Angel Beats!: Yuri in the computer room, when she finds out that she can become 'God', denies the power. Made all the more powerful when you remember that her objective all along was to find 'God' to defeat him.
Everyone knows that Zoro from One Piece is one of the main good guys and despite him not showing it as often, he does look after the crew. The end of Thriller Bark shows exactly what kind of lengths he would go for them, as he fully intended to sacrifice himself as part of the deal to Kuma to spare the others.
Usopp's fights also tend to be examples of this. Especially his first real battle of the series. His opponent Choo is his physical superior in every conceivable way, and Usopp survives his first encounter by playing dead. As he starts covering himself in dirt to make his excuse for letting Choo leave more believable, he realizes he doesn't want to be a coward and a liar, stands up to Choo while scared to death, and actually comes out on top and wins.
To Usopp's credit, he was certainly FASTER than Choo.
Rachel from Tower Of God is given the opportunity of climbing the Tower as long as she plays part in the conspiracy that requires Baam to die. When they are alone and Baam once again states he wants to be with her, she pushes him off the platform.
In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Batou corners a serial killer he had been chasing in order to exact revenge on him for slaughtering a village full of innocent people. He has the opportunity to kill him without anybody asking questions (in fact, the CIA agents working with him were banking on this to happen). However, Batou reminds the killer (and himself) that he's a law enforcement officer now, not a soldier, and promptly arrests him.
The defining moment of End Of Evangelion: Shinji Ikari has the choice of returning to life (and allowing others to do the same) or dooming humanity to an eternity as a single non-sentient organism. Nobody would EVER know if he chose to die. Nobody would judge him for it. The decision was his and his alone. He proved, for possibly the only time in the series, that he truly was the hero by deciding to return to life, even though it would be painful and lonely. Granted, there's no "villain" urging him to let humanity die, but it's his internal conflict.
In Planetes, Tonabe is on the moon with no air left in her suit, and an unconscious terrorist with a full tank of oxygen at her feet. She is tempted to let the terrorist die and steal the air for herself. But in the end she realizes she can't, and lets herself begin to choke to death.
A variant occurs in Death Note. After discovering the eponymous Death Note, Light goes on a rampart killing spree of criminals over 5 days that surprises a god of death. This is later revealed to be because he expected some retribution to come to him and he wanted to do as much "good" as possible. It's only after Ryuk explains to him that there are no consequences to using the Death Note (specifically that the user cannot go to Heaven or Hell) that he starts his A God Am I attitude... then it all goes downhill from there.
This happens in Superman Batman of all places, with Batman as the tempter. When both heroes confront then-president of the United States, Lex Luthor, over a bounty he placed on Superman's head, blaming Luthor for an incoming meteor about to hit the earth, and the beating he just gave to their respective proteges, Superman has been pushed so far he is ready to fry Luthor, who actually dares him to do it since he doesn't believe he will go that far. That is, until Batman shows up and quite calmly tells Superman he [Batman] won't stop him, and that they can just make it look like an accident or "better yet, as if he'd vanished without a trace." It is at this point that Luthor starts sweating cold. Needless to say, Superman doesn't kill him and settles for throwing him against the wall before leaving to stop the meteor. Which was what Batman probably knew would happen all along. Probably.
A similar moment happens in a DCAU finale. After Flash defeats Lexiac and vanishes into the speed force, Luthor taunts the heroes that he did kill him after all. Superman picks him up by the neck and readies the laser vision. Wonder Woman starts to rush forward, but Batman holds her off.
Superman: I'm not the man who killed President Luthor. Right now I wish to Heaven that I was, but I'm not.
That was definitely a Batman Gambit. Superman had been struggling throughout the arc with the actions of his alternate universe counterpart. Batman wanted to give Superman the chance to affirm his character. With the opportunity, Supes shows just how strong he truly is.
In one of the Batman The Animated Series based comics (during the The New Adventures period), a multi-millionaire philanthropist places a million dollar bounty for the Joker's head (dead or alive, but preferably dead), in order to have justice for the Joker driving his son insane. He does so via live broadcast, including the Times-Square-esque television screens in Gotham Uptown. The whole city goes berserk as everybody tries to capture and or kill the Joker. Finally, Batman kidnaps the millionaire, brings him to a dark corner of Gotham where the Joker is tied to a chair in a cone of light. Batman says that he will not allow the man to buy himself a murder; if he wants Joker dead, he is going to have to kill him himself. Before disappearing into the dark though, Batman asks the businessman if this is really what he wants, and if it is really worth it. The man, alone with Joker, begins to lunge at the clown to strangle him, but stops himself, unable to go against his humanitarian nature. The next day, he withdraws the bounty, instead using it to start a support organization for the families of victims of violent crime. Just like Batman expected he would.
Batman himself ends up in this position with the Joker in The Dark Knight Returns. They're in an abandoned carnival ride, the Joker has just killed dozens of people after Batman's return has drawn him out of a decades-long catatonic state, and Batman has sworn that he'll never let the Joker take another life and is prepared to kill him. In the end, Batman can't do it and paralyses the Joker by nearly breaking his neck. Laughing at Batman's lack of guts and knowing that no one else in the world will know he didn't do it, Joker finishes the job for him and kills himself.
A Secret Six chapter contains a chilling inversion of this and other similar situations. The titular group of Villain Protagonists is hired to snatch a pedophile serial killer from police, by the father of one of the said killer's victims, who intends to avenge his daughter personally. However, when Catman and Deadshot deliver the safely bound killer into an isolated storehouse, where no one will hear any screams, he starts backing down, clearly unprepared to take another's life and saying he doesn't think he can do that. Catman coldly responds with "Yes, you can", and a short but detailed instruction about the most painful ways to flense a human. Judging by the man's immediate reaction, he takes this advice to heart.
Current Trope Illustrator: in Chapter 7 of Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, "Dreamtime Duck of the Never-Never", Scrooge (decades before becoming wealthy) chooses to return a huge opal that had been stolen to its rightful place in a sacred Aboriginal cave, rather than take it for himself and make a fortune selling it.
The same four-issue arc of the Star WarsRogue Squadron comic that introduces Baron Soontir Fel, Ace Pilot of the Empire, shows us that he's not that bad a guy by including a scene where his superior, a corrupt admiral tasked with protecting a planet, tells him to relax and enjoy the planet's luxuries, which includes a scantily-clad local girl named "Grania". Fel says that his wife wouldn't approve. The admiral tells him that his wife wouldn't either, but no one needed to know. Fel uses the stock answer of "I'll know."
Star Wars Invasion #3: Finn has the opportunity to kill a trapped Yuuzhan Vong warrior, but instead he frees him, instructing him to "learn." Luke Skywalker was covertly watching this Secret Test of Character, however.
True natures are revealed at times like this. [...] No mercy could be expected — but some individuals exceed expectations.
"I am Princess of Alderaan, Luke. Fate has cast me as a leader of the Rebellion. For better or worse, whatever the outcome... I'll play that role to the finish."
In the second Booster Gold series, Booster intends to become a serious, hard-working superhero in tribute to Blue Beetle. Then Rip Hunter offers him a chance to protect the time continuum — by maintaining his reputation as a fool, which will protect him from time-traveling enemies. Booster struggles but accepts. (Although, in this case, Rip can offer that he will know that Booster is a great hero, and later Batman becomes Booster's Secret Keeper.)
Played heartbreakingly straight by a doomed Buffy body double in one of the Buffy Season 8 Comics. "I tried to feel it. I tried to face the darkness like a woman and I don't need any more than that. You don't have to remember me. You don't even have to know who I am. But I do." Made all the more powerful because we never learn the girl's name.
Wedge Antilles earned one in a Rogue Squadron comic set shortly after the destruction of the Second Death Star. Corellia's capital city is attacked by an Imperial madman desperate to show that the Empire had not yet been defeated. After several days of intense fighting, they cornered him and forced him to flee in a TIE Interceptor, with Wedge chasing after him in another. Wedge manages to shoot him down and lands to find the man crawling out of the wreckage. After giving him one strong punch in the face, Wedge binds his hands, saying that no one would question him if he decided to execute the Imperial right there, but then all of the man's victims would never see justice.
The ending of the original Doom Patrol series had their nemeses take a small fishing village hostage, demanding the Patrol's deaths in exchange. The Doom Patrol accepted the deal, and died as obscurely as they lived. Until the inevitable Retcon, anyway.
