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Being Good Sucks

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Doing the right thing is hard because you give up so much...
"It's easy to feel like a hero. It's a little harder to be one."

If being good were as easy as most cartoons make it out to be, everyone would be a saint. The difficult truth is, sometimes Being Good Sucks.

Doing the right thing doesn't always feel good, is hard to pull off, can be painful, sometimes even harmful, to yourself and others. Being good requires a Heroic Sacrifice, keeping your word, and thinking of others before yourself. It means swallowing your pride, owning up to and apologizing for your mistakes. It means doing the above without expecting a reward (even a spoken thank you), refusing one if offered—and most ego-crushing—accepting the punishment for being good.

The variations are endless, but below is a condensed catalog:

At times, it can lock characters into Status Quo Is God, where success requires an evil action, making winning and staying good impossible.

On the other side of the fence, this crops up when Evil Feels Good. Often applies to a Heel–Face Turn character or a hero who laments that they have to save somebody they hate from a burning building, or they don't get to kill their most hated enemy because that's the "heroic" decision.

In a Crapsack World, this trope applies to a great degree but being anything in such a world generally sucks.

Contrast Good Feels Good and Being Evil Sucks. Also, see Downer Ending, or, if you're lucky, Earn Your Happy Ending. Compare No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, where the good action (rather than the process of being good) is what gets the characters in trouble. May result in someone expressing Sympathy for the Hero. Contrast Karma Houdini Warranty, where trying to turn over a new leaf can bring down heaven's wrath. This is one way people become an Iron Woobie or a Knight in Sour Armor, depending on whether the suffering is taken with quiet dignity or grumpy complaining. This belief is the original mentality of a Moral Pragmatist before a Heel–Face Turn or someone tries to Cut Lex Luthor a Check, but they may wind up here again if they're proven right. A common justification for believing this is Virtue Is Weakness. See also It Sucks to Be the Chosen One for when someone has to do this Because Destiny Says So.

There are many instances in real life in which being 'good' doesn't suck that much. Scientifically, deeds perceived as good - whether or not they are good - entail social recognition and approval, and bad deeds entail reprisal. Most villains or villainous groups might also view their actions as 'good' in some sense, however, and therefore it might be unclear that this counts as 'good' in the same sense as a story with an author-determined moral compass. Justice is one of the fundamental evolutionary imperatives that allows human society to function coherently; we may not all be saints, but we're not all lawless murderers. Unless you're a Villain with Good Publicity It's usually more profitable to abide by society's rules, and even in that case, you could be best off being Affably Evil. However, the more you could influence perception in such a context, the less it would matter here whether or not you were evil. Of course, multiple societies might have different and often conflicting moral codes, even within their own confines; further, if people like Karl Marx (himself a 'villain' to some, but not all) are to be believed, the conflict within societies can sometimes be such as to give rise to fundamentally opposed forces and force recourse to struggle. Further, moral codes change over time, and this occasionally leads to conflicts between earlier morality and new trends. As a result, a simplistic application of the story-telling categories of 'villains' and 'heroes' from fiction to real-life might be worth avoiding, when it comes to this trope.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Simon from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. He saves the entire universe and yet can't use the power at his disposal to save the woman he loves from fading away due to the possibility of initiating a universe-wide catastrophe. There's a reason why the series' end is as hotly contested as it is.
  • Anpanman. Sometimes feeding the hungry means getting your head chewed apart on a daily basis.
  • Fushigi Yuugi. Being the Priestess sucks. Either you use your wishes solely for the good of others (with the possible exception of making one specifically to get home safely) and put up with Virgin Tension in a Cast Full of Pretty Boys deterring your love life, or you are consumed body and soul by the Beast God you summon if you fail this Secret Test of Character.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:
    • Sayaka's attempt at being The Cape backfires because the strain of fighting as a Magical Girl while not getting what she wanted causes her sanity to start leaking down the drain. Adding insult to injury, she ends up turning into the very thing she was fighting against in the first place.
    • The ending also qualifies, as Madoka's tradeoff for saving magical girls from their inevitable fate was her family and friends (save Homura) forget she exists.
    • Thanks to Madoka, this is ultimately inverted. Magical Girls who fight the good fight are implied to be taken to Magical Girl Heaven by Madokami when their soul gems tarnish.
  • Attack on Titan: Jean comes to realize this after joining the Survey Corps. Doing the right thing, in this case, involves giving up his shot at a comfortable life in order to regularly risk his life fighting Titans. He readily admits that it sucks, while remaining resolute in his decision.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Gohan's future self in Dragon Ball Z: The History of Trunks certainly qualifies. After witnessing his father and all of his friends die at the hands of the androids, Gohan went into hiding in order to train himself to become strong enough to challenge this new threat. He spent his entire adult life challenging the androids to no avail, watching as countless innocents died at the hands of the monstrous duo. His reward for all of his self-sacrifice was to lose his left arm, and in the next and final fight between him and his two nemeses, Gohan was completely outmatched, killed, and left face down in the ruins of yet another city he failed to protect. And then a sad rain falls over his battered, crippled corpse; it's a miracle that such a tragic sight didn't push Trunks over the Despair Event Horizon.
    • As a teenager, Trunks wants to help Gohan defeat the androids, underestimating their strength. Even when trying to become a Super Saiyan, he doesn't get enough push until Gohan dies, at least in the anime. This breaks him into a No-Nonsense Nemesis to his enemies. After spending time in the past fighting stronger versions of Androids 17, 18, and then later Perfect Cell, things finally seem to go his way after he destroys all the androids and later prevents Majin Buu's revival. Then in Dragon Ball Super, Goku Black attacks his world and murders his mother and several innocent people. After seeing Gohan's family for the first time in the past, he breaks down with the worry that he would never have a peaceful life since his happiness was stolen from him by Black. When he returns to the future for the second time to fight Goku Black and Future Zamasu with the help of Goku and Vegeta, he is told by them that it's his fault that the Earth is destroyed because of his time-traveling. This causes him to snap and gain a new Super Saiyan form that still isn't strong enough to defeat them. When Goku Black and Future Zamasu fused to create Merged Zamasu, he manages to cut him down using the energy of everyone still alive on the planet, only for Merged Zamasu to become an Eldritch Abomination of multiversal proportions who kills the rest of humanity. Goku is forced to summon Future Zeno'O who not only destroys Merged Zamasu but the entire timeline. His life is not a happy one.
    • While Goku is usually the paragon for Good Feels Good, he does have a moment like this moment after Frieza is defeated in the Namek Saga of Dragon Ball Z. He really, really, wants to leave Frieza to die after he's cut to pieces on his own energy disc, but Goku's morality won't allow him to ignore a call for help, even from an evil monster like Frieza. He eventually gives in to his conscience and gives Frieza enough energy to escape the exploding planet. For several minutes afterwards, Goku is noticeably glum, as if asking himself why he saved Frieza, while Frieza spends that time mocking him for his mercy before trying to stab him in the back.
      • He has another moment near the end of the Buu Saga. After Kid Buu unleashed an energy ball powerful enough to destroy the Earth several times over, Goku and Vegeta rush to Gohan, Goten, Trunks, and Piccolo, who are still unconscious after being absorbed by Buu, to teleport them off the planet. On his way, Goku sees Mr. Satan and Dende. On instinct, he grabs them and wasted too much time to save his sons and have to be saved by the Supreme Kai. Vegeta chews him out for saving them instead of their children, and Goku has nothing to say for himself.
    • The reason Yamcha fought the Saibamen was to protect Krillin who wanted to go next. As he pointed out, Krillin was revived already with the Dragon Balls so him dying would have been permanent, while he could be revived if the worst happens. For his good deed, Yamcha gets suicide bomb by the Saibaman, making him the first casualty of the Saiyan Invasion and he never even gets the chance to fight Nappa. And worst of all, the fandom won't ever let him live it down.
    • Vegeta was a firm believer in this prior to the end of the Buu Saga. Having settled down on Earth and formed a family, he saw his newfound virtues as a weakness, and deliberately allows Babidi to brainwash him so he could be free of it and return to the super-powerful evil prince he was before.
      Vegeta: I was the perfect warrior, cold and ruthless. I lived by my strength alone, uninhibited by foolish emotion.... but slowly, over the years, I became one of you, my quest for greatness gradually giving way to this life of mediocrity. I awoke one day to find I had settled down, formed a family, I had even grown quite fond of them. Would you believe... I almost started to think the Earth was a nice place to live. You understand now, Kakarot? That's why I needed Babidi, to set me free.
    • This is the ideology of the villains being mostly comprised of heroes, especially Alicetaria, who had lost people they cared about in spite of doing good and joined under the Military Uniform Princess to make their Gods write them better stories. By contrast, the protagonists see their heroics as a thankless job, even going through with the Final Battle knowing there's a chance they could fail, with one of the main characters performing a Heroic Sacrifice without any regrets.
    • The series itself became infamous in certain circles because it shows the real world as a sort of Crapsack World (probably because of the writers' intent to make it an anime version of Last Action Hero): the unambiguously good fictional characters either die or survive without accomplishing anything, before returning to the world of fiction anyway, the mercenary (who, as such, is neither "good" nor "bad") never gets in any danger and is able to reunite with his daughter, while the villains (the Big Bad and the Obviously Evil character) never face any consequences for their actions and get pretty much whatever they wanted.
  • In Tokyo Shinobi Squad, Jin and the Narumi-kai refuse to take on dirty jobs from well-paying clients. While this paints them as the heroes of the story, it unfortunately leaves them perpetually running up tabs.
  • The titular Kaiji, despite spending so much time in a cutthroat environment full of backstabbers, still feels compelled to do the right thing when it comes down to it. This has led to people he helped out stabbing him in the back or just screwing him over without meaning to on numerous occasions, and one of the few times he helped out someone with no ill intent it ended up being All for Nothing.
  • A Running Gag for a few arcs in One Piece involves Mad Scientist Caesar Clown being forced to do good things, such as acting against Greater-Scope Villain Big Mom or using his inventions to get the heroes out of trouble. The problem is that Evil Feels Good to him—so good, in fact, that he loathes having to do anything heroic. The more good deeds he does, the deeper his hate for Luffy and his comrades for making him do them.

