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Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught

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"Cheating seems to be a relevant term only when one is caught in the act. Otherwise it is viewed as intelligence, no?"

Rules are made to be broken, and that goes double for these rules.

Basically, rules are given which are less instructions for keeping order and safety, and more a Secret Test of Sneakiness. It's understood by all parties that the rule is not to be followed, and the only question is whether you can break it without getting caught. It is thus a common way to "win" an Unwinnable Training Simulation (which may or may not be the point). Or maybe it's just one person who thinks that way. After all, even if the rules are supposed to be followed, you can't be penalized for breaking them if nobody knows you did, right?

This sometimes takes the form of an admonishment not to cheat on an upcoming game/test/whatever, which comes so out of the blue that it can only be interpreted as an encouragement to cheat. Compare Could Say It, But.... and Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee. Take it further and you realize Real Life history is Written by the Winners.

Compare Can't You Read the Sign? and Do Wrong, Right. Sometimes the villain in What You Are in the Dark, or the foolhardly fellow teenager in Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb urges this trope to encourage something actually wrong. An invoked form of Screw the Rules, They're Not Real!, in that the rules are set up to encourage people to break them skillfully.

Note that regardless of what The Casanova might say about the other kind of "cheating", it's nothing to do with this trope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Charlotte, he got away with it for quite a while because of his supernatural power, but Yu eventually falls under the suspicion of cheating on his tests. To make matters worse for him, Nao has him on camera cheating. He runs off in a panic but is caught by Joujirou, who has Super-Speed.
  • In Death Note, Light Yagami claims that if Kira is caught, he's evil. However, if he isn't, he is justice.
  • In the third chapter of Fullmetal Alchemist, Ed transmutes waste into gold, claiming that: "If we don't get caught, we won't get caught." Immediately afterward, he double-crosses his accomplice by reversing the transmutation; since the transmuted gold was a bribe of shady legality, the person he gave it to can't report Ed for swindling him without admitting his own corruption.
  • Used very darkly in Gals!: a pedophile teacher is harassing one of Sayo's friends, using I'm a Man; I Can't Help It as an excuse. When the girl calls him out on his immorality, the teacher smugly answers that in modern society, all that counts is keeping up a respectable appearance and if nobody has proof that he committed a crime, he didn't commit a crime. Unfortunately for him, Sayo was hiding nearby with a recorder in her hands.
  • The first rule of the Games Club in Higurashi: When They Cry: Win at all costs. Including using marked cards, bribing your opponents, pulling a Twin Switch...
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Daniel J. D'Arby, user of the Osiris Stand, has this as his motto. For example, it's not his fault that Polnareff didn't know that, when they were betting on what meat a cat would eat first, the cat belonged to D'Arby (and thus D'Arby could choose which piece would be eaten). Though an interesting thing about D'Arby is that he equally applies this to both himself and the person he plays against. To him, cheating is simply part of the game. Jotaro later uses this mantra against D'Arby's brother, Terrence aka D'Arby the Younger.
      • Amusingly, D'Arby's ability to spot cheating loses out to Jotaro, who simply bluffs him with a completely unreadable poker face. Meanwhile, Jotaro beats the younger brother's ability to see through bluffsnote  by discreetly cheating with the aid of his grandfather Joseph.
    • This is invoked in Part 4 when Josuke challenges Rohan to a dice game while planning on cheating using a shapeshifting (possible) alien disguised as a pair of dice. Unfortunately, said alien turns out to be terrible at being subtle about giving Josuke good rolls, and Rohan quickly catches on that he's cheating. Fortunately, he's more angry at himself for not being able to figure out how Josuke is cheating and allows him to continue on the condition that if he does figure it out, Josuke forfeits one of his fingers.
    • This is openly averted in Part 6: the Marilyn Manson Stand allows its user to freely cheat in any bet, while it will immediately recognize the opponents' cheating and attack them - and it's completely invincible while doing so. The drawback is that, unlike the D'Arby brothers' Stands, defeating the user allows the victims to retake what was stolen.
  • Invoked in a chapter of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, where Fujiwara is found using marked cards. She calls out this trope by name as justification for her actually being very clever, while the others quietly point out that this doesn't really apply because she did get caught.
  • Kakegurui really loves this trope, being centered around gambling. Players are generally free to cheat in the most creative of ways: marked cards, moles, poison, even outright Loophole Abuse are permitted. The only thing not allowed is physical violence or overt intimidation.
    • Several times, Yumeko catches on to how her opponent cheats, but instead of getting mad she simply thinks of it as a way to make the gamble more fun (and, conversely, gets miffed when her opponent deliberately cheats to give her an unfair advantage). In fact, Yumeko just as often uses that knowledge to turn her opponent's cheat against them.
    • The Absurdly Powerful Student Council, and especially Kirari, practically encourages the students to cheat without being caught. Even when students are caught cheating, they're often allowed to continue playing so long as they don't use the same cheat twice.
    • The Election Committee generally averts this trope, in that they will work towards ensuring all players have a fair shot at winning. However, this is limited to not taking sides, as reflected by their "Absolute Neutrality" motto; players are still free to set up cheats before the game starts so long as it's not blatant.
  • Kengan Ashura's titular Kengan battles have one restriction for the competitors: you can't bring weapons. This is enforced by a security search and pat-down before the match. Thing is, the restriction also only really applies to that pat-down; if a weapon makes it through undetected, it can be used without breaking the rules, as openly as you'd like. Technically, it's still a violation, but reporting it would imply the opponent failed to notice a cheater in the patdown stage and is therefore a fool, and it would imply the Kengan organizer responsible for the pat-down failed to do their job right and therefore call the organization into question, so it's generally accepted to never call it out.
  • Kurosagi: Kurosaki isn't afraid to waltz around telling potential clients he's a professional swindler because no one is able to prove it.
  • The Legend of Koizumi: It's practically understood that cheating is part of the game as long as you don't get caught. And sometimes, it's still not considered cheating even if you do get caught if you do it in an audacious enough manner, like when Koizumi's effort in cheating caused his entire body to be set ablaze. Getting caught, however, can be fatal As Otto Skorzony finds out when Dubya catches his tileswapping trick.
  • In Naruto, during the Chunin exams, the ninjas-in-training are given a written test with the unusual rule that they cannot be caught cheating more than four times. So, needless to say, all of the skilled students discreetly use their ninja skills to do so without getting caught. Which is, of course, the entire point, as the test is absurdly difficult (Sakura is the only one who actually knew any answers) and two planted fake students were given the answers ahead of time. Naruto himself, however, unwittingly engaged in Loophole Abuse due to the aforementioned nature of the exam. Since he never attempted to cheat, he was never caught, and thus passed the exam on those grounds — even though he never even tried to answer one question. In addition, the rules had been laid out so that a student loses points for wrong answers, not that they earn points for correct answers. So a blank sheet of paper counts for full credit. The whole thing was in fact a Secret Test of Character: the examiners were testing the candidates' espionage skills, and then with the all-or-nothing last question, their willingness to take on a Suicide Mission (accepting the opportunity to answer the question in the first place is a passing grade).
  • In No Game No Life's world, everything is settled by a game. Whether it's a business deal, or for the throne of a kingdom, you must win at a game. One of the divine laws of the land states that getting caught cheating is an instant loss. Protagonist Sora instantly realizes this means that cheating is fine if you don't get caught. Using magic is considered cheating, but human beings cannot detect magic, so members of magical races tend to win games against humans.
  • In One Piece, the Foxy Pirates take this one step further. It's only cheating if the referee catches you, and since the referee is a member of the Foxy Pirates...
  • Soul Eater: Black*Star tries to peep on Tsubaki while she's bathing. He being who he is, yells, and gets a shuriken in the forehead. The thing is, Tsubaki wasn't mad at him for spying on her, but for not being able to conceal his presence. This makes the discovery of Tsubaki being the most lustful out of the group a bit more sensible and a lot more amusing.
  • Time Stop Hero: Kuzuno Sekai uses his Time Stands Still ability to interfere with a volleyball tournament to make sure his friends win. Some of his friends find out what he is doing and call him out, but he says that since no one else notices and would not be able to prove it if they did, he'll be fine. He later finds out another team is cheating by having an invisible girl interfere with the ball similar to what he was doing by noticing her footprints on the sand and splashes oil on her to get that team disqualified.
  • Toriko's Gourmet Casino arc lives and dies on this trope. Coco's future-seeing abilities allow him to effortlessly win practically all of the casino's games. Livebearer, the arc's Big Bad, on the other hand, runs a game that is designed to give him every advantage he can think of.

