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Moral Luck

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Commissioner Anabell Brumford: I'd like now to introduce a most distinguished American. This week, he is being honored for his one-thousandth drug-dealer killed. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Lieutenant Frank Drebin of Police Squad.
Lt. Frank Drebin: [to applause] In all honesty, the last two I backed over with my car. Luckily they turned out to be drug-dealers.

Moral luck is a concept in philosophy in which a person is praised or blamed for an action they carried out, the consequences of which were primarily dependent on blind luck. The archetypal thought experiment is that of the painter Gauguin, who abandoned his family in order to pursue his artistic muse. Because he was successful, people praise him for his courage and determination. But suppose that, through no fault of his own, Gauguin never caught a lucky break or simply wasn't as talented as he thought he was. Would he then be any different from a Jerkass Disappeared Dad?

In order to qualify for this trope, a character has to carry out an action whose consequences depended mostly on luck and be praised (or blamed) by other characters (or by the work itself) for their morality/immorality. It doesn't count if a character carries out such an action, no one judges them for it, and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions. The action has to be specifically treated as ethical or unethical by the work itself or by characters in it. note 

When the writer does it, this trope can easily transform a hero into a Designated Hero or even a villain once Fridge Logic or Fridge Horror set in (or, conversely, transform a villain into an Anti-Villain). It is often closely related to Protagonist-Centered Morality when the protagonist is forcefully presented as being in the right. Even among sympathetic characters in a work, a Double Standard may form: the resident Butt-Monkey's actions will always result in failure and they will be blamed for it, while the protagonist's actions will always succeed and they will receive praise. The Extremist Was Right is when a Well-Intentioned Extremist has his/her Moral Luck high and working; they did extreme things, but they end up helping/succeeding, and they receive praise for it.

What the Hell, Hero? can serve to avert this, allowing the character's actions - and not just results - to be judged. Compare No Endor Holocaust, Accidental Hero and the various Luck Tropes. Related to Million to One Chance and How Did You Know? I Didn't. Also consider Conveniently Empty Building, where a character destroys a building that happens to be empty, turning being responsible for the deaths of dozens of innocents into mere property damage by sheer luck. Laser-Guided Karma is sometimes offered as an explanation for this. Luck-Based Mission is the video game equivalent, while The Magic Poker Equation is a rough equivalent for card playing. Compare Omniscient Morality License: when a character's plans are only seen as "good" because they literally saw the result before it happened, in spite of what they may do to achieve it. If used without irony, it can easily devolve into straight-up Victim-Blaming if the writer isn't careful.

Supertrope to Cartesian Karma, where characters are held responsible (by the narrative, other characters or both) for things they were controlled into doing, and Alternate Personality Punishment.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: Played with. The protagonist, Guts, often goes into battle despite serious injuries or overwhelming odds, coming out on top through sheer determination. Griffith and his fellow raiders pat him on the back for this, which drives Casca crazy. In volume 5 she calls him out, saying that his Leeroy Jenkins behavior in battle would have put everyone in danger if he hadn't been so lucky, and that if it were up to her instead of Griffith she'd punish him. Conversely, when Casca goes into battle feverish from a severe period, she faints after fighting Adon Coborlwitz, falls off a cliff (together with Guts who tried to catch her), and gets told off by Guts for putting herself and her comrades in danger by going into battle at less than full strength. Ironically, by the time they get back to camp after the ordeal of the hundred man fight, Casca is the one who asks Griffith to punish her however he sees appropriate, while Guts backs her up and Griffith welcomes her back since she and Guts did well against Adon's mercenaries. Imagine if they both hadn't been so lucky!
  • In Fruits Basket, Hatsuharu forcefully kisses his ex-girlfriend, because he guesses that she still loves him. He's right, but he had little justification for that guess, which prompted some readers to see him as Unintentionally Unsympathetic. The kiss itself is portrayed as romantic and quickly becomes consensual.
  • One Piece:
    • The Straw Hat Pirates often step into the affairs of the islands they visit. While there are good-hearted and heroic members of the crew, they usually interfere because the local Big Bad has hurt them or someone they care about. The primary reason they're often hailed as heroes by the locals is because the people they attack are making other peoples' lives miserable. This makes the Impel Down arc especially notable: here, Luffy isn't merely doing his usual thing on a simple city — it's a world-famous prison with some of the most dangerous prisoners in the world held within; he's there to rescue his brother Ace, while causing a riot that releases some of the prisoners. The chief and vice wardens of the prison, Magellan and Hannyabal, ruthless and scary persons though they may be, also sincerely believe in keeping these prisoners behind bars for the good of the people, and they outright tell Luffy this. It's one of the few times where Luffy invades a facility of law-keepers, and unlike the last time (Enies Lobby), the main keepers of the place do have a point; they're basically Hero Antagonists to Luffy's Villain Protagonist (in this arc). Luffy, at least, admits that he isn't much of a "hero", nor does he want to be one.
