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Black and Gray Morality
When your bad guy is this bad, almost anyone can become a good guy.

"Let me give you some advice, Captain. 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!

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 Crapsack 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 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 protagonists regularly get away with ruthless or amoral actions?
  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.

As always, it is important to remember that Tropes Are Not Good. If this is mishandled, it can make the protagonist difficult to sympathize with and lead to Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.

For serious cases where both sides are so black there are no more shades of grey among them anymore, see Evil Versus Evil.

See also Shades of Conflict, Grey and Gray Morality, Black and White Morality, 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 Designated Hero, which is what happens when the story portrays a side as White when the audience see them as Gray (or Black).

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. Coming from the opposite side is A Lighter Shade of Black, where an Evil Versus Evil conflict is left with one mildly sympathetic side by not making them as unrelentingly evil as their opponents, while both are still plain evil.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • AKIRA. You know something's screwed up when the members of a biker gang who take drugs, vandalize property and violently attack their enemies with no remorse are the main good guys.
  • In Highschool of the Dead, the protagonists are Heroic Neutral on their very best of days, True or Chaotic Neutral on a good day, and Apathetic Citizens on a normal day. The Big Bad, on the other hand...
  • Everyone is violent and insane in Deadman Wonderland. Whether you're in the 'black' or the 'gray' bit is determined by whether you torture anyone. Or take away anesthetic. That's it. If you give someone painkillers, you're a good guy.
  • In Elfen Lied, we have a tragic mass-murderer, an overly aggressive hitman, and an excessively pragmatic executive up against a slew of mad scientists, psychopathic assassins, and sadistic children.
  • Ghost in the Shell
    • The members of Section 9 rarely show any reservations about using theft, murder, blackmail, and invading people's cybernetic brains, all outside of legal regulations. Although 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.
    • Zeta Gundam falls more into Black and White Morality, with the AEUG as a whole being more heroic than the Federation in the other UC series, and the Titans being just as bad as Zeon.
  • Apart from Puck and the Elves, you will be very hard pressed to find anyone who's genuinely good in Berserk who isn't doomed to a horrific fate. In fact, it borders on A Lighter Shade of Black, due to how crapsack the world is.
  • 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 good characters. The other task force members seem decent as well, even if Matsuda runs into some Not So Different issues.
  • The Hellsing manga and OVAs, where the protagonists include a viciously sociopathic super-vampire and the master who has to sanction his actions. However, other sides include Knight Templar Church Militants, and Nazi baby-eating synthetic vampires led by a Straw Nihilist Omnicidal Maniac who wants to plunge the world into war and destruction For the Evulz. However, like Berserk, the series has several moments of A Lighter Shade of Black.
    • The TV show goes the opposite route, seeming like a milder case of the trope...but plays it straight in the end.
  • Baccano! to some extent. 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.
  • Bleach will not pull any punches on making you second-guess who you're supposed to root for.
    • The Shinigami are not nice protagonists. The Spirit King is a reclusive mystery, isolated from society. His Praetorian Guard doesn't intervene unless events are apocalyptic. The Central 46 is arrogant, paranoid and prone to extreme acts of law enforcement, such as punishing victims of illegal Hollowfication - and anyone who tries to help them. The Gotei 13 overlooks the crimes of their R&D division because of its usefulness and includes sociopaths and criminals among its leadership. The main characters mentor is a Guile Hero who'll drop his own allies into life threatening danger for the greater good. After Ichigo exposes the Government Conspiracy as Aizen's machinations, it's stated that Soul Society is now changing for the better.
    • Arrancars are true evil and make Shinigami look saintly. Among their number are included a cannibal, an expert in psychological torture, a woman-beater, and a mass murderer. They liberally engage in torture, kidnapping, dismemberment, decapitation, friendly fire, Body Horror and implied threats of rape. Their hierarchy can change based on backstabbing and murder. Even the most sympathetic of the Arrancar condone and support all this just because they want friends.
    • Quincies are driven to use their powers to protect humanity from Hollows whom the Shinigami are failing. However, their Revenge Before Reason approach disrupts the chain of reincarnation and destroys the balance of souls between worlds, threatening the destruction of existence itself. Their arrogant refusal to accept the truth of their actions led to a war that lasted a thousand years with the Shinigami who themselves refuse to accept they need help. After a Shinigami progrom almost wiped them out, they toughened up their powers and attitude, shifting from a misguided Church Militant organisation to become xenophobic, hyper-militant imperialists. As with the Shinigami, there are protagonist Quincies.
  • Black Butler occasionally falls into this, although Ciel and his demon butler seem nicer than usual examples.
  • Slayers: All of the villains are more villainous than the heroes are heroic. The majority of the villains hail from an Always Chaotic Evil race of demons, with its members being unable to feel positive emotions, hence their goal is usually in line with destroying the world (or taking it over, in the case of Xellos and his mistress). The only villain who diverts away from this is Duclis, who is more out for revenge and retribution of his neglected and plague-stricken kingdom, albeit through destruction (even then, this is only in the anime).
    • As for the heroes, Lina only goes out of her way to help others if it suits her own needs (and will wipe out entire villages if need be), Gourry, while genuinely kind, is flighty and otherwise apathetic, and Zelgadis is much like Lina, along with the willingness to murder, occasionally gloats about his intelligence, and shuts out sympathy that the others occasionally show him. Amelia is probably the only "white" character, despite being good friends with the ones mentioned above.
    • Even their rotating allies are not free from this; Sylphiel is too shy to speak out for herself, Martina is a classic Rich Bitch who can't defend herself, Filia is a snobbish and bigoted priestess who stubbornly refuses to help others at times, and Pokota rushes headfirst into situations without thinking a lot.
    • While Slayers TRY (an anime season) initially sets Grey and Gray Morality between the Golden Dragons (of the main Slayers world) and the Shinzoku of the Black Orb - they both want to save their own worlds by destroying the other - it ultimately devolves into this, as while the Black Orb Shinzoku, while pragmatic, show sympathy to mortals, the Golden Dragons couldn't care less about them. Also, late in the season, one of their own (Filia) finds out that the Golden Dragons themselves slaughtered the entire race of the Big Bad, Valgaav.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Gungrave is a nice example of this, everyone (especially the heroes) are murderers, gangsters and criminals. Despite this, there are still a handful of characters that are 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.
  • 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.
  • The main conflict of Code Geass is a battle between a Social Darwinist regime and a narcissistic young revolutionary fighting for a more peaceful world, but is willing to resort to any necessary means.
  • Black Lagoon. This show is a see-saw battle between evil and selfish mercenaries and people like Hansel and Gretel who LOVE to kill, and also between this and Evil Versus Evil. The Lagoon members have no regard for human life and the only "white" character is a Useless Protagonist, but the villains are Sadists with high body counts.

    Comic Books 
  • Nemesis the Warlock, as with most of the 2000AD stable. Verging on Black And Black Morality. Big Bad Torquemada, leader of the human race (in the Nemesis universe, something like a cross between the heretic-burning mediaeval Catholic church turned Up to Eleven and the Nazis), is a psychotic genocidal religious fascist god-dictator pledged to exterminate all non-human life - but Nemesis himself, who's essentially Satan, has done things like openly lust for genocide right back at humanity and, at his worst, intentionally kill a school bus full of children. Afterwards, he doesn't even seem to understand why it was a bad thing to do. Meanwhile, Nemesis' uncle Baal has a hobby of vivisecting humans and performing Mengele-ish experiments on them and his son Thoth hates and wants to destroy everything, including his father. Nemesis' allies the ABC Warriors are also extremely morally shady, given they've conducted massacres and frequently display genocidal urges towards humanity as well.
  • 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.
  • Generally a Signature Style of Frank Miller. All his heroes are sociopaths to some degree (or if you're lucky, just fascists), but the villains they face are even worse. His All Star Batman series took this to such an extreme that whether or not it is parody is seriously debated.
  • 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.
  • The Authority are the world's only hope against some of the worst villains imaginable, the kind of bastards who love to create mass genocide just for kicks. The Authority members themselves are borderline sadistic towards evildoers, and sometimes "authoritarian" conquerors if they don't approve of a nation's government.
  • In V for Vendetta, the only real options are to suffer under a horribly fascist government that is 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 is "less gray".
    • There's some hope in the comic too, but in a rather absolutist way — V leaves the people of England a choice between taking responsibility and pulling together voluntarily, or starving.
    • 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.
  • Suicide Squad is 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.
  • The Secret Six are a group of Anti-Villains that have a tendency to fight other, more evil supervillains. Interestingly, their stories tend to more lighthearted than most superhero stories set in the DC Universe.
  • The Punisher. Especially Garth Ennis' version.
    • There are three generally accepted explanations (any of which may or may not be valid) as to why Frank Castle became The Punisher, none of them very flattering: 1) He was a good, honest family man, when one day his family was murdered by mobsters, which made him snap and become utterly obsessed with killing criminals; 2) He was obsessed with war and brutality from the beginning, used the Vietnam War as an outlet, then essentially sacrificed his family so he could wage his personal war forever; and 3) He let his family get killed because he was a terrible family man and didn't look out for their safety when they needed it, and he's punishing himself with his eternal war against crime, doomed to know only pain, terror, and misery for the rest of his life.
    • Yeah, he's generally the kind of character whom, when trying to explain why he's on a list of superheroes rather than villains, you'd have to use the word "technically" a lot.
  • Fallen Angel in some ways. 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 sometime-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.
  • Depending on the Writer, Judge Dredd. Some of Dredd's actions can be very questionable. And his enemies have included a genius Serial Killer, an apocalyptic President Evil, a warmongering Soviet military junta, a deranged head judge who wanted to execute the whole city, and an undead Omnicidal Maniac.
  • 300 has 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 horde bent on destroying and enslaving everyone on their path.
    • The comic starts out mostly like this: The Spartans are ruthless and have moments of cruelty, but treat each other with respect and are steadfast in the defense of their beloved homeland. Their biggest sin is killing envoys (which actually happened). Xerxes is unquestionably a sinister ruler, and although the Persian side isn't really shown to be evil, they are absolutely merciless in their conquest. By the end, the Spartan side is shown in a considerably better light, while the Persians have been reduced to faceless cannon fodder. The movie is much closer to Black and White Morality.
  • Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists was a clear example of this. The Villain Protagonist Lord Havok and his teammates are all portrayed as hellbent on taking over their planet, but they're each given sympathetic backgrounds and it's implied that life under their rule may be less dangerous in stark contrast to the way their world is when the story begins. In contrast, the so-called heroes of Angor (what America is referred to as) are all extremely unsympathetic and amoral, save for Blue Jay, who is the Token Good Teammate of the Meta Militia. Americommando is by far the worst, a boozing, womanizing drug addict who makes a deal with Monarch to get at the Extremists by allowing Monarch to destroy the home bases of the individual members of the Extremists, effectively murdering hundreds of innocent people.
  • In Harbinger, Flamingo and Torque are happy to mooch off of Peter's mind-control abilities in order to steal money and cars and stay in hotels for free. And Peter's pretty brutal to his enemies, either mind-wiping them or sentencing them to lives of torment and insanity if he's angry enough. The only really "white" member of the team is Zephyr.