The corresponding episode in "Batman The Brave And The Bold" called "The Last Patrol!" had the Patrol do the same thing, their deaths broadcast all over the world by General Zahl. However, he finds the people end up ADMIRING the Patrol for their sacrifice. The General realizes that even in Death, the Doom Patrol defeated him. In memoriam, the island village of fourteen the Patrol died for is renamed "Four Heroes."
Arguably the entire impetus of Empowered in later chapters, with the titular character proving her heroism in ways that will never garner acclaim or repair her tarnished public image because, quote, "THIS. IS. WHO. I. AM." Compounded by the most jerky of her Jerk Ass teammates actively blaming her for the incidents she resolved.
Defied in two MAD comics about the collection plate. In one "A Mad Look at" strip, a priest, in response to disappointing returns from the collection plate, takes a camcorder to collection, and everyone sheepishly puts in large amounts of money. In a Ventriloquist Priest comic, the priest makes it seem as though the statues are talking about the people who put in small amounts of money, saying that God is watching and they will go to Hell for their stinginess, prompting them to quickly increase their donations.
The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic The Best Night Ever has Prince Blueblood, stuck in a Groundhog Day Loop on the day of the Grand Galloping Gala, work very hard at shedding his Prince Charmless qualities and go full-out to make the Gala as good as it can be in order to escape. It fails because he's trying too hard, and all of it comes across as artificial. When the loop starts again, he goes out into the palace sculpture garden, stands at the foot of Discord's statue, and seriously considers setting him free. After a long moment of contemplation, Blueblood finally decides he can't do it, and walks away to try one more time.
In the Pony POV Series, it's shown in the Origins arc that when Discord was reincarnated on Earth following the Alicorn/Draconnequi War, Galaxia attempted to smother him in his crib... and couldn't bring herself to do it, even knowing what he would become if he regained his memories. She lived to regret this.
In Background Pony Lyra ambushes Straight Edge, the alcoholic, abusive father of Snips, and breaks his legs, knowing that she can get away with anything thanks to her curse, which edits her out of the memory of anyone she interacts with after a short period of time. However, she stops short of breaking his horn because of this trope, and even transports him to the hospital once he's forgotten about the attack.
Lyra's decision in the penultimate chapter also qualifies. The only way she can remove her curse is to play the last elegy of the Nocturne of the Firmaments, and, in the process, rewind time to the moment she was cursed and erase all the good she had achieved, up to and including the crucial role she played in defeating Discord. No one, herself included, would ever know if she took this option, but Lyra decides against it and returns to Ponyville to live out her life as an Unperson with a fractured memory.
Films — Animated
The Rescuers has Bernard singing the RAS anthem by himself just outside the meeting hall. When Bianca sees him doing that, that is enough proof for her of how deeply he values the organization's ideals. Bernard was merely the janitor at the time, and the other representatives/agents who were in the meeting hall were being far less reverent of the anthem.
Disney's Tarzan has Clayton give Tarzan the choice of shooting him with his own doublebarreled shotgun with no one else around: "Go ahead, shoot me, be a man". Tarzan's reply? Mimicking the sound of the gun being shot to put some fear into Clayton before smashing said shotgun in front of him. "Not a man like you."
This trope is discussed in City Slickers. To paraphrase the conversation: "Okay, you're married, but suppose a gorgeous woman came from a spaceship and wanted to have sex with you and leave without anyone knowing. Would you do it?" "No." "Why not?" "Because that happened to my cousin, and the women at the hairdresser's shop found out about it because they know everything!"
In Clerks, Dante leaves a relatively unsupervised pile of money on the counter in the store for change and payment of goods, with a sign next to it that encourages the customers to "...leave money on the counter. Take change when applicable. Be honest." Dante is actually on the floor behind the counter with his girlfriend, inattentive of his job. She asks how he knows that they taking the right amount of change or are even paying for what they are taking and he responds with something like "Theoretically, people see money on the counter and no one around, they think they're being watched."
In Donnie Darko, Donnie goes back in time and lets himself die so that everyone else can live.
In Hannibal, Lecter is at the Big Bad's mercy, about to be fed to a pit of wild boar, when Lecter raises an interesting question to his personal physician:
Hannibal: Hey Cordell! Why don't you push him in? You can always say it was me.
The physician does. This must be one of the only times in the history of fiction that killing somebody who is helpless in your care and then setting free a killer like Hannibal Lecter is actually the heroic choice.
In The Hobbit, Bilbo had the chance to kill Gollum and no one would know about it. He doesn't.
Another one happens to Bilbo when he overhears the dwarves talking about Bilbo deserting them after escape from the goblins. Since he was wearing the Ring and thus invisible, he could have let them believe he was gone for good and could have gone home back to the Shire. Instead,he reveals himself and continues the journey with them.
Villainous version: Sebastian Caine in Hollow Man has quite a bit of unspoken Inner Monologue about this trope and concludes that "It's amazing what you can do... when you don't have to look at yourself in the mirror any more."
In the 1965 comedy How to Murder Your Wife, Jack Lemmon is on trial for murdering his wife. When the trial appears to be headed for a conviction, he takes up his own defense and pleads justifiable homicide, appealing to the all-male jury's frustrations regarding their own wives. He offers a witness (and thus the jury) the idea that if they could press a magic button and their wives would disappear and no one would know, would they do it?
In Lord Of War, Jack Valentine keeps Yuri Orlov from being killed after being almost busted for gun running to Africa by citing this trope to his partner (who was suggesting they just kill Orlov).
"Look at where we are! Who will know?"
In Pitch Black, Riddick tells Johns to kill him in cold blood ("That's what I'd do to you."). An interesting case because the villain is effectively trying to commit suicide-by-hero. Subverted because Johns only ignores him because Riddick's bounty is worth double if he's alive, and it's strongly implied Riddick knew how he'd react.
Later in that film, Riddick does the same thing with Fry. "Nobody will blame you. Save yourself, Carolyn."
The Purge: When you have an event in which you can literally get away with anything for 12 hours, it really tests your character.
Tom Hanks' character plays this off ingeniously in Road to Perdition, covering his getaway from a heist by convincing the bank manager to take some of the loot from the bank robbery for himself. "You can always tell Chicago (Al Capone) that I took it."
In Rush Hour 2, Jackie Chan's character Lee has the Big Bad against the wall all alone and at gunpoint, and given what the Big Bad has done and the effect it had on Lee's life, none would blame him for shooting the guy where he stood. Chris Tucker's character James Carter enters this scene as the angel to the Big Bad's devil, telling Lee to not go too far. He then subverts his role after the Big Bad insults the memory of Lee's father, and tells Lee to shoot the guy. Lee still doesn't do it.
In Saving Private Ryan, Miller's squad comes across a German machine gun nest set up to ambush any approaching American soldiers. His squadmates point out that they can easily bypass the Germans, but Miller decides to take it out to prevent any more Americans from being ambushed. They also capture a German soldier and could easily execute him on the spot, but decide to take mercy and let him go. Finally, half the plot hinges on Miller and his squad's willingness to pursue what by all rights is a suicide mission. They could have easily just scrubbed the mission and say they couldn't find Ryan, but they ultimately decide to see it through to the end.
Nineteenth [Platoon] lasted seventeen minutes from the time the gates closed. They accounted for one-hundred and eighty nine enemy casualties. No one witnessed their heroism.
In Piers Anthony's On A Pale Horse, Luna is illegally destined by Satan to premature death on a certain day, at a time when her soul is weighted with so much evil that she's doomed to Hell upon her death. Nonetheless, knowing her fate, she goes to put her death to the best use she can find, making a Heroic Sacrifice to trade places with a virgin scheduled to be sacrificed to an endangered dragon, then allowing herself to die rather than damage the dragon's egg to save herself. The thing is, all this good pushes her soul into neutral, which means that Death is called to judge her soul personally, which he refuses to do, for various reasons up to and including having fallen in love with her. All of which is exactly as Fate planned.
In The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, the protagonist master game-player is pressed into a multi-year epic journey across the galaxy that is instrumental in the downfall of an empire, ultimately because he accepted a drone's help to cheat in a meaningless exhibition match. And it was not even in order to win, but just to convert a certain victory into a record-breaking one.
It is later revealed that the protagonist ultimately didn't have a choice The drone who offered him the temptation to cheat was an agent of Special Circumstances — the same people who the protagonist had refused an earlier invitation to come work for. So they sent someone to help him cheat, then record him cheating, and then blackmail him...not into coming to work for Special Circumtances, but into doing the drone a favor that he could only accomplish by first going back and accepting SC's recruitment offer, which was "conveniently" still open. Gurgeh, until the end of his life, never figures out that the two events were related.