    Board Games 
  • Monopoly:
    • According to the official rules, if a player lands on property owned by another player, the property owner has until the next player after that rolls the dice to demand rent. After that, the player gets away scot-free. "No sneaks" is a popular house rule that removes this clause; if the property owner suddenly remembers the oversight later, they are still owed rent.
    • Some groups let the Banker help himself to as much free money as he can get away with (for added realism), with various creative punishments if they're caught. In games that don't use such a rule, the Banker just has to be that much sneakier about it.
    • There's actually an official version of Monopoly called the "Cheater's Edition", where you're encouraged to cheat. You lay 5 cheats down at the start of the game, and if someone is able to pull one off without somebody noticing, they get a special bonus, depending on the cheat.
  • If a non-word is played in Scrabble, but nobody challenges it before the next player takes their turn, the word stands. This has resulted in at least one situation in competitive play where somebody has pluralised their opponent's non-word, only for it to be successfully challenged by the guy who originally set it down.
  • Actively part of the fluff in Blood Bowl. Refs can be bribed to not call illegal play, may not see the illegal play, or may be too afraid of the crowd's reaction to call anything.
  • Chess:
    • Heidenfeld - Kerins, Dublin 1973. White castled twice, even though this is flagrantly against the rules, which state that a player can only castle if neither the king nor the rook has moved before. Amazingly, Black let this stand, and Tim Krabbé has actually listed the match as a record (scroll down to "greatest number of castlings"), even though that move would never fly if both sides were paying attention.
  • BattleCON has the bonus character Mark PTO, who has cheating as a passive ability. Getting caught doesn't actually stop the cheating, instead the opponent figures out what you changed by cheating, then it gets undone.

