In general, Astoria and Alwan have the most supporters, but even Taygen has been argued to be the lesser evil.
  • The God of War series, although really it's more of a Black and Even More Black Morality. The Greeks had a somewhat different definition of "hero" than we do.
  • The protagonists of Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City can only be said to be heroes in the sense that they fight against people who are even worse than they are. CJ, from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, on the other hand, has a few genuinely heroic motivations (getting the drug dealers out of his neighborhood, avenging his mother's death, keeping his family and friends safe from harm), but he's still a murdering, thieving gangbanger who blows up the Hoover Dam.
    • CJ murders the entire staff of a construction site and buries the foreman alive because someone whistled at his sister. And in an earlier mission, he breaks into a mansion and injures a rap star and all of his bodyguards, kidnapped the star's manager and trapped him in a car and ran it into the sea, all so his friend (who he doesn't even like) can steal his music or something. He's pretty vile.
  • Gears of War starts off like this and falls prey to It Got Worse. The humans are not portrayed as the nicest guys to start off with, and while Myrrah, the Locust queen, claims at the end of the first game that that the humans have actually done something incredibly horrible in the past -- something that, to the Locust, completely justifies their own war of extermination -- the Locust kidnapping of humans expressly for torturing them, as revealed in the second game, gives them absolutely no moral high ground to condemn humanity with. Moreover the COG forces have been intentionally and explicitly designed as Space Nazis. They even have their own medical concentration camps and they're perfectly willing to stunt the Locust advance by killing the vast majority of their own people with WMDs and preserve the human race by impregnating women against their will.
  • In the abandonware game Hidden Agenda, if you side with the right-wing professional army, they will run death squads and engage in massive brutality. If you side with the left-wing ex-gurellias, all they do is "merely" beat people up and harrass opponents.
  • The Homeworld series plays into this somewhat. By the time the player is controlling them, the Kushan seem to be the punching bag of the galaxy. As the backstory is revealed, however, it's shown the Hiigarans broke several treaties, attempted to conquer everything, attacked plenty unprovoked, and misused the Hyperspace Drive to attack large swaths of the galaxy. They could well have been a Big Bad in a prequel game. It's no real wonder they were smacked down like they were.
    • There's also one portion in the game where a captured enemy captain died under interrogation. This is no Starfleet Command we're working with.
  • Despite the series having a huge amount of humor, Kid Icarus: Uprising ends up falling in this category. You have the Underworld army that is clearly evil and then you have the forces of nature that want to destroy humanity for destroying nature, the auron army that take planets and make a civilization from them, and space pirates that are just looting treasure. They're all in the grey zone as they all have good reasons for causing harm. Angel Land and humans are also not immune as Palutena is shown to not be the nicest Goddess alive as Pit makes her out to be and Humans Are Bastards in this game. Pit is the only character in the entire game that is shown to be the morally good person (white) of the series with his Evil Twin (and even that is subverted near the end when he becomes almost as good as Pit). Dark Pit being the second given Pit's status as the Incorruptible Pure Pureness made him neutral at worse.
  • In Killer 7, the protagonists are a group of amoral assassins who do work for people manipulating the fates of entire countries. Killing one of their targets, Toru Fukushima apparently results in the entire population of Japan being massacred, and if you refuse, Japan becoming Big Brother to everyone else. The villains include a card-carrying terrorist. Dan's old mentor is a black-market organ dealer - and that's the face he doesn't conceal from the world. And then there's the fact that the protagonists are embodiment of good fighting against evil.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, you're going to kill Malak no matter what your moral persuasion. Carth even explicitly uses this to rationalize staying with you after finding out who you really are. Of course, the Jedi might also qualify for this, given that they might or might not have erased your memory and turned you into a drone so that they could use you to uncover the source of Malak's power. You can try to turn him, and if you do he'll repent as he lays dying. Even a character you had just previously turned back to the Light side will act surprised you even made the effort, though.
