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Not Quite The Right Thing
Sometimes, it hurts to do the right thing. Sometimes, it's damned if you do and damned if you don't. And sometimes, what seemed a good idea at the time turns out otherwise. It sounded like the right thing... but it turned out to be Not Quite The Right Thing.

Whenever a device like this is used in a plotline, it's sometimes used to provide some sort of moral ambiguity to the situation (in which case, there truly wasn't a right thing). Usually leads to a Downer Ending or a Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, and is a major part of shows with Black and Gray Morality. It can get messy when mixed with a good/evil Karma Meter.

Unfortunately, all too often Truth in Television.

When everyone involved is aware that all options are bad and that there's no right answer, it's a Morton's Fork instead.


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga  

  • Soukou no Strain: Sara can't bring herself to kill her brother, despite witnessing the massacre at Grabera. Because of this, he kills yet another person that Sara has allowed herself to care about. Although he is still the most important person in her life, she decides to stop him from hurting anyone else.
  • The anime series Monster begins with this trope: a doctor disobeys hospital director's orders and saves the life of a child whose foster parents had been killed, only to discover ten years later that the child had murdered said foster parents himself and committed a string of other murders since and prior to then as well. Not to mention that said child decided to "thank" him by killing the director and the entire board that demoted him. And then to be even more of a Poisonous Friend, Tenma himself ends up getting the blame for these murders, and turns fugitive years later when the boy returns and kills one of his patients, who was an accomplice in the boy's serial mass murder of entire families. Tenma gets blamed for that too.
  • Discussed in episode 23 of Persona 4: The Animation, Yu wonders, having a breakdown as he does, to Yosuke if he made the right decision to spare Namatame, since Namatame was responsible for Nanako's kidnapping and subsequent death. His decision ultimately turns out to have been the right one, leading to both Nanako's revival and The Reveal that Namatame, while responsible for Yukiko, Kanji, Rise and Naoto's kidnappings, was not responsible for the murders.

     Fan Fic  
  • In Halkegenia Online Kirche attempts to reboot Louise from her Heroic BSOD at the end of the second arc. Only to have both of them step on each other's respective emotional wounds, causing Kirche to reveal the truth about the Transition to her in the worst possible matter in front of Koko, the worst possible person to hear it. In doing so, she only manages to push Louise even closer to the Despair Event Horizon, making her a perfect mark for Julio to manipulate into delivering herself into the Church's clutches. Though let's not forget that Karin's decision to more or less banish Louise to her basement for the rest of her life is what crashed her in the first place.
  • In Shatterheart Fai tries to make up his emotional neglect and ostracization of Syaoran by teaching Syaoran to bake and trying to bond with him. Fai's shift from cold to caring just comes off as off-putting and exhausting to Syaoran.
    • Fai forces an ultimatum on Kurogane and Syaoran to either break up their relationship or to tell Sakura the truth in hopes of ending what he sees as a dangerously codependent relationship or preventing Syaoran from hurting himself with constantly lying. This has consequences such as:
      • Tensions in the house imploding as Kurogane and Syaoran were the only things keeping each other relatively sane and happy and they end up more miserable than before.
      • Intensifies the severity of Syaoran's PTSD as now he can't turn to Kurogane, who was his only form of support.
      • Destroys Fai's chance of making amends with Syaoran for his previous coldness as this proves to be the straw that broke the camel's back and Syaoran decides that he'd rather starve and isolate himself than have anything to do with Fai.
      • Fai's relationship with Kurogane reaches a boiling point as Kurogane believes that Fai had no right to get involved and thinks him to be a massive hypocrite.
  • In Bleach fanfic Wanderlust Isshin forbids Ichigo's friends and family to discuss the supernatural around him in a misguided attempt to help Ichigo move on after he loses his Shinigami powers. Since all of his family and friends are embroiled in the supernatural, they end up avoiding Ichigo entirely and isolate him for two years so they won't talk about it around him. Ichigo gets the impression that his loved ones only wanted him when he had powers and don't want him around since they don't need him anymore. This results in Ichigo in leaving Karakura to travel the world, cutting all contact with them. Which in turn causes relationships within the group to splinter to splinter and Soul Society to be whipped into frenzy trying to find him.

     Film  

  • John Carter bravely saves the wounded Colonel Powell from a probable quick death at the hands of the Apache and thereby (unintentionally) condemns him to die a lingering and lonely death from exposure and blood loss in a cave. Even worse if you consider the battle with the Apache took place out in the open probably close to the cavalry camp meaning rescue - though unlikely - might have been possible if Carter had left Powell for dead.
  • The ending of the movie Gone Baby Gone totally qualifies with Patrick's final choice. He takes the little girl back to her mother, who is horribly neglectful, and away from the police who had kidnapped her for her own good and killed several people to cover it up. Patrick ends up losing his fiancee as a result, and the ending of the book sees the girl back with her mother in the same situation. It's generally agreed that there wasn't a right choice by the girlnote , so he took the lawful route: the crime couldn't stand, regardless of other circumstances.
  • The Butterfly Effect combines this with From Bad to Worse. Every. Single. Time.
  • In the film For One Night a young student tries to stop segregated proms at her school. Well it might have been the right thing to do, but nevertheless racial tensions exploded in her town. Although to be fair the reporter Desiree Howard kinda added fuel to the fire by breaking the story.
  • The ending to the Richard Gere / Edward Norton film Primal Fear, where it is revealed that Edward Norton's character really is a murderous sociopath, after Gere succeeds in defending him at his murder trial.