    • Rob Lucci's philosophy of "Dark Justice" holds that if the World Government benefits from hurting people, those people are evil even if it's over something they have no control over. Robin only knows about Poneglyphs because she was a child on the island researching them. Lucci doesn't just think that justifies killing or imprisoning Robin, but that it makes her a bad person who deserves it.

    Comic Books 
  • This is discussed in an Archie Comics story where Mr. Lodge is being accused of taking bribes. Archie is called to the stand and tells how he saw Mr. Lodge accept a "gift", which the prosecution cites as being proof he is taking bribes. Everyone, even Archie's friends, boo and heckle him for this as it's well known Lodge is innocent and is facing a Frivolous Lawsuit, which Archie just inadvertently made worse. Then when proof this gift genuinely was a gift from a third party is revealed and Archie's testimony has now made Mr. Lodge's case stronger, everyone immediately forgives Archie. After the case is settled and Lodge is found innocent, he chastises everyone and stands up for Archie (a rare moment for Mr. Lodge) — he points out how Archie did the right thing by telling the truth while under oath, no matter how the case had gone, and that it was wrong for everyone to decide whether or not Archie did the right thing based on how things worked out in the end.
  • Johnny Turbo: Johnny's preemptive attack on the Feka goons for allegedly ripping off customers could have sent his reputation into a nosedive. Thankfully, they turned out to be robots.
  • Spider-Man: A major aspect of Spider-Man's character is enormous regret at not stopping a thief who later killed his Uncle Ben. Though certainly guilty of apathy and selfishness, Peter Parker had no way of knowing the man would committing a murder, let alone that his victim would be someone Peter knew, but he insists on treating this act as just shy of pulling the trigger himself, and has spent his life since trying to make up for this one lapse in judgement. This goes on to be the entire driving reason for Spider-Man being a hero, and why he is the Trope Codifier for With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, why he utterly refuses to not do the right thing even when it hurts his livelihood or himself, why he uses his powers for the greater good rather than for profit, and why it's such a big deal when the Symbiote suit gets on him.

    Fan Works 
  • Infinity Train: Seeker of Crocus: Throughout the story, Parker and others harass Goh about his tendency to leap to conclusions and assume the worst about people, particularly when it comes to his friend Tokio. When Tokio failed to keep a promise to meet up with him, Goh immediately assumed that he'd "betrayed him" rather than considering any other possible explanations; thus, Goh is lambasted for not asking any of the simple questions that would have prevented their friendship falling apart. Yet when Parker immediately assumes the worst of Alex Shepherd because he's familiar with his franchise and knows that he made a Face–Monster Turn in one Bad Ending, he's portrayed as being correct for not keeping an open mind, because he's right: Alex can't be trusted. Everyone else winds up blaming themselves for not listening to him or giving him a chance to explain himself.
  • My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic: In Season 1, Abra-Kadabra is lauded for disobeying orders in order to attack a monster, since he he successfully manages to damage it. Pinkie Pie, Twilight, and Swift Star aren't as fortunate when they defy orders in later seasons, and Starfleet command is much faster to admonish them for doing so.
  • In Runaway Wind, Leon, Cid and Aerith all berate Ventus for immediately agreeing to help Naminé escape the castle right after meeting her due to The Dulcinea Effect. Aerith specifically points out that while this did help them out in the long run, she considers that to be more a matter of luck than anything else, and that it doesn't change the recklessness of his actions.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Lion King: Invoked and Exploited. Simba believes that the roar he made in the canyon was what started the stampede that killed his father. Even though he didn't know the herd was even there (which the audience knows is moot anyway since Scar orchestrated the stampede), Scar uses it to make Simba think he's just as guilty as if he had intentionally committed murder.
    Simba: It was an accident — I didn't mean for it to happen!
    Scar: Of course, of course you didn't. No-one ever means for these things to happen. But the king is dead. If it weren't for you, he'd still be alive.