    Card Games 
  • Unhinged, one of the joke sets for Magic: The Gathering has a card called Cheatyface, which you're allowed to put into play for free as long as your opponent doesn't catch you doing it.
  • A flare in the original version of Cosmic Encounter gives its owner a similar power: if you have the filch card in your hand, you can filch cards from the draw deck or discard pile, and reclaim your own destroyed ships, as long as nobody sees you do it. If you're caught, however, you have to put what you stole back, and an extra ship of yours is destroyed. The most recent remake includes this card as an optional variant.
  • Steve Jackson Games' conspiracy theory-themed card game Illuminati has a set of "cheating" rules in which almost anything goes (e.g. stealing money from the bank, misstating the powers of your cards, etc) as long as you don't get caught (if you do get caught, the only penalty is that you have to undo that specific cheating attempt). It is recommended that you play this version of the game only with "very good friends or people you will never see again."
  • The entire premise of the card game known varyingly as Cheat, BS, or I Doubt It. You put down a certain number of cards in a matching set (such as two aces or three kings) face down onto a pile, declaring what they are, while everyone else watches and either leaves you be or calls you out for cheating. The idea is to get rid of all your cards in your hand before anyone else does, and it is possible to cheat by dropping down cards you didn't call (such as saying you dropped two aces when they were really a 6 and a 9). If you are called out while you cheat, you have to pick up the whole pile for cheating, but if you weren't cheating when they called you out, they have to pick the pile up. It is very much possible to cheat without anyone calling you out on it so long as you don't make it painfully obvious (such as dropping 5 queens, or a card someone else has all 4 of), and in fact, frequently required since passing is not allowed (at least in the standard version - variants that allow passing exist).
    • People are divided as to whether or not (or to what extent) you are allowed to cheat otherwise. One school of thought is that since it's the name of the game, you should cheat as much as possible by hiding cards or playing more cards than you declare so you can't be caught cheating. The other school allows only cheating in the predefined method.
  • In general, any card game that has a specific rule against cheating is really saying this trope. To catch someone cheating, you must accurately describe their cheating action, or be penalized yourself for a false accusation.
  • In Euchre, there is a significant advantage to being the dealer. Normally, the deal passes to the left after each hand, but the dealer's partner (or in cutthroat, any player) may gather the cards and attempt to shuffle and deal. If they're caught before they finish, they have to pass the deck to the proper dealer, but once the deal is complete, the hand must be played.
  • In UNO!, you are not allowed to play a Wild Draw Four card unless you have no cards in your hand of the color OR THE NUMBER of the faceup card on the table. Attempt to do so, and you won't be penalized unless another player calls you for it. (Which they sometimes do just to look at your hand.) Even better, the challenger can be penalized for an improper challenge.
  • Largely averted in modern poker, which has evolved an elaborate system of etiquette designed to prevent any player from receiving the slightest unfair advantage ("angle shooting"). Of course, this largely came about in response to poker's reputation as a game of cheats and liars, and that reputation didn't come out of nowhere....
  • Certain cards in Munchkin allow you to cheat in plain view of the other players. The rules themselves cite this. Out-and-out cheating, however, such as having too many cards in hand or playing a card you're not allowed to play, is not allowed: Munchkins bend the rules, but they don't break them.
  • Coup uses this as a game mechanic, combined with bluffing. Each player has two cards, representing their abilitiesnote . However, the cards are hidden from view, and as a result, you can claim that your two cards are any other card in the game. If, on the other hand, you claim to have a card and you're called out on itnote , someone is going to be upset: if you can back up your claim, then the person that challenged you loses one of their cards (losing both cards means you lose the game), but if you can't back up your claim, you lose a card. This can result in standoffs, where one person initiates an action and another person blocks it by claiming they have a card: should the first person accept the block, or demand proof of the other person's claim? Good players can bluff and keep people guessing about their cards the whole game. Great players can claim they have all five cards in their two-card hand and succeed on sheer audacity and grit.

    Comic Books 
  • Knights of the Dinner Table: Official Hard 8 policy is that any rule in one of their games stands as written unless an official erratum regarding it has been issued. Playtesters sometimes insert deliberate errors into games to create broken rules for players to take advantage of until Hard 8 catches on and issues an erratum. One storyline centres around Bob acquiring a marked copy of Cattlepunk that identifies all these 'special rules', and then badly overplaying his hand.
  • Star Wars: Darth Vader. Palpatine tells the competing rivals for Darth Vader's position to not kill each other...or if they do, to make sure he remains unaware of it. Vader however dumps the first rival he kills at the Emperor's feet, sending the not-so-subtle message that he will not be replaced. When someone finally tells the Emperor all about Vader's scheming, he's actually impressed because Vader has shown he's fully embraced the Dark Side.

    Fan Works 
  • In This Bites!, the Straw Hats take massive advantage of this during the Davy Back Fight. After all, it can't be proven they're responsible for the mass of fog and heavy wind that covered the field just before the second round, or that they beat the hell out of the Groggy Monsters under the cover of said fog.
  • Dario in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines firmly believes in this. Not that it helps him, though.
  • Danny and Kara: Mr. Lancer usually overlooks Dash's bullying because Dash is a football star, but not when a victim threatens to have it published at the Daily Planet.
  • Scarlet Lady: When Adrien and Plagg steal Gabriel's book on Tibet and Adrien asks if rebellion is "supposed to feel like you're gonna barf", Plagg answers "Only if you get caught".
  • Sixes and Sevens: Emily claims that running a red light doesn't count unless you get caught, and she only got caught once.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Aladdin, the title character remarks about his stealing food from the marketplace, "you're only in trouble if you get caught!" Which segues into this little exchange:
    Razoul: Gotcha!
    Aladdin: I'm in trouble.
  • In Monsters University, the second round of the Scare Games involves retrieving a flag in the library without getting the attention of the librarian. It's eventually found out that anything goes as long as none of your teammates actually get caught by the librarian.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Back to School, Derek (Robert Downey Jr.), best friend of the main character's son, uses sunlight reflected from a mirror, and then an air horn, to distract divers from the opposing dive team, preventing them from making good dives so that his friend can win.
  • Perfect Harmony: A group of Boarding School students sneak out after curfew and get spotted by the Cool Teacher who admonishes them not for breaking curfew, but for getting caught. Said teacher encourages them to experience what's out there, but warns "Next time... Don't. Get. Caught." Unfortunately, on his next attempt, the main character does get caught by the not-as-cool school principal.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Pirate Code is really more a set of "guidelines", or "suggestions". At least they are on the open seas; not so much when Captain Teague, Keeper of the Code is in the room with a loaded gun. Still some room for...liberal interpretation, of course.
  • In Ski School, the "good guys" Ski team must beat the Big Bad and other innocent bystander competitors to stay on the slopes, so they pull shenanigans like pouring oil on the snow to make their competitors slip and fall or have buxom ladies flash passing skiers to make their competitors slip and fall. High fives all around.
    • Of course, this happens after the "bad guys" blatantly attacked them (with a grappling hook?) during the qualifiers and had no penalties for that either.
  • In the movie Spies Like Us one of the two "heroes" (to use the term loosely) managed to pressure the other into helping him cheat on their government promotion tests, through good, old-fashioned Chevy Chase-style chutzpah. When discovered, in order to cover themselves, they worked together by reflex to cover each other. The CIA test givers were so impressed that they gave them an immediate promotion to field agents. (Of course, this was a plot to throw expendable agents into the field as a diversion for more nefarious activities ... but the trope connection is solid.)
  • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk reveals that he rigged the Kobayashi Maru test to make the scenario winnable... and got a commendation for "original thinking."
  • In Star Trek (2009), the alternate Kirk was court-martialed. But the plot interferes before Alternate-Kirk has a proper chance to defend himself, so it is never seen if he would have been able to talk his way out of the situation or gotten expelled. Presumably something similar happened to Kirk-Prime, but if he was being a bit less of an ass about the whole thing (and if he had some powerful friends), he might have gotten away with it. The difference may have been due to the manner in which they cheated. Alternate-Kirk simply disabled the shields of the enemy vessels and destroyed them, while Kirk-Prime (according to the Expanded Universe) reprogrammed the enemy's behavior to respect the reputation he intended to build as captain such that they would allow him to proceed unmolested. So while Alternate-Kirk cheated in a way that he could plausibly have hidden and gotten away with entirely if not for the fact that the game was Unwinnable by Design, Kirk-Prime took Refuge in Audacity.
  • The Sting features a poker game in which the bad guy is cheating because he controls the dealer and thus which cards are dealt, but the good guy cheats by covertly switching his hand. The antagonist knows he's being had, but can't call it out because it would mean admitting he knew which cards his opponent "should have been dealt".