  • Legacy of Kain is the KING of this trope. Your hero is either a Heroic Sociopath or an Unwitting Pawn with a habit of screwing everything up. Your villain tends to be a corrupt Eldritch Abomination that would fit in well with H.P. Lovecraft's horrors and all of his minions. Even the Sarafan Brotherhood, a bunch of priests, were noted by Kain as being ignoble in the opening of Soul Reaver 2. The closest thing you get to something relatively good is Janos Audron.
    • To put that in context: Janos Auldron is the last of his kind because they began an unprovoked genocidal war at the command of their god, the aforementioned Eldritch Abomination. Since he was selected as the Reaver Guardian, made Vorador and the Hylden leader in Blood Omen 2 knew him (or at least of him) back then, he was no lowly conscript; he was probably one of the religious officials giving the orders to commit atrocities. The Ancient version of Moebius: Janos still believes in that same god. Then there's the fact he clearly doesn't give a damn about Vorador's victims & those of other vampires (the Sarafan's motivation), and the fact that even though he believes that vampirism is an unholy damnation, he had no problem doing it to a human. And he still comes across as relatively saintly and his death makes Raziel go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge because fanaticism and sociopathy are the norm in this universe and he's The Woobie.
      • It should be noted that neither Janos nor Moebius realized that the Elder God was just a hungry Eldritch Abomination. He even manages to fool Kain once. The Elder God is The Omniscient Magnificent Bastard, and pretty much made everyone his Unwitting Pawns till Raziel purified Kain and allowed him to see the Elder God. [[spoiler: Moebius himself is forced to see it, and is quite horrified. Janos even admits that to pass on the curse was horrible, but it was necessary to keep the Hylden at bay. Also, while Raziel's main motivation is vengeance, he comes as more sympathetic and troubled guy as the story goes by. He realizes he's an Unwitting Pawn to everyone, especially the guy who created and burned him, Kain, and in the end is willing to make a sacrifice of the same vein Kain wasn't willing to(sacrifice yourself to save the world), though in Kain's case, killing himself wouldn't have solved anything. The plot is complicated, so it's safe to say everyone's got their Freudian Excuse or has been fooled into being what they are.
      • And let's not forget the Hylden. When you hear their story, you surely pity and root for them. Problem is, after so many eons trapped in the Demon Realm, they've become as genocidal and monstrous as the Ancient Vampires and Sarafans. They engineered Ariel's murder and the Corruption of the Pillars, and it's hinted they would have done it again and succeeded if Kain had sacrificed himself in the first game. In Blood Omen 2, they are revealed to have created a massive bio-organic superweapon to kill every non-Hylden thing on Nosgoth. Plus, as they are secretly controlling the Sarafans, their rule is quite the inquisitorial, fascist one.
  • The Renegade playthrough of Mass Effect seems to take this light. While that's not to say there isn't a decent amount of grey in the Paragon playthrough, Shepard and his/her crew are, for the most part, pretty clear-cut good guys. In the Renegade playthrough on the other hand, Shepard is portrayed as a Well-Intentioned Extremist who will go to any lengths to stop Saren and, later, Sovereign. Though this can be justified by Saren being a Complete Monster, and Sovereign being an Omnicidal Maniac.
  • Lampshaded in Metal Gear Solid by Solid Snake saying "I'm no hero. Never was, never will be. I'm just an old killer hired to do some wetwork." The truth is, he's one of the least gung-ho heroes. Compared to him most action heroes are reckless bastards, but he actually feels guilty for all the mooks he killed and does not want other people to admire him for that.