     Literature  

  • This happens repeatedly when Bastian recklessly makes wishes using the AURYN in the original novel of The Neverending Story. Perhaps the best example is when he finds a race of beings so utterly ugly that they constantly weep. He wishes for them to become beautiful and always laugh, but it turns out that their tears are actually necessary.
  • This crops up in The Dresden Files all the time, especially for the main character Harry Dresden.

    In Changes, he discovers his daughter has been kidnapped by the Red Court of vampires. He goes nuts, calls in every ally he can get, makes a dangerous deal with the Faerie Queen Mab, and then kills the entire Red Court, stopping a dangerous war that had killed thousands of humans and wiping out an entire nation of nasty monsters. Then he arranges his own death so he can't be used by Mab and turned into a monster himself.

    In the sequel, Ghost Story, Harry learns the fall-out of those decisions. (Deep breath)
    • The destruction of the Red Court has created a colossal power vacuum which many power-hungry factions are eager to fill, creating even more conflict and chaos.
      • Harry's death has left Chicago without a supernatural protector, and now numerous monsters prowl its streets.
      • His friends have almost all been badly affected by his disappearance, especially Murphy, who was fired from her job on the police and is now forced to work with a major crime lord in order to get the resources necessary to protect the city.
      • His apprentice Molly, who had flirted with the Dark Side and whose survival depended on Harry being there to teach until such time as the council deemed her no longer a threat, is so torn up by his death and her part in it that she's gone renegade, withdrawing from almost all human contact and killing people left and right. The White Council of Wizards has issued a kill-on-sight.
      • All in all, Harry MAY have done the right thing, but he did it in the worst possible way, with colossal political fallout that affected the entire planet. Still, at least he saved his daughter, so that's something.
  • Harry Turtledove's World War series puts the Jews in this position. After Warsaw is freed by the Race, the Jews cooperate with them in order to survive, and are seen as traitors to humanity by doing so. The fact that attempts to condemn the Race for their actions such as destroying Washington D.C. are altered and turned into praises don't help.
  • The Valar were motivated to things like bringing the Elves to the Undying Lands or rewarding the Edain with Númenor entirely by good intentions. The text still takes the time to strongly imply that doing so was ultimately the wrong thing to do.
    • In Tolkien's legendarium, trying to impose any vision or much of anything else on the world is likely to end badly, because the free wills and free choices of Elves and Men are so vital, and because no finite entity comprehends enough of How Things Work in the universe to be able to predict the consequences of their actions outside their purview. Tolkien had a low opinion both of reactionaries ('Embalmers') and progressives ('Reformers'), Sauron started out as a Reformer, the Elves of Eregion who made the Rings were Embalmers. Both were Not Quite the Right Thing.
    • The Silmarillion brings this into play a lot. The whole family of Húrin, but especially Túrin's life is this (although Morgoth cursed the whole family into this) for example.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - The same night that Professor Trelawney delivers a genuine prophecy about a servant of Voldemort returning to his master, Harry persuades Remus and Sirius to send Wormtail to prison instead of killing him, only for him to escape. Harry is horrified at the idea that he might have helped Voldemort on his way back to power, but Dumbledore consoles him that he only did the best he could at the time. He also notes that Wormtail owes Harry his life, which may come in useful in the future.
    • Sure enough, it finally pays off in Deathly Hallows: when Wormtail tries to strangle Harry, the latter reminds him that he owes Harry his life. This causes Wormtail to hesitate...and his magical hand to strangle Wormtail instead.
  • Given that A Song of Ice and Fire is Black and Gray Morality verging on Evil Versus Evil at times, it's unsurprising that this happens a lot. The most tragic example is probably Robb Stark's downfall; he has been an unstoppable military threat in the War of Five Kings, and the Lannisters are at their wits end trying to figure out any way to take him on in the battlefield, but then he is "comforted" by a young noble girl while recovering from a wound after one of his conquests. Robb is immediately caught in a dilemma between "doing the right thing" and marrying the girl whose virginity he just took, (especially considering it's a medieval style world, where without her virginity a girl will, at best, have much lower prospects for marriage and be judged her whole life, or be tremendously shamed and shipped out to a nunnery at worst) or "doing the right thing" and honoring his betrothal to a Frey girl. Robb decides the girl's honor takes precedence over his own and marries her, which results in the Freys betraying him, murdering him and most of his followers, and desecrating his corpse.