  • In the Discworld Assassins' Guild, student assassins are given a list of places that are out-of-bounds. This is defined not as places they can't go, but as places they can't be seen by a master, which gives them lots of practice at the stealth skills Guild members are required to have. Even better, the Assassin's Guild Diary states that any boy not caught being out of bounds at least once per year gets detention unless they can prove that they were there but were not caught. It's considered a pass on your final exam if you assassinate your examiner — though, considering he's an experienced assassin himself, you're advised to be very sure that you will succeed before trying. Trying and failing will result in immediate exam failure and loss of privileges. Like breathing.
  • In Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe books, Pages and Squires train at the Palace. One of the rules is "don't get into fights". Of course, pages and squires fight all the time (and are caught, given the resulting injuries), but the traditional excuse is "I fell down". When "Alan" is being bullied on a regular basis and learns a less-honorable style of fighting to beat the bully, they are read the riot act. Except not, because their teacher is secretly glad the bully was dealt with and the protagonist reflects on this rule as they are being told off.
  • In Harry Potter's Triwizard Tournament, cheating is a more or less accepted tradition that every single side engages in. When Harry (who was entered into it against his will) tells Cedric that they're up against dragons in the first task, Moody doesn't bat an eye. Though given that "Moody" isn't Moody at all and has ulterior motives for wanting Harry to win, the reader has to use their own judgment about accepting his word on this.
    Moody: Cheating's a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament and always has been...I've been telling Dumbledore from the start, he can be as high-minded as he likes, but you can bet old Karkaroff and Maxime won't be. They want to win. They want to beat Dumbledore. They'd like to prove he's only human.
  • In Larry Niven's Known Space stories, a Belter (asteroid belt miner) who's never been busted for smuggling will get looked down upon by his peers — because it might mean he's never tried.
    • Belter law doesn't treat it as a very serious crime — if somebody gets caught, the only penalty is that the Belt government takes 100% of your cargo (instead of 30% if you declared it up front).
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • This was pretty much Miles Vorkosigan's modus operandi until Memory when he got caught and it blew up in his face. He tried it again when courting Ekaterin in A Civil Campaign, and it blew up in his face again.
    • And lampshaded in A Civil Campaign:
      "If we're not stooping, what do you call that shell game with the Vortugalovs and the uterine replicator?" Ivan demanded indignantly.
      "A piece of wholly unexpected good fortune. None of us here had anything to do with it," Miles replied tranquilly.
      "So it's not a dirty trick if it's untraceable?"
      "Correct, Ivan. You learn fast. Grandfather would have been...surprised."
    • And stated outright later in the book:
      "There is an unwritten rule among us, Richars; if you attempt any ploy on the far side of ethical, you'd damned well better be good enough at your game not to get caught. You're not good enough."
  • In The Hunger Games, it is technically illegal to train children to participate in the Games and have them volunteer to take the place of whoever gets chosen by lottery. Regardless, the tributes from Districts 1, 2, and 4 are always what are called "Career Tributes". The Capitol seems to ignore this because it makes for a more entertaining show.
  • In Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts's Empire trilogy, part of The Riftwar Cycle, betrayal and assassination among rivals in the major Houses is almost never punished by the law unless the perpetrator was crass enough to be obvious about it. And being able to engineer a rival's demise by exploiting law and custom rather than just ignoring it will earn you the quiet admiration of your peers.
  • The Drow (see Tabletop Games below) deserve a mention here as well since R. A. Salvatore's Drizzt books did a lot to codify that picture of their society. A quote from Homeland sums things up quite nicely: "Only twenty-two of the original twenty-five in Drizzt's class remained. One had been dismissed — and subsequently executed — for a foiled assassination attempt on a higher-ranking student, a second had been killed in the practice arena, and a third had died in his bunk of natural causes — for a dagger in the heart quite naturally ends one's life."
  • A text by Brazilian author Luis Fernando Verissimo has a honeymoon couple playing paper Battleship. Once the man fails to strike her aircraft carrier a second time, he finds out the wife split the carrier into five pieces and spread it across the board. The result is a divorce...
  • Sigurd makes this suggestion to Hal in Brotherband. Hal is severely undermanned and takes his advice to win the competition.
  • In Honor Harrington, it's mentioned that Saganami Island Naval Academy's computer network has a backdoor that allows enterprising students access to a restricted tactical database for study. Getting caught isn't punished (a student brings up a restricted battle report to Honor during one of her classes), but the instructors on the Island quietly keep track of the backdoor's access log and look favorably on students who are sharp enough to find the backdoor and study the restricted materials.
  • There's a warped version of the The Tortoise and the Hare where the tortoise goes up against a cocky deer who makes fun of him for being slow. So the tortoise challenges the deer to a race and enlists the help of his many identical brothers who hide all along the way and make the deer believe the tortoise is constantly overtaking him.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: The rookie witch Lily cheats during orientation at an evil Wizarding School by taking magical equipment from older students and also by having her friend, the seer Brynne, look into the future to see where the orientation course's death traps will be and then tell Lily how to avoid them. The protagonist Emily realizes that Lauren, an older student serving as a proctor, at least knows about the equipment but refuses to do anything about it. Emily realizes that cheaters won't be disqualified unless they're really blatant about it, and she thus has to take on Lily despite her unfair advantages.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The trope name is spoken almost verbatim in Andromeda by Gaheris Rhade to Hunt in a flashback when Dylan catches him cheating at Go. Rhade is visibly confused as to why Dylan is angry at him. He naturally assumes that everyone behaves that way, if they want to survive.
  • Jeff Winger on Community runs basically the entire spectrum of amorality tropes. One of the more egregious examples is him creating fake classes to earn credits. He has to attend Greendale College because he got caught cheating in a way that his law firm could not ignore: he got his undergraduate degree from an uncredited diploma mill and when this was reported to the bar association, his license was suspended.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Woman Who Fell to Earth", the antagonist Tzim-Sha is participating in a ritual hunt in order for him to be named the next leader of his species. He's not supposed to have any weapons or equipment, but he smuggles in a data coil to help him locate his target, as well as a short-range teleporter.
  • The Hexer: Vesimir decides to help Geralt survive the Trial of Mountains, precisely because there is no one there to check if everything was set fairly.
  • Horrible Histories talks about the (supposed) Real Life example of the Spartans in "Spartan School Musical". Stealing is okay, what's wrong is getting caught!
  • In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Gang has a board game they created called CharDee MacDennis; cheating is punishable if caught, but still highly encouraged.
  • Al Bundy says as much in an episode of Married... with Children where Al enters himself in an athletic competition for senior citizens. When he's standing victoriously on the podium and holding his medals, he says, "It's only cheating if you get caught."
  • Porridge has this happen often. Fletcher delivers lines like:
    Godber: I mean, we're all here for different reasons, aren't we?
    Fletcher: With respect, Godber, we are all here for the same reason... we got caught.
  • Theoretically, anything a team on Scrapheap Challenge/Junkyard Wars brings back to their lot is theirs for keeps. Yeah, right...unless the other team steals it, in which case the hosts and thieves have a laugh at the victimized team's expense.
  • Suits:
    • The law firm pretty much runs on this trope. Harvey and Jessica get away with a lot because they are usually too smart to get caught or they are only caught when it is too late to do anything about it. On the other hand, this makes them very arrogant and gets them into serious trouble when they overshoot and get caught breaking the rules.
    • When trying to win over Mike, Louis explains that Harvey is disdainful of the law and does everything he can in line with this trope. Meanwhile, Louis loves the law and does everything he can within the rules, even he sometimes has to get those rules rewritten (such as when he manages to win an eminent domain case against a restaurant, something thought to be impossible).
  • In a Warehouse 13 episode, Artie plays a game of Battleship with an AI that has taken over the warehouse. He wins by not actually putting any ships on the board. This is used to prove a point to the AI that it is merely an incomplete version of its creator, who is a master cheater.
  • In an episode of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, Luka and Joe are disguised as Mooks and Luka is cleaning house by cheating at poker. When the enemy commander catches them, he challenges them to a game for their freedom. When he starts dealing, he's very blatantly cheating but gets away with it since all of his minions are vouching that "nothing happened". In the end, it seems that Joe won even with all of the cards stacked against him. It's revealed at the end of the episode that Luka swapped the decks while everyone was distracted to set Joe up with the winning hand.