    Fan Fic 
  • Axis Powers Hetalia fanfic Family Ties starts out seemingly Grey And Gray morality- most of the combatants don't want to be there, with the only really major offence being the sneak attack and consequent hijacking of Northern Ireland. It rapidly darkens however with Russia and China torturing Scotland into unresponsiveness, New Zealand being tortured through solitary confinement, whilst the 'good guys' torture Ukraine and start nuclear warefare
  • Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction Prison Island Break turns canon heroes into prison convicts, pitted against the Senior Corrections Officer Mephiles, and Mad Scientist Doctor Robotnik. The canon heroes have been turned into murderers, rapists, terrorists, and Mobsters. It even borders on A Lighter Shade of Black. Even if you consider a character like Silver a Woobie of sorts, he's still a first-degree murderer.
    • Mephiles is only maintained as the villain by being the only one so far to stomp over the Moral Event Horizon.
  • 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. There are less grey factions around, and with the TSAB and SG-1 around, there are also "white" factions.
  • In Equestria: A History Revealed, the supposed "good" Equinus Republic is a clear example of this, choosing to send their vocal critics to Tartarus, ignore the increasing monster raids, and reject the pleas of the starving population to instead focus on their upcoming Equestrian Games.
    • Of course, in-universe, it seems as though the narrator is the only one considers the Republic to be good, which then instead calls her own morality into question.
    • For some reason, the Republic abolished penalties for homicidal evisceration, taking only 10 minutes to reach that conclusion. Why they decided to do this, it's never revealed.
  • 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 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 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, and he isn't going to even try to prevent a genocide of his own people because even he admits that they 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.
  • The Uplifted series is the epitome of this trope in Mass Effect fanfics. Of the two protagonists one of them. Joachim Hoch, is a Waffen SS Officer who is not shy about his viewpoints, charming and kind on the one hand, and violent in the other. A classic Anti-Hero. His Quarian counterpart and eventual lover, Hanala Jarva, is manipulative, lying, and brutal. The Quarians ally with the Nazis, because they would make the best shock troops when the time comes to retake Rannoch. While it is true that the Quarians plot a coup against Hitler, their motives are again less than pure. The Allies? Not as bad as the Nazis, but they would turn on the Quarians the first chance they get. Somewhat justified given that the fic is set during World War II.
  • In some The Conversion Bureau fics, both sides are far from paragons of virtue. Who occupies the grey side and who occupies the black side depends on the writer. This is most visible in The Palladium Wings where the Humans are mostly a bunch of vicious Sky Pirates but Celestia is cruel, xenophobic, power-hungry, warmongering sociopath hellbent on genocide.
  • This trope basically comes with the Hunger Games territory, and Some Semblance of Meaning is no exception. Naturally, the story is full of examples of Children Forced To Kill. The only difference is that some (like the majority of the Careers... though even some of them have character depth) take great pleasure in shedding their opponents' blood, whereas others (Vale, Fen, even former Career Obsidian aren't so fond of the way that the Capitol is forcing them to kill their fellow human beings. (That doesn't mean that, if someone is trying to kill them, that they won't kill them first, though.)
  • In Ace Attorney fanfic Dirty Sympathy, Apollo and Klavier are good people but will go through any length possible to free each other from their abusers. Klavier frames his brother for murder he assisted in committing and would have killed Phoenix Wright if Shadi Enigmar hadn't tried beating Olga Orly. Apollo tries to manipulate Machi into killing Daryan, but manages to cover up Machi's murder of Romain LeTouse and pin the blame on Daryan. But Daryan is a Dirty Cop who has the police force in his backpocket and Kristoph is an Amoral Attorney and a Bad Boss with many connections who both threaten them with death and can get away with their murders.
  • Alexandra Quick runs on this about half the time (usually whenever John Manuelito is involved). The rest of the time it's Grey and Grey Morality.
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos pretty much runs on this. On one side you have a slaveholding, repressive, reactionary empire made up of The Legions of Hell - that nonetheless does many good things for its people. On another side you have not one, but two rebel groups who both suffer severe cases of The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized. And then there's the malevolent Eldritch Abomination, the utterly Ax-Crazy two-tailed android fox, and omnicidal Abusive Precursors to make things even worse. The only even remotely good figures are Sonic and friends, some of the Angel leaders, and Maledict (maybe).
  • Darth Vulcan is a Jerkass criminal who has made lives of the Ponyville residents a living hell. But he does a have a code of honor, and his other opponents, like Big Boss, Chrysalis, and Sombra make him into a saint. Averted with his conflict with the Mane 6. They do make mistakes in dealing with him, but they are trying to protect themselves and are in fact trying to save Vulcan from the power he is abusing.

    Eastern Animation 
  • 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.