  • During Modern Warfare, members of your party regularly engage in torture, one murders an unarmed man tied to a chair, and another holds an ally over a ledge with the full intent to drop him. By the next game, your party gets even more ruthless, at one point (implicitly) interrogating someone with electricity. When playing as an American going undercover, you're forced to gun down an entire airport full of civilians. However, you were playing directly into the Big Bad's hands with that one. By the end of the second act, Capt. Price, your team leader, launches a nuclear warhead at the United States, nullifying all technology on the East Coast. And by the end of the game, Soap, your character, and Price have become fugitives with only one intent in mind: kill the bastard who set them up, and fucked over world history in a big way. There is no question, however, that these men are infinitely more heroic than the people they fight.
  • No More Heroes. The name says it all. The game series is severely lacking in any truly moral characters, with the main character Travis being a loser and Anti-Hero who mostly kills simply under the the promise of getting sex with the beautiful young lady who arranges the fights and to get enough money to pay of his rent. And while he does have some morals keeping him at a rather light shade of grey, the other assassins he has to face range from Tragic Villains forced into the line of work due to circumstances, to complete psychopaths. Subverted at the end of the second game, though, when Travis vows to destroy the UAA after seeing how many lives it has destroyed.
  • In the Overlord series of games, you play a stereotypical Evil Overlord in a world where you face foes who are arguably worse due to their extreme cruelty and corruption while maintaining that they're the good ones. In Overlord II, you embark on a campaign to conquer a corrupt Romanesque empire which advertises itself as a beacon of civilization, yet is run by fat, morally bankrupt bureaucrats who practice slavery, execute all dissenters, and enjoy ethnic cleansing against any magical creature or suspected magic user. It's even worse when you discover that the emperor founded the empire with the support of the common folk by promising to destroy all magic (and following through on that promise) after he himself secretly caused a magical cataclysm which caused all the suffering of the common folk in the first place. Compared to that, everything you do in the game is positively heroic, even the destruction/enslavement of the all the "innocent" people, all of whom are nasty, selfish, racist and morally repugnant anyway. In fact as the Overlord, you are the only one who displays any virtue of goodness; at least you're honest about your intentions compared to everyone you end up facing.
  • Prototype doesn't really have any heroes. Correction, it really doesn't have any heroes. Take your pick: zombie mutants controlled by a psychotic girl, soldiers who are more concerned with destroying evidence than protecting anybody, or a main character who is out for revenge, is a self-proclaimed terrorist, and has absolutely no qualms with tearing innocent people to shreds and eating their insides to heal? (He gets a conscience later on, but still.) Sure, there's the Marines who only want to save people and destroy the main character and zombie mutant side because they're eating people, Dr. Ragland and Dana Mercer, but it doesn't change the fact that the fate of the city lies in the hands of a man-eating mutant monstrosity.
  • In Risen, after the prologue, you must align with one of two factions to progress further. One is a group of fanatical, fascist Knight Templars, and the other is a clan of brutal, unscrupulous bandits.
  • Scarface the World Is Yours follows the original film in this. Sure, Tony is wiping out the gangs and the enemy gangsters all the way up to Sosa, who watchers of the film would have known was not a nice person, but he is still putting drugs on the streets of Miami.
  • In Shadow the Hedgehog, certain missions allow you only to align yourself with the Black Arms (Black) as your villain option or Doctor Eggman (Grey) as your hero option. Then of course, you can go neutral, killing everyone.
  • Skyrim is filled with Black and Grey Morality, along with Gray and Grey Morality and sometimes outright Evil Versus Evil. The Big Bad of the game is a soul-eating Omnicidal Maniac, and the Dragonborn can be a real bastard too; you can steal other people's things, rebuild the Dark Brotherhood to it's former glory, murder the Emperor, trap people's souls to power your weapons, and torture people, and your mentor Paarthurnax may or may not be a patient Starscream with a Meaningful Name. There's also the Civil War sidequest. One side is an iron-fisted but well-intentioned Vestigial Empire that goes around executing innocent people because there may be a slight possibility that they are members of a rebel group that fights them (read: your first encounter with this faction ends up with you almost getting a discount haircut, even though you're proven to be nothing more than an innocent bystander who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the commander in charge orders you to be killed anyway), and may or may not be happy to cozy up to a faction made up entirely of genocidal fascists. The other is a group of bull-headed racist rebels who are led by a guy who's either a revolutionary war hero, a Stupid Good freedom-fighter who doesn't fully grasp the consequences of his actions, or a power-hungry tyrant who seized power due to a Klingon Promotion. Their mutual opposition? A faction of genocidal Nazi High Elf supremacists who are plotting to Kill All Humans and destroy the world. Things have really gone to shit since Oblivion.