In Memory, Miles Vorkosigan is asked why he did not accept a bribe, and part of the question is that it was almost certain that no one would have realized it. Miles modestly disclaims it on the grounds three would have known: him, the man who offered it, and the man he would have sacrificed by taking it. Only when it is pointed out that he would have outlived them does he admit that accepting the offer would have changed him irrevocably.
Miles: "The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart."
Later, in A Civil Campaign, Miles' father tells him the difference between reputation and honour: "Reputation is what other people know about you. Honour is what you know about yourself."
There's also the fact that Polly had a magic ring of her own and could get home perfectly well without Digory. The Witch doesn't know that, but Digory does and it's that slip-up which makes him realize how "false and hollow" everything Jadis said was.
In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40000Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, Pasanius and Uriel are in the Eye of Terror, and Pasanius suggests that not stealing a treasure from a daemon lord might be better. Uriel cites a philosopher who asked whether, if a stalagmite fell with no one to hear, it would make a sound, and says he understands it now: they will do the honorable thing, knowing that no one is likely to ever know.
In Michael A. Stackpole's I, Jedi, Corran Horn gives a whole litany of examples from his past, while trying to convince Luke that rather than being ignorant of temptation he does, in fact, know the lure of the dark side. Two of them are cases when he could have shot someone and had it explained as "resisting arrest", one of those being when he caught the one responsible for killing his father. One example:
Corran: "I've walked into a warehouse and arrested a spicelord in his office. He opened a case and it had over a million credits in it. A million — more money than I'll ever see in my lifetime. It was mine, he said, if I'd just take it and walk away. No one would ever know. But I'd know, and I didn't do it."
Later in the novel, though, Corran faces a form of Scarpia Ultimatum, realizes that his pride has pushed him to the point that he "doesn't recognize himself in the mirror anymore," and has to trace back and find himself again...
This is the whole point, even the unspoken Aesop, of Les MisÚrables. Valjean could easily let another man hang in his place, freeing him from worry about Javert forever and no one would ever know. But he'll know, and God will know, so he stops the execution and reveals himself, forcing him to disrupt his now peaceful and productive life to go back on the run from the law.
Played much more darkly in Victor Hugo's other famous novel, Notre Dame de Paris. Esmeralda is about to be hanged for the murder of Phoebus. Phoebus, quite alive, is standing in the crowd and nobody recognizes him. Revealing that he's still alive would put him in no real legal trouble at all. He lets them hang her.
Frodo is tempted to run away and leave Sam, Pippin, and Merry to die at the hands of the barrowwights because he could get away alive. He does not reflect on how no one else would know; then, he doesn't leave, either.
Sam could have left Frodo to die at the end of The Two Towers and kept the Ring for himself. Instead he is the only mortal to ever give up the Ring willingly and without outside coercion.
In a tale of Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser, the Anti-heroic duo briefly go into semi-retirement. Fafhrd the Barbarian becomes the acolyte of the Church of Issek of the Jug, a faith that had one priest, no other followers, and was maybe two days away from failing entirely. Fafhrd's reason? He saw the priest pat a deaf-blind-and-dumb child on the head while (as far as the priest knew) no one was looking. The priest's action is described as possibly being unique in that world's history.
The Firm by John Grisham does this in a more conventional way, with the main character tempted to adultery. Unusually, he gives in, but doing so turns out to be a very bad idea.
When Brutha leads Vorbis through the labyrinth, he contemplates leading him into a trap. He thinks: "who would ever know? I would" and doesn't do it.
Commander Sam Vimes of the Watch, as a deconstruction of the Cowboy Cop, has a couple of examples of this. This is a good part of the plot in Thud! where we see that Vimes has an "internal watchman" that stops him from becoming the authoritarian figure he hates so much and to respond the Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? question. At the end of Night Watch he is facing Carcer, a Serial Killer, in the graveyard and no one would have known (or cared) if he had killed him instead of trying to arrest him.
This comes up again in Snuff. Willikins tells someone that Vimes would uphold the law even if it killed him inside to do it. Willikins adds that he, unlike Vimes, is a killer, and perfectly willing to murder Stratford for his crimes rather than chance the man's escaping and harming anyone again. And does so.
Esmerelda Weatherwax. She's not "gone to the bad" only because she has Esmerelda Weatherwax watching over her shoulder the whole time.
And, in another sense, Carrot. He has a couple moments when he is exposed to a choice like this, most notably at the end of 'Men at arms' AND HE ALWAYS MAKES THE GOOD CHOICE. Because he truly IS a hero.
In Tom Holt's Ye Gods!, when Jason meets the old woman, she insists on their going through the whole spiel. When he says no one would know if they didn't, she says, "I will."
In The Door into Sunset, the last volume of Diane Duane's The Tale Of Five series, the main character Freelorn is confronted with Cillmod, his half-brother and the man who usurped his throne (and this is a Fisher King scenario, so that's doubly bad). They are in an absolutely dark, isolated place. Cillmod has just attacked him. 'Lorn could kill him, and no one would ever, ever know. If they did, who's going to argue with the king about it afterward? In a remarkably astute move, Freelorn spares Cillmod's life and puts him in a position of high authority in his kingdom (as the latter wasn't actually evil at all, just manipulated. Cillmod legitimately wanted to try and rule as a good king, but that whole aforementioned Fisher King thing was pretty set in stone, and he didn't have a strong enough bloodline).
In the first book of Harry Turtledove's Alternate HistoryColonization series, a sequel to the earlier Worldwar series, Vyacheslav Molotov, General Secretary of the Communist Party, is kidnapped and sent to the gulag by Lavrentiy Beria, chief of the NKVD, as part of Beria's attempted coup to seize control of the Soviet Union. Molotov is rescued by Georgy Zhukov, Beria's rival and commander of the Red Army, after Zhukov survived his own attempted assassination and thwarted the coup. In the aftermath, with Beria already having delivered false announcements that Molotov had voluntarily retired and with many senior communist officials already dead, Molotov is worried that Zhukov could easily just execute him and seize power for himself now that Beria had been dealt with. Zhukov seems to consider this for a moment, but in the end, apparently surprising even himself, he allows Molotov to remain as General Secretary and head of the Soviet Union. Zhukov is not above extorting more funding for the Red Army afterward and "suggesting" the course of political actions, but he remains loyal to Molotov for the duration of his rule. This is likely a reference to the Real Life Zhukov's admission that he was much better dealing with military matters than with politics.
In The Belgariad, Durnik's influence on the growing Garion is exemplified by his explaining that he is making a small piece to be used on the bottom of a cart as good as it can be made — because he will see the cart every day and be reminded how good or poor a job he did.
In The Dresden Files, Harry Dresden has had his fair share of these moments, usually when faced with Black Magic.
It's a recurring theme in the Changes, with several characters, even Mac, warning Harry that the latest crisis will show Harry who he really is. It showed that Harry is capable of being a true monster, if the stakes are high enough. Including when Harry is given the choice to kill a man and gain the power to save his daughter...and goes through with it.
The next book shows Harry does feel remorse when he realises the true consequences of his actions. It turns out he was manipulated by something into making the choice but the realisation, along with Mab's speech about how she now controls him, almost convinces him that he'll stay a monster forever. Then Uriel uses his seven whispered words.
Jane Eyre refuses to live with her lover outside the bonds on matrimony though nobody would know, or care if they did, because she would know and she cares for her personal integrity even if nobody else does.
In the Dale Brown novel Fatal Terrain, Patrick McLanahan warns his group that due to the classified nature of their mission, even if they succeed no one will congratulate them, and at worst they will be condemned by their own side. On the other hand, if they choose to back down and face trial in a federal court, it is likely that they will come out in a position to maintain Sky Masters, inc. None of his group flinch from it.
In Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, Gawain has to deal with this twice, once when the wife of Sir Bercilak de Haudesert is trying to seduce him and again when a servant who takes him to the home of the titular Green Knight offers to keep silent if Gawain runs away from his almost certain death.
In John C. Wright's Fugitives of Chaos, Amelia weeps over a Western movie (High Noon by the description) and tells Vanity that she wants to be like the marshall, doing what is right regardless.
Selia of The Goose Girl offers Ani/Isi a very tempting offer — admit that she "lied", tell the king that Selia really is the Princess Anidori, and no one will ever have to know. Ani/Isi can even go back to her goose herd, rather than face death. This would lead to Ani/Isi's entire homeland being killed in ambush. Ani/Isi knows that she can't convince anyone of the truth, knows that she will die unless she sacrifices her people. No one would know but Ani/Isi, Selia, and Selia's guards... and the Prince and his guard, who are listening in a hidden passageway. Ani/Isi doesn't know that, though, but declares she won't lie anyway. Cue Big Damn Heroes.