  • Summer Wars: Kenji solves an incredibly complicated math problem given to him in a mysterious e-mail. Love Machine, the malicious A.I. that sent the mail, hacks his account, uses the solution to blow through Oz's security, and causes all sorts of chaos. The police are ready to arrest Kenji, figuring he was either to blame for Love Machine's actions or an accessory thereof. Then it turns out Love Machine hacked numerous accounts that tried to solve the same problem and Kenji's answer had a typo. Since it didn't technically use his answer, the charges are dropped.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Cincinnati Kid, as long as the title character is winning, he's a hero. When he finally loses, everyone is upset with him.
  • In Fury, the protagonist tries to get his attempted lynchers executed by hiding his survival. This is because attempted murder is a much less serious crime than murder, even though the only difference is whether the attack succeeded in killing the victim (which in many cases, and especially his, can be entirely attributable to blind luck — rather than a change of heart on the murderer(s)'s part).
  • In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, it's lampshaded after the troll incident. Prof. McGonagall awards Harry and Ron five House points each "for sheer, dumb luck." While there was some skill involved, both Ron and Harry were exceptionally lucky nevertheless. She does also punish Hermione for (supposedly) doing the stupid thing that got them in danger in the first place.
  • Played for laughs in The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear. Frank is commended for his one thousandth drug-dealer killed. However he accidentally ran over the last two with his car.
    Frank: Luckily they turned out to be drug dealers.
  • The Passenger (1975): Jack Nicholson's character decides he wants to leave his old life behind, and takes on the identity of an acquaintance who has just died. As it turns out, the acquaintance was an arms dealer running guns to rebel forces in north Africa, so that's what he starts doing. The overall point of the film seems to be a nihilistic one: it doesn't really matter what one does in life, and one shouldn't be bound by social roles or expectations. However, it's clear that the audience is supposed to sympathize with the rebels whom Nicholson's character is supporting. So while he appears not to care about the social consequences of his actions, he is still doing something good — or at least something not evil. It would be harder to see this character as heroic if he were running guns to neo-Nazis or the Taliban — even though he could just as easily have found himself doing just that!
  • Yes-Man: Carl takes it upon himself to answer "yes" to every request put to him. As a loans request manager in a bank, he hence has to grant every loan request put before him (most of which are for small, silly indulgences). He later receives praise and a promotion from his superiors. Of course, it was entirely down to chance that the loan applicants he happened to see during this period were people who wanted fairly small loans which they were able to pay back; if they had happened to be people demanding larger loans which they could not possibly repay, Carl would have granted them nevertheless, and received blame from his superiors (and perhaps even been fired). He does, however, catch the notice of Homeland Security, as one of the loans he approves is for a fertilizer manufacturer, plus Carl's erratic flying all over the country leads them to assume he's a homegrown terrorist.

  • Discussed and defied in The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes, when Abby's little brother gets badly hurt when she's at the park with him, and promised to watch him. She feels terribly guilty and is convinced her mother will be furious, but to her surprise, her mother, while worried, is very kind and understanding, even commending Abby for managing to remain calm long enough to get someone else in the park to call an ambulance. Abby says it's all her fault for letting her brother jump off the swing, but her mother asks, over the years, how many times have she and all her siblings jumped off the swing? Probably hundreds of times, she says. And how many times did someone crack their head open and have to go to the hospital? Never, until today. So how could Abby have possibly known today would be the day it happened? The important thing is, she got help in time, and her brother will be okay.
  • The Chrysalids: At the end, the main character is trapped in a cave when The Cavalry show up, killing everyone in the area. Most of these people are bad guys, so we don't care, but one of them is the protagonist's childhood friend Sophie, who throughout the book is portrayed as sympathetic. Fortunately The Cavalry don't kill her - because she is shot just moments before they arrive! Since they are not technically responsible for her fate, no one seems upset that their indiscriminate killing could easily have caused the death of an innocent girl.
  • In Jane Austen's Persuasion, Anne Elliot suggests that the defining moral dilemma of the novel—was she right to break off her engagement to the love of her life or not?—can really only be judged on the basis of Moral Luck. As it happens, her ex-fiance turned into a Suddenly Suitable Suitor, leading most modern readers to think that Anne was wrong to listen to her mentor and break the engagement. On the other hand, her mentor has a point that, if Anne had married her naval officer fiance and he had been killed in action instead, Anne would have been left widowed, poor, and probably cut out of her father's good graces forever. (Consider that in Real Life, Jane Austen's sister lost her fiance when he left to get enough money for them to marry and died at sea.)