    Asian Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: Adu Du is helped by BoBoiBoy and Gopal to be a better person so they could earn enough cocoa to revive Probe. While his Heel–Face Turn sticks for a number of episodes, Adu Du finds himself feeling empty. After having been a Card-Carrying Villain plotting ways to get at BoBoiBoy for so long, he's at a loss at what to do with his life.

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers: A back-up story, "The Day the Strangers Came", in Volume 1, Annual #19 (July 1990), has a Hero-Worshipper named Hubie who discovers the people staying at his parents' bed-and-breakfast are actually the Avengers. He rushes to tell his brother this, only to discover his brother is the leader of the terrorist group the heroes are trying to locate, and he's planning on nuking Los Angeles and New York City. With a heavy heart, he goes into the guests' room and confesses what he's learned. Then, as the radio gives a news report about the Avengers thwarting the terrorist threat, he sadly goes to his room, puts away his super-hero costume, and takes down all of his super-hero posters.
    It's not that he doesn't like the Avengers anymore; He still does... And it's not that he won't do the right thing— the heroic thing— if it falls to him again. He just won't look forward to it anymore. That's all.
  • Batman:
    • At any point, Batman could give up his identity and live the easy life as Bruce Wayne. Instead, he goes out, night after night, fighting everything from common thugs to a Monster Clown to gods.
    • Robin and the rest of the Batfamily tend to go through this as well. The recurring theme is generally about determination and staying true to your ideals in the face of the worst.
    • Tim actually quits being Robin due to a number of factors, which is made easier due to the fact that he'd always approached it like a temporary gig. Of course this doesn't last, and then his life really goes to hell.
    • Good old Commissioner Gordon, especially in Batman: Year One. Back in Chicago, he tried to do the right thing by reporting misconduct to his superiors... only to get shunned as a whistleblower and a traitor, and eventually reassigned to Gotham City, the beat where honesty might actually get you killed.
    • In Batgirl: Year One, Wildcat goes on about the hardships associated with a hero career to dissuade Batgirl from becoming a costumed vigilante:
      Wildcat: This life ain't for you, Green-Eyes. Everybody hates ya, you got no life of yer own, and ya could end up arthritic and crippled.
  • Daredevil: Daredevil's life is even worse than Spider-Man's because his job as both a crime-fighter and lawyer has given him nothing but pain. Being good sucks, but it really, really sucks when you fight crime with both identities in "Hell's Kitchen".
  • Doom Patrol: The world thinks they're freaks, the other superheroes think they're strange, and they have the highest fatality rate of any hero team in the DCU. No less than three of the team's incarnations have died.
  • Hellblazer: John Constantine is a Knight in Sour Armor. When there's a time that he's being a goody-good shoes, the world fucks him. Not only that, his friends, that sometimes joins him in his goodly crusades, get fucked too.
  • Invincible: Discussed. After teaming up with the Anti-Villain Titan, Mark suggests a Heel–Face Turn to him. Titan, being surprisingly Genre Savvy, explains that being a supervillain is easier than a hero as they face less risk since superheroes rarely kill, Evil Pays Better, and when they actually do get caught people with superpowers rarely stay imprisoned long.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Scrooge does his best to strike it big without compromising his honesty or sense of fair play. Time and time again, this ends with him getting cheated out of everything he earns until he finally snaps and tosses his moral code out the window. Then we get a look at the flipside of this trope; Scrooge's descent into bitterness and cruelty drives away his family and leaves him alone for decades.
  • The Punisher: Harry Ebbing, an arc villain from The Punisher MAX is an energy tycoon of loose morals who is nevertheless beloved by all his employees for the generous salaries and benefits he gives all his workers and his insistence on personally addressing any of the problems they bring to him. When one of Harry's employees threatens to get the FBI involved over a scheme to black out the state of Florida to create a local monopoly, his second-in-command has the employee beaten and anally raped by street punks, which sets The Punisher on their tail. The whistleblower returns to throw himself at his boss' mercy and is promptly forgiven.
    Harry: Trouble with doing the right thing, Si: What you end up with is the satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing. As opposed to what you were giving up, which was anything you wanted being just a phone call away.
  • Runaways The Runaways have spent several years serving as Los Angeles' only significant superhero presence, protecting the area against aliens, monsters, and the occasional supervillain. And what is their reward? Tony Stark has repeatedly tried to shut them down, and once managed to drive them out of Los Angeles, not to mention repeated harassment by social services.
  • Sin City: This is one of the major themes. Every protagonist goes through crap and sometimes has to forfeit his life in order to do the right thing.
  • Spider-Man: Spider-Man is the best of the good guys because he always has the option of walking away. He can just throw away his costume and live in obscurity whenever he chooses, but he doesn't. He accepts that the good he does is worth the price he pays and fights the good fight. It's slightly masochistic, really but it's not his fault.
  • Superman:
    • Sure, Superman has better publicity than Spider-Man except for the government conspiracy that wants to kill him and all of his people and most of his friends and family are still around (except for Pa Kent), but deep down he really just wants to be Clark Kent. Like Spider-Man, he could just leave the Superman identity behind and live his life — if he could ignore the screams for help his super-hearing picks up every minute of every day.note 
    • Superman had powers since he was a child, but Supergirl was a normal, fifteen-year-old girl until she arrived on Earth. She remembers having a normal life and she just wants to be a normal girl again, free from the pressure and the burdens of having super-powers. And she often feels she isn't good or worthy enough to be a hero. Several times she has wanted to give up her Supergirl identity but she can not stop herself from helping people.
  • X-Men: The X-Men protect a world that fears and hates them. This is why The Brotherhood never wants for recruits.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
    • In Act III, after it becomes known that Tsukune and his friends destroyed a branch of Fairy Tale, their reward for their heroism is to face merciless bullying and abuse from nearly the entirety of the Yokai Academy student body, who believe them to be posers and fakes claiming to have beaten back Fairy Tale to get attention. Eventually, Felucia gets so sick of the harassment that she actually suggests to her friends that they just let Kuyou burn the school to the ground when he strikes.
    • Comes up again in Acts V and VI, where the gang's reward for saving the world from Alucard is to face suspicion and mistreatment from the humans in the wake of The Unmasqued World, to the extent that they get arrested and nearly executed simply for being monsters.
  • Child of the Storm: in the sequel, when Harry's picked for the Triwizard Tournament, having recently been through a horrific Trauma Conga Line, he bitterly goes on a rant to this effect. In the process, he quotes large sections of the Twelfth Doctor's speech on the subject (though he concludes with it being 'right' rather than 'kind'), the message being less an attempt at being inspiring, more grimly resolved. As is independently noted, while he may be decidedly grumpy about it, he will always - always - do what is right rather than what is easy.
  • Ultraman Orion: You get picked on, shot at, attacked by countless kaijin and you can barely survive in earth's atmosphere, if you're a good Ultraman.
  • In Now You Feel Like Number None, Gantenbainne's honour and friendship demanded that he not attack Cirucci when she interrupted the Exequias contest, even though Aizen ordered him and all the other contenders to do so. This sets him up for execution until Cirucci bargains with Aizen to grant amnesty to her conspirators. By the end of the chapter, Dordonni - his rival in the Exequias contest and fellow Privaron Espada - gains a new title, Cirucci becomes the Quinta, and his subordinate becomes the new Exequias. This leaves him alone as the last Privaron Espada, alone, irrelevant, outcast, and this nearly drives him to exile himself away forever in shame.
  • In Hellsister Trilogy, Supergirl can't have a normal life or healthy relationships or even downtime because, as Superman puts it, every time an eldritch abomination decides to snack on their universe, super-hero teams ask for Kryptonian help. And they can't ignore it.
    Supergirl: But we don't have to go out there with our dukes up, spoiling for a fight. Do we, Kal?
    Superman: No. Most of the time, it comes to us.
    Supergirl: Well, it's gonna have to start coming somewhere else before long. I'm tired of this. I wasn't born to be a, a super-heroine. I just wanted to be a normal girl from Argo, and, and get a good job and a good man and settle down...
    Superman: (gently) Except, there aren't very many people from Argo left anymore. Are there, Kara?
  • Nate from For The Mission. Doing the right thing his entire life meant he and his only friend got endlessly chased by Primal Dialga and his minions. Then, since he had to keep up his charade to The Dragon sent to catch them, he was forced to watch said friend be dragged off, likely to be executed, all so he could see their mission through. And their mission, no matter which way it falls, always ends in death.
  • In Sora's Misadventures in Equestria, Sora feels this way about rescuing Maleficent of all people from the teen dragons after she gets found out in "Dragon Quest".
  • In Superman of 2499: The Great Confrontation, the 25th century descendant of the original Caped Crusader really hates being Batman:
    Green Lantern: Your city needs you, friend Batman. Your great brain, your deductive skills, you have demonstrated them quite—"
    Batman: To hell with that! You're not from this world, Lantern. You don't know. The Batman line is based on vengeance. They make another Superman when the one doing the job decides to pass on the franchise. They make another Batman, all too many times, when somebody dies. I don't want that choice for my son, or his son, or any that come after. This is it. Our debt to Gotham, our debt to Thomas and Martha Wayne, our debt to my family...they're all...they're all paid. The Batman is just blood and death and pain. We don't fly among the eagles, soaring to the sun. We're down in the gutters, picking through the corpses for clues. We can't bounce blasters off our chests. All we've got is two fists and fear on our side. It's not a legacy, boys. It's a curse. The curse ends with me.
  • FIRE! (DarkMark): Being Captain America means you cannot let anybody get close, and you CANNOT ever, ever, EVER, mess up because it would mean letting down people who look up to you as the single reminder that their country was founded on values worth to fight for.
    Spider-Man: Cap became an Avenger in short order. If there's anybody that symbolized the good in America more than him, I've never met him. But there was something else about him. Two things, actually.
    First, he'd failed to save his partner, Bucky, from getting killed. That happened in the same incident that got Cap frozen. Eventually, Cap tracked down the Nazi responsible for it, and made him pay for it. But he never really got over it. There was some part of Cap that never stopped living in World War II, before Bucky's death, and that same part wouldn't let him get close enough to somebody who might get killed the same way.
    Second, he really had a burden on his shoulders with the American symbol thing. Literally, Cap was unable to accept himself messing up. Because if Captain America was seen screwing up, doing anything badly, blowing a mission, it would almost be seen as America screwing up...that's not the way I thought, but it was the way Cap saw it. So he held himself to impossible standards. And he almost always met them. Almost. He was the best man to have on your side at any time. But I never envied him. Not a single day.
  • In the Rick and The Loud House chapter "Toxicity in the Family", which is a retelling of Rick and Morty's "Rest and Ricklaxation", the Loud family all visit an alien spa where they get personality traits that they deem toxic removed from them. Lincoln specifically loses his selflessness and his compassion, in which he confesses that he feels worthless because he's only good at helping other people and also feels like he never gets any appreciation for his help.