  • Sly Cooper leans in this direction, he robs the wicked and gives to himself as part of a family tradition that goes back thousands of years. Most of what's been stolen hasn't even spent but rather dumped in a vault because when it scmes down to it the Cooper Clan steals things purely to stroke their own egos.
  • Splinter Cell: Conviction seems to be headed this way.
  • In Stars!, Master of Orion, and many other 4X-style empire building games (whether space, sea, or land), it's generally assumed your race will kill millions of colonists belonging to other races. These are generally portrayed as innocent planetdwellers whose only crime is to be of a different race/faction as you, which makes most of the race leaders mass murderers. Subverted somewhat in the old space trading/combat game Warpath and Warpath 97 where you could (very slowly) convert even the most unfriendly planets through trade and diplomacy. It was still easier to nuke them from orbit, even if it wasn't the only way to be sure.
    • In spite of its happy Space Western trappings (although you always have a white hat and your opponents more dastardly headgear, even in multiplayer), Spaceward Ho! presents an especially chilling example when you think about it. In order to colonize an enemy planet, you destroy all enemy defences, melt them for scrap, kill the entire biosphere, and Terraform the planet to match your native ecosystem.
    • Averted in Master of Orion 2. Sure, you can genocide conquered colonists or even blow up their planet, but you also have the option of trying to assimilate them into your own empire. In fact, assimilation is actually the best option for telepathic or democratic races. You can also achieve victory by saving the galaxy from the Antarans, who are portrayed as evil to the core, while avoiding hostilities with anyone else.
    • Averted almost entirely in Master of Orion III. Once you conquer a world, you keep its population (at least what hasn't been killed by collateral damage or conscripted into the planetary militias). Ground units built there have the icon of their race, as well as their terrain advantages. The percentages of aliens against your own kind is displayed in the population screen.
    • In the 4X series Space Empires you can conquer enemy planets and live alongside the alien colonists you capture. You could even trade populations between different races as being able to breathe the atmosphere on a planet allows for more buildings. However, to get the maximum number of facilities only the race capable of breathing can be there. This means on occasion you may have millions of colonists who would otherwise have to live in domes to "relocate." You could bother to have a transport come and pick them up, but it's easier to just jettison them from the cargo. This is referred to as "Spacing." What's more you can "scrap" them and get 1 kiloton of organics per 1 million population, referred to as the "Soylent option," although it's not worth it really.
    • Played totally straight in Star Control. When the Alliance of Free Stars, the ostensible good guys, captures a Hierarchy mine or colony, they just bombard it to destruction from orbit. When the Syreen, one of the Alliance races, captures a Hierarchy colony, they first use mind control to recruit crew members from the civilian population, and then annihilate the rest from orbit. Oh, and don't forget that one member "race" of the Hierarchy, the Androsynth, are actually just human beings, but, because they were clones, they were enslaved by the rest of humanity. They joined the Hierarchy because the Alliance recruited humanity. And another Alliance race, the Shofixti, use suicide bombing as a standard tactic.
      • Arguably averted in the sequel. After the Alliance of Free Stars is defeated, its revealed that the Ur-Quan possess a Lost Superweapon and their genocidal brothers, the Kohr-Ah, want to put it to good use through galactic genocide... including the Ur-Quan's allies. By comparison, the least worst the player can do (while still being able to beat the game and not sacrifice anyone else) is cripple the fleet of two alien races, both of which are very hostile.