  • Anything made by Quentin Tarantino.
    • Because most of the characters are merely amoral in Pulp Fiction, the only time this seems to kick in is when Butch (a boxer running for his life) and Marsellus (the gangster who wants him killed) end up in a pawnshop... and the owner locks them in his basement, calls his partner to rape one, and it's heavily implied both would be beaten and\or killed if Butch didn't manage to break free. Although Marsellus himself could also be seen as a shade of black (not literally), since he is an unrelenting crime boss whose only redeeming quality is sparing someone who saved his ass.
    • Django Unchained has an ice-cold former slave with the singular goal of rescuing his wife and getting revenge pitted against a highly sadistic slaver and his loyal colleagues. Dr. Schultz is the closest thing to A Lighter Shade Of Gray, but he is also a ruthless bounty hunter willing to do whatever it takes to get the bounty.
    • Reservoir Dogs is another example, with the exception of Orange everyone of import is a criminal, but Mr. White and Mr. Pink draw distinctions between themselves (who try to avoid killing people if at all possible, but will if they must) and Mr. Blonde (who goes on a senseless killing spree during the heist)
    • Inglourious Basterds (though it may seem downplayed, dealing with Nazis and whatnot). Nevertheless, the title characters do have their moments of excessive violence, perpetrating what would amount to war crimes against their enemies. The fact that the German soldiers themselves have a few Punch Clock Villains in the mix doesn't help matters either.
  • 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.
  • Goodfellas: Henry Hill is a proud gangster who never kills anyone and is sympathetic through most of the film, but his associates and enemies are nasty customers.
  • City of God.
  • 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 thugs stuffed into uniforms. And the governor's a Smug Snake Knight Templar. However, the captain and his foolish, but innocent wife are probably the closest things to "white" in the movie. And the ending is bittersweet, which is as cheery as you're going to get with a screenplay by Nick Cave.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick: Riddick is a mass murderer with a knife fetish, but his opponents are nihilistic necrophiliacs that want to convert and then murder the entire universe, child-killing junkie cowards with a badge, sadistic mercenaries who massacre entire panets to harvest the people as cyborgs and slaves, and bounty hunters who turn people into living statues for their own artistic amusement. Riddick doesn't want to save the universe, he just wants to kill the guys that killed the people he had claim on.
  • 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.
  • 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 Blade Trilogy and Underworld franchises do this to get around the fact that vampires are Card Carrying Villains in Western fiction.
    • In the Blade movies, the protagonist has little empathy for anyone's feelings, perfectly willing to use his own unsuspecting civilians as bait and kill punch clock villains begging for their lives. He does not kill without reasons though and is defending humanity from those that would use it as a source of cattle.
    • In the Underworld movies, vampires and werewolves are at war and the werewolves lean slightly closer to what most humans would call "decent" when A Father to His Men united them. Then that guy dies and the conflict degenerated into two rival take over the world conspiracies. The vampires had mentally unstable bad bosses, who were also partly why the werewolves looked slightly better. Once those were done away with, all things were equal, morally speaking.
  • Payback is all about an Anti-Villain getting revenge on even worse people for setting him up. The cinematography emphasizes dark colors, cloudy skies, etc.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Infernal Affairs films, spectacularly. Wong appears to be mostly White in the first film, but then you get hit by the prequel...
  • The Mechanic is a good example with its rather Jerkass assassins as protagonists, and the ones who they kill.
  • 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.
  • 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:
    • Lock, Stock & 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.
    • 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.
    • 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. Mickey, though, seems to be portrayed as a lighter shade of grey.
  • The Elite Squad has BOPE, a special forces team which employs cruelty in both training and the police work, against drug dealers that burn people alive. The villains of the sequel also count: murderous corrupt cops, aiding and aided by corrupt politicians.
  • 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 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 that's pushing it, seeing as how he kills Andy in cold blood.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars Episode III: 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.
    • The entire prequel trilogy was this, showing that despite what you were taught by the old trilogy the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order predating the Galactic Empire were not without their flaws. The senators of the Republic were influenced by lobbyists who worked for greedy mega corporations that due to their bribes could drive over the rules for their own profits' sake, and the petty political powerplays within the Republic made it incapable to solve crises like the invasion of Naboo. The Jedi Order had a lot of members who thought themselves self-importent, and some members weren't afraid to bend the rules or cheat to get what they wanted. And by the time of the Clone War, there was some distrust between the Republic and the Jedi Order so that both tried to use Anakin to spy on each other. On the other side, there were these said mega corporations that became unhappy with Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's acts to clean the Senate free from their lobbyist influence, and in response made their own political organization and tried to break off the Republic, leading to the Clone War. Turned out that both sides were being played by the Sith.
    • When the bad guys are using Mecha-Mooks and the good guys have an army of fourteen year old "generals" and ten year old cloned slave mooks, both molded into warriors since infancy, and discouraged from "attachments" to the people they're protecting, you know you're dealing with a mess.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Film Noir generally lives off of this type of morality. After all, it's not called "noir" for no reason.
  • In Lord of War, arms dealer Yuri Orlov himself is amoral and indifferent to the death he causes with his trade, but he is nowhere near as bad as his client Andre Baptiste, who is an insane dictator who murders people on a whim, allows his cannibalistic son free reign and engages in bloody civil wars. The staunchly heroic interpol agent Jack Valentine is pretty unambiguously good, so the movie doesn't necessarily imply that there is no white morality. It just suggests that the good guys aren't very effective. Or affable, comparatively.
  • By the end of The Prestige, both lead characters have innocent blood on their hands, whether due to obsession with revenge, or due to single-minded pursuit of their Greatest Magic Trick Ever.
  • At the end of Schindlers List, Oskar Schindler reminds the people he saved (and us, the audience) that now that the war is over, he'll be a wanted criminal for profiteering from slave labor. Early in the movie, we see that he's not a particularly good man. But he's willing to bankrupt himself and risk his life to protect his laborers from murderers.
  • The Good The Bad And The Ugly has hints of this, as a result of its deconstruction of the typical morality in Westerns. The eponymous three characters are: an antihero con artist, a merciless Professional Killer who is practically the personification of cold blooded ruthlessness, and an all-around cad, respectively. Its "good guy" is still fairly sympathetic though, but mostly because of his occasional Pet the Dog moments and the fact that he only messes with unsavory characters.
  • The Godfather series is also a milder case, with the highly sympathetic Corleone family pitted against their rivals.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (moreso in the sequels). Will and Elizabeth are slowly turned 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 (Back Story) and save his friends, but cares more about himself than anything. It tries 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.
  • In Dracula Untold, Vlad makes a deal with the Elder Vampire, who himself made a deal with a demon, for demonic power to save his people and and his gruesome past is told as having razed villages and impaled thousands in the past feeling nothing. He admits his monsterous past and is ashamed of it, but all of his evil deeds including becoming a vampire are to prevent something worse from happening. He does seem less gray than typical cases, though. Now Mehmed, on the other hand, plans to conquer all of Europe, force religious conversion, and demands a thousand boys including Dracula's son so they can be turned into soldiers.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion could be an Ur Example of this. On one side are Elves and Men, the assumed good guys, who are flawed, cocky, haughty, corrupt, petty, jealous and well capable of killing their own kin; on the other side is Morgoth, who is a pure evil. (And Ungoliant)
  • The fourth book of the Chronicles Of Nick has Ash state this outright. As an eleven thousand year old immortal he has seen quite a lot of good and bad, and basically tells Nick that everyone is capable of good and evil. The best you can hope for is to leave the earth a better place than you came into it.
  • 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. Can also cover the Andalite military, who are just as bad as the Yeerks, just in a different way.
  • 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.
  • The civil war in Dread Empire's 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 Executioner novels, which inspired The Punisher, has Mack Bolan, the eponymous "hero" of these books.
  • Many writings of Robert Sheckley.
  • No trope describes A Clockwork Orange better than this one.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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 people suck, 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 is that Vetinari, who is not known for casually misspeaking, says "there's a good man" about Vimes as Vimes exits after this speech.
    • Also 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.
  • 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 existence of some truly evil people like Gregor Clegane and Ramsay Bolton, and worse, the Others, creatures from beyond the Wall that are impervious to most weapons, breed zombies and are in the process of returning after centuries.
    • There are a few characters which can pretty much be classified as morally white. Davos Seaworth, Brienne of Tarth and Samwell Tarly are the main ones who come to mind, as well as Ned Stark, the series' first protagonist.
  • 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...
  • 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."
  • 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 a (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).
  • 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 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 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 II in the sequels...
  • In Dragaera, Vladimir Taltos is 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Draco is a tricky one, who at first doesn't turn Harry in, but later tries to capture him, accompanied by his old henchmen who, by now, are not just brainless brawns and are unafraid to kill. Hermione enchanted the D.A. list to give scarring acne to any member who betrayed them, even if the person had limited options. She also tricked Umbridge into going into the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night and getting attacked by centaurs.
    • And that's ignoring the Ministry of Magic — firmly on the gray side — which is generally darker than Harry and his friends, but still firmly better than the black of Voldemort.
  • Cataclysmic Horizons contains the Sodality of Gerosha, a band of superheroes many of whom are only possible because their parents were subjected to crimes against nature. They consist of a horny and insecure girl with centipede powers, an impulsive and aggressive woman with a stolen Powered Armor, a sleazy womanizer who can jump incredible heights, an angry and vindictive plant-man who is himself a victim of crimes against nature, a sociopathic Reality Warper, a Robin Hood archetype, and more. Together, they fight against Those Wacky Hebbleskins, who are essentially A Nazi by Any Other Name. Who have their own army of evil freaks, who are also only possible because their parents were victims of crimes against nature.
  • Martha Wells's 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.
  • 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, using Electric Torture on an OAS captive.
  • The various races in The Lord of the Rings could be this. Tolkien makes it pretty clear that any of the "good" races, even elves, are capable of evil. Goblin and orcs? Always Chaotic Evil.
  • 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 worse scum from time to time.
  • 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.
  • Common in the works of China Miéville. Kraken, for instance, has a Lovecraftian doomsday cult as one of the nicer factions.
  • By the final book, The Hunger Games devolves into this. On one hand you have the Capitol oppressing the majority of their citizens in day-to-day life, forcing 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.
  • 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 to eat the corpses of their fellow prisoners so as to avoid starvation.
  • Best Served Cold. Way to go, Monza. You too, Orzo.
  • 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.
  • The Tribulation Force versus the Global Community in the Left Behind books.
    • In one of the books, a minor side character calls the Trib Forcers on this. Another minor character turns out to be a con man, and the Tribbers reverse the con to screw him over. And just as the main characters (and, likely, the reader) are thinking "Yeah; he finally got what was coming to him" the first minor character says something like "He's been pretending to be saved, but he's not, so he's going to Hell, forever; that wasn't enough for you so you felt the need to cheat him out of a few thousand dollars too? You're supposed to be better than he is. I don't think I can work with you guys any more."
  • 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 hardships than the protagonists, are now growing increasingly sociopathic and kicking morality pets right and left.
  • 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!
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: 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.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events, especially from book eight onwards.
  • In the Indian novel The White Tiger, some people (like Balram and Mr. Ashok) have their Pet the Dog moments, but it's pretty clear everybody else kind of sucks.
  • The Adversary Cycle: In The Keep, it's Rasalom vs. Nazis. Guess who's worse. Also, the Otherness vs. the Ally in general. The Ally isn't evil for the sake of being evil, but it certainly does horrible things. However, Earth needs the Ally to win because the Otherness would be much, much worse.
  • In Zoo City Zizi December is a cynical ex drug addict who blames herself for her brothers death. Everyone else is as bad or worse, sometimes much worse.
  • In Tom Kratman's Caliphate, the Imperial States of America isn't exactly a shining "white hat", but as presented in the novel it's a better option than the Caliphates (particularly the one on which the novel is focused), who are very much of the "black hat" persuasion. The other nations that get any attention aren't much better than the ISA.
  • In The Leeshore by Robert Reed, the Alteretics are a faction of humanity that worship an artificial god. They get "conscripts" by capturing enemy soldiers, hooking up to "glass wires" which are used to make them fanatically devoted to the priests and the artificial god. Their first act was to start bombing every manufacturing center they could find in the Solar System, and population centers as well. When they fled the Solar System towards the tiny outpost on Leeshore, the first thing they did upon landing was to kill everyone they could find, to try and prevent the inhabitants from cutting loose their Space Elevator. The Asian Alliance that is chasing the Alteretics down use the same "wires" to control the emotions of their own soldiers by reinforcing certain emotions and thought patterns, at the cost of making them extremely bloodthirsty. The two protagonists are captured by the alliance are forced into assisting them in hunting the Alteretics.
  • The designated heroes of The Chronicles of Magravandias are not particularly heroic, something which they and the antagonists deconstruct over the course of the trilogy. In the end, it's not that the protagonists are good so much as the villains of the story are worse.
  • In William Gibson's Neuromancer, the main characters consist of a drug-addicted computer hacker that steals to make a living, and a female assassin with razor-blades in her fingernails that kills without much remorse. But this is compared to the antagonists, among them a sociopath that enjoys watching women being tortured as part of a weirdly sadistic betrayal fetish.
  • The impetus of The Mortal Instruments series is Valentine Morgenstern's belief that all Downworlders should be exterminated, despite Shadowhunter laws that protect him. Pretty evil right? Then you learn that despite these supposed protections, prejudice against Downworlders is pretty heavily ingrained into Shadowhunter culture. The issue is lampshaded several times throughout the series, but it comes to a head at the end of City of Heavenly Fire when the Clave begins passing legislature inhibiting the freedom of faeries, despite Magnus' warnings that it will only cause future problems. If that wasn't enough, they also begin discriminating against Shadowhunters with faerie blood, abandoning one who was kidnapped by faeries and risked his life to leak vital intelligence. The author herself says that was intended to make the readers realize that the Clave isn't just flawed and in need of a few tweaks, but crippled by its own prejudice.
  • Pretty much the entire planet of Riesel in Riesel Tales: Two Hunters. This is including the two main characters, who are bounty hunters and often do morally questionable things for money.
  • The heroes of The Leonard Regime have to resort to less-than-desirable means to fix everything. This most often includes killing anyone who gets in their way.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most iconic Villain Protagonists, but the people he's going up against are even worse.
  • In the Parker novels, Parker can and will kill with dispassion, but generally prefers a minimum of violence in his heists and won't kill somebody unless they're trying to kill him directly or indirectly. He also won't take more than his share from a heist unless he's been double-crossed or otherwise screwed over.
  • The Underland Chronicles, verging on Grey and Gray Morality before the systematic extermination of the nibblers. Even afterward individual rats on the Bane's side are portrayed in a sympathetic light.
  • The Daniel Faust series: Daniel's crew includes criminals, sorcerers, and a demon or two, but the monsters they go up against are even worse.
  • In Humane Tyranny certain members of the rebellion believe this to be a necessary evil and that in order to stop the government from killing innocent people, they must perform evil deeds that will damn their very souls. The main characters, though, wish to avoid this trope entirely and to do things the right way.
  • Chapter One of Shattered Continent:Caroline's Awakening features a team of mercenaries having a frank discussion about using fire or poison gas against an enemy structure that may or may not contain innocent captives. They're the protagonists. The opposing force is a bunch of half-undead, demon worshipping cultists and there are no hostages because the cultists ate them all already.

    Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • 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).
    • The time war seems to have been a case of this. The Daleks are as black as they've always been, but the Time Lords clearly did some horrible things as well, just about the only redeeming feature of the Doctor's species is that it contains good people. In fact, we eventually learn that the Doctor's actions to end the Time War (by removing both sides from the universe) weren't to stop the Daleks, but to stop the Time Lords.
    • Due to the show's heavy use of Obviously Evil - with very few villains having so much as good intentions or good points - most of the moral questioning in the show ends up concentrating on the Doctor's side. Sometimes, in order to stop Scary Dogmatic Aliens or Omnicidal Maniac Mad Scientists or even the odd Eldritch Abomination from destroying the planet, he has to do things that are morally reprehensible, and the moral tension comes from asking whether the Doctor's actions are justified. Whether or not they are Depends On The Writer - sometimes they definitely aren't (murdering hundreds of thousands of children in front of their mother in order to prevent the Earth being destroyed in "The Runaway Bride"), sometimes they definitely are (arranging for a murderer to be strangled to death by his own robot in "The Robots of Death"), sometimes it's a mixture (the genocide against the Silence in "Day of the Moon"), sometimes the show completely skips over the moral dimension (Brainwashing for the Greater Good in "The Savages") and sometimes the Doctor is set up to do an action of this kind but changes his mind because it's too horrible (refusing to commit genocide against the Daleks in "Genesis of the Daleks", and the Doctor's solution to the Time Lord genocide in "Day of the Doctor"). This is also a weird example in that the tone of the show is generally very idealistic and romantic, not a Crapsack World.
  • 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, sometimes they can be downright heroic, like when they put the castle to sleep to assassinate Uther without sacrificing any innocent lives.
  • 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.
  • The work 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 monster 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 plans 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.
    • 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.
    • 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).
  • As Supernatural becomes more and more of a Crapsack World, 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 later 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 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.
    • Fridge Logic tends to point out that the Winchesters being on the side of gray isn't something that developed over time: from episode one they've preferred destroying ghosts to helping them move on by resolving their unresolved issues, only using the latter method as a last resort when magical assassination has failed. Ghosts in the setting are literally normal, if disturbed human beings who just happen to be dead and frustrated about it.
    • Technically it's not that the setting is Black and Grey, it ranges from black to white, the main characters just aren't at either extreme. Castiel is something of a dark-horse favorite with the fandom partly because, for all his occasional mistakes, he is firmly on the side of doing what is right at all times, and is genuinely horrified when he realizes he's made a "bad" choice. So there is a White, it's just not always under the narrative focus and it's still fallible.
  • Farscape, hits this harder and harder as the series goes along. The protagonists are fugitives who—in the course of running from two evil governments that want them dead—rack up higher and higher body counts and destruction, blowing up bases, robbing banks, and vaporizing at least one planet. When at the end the villains finally start a galaxy-wide war, John Crichton decides to fix it by using a weapon that would destroy the galaxy if they don't surrender. He's not bluffing.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Orphan Black: Sarah and Felix are morally dubious characters at best - Sarah gets involved with the clones so that she can steal Beth's money. The clones are willing to get their hands dirty to survive. On the other hand, they're up against one conspiracy that performed illegal human cloning experiments and another of religious zealots who want to kill them.
  • Profit: However, the protagonist, Jim Profit, might be the character with the blackest take on morality.
  • The old British Sci-fi show Blake's 7 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Sons of Anarchy. The title biker gang is mostly composed of Sociopathic Heroes (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.
  • The Shield, big time. Apart from, at the most, one character (Claudette Wyms), 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.
    • Dutch Wagenbach, one of the very few non-corrupt cops, would hardly be considered completely good as well. The only morally dubious thing he did was strangle that cat and plant evidence, but he even took that back.
      • Dutch comes closer than most, but it is shown that he has an unhealthy fascination with serial killers... and maybe understands them a little too well, hinting that if he weren't catching them he might be one himself.
  • 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).
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) skirts this, particularly during the middle of the series, but for the most part is Gray and Grey Morality instead. (Though when characters get too sympathetic to the Cylons, someone will usually point out that the Cylon's opening move in the war was to kill fifty billion people with a surprise attack.)
  • Caprica is 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.
  • Anything involving Marlo Stanfield in The Wire, which eventually results into two mostly good cops faking murders in order to bring him down.
  • Oz has a few baddies 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 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 Loadsand Loadsof Characters.
  • Intelligence. The nicest character on the whole show runs a multi-million-dollar drug smuggling racket.
  • Puppets Who Kill: Everyone is a Jerkass to some degree and deserves the horrible things that will inevitably happen to them.
  • In Trailer Park Boys, the heroes are criminals, but the law is INSANE and the citizens are apathetic.
  • 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.
  • Breaking Bad was Grey and Gray Morality at first, but became this at the end of Season 2:
    • From the end of Season 2 to the end of Season 4, there was Walt vs. Gus: They were both vile individuals and Walt poisoned a kid to win the war, but Gus' ruthlessness in taking down the cartel made him slightly worse. One could still make the argument that by the end it had shifted to Evil Versus Evil.
    • In Season 5A, there was Walter versus the Cartel. Within Walt's new meth empire, there was also Mike and Jesse, principled anti-villains, fighting for control of the business with unrepentant sociopaths Walter and Todd.
    • Walt vs. Hank in the first half of Season 5B became this in the premiere episode, as Hank turned out to be as proud and vicious as Walt in his attempts to bring "Heisenberg" down.
    • The last 3 episodes pitted Walt against Jack's white supremacist gang.
  • Community. There's the study group who are often judgmental, self-righteous jerks, and then there's Chang, an insane psychotic attempted murderer, and Pierce, a racist, sexist, sociopathic bully whose prime goal in life is to make everyone's life a living hell.
  • Copper. The protagonists are prostitutes, cheaters, and murderers. Corky and Francis often go above the law and use unnecessarily violent means to get information. Elizabeth Haverford sends a child home to her abusive "father" without a second thought, and Chief Sullivan is corrupt, focusing on his own goals rather than fighting crime.
  • Being Human: Mitchell and Herrick were basically this every time they were fighting, but the final series kicks it up a notch. The only properly white character remaining is Alex. Hal is an Old One and when he reverts he makes Herrick look like an ineffectual wimp, and Tom has basically been turned into a weapon for destroying vampires by his adoptive father. When they start going at it, the only things making them seem like the 'good guys' is their friendship with Alex and the fact that their enemy is Satan himself, trapped in human form.
  • Equal Justice: Both sides in contentious cases make fair points in favor of their position, no matter who the jury (or the audience) ends up siding with.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Reconstructed. The show's primary focus is to deconstruct the utopian nature of the Federation by having Starfleet characters become increasingly morally ambiguous and presenting no side as being completely in the right. In "Waltz", the deranged Cardassian war criminal Gul Dukat tries to convince Benjamin Sisko that his actions during the occupation of Bajor were justified under the circumstances. He fails to convince Sisko, until Dukat eventually goes on a racist tirade where he acknowledges his own evil and his conviction that he should have just wiped out every Bajoran man, woman and child when he had the chance. Sisko ends the episode reflecting that in a morally gray cosmos, there are still truly evil characters.
  • 24 deals with this most of the time. Nobody in this show escapes without doing something morally questionable. All the heroes want to do is stop terrorists and prevent devastating attacks on innocent civilians, but they fight it by torturing people (sometimes even innocent people), kidnapping, spying on people, screwing due process, and allowing collateral damage to happen, among other things. Basically, the only difference between the heroes and villains is that one side deliberately wants to do the terrible things they do, while the other side does it because they feel it's for the greater good. And that's when the show is being optimistic.
  • In the first-season finale for The Last Ship, the crew of the Nathan James arrive in Baltimore, where they learn that what's left of the government has been under siege by a right-wing militia call the Warlords. However, as they start settling in, they discover that the government is planning to limit access to the cure so that only the "right" kind of people get it, while others get a counterfeit that aggravates the disease so that they succumb more quickly.