    Films — Animation 
  • Kronk's New Groove has Kronk, the Minion with an F in Evil. Despite how much he feared his father for not being successful, he gave up a good home, and a girlfriend so that his friends would not be harmed or have bad lives due to his desires. Subverted as he gets a thumbs up from his pop and his girlfriend back.
  • Megamind:
    • Since a young age, Metro Man has always been known to have powers and his foster parents raised him to use them to help others. Now as an adult, after years of continually fighting his nemesis Megamind, Metro Man's belief in this trope led to him faking his own death so that he could finally get a chance to live his own life.
    • Hal also comes to this conclusion. After Roxanne rejects his advances, he decides that there's no real reward in using his new superpowers for good and chooses to become a villain instead. Of course, this conclusion wouldn't have been reached if he would find anything else than Roxanne's affections rewarding. And even if he didn't enjoy making the world a better place on its own, for someone with god-like powers and half a brain this shouldn't be that hard; unfortunately for everyone, he doesn't even have that half.
  • A theme in Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam:
    Billy Batson: "Be good and good will follow." That's what my parents used to always tell me. But, you know, Mr. Kent, I was good before they were taken from me. I was good at the foster home. And I was good fifteen minutes ago. I'm starting to think being good isn't good for me.
    Clark Kent: It seems that way sometimes, doesn't it? But that's because good is hard. Bad is always easy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Casablanca. All three of the primaries make (or try to make) personal sacrifices for the greater good, and as often as not, it hardly matters. They all get a roughly happy ending, but none of them get what they want.
  • Demon Knight: Alright, let's pro/con the Demon Knight thing. Pro: you're The Chosen One with a greatly prolonged lifespan. Con:'re constantly on the run and when your time is up you'll have to pick a successor dooming them to continue this chase. Oh, and Evil Only Has to Win Once and if it does, it'd be a universal-scale Cosmic Horror Story apocalypse.
  • Die Hard: Over the course of all five movies John McClane has come to believe this trope. Despite saving the day all those times, his family life has fallen apart and he gets little respect at work. He continues to save the day simply because he's "that guy", as he puts it in his own words.
  • Kaji from The Human Condition tries his best to prove humanity good by being altruistic, but suffers continually as a result of the title.
  • Referenced in Star Wars: "Is the dark side stronger?" "No, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive."
  • In the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nancy refuses Glenn's advances because they were there for Tina's benefit and needed to behave themselves. Later, Glenn hears Tina and Rod having loud, enthusiastic sex in the room above him. He sighs and says "morality sucks."
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • Captain Jack Sparrow learned this lesson long before the movies began. Though his father was a high-ranking pirate, Jack tried to find legitimate work as a merchant in the East India Trade Company. Then one day he discovered his cargo was slaves, whom he freed. His employer at the time Cutler Beckett branded Jack as a pirate and sank his ship. Ever since then Jack has tried his best to live for himself and only himself. Unfortunately he can't always ignore his conscience...and when he does follow it he usually ends up suffering for it.
      Cutler Beckett: We had a deal, Jack. I contracted you to deliver cargo on my behalf, and you chose to liberate it.
      Jack (uncharacteristically somber): People aren't cargo, mate.
    • Poor Jack even lampshades it in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl when he gets outed as a pirate because he dove in to save the life of Elizabeth, and is sentenced to hang:
      Elizabeth: Commodore, I really must protest. Pirate or not this man saved my life!
      Norrington: One good deed is not enough to redeem a man of a lifetime of wickedness.
      Jack: Though it seems enough to condemn him.
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Doniphon sacrifices his One True Love (and credit for killing the titular character) for the sake of winning US statehood of an unnamed Western state.
  • George Bailey, from It's a Wonderful Life. He loses hearing in one ear saving his brother's life, gets beaten by his boss for not delivering medicine (having noticed his boss unwittingly poison it), sacrifices his college life to keep the Building and Loan out of Potter's hands, stays on as CEO to keep the Board of Directors from shutting it down, gives his honeymoon money to the B&L members so they won't sell in a panic, and is about to take the blame for his uncle's mistake to keep him out of prison. Fortunately, it all pays off in the end. After his uncle misplaces an envelope of $8,000 and Bailey's suicide attempt is cut short by Clarence, followed by a visit to a universe he doesn't exist in, Bailey returns home to see all his friends pouring all their life savings into a basket, making him the richest man in town. Also, Clarence, after the hardships he went through helping Bailey, including falling into the river Bailey was going to end up in, being thrown out of a bar in Pottersville, and nearly being strangled by a cop before being saved by Joseph, is implied to have finally gotten his wings in his final note to George at the very end.
  • Superman gets hit by this trope in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. His attempts to do good are met with people either regarding him as a divine savior of some kind (much to his consternation) or being outright fearful or derisive of him. He goes into temporary exile after Lex Luthor bombs the Capitol.
  • In Wonder Woman, Diana leaves Themyscira behind and enters the patriarchal rest of the world to save mankind. Even if there wasn't a world war going on at the time, it would be a Crapsack World in comparison to her home. Ares even tries to tempt her to join him by showing her how beautiful the world could be without man, but she resists.
  • Molly's Game: Molly would have walked if she'd just turn over some scandalous gossip to spice up the trial, but she won't betray her clients' confidences, costing her her fortune and a felony conviction.
  • The Villain: The Bad Guy Wins. Or at least thanks to the Aren't You Going to Ravish Me? trope, gets the girl in the end.