  • Supreme Commander falls squarely into this mindset-- the United Earth Federation, Cybran Nation, Aeon Illuminate, and Seraphim can and do make extremely good cases for why the other three are villains worthy only of annihilation. The Cybrans are the least-black of the factions, but it does basically boil down to what you view as the least evil: The Empire, La Résistance with a bad case of The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized and We ARE Struggling Together!, a Church Militant, or the local Scary Dogmatic Aliens.
  • If you ever play Tactics Ogre past the first chapter, then you'll see this trope in spades: everyone (including yourself, possibly) commits truly horrific atrocities, yet your home team still somehow ends up gray...
  • Total Annihilation is a galaxy spanning war-game about two factions that have ultimately desecrated and destroyed all of the principals they once fought for over an obsessive determination to totally annihilate their enemy.
  • Very present in the German RPG-Maker Game Vampires Dawn. The fact that you're playing a vampire should already give you a hint. While it is perfectly possible to play a noble kind of vampire who doesn't feed on humans or does worse to them, the technical leader of our Power Trio is not The Hero, but the Token Evil Teammate, who revels in being a vampire. Therefore, you will still be doing some morally questionable things, like killing the nation's King or sucking up souls for extra strength. In the second game, our heroes are engaged in a three-way battle with the Complete Monster Elras Mages and the heroic, but flawed Warrior Clan, and slaughter both indiscriminately.
  • In Warcraft III the factions ranged from genocidal (Undead) all the way to willing to let everyone die out of sheer prickishness (Night Elves). World of Warcraft turns around and averts this with Tirion Fordring. Despite the questlines in Northrend which appear to be arguing that good people must sometimes do bad things, the only man who keeps his hands clean melts the face off the Lich King every time they meet.
  • The Wario Land series, as well as Wario World and Wario Master of Disguise. Wario is usually saving the world by accident, with the intent of being as greedy as possible.
  • In typical RPG fashion, The Witcher allows you to side with one of two warring factions in the Vezima area. One the one side you have a racist order of human knights who wage a genocidal war against elves and dwarves, and on the other side you have a racist terrorist group of elves and dwarves who wage a genocidal war against humans. Fortunately you can Take a Third Option, which means siding with neither faction and becomming an enemy of both. While all 3 options are gray to some degree (neutrality ends with a huge kill count on both sides), the main enemy, Salamandra, has no redeeming qualities.
  • X3 Albion Prelude takes a dive towards this. One side is the technologically superior Terrans (Earth system) who are isolationist, paranoid, and deathly afraid of artificially intelligent ships, and the other side is the Argon Federation, the Lost Colony of Earth, who have no trouble with AI ships. Because the Terrans were moving their fleet around to investigate rumors of AI development, the Argon blow up the massive defense station / shipyard / factory / civilian station that is wrapped around Earth, killing tens of millions in an instant (and then the wreckage falls to Earth), then launching millions of AI ships in a quest to wipe out the entire Terran military.


Web Comics Edit

  • Pretty much everyone in Ansem Retort is either completely evil, or somewhat good but has something keeping them from being completely white. Case in point: Namine, who tries to be the moral voice of authority, but is part of Zexion's administration (which has no less than five sex scandals, at least one Namine arranged, and three murder scandals) and occasionally does drugs. She is also still dicking around with Sora's memory, further removing her from the moral high ground-- and ensuring that his moral high ground stays happily in Cloud Cuckoo Land, where it can't affect anyone else and is effectively neutralized. Anyone that could be considered 'white' usually ends up killed. Or, like Sora, incapacitated.
  • The main gist of Brawl in the Family's Ode to Minions. No matter how evil the villains or noble the intentions of the heroes, that doesn't change the fact that the heroes universally win by massacring the enemy army en masse- and those soldiers, while they may be working for evil, still had homes, families, and friends that they're taken away from.