  • Super Gene: Justified. Han Sen Got Volunteered as part of an escort team for a group of rookie hunters, along with his Arch-Enemy "Son of Heaven" and his gang. Son of Heaven and gang get complacent since the rookies are doing well and fail to notice a beast sneak up on one of said rookies until the beast jumps up at the rookie's throat. Han Sen, who was not negligent, fires at the beast with his arrow with a very dangerous trick-shot, killing the beast. While Son of Heaven and his gang chew out Han Sen for risking the client's life, the very influential man who "hired" Han Sen turns around and chews out Son of Heaven and the gang for neglecting their duties, and blaming Han Sen to deflect their guilt, and rightly points out that had Han Sen not taken the shot, the poor rookie hunter would have died.
  • Thirteen Never Changes: Defied. Thirteen-year-old Laura is furious when her nine-year-old brother borrows her new bike without asking and breaks it. Her older brother tells her that when she was nine, she borrowed his bike without asking.
    "Did I break it?"
    "Well what?"
    "Well, that's a big difference"
    "Not really. He didn't mean to hurt your bike. He's just not very well coordinated. He was born that way. You and I are athletic. Not him."
  • The Warrior's Apprentice: Referenced in-universe. Miles successfully predicts his enemy will attempt a flank attack and insists that all weapons be placed on the flank of the base to drive off the attack. When a (dubious) ally excitedly states he is a genius for predicting the maneuver Miles soberly reflects on what they would say if he had been wrong about the angle of the attack.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow's Roaring Rampage of Revenge is forgiven fairly easily, even though (in-universe) it was really just luck and timing which prevented her from killing any of her friends or bringing about the apocalypse, so that Asshole Victims Warren and Rack were her only casualties. Although it's acknowledged (again, in-universe) that the actions were bad, and she spends quite some time angsting about them.
  • Charmed has an episode where the sisters deal with a warlock making an unusual master plan. Phoebe has a premonition of the warlock attacking a male witch and they ignore the advice of their new whitelighter to go to the scene of the crime — where it turns out the victim in the premonition was an evil darklighter and the warlock just killed him to get his crossbow. Prue defends going anyway by saying that the sisters weren't in any danger — and is told "that makes you lucky, not smart!"
  • Criminal Minds:
    • In one episode, Reid relates to the unsub—a nerdy kid who's going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against his tormentors—while also experiencing PTSD over watching a similarly-aged (but guiltier) unsub be killed in front of him. So when he determines that the unsub is going to come to the police station, he allows the rest of the BAU to waste time staking out another location, removes his bulletproof vest and weapon, and stands between the machine gun-wielding unsub and the police as he attempts to talk the unsub down. He manages to do so without any shots fired and proudly declares "It was my turn to save one." Hotch still reads him the riot act for endangering everyone's lives and warns him not to do it again.
    • Glanced over in another episode. One of the victims was a womanizer who made a habit of recording his sexual conquests without the women's consent and circulating the videos among his friends. After one of said friends smugly informs Kate that the law as written only requires both parties' consent if audio is included, Kate answers that said loophole doesn't apply to child porn: if one of the women happened to be a few months shy of her eighteenth birthday, the victim and his friends are all guilty of possession. It's sheer dumb luck that all the women recorded just so happened to be adults.
  • Full House: when the Tanners go to Disney World, Stephanie and Michelle line up for some kind of draw. Michelle pushes ahead of Stephanie in the line, draws the winning ticket, and spends the rest of the day being treated as a princess. Stephanie resents Michelle for this, and the script is clearly on her side. Now, you could certainly see how pushing ahead of her sister wasn't a very nice thing to do. But the fact that she drew the winning ticket really was just dumb luck. It could just as easily have gone the other way — with Michelle drawing a losing ticket followed by Stephanie drawing the winning one. Presumably Stephanie wouldn't be resenting her sister then. (Mind you Michelle winning was only part of the issue as this was the last in a line of incidents where Stephanie was forced to stand down so Michelle could get her way, not to mention that Michelle definitely got an ego over the princess treatment and started acting worse which definitely set Stephanie off)
  • Game of Thrones: The final season has a lot of characters rumbling about how Daenerys is clearly unstable and can't be trusted, and they're usually framed as in the right. In particular, Sansa's distrust is treated as shrewdness, with everyone calling her out for her intelligence. Sure enough, their claims are vindicated when Daenerys snaps and burns down half of King's Landing for no reason. But up to that point, to their knowledge, Dany had never done anything out of the ordinary for a noble character in the setting, and had gotten many chances to do something on the level of what she did at King's Landing and then staunchly headed in another direction. If anything, most of her prior actions (while not flawless) suggested her to be a very restrained, reasonable, and empathetic ruler, so their accusations up to that point came across as totally unfounded.