  • Norse Mythology is fittingly this. The head god Odin 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. On the othe hand Odin is known for not wanting to harm a woman on any race.
    • Thor has sworn to protect all of mankind, but is actually an Knight Templar since he is willing to go at any length to protect us.
    • Loki helped the Gods solve many problems (which he sometimes caused) and where glad to save children from trolls. He is also destined to start Ragnarök.
  • 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.
  • Any version of Robin Hood. Yes, he an his Merry Men were thieves and robbers, but the people of Nottingham were being overtaxed and Robin Hood was simply giving back the money to the poor so that they could live. In the Disney version, Little John even questions the morality of what they do.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • 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 Foreign Wrestling Heel 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 Sociopathic Hero, and "Asshole" Mr. Anderson, a modern-day Stone Cold.
  • Face does not mean "good guy" and heel does not mean "villain", even though you will occasionally see the terms being used interchangeably, even on this very wiki. A face/baby face is pretty much anyone who is regularly cheered for and heel simply means to turn on the fans. It often looks like the faces are all good and heels are all bad but just as often the fan favoritism will ignore morality and pandering.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000 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 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.
      • Again, its not as much as normal "Good" as much as "being nicer and more rational than those around" or (at least slightly) caring about (their own) civilians and collateral. Tau is your typical fascist militaristic expansionist state. Cain did admit that he actually shot a number of his own troopsnote , absolutely abhors Xeno races and "traitors" note  and sees nothing wrong to use criminals for target practice in military orphanage.
    • It is saying something about the setting when you consider the "good" factions of the game: arrogant space elves who view humans as little better than filthy, stupid animals; the Imperium of Man which is an Anti-Hero at best, but would easily fall into villainy in most settings, where their policy against all aliens is shoot first, talk later, and they destroy entire planets of people if it is suspected to have a substantial corruption of Chaos, not to mention that their oppression is nothing short of fascism; and the communist Tau Empire, whose leaders are powerful psychics that control their followers through mind control and their MO is "join us and serve the Greater Good, or we'll kill your entire race". That said, at least Tau bother with allies, the Eldar leave you alone unless you come up in one of their schemes, and the Imperium is fairly tolerable of you as long as you're human and believe in the God Emperor. Which is more than we can say for Chaos, Orks, Necrons, Tyranids, and Dark Eldar.
    • It's also probably worth mentioning that the comedic relief in the series is the Orks, a race of Ax-Crazy Blood Knights, who are hellbent on attacking and destroying as many worlds as they can, just because they love a good fight.
  • Warhammer Fantasy is almost as bad as Warhammer 40,000. 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.)
  • In Call of Cthulhu, the heroes are insane and the villains are even more insane.
  • 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.
  • 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. Of course, Word of God from the setting's creator indicates that at least part of the reason for lack of powerful good NPCs is to keep the focus on the PCs as the heroes.
    • All of this said, while all of the major mortal factions (major nations, dragonmarked houses, and even the Blood of Vol, a creepy religion secretly controlled by one of the setting's Big Bads) are more-or-less amoral, few of them are of the Card-Carrying Villain variety- most of them simply have their own agendas that they're interested in pursuing regardless of who gets in their ways. Unfortunately, there are several extremely power supernatural forces that are unambiguously evil (Lords of Dust, Dreaming Dark, and Daelkyr being the three biggest) and would pretty much destroy the world and/or reshape it in their image if they had their way. Really unfortunately, all of these are creepily good at disguising their true nature and working through pawns who may actually believe they're the good guys, and the main forces capable of opposing them on their own level are morally ambiguous in their own right (the dragons, the Undying Court) and the one that is purely good (the Silver Flame) is inherently reactive rather than proactive, and influential parts of its religion have gone the Corrupt Church route.
  • Cthulhu Tech: A crossover between HP 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."
    • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 an Evil Plan 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.
  • The Dungeons & 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. 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.
  • Exalted tends to vary between this and Grey and Gray Morality, depending on your exact portrayal of the different factions.
    • The Solar Exalted are the returned God-Kings of yore, who once went mad from the Great Curse and were executed en masse, with their souls trapped in the Jade Prison so they wouldn't reincarnate and continue their reign of terror. On the one hand, they seem to be a lot less insane now, and the world desperately needs their help, but there are plenty of folks who are worried they'll go back to their old habits...
    • The Abyssal Exalted are made from Solar shards that have been corrupted by the Neverborn, to aid the Deathlords in destroying Creation. While not all Abyssals are evil, their very nature is inimical to life, and they have to work very hard not to destroy everything and everyone around them.
    • The Infernal Exalted are also made from Solar Shards, but instead corrupted by the Yozis rather than the Neverborn. As a result, they have the power of the fallen Primordials, who want their Chosen to take back Creation from the gods and Exalted that cast them out. While the Infernals are perfectly capable of telling the Yozis to go to hell, that doesn't necessarily make them good guys.
    • The Dragon-Blooded have had control of Creation ever since the Usurpation got rid of the Solar Exalted, but they spent most of that time in petty squabbles. While they were finally united (mostly) under the reign of the Scarlet Empress, she ruled them with an iron fist, while simultaneously making herself irreplaceable in the Realm's political structure. And now, with the Solar Exalted returning, she has suddenly disappeared, ensuring all of the Great Houses are ready to vie for control.
    • The Lunar Exalted have spent their time since the Usurpation on the borders of Creation, subtly influencing mortal affairs and engaging in social experimentation to create societies that do not require divine or Exalted intervention to function. Unfortunately, most of the elder Lunars that are running the show are selfish, evil, or insane (or some combination thereof), and younger Lunars have to follow their orders or risk losing access to the moonsilver tattoos that will prevent Wyld taint.
    • The Sidereal Exalted are in charge of maintaining Fate and keeping causality intact throughout Creation, but they also have a bad habit of sticking their nose into mortal affairs for the sake of their political agendas. The Usurpation was their idea, as was the Dragon-Blooded Realm, and they constantly squabble over whether they made the right choice or not. With the Solar Exalted back, the old factions have stirred up again, with some welcoming their new Solar overlords (while trying to maneuver themselves into becoming The Man Behind the Man), and others violently opposing their return.
  • Typical for KULT, except when it's worse.
  • Eclipse Phase: Firewall do some genuinely horrible things for the greater good, most of the factions have at least some dirty laundry...and they're still better than most exhumans and the TITANs.
  • When playing Infernum, it's either this or Evil Versus Evil. You have an order of literal Knight Templars who want to exterminate all demons in Hell, the so-called Free Tribes (which are humans who survive in Hell by being willing to do anything to survive, including using Black Magic and committing cannibalism), Fallen Angels and even idealistic demons who want to rise above their innately twisted, aberrant natures but are hampered by the limits of their biology and mentality (for starters, they can't survive without feeding off the pain of souls because it's all that holds their own souls together, and love isn't a natural emotion for them to feel). Versus these you have... well, all The Legions of Hell, who embrace corruption, torture, degradation, backstabbing, ambition and malice as the only things that matter.