     Live Action TV  

  • CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Parents euthanize their child upon seeing symptoms of a painful degenerative disease to which they had already lost another child. Turns out that the child was healthy, the symptoms were caused by something else.
    • CSI in general (all three shows) has a strong thread of ironic justice running through it. Almost any time a character either breaks the law to bring someone else to justice (say, by planting evidence or searching without a warrant), or kills someone because the law can't punish them for their crimes, it will backfire. Anyone killed out of a sense of "justice" will turn out to have been innocent the entire time, and the killer will always wind up devastated over what they've done. Criminals framed for a crime or illegally arrested will turn out to be innocent as well, potentially resulting in the person doing the frame losing everything in the process. Crime absolutely does not pay - regardless of the reasons - in the CSIverse.
    • Inverted in one episode where the father of a missing girl planted an already-dead body he stole inside the chimney of the man he suspected of killing said daughter in order to put police suspicion on him after failing to convince them just with his words. His plan succeeded spectacularly, as his dead daughter's body was also hidden in a brick extension to the chimney in question. Considering the judge limited the initial warrant to the chimney the man not only made his own luck but hit the jackpot with it, making this overlap with Right for the Wrong Reasons.
  • Babylon 5: Dr. Franklin gives the audience a double dose of this trope:
    • He performs a life-saving surgery on an alien child, over the objections of his parents that his chest cavity not be cut open or his soul will escape. When they find out, their religion requires them to kill him.
    • He also forces a traumatized war veteran to confront the fact that he's not King Arthur. Re-traumatizing him catatonic. The good doctor then Lampshades that this keeps happening to him, because of his need to fix everything.
  • This happens in the episode of House where he is institutionalized; House chews out the doctor who forced a delusional patient to confront the fact that he was not actually a super hero (then went catatonic). House ends up trying to "help" the guy and only makes things worse. But he eventually learns a lesson about the difference between trying to "fix" things and actually just apologizing.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series, "The City on the Edge of Forever": Saving Edith Keeler's life seems like the right thing to do, but if she lives she will found an influential peace movement, which also seems like the right thing to do but will delay America's entry into World War II and hand victory to the Nazis.
    • One of the best if not the best TOS episodes, combining the grey areas of real world moral choice with a harsh lesson in the nasty implications of time travel, and also an implicit rebuke to the idea that love conquers all. Kirk was very much in love with Edith, she was not just a pretty skirt he was chasing... but that didn't matter. What was necessary was necessary. Spock's emotionless act is transparently undercut by the genuine sympathy and pity in his simple, dry statement to McCoy, "He knows, Doctor. He knows."
  • The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica does this ALL the time. From Colonial One's abandoning of the civilian ships in the miniseries to the Olympic Carrier to mutiny to military dictatorships to banning abortion to baby-stealing to torture to assassination to suicide-bombing to election-rigging - the characters (mainly Commander/Admiral Adama and President Roslin) constantly wrestle with the decision to do the easy thing or the right thing. And they actually make crappy decisions a good deal of the time.
    • Abandoning the ships in miniseries turns out to be tragically right, though. And it's not like they had any choice (those ships didn't have any FTL engines, and would never have been able to escape the Cylons anyway).
  • In LOST season 3, Kate refuses to leave Jack with the Others, so she grabs Sayid, Locke, and Rousseau, and treks across the island to rescue him. She doesn't know that Jack's scheduled to leave the island by submarine the next day, or that Locke's true intention is to blow the submarine up.
  • Doctor Who: In Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor is tasked with destroying or altering the behavior of the Daleks so as to make them a negligible threat. The Doctor, however, realizes that by doing so, he would rob the different races of the universe of a chance to end warring amongst themselves, as countless civilizations put aside their differences to band together in grand coalitions against the Daleks, learning to work together in harmony along the way.
  • In the Farscape episode "...Different Destinations", our heroes get sent back in time and keep trying to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. Finally, it looks like they've succeeded and you're all set up for the little girl to survive the intervening years...only to find that while they do get back to their own time and fix the timeline, the nurses are slaughtered.
  • This is commented on in an episode of Stargate SG-1, where Daniel recounts the many instances where the team made seemingly good choices which turned out to have completely unforeseeable evil consequences. Oma Desala comments that the universe is an infinitely complicated place full of unforseeable consequences which an individual can't control, but they can control whether they themselves are good or evil.
  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode "Sunday", a couple of personnel get infected with tumors that explode like bombs. When the team finds out about the tumors, one of the personnel is already in surgery for injuries sustained when the first person blew up. Sheppard calls Dr. Beckett and orders him to evacuate himself and his staff before the man explodes, but Beckett refuses to abandon his patient to die. One of his nurses stays with him to help remove the explosive tumor, which Beckett then takes to the waiting EOD technicians. Just as Beckett hands off the tumor to the bomb squad guy, it blows up, killing both of them. There would have been one less fatality if Beckett had just followed Sheppard's orders.
  • A big part of Deadwood; Seth Bullock has an iron-clad sense of honor and a refusal to abide by injustice, inflexible qualities that arguably wind up hurting the town more than helping it. By contrast, Al Swearengen hasn't an honorable bone in his body, but he's got enough self-interest, moral flexibility (and just enough compassion) to help the town immeasurably.

     Tabletop Games  

  • Shows up a few places in Exalted. The Usurpation, several actions of the Scarlet Empress, and even occasionally the Primordial War had results that were kind of good in the long run but the methods to achieve them and their (undecided) ultimate consequences are still a bit... iffy.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Declaring Exterminatus on a planet is generally a delicate matter, as it involves the total and complete annihilation of an entire planet's population. In theory, it's used when they cannot be saved from Chaos or genestealer infection, and this outweighs the planet's benefits (in terms of providing men, materiel or ressources), but unfortunately what with Chaos plots and Inquisitors going rogue/falling to Chaos, there are quite a few occasions where Exterminatus merely furthered the enemy's plans.