  • In The Good Place, the point system that determines whether you're sent to The Good Place or The Bad Place explicitly runs on a lopsided morality where luck can screw you over but can't help you. To wit, you gain points for actions that increase the total amount of happiness in the world, and lose points for actions that decrease the world's total happiness. If you try to do a good deed, but that deed has negative consequences you couldn't have foreseen,note  then it counts as a bad deed in spite of your intention and lowers your score. But it doesn't work the other way: you only gain points for selfless actions, so you can't earn any points from an attempted bad deed that unexpectedly has a positive impact on the world. The characters acknowledge that this is an unreasonably harsh standard, as in, no one has gotten into The Good Place in over 500 years. The protagonists spend the show's last season-and-a-half trying to convince the powers-that-be to overhaul the entire judgement system into something that doesn't involve moral luck.
  • House brings this up several times.
    • The episode "Nobody's Fault" discusses this trope. Chase gets hurt by a patient experiencing psychological symptoms. The doctor examining House's conduct investigates the generally risky behavior that House allows and encourages, and clearly intends to rule that he's at fault. At the last minute, the patient's wife shows up and explains that while House may not be nice, he was right and he had managed to save her husband. When House is exonerated, he immediately calls out the investigator for being a coward, since he doesn't believe that the outcome of a specific case should determine whether his methods are right or wrong. He then apologizes to Chase and takes responsibility for his injury.
    • The episode "Three Stories" has a framing device of House recounting several case studies his team had handled to a lecture hall full of med students. One case a snake bite victim, and the team has to choose which antivenom to administer, with the understanding that choosing wrong means the patient will die. The students complain that it isn't fair, because they don't have enough information to figure it out. House responds that the nature of medicine is that they'll have to make decisions like that, and the consequences will be the same whether they have enough information or not.
      House: I'm sure this goes against everything you've been taught, but right and wrong do exist. Just because you don't know what the right answer is, maybe there's no way you could know what the right answer is, it doesn't make your answer right or even okay. It's just plain wrong.
  • Law & Order: Defied in the episode "Genius". The Villain of the Week murdered a cab driver for telling him to put out his cigar. The cab driver was a fugitive member of the KKK who burned down a black church, killing children, and traded child pornography. McCoy refused to give the killer a lesser sentence because it would have been the same crime if the victim were a good person.
  • Merlin: Kilgarrah's warnings that Morgana is not to be trusted and will do bad things with her magic read very hollow when Merlin withholding his own magic from her is what leads to her Face–Heel Turn — because Morgause soon shows up and whisks Morgana away to her side. That the dragon was right at all is luck or a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (which Merlin wouldn't have fulfilled if the dragon hadn't given him warnings about Morgana in the first place).
  • Orange Is the New Black: Cesar tries to comfort Daya after Bennett abandons her by saying that he always found the man untrustworthy because he was missing a leg... which he lost due to an infection he got in a dirty spa.
    Cesar: I mean, going around losing limbs... that's irresponsible.
  • Scrubs:
    • One episode revolves around the main characters being investigated for the death of a patient who died while under their care. They spent the entire time ignoring him completely in favor of flirting with other patients, buying lottery tickets, and fighting emus. The investigation is looking bad for them, until it's revealed that the radiologist messed up the original report, making the case impossible to solve anyway, and getting the death pinned on the radiologist. Dr. Cox points out that the man is still dead, and it was pure luck that it wasn't their fault. The gang takes this lesson to heart and remembers the lesson afterward.
    • J.D. is given a patient to monitor who is having unusual symptoms and multiple doctors have been unable to figure out why. He quickly gets distracted by interpersonal issues, and neglects his patient for most of the episode. When Dr. Kelso asks what he's done, he admits to doing nothing, and Kelso surprises him with praise. Turns out the patient had gotten better on his own, and many of his symptoms were likely caused by excessive treatment and constantly changing medication, so giving him a break from treatments was an appropriate response. It was mostly An Aesop about sometimes letting problems run their course, but J.D. acknowledges that it was dumb luck and he should have gotten in trouble.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Brothers", a boy pranks his younger brother, which scares the brother enough for him to run and hide. While hiding, the younger brother eats a fruit that leaves him so ill he nearly dies. The older brother is severely scolded by numerous cast members for "nearly killing" his brother. However, while a little cruel for a prank, there was no reason for the older brother to expect anything worse than his younger brother being frightened for a while because of it.
    • Subverted in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes "Rules of Engagement". Worf is on trial for accidentally destroying a civilian ship in the midst of a battle. It eventually comes out that Klingon military had staged an empty ship in the battle and baited Worf into destroying it to embarrass the Federation. Worf is exonerated, but continues to feel guilty, and Sisko privately tells him that his guilt is well-placed, since he'd fired on the ship before identifying it. He makes clear that it could just as easily have been a real civilian ship, and it was pure luck that no-one had actually been killed.