  • 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's victims if it weren't for the fact that most are Machiavellian opportunists or hypocrites. 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.
  • Shakespeare's Othello: Iago is a Card-Carrying Villain (at least to the audience) but Othello is easily tricked into suspecting his wife of infidelity and kills her by Iago, who essentially uses Othello's grey morality as a weapon for his evil.
  • In Anne Of The Thousand Days, Anne considers that, though Henry is having her executed on trumped-up charges, she herself has sent men to equally unjust deaths.
  • Thrill Me: Nathan has helped steal, burn down buildings, and murder a 12-year-old boy. However, he appears to have largely done this because he got swept up in Richard, who set up the crimes and dealt the killing blow to the boy. We see Nathan express remorse for the boy's death. We see Richard express remorse...for getting caught.

    Video Games 
  • Shin Megami Tensei is devoted to this trope. Then again, being a Deconstructor Fleet for many RPG tropes, this should come as no surprise. Given the series' emphasis on personal choice, where the "gray" area lies is solely your business; the Law faction is a group of well-meaning extremists intending to crush free will in order to ensure a perfect egalitarian society, Chaos is a group of vicious anarchists who worship freedom above all else, and the Neutral factions' permissiveness allowed the conflict in the first place and more often than not collapses into either side, but while it works it ensures an "island of stability" between both sides. Of course, humans being what they are, all this conspires to ensure a cycle of destructive Full Circle Revolutions that will last until Humanity finally learns to sit down and sort out its messes for good.
  • Hitman Blood Money (and the rest of the Hitman series for that matter) has you playing as a cold blooded, emotionless contract assassin, killing for money and showing no sympathy whatsoever to any of his targets, regardless of their situation. On the other hand, he also kills pedophiles, so he's not all bad.
  • Dead Space 3 reveals that the Earth Government versus Unitology is this, with EarthGov as the Grey and Unitology as the Black. EarthGov created the Markers in the first place, unsealed them after having forgotten them over centuries, illegally imprisoned Isaac and other survivors to torturously extract Marker schematics from them and are responsible for myriad purges and assassinations, some of which are for dubious reasons. However, the Markers were created (and then recreated) in hopes of solving a serious, galaxy-spanning energy crisis, and once they realised that they all created Necromorphs, they have dedicated themselves to stopping the Zombie Apocalypse. Unitology, meanwhile, are a Path of Inspiration that worships the Markers; and by 3 they sabotage EarthGov efforts, actively spread the infection, and slaughter innocent civilians.
  • Welcome to The Secret World! Who would you like to side with? The ultra-capitalist, do-or-get-done Illuminati? The militant, overzealous Templars? Or perhaps the chaos-theory-chasing, 'interpretive terrorist' Dragons? They're all pretty bad in their own way, but they can be made to get along... after all, you can't rule the world if some mysterious fourth party destroys it, right?
  • Legacy of Kain is the KING of this trope. Your hero is either a Sociopathic Hero 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.
      • 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 made everyone his Unwitting Pawns till Raziel purified Kain and allowed him to see the Elder God. 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 [[spoiler: 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.
      • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • In Baldur's Gate II, 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).
  • The Tiberium series of Command & 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 & Conquer: Generals has this in spades. While the GLA are hypocrites 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.
  • 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 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 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.
  • 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 (though granted said captain had been part of the fleet that had just destroyed their home world, killing billions).
  • 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.
  • The Renegade playthrough of Mass Effect 1 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 their 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 monster, and Sovereign being an Omnicidal Maniac.
    • Mass Effect 2 is this trope regardless of paragon or renegade status. Not only does Shepard have to make an alliance with a terrorist group to fight the Reaper threat but Shepard's team is made up of Vigilantes, Knight Templars, Well-Intentioned Extremists, and other ruthless murderers. Almost everyone on the team this time around is an anti-hero in some way. Their opponents are The Collectors, a sinister, drone-like race of Insectoid Aliens who kidnap entire colonies of people using their advanced technology, experiment upon them, turn them into husks and worst of all, turn them into human paste to activate and power a human-shaped Reaper.
  • In StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, this is the crux of the conflict between the Zerg Swarm and the Terran Dominion. On the Zerg side, there's Sarah Kerrigan, a zerg/terran hybrid who dances terrifyingly close to the Moral Event Horizon in the name of self-preservation and revenge; Zagara, who thinks nothing of invading a planet, covering it in Meat Moss and killing or assimilating anyone unfortunate enough to be living or stationed there at the time; Abathur, an Evilutionary Biologist who sees nothing wrong with experimenting on sentient beings if it proves beneficial for the Swarm in the long run; Dehaka, a primal zerg packleader who allied himself with Kerrigan because she was stronger than anyone else; and Alexei Stukov, an infested terran who was once part of the UED invasion force seen in Brood War. On the Terran side, you have Arcturus Mengsk, an utter sociopath who could succinctly be described as the most evil terran character in the game, against some stiff competition, and beyond him is Amon, a totally out-there, unfathomably out-and-out evil Xel'Naga whose only long-term goal is the eradication of all life in the cosmos.
  • Gears of War starts off like this and falls prey to getting darker as things go on. 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 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.
  • A similar setup 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 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.
    • The third game ramps it up even further. Along with being able to murder, steal, and destroy with wild abandon, the last leg of the game gives you a choice: follow Logan's example and oppress the people for the sake of raising enough funds to keep them safe, or be a just ruler at the possible expense of your subjects being genocided by an army of shadow demons. Yet, even if you choose to be the biggest Jerkass in Albion you're still the Gray in this case...
  • 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. 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.
    • In the sequel, the bad guys are still very bad (Darth Nihilus in particular is a walking catastrophe). However, your companions come to include some pretty shady characters, particularly Kreia. While her intentions are (probably) good, Kreia is capable of doing some nasty things to get what she wants. And usually she will get it, with or without your assistance.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic (arguably the third in the series) tends to take this option. No one is going to argue that the Republic doesn't have serious problems like crooked government officials, crazed "scientists," corrupt MegaCorps, and Knight Templar Jedi. They also cut deals with terrorists (like Consular companion Zenith, who bombed civilian targets on Imperial-occupied Balmorra and doesn't much regret it and Trooper companion Tanno Vik, who is only in the army to avoid jail and/or the bounties on his head) and criminals (the entire Smuggler class). Ord Mantell's government is openly corrupt with local soldiers and government abusing civilians and gambling on sadistic "games" like betting on a refugee's odds of walking across a minefield and surviving. There is also the whopping black eye that is Belsalvis; a maximum-security, supposed-to-be-a-dirty-secret Penal Colony where the Republic "scientists" staged gladitorial combat between different species to "test" them, conditions are so bad that a good prisoner gets weekly showers as a reward, and even the offspring of the inmates are treated like criminals and imprisoned, despite the crime being done by their parents or great-grandparents in come cases. Likewise, the Imperials (and Imperial players have the option to) Pet the Dog on occasion, but it does not mitigate the fact the Emperor is an Omnicidal Maniac, Darth Malgus (your main questgiver for that side) is a wife-beating thug who killed his Twi'lek "spouse" (she was technically his slave) because she was a weakness to him, the Sith are unanswerable to any rule of law and have the average sanity of Batman's Rogues Gallery, slavery and genocide are practiced openly (one Imperial official is running a Dachau-style "labor camp" on Nar Shaddaa, complete with gas chambers, crematoriums, and piles of corpses), anyone not human or Sith species gets treated like something scraped from a boot, and the whole thing runs on Might Makes Right and Chronic Backstabbing Disorder with everyone from Dark Council members to low level officials trying to knife each other in the back. For all their many flaws, the Republic still looks great by comparison.
  • In killer7, 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.
  • 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 may be populated by well-meaning people, but it is overly-bureaucratic and incredibly corrupt. Their expansionist policies seek to bring peace to America, but their military resources are spread so thin that they can't provide real security. Despite this, they ruthlessly tax their citizens and annex anyone who tries to resist their influence.
    • Caesar's Legion is a brutal but effective autocracy that brings true stability and security to its territories. However, they enforce slavery and rape as a means to grow their ranks, destroy any unique cultures for the sake of absorbing them into the Legion, and creates a lower standard of living through its aversion to technology
    • Mr. House has created one of the only safe, clean and progressive havens in the entire Wasteland, and is one of the few humans left with the intelligence and ambition to fix the world. But he is only concerned with New Vegas, and shows no mercy to anyone who opposes his dictatorship.
    • The Brotherhood of Steel are Lawful Stupid Knight Templar Jerk Ass 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 the Courier, 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.
    • The minor factions are at best well-intentioned but ineffectual, such as the Followers of the Apocalypse, while most of them are insane, violent, or both.
  • 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.
  • 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 comes down to it the Cooper Clan steals things purely to stroke their own egos.
  • 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, an elitist bigot and religious fanatic, 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 sfter 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.
    • Drakengard 3 looks to be back on track with the heroine being nearly as bloody and psychopathic as Caim, and all party members being psycho-enabling members of her harem.