This is one of the major themes of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Imperialists in Africa know that no other Europeans can see them, so they feel they are free to do whatever they want. Only Marlow, it seems, manages to retain his humanity — and he admits that he can feel himself becoming "scientifically interesting."
Happens twice in In The Keep Of Time, from different points of view among the children. When Andrew goes back to get the key from the door, while the others are waiting in Anna's cottage, he is strongly tempted to escape back to the presentŚand the key even starts to turnin the door, before he wrenches it free and hides it instead. This act, he thinks, "took more courage than all the adventures and battles which were to follow". Later, when he finally returns from the Battle of Roxburgh, ready to go home, he cannot find the key, Elinor, or Ian and assumes they left without him. When he is reunited with them again, he learns they were indeed tempted to do so, but couldn't find the key either. Whether they too could have resisted if they had found it will never be known.
Subverted in Vonnegut's Mother Night. The moral of the story can be summed up as: you are who you pretend to be. At one point a Nazi informs the main character, who was working as a propagandist but was secretly passing information back to the Allies, that the Nazi knew the hero was a spy all along. The Nazi didn't care, though, because the hero's words were the only things that convinced him that the Nazis were right, and his country hadn't gone insane. Even if the hero was helping the allies, he'd helped the Nazis far more than he had ever helped them.
In one of the Star WarsNew Jedi Order books, Wedge Antilles leaves the command station where he'd been directing a crucial battle, only to find that his shuttle had been destroyed. The only craft available is an X-Wing with damaged comms and no astromech. After taking off in it, he finds a civilian transport under attack by an enemy squadron, and bravely annihilates them by himself, but loses his shields in the process. When a second squadron heads towards them, he has a choice: if he stays to fight the squadron, he will almost certainly die, and, as he is in an extra fighter that was assigned to no one and he can't comm anyone to tell them where he is, his family and friends will never learn what became of him. He will die alone and unnamed. Or, he could abandon the transport, having already fought valiantly to save him. No one could blame him for retreating in the face of certain death after having already given his all. Wedge turns to face the approaching squadron head on.
Played with in the X Wing series. When Wedge and Wraith Squadron capture a band of pirates, he asks them about their affiliation with Warlord Zsinj. The pirates refuse to talk, claiming that they're settlers in an unclaimed system, so there are no laws to govern their actions. Wedge counters by pointing out that if there really weren't any laws, then he and his men could easily murder all of the pirates and nobody would ever now. Suffice to say, the pirates decide to talk.
In the Honor Harrington novel In Enemy Hands, Honor struggles with the desire to give in to despair during her captivity in State Sec hands, but manages to convince herself to refuse, believing that it is her duty to herself.
Albrecht Detweiler is unknown to the galaxy at large, his enemies, and even most of his allies. His plans will not come to fruition until long after he is dead, at which point he will still be unknown as figureheads make all the public moves. However, despite the fact that he will never even be acknowledged as existing, he follows through on his plans because he believes they are the right thing to do. Too bad he is the villain.
One part in The Name of the Wind has Kvothe and his almost love interest Denna alone, at night, curled up to each other for warmth. Denna had eaten some denner resin (a rather potent drug) and Kvothe knew she wouldn't remember a thing that had happened while she was high on it in the morning. He was tempted, once or twice, to sleep with her, but resisted, because he would know, even if she wouldn't.
Agent Pendergast finds the formula for an immortality elixir in The Cabinet Of Curiosities. During the story, he agonizes over what to do with it when he finds it. Keep it to himself? Destroy it? Share it with humanity? In the end he realizes that no good could come of it's existence and he burns it. However, in the unofficial epilogue, he's memorized the formula before doing so and goes to pick up the ingredients afterward.
Young Sandry in Daja's Book is so considerate and scrupulous that when she accidentally burns an odd pattern into someone's jacket while he's out, she stays around until he comes back to point out the damage, take responsibility, and offer to replace it despite the difficulty. All the while, one of her friends is urgently insisting that she go take a message somewhere, and another is thinking she's daft and should just leave the jacket so she won't get in trouble.
In All Creatures Great and Small, Dr. Herriot is called into to perform a post-mortem on a dead cow with the owner assuming it was killed by lightning, which means a insurance pay out. However, Dr. Herriot determines that the cow died of heart failure and is solicited by the owner, who is a disagreeable chap anyway, to report it falsely as a lightning kill. However, Herriot, after hearing the usual claim that no one will know, responds that he himself will know what he did and stands his ground. The grump then blows his temper and complains Herriot's boss, Dr. Siegfried Farnon, about Herriot's refuses to cooperate and Siegfried backs up his employee all the way.
Comes up in A Brother's Price. Jerin Whistler is being taken to be married; he's known to be a virgin and free of ST Ds, and men of his family are uncommonly virile; a family that was on its way to the cribs to try and get someone pregnant tries to pay his sisters to get him for one night with one of their daughters, who's also a virgin and clean. They reason that no one can tell if a man is a virgin, and this would profit everyone. Eldest Whistler will have none of this. Somewhat subverted in that Captain Tern was there, if overlooked, and reported this incident, making the Whistlers look better.
In Glen Duncan's Weathercock this is pretty much the theme of the book, along with its climax: Dominic, the protagonist, is given the chance to do what he's always struggled with the desire for - to torture someone to death. He doesn't do it. It is not about what he wants to do; as he notes, it is a matter of what he is and is not capable of.
Happens two times to ═˝igo Balboa, the sidekick of the Capitßn Alatriste in the novels of Javier PÚrez-Reverte: Once in "Purity of Blood" (faced to surrender or attack, as 13-years old boy chooses to attack with a dagger the troops of the Inquisition including an expert assassin) and once in "The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet" (a trap is prepared for him and Alatriste under the supposition that ═˝igo would never dare not to ask him for support - he does). In both cases the fact of "showing the real character even with no possibility of glory" is indicated (in the first case by the narrator, in the second by Alatriste who actually arrives on time.
Live Action TV
In the Smallville episode "Nemesis", Clark could have left Lex to die, but as Chloe says, he doesn't get to choose who he saves.
In "Masquerade", Chloe is tempted by the sin of lust in the form of Clark.
Desaad-illusion-Clark: What if we missed our chance?
Chloe: What are you talking about?
Desaad-illusion-Clark: One kiss...come on, we never have to tell anyone.
In Andromeda Captain Dylan Hunt is given the chance to frame his former friend Telemachus in order to restore the Commonwealth, a case of Utopia Justifies the Means. He chooses not to, but not without some reservations.
In the Babylon 5 episode "Comes the Inqusitor", the Threshold Guardian tests Delenn and Sheridan to see if they're able to live up to this trope. They ultimately pass.
Also in the episode "Soul Mates", Londo gets dispensation from the Emperor to divorce two of his three wives (he must stay married to one). He invites his wives to the station and tells them he'll make a decision who to keep. Two of his wives flatter and kiss up to him, while one, Timov, is brutally honest about how she feels about him (in less than flattering terms). However, when one of the other wives has Londo poisoned, Timov donates blood to him to save him—and then tells Dr. Franklin not to tell Londo she did this. Had she done nothing and Londo died, she'd be guaranteed to inherit from him (along with the other wives, since he hadn't decided yet who to divorce) and remain financially secure—but she didn't want to "win her battles that way".
Done by a villain in Being Human. George tries to convince Herrick to let the main characters go far away and never return, leaving Herrick to claim that he's killed them. George says that nobody would know, and Herrick responds that he will know that he allowed himself to show mercy to those he considers below him, and he specifically uses the words "I'll know".
Played subtly straight and strongly backwards in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "The Zeppo", while the rest of the Scooby Gang is busy taking care of a huge, horrific, wide-scale, apocalyptic, personally heartwrenching catastrophe, an undead delinquent jock who runs into Xander decides to blow up the high school for kicks. This would kill the Scooby Gang, and leave the Hellmouth open ending the world. Xander, not wanting to risk getting the world destroyed by distracting his more powerful friends from their own disaster, decides to take care of the problem instead, singlehandedly chases down and corners the jock; and by refusing to be swayed in the face of near-certain death, intimidates him into backing down. Afterwards, even though most of the episode revolved around Xander's feelings of inferiority, he feels no need to mention the escapade to his friends to prove his badassery, as it's enough that he knows what he did.