  • "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" describes how a Good Ol' Boy named Andy from the Deep South gets hung for a crime he didn't commit. He stumbles upon his best friend shot and killed in his own home, and the shot he fires to "flag down" the police is assumed to be the shot that killed him, and the Hanging Judge and Dirty Cop execute him before dinner so they won't miss their meal... all before his little sister can step forward and confess to the crime. The song then condemns them for having "hung an innocent man". Problem is, the whole reason Andy went to his friend's house with his gun was to shoot him for sleeping with his new bride, only to find the job done for him. Yes, it's horrible that local law enforcement just assumed he did it and executed him that same day with a "make-believe trial" (he could just as easily have been 100% innocent in intent as well as deed), but Andy had fully intended to commit the crime they hung him for — it was only by sheer "luck" that his little sister beat him to it.

  • The Importance of Being Earnest: Lady Bracknell embodies this along with Lack of Empathy considering that it is more extreme than usual since in that case there were no choices to be taken at all. She admonishes Jack for being an orphan because it shows "contempt for the decencies of family life", disapproves of sympathizing with ill people because "illness is hardly a thing to be encouraged", and even congratulates an offstage character for finally "making up his mind" to die. She is very much the poster child and the ultimate parody at the same time of this trope.
    To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed Rogue: The protagonist is an Assassin who defects from the order because they are dabbling with dangerous Precursor technology that has already caused two earthquakes and he joins with the Templars to stop them. The problem is that not only were the Templars also seeking the technology and were just as likely to set off the earthquakes, throughout the series both sides have wielded similar technologies with nowhere near those sorts of effects.
  • BlazBlue:
    • Litchi's quest to her friend Arakune from his condition involved risky gambles and doing questionable things: She tried to corrupt herself with the thing Arakune got corrupted with in order to understand his condition. Then (when her former colleague refused to help her), she accepted "help" from a main villain and went to his side, and tried to help the main villain's colleague with his plan to reset the universe, just so there might be a chance of helping her friend. She's repeatedly called out by Rachel and Kokonoe, who are part of the good guys, for this. How does it end up? It's revealed to her that her friend had chosen to stay like that and asked not to be saved, and instead tells Litchi to go and help other people she cared about and live normal. It's All for Nothing. In the end, she stops and chooses to live happily in a normal world with other characters, but — being a sympathetic character she's meant to be — her foolish decisions never came back to haunt her beyond her goal's failure (it helps that the world "resets" for the last time before the end, thanks to the hero's actions), though in the eyes of the fandom, it's another story. In short, she's outta luck, but she's still lucky to be happy in the end.
    • In the middle of the fourth game, Ragna steals the "desires" of the other characters (mostly good guys, plus Nu-13, who's a villain) for his plan of making those desires a real possibility; he also takes the memories of him in the process. Were he not successful in the end (thankfully he is), he'd pretty much doom other people, and potentially himself, because they're lacking their desires and all forget about him. He does, at least, acknowledge it; he's prepared to be the "enemy of the world" should he do so, though he's nice enough to explain his motives to people before he steals their desires.
  • Castle, Forest, Island, Sea, being about philosophy, discusses this trope, especially in conjunction with the three-headed monster whose heads think independently. If two of them eat people and the third won't, is the third head as guilty as the others? It's connected to the same stomach!
  • Dragon Age II explores this concept with its Player Character Hawke, who is an Unwitting Instigator of Doom. Cassandra believes Hawke to be responsible for the Mage-Templar War, but narrator Varric presents Hawke as a sympathetic person who happened to be a Right Man in the Wrong Place and an Accidental Hero turned accidental villain. Hawke's actions make sense in context at the time, and Hawke had no way of knowing that their expedition to the Deep Roads would unearth an Artifact of Doom or that their friend Anders would end up blowing up the Chantry in order to start a war. (Not to mention what happens in Dragon Age: Inquisition, where it turns out that Hawke's expedition to the Vimmark Mountains in the Legacy DLC awakened the Godhood Seeker Big Bad Corypheus, who nearly brings about the apocalypse).