  • 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.
  • BlazBlue takes place in a Crapsack World that's been ravaged by an Eldritch Abomination for 10 straight years, and that's just the backstory. The present timeline has three distinct sides in the plot, and each character on the respective side have their own motivations and each one of them have pretty dirty laundry. Honestly, the morality in this series is all over the place.
    • First of, are the Norvus Orvus Librarium(NOL for short), the ruling government of the entire planet. They maintain order in the Crapsack World and keep it from getting even worse for the most part, but have extremely questionable methods in doing so and have no problem silencing anyone who opposes their rule. The heads of said organization is also the BigBads.
    • Second is Sector 7, a rival organization to the NOL. They don't oppose the NOL because its the "right" thing to do mind you, no its mainly because of a difference in how to rule the world. Sector 7 focus on science and technology, while the NOL use Magitek.
    • And then there's the largely unaffiliated characters who either oppose the NOL as well, or are just bounty hunters looking to get paid. The protagonist, Ragna the Bloodedge, is also apart of this faction but he's only targeting the NOL to hunt down one man who screwed him over massively and will mow down anyone in his way to do it, even if they're just Mooks trying to get a paycheck. Also, the NOL have put a bounty on his head because of this(The largest one in history) and the aforementioned bounty hunters are also after his head as well. Funnily enough, Ragna is one the less ambiguous good guys in the series.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Geneforge approaches 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 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 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, 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.
  • 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, you can go neutral, killing everyone.
  • 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 annihilate their enemy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Both Deus Ex, where 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, Hitler.
  • Splinter Cell: Conviction seems to be headed this way.
  • 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.
    • The lycanthropy quest is at least not obligatory if you want to finish the game. What the main quest does have you do is do favours for one of the Black Morality characters (namely, the power-hungry and godhood-seeking founder of necromancy). Several favours.
    • Another Elder Scrolls example is present in Morrowind's Tribunal expansion. King Helseth, who initially sends assassins to kill the Nerevarine, ends up recruiting said character to infiltrate and eventually eliminate Almalexia. Neither is "good" in this situation, and even the shade of gray is very dark.
  • 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.
  • 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 beaurocrats 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.
  • 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-guerillas, all they do is "merely" beat people up, harass opponents, shut down dissenting newspapers and forcibly conscript citizens en masse. If you want to Take a Third Option and try to keep both sides under control, then that requires establishing a personal dictatorship because elections will set off the powder-keg, and tolerating death-squad violence because the alternative is civil war.
  • 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.
  • 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 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. Borderlands 2 carries this tradition on, with Hyperion making even the Crimson Lance look pleasant.
  • 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 Elras Mages and the heroic, but flawed Warrior Clan, and slaughter both indiscriminately.
  • The protagonists in the Assassin's Creed series are members of an ancient Assassin Order that by the Renaissance 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 human race via the removal of free will.
    • Then again, some of the Abstergo files in Assassin's Creed Revelations seem to suggest the Templars took a bad turn even for their regular standards during the Renaissance, as the Borgias and their allies were more interested in personal ambition and profit than creating a better world, and mainly comprised corrupt clergy 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 some of their members actually being pure evil since they don't hold many hiring moral standards. There's also the case of Lucy Stillman, who had become disenchanted from the Assassins for seemingly abandoning her in a deep cover infiltration and thus agreed to pretend to be a loyal Assassin so as to retrieve Ezio's Apple of Even, but was never as amoral as her boss Warren Vidic.
    • Assassins Creed III paints both factions as shades of Grey compared to Juno, who straight up loathes humans and wants to conquer them.
  • 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 Sociopathic Hero, who's only in it to hurt people you point him at.
  • 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.
  • Evil Islands, Zak falls into the Anti-Hero trope, and while the Khadaganian empire is undoubtedly evil, the Canian empire is not much better.
  • Skyrim is filled with Black and Gray 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 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.
  • No More Heroes. The name says it all. The game series is severely lacking in any truly moral characters, with the main character Travis Touchdown being a loser and Anti-Hero who mostly kills simply under the promise of getting sex with the beautiful young lady who arranges the fights and to get enough money to pay off 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 when Travis vows to destroy the UAA after seeing how many lives it has destroyed, making him more of true hero.
  • 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 the Real Monsters 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 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 worst.
  • 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.
  • Diablo III thrives on this, combined with Good Is Not Nice and Light Is Not Good. The angels were mostly disgusted with mankind, which resulted from the union of an angel & demon, after they discovered it. Angels and demons once voted on whether to kill humanity; many angels were for it and only Tyrael's vote prevented genocide. In Act IV, Archangel Imperius blames Tyrael and the nephalem for Diablo's assault, issues a death threat when he first encounters them, and tries to kill the nephalem while Diablo is on the verge of destroying Heaven. Demons are only marginally less sympathetic.
  • Ubisoft's Heroes of Might and Magic. The bad guys are simple enough, undead and Demons, but on the "good guy" factions, the Griffon Empire is a Knight Templar organization that operates under a heavy With Us Or Against us mentality (the standard punishment for questioning a draft is having you, your friends and your family put to death, your home looted, and your entire town burned to the ground), a society of aloof, arrogant elves, and xenophobic, warmongering dwarves.
    • In New World Computing's old setting, The first Heroes Chronicles has an interesting case where this is effectively the case throughout the campaign... but who is the Black and who is the Gray ends up shifting. You start out as the Barbarian being willing to be a bit ruthless to overthrow your tyrannical Wizard oppressors, but by the time you attack Bracaduun proper your ruthlessness has gone way out of control, while your enemies now include people who just want to defend their homes (who happens to lie in the tyrannical Wizards' nation).
  • Messiah has: the police forces that serve the dictator Father Prime (black); the Chots, which are a society of insane cannibals (black); Satan, who is, well, Satan; and God, who is "gray" at the very best, as he looks out mostly for himself, and decides to leave humanity at Satan's mercy because he thinks they're beyond salvation. Probably the most good character in the game (apart from ordinary civilians) is Bob the angel, who is still a ruthless Anti-Hero.
  • Killzone. On one side, we have the Helghast, a Human Subspecies specifically designed to evoke Nazi imagery with their trench coats, black-and-red flags, and atrocious treatment of human prisoners. That said, they have their moments of nobility, and their grievances against their enemies is a valid one — not to mention the fact that in the second and third games, it's their planet that's under attack. Which brings us to the other side, the ISA, who forced the original Helghast colonists off their own world in the first place over property rights and onto the local Death World, where they pretty much had to evolve and develop a harsh and tyrannical society or die. Oh, and they secretly controlled traffic between the two worlds, making it impossible for the colonists to contact friends and family suffering on Helghan. So, who's black and who's gray? We're probably meant to sympathize more with the ISA, but there's a lot of Rooting for the Empire. As far as most fans are concerned, it just comes down to the Helghast looking goddamn awesome and the ISA troops being a bunch of boring run-of-the-mill Space Marines.
  • Papers, Please is a depressingly realistic version of this trope. You play a border crossing guard in a Communist country, tasked with checking passports and refusing an entry visa to anyone without the proper paperwork. You're paid per visa granted and fined for each one you grant improperly, even if that means keeping a couple separated or refusing entry over a bureaucratic triviality. Oh, and your family is barely living hand to mouth as it is, so altruism will bankrupt your character quickly, as will keeping everyone out. There is a group of freedom fighters who are planning to overthrow the current regime, and you can help them if you want...but they utilize terrorist tactics and chemical warfare, and it's not clear if they really are going to instate a better government should they take over.
  • Skies of Arcadia, amazingly for such an idealistic story. Vyse and the other Blue Rogues may be Just Like Robin Hood, and they only steal from armed ships, but they're still rather comfortable with murder and theft. They're a light shade of grey, but grey nonetheless. The villains are all over the place: Belleza is an Anti-Villain who is fine with espionage and betrayal, but generally tries to avoid murdering people due to her Tear Jerker backstory. Vigoro can pull a Heel-Face Turn despite coming scarily close to raping Aika. Gregorio is a Punch Clock Villain and actually a decent guy who pulls a Heroic Sacrifice to save the heroes. Ramirez is presented as a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. Galcian, DeLoco, Alfonso and Empress Teodora are basically black.
  • This is Fifth Planet Games' M.O., with each of the protagonists fighting against the forces of evil... and sometimes reveling in evil themselves. Examples from the games that involve the Blue Dragon faction include kleptomania, pride, manslaughter, outright mass-murder, and a general sense of self-denial of all their personal misdeeds being that bad (One of them nuked two colony planets. Granted, the civilians were Neo-Nazis BUT SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE HELL.). This is in comparison to the Black Dragon faction, who are so proud of themselves that they seek to conquer everything and put themselves higher than gods (who, in this twisted crapsack setting, aren't pure good themselves), and effectively worship a leader who keeps crawling straight out of hell and even reforming his soul after it breaks apart, even though it's obvious that he becomes more insane and violent with each resurrection.