     Video Games  

  • Used quite frustratingly in Yggdra Union, where there are three examples of the trope.
    • Starting at the end of Chapter 7, when the Royal Army begins its invasion of Bronquia, they devastate the country and destroy several innocent towns but don't stop because Yggdra is afraid that Gulcasa will just invade Fantasinia again. The venture winds up not just utterly destroying Bronquia's capital and killing everyone in the Imperial Army, but costing the life of Milanor's best friend and love interest, Kylier.
    • Then in Chapter 9, when Nessiah is reintroduced, Yggdra and Milanor automatically vilify him and refuse to listen to his side of the story, even before he starts trotting out People Puppets. While his plans do endanger the world and he's come dangerously close to crossing the Moral Event Horizon, he's also got very good reasons for what he's doing.
    • And finally, the player's choices mean that there is no real good ending. If Yggdra gives up the Gran Centurio and decides to reign in peace, the real villain is allowed to continue his plans unchecked and the system that abused and broke Nessiah is allowed to flourish, but if she follows in Nessiah's footsteps and chooses to Rage Against the Heavens, she winds up endangering her own world and the cycle of pain and sacrifice just goes on for much longer. There is no happy ending for Nessiah, who the Royal Army looks at as a villain either way, and everyone who died still died (in some cases pretty needlessly).
  • Devil Survivor has a few examples. For instance, on Day 5, you can talk Keisuke down from his Knight Templar vengence spree without a fight. However, doing so upsets idealistic Midori, and she leaves your team... and goes straight to Kaido, telling him who and where the 'four-eyed freak' who killed his followers is, forcing you to fight both of them and break their COMPs.
    • Well, ultimately it's a Dual Boss in place of a Plotline Death. Not exactly a bad deal.
    • Day 5 can be pretty evil about this. If you found Mari's bag the previous night, one of the first things your party recommends that you do this day is give it back to her, so that she has the Achilles' Heel necessary to defeat Kudlak. Did you do that? Well, congratulations - you've basically doomed Keisuke to die horribly at Kaido's hands, and your only chance to save him at this point is at the exact time Mari is scheduled to die. The proper solution to all this is to give Mari's bag to Kaido, which, by making him go to help Mari, distracts him from hunting down Keisuke... and to do that, you need to have seen one or two specific conversations on an earlier day. Dammit, Atlus!
  • The Sadistic Choice at the end of Meria's route in Knights in the Nightmare. Either you betray Meria, side with Marietta, and kill your most loyal ally for the sake of an otherwise "happy" end, or you refuse to abandon her, and she hits the entire universe's Reset Button by destroying it. There is no other option but fighting Marietta and losing, which is much worse.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, two sidequests in Orzammar have this effect.
    • First is the quest where you help the dwarven Genki Girl scholar Dagna be allowed to move into the Circle to study (Dwarves are incapable of magic). While this seems like a good thing, according to the epilogue, Dagna's research deeply explores how lyrium contributes to magic, giving the Circle an excuse to set up a semi-independent group in Orzammar. However, the Chantry becomes enraged at the prospect of Orzammar harboring mages not under their control, seriously straining the relations between the Chantry and Orzammar. The negative effects can only be avoided by mage warden under the right circumstances.
    • The second, and probably much more severe quest, is where you help a dwarf establish a Chantry presence in Orzammar. If you do this, the epilogue reveals that resentment of the Chantry's presence eventually sparks mass riots throughout the city. The leader of the Orzammar Chantry, who happens to be the dwarf you helped, is killed in these riots, further straining relations with the Chantry to the point that they are seriously considering launching an Exalted March (ie holy war) against Orzammar.
    • Yet a third comes from the main questline in the city itself. In order to get any support from the city, you need to ensure that one of two candidates for kingship takes the throne. One candidate is Lord Harrowmont, a fairly good natured man who is said to have been chosen by the former king himself as the successor. The other is Prince Bhelen, the remaining son of the former king, correctly suspected of killing his older brother and framing his other sibling (possibly main character) among other shady schemes for the throne. Choosing Harrowmont results in Orzammar closing itself off from the surface world and strengthening the already oppressive caste system. Choosing Bhelen results in Orzammar becoming a benevolent dictatorship, opening up to others, taking back some lost land, and eventually abolishing the caste system. Yeah, this game loves it some Grey and Gray Morality. Then again, the game does show that Bhelen is supportive of the Casteless while Harrowmont is a traditionalist to the point of stagnation.
    • Unsurprisingly, Dragon Age II likes this trope as well.
      • Want to help Anders deal with his possession problem? Congratulations, you just helped him set up a Fantastic Nuke that killed thousands of innocent people and sparked an all-out conflict between the Templars and Mages.
      • Consistently picking the "diplomatic" options on the dialogue wheel during Merrill's final companion quest ends up forcing you to kill her entire clan after they attack you.
      • You might start to regret your decision to side with the mages when the First Enchanter starts using Blood Magic.
      • You might start to regret your decision to side with the templars when Knight-Commander Meredith goes ballistic and accuses her own men of being traitors, and starts using lyrium that previously drove Bartrand insane...
      • A misguided apostate whose life you can choose to spare will end up swearing revenge, turning to Blood Magic, and kidnapping your (friend or relative, depending), even if you side with the mages.
      • In four out of five of those cases it makes no damned difference what you choose, it'll happen anyway. The disaster with Merrill's clan is the only one that can be avoided, and is probably the biggest surprise of your "good" choices going wrong. The correct choice is the bottom one, which has Hawke take full responsibility for what happened to Keeper Marethari. Then the clan just exiles Merrill instead of you having to kill them.
  • Mass Effect 2: During Samara's recruitment mission, you come across an Eclipse merc willing to surrender and who is practically begging for her life. You can let her live, despite her going for a gun, but you'll find an audio log that reveals that she was the one who murdered the Volus merchant, and that she took sadistic pleasure in it as well. But it's Ultimately Averted: If you listen to the news afterwords (the same news that talks about Blasto), they say that she was arrested.