  • Discussed a lot in Night Watch (Series): the protagonist constantly wonders if it is really worth being good if all he does is angst about not being able to do more. Even if he does do more, the terms of the Treaty grant the Dark Ones the right to do more harm to balance the good. For example, if he cures someone's cancer, the Dark Ones are allowed to give someone else a terminal illness. Some newer Light Others snap and try to give happiness to everyone. Who has to stop them? Their fellow Light ones. Additionally, the Day Watch has to give out licenses to vampires and werewolves, condemning random humans to either death or forced conversion.
  • Discworld: It's a fairly well-known fact that Granny Weatherwax is only good reluctantly. She has stated that she only became the Good One because her sister usurped her chance to be the Bad One. In Maskerade Granny gets an entire speech about all the things she could do if she'd just let herself be Bad, but sadly admits that when you know the difference between Right and Wrong you can't choose Wrong.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Harry Dresden's life would be one hell of a lot easier if he wasn't so prone to trying to save people. Additionally, if he was more amenable to making questionably-moral bargains with supernatural nasties, he could be a god by now. Harry lampshades how Being Good Sucks when he's lent a Rolls Royce just as the situation starts to hit rock bottom. He finds the car irrationally comforting because he knows there's no way he's driving to his death in a car that nice. An enemy of his once mocked his tendency to suffer from this by gifting him a gravestone with the epitaph, "He died doing the right thing" before placing him in an impossible choice: break her hospitality to save a person's life but risk starting a war between her kind and his White Council, or let an innocent woman die and other horrible consequences to come from his previous actions.
    • Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross, goes regularly on Missions from God to help the helpless and save people. He regularly leaves his family and many children when going on this and while it doesn't seem to bother him, it is hinted at that he is very scared of dying or something happening to them while he is away. However, his belief in God and the Blessings God gives help him find the strength to keep on mission.
  • In Ivanhoe, Rebecca refuses to marry Wilfred of Ivanhoe because she was Jewish and he was Christian and crossovers were looked down on on both sides. Sir Walter Scott said specifically that he was trying to avert Good Feels Good because he thought teaching readers to be good for that reason was a Hard Truth Aesop.
  • Played with in the Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch novels, where the heroes have to acknowledge that being ethical often sucks, due to how ineffective it sometimes makes them. During this particular timeframe in the Star Trek 'verse, the Federation doesn't yet exist, meaning that those who live by an actual code of ethics have it far harder than in later eras. The people of Rigel X and Adigeon Prime demonstrate the lifestyle that ensures prosperity in this era; selfish greed, piracy, and a general policy of closing your eyes to injustice. Indeed, The Leader of the Thelasian Trade Confederacy in Rosetta almost pities humans for their appeal to ethics. In The Good That Men Do, Archer and Shran acknowledge that currently the "good guys" are somewhat powerless; while at a slave market on Rigel X, there isn't anything they can do to help without bringing a worse fate down on themselves. As Shran is often a Honor Before Reason character, he does it anyway.
  • A recurring theme in A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Ned Stark, whose unrelenting efforts to do the right and honorable thing ultimately result in his execution, the near-destruction of his family and all the many calamities that Westeros has endured since his death.
    • Poor Brienne. She tries her hardest to live up to the ideals of the Knight in Shining Armor and, to be fair, she does a bang-up job. Whenever she gets a choice, she always picks the harder, more honourable, and virtuous route. And, Westeros finds a way to kick her in the teeth for it as ironically as it can. Every bloody time. On the plus side, she's been badass enough to avoid the deaths that tried to come calling. So far.
    • Jon Connington was exiled in disgrace for failing to find and kill Robert Baratheon. He complained that he could have done no more later in life to a companion, who retorted that Tywin Lannister would have simply burned the town to the ground and dug out Robert's bones.
    • Jaime Lannister is in prime position to tell you which is harder, Good or Evil. He's tried both at various points, with iffy success. So far, "being sufficiently cunning to get away with being either Good or Evil" seems to be the hardest part of all. His proudest, and arguably most heroic deed, earned him the name of Kingslayer, after all. All that got him was a world of ridicule and hurt, to the point he basically threw his hands up and went Then Let Me Be Evil. Well, very deeply apathetic with streaks of evil, at least.
    • This trope is notably subverted in the prequel novella series, Tales of Dunk and Egg. Dunk, who would later be known as Ser Duncan the Tall, assaults a Targaryen prince in spite of the consequences for savagely beating an innocent woman. For this, he expects to be reviled and left to his fate by everyone for attacking one of royal blood, but to his surprise, both the smallfolk and several nobles rally in support of him for remembering his knightly vow to defend the innocent. They do everything in their power to help him in the ensuing trial by combat, some by providing him with better equipment on the cheap, others by volunteering to fight alongside him during the trial. Even the Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms is so moved by Dunk's cause that he joins his side to make sure that a gallant knight is not punished for a good deed.
  • Airframe: Towards the end of the book, the heroine is feeling this way. She's been investigating a strange near plane crash and has been trying to do the right thing throughout and all she has to show for her efforts are a couple of videos showing the terrifying ride, she's being hounded by reporters who sense blood in the water, and it turns out she's been set up to take the fall if the plane is discredited.
  • The Marquis de Sade's most famous novel is literally subtitled The Misfortunes of Virtue.
  • Trapped on Draconica: Daniar wonders if her merciful nature is a curse because her enemies keep coming back to torment her.
  • Trigger Warning: At the beginning of the book, Jake is attacked by other students, and arrested by campus police, for attempting to defend a girl who is being abused by her boyfriend.
  • If one trope were to sum up Jean Valjean of Les Misérables, this would be it. His first struggle, after getting out of prison, is to learn that being good is worthwhile. It's remembering that lesson in the years afterwards that proves the challenge. Time after time, he's presented with chances to escape the law and live the life that would best please him, but at the expense of someone else - and, even though no-one would ever be the wiser, he always chooses right, even if it means putting himself through hell to do so. Having an adoring adoptive daughter takes the edge off.
  • Referenced in Harry Potter similar to the Star Wars example above. Dumbledore stresses that the decision is between "what is right, and what is easy."
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: The innocent and good-hearted Edmond is betrayed and condemned to 14 years in jail by Danglars, Villefort, and Fernand, who all prosper as a result. Though they do eventually get their comeuppance, it only happens after Edmond rises to the challenge.
  • In the Dreamblood Duology, Ehiru spends much of the first book desperately needing dreamblood, but even when he could just secretly gather someone in the night and get what he needs, he resists because they refuse him and that it would not be in accordance with Hananja's Law.
  • Spinning Silver: Miryem's father is a kind-hearted man who thinks the best of people and is free with his favours, which makes him a terrible moneylender. He's driven to poverty as his clients take advantage of his good nature. When Miryem takes over the business, she refuses to forgive any debt, no matter how minor, because of how her father's kindness nearly destroyed their family.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Frodo inherits an Artifact of Doom from his uncle. He decides he must destroy it in order to save the Shire. On his quest he gets a shoulder wound that will never fully heal, recurring illnesses from when he was stung in the neck by a giant demon spider, he loses a finger, and ultimately he fails the test of will to destroy the Ring, so he feels a deep sense of personal failure. While he is the most famous hobbit outside of the Shire, nobody in the Shire except the companions who went with him on his quest gives him any sort of recognition, and he becomes something of a recluse. He finds in the end that there is no peace for him in the Shire and that he must seek healing in the West. He leaves his home and all of his possessions to his former gardener Sam Gamgee.

    Religion & Mythology 
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Bible in general describes the path of righteousness as a narrow and perilous road, compared to the wide and easy path of sin, which makes it all the more satisfying when the righteous finally enter God's kingdom.
    Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12)