  • "Tweeter and the Monkey Man", by the Traveling Wilburys.
    "Janet told him many times, 'It was you to me who taught in Jersey everything's legal as long as you don't get caught.'"
  • Tool's song "Jerk Off" summarizes the mentality explicitly:
    "If consequences dictate our course of action then it doesn't matter what's right, it's only wrong if you get caught."

  • The entire concept of the tilt mechanic in many pinball machines is basically this. If someone can manage to tilt the machine without triggering the anti-tilt measures, odds are it's considered to be fair game.
  • Averted in The Addams Family; if you get a ball into the Vault while the Bookcase is closed (typically an impossible feat), the game compliments you for cheating.
    Gomez: Dirty pool, old man. I LIKE it!
  • In Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure, locking a ball without hitting the three drop targets covering the hole awards 5 million points.
    Shorty: You cheat, Dr. Jones!

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Virtually half of the way the whole show works, especially with the manager or tag team partner getting in a few shots while the ref's back is turned. Mostly done by heels, but sometimes by faces against a heel who's really gone out of his way to deserve to be Hoist by His Own Petard. Though in The '90s it became increasingly common for Darker and Edgier faces to consistently use "heel" tactics like this as well. Wrestlers can even do this by themselves if they can get the referee to turn his back. I mean, sure, the ref looked away for two seconds and now one of the wrestlers is lying unconscious on the mat, with a steel chair next to him—but he didn't SEE it, so he can't just go blaming the only other guy in the ring, can he?
  • In the 1997 Royal Rumble, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, after being eliminated by Bret "the Hitman" Hart while the Easily-Distracted Referee wasn't looking, jumped back into the ring quickly and cleared the ring to win the Rumble.
  • A subversion sometimes happens in the form of the "Dusty Finish", named after Dusty Rhodes who used to book this sort of finish all the time. In this case, the trope is played straight until the match is finished and one wrestler (often the face) is declared the winner, only for a second referee to come out and inform the first referee that the face did something to cause a disqualification (usually throwing the heel over the top rope, which was illegal at the time), causing that referee to reverse the decision. Because the face is usually on the losing end of the Dusty Finish, this practice is widely hated among wrestling fans. The most infamous example occurred in the AWA, when Hulk Hogan apparently won the title from Nick Bockwinkel, only for AWA president Stanley Blackburn to personally reverse the decision because Hogan threw Bockwinkel over the top rope. The fans nearly rioted as a result, Hogan left the AWA for Vince McMahon's WWF, and the rest is history.
  • It can also happen by taking away a title change without the win. In one NWA title match, Dusty Rhodes had seemingly beat Ric Flair for the title despite interference by Arn Anderson and a ref bump to Tommy Young. A second ref came out to count Rhodes' pinfall, but Young overturned it on the next week's show, saying he had been prepared to call for Flair's DQ as soon as Anderson entered the ring, but hadn't been able to.
  • This also happens retroactively, usually when a title change or other "major" event happens around the time of a contract ending or injury/suspension or the like, and is explained as "going over the rules/results more closely." One of the most infamous involved the Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Janetty) defeating the Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart) for the tag-team championships. Unfortunately, during the 2-out-of-3 contest, one of the ring ropes broke, which led to an ugly mess of a match that would be virtually impossible to clean up for television; between that and the then-WWF firing Neidhart shortly thereafter, the titles were given back with the explanation of an "obscure rule" involving broken ring equipment and was never even referenced on TV as if the Foundation never lost them.note 
  • Bobby Heenan basically made his whole career with this strategy. Most notable would be him holding down the Ultimate Warrior's leg during the IC match with Rick Rude at Wrestlemania 5.
  • This is how The Rock managed to retain his Intercontinental title against Ken Shamrock at the 1998 Royal Rumble. The Rock had used a pair of brass knuckles on Shamrock when the ref's back was turned, then stuffed the knuckles into Shamrock's trunks. When the hit wasn't enough to keep Shamrock down, Shamrock hit Rock with a belly-to-belly suplex and won the title.... until Rock complained to the referee that Shamrock had hit him with the brass knuckles, and when the referee searched Shamrock, he found the knuckles and reversed the decision.
  • One laughable subversion of this was at Starcade 1999 in WCW, during a 'Master of the Powerbomb' match between Kevin Nash and Sid Vicious. In the storyline, the match could only be won by, surprisingly, Powerbombing one's opponent. After the referee had been bumped, Vicious had powerbombed Nash and various outside interference had muddied the waters, Nash attempted to powerbomb Vicious, but for whatever reason was unable to and simply left Vicious laying in the ring. When the referee finally awakened, Nash told the official 'I stuck him!' The referee, amazingly, believed him (!) and awarded the match to Nash.
  • Eddie Guerrero lampshaded it (his most popular entrance music flat-out told everyone that "I lie, I cheat, I steal!"), and later in his career took to inverting it. The method he used which has endured the most is to grab a chair and hit the mat with it while the ref's back is turned, before tossing the chair to his opponent before the ref turned around and quickly feigning being the recipient of a brutal chairshot. Despite rules stating that the ref has to see the chair shot happen in order to call a DQ, this worked on multiple occasions, including his last match before his death.
  • After his death, other WWE wrestlers have made use of similar tactics in order to steal a win or pull the odds back into their favor. In July of 2016, for instance, Sasha Banks did this with the Women's Title belt in order to put an end to Dana Brooke's interference during her match against Charlotte.