    • Also Averted if you read up on the Eclipse mercs before you talk to her. She's wearing an Eclipse uniform and all recruits must commit at least one murder before being allowed a uniform.
    • The suicide mission is another example when picking roles for the squad members. Usually, who to pick is obvious (for example it's obviously a bad idea to pick Jacob for hacking the doors open despite him volunteering because as Miranda points out, you need a tech expert. Jack and Samara are obvious biotic badasses who can easily hold up a biotic field against seeker swarms, though despite her comments, Miranda isn't). But there's a couple of seemingly good choices that could come as a nasty surprise to the player, as well as a seemingly bad choice that actually works. Zaeed Massani seems at first glance like he'd be perfect to lead the fire team. Didn't he help co-found the Blue Suns? And doesn't he always survive when getting into fights? But, a fire team leader can't succeed unless he also protects his team, and Zaeed has a history of getting his team killed. Let's also hope you didn't interpret Thane's rapid analysis of the Citadel's weakpoints and security as squad-worthy tactical awareness. Likewise, some players might pick Mordin to go through the vents and hack the doors open; isn't he a genius? But, Mordin's expertise is entirely in the life sciences; he has no computer experience at all. As for the seemingly bad choice, when Miranda volunteers to lead the fire team, Jack will complain that nobody trusts her, or if Jack was killed by the Occulus laser Garrus will raise the complaint instead. But, as Miranda said, it's not a popularity contest. Miranda has years of leadership experience, so Jack and Garrus' objections notwithstanding, she is a good fire team leader choice!
  • Mass Effect 3: Since this is the game where all your choices come together, it's natural that there are some cases of this. Usually it's the "heroic" (i.e. Paragon) decisions that pay off, but there are some exceptions. Some players wanted to avoid genocide against geth by rewriting the heretic geth in Mass Effect 2, but that actually makes peace between quarians and geth harder as the rewritten geth join the forces fighting the quarians. Also, if you destroyed the Collector Base instead of saving it, you get a weaker War Asset from the Cerberus base than you would have if you'd preserved the base (although doing so also makes destroying the Reapers instead of controlling them easier). Finally, as the Extended Cut ending DLC reveals in one of its slides, if you cured the genophage with Wreav as the leader instead of Wrex, Wreav gathers a huge krogan army to make war on the galaxy, a point Shepard can touch on if convincing Mordin to fake curing the genophage if Wrex and Eve are dead.
    • You can also approve a soldier's transfer to the fight against the Reapers, so that she can avoid possibly having to kill her brother in Cerberus. However, your war assets will take a hit as Alliance forces take casualties from a lack of engineers in the fight against Cerberus. Detail-oriented players may have noticed the N7: Cerberus Lab mission contains journal entries from the soldier's brother. They reveal he's already been "integrated", which erased his personality, and it's possible he's one of the mooks you killed in that mission anyway.
    • There's an asari with post-traumatic stress disorder you can overhear telling her story to a counselor. Eventually she begs to have a gun, and since you-as-Shepard have Spectre authority, you can use the Spectre Terminal to authorize giving her a gun. But if you do that, she kills herself, and this traumatizes the medical workers to such an extent that your War Assets take a hit as the doctors' minds aren't completely on the job.
    • Putting pressure on a dock officer to allow more refugees into the Citadel will decrease the value of your Citadel Defense Force war asset due to an overflow of refugees.
    • Not taking the Renegade Option when speaking to Kelly Chambers (advising her to change her identity) will result in her being executed by Cerberus troops during the invasion of the Citadel.
    • If you side with Tali during her argument with Admiral Xen (pressuring Xen into using her research ships to search for survivors rather than salvage the remains of the Geth dreadnought), you will lose out on a pretty hefty War Asset for the Crucible.
    • Taking the Paragon option and letting Javik touch the memory shard will cause him to decide to kill himself once the war is over.
  • Fallout 3 has the infamous Tenpenny Towers quest, where the guards won't allow Roy Philips, a sentient ghoul, to buy himself an apartment or even let him in. Fighting the Fantastic Racism would be the right thing to do for anyone except Roy, because he's a murdering bastard who has no intentions of living peacefully with his new neighbors. With a proper FAQ, the player can subvert this trope by assassinating Roy right after getting the existing residents to agree to let the ghouls in.
  • Fallout: New Vegas also has a number of unexpected negative consequences result from seemingly good acts, although nothing as extreme as the Tenpenny Tower example from Fallout 3. Convincing Arcade to fight alongside the Remnants against Caesar in the NCR and Legion endings results in him being branded a war criminal and hunted down due to his revealing his Enclave affiliation, and going for the Independence ending results in the Followers of the Apocalypse being flooded beyond capacity by new patients due to the massive increase in mayhem and dismemberment caused by the resulting power vacuum.
    • For the Brotherhood of Steel questline, the current Elder McNamara has kept the whole bunker on lockdown for years, seeming to be a sign of the Brotherhood's stagnancy. You can play kingmaker for a successor, Hardin, who wants to lift the lockdown. Turns out Hardin simply wanted to lift the lockdown so they could start mugging Wastelanders for their pre-war tech without restraint. McNamara was actually one of the most progressive members of the Brotherhood, who ends the lockdown as soon as he gets proper evidence that it was safe to do so and can be convinced to make peace with the NCR—something Hardin completely refuses.
    • Honest Hearts features one of these in both outcomes of the final choice. Helping Daniel evacuate the Sorrows saves more people from dying, but Zion — one of the last fertile and non-nuked areas in the world — is destroyed by the now-unopposed White Legs. Meanwhile, helping Graham exterminate the White Legs saves Zion, but the Sorrows end up breaking their wow of nonviolence that leads to later conflicts with their former allies the Dead Horses.
  • The Witcher 2 Assassins Of Kings, any action you take is likely to end up with some innocent person paying dearly for it, whether the act was good, bad or neutral.
    • Try to make a stand on freedom, nonhumans get massacred.
    • Try to solve a murder, an innocent man dies.