    Tabletop Games 
  • New World of Darkness:
    • The Crapsack World setting is Scylla and Charybdis in RPG form. You can either be good and stick to your principles, which will likely get you killed or hurt badly (and there's no guarantee you can Earn Your Happy Ending), or, you can be a Jerkass who amasses power and lives longer at the cost of a laundry list of minor and medium sins... which usually ends with you either dead at the hands of a monster or becoming one to stop it from killing you (or to stop the previously mentioned good guys from killing you).
    • Promethean: The Created is a aversion. Sure, there are even more obstacles in your way than any other supernatural. For one, every living thing hates you by instinct, but you can Earn Your Happy Ending - humanity, freedom from the pain of Promethean life and acceptance by Nature. There are rules for getting a happy ending. Just stick very, very tightly to being good.
    • Changeling: The Lost has Clarity as its Morality meter; at the very bottom of this meter are things like kidnapping, because acting more like the True Fae that abducted you makes you more like them. This still applies if kidnapping someone because you can't explain why you need to get them out of their situation immediately since it doesn't make logical sense. Stealing a baby gets you that same degeneration roll, even if you're doing it because the Wild Hunt just burst out of the garden archway of a daycare playground.
    • Vampire: The Requiem:
      • Vampires who try to maintain their Humanity have trouble getting nourishment, get targeted by Elders for object lessons in the necessity of being a Transhuman Traitor, and are described by the sourcebooks as usually choosing to die rather than persist as undead abominations.
      • The Ordo Dracul has a technique by which a vampire can drastically reduce their need for blood and even subsist on animals indefinitely. It's described as feeling deeply, grindingly awful, like living on the brink of starvation, and denies the vampire the one visceral pleasure in its existence.
  • Exalted:
    • Applies this to renegade Abyssals, who can't settle down or huge bursts of necrotic Essence will kill everyone in the area; they can't directly oppose their former patrons or they'll take enough lethal damage to cripple them or knock them unconscious; and people tend to be even more afraid of them than the normal Solars, because of the whole "sometimes looking like a skeleton and bleeding from the forehead for a caste mark" thing.
      • Fortunately, new rules have been provided which allows an Abyssal's Lunar Exalted Mate to ease their burden through The Power of Love (or friendship, if that's how they roll). An Abyssal can freely commit "sins of Life" with their Lunar Mate (protecting their lives or having sex with them, for example), and the Neverborn are incapable of punishing them for it. If the Abyssal actually cares for their Lunar, they can even freely commit "sins against Death" for them with impunity — which includes directly opposing their former patrons. This same update also included guidelines for how Abyssal Exalted can redeem themselves into free, untainted Solar Exalted, a process which Lunar Mates make much easier.
    • Same thing applies to the Green Sun Princes. If they decide to go against the will of their Yozi patrons (which is usually "Make Creation such a shithole that it can technically count as Hell, which means we can get out of our prison"), they begin to accrue Torment that leaks out and affects others. In fact, the only way to bleed off Torment is to perform cliched acts of utter bastardry, however, it says nothing about who you have to perform them on...
      • Unlike Abyssals, Green Sun Princes cannot be redeemed into normal Solars during life but the same difference means that if their essence was somehow delivered to Autochthon, the Unconquered Sun, or a similar entity after death, it could be purified in this manner.
    • This is also a game mechanic for Infernal and Abyssal Charms. The former were specifically designed to avert Bad Powers, Bad People by not being particularly malevolent in practice. You can use Infernal Charms to feed the hungry, force corrupt gods to do their damn jobs, protect your loved ones, bestow regeneration on loyal agents and turn into a benevolent counterpart to a hostile Exalt, while most Abyssal Charms boil down to "hurt people" and "be like the dead". GSP's who are serious about breaking out can kick the snot out of this model around Essence 6. There's an entire keyword, Heretical, for Charms that revolve around flipping their patrons the bird, and one such Charm allows them to tell the will of the Yozis to go screw.
  • Deadlands: Later settings, including Hell on Earth, went so far as to codify how much Being Good Sucks for most of its Arcane Backgrounds. Templars, for instance, lie to almost everyone they see about who they are and blithely pass judgement on everyone they meet. Muggles that aren't "good enough" are left to their own devices or even hunted, but, as ultimately heroic souls, they all know that the "hardest thing you'll ever have to do is walk away."
  • Ravenloft is a world purposely designed to make sure evil always flourishes and good never triumphs. The entire world is ruled by the dark powers that put psychotic overlords in charge of each land. Even if you kill them, someone else will likely take their place. However, this is also a setting where being evil isn't much better, since the Dark Powers enjoy tormenting the aforementioned overlords even more than they enjoy tormenting the good guys.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Paladins of first through third-edition generally suffer some degree of this trope: the frequency and intensity depend on how strictly your game group judges actions on the alignment spectrum. Sure, the benefits of the class are pretty sweet, but you Can't Get Away with Nuthin', and the rest of your group - even though you're not required to enforce Lawful Good beliefs on them - are going to have difficulty pursuing any evil, or even chaotic, goals.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Lamenters, a Chapter of Space Marines descended from Sanguinius, are often considered by fans to be one of, if not the most unambiguously heroic, noble, and compassionate Chapters, even moreso than their parent Chhapter the Blood Angels, who also have this reputation to a lesser extent. The Lamenters will always go above and beyond to save human lives, even at tremendous cost to their own Chapter, and in situations when most other Chapters would write civilian casualties off as acceptable losses, or ignore them altogether. This is balanced by the fact that they are also considered the unluckiest Chapter in the Imperium, having been driven to near extinction repeatedly through no fault of their ownnote . On top of this, they're also considered cursed by many other Chapters, who will refuse to fight alongside them or even leave them to die.

  • Les Misérables: Valjean tries to feed his sister's starving child and gets 19 years of incarceration. At several points, he faces a choice between helping someone or avoiding trouble for himself.
  • In Pinocchio: The Musical, Mangiafuoco clearly states that he hates how he's guilt-tripped so easily by other people's sad stories and is not very happy with his status as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.