In Season 7's episode "Potential", Xander gives a speech to Dawn all about this:
Xander: They'll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn't chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know.
Although considering in the Season 8 comics Dawn and Xander hook up and get a place and Buffy ends up living on their couch in a world without magic but still has vampires it's not so bad to not be in the spotlight
Burn Notice runs with this a lot. It's usually a situation where Michael has to choose between getting his life back and helping his friends.
In probably the definitive example of the series, in Season 3, Michael is told that he's about to be unburned, he'll be accepted back by his government, he'll get everything he ever wanted. All he had to do was accept, and oh, by the way, Fiona's in trouble, but don't worry about that, she's his past, and he needs to look towards his future.
Played with in an episode of of Community—Pierce, who has everyone convinced that he is on his deathbed, gives Britta a blank check for a large sum of money to be donated to the charity of her choice but offhandedly suggests that she could spend it on herself and no one would know. As it happens, Abed is making a documentary of the events of the episode, and Britta, in an odd cross between responses one and two, donates the money to the Red Cross and, without prompting, tearfully admits that she would've kept the money if she wasn't being filmed and that she's very ashamed of herself.
In a friendlier use of the trope, in one episode, Jeff, to stop a fight between friend, makes up "imaginary friendship hats" which quickly get discarded. Later on, when the friends are starting to make up, Jeff actually goes all the way back to retrieve and dust off the imaginary friendship hats, even though he admits he could've easily just stood outside the room for a minute and come back.
Subverted in the episode "Midnight". Faced with the Ultimate EvilMonster of the Week that has possessed someone, some of the passengers propose throwing her out into the deadly light. The Doctor asks if they're willing to go through with it, and for a moment it looks like they won't... until they say, yes, they won't shy from it. This becomes a problem when the beastie tricks them into thinking the Doctor is possessed. The Doctor narrowly avoids death as a result. But it's also why they, with the exception of one person, survive.
The Tenth Doctor faced this in "The End of Time". After disaster has been averted, he realizes that Wilfred is sealed in a death trap, and the only way to save him is for someone else to take his place. Nobody would have ever known that Wilfred, an old man, could have been saved. Wilfred even begged the Doctor to just walk away and let him die. Yet despite this and his near-crippling fear of death, the Doctor chose to save Wilfred at the cost of one of his own lives.
When offered a bribe on Family Matters, policeman Carl Winslow rephrased response #1 as "I can't shave with my eyes closed." He then explains it means he wouldn't be able to look at himself in the mirror.
In Farscape, John has traveled to an unstable alternate universe along with Scorpius, and needs to kill an innocent to find vital information (it's complicated). Thing is, this innocent just happens to look like a cross between Aeryn and Chiana. He can't bring himself to shoot her. Scorpius can.
Firefly: If Simon had abandoned River no one would have paid attention and River would not have remembered it. Once in a while there is no middle ground between being great and being loathsome and as it happens he chose to be great. He did the impossible and that made him mighty.
Which is why he can wear as many fancy vests as he wants.
Kaylee: What's so damn important about bein' proper? It don't mean nothin' out here in the black.
Simon: It means more out here. It's all I have.
In Frasier, an episode dealing with Niles and Maris' divorce finds Frasier faced with a dilemma to either lie at a legal deposition during Niles and Maris' divorce hearing and say he has no knowledge of Niles' feelings towards Daphne; on one hand, he either lies and commits perjury, or he tells the truth and ruins his brother. This prompts Frasier into a moral dilemma in which he explicitly points out to Martin, who is encouraging him to just lie about it, that he feels that "ethics are what we do when no one is looking!" The episode never actually reveals whether Frasier managed to resolve his dilemma, as the matter is ultimately resolved without him having to testify.
Chase spent most of the first two seasons of House being a near-amoral Doctor Jerk-in-training, charming patients with lies and treating them like experiments while doing whatever he can to advance his career. Then comes the episode where House orders him to perform a biopsy on the body of a baby that died in his care. Alone in the morgue, Chase prays for the baby's soul before cutting up its body.
He also kills a despot under his care, aware that he is disobeying all the oaths he took, risking losing his career and getting jail time, and risking his marriage. Just because he considers it the right thing to do to save thousands.
It's even more complicated than that: he is the one that helped convinced the team to treat the dictator. Then, when an intruder tries to assassinate him, Chase reacts instinctively, shouting a warning that alerts the guards and saves his life. Eventually, after hearing first-hand from the would-be assassin and the dictator about the atrocities this man and his forces have committed and will commit in the future, Chase understands/realizes that saving this evil man's life (again) means that he shares in the responsibility for all the future victims. He can't even just walk away at this point and let some other doctor do it, because he's already saved his life from the assassin.
The Legend Of William Tell: Will has run into a mine fire to save the last prisoner, trapped in a pit. The bars over the pit are burning Will every time he touches them, The mine's going to blow any minute, and when he gets a good look at the man he realises it's his new girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. Will is desperately in love with the girl, no one outside knows who the prisoner is, and no one will question it if he comes back out alone.
Kalem: No one will reproach you, William Tell. You cannot lift the grid and the mine is catching fire. You have done all you can.
Will: You mean I can leave him?
Kalem: And have Laliya, your love.
Instead he endures the burns, frees the man, and reunites him with the girl. It turns out to be a Secret Test of Character.
Apart from that, he has several chances to kill Xax, which would make things an awful lot easier for him, and never takes them for various reasons; Xax has helped him, Xax is helpless, or he simply can't bring himself to do it.
In Teen Wolf, Stile's answer that he doesn't want it to Peter Hale's proposition in the season one finale, when Peter offers to turn Stiles into a werewolf. Of course, the latter said he could tell he was lying, so there's definitely more to this.
An episode of The Outer Limits, where two astronauts are landing from space. Eventually one finds out his partner is an alien. The alien tells him if he shuts up, no one will know, he'll disappear. The astronaut alters the trajectory so they blow up. The ending narration is almost verbatim the title of this trope.
"The true measure of a hero is when a man lays down his life with the knowledge that those he saves... will never know." ~ The Voyage Home (The Outer Limits) for those who are curious.
Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager insists that it's all the more important to uphold Federation values when they are so far from home. Unfortunately, due her Depending on the Writer status, and the sometimes questionable outcomes of the Prime Directive, this comes across poorly most of the time.
An early astronaut stumbles across some Negative Space Wedgie and ends up in the Delta Quadrant. Though he realizes his chances of rescue are non-existent, he continues to do his work, dutifully recording and exploring. He eventually spots a piece of alien hull, and realizes that it was worth their effort, and his sacrifice to explore the galaxy.
Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation faces an inversion of the trope where killing an evil character is portrayed as the ethical course of action. Data is kidnapped by a trader named Kivas Fajo who collects rare items. Data is put on display in a trophy room until he makes an escape with one of Fajo's underlings whom he befriends. Fajo kills the underling and is faced down by Data holding a weapon. Fajo tells Data to return to the trophy room and obey him or he will simply kill another underling and that the blood will be on Data's hands; the only other alternative is to kill Fajo, but he is confident that Data cannot take the action because has no emotions (thus no desire for revenge or justice) and his ethical programming prevents him from killing. Data leaps beyond his programming and decides the most ethical action is to kll Fajo to prevent more deaths.
Subverted in Victorious, where Robbie has nightmares about a giant evil Rex (his puppet), but rather than discover this is what he may be, he sees Rex as a seperate person and not an extension of himself.
The West Wing has a version of this: Toby and the President are able to secretly bring together a Republican and Democratic senator to create a bipartisan fix to the Social Security system, but they can't claim any credit for it, or the two senators won't propose the plan. They decide to let the senators claim they came up with the idea by themselves
Ronald Reagan was fond of saying "there is no limit to what a man can achieve if he doesn't care who gets the credit."
The Wire: Detectives Herc and Carver have a moment where they could pocket some money from a drugs bust, but realize they would get caught, and leave it. Then some of the money goes missing anyway, and the very angry Daniels wants it back. It turns out that the money had somehow gotten buried in the spare tire well of their patrol car's trunk. They admit that Daniels doesn't have any reason to believe them, as they couldn't even trust each other.
Later, they're confronted with a similar situation, except with no possibility of discovery. They look at each other, nod, and start stuffing cash under their Kevlar vests.
Later still, Carver refers back to this — and to other, worse moral lapses — when he sadly tells Herc that "It all matters. Everything we do." (Herc doesn't seem to get the point.)