    • Any choice that seems to be the most noble should be approached with utmost care.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, one mission sees a you tasked with defending in court a renounced republic war hero accused of murdering an agent of the sith forces on a neutral planet. The Sith have clearly tampered with evidence to incriminate him making your job easy enough. Trouble is you can track down evidence proving that he is actually guilty and killed her out of passion when he found out she was only romantically involved with him to spy for the enemy. The correct (i.e. Light side) choice is to point out that the Sith altered the evidence, but that he's guilty anyway.
  • In Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark, you'll come across a woman who has built a shrine and is caring for a sleeping celestial searching for his one true love. Later on in the game, you can discover that she is the woman the celestial has been searching for the entire time. Not playing your cards exactly right results in her rejecting her destined lover since she feels she is unworthy of his feelings and dooming the celestial to an eternity of searching for her in vain. Do it right, however, and they stay together.
  • Army of Two: The 40th Day subverts/deconstructs/parodies video game morality choices with heavy use of this trope. There are a number of points in the game in which the heroes are given a choice of two actions; one obviously "good" and one obviously "bad". The "bad" morality choices usually turn out exactly as you would expected. The subversion/deconstruction comes in the fact that the "good" morality choice almost always has a completely unforeseeable, incredibly negative consequence in the future, often as bad or even worse than what would have if you made the "bad" choice, which the heroes never even become aware of and which is only revealed to the player by the narrator.
    • As an example, the first morality choice you get in the game is to kill another mercenary who's been helping you, or to pretend to kill him and tell him to disappear. If you kill him, he dies. If you let him live, he escapes Shanghai before all the shit goes down, and moves to a quit tropical island...where he's killed by an assassin while sleeping on a beach lounger.
      • That being said, the point of the morality choices in the game are that you can't control anything beyond the choices you make: Rios and Salem aren't bad guys, and they aren't good guys. They're just guys in the middle of a chaotic situation trying to do what they think is right in the moment. Whether it works out later is beyond the scope of their choice, and they really don't care one way or the other what happens after they part ways: they have their own problems to deal with. In other words, it's personal morality vs. omniscient morality.
  • Two examples from Alpha Protocol:
    • In Rome, you will be given the Sadistic Choice of saving your friend or defusing bombs that threaten to kill dozens, if not hundreds, of people. If you choose to save the Damsel in Distress, the bombs go off. If you defuse the bombs, she is shot dead in front of you. From a purely utilitarian perspective, defusing the bombs is obviously the right thing to do, since many more people will die if they go off. The epilogue reveals that, either way, whoever dies becomes a symbol for the movement to enact harsh new anti-terrorism laws (which was the villain's goal all along). However, if the Damsel in Distress lives, she becomes a grassroots political figure in the movement to oppose them.
    • In Taiwan, your choice is to save the President from being assassinated or prevent a violent riot that could kill hundreds of people. Again, from a utilitarian perspective, the gain of keeping the region stable and preventing a Taiwanese/Chinese arms escalation by preserving the President's life may outweigh the civilian life cost, but saving him actually leads to worsened Taiwan/China relations since he uses his increased popularity with the public to push for official Taiwanese independence. If you let him die and instead focus on stopping the riots, the riots are stopped cold and nobody else dies, and the President is replaced with a pro-reunification successor who defrosts Taiwan's relationship with China by starting reunification talks and more or less killing the Taiwanese pro-independence movement (and thus possibly costing the U.S. an ally in the long run).
    • Ultimately, it turns out that there is no completely right choice in Alpha Protocol. At the end of the game, regardless of the choices you've made, the bad guy's plan succeeds and global tensions are increased almost to the point of a new cold war. However, the choices that you make can ultimately influence the ending in important ways: if you're able to prove that Alpha Protocol and Halbech are behind the increased tensions by saving the lives of key individuals and preventing the evidence from being destroyed as a result, then world tensions are implied to decrease. Alternatively, you can make things much better or much worse in the epilogue based on the choices you make. Getting to the endgame, though, is a foregone conclusion, regardless of what you decide.
    • An unintentional one is the result of a never-fixed bug. One Russian mission involves infiltrating a building, which depending on a previous choices is either guarded by local rent-a-cops or US marines. If you can't talk your way in and non-violently sneak in (or talk your way in and open the wrong door), the ending flag that gets triggered is that you massacred the marines even if they weren't there. This destroys any chance at the best endings since your word and evidence associated with you is now worthless.
  • Demons Souls: Maiden Astraea got hit pretty hard with this. Going to the Valley of Defilement in an effort to ease the pain of its people was a good thing. Gaining a Demon's Soul and using its power to give far more comfort to the denizens than a human normally could? ...not so good. To her credit, it did work, but since the Old One feeds through its demons, her mere existence is now endangering the world. Oh, and the outcasts are now attacking anyone they can find so they can feed her the souls she needs to sustain herself. Whoops...
  • In The Sand Man, while Unicorn's reluctant to explain exactly what the pink jewel is, his reaction clearly indicates it's important. However, refusing to let him keep it actually locks Sophie into a bad ending.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the first part of the game involves Link getting the three Sacred Stones in order to retrieve the Master Sword, the only weapon capable of defeating Ganondorf and foiling his plans to take the Triforce from the Sacred Realm. Unfortunately, pulling the Master Sword from its pedestal turns out to be the the very means of unlocking the Sacred Realm, letting Ganondorf take the Triforce.
  • Portal 2 gets hit hard by this. At first, it seems like a perfectly reasonable idea to hijack GLaDOS and put Wheatley in her place. However, as GLaDOS sarcastically points out, what you've effectively done is put a complete idiot in charge of a highly complex yet poorly designed scientific facility, which promptly starts to self-destruct. Attempting to fix your mistake by returning GLaDOS to her throne may also be a potentially bad move, as seen when she deletes Caroline from her brain, effectively leaving her with full power and not even the memory of a conscience...maybe.