    Web Comics 
  • Lackadaisy's main characters are gangsters who run an illegal alcohol joint. Murder, ambiguous innocence and deception follow.
    • Yet most of the cast are still lovable and goofy anthromoporphic cats.
      • It's incredibly easy to forget that what the characters are doing is crime, or that they're even doing anything wrong. Many "Would it be a Heel-Face Turn or a Face-Heel Turn?" ponderings ensue.
  • Looking for Group has elements of this. While Legaria is definitely portrayed as villainous, the heroes aren't very nice people themselves. Especially Richard.
  • 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.
  • 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"
  • 8-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 Jerk Ass 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Cthulhu Slippers the main characters are either well intentioned idiots, mutants or self serving sociopaths. Compared to Nyarlarthotep however they're shining examples of kindness and light.

    Web Original 
  • In the Web Serial Novel Worm, there are the Villain Protagonists, mostly Anti Villains, and the Hero Antagonists, who are often Jerkasses, Anti Heroes or even just in-universe Designated Heroes, both sides fighting against each other but all playing by unwritten rules and not killing or unmasking. It's all very grey. But then there are terrifying psycopaths like the Slaughterhouse Nine and Giant monsters like the Endbringers, which everyone is willing to team up against.
  • 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.
  • 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 gallowsnote . This is hugely entertaining.
  • In Filthy Frank: The "good guys" have their ringleader, Frank, who has admitted to raping animals for fun, as well as Pink Guy who also advertises violence to animals. The rest of the housemates are varying shades of bad or worse. The closest thing they have to an antagonist is Lord Chin Chin, a Humanoid Abomination who takes "chromosomes" for whatever reason.
  • 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.
  • In The Insane Quest of Unfathomable Randomness, 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.
  • 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). Given that their primary enemies are a military junta that suspended the US Constitution and the rogue's gallery of petty fascist groups they drum up to support it domestically, and Those Wacky Nazis in foreign affairs, though...
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • In Big Bad Wolves: Moral Event Horizon, the protagonists are members of a group of cannibalistic werewolves who choose to feed on long dead prisoners. One of them, Michael, plans to kill an unrepentant rapist and murderer, in order to feed the group, and tries to convince the Villain Protagonist to help kill him. She declines, citing the group's rule of Never Hurt an Innocent but he kills him anyway in the belief that he was way worse then them.
  • From the website while the green stick figures are Always Chaotic Evil Butt Monkeys, the blue stick figures aren't exactly good guys either.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 a superweapon and making him deliberately unintelligent so he doesn't question his own destructive actions.
    • According to The AllSpark Almanac II, they didn't create just one Autobot-as-a-superweapon. They created a whole series of them, with only two surviving (one in the loosest definintion of the word).
    • More prevalent in the third season, where Prime considers sending a near-death Sari into battle against said superweapon, among other things.
    • The main five aren't free from it. In "Where Is Thy Sting?", the innocent, emotionally traumatized 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. 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.
  • The second and third seasons of Total Drama have become this.
  • South Park, so. Freaking much.
    • One of the reasons why Stan, Kyle and Kenny are the good boys, is because the enemies and/or antagonists are much worse.
  • The Ben 10: Ultimate Alien episode "Vicktor, The Spoils" invokes this. The nation of Zarkovia is beset by rebels. The prince, disgusted by his father's lack of force against the rebels, uses the braindead body of Dr. Vicktor to attack Ben's team and imprison his father. The king escapes, and uses Ampfibian's powers to transfer his mind into Dr. Vicktor's body. He then reveals that he was biding his time, waiting for the perfect moment to crush the rebels. Ben and co. defeat and immobilize King Vicktor, and the prince demands they hand him over. Gwen points out the prince's mind-controlled soldiers, asking "If the prince is a bad guy, who are we here to help?" Kevin suggests the rebels, but Gwen replies "Who's to say they're better then anybody else?" In the end, Ben destroys the prince's mind-control device, allowing the soldiers to choose their own sides, and the group decide not to interfere, and simply let the conflict run its course.
  • The Simpsons. Probably the best television example ever, animated or otherwise.
    • On on hand, you have:
      • An unbridled tyrant (Mr. Burns)
      • Violent criminals (Snake, Fat Tony's gang, Sideshow Bob)
      • Greedy, amoral, corrupt scumbags (Mayor Quimby, Krusty, Troy McClure)
      • Smarmy self-important worthless parasites (Kent Brockman, Chief Wiggum, Lionel Hutz, Reverend Lovejoy)
      • Nihilist punks (Dolph, Jimbo, & Kearney, Patti & Selma)
      • Soul-sucking obstructionist nags (Helen Lovejoy, Agnes Skinner, Jackie Bouvier)
    • And on the other hand, you have:
      • Smart, good-hearted idealists who have a laundry list of bizarre psychological and emotional issues and are prone to horrendous breakdowns (Lisa, Marge, Dr. Hibbert)
      • Benign nice guys too weak, gullible, restrained, and/or petty to ever do any lasting good (Ned, Principal Skinner, Milhouse, Lou, Mona Simpson)
      • Ordinary schmoes who are harmless most of the time but have the occasional bout of astounding jerkiness (Smithers, Carl, Eddie)
      • World-weary drones beaten down by years of misery and resigned to their dismal fate (Apu, Edna, Sideshow Mel, Ms. Hoover)
      • Bitter cynics (Arnie Pie, Comic Book Guy, Abraham)
      • Eternal Jekyll-and-Hyde flipfloppers (Homer, Bart, Nelson, Moe, Barney)
      • Has-beens struggling to find a purpose in life (Ranier Wolfcastle, Drederick Tatum)
      • Punching bags (Gil, Hans Moleman, Martin)
      • Clueless dopes (Lenny, Cletus, Brandine, Ralph, pimply-faced teenager)
      • Assorted weirdos, crackpots, and lunatics (Otto, Superintendent Chalmers, Dr. Nick, Professor Frink, Groundskeeper Willie, Crazy Cat Lady, Jasper, Cookie Kwan)
    • The only unambiguously good person is Maggie. And she's still quite young. She did shoot a number of mobsters though.
  • Sponge Bob Square Pants goes perfectly with this trope, especially after the movie.
  • Futurama.
    • On the one hand, we have:
      • Power-mad tyrants (Mom, Nixon, Lrrr)
      • Violent criminals (Roberto, the Robot Mafia, Santa)
      • Amoral, corrupt scumbags (Leo Wong, Zapp Brannigan)
    • and on the other side:
      • Fry, whose heart is in the right place but whose lack of intelligence often screws things up for everybody,
      • Leela, who is usually on the right side of the conflict but is often short-tempered, violent and egotistical,
      • Bender and Farnsworth, whose levels of morality and personalities are whatever the plot requires,
      • Zoidberg, who exists mostly to be a punching bag,
      • And Hermes, who does exactly what he's paid to do and nothing more, often regardless of personal ethics.
  • The Fairly OddParents. Sure the good guys are often Jerkasses who make other's lives a living hell, but the villains are outright murderers out to take over the world.
  • Family Guy. Yes, of course, the series sometimes even addressed in territories of Evil Versus Evil.
  • Invader Zim. Dib has been needlessly cruel to Zim and seems to look down on most other humans.
    • That said, Zim isn't good at all, due to trying to conquer the world, despite being so terrible at it that he can't do a thing on his own. Dib looking down on other humans is justified, considering how all humans but Dib and his father tend to be either stupid, jerkasses, straight up evil, or a combination of the three.

A Lighter Shade of GreyPhilosophy TropesBlack and White Morality
A Lighter Shade of GreyMorality TropesBlack and White Morality
Bittersweet EndingCynicism TropesBlessed with Suck
Big GoodAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!Black and White Morality
Adventure-Friendly WorldSettingsCalifornia Doubling

alternative title(s): Black And Grey Morality; Gray And Black Morality; Grey And Black Morality
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