Occurs briefly in Sesame Street, of all places. During the song "The Ballad of Casey Mc Phee", Casey (portrayed by Cookie Monster) is entrusted with the job of delivering cookies, milk, and ice cream to a party on the other side of the mountain. When an avalanche blocks the train tracks, Casey realizes that he's alone, so nobody will see him eat some of the goods. However, he quickly comes to his senses and decides it would be wrong to do so - so he eats the snow instead.
Hadestown has a few songs about this, but "Hey Little Songbird" and "When The Chips Are Down" probably fit the trope best
See, people get mean when the chips are down...
Referenced in Within Temptation's Utopia, suggesting a less favourable view of humanity;
Why does it rain, rain, rain down on Utopia?
And when the lights die down, telling us who we are.
Religion and Mythology
A corrupt official in ancient China once went to a more scrupulous one to talk him into something unethical. "Nobody will ever know!" says the corrupt one. The scrupulous one disagrees: "Heaven knows. Earth knows. You know. I know."
A man wants to steal some wheat from his neighbors, so he goes out one night, taking his young daughter with him to keep a lookout. He goes around from field to field, cutting a little here and a little there, and now and then his daughter calls out, "Father, someone sees you!" — but each time when he looks up, they're alone. Finally he asks why she keeps saying that, and she replies, "Someone sees you from above."
There's a joke like this about a robber breaking into a house when someone says: "Stop it! I'm warning you: Jesus is watching you!". Turns out it's the family parrot. It introduces itself as Moses, which makes the robber laugh and wonder, "What kind of idiots would name a parrot Moses?" "The same people who call a rottweiler 'Jesus'" answers the parrot.
Colossians instructs slaves and employees to do the work you're meant to do at all times, not only when your earthy masters' eye is on you.
Jesus expresses the corollary of this
Matthew 6:2 'So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.'
Atheism turns this on its head. If you are only a good person because you believe some cosmic entity is judging you, are you truly good? Or is it better to be good because Good Feels Good? That's why many of them become The Anti-Nihilist.
In an unusually literal use of this trope, Paranoia has taken to specifically encouraging the GM to have the lights go out at some point during the mission (easily justified due to Alpha Complex's perennial state of disrepair), preferably after the PCs have had time to build up grudges and conflicting goals.
The song "Who Am I?" from Les MisÚrables is this. Valjean could easily let another man hang in his place, freeing him from worry about Javert forever and no one would ever know. But he'll know, and God will know, so he stops the execution and reveals himself, forcing him to disrupt his now peaceful and productive life to go back on the run from the law.
And then again when Valjean is given the duty of executing Javert as a spy. He could easily kill the only man who knows him personally enough to track him down—but without even thinking about it this time, he fakes Javert's execution and lets him go free, giving him his address for good measure so the two of them can settle things later. Javert's inability to understand Valjean's morality ends up driving him to suicide.
In Grandia II, Ryudo is sent to prove his worth to become the next super-powered-being to defeat the 'evil Valmar'. Along the road he is questioned and every answer he gives is twisted to be perceived as a selfish desire. The next shot has him in darkness transformed into a demon with a voice telling him to embrace it. However thanks to the The Power of Friendship he's freed and ends up with the sword to defeat evil.
In Neverwinter Nights, the canonical Player Character fought hard to prevent Aribeth's execution, despite the fact that the entire leadership of the city was arrayed against him and Aribeth's state of mind made her believe she deserved it.
In Betrayal At Krondor, the dark elf Gorath's initial act of joining the humans to prevent the war his people are planning against them qualifies. He knows in advance that it will strip him of his rank as chieftain, that his own people and what remains of his friends and family won't consider him anything more than a traitor and a coward for thinking of cooperating with humans, and the humans themselves will at best distrust him and at worst have him deliver his message on a rack. He goes anyway.
In Persona 3, during the month of December the Player Character and party are asked to decide whether to try to fight against the supposedly unstoppable End of the World as We Know It, or to kill Ryoji, the avatar of the embodiment of death, which still won't prevent the Fall but will erase their memories of everything related to it and thus allow them to live out their remaining few months in peace, unaware of what's coming. Each party member separately resolves for themselves that they'd rather fight, but the ultimate choice comes down to the protagonist, and if you choose to go against the rest of the party's decision and kill Ryoji, nobody will ever even remember that it was an issue. Unsurprisingly, doing so leads to the game's Bad Ending.
In Persona 4, this is one of the bases for the Bad End, caused by the main character either failing to stop or joining in on his friends committing a murder.
In Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Sam Fisher is tasked with destroying the wreckage of a downed US plane by calling in an air strike in order to prevent sensitive information from falling into enemy hands. He has the choice whether to spend precious time carrying the two unconscious pilots to a safe distance first or not, and doing so causes a new guard to spawn and happen upon him at a very inopportune moment (as when carrying a person Fisher cannot use any of his weapons). However, if he chooses to do so anyway he is confronted with this trope by his superior.
Lambert: You don't even exist Fisher, you can't get a medal for this.
Fisher: Medals don't help me sleep at night.
In Thief 3, at the end of one level, you find a secret stash of gold left by late Captain Moira for his wife. It's a pretty penny and you don't get any penalties later in the game for taking it. In fact, your only deterrent is a brief popup message "Mrs. Moira needs that money to survive" but logic tells you that she probably won't find the stash in her current condition anyway (you meet her earlier in the level: she is utterly broken by grief). So, that's the point where you learn what you are in the dark. Garrett doesn't make any comments either way.
Sadly the loot requirement on the highest difficulty level makes completing the mission impossible without taking the gold.
There is a minor deterrent to taking the loot: The following night, a thug loyal to the widow can be found skulking in front of the door to Garrett's apartment building, looking to avenge the theft. He's just another Mook, however, and not much of a threat.
This is a big part of the Quest for Glory series of games, especially if you play as a paladin.
''And they ask, What is a Hero?
though the answer is very clear,
He is the one who faces danger
when the darkness hovers near.
He will face the fiercest foe
when another needs his aid.
He will dare to defy Death
even though he is afraid.
He works not just for glory,
and he does it not for gain.
But because he knows that others
will be spared a greater pain.''
In fact, the second game was the part of the series where the designers introduced the tests of character. While some actions are obvious (don't kill the guy you're fighting just to get approval from the Eternal Order of Fighters), some are very much less so (while racing to save the world from the destructive power about to be unleashed and you successfully disarm the Dragon blocking your path, you can kill him and no one will ever know, and in fact will probably praise you for going as fast as possible...but you'll know that you killed an unarmed, helpless man). Later games made the choices a bit more obvious, but there are some surprisingly ambiguous decisions.
Happens quite a lot in Dragon Age: Origins — and in true keeping with this trope, there's never any real reward for being 'good' about it. Meanwhile, the reward for being evil is sometimes impressive...so, just how 'Grey' ARE you, Warden?
The Desire Demon possessing Connor. The wholly right and moral decision is to refuse any deal and fight the demon/scare it into leaving for good. The only reward is some experience and whatever loot it drops. What do you get for agreeing to the deal? The only chance to unlock Blood Magic. And the only ones who would know either way are you and the demon.
However, unlocking a class in Dragon Age: Origins permanently unlocks it for every playthrough regardless of the decision. There was nothing preventing you from unlocking it and then immediately resetting it and solving the quest in a different way.
There's also the game's most pivotal moment. You find out that the Grey Warden who kills the Archdemon must die with it, but Morrigan privately offers a way out through Deus Sex Machina, and absorbing the Archdemon's soul into the baby conceived. However, she refuses to tell you what she plans on doing with the child afterwards.
Mega Man 7- Rock has beaten Dr. Wily again and Wily starts to beg like normal. Rock then charges his buster and says he's going to do what he should have done years ago. Wily points out that robots can't harm a human being. While the US version has Rock declare he's more than a robot and looks like he'll do it until the fortress self destructs, the Japanese version has Rock pause long enough for the fortress to collapse.
In Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, Kain Highwind is a morally ambiguous Anti-Hero who has spent the story up to the final tale killing off his allies (or as the game says, "puts them to sleep") so that they'll be safe when the cycle of war begins again, rather than risk them fighting and dying against the new threat of the Manikins. Needless to say, no one is very pleased with him over this and several don't trust him even as he accompanies them to the portal the Manikins are coming from to help them close it. Along the way they're stopped by Exdeath and a group of Manikins and Kain stays behind to hold them off while the group continues on. In a bonus scene, Golbez approaches Kain afterwards and tells him that if he goes to join his friends in their Last Stand, he'll die and no one will remember his bravery. Or he can stay behind now and live to the next cycle, and again no one will know. Kain goes to help them.