  • Most players and experts agree that a football that has been deflated to a PSI that is slightly below the pressure required by the NFL rules gives an advantage to the offense. It makes the ball easier to grip, which makes it easier for the quarterback to throw, easier for the receiver to catch, and less likely to be fumbled as the ball handler can grip the ball more tightly. That's all we're going to say about that...
  • "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying" is also a commonly acknowledged "rule" in NASCAR racing. No matter how hard NASCAR tries to discourage such an attitude, drivers and crew chiefs continue to look for creative ways to break the rules.
  • In Formula 1 it is commonly acknowledged that everybody is at least trying to interpret the rules creatively, so that even if they violate the spirit of the rules they stay within the letter. Teams will also commit outright cheating if they think they can get away with it, such as by making the violation either undetectable or too hard to prove. There are also violations where, even if they get caught, it may be possible to quibble their way out of being punished for it.
  • A famous baseball player commented, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough". It certainly seems to be a time-honored tradition in sports.
  • A legendary example in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals was the Hand of God goal. Six minutes into the second half, with the game so far scoreless, the ball had gotten loose in the penalty area and both the English goalie and Argentine player Diego Maradona were rushing at it. Diego Maradona reached the ball first and swept it into the goal with his hand before the goalie could stop him, and the ref didn't catch it. England is still bitter about this, while Maradona is worshiped in Argentina (Not Hyperbole) as a national hero.
  • The Tour de France, the most challenging and most prestigious bicycle race, has a long and storied history of cheating. Most people have heard of the decades worth of scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), but the early years of the race involved much more overt methods of cheating. The second Tour de France (in 1904) had so much cheating that it almost resulted in permanent cancellation. Multiple cyclists were disqualified for cheating, and the 5th place finisher was declared the winner since everybody ahead of him was disqualified. And he had also cheated at least once, but for whatever reason was only given a warning. Much of the cheating was amusingly audacious (skipping sections of the race by getting rides in cars or trains, or for those who wanted to still "ride the bike" for the whole course having a car pull them along with a tow rope), but it also included sabotage (nails were laid out in roads to cause flat tires) and even violence (masked men in a car attacking the then-leading cyclists, and fans of some cyclists threw rocks at everyone else as they passed).
  • In Rugby Union, it's said that an openside flanker who doesn't get accused of cheating is not good enough.note 
  • Inversion: 1983's infamous "Pine Tar Game" in Major League Baseball. George Brett of the Kansas City Royals had a home run disallowed due to a rule limiting the amount of pine tar on a bat. The Royals protested, and the American League office upheld the protest and ordered the game resumed. AL President Lee MacPhail stated that the intent of the limit was to prevent more balls from being defaced by the pine tar, which would require the umpire to toss them out of play. Since the ball was knocked out of the park anyway, Brett had not violated the spirit of the rule. Sometimes, it's not cheating even if you get caught.
  • The Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s. They pretty much stretched the rules of baseball of time like taffy. A short list of the things they did: having the ground keeping crew alter the field in various ways to enable Baltimore's batters to play "small ball," hiding a ball within the outfield grass, grabbing onto the base runner's belt, putting dirt and pebbles in shoes, throwing equipment at base runners, tripping base runners, shoving base runners, and hip checks on base runners. As others have mentioned many times, this was not considered cheating, but playing smart baseball. Their manager at the time called it "playing baseball as she was meant to be played" though John McGraw, their pugnacious 3rd baseman more truthfully called it "artful kicking." They inspired other baseball teams, even to this day.
  • Bodybuilding:
    • Bodybuilding is rife with performance-enhancing drugs such as testosterone, anabolic androgenic steroids, human growth hormone, and insulin which allow competitors to pack on more muscle than would be possible through diet and exercise alone. Since bodybuilders are also graded on their conditioning—meaning the shedding of fat and water-weight before a show to better reveal the texture of and separations between their muscles—they will use diuretics to get strategically dehydrated for the much-desired hard and dry look. Drugs are bodybuilding's open secret. The official position of the International Federation of Bodybuilding is that they comply with the standards of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and they will sanction any bodybuilder who is caught using PEDs. Because of that, if a journalist or documentarian asks an active pro bodybuilder if they use such drugs, they have to deny it and claim that they got their physique from only diet and supplements. Despite this, many famous former and retired bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dorian Yates have disclosed their own drug use, and the fact that an overwhelming majority of IFBB pro bodybuilders are "enhanced". The attitude throughout the "Golden Era" of the '60s, '70s, and '80s was, "don't ask, don't tell". The Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990 caused a scare because it established criminal penalties for coaches or promoters who provided steroids to athletes, no longer just the athletes themselves; for that reason, 1990 became the first and only year in which the Mr. Olympia and Arnold Classic competitions took a serious anti-drug stance and tested their contestants for anabolics. This proved very unpopular due to Shawn Ray being stripped of his 1st place Arnold Classic title when it turned out he’d failed a drug testnote , and all the physiques on the Mr. Olympia stage later that year being "off" because everyone jumped off their steroid cycles early in order to pass the testing. As it turned out, bodybuilding managed to fly under the government's radar compared to more mainstream sports such as Baseball and Professional Wrestling (The WBF, Vince McMahon's short-lived attempt to start a new bodybuilding organization to rival the IFBB, failed partially due to the pressure Vince felt to enforce drug testing), and as soon as the IFBB realized that they weren’t under serious government scrutiny, they quietly stopped testing for anabolics. The rules on the books still say that they reserve the right to test athletes at any time for banned substances, but in practice they never do. If anything, the Mass Monster Era that we've been in since the 90s has gone in the direction of increasing drug use as the size game becomes more and more competitive.