     Visual Novels  

  • An irritating example occurs at the end of Akiha's route in Tsukihime. Akiha has finally succumbed to her demon blood and become a mindless killer. She made you promise to kill her when this happened. Breaking your promise and letting her live nets you a very depressing ending where Akiha lives out the rest of her life as a mindless doll in a shed that has to suck your blood until you nearly collapse every day. This is her normal end. Keeping your promise and putting her out of her misery nets you a Bad End despite being much less miserable. (To get the best ending, you have to Take a Third Option, but that's beside the point.)
  • Fate/stay night, during the Heaven's Feel route, the protagonist faces the choice of killing Sakura, an innocent abuse victim who he loves, or sparing her and risking her killing innocent people entirely unintentionally. The former choice has Shirou emulating his foster father Kiritsugu and killing his emotions to do what's "right"...and severely disappointing Ilya (who was previously abandoned by Kiritsugu, her father) and Rin (who is then forced to kill her sister), with the implication being that he will eventually kill them too. Even the Tiger Dojo inhabitants are speechless. And the one person with congratulations happens to take pleasure in the suffering of others... The latter choice also cannot be considered the 'right' thing because while you spare an innocent, it results in Sakura being saved, but only after unconsciously devouring many people and putting the world in danger.
  • In the first half of Time Hollow, this happens to Ethan a lot. His first try at fixing each past incident usually makes things worse, and he has to try something else. He has even more trouble in the second half of the game, but this time it's because the bad guy is actively undercutting him.
  • There's a nasty example of this in Date Warp. If the player-as-Janet is doing Nathaniel's route, at one point Janet reads the diary of Bianca, Nathaniel's old girlfriend. From the diary Janet learns that before she started dating Nathaniel, Bianca slept around with multiple men for fun. Naturally, players hoping to win Nathaniel's heart will be tempted to reveal the contents of the diary to Nathaniel, after all, Nathaniel practically worshiped Bianca when she was alive, shouldn't he be told something so important? Oh, and what a bonus, it would open up space for Janet in his heart...well, not quite. See, if you actually tell Nathaniel about the diary, he incredulously wonders what makes you think he didn't already know about this. Actually, he and Bianca talked about this like grown-ups as they were dating, and Nathaniel decided he didn't care so they could move on. Janet on the other hand is a child because she was snooping in someone else's private diary and tattling on the writer.
  • The player's first instincts are probably wrong when playing Mayu's or Mizuka's routes in One Kagayaku Kisetsu E. This is because in Mayu's route, you need to keep pushing her to do things other than what she wants so that Mayu will move past her animal-like behavior. And in Mizuka's route, the Jerkass choices are the right ones, even the choice that leads to Mizuka in a dark room with random men copping a feel. Why? Because in order to become involved with Mizuka, Kouhei has to stop taking her for granted, and he only does that if he realizes that Mizuka loves him so much she'll put up with him even when he's a jerk.
  • There's a minor example in Kanon. Usually the choices to get the girls' routes are pretty obvious. But there's a case in Makoto's route where the player might make an understandable screw-up: on January 23rd, first the player needs to look for Amano Mishio... but the next correct choice is to leave without talking to Mishio. The player's first instinct would be to talk to Mishio since Mishio is Makoto's friend, but that's the wrong choice because it won't get you the information you need on this particular day. You need to talk to Mishio later, when she herself is more willing to talk to you.
  • In Little Busters!, in Komari's route, Komari starts mentally deteriorating because she realized that she did in fact have a big brother after all, which she forgot on her dying brother's advice since the memory of his loss was so painful. Then Komari starts to use the player character, Riki, as a "surrogate". Given Komari's nasty mental state and how much the truth would break her, it's understandable if the player chooses that yes, Riki will pretend to be Komari's big brother. But doing that means Komari remains in a dream forever, leading to a Bad Ending. To get Komari's good ending you have to tell Komari the truth no matter how painful it is. It hurts Komari at first but then she and Riki end up romantically involved.