  • Halo 4 begins with Dr. Catherine Halsey being interrogated by ONI over her role in the Spartan program. She claims that kidnapping children and turning them into the ultimate warriors helped save humanity when the Covenant attacked. The ONI interrogator calls her out on this self-serving narrative, noting that the Spartans were originally trained to quell human rebellions well before they even knew about the Covenant. It should be noted, however, that it was ONI itself that created, authorized, and funded the SPARTAN-II program for that purpose, and Halsey was simply the most effective instrument for it, so there is a level of hypocrisy here.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep: All three members of the Power Trio have a tendency to trust the first person they meet in a given world, no questions asked. So when Aqua and Ven meet Peter Pan and Terra meets Captain Hook, the latter is viewed as a Horrible Judge of Character for doing exactly what his friends did.
  • In Mass Effect: Andromeda one sidequest involves a turian accused of murdering his superior officer over a disagreement over whether to withdraw from an increasingly hopeless situation. When you visit the scene of the incident, you find evidence that the superior officer was killed by the Kett instead of the suspect, but you also find a recording which makes it clear that the suspect fully intended to kill him and even pulled the trigger, but simply missed. You are only allowed to declare him Innocent or Guilty, and the game treats the Guilty option as if you were punishing an innocent man; no option is given to point out that attempted murder is still a crime (albeit a less severe one) and the only thing keeping him from being guilty as charged is circumstance.
  • Knights of the Old Republic has a murder mystery where there are two suspects with insufficient forensic evidence to convict either of them, only confirming that the blood found on the scene and the weapon were not owned by the victim. The result that comes out of this is that both men actually intended to murder the victim, and one suspect only missed out on the murder because the other suspect had already killed the victim. Rickard Lusoff intended to murder Calder Nettic for cheating him in a business deal, but Handon Guld had already murdered Nettic as revenge for his wife cheating on him with Nettic. Lusoff panicked and shot Guld, leading to a noticeable injury that exposes both of them as the blood turns out to be Guld's, who himself had called law enforcement in an attempt to conveniently pin his murder of Nettic on Lusoff while also getting Lusoff arrested for shooting him. Lusoff is charged with attempted murder of Nettic as he only dodged killing anyone by missing a vital area on Guld and Nettic being dead already and also got slapped with aggravated assault on and attempted murder of Guld. Guld himself got charged for the murder of Nettic.
  • In Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, at the end of Part II, Max shoots his partner Winterson dead when she draws a gun on known criminal Mona. At the end of Part III Chapter 3, he learns she was a mole for the Big Bad and was planning to murder both him and Mona. To his credit, Max does not use this revelation to vindicate his own actions.
  • In RimWorld, the player colony's relation with another faction will worsen if they send you a trade caravan and anyone on it ends up dying. This is meant to be a consequence if the player chooses to attack and rob the caravan, but it will still take effect if they die for reasons completely out of the player's control, like an animal attack or a meteorite.
  • Suikoden IV makes this into a point of contention between Lazlo and Snowe courtesy of Glen. Early on, Snowe panics when the merchant ship they're escorting is besieged by pirates and wants to flee after suffering a minor injury; this causes the other soldiers on board to mutiny. When Glen learns what happened, he berates Snowe for his cowardice and praises Lazlo for sticking with the mutineers, saying they did the right thing even though everyone aside from Lazlo was killed by Brandeau. Snowe subsequently attempts to prove he's not a Dirty Coward by pursuing the pirates that attack Razril once they start retreating... but this gives the pirates the chance to lure him into a trap. One that Lazlo prevents from being triggered by joining the pursuit with his own ship. Glen proceeds to praise Lazlo for taking initiative to pursue Snowe even as he punches and berates the confused noble, who questions why he's being punished while Lazlo is lauded.
  • In World of Warcraft: The Pandaren starter quests feature reckless Ji Firepaw performing an action to save their moving island, the giant turtle Shen-zin Su. This act would have killed the creature but for the presence of Horde and Alliance healers. Counterpart Aysa Cloudsinger's reaction is a What the Hell, Hero? to Ji. Aysa herself also falls into this trope, as she was doing nothing to resolve the problem in the hopes that a perfect solution would present itself while Shen-zin Su only grew weaker with each passing moment. Had Ji not forced the issue, it could easily have become too late to do anything at all.


    Web Videos 
  • SF Debris is guilty of this in his review of Atlantis: The Lost Empire in which he accuses Milo of "burning down the entire campsite". Milo's actions in that scene consist entirely of him stepping out to relieve himself, and his flashlight accidentally disturbs a nest of (previously unknown) fiery insects which descend on the camp. Despite the fact that no person could ever reasonably prepare for or prevent something like this, he treats Milo as being dangerously incompetent throughout the rest of the review. The fact that had it not been Milo, someone else would almost certainly have disturbed the nest when they went to take a dump is not addressed.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: Discussed in "True Colors". When Anne is horrified to learn that Marcy got them all stranded in Amphibia on purpose, Marcy argues that Anne and Sasha have grown so much from their time in Amphibia, and it's because of Marcy that Anne met Sprig and the Plantars in the first place. While Anne concedes that some good came out of the adventure, Marcy had no way of knowing it would happen when she deliberately tricked her friends into being Trapped in Another World without their knowledge or consent.