    • As if all that wasn't enough, since the 90s there's been the option of "sight enhancement oils", which are substances such as Synthol that can be injected into a muscle to make it look bigger than it actually is. The most common sites for these injections are the biceps, deltoids, and calves. The problem is that over-use of synthol is really obvious since it can cause discoloration, unnatural muscle shape, or erasure of the "cuts" between different muscles that bodybuilders need to score well on conditioning. A bodybuilder who shows up on stage with a botched synthol injection will of course have to engage in Blatant Lies about how the effect is merely the result of a training injury, but the attitude of many is that any bodybuilder who's skillful enough to enlarge their muscle without the telltale signs of SEO injection deserves to get away with it.
    • Natural bodybuilding shows are supposed to be PED-free, since they actually have mandatory drug testing and their standard of size and conditioning takes into account that these guys are not realistically going to look as huge or shredded as IFBB pros. Despite this, there are still shenanigans, especially because anybody who uses doping and gets away with it will be going against guys who actually are all-natural. It is possible to fool a polygraph test, and the commonly used urine test is not the most sensitive or accurate method. There’s also the problem that testing is only right before the competition instead of year-round, which allows a cheater to spend most of the year getting bigger through doping, and then stop with enough time left until testing day for the traces to leave their stystem. So they may pass as drug-free on competition day, but a lot of them aren’t necessarily natural year-round. Unfortunately it would be very difficult to improve the quality or frequency of testing, since an IOC grade drug test costs about $1,000, and natural bodybuilding competitions simply don’t have the budget to pay for those. Some fans and commentators believe the "fake natty" problem is so widespread that it’s making a joke out of natural bodybuilding.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This trope is bread and water for a certain kind of Munchkin. In the game of that name, it's actually an explicit rule.
  • One of the scenario ideas in GURPS Illuminati University, set in a very peculiar university, involves the final exam for the Advanced Cheating class. The questions are just random obscure trivia; the actual test is finding a good way to cheat in it. If you get caught, you fail. If you don't even try to cheat, you'll be expelled for "terminal cluelessness." The difficulty to this being, of course, proving that someone did not cheat.
  • Drow from Dungeons & Dragons. Their entire legal system is based around this trope. As an example, in the city of Menzoberranzan if a Drow Noble House wants to eliminate another Noble House they must do it in a way that leaves no member of the eliminated house alive, since only nobles of the attacked house have the right of accusation against the attacking house, and are the only ones allowed to witness. Anyone else who happens to see the attack are merely "spectators." If even one member of the attacked house is alive to accuse the attackers, the attacking family will, according to the law, be eradicated by the ruling House Baenre. If no one is left alive to witness, everyone will act as if the now deceased house never existed in the first place, except for vaguely praising the attackers for a successful raid. The secret, though, is that the Baenres always come out ahead in any such House war: either one potential rival for power is destroyed, or both are and they adopt the survivors of the defending house.
  • Forgotten Realms: After Drizz't Do'Urden abandoned his House and that House subsequently lost the favor of Lolth, it was annihilated by House Baenre, the First House of Menzoberranzan. However, not only Drizz't, but his brother Dinin and sister Vierna survived the massacre, being taken in by the Bregan Daerthe mercenaries. When Dinin asks Jarlaxle if he'd rescued them because of their claim against the Baenre, Jarlaxle basically tells him, "Pssh. Yeah, like that'll ever happen."
  • Paranoia officially prohibits players from even knowing the rules. In the game universe, there is a security-clearance scheme that uses the light spectrum, starting with infrared and going all the way up to ultraviolet. These clearances (most characters are red-cleared) govern everything — and we do mean everything the character is allowed to access, read or tread upon. The very rules are available only at ultraviolet clearance. Being caught with or demonstrating knowledge of anything above the character's clearance is grounds for summary execution. Therefore, if a player metagames blatantly (such as "I'm going to hide behind a rock because it will give a half-cover penalty to my attacker"), the proper response for a Paranoia GM is to ask in character as Friend Computer: "You are red clearance, Citizen. How did you come by this knowledge?" Then wait as the other characters fall over each other to execute the errant character for treason. It's that sort of game. With five backup clones, this in practice is more a warning to the player than a bolt of purple lightning. The player-facing (red-clearance) sections of the rulebook do cheerfully suggest to players that if they're going to read the ultraviolet rules (as it is universally assumed they will), at least keep their metagaming subtle, as in Paranoia, part of the point of the game is trying to invoke Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught on pretty much everything. On the other hand, published adventure modules, though also given the ultraviolet-clearance conceit, often have much more sincere disclaimers to players begging them to not read the adventure so as to not have the surprises spoiled for them.
  • The Barathi society of Swashbucklers Of The 7 Skies has a strong vein of this, matched with extreme legalism (they invented lawyers) and the cultural practice of Vendetta. If you get away with it, it's considered a brilliant piece of politicking to be praised and emulated whenever possible... but if you are caught, then there's a fair chance you and everyone you love will "regrettably drown" well away from water.