  • There's a more merciful example of this trope than usual in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. In the first game in the series in the DS-only additional case, Phoenix Wright recovers a piece of cloth cut from a murder victim's chest, which appears to be crucial evidence Phoenix Wright needs. Then Damon Gant, the police chief whose safe you took this evidence from, says he knows you have a piece of evidence, wouldn't you like to show it to the court? But he phrases his request as a taunt, as if he wants you to present the evidence; this should raise the player's suspicions which is why this example of this trope is more merciful than usual. If you present the evidence the first time Damon Gant asks you for it, the fingerprints on the cloth belong to Ema Skye, which gives Lana Skye a reasonable motive both to cover up the supposed Joe Darke murder and to kill Bruce Goodman who was asked to review evidence of that case. That causes you to instantly lose. The correct response is to hide the cloth, then present it later when you're later capable of proving that while the prints on the cloth belong to Ema, the condition of the cloth proves that Damon Gant was the murderer.
  • In Corpse Party: Cross Fear, Sayako obtains a Tragic Keepsake that belonged to Kaori's sister. While handing this over to Kaori seems like the most compassionate choice, doing so is actually one of the requirements for Ending B, the biggest downer of the lot.
  • In the 5th trial of Danganronpa, a student makes a claim that is very obviously a lie, and you have easy means to prove it. Considering revealing lies in testimonies is what you've been doing the entire game until this point, and that the only other suspect in the case is the Player Character, revealing the lie seems like the obvious choice, but doing this leads to the Bad Ending. Despite resulting in the main character being voted guilty and sentenced to execution, not revealing the lie actually ends up being the best choice for everyone.

     Web Original  

  • In the Whateley Universe, religious nut Reverend Englund becomes aware that there is a half-demon student at the school who he thinks will take over the world by enslaving people, killing others and using her mind slaves to breed demon spawn. While the Reverend has fought otherworldly invaders and all manner of creatures who did harm, in this case he's actually wrong: Sara/Kellith has actually decided that she's going to do good for the world and promote peace and love. So the Reverend gets the Syndicate (i.e. the organised bad guys) to help him kill her… and what would have been a controlled attempt to kill just one person gets hijacked by the Chessmaster, resulting in a large part of the school getting blown up, a number of security personnel and teachers getting maimed and/or killed and all the students being incredibly traumatised.

     Western Animation  

  • The Weekenders, "Band": Carver Descartes tells his favorite band that he is not a songwriter, simply because he thinks that lying about the band dedicating their local show to them was enough lies. Turns out that because of that, Chumbucket doesn't have to pay royalties for a song they wrote from doodles Carver left on a napkin. Carver is seething.
    Carver: (clenches teeth)
    Tino: You Did the Right Thing.
    Carver: Still... (clenches teeth again)
  • Futurama:
    • "Jurassic Bark": Fry changes his mind about resurrecting his dog when he found out Seymour lived far longer without Fry than he did with him, so Fry figured that meant he had a long fulfilling life. Long? Yes. Fulfilling? No — he never got over Fry's disappearance, and spent the rest of his life waiting in front of Fry's old workplace. Fry never finds out about this. We call that a Downer Ending.
    • Thanks to Time Travel in Bender's Big Score this ended up becoming the right thing again. A copy of Fry is sent back in time and lived the other 12 years of Seymour's life with him in the 21st century. This was probably done because the original ending crushed souls with its sadness.
  • This cartoon short about driving is all about this trope. Every time the person does the "right" action, it only brings further trouble or inconvenience.
  • Played for Laughs in earlier seasons of Moral Orel.

     Real Life  

  • Too many examples, but the saying says it best: "The road to Hell is often paved with good intentions."


Not My DriverFinagle's LawNothing Can Stop Us Now
Not So Omniscient After AllMorality TropesNot So Different

alternative title(s): The Wrong Right Thing
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