    Video Games 
  • Metal Gear:
    • Solid Snake is well-aware of this. Unlike Big Boss, he pulls through everything life threw at him, but his perseverance kept him from going down the same path as his father. While others want to save the world, he does it his way. Even if it means "living like a pariah".
    • Big Boss gets hit with this even harder. Everything he did was for the sake of his country and The Boss, but no matter what, life found a way to take everything from him. When he finds out the whole world wants him dead, he decides he's had enough and creates Outer Heaven. That being said, Big Boss ultimately realizes how selfish his goal was, and wants to fulfill The Boss' will correctly. When he sees Snake one last time, he commends him for not falling down the same path he did.
  • Fate/stay night: Kotomine feels this way. The prequel goes in depth into the reasons why as he desperately searches for something that he likes to do that isn't evil. Failing that, he looks for someone who was at least empty like he was, which is why Shirou interested him so much. In any case, he had to sacrifice his happiness, ambitions and act good when he really wanted to act evil but was in denial about it. He's still very honest, and he feels guilt! This causes other problems.
  • Fable III invokes this during the game's second half, once you're a monarch. Being a benevolent ruler will make you loved by the people but will leave your treasury dry, which hurts your chances of funding an army to fight off an impending Eldritch Abomination. As such, you'll be required to keep your coffers full with your personal funds in order to Earn Your Happy Ending.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics - Ramza's a Wide-Eyed Idealist in a Crapsack World. Even after it's made very clear that he's going to spend the rest of his life (if not the rest of history) branded as a heretic, he remains determined to Do The Right Thing.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance Marche knows that by getting his friends to come home to the real world means destroying their happiness and he will be hated for it, but he does it anyway because it's ultimately the right thing to do for his friends' well being.
  • Zigzagged in the case of the Warrior of Light of Final Fantasy XIV. On one hand, their adventures and acts of heroism make them a world-renowned hero with friends in every corner of the world. They wind up comfortably wealthy from their exploits and have countless new experiences to satisfy their Thrill Seeker urges. On the other hand, the Warrior's Chronic Hero Syndrome gives them enormous, crushing responsibilities that everyone expects them to uphold. Dialogue options, journal entries, and sidequests depict the Warrior as weary from having to bear the burden of saving and ending so many lives. The Dark Knight questline in particular underscores the damaging effects that being the Warrior of Light has had on their psyche, as Fray and Myste, the embodiments of the Warrior's own unheroic traits and Guilt Complex respectively, berate them over their failings and try to convince the Warrior to escape their responsbilities.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • The Followers of the Apocalypse have an ethos of providing medicine, food, and education to anyone who needs it. In the post-apocalyptic Fallout-verse, this results in them being understaffed and forever running out of supplies.
    • Companions Arcade Gannon and Veronica Santangelo, both idealists in their own way will not end up with satisfying endings. Arcade will see that an Independent New Vegas isn't as perfect as he wants it to be but does what he can to help others while other paths have him be disillusioned or wind up dead, either due to his Enclave heritage or due to being enslaved by the Legion. Veronica will either stay with the Brotherhood of Steel despite knowing that their current path will lead them to ruin or be forever traumatized by their zealotry after leaving to join the Followers. J.E. Sawyers states that one of the themes of the game is that in a world as harsh as the Fallout setting, the idealist is the one to be hurt the most.
    • This applies to the Honest Hearts DLC with New Canaanite Missionary Daniel. If he succeeds in evacuating the Sorrows as he wanted, he'll forever question himself on whether or not he did the right thing. If they instead choose to stay and fight the White Legs, he'll be forever haunted by their loss of innocence.
  • In Papers, Please, you are expected to follow the rules of who to admit into Arstotzka without fail. Occasionally, you'll come across people who ask you to bend the rules, often with sob stories like the wife who lacks proper paperwork and wants to be with her husband. You can oblige them, but you will receive citations for doing so, potentially costing you money needed to support your family.
  • Mass Effect:
    • No matter how nice Paragon Shepard is and how many good things s/he does at his/her own personal risk, s/he still gets reprimanded and screwed over by the politicians of the Citadel Council and Ambassador Udina around every corner. No matter how strict of a Paragon you are, you still have to choose between letting the Council die, or allowing the human Alliance fleet to suffer heavy casualties. There is no third option and no "reward choice" for being a good guy.
    • In Mass Effect 2, Shepard is forced to work with known terrorists Cerberus in order to investigate and stop the Collectors from stealing human colonists, since Cerberus are the only people actively trying to do so (they may or may not have any choice in the matter given that Cerberus brought them back to life). Their reward? All of their friends voice extreme suspicion that Shepard is working for them, with one of them outright refusing to join up with them over it.
    • In Mass Effect 3, Shepard has to make tough military decisions, the least of which is fleeing Earth in order to unite the rest of the galaxy while everyone else is slaughtered. They may also decide to betray old friendships for military advantages if no other options are available, and overall the weight of responsibility that they're really the only one who can save everybody (and this is after spending the past few years being dismissed for their Reaper warnings, only for the Reapers to show up and catch everyone unprepared). There are conversation options that indicate Shepard is feeling this trope quite heavily as a result of all this.
    • On the plus side, there are some aversions to this - if you take the moral high road, Shepard can use this fact to shame the hell out of the people who call him/her on lesser sins, and moving heaven and earth to help others can result in many unforseen positive outcomes by the third game.
  • This is a huge part of the backstory of Touhou Project's Byakuren, at least from her perspective. Attempting to achieve peace and equality between humans and youkai? Enjoy your millennium in Makai, traitor. It may be worth mentioning here however that the racism is an important part of the status quo in Touhou.
  • Being the team's healer in a multiplayer or an MMORPG can often invoke this. You will have a lot of responsibility in keeping your teammates in living condition and you'll often get the blame if something goes wrong, even if it isn't your fault. This is known as the Blame the Healer mentality. Besides that, you will often become the Nr. 1 on many enemy players hit list.
  • Shadowrun Returns delves into this, though to what degree depends on the game. Universally, Evil Pays Better in most cases, so trying to make morally "good" choices tends to leave you considerably less wealthy than you otherwise would be. Dragonfall takes this a step further by making nearly every "good" choice be you betraying, failing, or otherwise inconveniencing your contractor, causing your reputation to take a hit and subsequently deny you access to better quests and items.
  • Spider-Man (PS4): It's a given with Spidey. Whenever he does the right thing, it's always at a huge personal cost. Best displayed at the end of the game, where he's forced to let Aunt May die so that the cure to the Devil's Breath can be analyzed and mass-produced; Peter grapples with the choice to be selfish just this once, but in the end, his morals just won't let him.
  • Undertale subverts this with its Pacifist Route. You're stuck at level 1 for the game if you don't kill anything (justified in-game by explaining that Undertale's version of experience and levels are actually measures of how much of a cold, murderous bastard you are) and even random encounters become Puzzle Bosses where you have to find a way to de-escalate the situation and spare the enemy instead of killing them (all while they're trying to kill you). Even Flowey wonders how long you'll last before you give in to violence. However, all that hard work and perseverance ultimately rewards you with the best ending in the game. Meanwhile, on the No Mercy run, you may smash pretty much any regular enemy in one or two hits, but the two actual bosses you face are incredibly harder and more frustrating than everything the other two runs throw at you combined, so Being Evil Sucks far more than being good.
  • Persona 5: Party member Ryuji Sakamoto often laments that, as your heroic Phantom Thief group works anonymously in the shadows, they're never allowed to take any credit or reap actual rewards for their good deeds. Each villain you encounter has meanwhile been exploiting their position of power to get all sorts of benefits for themselves.
  • Dawn of War II - Chaos Rising has this as a gameplay mechanic. Keeping your squad pure from corruption means that you need to refrain from equipping the best weapons in the game as those tend to be tainted with the power of Chaos. The missions will also have conditions that needs to be done if you want the squad to avoid or lose Chaos corruption. Most of the time, those conditions will wind up making the missions harder than it needs to be. Finally, if you manage to keep your squad free of corruption, the traitor will be Martellus rather than any of your squad members. That sounds good until you realize that he is one of the hardest bosses in the game if not the entire series.
  • Some WWE Video Games fall into the trap of rewarding bad guy wrestlers for heel tactics (such as eye rakes or cheap pins) whilst rewarding good guy wrestlers for face tactics (such as breaking cleanly and releasing submission holds when ordered to do so). The trouble is that heel tactics are effective on their own whilst face tactics usually involve passing up a chance to inflict more punishment. Even if the rewards for following each play style are equal the heel characters will still have an advantage in terms of damage dealt.
  • Chris dips his toes into the trope in Resident Evil 5 where he wonders if all of his heroics in combating bioterrorism is even worth it and then deduces in the ending that it is. By Resident Evil 6, he's become a complete drunk after seeing his squad die before his very eyes in a bioterrorist attack and feels nothing he does will ever change anything. Fellow teammate Piers gets Chris to climb out of his despair and fight terrorism once again, to which he becomes a Knight in Sour Armor and ultimately still does the right thing.
  • Liu Kang's arcade ending in Mortal Kombat 11 has him using his power over Kronika's hourglass to replace the Elder Gods Cetrion betrayed with himself, Kitana, Kung Lao, Raiden, and Bo' Rai Cho. But by doing so, he gives up any chance of him and Kitana ever living a normal life. And to drive home the bitterness of this ending, Liu Kang ponders what could have been and sees himself and Kitana, both still mortals, getting married. He even says that being The Chosen One and doing the right thing means making choices that break your heart.
  • The player character in Final Fantasy XIV gradually gets more snarky and sometimes even short-tempered over certain situations, but they ultimately do the right thing no matter what is thrown their way. The Dark Knight job quests in Heavensward explores how much of a burden it is for the player character to be Eorzea's savior, especially when the people they save don't express anything but a thank you at best.
  • Yes, Your Grace: Taking the "good" option of some pairs of mutually exclusive objectives is not for players who have few resources:
    • Siding with the Lord who wants the sale of Oracle Dust banned means either letting him trade with the enemy or paying weekly installments to keep his business afloat. Going with the Lord trading in Oracle Dust results in an extra source of revenue and unlocks hounds to use during the battle against Radovia.
    • Fabioun's objective in Act 3, which requires helping Radovians on three occasions. One demand requires sparing a certain quantity of food per week for a group of refugees, while another requires refusing to kill Radovian combatants to the face of people whose family members were killed by Radovians, resulting in a drop in population contentment. Oh, and Via Lyt will stop her gold payments a few weeks after the refugees are helped.
  • A pivotal moment in Cave Story is when young, innocent Toroko is force-fed a Red Flower that turns her into a mindless, rampaging Berserker. Quote has to fight her and Mercy Kill her to put her out of her misery. When she's killed, the usual victory fanfare is replaced with complete silence, signifying this "victory" is not one to be celebrated.
  • A similar moment happens in Mega Man X4 when X hunts down and defeats Magma Dragoon, who turned maverick and destroyed the Sky Lagoon (killing everyone on and below it), just to have an excuse to duel X to the death. After hearing all this, X forgoes his usual victory fanfare and striking a victory pose, and instead just somberly teleports away.
  • Hearts of Iron IV features the 1936 Soviet Great Purge, which historically killed 950,000 to 1,2 millions people. While the Soviet Union AI always perform the Purge in historical mode, playing yourself as Soviet Union allows to deliberately decide to not do the Purge (or if you do an incomplete purge). On the paper, said civil war isn't unwinnable by Soviet Union, but it can trigger at a very inconvenient time (e.g. in mid-1941, during the German invasion). The Purge's focus description explicitly warns that avoiding the Purge will result in a civil war. Also, even if you avoid the Purge and win the civil war, you'll miss the "rewards" gained when the Purge is entirely over (permanent buffs for the army and a new research slot).
  • Death Road to Canada:
    • This is the basis for the "Civilized" trait. They retain their old values back from when the world wasn't an apocalypse filled with bandits, the undead and otherwise rude and untrustworthy people. Their personality stats are all at the maximum, but their morale can never go above 3.
    • In a reversal of this, characters with low loyalty will have their morale drop if they commit good deeds.
  • Idol Manager: Doing the right thing isn't always financially sustainable, with the "right thing" sometimes being as basic as paying the idols proper salaries. During many events directly involving an idol, the option that will make everyone happy involves spending a large sum of money. The Idol Singer agency run by the player having reached baseline financial sustainability by the time such events happen is entirely optional.