  • The various groups in Cry Havoc are black and grey, the mercenaries kill for money with even the most moral of them shooting fallen enemies, while the deamons they battle are trying to escape their morality by slaying the mercenaries, the werewolves are also trying to survive, even if they destroy the human race in the process.
  • In Cwynhild's Loom both Cwynhild and Ezekiel Nightingale establish early on that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to advance their causes. While Cwynhild is the protagonist, she makes no qualms about killing people who are a threat to her.
  • Eight Bit Theater. The only good characters of the four or five heroes are an impossibly stupid dullard and a kind woman who is crippled by the fear of doing anything wrong. The other three are an Ax Crazy Omnicidal Maniac, a mentally disturbed Munchkin, and a ruthlessly selfish Magnificent Bastard. The king of the most powerful nation in the world is even more stupid than the aforementioned dullard, and may very well be mentally retarded. On the villains' side, we have a LARP-ing, emo vampire, an ex pirate captain who is also very stupid, a comically incompetent warlord (who's been very slowly getting better), a dark elf who is quite possibly the most stable and levelheaded of the entire cast, and a nigh-omnipotent Jerkass wizard who is actually the Future Badass self of the local Chew Toy. And it's all Played for Laughs.
    • Best demonstrated here, with what the Light Warriors planned to do once their mission was accomplished.
  • Girl Genius is an example, albeit not a perfect one as the core conflict that's driven the story so far, Agatha vs. Klaus, is Grey and Gray Morality. However, aside from Team Agatha, Team Klaus, and Othar, most of the factions that have gotten into the game are evil to a lesser or greater extent. And then there's the Other.
  • Looking for Group has elements of this. While Legaria is definitely portrayed as villainous, the heroes aren't very nice people themselves. Especially Richard.
  • The Baker Street Irregulars of Mayonaka Densha, while not consisting of bad people per se, aren't above killing their enemies or breaking into peoples homes in the name of justice. And the villain, Jack the Ripper for some odd reason seems averse to actually killing them. This is even lampshaded by Hatsune at one point.

  "You know, for the quote unqoute good guys we sure do...break into a lot of places"

  • Schlock Mercenary, certainly. There aren't a lot of well-paying jobs the "heroes" won't take, and those are generally due to personal grudges rather than morals. That said, they never come off as Villain Protagonists; in nearly every storyline, following the money either puts them on the most sympathetic side surrounded by state-sponsored ideologues, or they managed to find a way to fulfill their contract without doing anything too bad. Or, sometimes, finding some way to get hired by someone else to take out their bad boss at the same time. They consider those the best days.
  • Suicide for Hire. Nobody in this world is nice, and those that are die horribly. So, for that matter, do the ones that aren't.


Web Original Edit

  • This is one of the primary themes of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: The protagonist is the villain, who wants to Take Over the World so he can put an end to all of its pain and misery; the hero is the antagonist, who uses his powers to bully everyone into conforming to his notion of what a True Hero should be like; and the only truly good character gets killed.
  • The point-and-click RPG Echo Bazaar. Whatever path you take, you'll eventually end up housebreaking, spying for mysterious and unpleasant foreign powers, bullying families for protection money, or sending pickpockets to the gallows[2]. This is, of course, hugely entertaining.
  • In The Insane Quest, it quickly becomes apparent that the members of Smoosh are not so much heroes as they are bystanders caught in the middle of a petty fight between two selfish gods. While their enemy, Segami, destroys planets, harms innocents and causes mayhem to accomplish his goals, their leader, Nintendoki...destroys planets, harms innocents and causes mayhem to accomplish his goals. The only real thing that sets Smoosh apart from their enemies is the fact that they realize when Nintendoki is telling them to do something wrong.
  • Kickassia has a president just minding his business being overthrown by a crazy idiot who becomes a dictator - and the latter, who is the protagonist, ends up fighting his comrades, who aren't much honorable themselves and try to take over when they think the Critic's died from their beating.