  • Arcane: Powder sets off a huge Hexgem-fueled explosion to help her sister and friends free their adoptive father. Unfortunately, her timing is unwittingly so bad that she causes their deaths, instead. And just when they managed to make a safe opening. Vi, overwhelmed by anger, mourning, and trauma, blames Powder for it, calling her a jinx and even going as far as hitting her. Subverted because, immediately after the fact, Vi comes to regret this her actions. Unfortunately, since Powder admires her big sister so much and they don't get a chance to talk it out, she keeps blaming herself for years. It's further Played for Drama when this is what causes her to go insane.
  • DuckTales:
    • Deconstructed regarding Gladstone Gander: he's so impossibly lucky that even his entirely selfish actions end up helping other people — including saving his family from a demon (when his actual intent was to leave them behind while saving himself) and stopping a bank robbery. Gladstone is still quick to take the credit for the results, and thinks that they make him a great person. The fact that he treats his actions as such is one of the reasons he's so insufferable.
    • A later episode has an attempted invocation by Louie. Louie's latest Get-Rich-Quick Scheme is to use Gyro's Time Tub to travel through history and retrieve lost treasures, which results in a storm that starts moving things through time at random. The storm gets so bad that the entire family is thrown throughout history before Louie can undo the damage and set things right, but he winds up grounded for how badly his actions backfired. He tries to argue that he hadn't meant to cause the time storm (and it's shown that he was taking steps to avoid problems with the time travel) so he should be let off the hook, but there's no avoiding consequences this time regardless of intentions.
  • Gravity Falls: Stan uses some extremely dangerous—potentially universe destroying—technology he does not understand to save his brother. Mabel goes along with it, in spite of evidence that Stan was trying to destroy the universe, simply because she trusts her great uncle's intentions and abilities. Since Stan succeeds without any major damage, the morality of taking such risks is largely ignored. Then it turns out they really did tear a small rift through dimensions, which Bill Cipher uses to invade Earth. But since the protagonists stopped that as well, they're still hailed as heroes, despite Stan and Mabel's role in enabling him.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: In "A Canterlot Wedding", Twilight's suspicion of Cadance having turned evil lead her to making outrageous accusations with no evidence, which are dismissed and treated as wrong by everyone, even Twilight afterwards. Then it's revealed Cadance had been replaced by an evil shapeshifter, after which everyone is treated as wrong for dismissing Twilight and Twilight as right for trusting her instincts, even though the reality was still different than what Twilight suspected.
  • The Owl House: In the episode "Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Hooty's Door", Hooty sees Luz, Eda, and King are being troubled by different concerns and he decides to "help" them solve their issues. His methods of "helping" are extremely intrusive, poorly thought out, and quite painful (both physically and emotionally). In Eda's case, he forces her to go to sleep by effectively drugging her with hallucinogenic plants without her consent. The fact his schemes do help the three of them in the end is almost entirely coincidental, and the three of them thank Hooty (partly just to calm him down as he was going on a destructive tantrum because he thought he'd failed), although they warn him to never try "helping" them again.
  • Played for Laughs twice in Rick and Morty, in the same episode no less:
    • When "Pissmaster" shows up to start shit with Rick for the street cred. Jerry of all people manages to beat him up with a plastic flamingo and sends him packing, and suddenly #FlamingoDad is trending and his whole family thinks he's awesome. Then, when they find out Pissmaster killed himself in shame of being beaten up, they have a complete 180 and begin blaming Jerry for "murdering" the guy. In other words, Pissmaster's arbitrary decisions before and after the incident dictated whether or not Jerry fighting him off was a good or bad thing.
    • When Jerry is given super powers as a reward for fighting Pissmaster, he goes after an entire council of Hitlers and blows the entire planet up by accident. However, owing to sheer blind dumb luck, the planet just happened to only be populated by Hitlers so Jerry is hailed as an intergalactic hero.
  • In Total Drama, Owen constantly does stupid things that just happened to work out and receive Character Shilling as a result. (Example: eating a huge buffet of fake food, somehow not realizing that it was fake the whole time, but conveniently burping up the key that they were supposed to find in it.)