Kain says "put them to sleep" because once everyone on one side dies, all deceased fighters are resurrected and the fight starts over. Unless you die fighting Manikins.
Mass Effect 1 gives this to the last survivors of its Precursors, the Protheans. The last dozen or so sapients in the entire galaxy work feverishly for decades to reprogram the Keepers, seemingly benevolent drones who are critical to the Reapers' cycle of galactic extermination. Then they take a one-way trip to the Citadel, the key in the Reapers' trap and the center of galactic civilization. Without food, water, any ability to sustain a breeding population, or anyone to judge them, they faced a grim death from starvation so future generations of sapients could avert the disaster that destroyed their civilization.
But Shepard will kick ass, take names, go to hell and back and shake hands with the Devil the Illusive Man himself to make sure it was not in vain.
The whole of Mass Effect 2 is like this, since 99.9% of the galaxy thinks Shepard is dead. Happens to Shepard him/herself in the ArrivalDLC. You have a choice to warn the batarian colonists that they have to evacuate, or just contact the Normandy. The choice itself has no real consequences, but at the time, Shepard could conceivably be sacrificing him/herself for three hundred thousand civilians.
Jacob lampshades this trope when telling Shepard about his proudest career moment, which the Alliance covered up for the sake of not inducing a panic. He's comfortable with it, though.
Jacob: Good deed's like pissing yourself in dark pants. Warm feeling, but no one notices.
Speaking of Jacob, his father faced a situation ten years before the game that occurred in relative "dark". The ship he was serving on crashed into an unknown planet in the ass end of the galaxy, killing the Captain. Being the First Mate, Jacob's father took over, with the help of other officers of the ship. The short version is, it did not end well.
In The Arrival, Shepard is give the option to warn the Batarians about the imminent Relay explosion or simply call Joker for a pickup. Then cruelly subverted as even if Shepard decides to warn them, the transmission still gets blocked by Amanda Kenson, meaning that the nothing Shepard can do will stop the 300,000 people in the System from dying anyway.
Mass Effect 3 has this with the offer that the Salarian Dalatrass offers you regarding curing the Genophage However depending on which party members survived previous games, your decision can become public, with unfortunate consequences if you took the Renegade path.
The end decision in Mass Effect 3 can be seen as this if you pick the Destroy option and are implied to survive. After all, with all artificial life in the galaxy destroyed, including EDI and the geth, there's no one else alive who knows that Shepard was informed of the consequences of the action and did it anyway.
The entire choice is very much What You Are in the Dark: it's about which principle Shepard most wishes to uphold (or, conversely, is most loathe to throw away) when faced with an explicit choice and absolutely no oversight — whether they most want to end the war cleanly, take control of the most powerful force in the galaxy, usher in a new and unforeseen era of existence, or go down spitting defiance to the last breath. Even better, you can justify each decision as the moral "Right" and "Wrong," so the decision is entirely up to you. Bioware doesn't tell you which one is right.
In Space Quest I, upon encountering the Sarien ship that massacred the Arcada's crew and has the Artifact of Doom that they are going to inflict on the galaxy. It's a massive ship full of hostile aliens, against one not-so-Almighty Janitor. The pilot droid wisely suggests hauling tail. It's Non-Standard Game Over if you take him up on it.
The companions' reply depends on their Relationship Values with The Nameless One. Running through their dialogue and sidequests, and being a generally decent person will win you their support, but they will take that chance to go turncoat if you've been neglectful or a total jerk.
Pablo: I've got more money than you've ever seen! What say you? Join me, and take a seat of power at my side.
Occurs in the flashbacks of L.A. Noire. After returning home from Okinawa, several Marines were upset when they saw stories that Phelps was the LAPD's Golden Boy, and resolved that since they had been denied fame and fortune, they would take it by stealing the supplies on the boat they were returning on. One character notes that they can get away with it and do good, but another character (who they all respect) tells them that he will not stop them, but if they actually do it, they are dead to him. They fail the test.
Touhou: Reimu Hakurei has to take this in stride. Solving more prominent incidents like the Scarlet Mist (Embodiment of Scarlet Devil), evil-spirit geysers (Subterranean Animism), and the earthquakes (Scarlet Weather Rhapsody) are things she can probably make realistic claims about; but, in general, no one really knows about most of Reimu's efforts to keep the peace in Gensokyo and one of the two (known) reporters in Gensokyo tells her to her face that she has no concrete proof of any of her glories. Hakurei Shrine getting no visiting worshipers is canon.
In a tongue-in-check sort of way, the fan-made list of Touhou games described as atrocities caused by Reimu lampshades this problem.
The Bard's Tale has this for the ending, where the Evil ending where he sides with the Demon Queen to enslave the world is the Bard's personal happy ending while the Good ending has him save the world but starting back where he was at the beginning as a poor conman. Alternatively, he can just walk away and party with the zombies.
Star Trek Online has the mission Operation Gamma, where your player captain is abandoned to die by a Ferengi captain who was supposed to guide you to the Dominion, only for her to end up fleeing right into the arms of a Dominion force. When your ship arrives, the Vorta in charge of that force declares that by their logic they should kill you both for trespassing, but since you'd actually been looking for them in the first place, he offers to help you — if you kill her. The mission progresses either way with only a slight difference in NPC dialogue, but if you kill her, the Vorta declares, "Now I see what kind of officer you are..."
In Hajime Saito's route in Hakuouki, the trope plays out complete with stock dialogue in a confrontation between Saito and Kazama. Saito is hopelessly outmatched and grievously wounded, and Chizuru tries to save him by turning herself over to Kazama, who smugly suggests that Saito can tell his superiors that he tried to protect Chizuru but was overpowered. Saito retorts that he would know, and that he doesn't surrender to anyone.
FTL Faster Than Light doesn't have an explicit Karma Meter, but many events will test your morality. Do you take the bribe of a pirate and let him go after some ship, or do you take him on? When a slaver offers gifts in exchange for letting them live, do you accept and let him live to continue his dirty work, or do you finish the job? Do you help when asked for it, even if it may cost you health, ammo or crew? There's no one around who will judge you, only your conscience. Choose, skipper.
During the final part of Grim Fandango the protagonist, Manny Calavera, finds himself alone at the Number Nine train station, where he can approach the Tunnel to the Ninth Underworld. He briefly muses that he could just walk through it (which he technically has the right to do at this point - his adventures do count towards the four-year journey that the less "saintly" souls must complete before they can leave the Land of the Dead). However, he promptly refuses to do this, because there are still other souls in need of his help. Considering that getting out of the Land of the Dead was Manny's initial goal (a goal he was willing to achieve by stealing a client from a fellow Reaper, which is how the whole mess started), that indicates a pretty strong Character Development.
In an odd variation, Manny receives a Golden Ticket for the Number Nine as reward for services rendered - though he no longer needs one.
In The Sims 3, if your character is in the political career track, he/she can choose to steal funds from the campaign fund when given the opportunity. You will not get caught.
At the end of Deponia, Rufus is given the option to take over Cletus' life, including Goal. Instead, he decides to save a planet full of trash and people who hate him.
This is a major theme in The Walking Dead. In a zombie apocalypse, your morality becomes one of the last shreds of your humanity, even with no one left to keep score. On the other hand, being righteous may cost you your life and the lives of your companions. Decisions are timed. You have five seconds to weigh the implications.
In an arc in Fans!, Jesse was revealed to be Jesspin, secretly loyal to the time-traveling conqueror General Maximiliana. But "Jesse" is still his core personality, and while Jesspin is imprisoned by AEGIS, "Jesse" is secretly using Jesspin's mind and body to further Rikk Oberf's plans for the future. When Jesspin tells "Jesse" that no one will know he isn't a traitor, "Jesse" smiles and says, "That's what will make this fun. I do my best work in the dark."
Belkar Bitterleaf sort of has one of these here. He saved Hinjo in the end, but only because he might not be able to kill people later otherwise. This nets him good karma as he soon gets a horde of goblins to murdalize.
Also, when Vaarsuvius accepts a Deal with the Devil, the devils (more accurately "fiends") in question state that there might some alignment-related feedback (in other words, making the character more evil than otherwise would be normal). It turns out that the fiends lied, that the effects of soul-splice on the characters alignment are little more than cheerleaders in terms of alignment-change, and that all of the actions taken were all naturally thought of and committed by the character. They aptly describe it as giving someone a drink and telling them it's alcoholic when it really isn't, and the person behaves drunk because they think it's alcoholic, but they weren't drunk at all in the first place.