  • The Curse Of Maraqua plot of Neopets has two groups of pirate armies crashing against each other. While Garin himself is not the nicest guy in Neopia, he helps defend the new city of Maraqua against the even worse Captain Scarblade.
  • The Nostalgia Chick's trailer plays this for laughs and describes the Dark Nella Saga as a battle between evil and "slightly less evil". (Dark Nella being evil and the Chick only being slightly less.)
  • In the Alternate History.Com timeline Reds!, the UASR is presented in a more positive light than most of the other governments of the time, but it is far from perfect. Amongst its abuses include the setting up of kangaroo courts and the execution of potentially innocent civilians (though nowhere near on the scale of Stalinist Russia).
  • The SCP Foundation is an organization that captures supernatural entities (terrible monsters and mere abnormal humans alike) and keeps them imprisoned, doing research on them. Also they use convicted felons (or innocents, in times of duress) to do the dangerous labours and conduct lethal experiments. The whole D-Class-Staff is killed and replaced every month or so. However, all this is just for security, to keep the unspeakable horrors they have captured inside their confinements.
  • In Strange Little Band the protagonists are thoroughly unpleasant people and almost seem like Villain Protagonists. Then you meet the Antagonists, and you realize who the "heroes" are.


Western Animation Edit

  • The Simpsons may be the most excellent example of this ever.
  • South Park, So. Freaking. Much.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants may be the best example in a children's cartoon. On one hand, you have:
    • A brutal, megalomaniacal tyrant (Plankton)
    • A horrific demonic phantom prone to Faustian deals (The Flying Dutchman)
    • Violent supervillains (Man Ray and the Dirty Bubble)
    • Soul-sucking obstructionist parasites (Karen and Squilliam)
    • And corrupt scumbags (the BBPD)
  • And on the other...
    • Well-meaning people with a laundry list of psychological issues making them prone to insane breakdowns (Spongebob and Sandy)
    • A clueless dope (Patrick)
    • An eternal Jekyll and Hyde flip-flopper (Mr. Krabs)
    • A bitter cynic (Squidward)
    • World-weary husks who have accepted their grim fate after decades of abuse (Mrs. Puff, Mermaidman and Barnacleboy)
    • And ordinary shmoes prone to some bouts of astounding jerkiness ( Pearl, Larry, Gary)
  • The second and third seasons of Total Drama have become this.
  • While the main cast of Transformers Animated seems to be mostly good, the overall Autobot/Decepticon conflict is frequently shown in this light: Ultra Magnus is OK with lying to the public if he thinks it will protect the peace, someone like Sentinel Prime is a a high ranking officer while Optimus is a space bridge repairman, and they won the great war by creating an Autobot as superweapon and making him deliberately unintelligent so he doesn't question his own destructive actions.
    • Much more prevalent in the third season, where Prime considers sending a near-death Sari into battle against said superweapon, among other things.
    • And even the main five aren't free from it. In "Where Is Thy Sting," the innocent, emotionally traumatised Wasp is pursued very aggressively by Bulkhead, who also accuses him of never being a good robot, when he's holding his best friend hostage. Yeah Bulkhead, that's real good hostage negotiations. Also, he starts to beat up the unconscious and helpless Bumblebee (thinking he's Wasp) right at the end.
    • And in a comic that comes free with the toy Jetfire/Jetstorm, Ultra Magnus is fine with running experiments on 'expendable' Autobots in order to create a flying Autobot. Literally he says, "Find me somebody expendable." Admittedly, in this case "expendable" seems to have been "twins who were caught in an explosion and would have died anyway."
    • Meanwhile the Decepticons are more than happy to manipulate potential allies and scrap them when they finish serving their purpose, and field test WMDs in populated civilian territories out of petty revenge.


Notes

  1. A samurai without a master
  2. And that's if you're nice.

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