  • In The Order of the Stick:
    • Discussed when Roy Greenhilt dies and is interviewed for admittance to the Lawful Good afterlife. He passes because even though he isn't always a moral paragon, he always tries, rather than accepting an "easier" alignment that would require less work. This means he gets to go to Heaven while his jerkass father is stuck outside the gates.
  • Magick Chicks: After being transferred to Artemis Academy, forces conspire to try to reform Melissa - from having strange dreams about a mysterious little girl, to ending up with a magic wand that seems to act as her conscience... whether Mel wants it, or not. But she's determined to fight their influence as the realization that she's begun to change literally sent her running!
    • It's even invoked in the comic's tagline: "Being good never felt SO BAD!!"
  • In Phoenix Flair, being a Magical Girl / Avazon is a miserable, grueling experience, with no rewards and many, many injuries... at least, according to the Protagonist.
  • At the beginning of the Sam & Fuzzy NMS revived arc (when Devahi starts working for them), Sam and Fuzzy are dispatched to take care of a problem that involves megalomaniacal gerbils and some really sinister wine. When, at the end of the job, Sam tries to take the wine with him, the owner of the restaurant who hired him stops him, because even though it's opened, and partially drunk, and incredibly dangerous, it's still gotta be worth at least as much as he's paying Sam to save his sorry hide. Sam walks out, with the wine but sans pay, commenting that doing the right thing sucks. Sam always tries to do the right thing, and it always sucks for him.
  • Big Ears from Goblins: puts it best.
    Big Ears: Imagine the worst thing that's ever happened to you. Now imagine that it's not just happening to you, but to everybody you care about. That's what evil feels like.
    Chief: Blaah! That sounds unbearable, why would anyone want to become a Paladin?
    Big Ears: So others don't have to.
  • Put a bit more succinctly in Spacetrawler's second series.
    Groterix: "Empathy." I wouldn't want to live without it, but it often gives you the shit end of the stick, doesn't it?
  • James the Token Good Teammate of Roommates sacrifices, protects, let's his beloveds go if necessary, is humble, prone to self-deprecate, etc. and seems to be as close to an Ideal Hero as it is possible in the setting... but he will never get the recognition or a happy ending because this is a Meta Fic so for good to have any real reward you need to be The Hero and he isn't. He is determined to be good despite this and Earn His Happy Ending... or at least occasionally drink until he forgets.
  • This is the case in the series, For Love Nor Money, when Eamonn confronts his uncle over the cruelty he displays to his tenants, John responds by raping his mother and cutting of his supply of payments to their family, ultimately leading to his baby sister, Heather, dying of Whooping Cough when they run out of medicine.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Zuko just can't catch a break with this trope.
      • First, he gets half his face burned off and is banished for speaking against a general's bloodthirsty strategy and refusing to fight his own father. Then, he risked losing his pursuit of the Avatar to save his uncle. Then, he went incognito and saved a bunch of villagers who turned on him the moment they found out he was from the Fire Nation. THEN he got physically sick after he let Appa go (which contradicted his sole mission for three years). When he's finally reinstated as Crown Prince, he abandons his home, status, girlfriend, and worldly comforts in exchange for living as a runaway hunted down by his own family all to help Aang save the world. Luckily, it all works out for him in the end.
    • Being an Avatar in general, you have to devote your life to mastering all 4 elements and bringing balance to the world. All this is told to you at age 16 by the way, or in Aang and Korra's case much younger. Nevermind the fact that the Avatar has no choice in the matter, which sucks if you're someone like Aang who "never wanted to be an Avatar".
  • Just like in the comics, the titular character from The Spectacular Spider-Man still suffers from this grief.
  • The Justice League example on the quotes page comes from a scene in which Superman compares himself to his Knight Templar Evil Counterpart from another dimension, and he won't reduce Lex Luthor to a splatter across the nearest building for the loss of The Flash. Since the League rescued Flash immediately after that, he could take pride in retrospect at showing how strong he really is, deep down.
  • In the Kim Possible episode "Bad Boy", Drakken is depressed when he figures out that becoming evil again for the greater good will mean no more playtime with Rufus.
  • Of the Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny is one most often given an Escort Mission, which forces him to postpone his vacation or delay gratification of some other pleasure he was looking forward to. Being a decent person, he'll do it, regardless of how much trouble he runs into or how long it takes to complete because I Gave My Word. This doesn't negate how much grumbling he'll do on the way, though. The perfect example of this is in the short "8-Ball Bunny," where Bugs promises to take what he thinks is a bird in a tuxedo (actually a famous ice-skating penguin) back where he came from. The look on Bugs' face when he realizes how far he'll have to go (doubly so at the end) to keep his word is priceless.
    Bugs: SOUTH POLE?!! OOH, I'M DYIN'!!!
  • Animaniacs: The amount of abuse Buttons the Dog gets while protecting little girl Mindy not to mention the thanklessness and misunderstanding of the dog's owners, who Once per Episode think the dog is disobeying their orders, is only rewarded at the end by Mindy patting the bruised and battered canine on the head and saying, "Silly puppy!" In The Movie Wakko's Wish every character's wish comes true -(except the Mime). Buttons' wish is to finally get recognition for his actions by his owners. He receives a large bowl of raw steaks.
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: Shane Gooseman was already questioning his purpose as a Tyke Bomb and unwilling to accept unnecessary casualties during Super-Soldier training. Because he decided to stay loyal to his creators during the riot, he is considered a traitor by his brethren and was forced to accept a deal where he became a Hunter of His Own Kind. As Killbane aptly pointed out, he's considered a slave, neither human nor Supertrooper.
  • In one episode, Doug finds an envelope with a large amount of money and decides to turn it in at the local police station. His friends and his sister Judy give him a fair amount of flack for it until the thirty-day waiting period is up; since no one has claimed the money, it is now legally his. Just as he's adding it up, a Coincidental Broadcast airs about a little old lady who is missing the exact same amount of money. Reluctantly, he returns the money to her, whereupon she rewards his honesty with a pack of spearmint gum. At least Judy takes him out for a milkshake as a sign of implicit approval of his honesty.
  • Daria:
    • The title character is usually too cynical and lazy to try doing something good, but when she does, she usually runs into this trope, with her efforts proving ineffective ("The New Kid") or only partially effective ("Fizz Ed," "See Jane Run").
    • Quinn runs into this in the Grand Finale: she confronts her friend about her alcoholism, but this creates a rift in their relationship without having any apparent effects on her drinking.
  • Goof Troop: PJ lives his entire adolescence with this trope as its message. At best, he gets someone to console him, fix things for him, or make up with him after they or someone else maliciously or carelessly hurt his feelings or made things difficult for him. Most of the time he has to seek a resolution himself and sometimes has to resort to passive-aggression or violence in order to achieve the right results. Otherwise, his somewhat selfish friend and extremely selfish father always have the upper hand over him, meaning that he spends most of his time doing other characters' bidding. He's not only treated as an Extreme Doormat, but also a (sympathetic) No-Respect Guy and The Drag-Along, and has been actively slandered by a talking hat before. He eventually get a happy ending in the second movie.
  • Gargoyles: Goliath's Clan constantly put human lives above their own. Their reward is being called monsters, having objects thrown at them, and sometimes an organization with full military troops seeking to either kill them or capture and dissect them. On the other hand, they have a fan club and the humans that know them, such as Elisa and Xanatos think otherwise.
  • In the last season of Samurai Jack, Jack is growing tired of his quest to return to the past after having spent 50 years stuck in the Bad Future not having aged a day to the point where he even considers suicide to end his misery.
  • South Park:
    • Kyle always tries to do the right thing, even if it doesn't get him rewarded or gain happiness. It becomes more apparent when Cartman, a sociopath at the age of 10, is involved because despite Kyle hating him with all his heart, he could never let Cartman suffer from his own stupid actions and wants to at least see him do the right thing once in his life.
    • Several of Kenny's deaths were heroic sacrifices done to save the lives of others, but that doesn't change the fact that he feels and remembers the pain of dying each and every time.
  • The titular character of WordGirl finds a hard time having fun due to her crime-fighting.
  • Thunder Cats 2011: Lion-O was looked down upon by both his own people and others for showing mercy to the other races of Third Earth, and when he tries to do the right thing, it's often at the expense of either his own safety or happiness. At the very least, Lion-O's actions are shown to have positive effects in the long run despite the hardships.
  • In the season 2 premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Discord gives breaking speeches to each of the Mane Six about how much friendship either sucks and how it's better off to be selfish in the end, right before inverting their personalities to be contrary to their normal selves.
  • Steven Universe:
    • The crux of Steven's character throughout the show. While he starts off as a comical, somewhat obnoxious goof that's focused on having fun with the Gems and easily gets distracted, he gradually gains an understanding of how serious his missions actually are - first as he struggles to replicate even the most basic powers the other Gems can do, then as he attempts to harness his unique abilities shared by his mother. He displays doubts that he won't be able to live up to the reputation of his mother, especially as she was the leader of the Crystal Gems during the war. Throughout Season 1, he gains maturity as he tries to find a balance between his responsibility and finding time for fun, but after the season finale, he starts to come to terms that the enemy might not be so easy to deal with after he's captured by Jasper and is forced to watch as his friend Lapis Lazuli sacrifices herself to keep Jasper from hurting him. Season 2 shows that he's sadly become all too aware of the Gems' Hero Worship of Rose and that he starts to believe he really might be his mother and they might blame him for not being around. He learns of the horrific Gem experiments conducted by Homeworld and the frightening amounts of Body Horror and near the end of the season starts to lose faith in Peridot, who he thought he could help to overcome her prejudices and backwards mindset. Thankfully he's proven right, but it's still a struggle to consider that there's some people he might be unable to save. Season 3 has him being forced to confront the horror of the Cluster as their thousands of fragmented minds psychically scream for help, learning to help Lapis with her deep-seated self-hatred and mental scars, and later come into conflict with an old Crystal Gem who tries to kill him over the ethics of war because of one of his mother's dark secrets. If that weren't enough, Jasper and a Homeworld Ruby can't be reasoned with and he has no way to save them, in the latter case having to strand her in space to survive, and they blame him for the apparent death of Pink Diamond, who once again was because of Rose. If all that weren't enough, Season 4 shows that he suffers from mental trauma as he has flashbacks that he was unable to save Bismuth, Jasper, and Ruby, and feels guilt that a pacifist like him has no choice but to do darker things when an enemy refuses help. By now, he's had to go through immensely stressful situations, and, while not lacking his enthusiasm or desire to do good, it's cost him his innocence and is a far cry from the child he once was at the beginning of the series.
    • Played with in Keystone Motel. When Garnet defuses due to Ruby and Sapphire disagreeing on how to deal with Pearl tricking them into fusing, Sapphire says they need to forgive Pearl for the good of the group while Ruby is frustrated that they always have to be 'the bigger Gem'.
    • After Peridot cements her Heel–Face Turn, she spends the next couple of hours descending into madness born of fear and confusion over her defection from Yellow Diamond. She admits it's hard for her not to have some lingering feelings for the place she came from, but thankfully she got over it.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, Earl Cooper was a car engineer for Global Motors. He reported a design flaw in one of their cars to the board of directors. However, they refused to remove the product from the market on their lawyers' advice. Earl was determined to talk to the authorities as lives were at stake. The executives sent a bunch of thugs to silence him, but thankfully Batman saved him. Earl's testimony then rocked Global Motors in a massive scandal. Years later, Earl found himself out of a job because he got a reputation as a whistleblower. However, Batman hires him to be his own personal car engineer. Earl designed the Batmobile and other Bat Vechicles.
  • Implied in the Rick and Morty episode "Rest and Ricklaxation". When Rick and Morty go to an alien spa to have the toxic traits of their personalities removed from them, Morty Smith loses his empathy and humility, pretty much becoming a lowkey sociopath in the process. It's eventually revealed that the spa removes what the individual believes are their toxic traits, even if those traits may not be truly negative. Although considering the show weighs far to the right on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism and loves showing that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, it's understandable why Morty would hate the more positive traits about himself.
  • Wander over Yonder: After failing to achieve the 'Ring of Invincibility' in "The Battle Royale" (which was actually a candy ring pop anyway), The Black Cube of Darkness gives up on being a villain, as seen in "The Black Cube". Sadly, trying to walk the path of the hero has left him with a dead-end job, a shitty apartment, no companionship whatsoever, and people either flee at the sight of him or harass him, despite having the power to steal souls. Luckily, things start to look up for him by the episode's end.
  • This is the reason why Optimus Prime and Bumblebee ended up where they were at the beginning of Transformers: Animated. For Optimus, during his court martial, he took the blame for Sentinel's idea for them and the (supposedly) late Elita-One to go treasure-hunting on an off-limit world, where Elita was supposedly killed, while Sentinel would claim that he insisted that this was a bad idea, when in truth, it was the other way around. As punishment, Optimus was washed out of the Autobot Academy and sent off to do space bridge maintenance with a team of other equally lowly Autobots (which was a favor by Ultra Magnus, who was otherwise disappointed in him and came to believe that he wasn't destined to be a hero after all), while Sentinel managed to enlist in the Elite Guard as Ultra Magnus's second-in-command. Bumblebee, on the other hand, intended to expose Wasp as a spy to win Sentinel's approval and therefore fast track to the Elite Guard. Though he was successful, he decided to let that opportunity go when Sentinel was about to unfairly wash out Bulkhead since he felt awful for being a jerk towards him in spite of him being the only 'bot that treated him kindly. Also, it turns out Wasp wasn't a spy at all but was instead framed by the actual spy. Though as the show goes on, it proves that being good ultimately is good.
  • Megatron in Beast Wars outright weaponizes this one against Optimus by offering a truce. Optimus knows he's up to something, that there's no way in hell Megatron has any desire for peace or to abandon his grand machinations, and that this truce will solely benefit the Predacons. But, as Megatron bluntly tells him, he will honor the truce no matter what.
    Megatron: I wish a truce, and you will agree.
    Optimus: Do you take me for a fool?!
    Megatron: No. I take you for a Maximal.