Just to drive the point further, before they even take the deal, the Fiends point out there's a way for V to save their family without owing them a single thing. The only catch is that it involves other people (some of whom V has just had a massive falling out with) doing all the actual work, and they wouldn't even be able to claim credit for the idea. But hey, "We won't tell anyone there was another way to save you children if you don't."
I'm a Marvel... And I'm a DC has Superman go through this in "After Hours". Either he can do nothing to stop Lex, resulting in a world with no major competing comics, or he can stay trapped in a pocket dimension forever. Anybody remotely familiar with Superman knows what he picks. Thankfully, his choice's results...
In Anachronauts, a genie tempts each of the members of the titular team with just such a temptation, as one might expect.
Worm. Taylor has the power to control bugs, that's it. Leviathan has just shrugged off many of the strongest parahumans in the setting and is now attacking a shelter full of civilians. Nobody else is around and her tracker is broken. She's heavily injured, already considered a villain and the civilians include a teacher who stood by as her life was made a living hell. What doesshe do?
In the final episode of Shephard's Mind, Shephard admits to himself that he'll most likely never escape Black Mesa, and nobody would ever know what he did, much less be aware he even existed. But despite that, he's going to take as many aliens down with him as possible.
After being held captive by a family who kept feeding him muscle relaxants and making him rewatch his old movies (including one he shot while getting the news that his mother had committed suicide), Donnie DuPre from Demo Reel refuses to hurt them or become like them, and only twitchily mentions his experience in passing to his friends.
Archer has a parody of this, when Pam is desperately trying to get someone (anyone) in the office to have sex with her. She actually uses the words "Nobody will know", even if she's got a dolphin puppet on her hand while saying it. Needless to say, Brett, the man she propositions, turns her down (he uses the "I'll know" response.) Even more ironic considering in the same episode, he paid Lana $600 simply to brag about having sex with her, not actually doing the deed.
Additionally, Pam is the biggest gossip in the office. Any piece of information that comes through her ears spreads faster than the common cold through a kindergarten class. And yes, she's ISIS's HR rep, meaning that her job role is keeping everyone's embarrassing personal information.
In The Spectacular Spider Man, Flash Tompson learns that during a football tournament his team won one of the players was taking a performance-enhancing drug. He's told that by that very player, in a one-on-one conversation, and he knows, that should the word get out, their championship (that he ruined his leg achieving) would be disqualified. The word still gets out... from Flash himself, because to him an unfair victory isn't worth much.
Hey Arnold! gives us Helga Pataki, who's ostinably a bully. However, in the Christmas episode, she gives up a pair of boots (that she wanted more than anything, and that her mother said "was the last pair in the city" and waited in line all day for them), to a man in exchange for him helping track down the daughter of Mr. Hyunh for Arnold. And Arnold has no idea it was her, no one knows she was the one who did it.
The Internet. Is there a finer test for this principle than the ability to interact with all kinds of people from all over the world, under a veil of anonymity? Judging by the existence of the GIFT, many online users fail this test spectacularly.
On the other hand, you have websites like TV Tropes, The Other Wiki, and others that would be unusable if the vast majority of their users weren't constructive or at least benign.
The inverse of GIFT also exists online. Some people find it easier to be kind and open-hearted since there's no real chance probably that they'll be hurt by the friends and acquaintances they make online.
Fanfiction Dot Net. It's all what you are in the dark...
Are you man enough to log in to leave your constructive but scathing review? A derogatory one? Even an outright defamatory one? Or will you do it Anonymously?
Will you demand to know who leaves you reviews, or do you have the guts to allow Anonymous reviews?
Will you demand only positive reviews, or have you the gall to leave up every review you get, regardless of their opinion?
Will you accept even negative reviews, or track that person down and bash their fiction mercilessly?
One Paul Feldman sold bagels by leaving them in offices with a box to take the money. Between 1984 and 2006 he delivered 8400 bagels a week to 140 office buildings in Washington, while keeping careful statistics. It turns out even at the worst of times people are at least 87% good/At most 13% evil. In the top floors where the wealthiest and most powerful bosses work. Around high stress holidays. In Washington. Also relevant: if the poster explaining the sale depicted eyes, people were more honest than if it had a floral motif or the like.
The Honest Tea company does a similar promotion in cities, where they leave a cartful of iced tea and a money box but there's no human salesperson who'd catch you taking the tea. The majority of people still pay for the tea.
Truth in Television, mind. The original actions tend to be spontaneous and with few people involved. The cover-up tends to take on more people, and requires planning and a more longterm effort. Thus, anything worth covering up implies that those doing it know that what happened was wrong, yet condone it anyway.
This could easily be said of Watergate which, compared to other political scandals of the day...compared to the other dealing of the Nixon Administration, many of which were well known, and popularly approved... was pretty tame. Without the attempted cover-up, it is unlikely Watergate would have destroyed the Nixon Presidency.
This has probably more to do with the simple fact that you only hear about failed coverups. Successful coverups stay in the dark by definition.
Happens to many, many soldiers who fight in war. One example, recounted in the HBO series The Pacific, involved the US Marines who fought in Guadalcanal. After fighting for many months in a deadly jungle against thousands of Japanese troops, the Marines were finally relieved by Army reinforcements and put on a troopship that would take them home. Since they had not heard any news since arriving on Guadalcanal, one of them asked a mess cook if anyone had even heard of the place. The cook would respond:
Everyone knows about Guadalcanal and the First Marines. You're on the front page of every newspaper back home. You guys are heroes.
The same scene is recounted in the book 1942, which goes on to say that "The Marines immediately made excuses, left the room, and went separate ways. They did not want the others to see the tears in their eyes."
Soldiers who fail this test are all too common. My Lai is a very famous example of US soldiers who, after fighting for many months in a deadly jungle against thousands of North Vietnamese troops and Viet Cong, went on to torture and slaughter civilians for little reason aside frustration. If it weren't for the timely intervention of a helicopter and its crew, it's hard to tell if this particular venture would have ever gotten out of the proverbial dark. The only thing that keeps the whole episode from being an irredeemable blot on the US Army's honor is the heroism of the US helicopter crew commanded by Captain Hugh Thompson, Jr, who saw the insanity taking place and immediately moved in to stop it, including threatening to fire on the errant soldiers if they didn't (something that almost got him court-martialed).
On a...more positive note (if that can be said about My Lai), Hugh Thompson managed to not only avoid getting court-martialed, but remains the only soldier in the American army who recieved medals for threatening to fire on his own side. He, at least, passed the test with flying colours.
Phillip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment is a combination of this and Bavarian Fire Drill. Within a day, the "prisoners" were regularly berated and beaten by the "guards", and the "wardens" (the overseers who weren't technically a part of the experiment) did nothing to stop them. This is a big reason why the experiment was cut short.
Stanford Prison Experiment was terribly flawed as argued by Erich Fromm. For starters, the prisoners didn't even know is it an experiment or the real deal. The've signed for the experiment, went home, then, at some unexpected moment, real police officers show up, charge them with burglary, handcuff them and put through the whole legal routine of arrest without answering the questions is this a part of experiment or not. On the guards' side - Zimbardo claimed that he didn't instruct guards how to act. Well, except for the part where he told their job totally is to recreate psychological conditions of oppresion as presumably seen in real prisons. Which they did.
Another experiment had the test subject communicating with other people via speakerphone. As the conversation progresses, one of the speakers begins to choke, gasp, and yell that they're suffering a seizure. Of course, the "other people" were all recordings, and the purpose of the experiment was to gauge the reaction of a person when faced with an emergency like that. The findings indicated that while the test subjects were concerned about the wellbeing of the "seizure victim", the more "people" participating in the conversation, the less likely they were to personally seek out help. This lead to the speculation that when an emergency happens in a large group of people, individuals are less likely to act, expecting that someone else will.
One popular story is when some car thieves accidentally stole Mr. Rogers' car. When they realized what they had done, the thieves immediately returned the car, leaving a note apologizing to Mr. Rogers.
Tumblr users can be this. Specifically the ones who run very classy SFW blogs. The thing is when you like something NSFW it won't appear on your blog (as oppose to re-blogging). HOWEVER the person who blogged that thing you just liked can actually see what you just liked. It can be kinda jarring seeing a born again christian female like that DP/lesbian/gangbang/gorn/and sleazy story gift set you just posted.