    Real Life 
  • The Paradoxical Commandments outright state that every attempt to be a good person will be met with failure and resistance, and that this should in no way stop you from doing good. Doing good, even though it's hard at times, adds to your virtue.
  • Oskar Schindler, due to his way with people, managed to shelter over 1200 Jews during The Holocaust by claiming they were "essential workers" at his enamel factory. He saved all of them from suffering and death. Unfortunately this bankrupted him, and he lived on charity from the people he saved. That being said, his heroism is widely acknowledged, especially by the State of Israel, who gave him the honorific "Righteous Among the Nations" and allowed him to be buried on Mount Zion; he is the only former member of the Nazi party to be honored that way.
  • Applies to witnesses to crimes who want to testify, but fear retribution by the criminals or their associates. You could go into witness protection, only to lose everything you have to live a completely different life.
  • Two girls were suspended and faced expulsion when one had what looked like an asthma attack and the other shared her inhaler.
  • Anytime anyone sacrifices their own life to save another. Sure, dying so that others may live is perhaps one of the most selfless things that anyone can do, but you still have to die.
  • It's a well-known (and sad) fact that kids who are bullied at school often get in trouble for retaliating in self-defense. Now, go ask somebody who has tried to interfere and protect a victim from being bullied. Chances are they got in trouble along with the victim. It's also not unheard of for kids who try to defend a victim from their bullies, only to become the next target.
  • Many victims dealing with spousal/parental abuse who retaliate against said abuser (especially physically in self-defense) will often find themselves facing the charges, while the abuser ends up the one interpreted as the victim by the authorities.
  • This high school student was unable to graduate because he missed 16 days of school. Those days were spent caring for his cancer-stricken mother. Fortunately, the decision was reversed.
  • Being a whistleblower at your job. You will be thanked and given a small reward, but good luck ever finding another job. A person can also face criminal charges depending on which company or organization they blew the whistle on, especially government agencies when the whistleblowing involves leaking classified information.
  • One of the few reasons why sexual harassment at the workplace usually goes unchallenged. Sometimes, if the person who is doing the harassing is a vital employee to the company whereas the victim is just some new guy/girl or desperate for their job, it's not too unheard of for the company to just fire the person complaining about the harassment.
  • If you're an altruistic person you'd better avert Stupid Good behaviour, otherwise, you might get exploited for all you're worth by freeloaders and deadbeats.
  • There's an alleged story of a British soldier named Henry Tandey, who served in the first world war where he chose not to shoot a retreating, wounded German soldier. While this was an honourable and noble act, which was appreciated by the wounded soldier, the soldier in question was none other than a 29-year-old Adolf Hitler, the man who started the second world war. The act was branded by history, and Henry was given the condemning title of "The Man Who Spared Hitler". The facts behind the story are disputable and the strongest amount of evidence came from Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, and Henry himself. One bit of evidence has Hitler seeing a painting of Henry and remarking to Chamberlain, "That man came so near to killing me that I thought I should never see Germany again; Providence saved me from such devilishly accurate fire as those English boys were aiming at us."
  • Any job that involves helping the public can feel like this (police, doctors, teachers, or even customer service). Sure, you'll get the occasional thank you or even a gift, but you'll likely get twice as many people not even thanking you or even outright berating you for trying to help them. In the end, those people still have to be helped when needed.
  • After the Taliban won the Afghanistan War, the restored regime went through this in their efforts to legitimize themselves on the global stage and stabilize the country. Former commander Mawlawi Zubair Mutmaeen went from orchestrating suicide bombings to being a chief of police in the same city he once terrorized. In an interview he stated that Jihad was preferable to city life and he lies awake at night worrying about crimes that could be happening at that very moment. The country was previously responsible for producing ~90% of the world's heroin, but in 2023 the Taliban ended opium cultivation and halved their GDP in the process.
  • Caring a lot about people can be a very painful thing. In fact, the word "compassion" literally means "to suffer with."


Video Example(s):


"You have a good heart..."

Rayla compliments Ezran's good hearted nature when he suggests that the creepy sounds nearby might mean someone is in need of help, before then saying how annoying it is, as she goes to investigate.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / BaitAndSwitchComment

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