    Video Games 
  • Sometimes, The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, and other times, the players are instead. Jonny Ebbert, the lead designer of Dawn of War 2, firmly believes that game designers need to let the A.I. cheat so it can compete on the same level as human players, but that you can never let the A.I. get caught cheating as this ruins the illusion of a good A.I.
  • Academagia has a lot of Byzantine rules that amount to "you're not allowed to go anywhere or do anything except attend class and stay in your room the rest of the time when not at an Academy-approved activity." You're expected to sneak out and take a walk in the gardens to learn more about the world now and then, but if you get caught, you'll get detention.
  • Space Quest V: At the very beginning of the game, you have to get a perfect score on a multiple-choice exam of unusual questions. Luckily, you can look at another test-taker's answers as long as you don't let the resident anti-cheating robot see you.
  • In Breath of Fire III, there's a minigame where you have to train a scrawny man's skills so he can beat a musclehead in a duel. You get disqualified only if anyone sees you interfere with the fight itself. Trick is that Zig only looks away after a Critical Hit, so you can't just rush in after one session of training. That said, you can also train up the scrawny man so well that he's capable of legitimately Curb Stomping Zig on his own.
  • In America's Army 3, during Combat Lifesaving training, you are specifically told several times that no cheating or talking is allowed. This doesn't stop you at all from asking the student beside you for answers to the test and getting a perfect score.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Morrowind,
      • You can join several guilds, and one of the rules is usually that you're not allowed to steal from or kill other guild members. However, you can do both of these things safely and if you do it without getting caught, you won't be kicked out of the guild. House Telvanni has an interesting twist on theft among members: their philosophy is that, if you steal something from another member of the Telvanni and live to tell about it, you clearly deserve whatever it is you stole.
      • During the Mages Guild quest line, you will take on some quests for Ajira, the Balmora Guild Hall resident alchemist, who has a bet with Galbedir, the Guild Hall's enchanter, over who will reach the rank of Journeyman first. Ajira's quests involve doing things like sabotaging Galbedir's experiments while Ajira herself takes full credit for her research, despite your significant help in the matter.
    • In Skyrim, worship of Talos is illegal in the Empire... but it's illegal through a treaty with a bunch of Nazi elves that everyone hates, so it's never really enforced until the civil war. Whiterun, ostensibly an Imperial city, has a preacher crying Talos' praises openly in the streets while the civil war rages (though if the Imperials secure the city he will be sent to the dungeon, where he will continue his sermons).
  • This trope comes up in Golden Sun, in a way. When participating on the Colosseum, it's possible for your party characters to help Isaac by using their Psynergy, which would certainly count as cheating, but no one outside of your party can even see the magic spells. Which gets a little weird when some of the spells have effects such as making a pillar of ice appear from a puddle. Maybe the crowd is so focused on the contestants that they ignore anything else?
  • In Jade Empire, for a full Lotus Assassin to kill another in their fortress is punishable.note  But if a master happens to fall into the golem machinery, or gets crushed by a falling clay golem shell, then they clearly deserved it for their carelessness.
  • Aran Ryan in Punch-Out!! (Wii). He's headbutted Mac, bounced off of the ring's ropes like a slingshot, used his elbows, used a pair of gloves like a flail, and hid horseshoes inside his gloves. All he needs to do is kick Mac in the groin and he'll have broken every rule in the book. And for some reason, the referee still doesn't disqualify him for this.
  • The developers of Dawn of War 2 have a philosophy that a good A.I. opponent can cheat (otherwise they're too easy), but a great A.I. opponent can cheat without the player noticing.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Officially, even the Sith aren't allowed to murder other Sith. Unofficially, it really only counts if you get caught. The Sith Inquisitor PC's master, Lord Zash, is named Darth Zash after arranging the assassination of her rival, Darth Skotia: it's an Open Secret she did it, but nobody can prove it because she made sure she had an alibi, and while the Inquisitor, the actual killer, doesn't, nobody would believe an apprentice fresh from the Academy could kill a full Dark Lord of the Sith. There's also a sidequest on Dromund Kaas where a group of Sith are murdering people on the street For the Evulz. The player can trick them into attacking Sith apprentices by mistake, which gets them caught and executed.

    Web Animation 
  • Helluva Boss episode 5 has a darkly comical version of this trope, with Millie complaining that she's not allowed to participate in the Wrath Circle's Pain Games any longer because, as her mother reminds her, the last time she did she become personally responsible for nine separate funerals. At this Millie reveals that she's actually less miffed about being banned than the fact that her sister, Sallie May, is still allowed to compete. Millie's mother tries to reason with Millie that Sallie doesn't have a neighborhood head count, to which Millie insists that she so does. Cue Sallie walking by in the background with a corpse, shouting out in a sing-song voice that "It doesn't count if they don't find the bodyyy~"
  • Ultra Fast Pony:
    • In the episode "Purple Party Pooper," Rarity declares, "What I do would be completely legal if no one knew about it."
    • In "Winning":
      Applejack: Applebloom, I am disgusted! Winners never get caught taking drugs.
      Twilight: Something seems a little off in the morals, there.

    Web Comics 
  • In Drowtales, one of the rules of the School of Magic is "If you attack another student, you must kill and dispose of the body."
  • Gunnerkrigg Court:
    • Eglamore's advice to Antimony was not exactly what one'd expect from the teacher grounding a student. Annie initially criticizes this advice, but she has no trouble following it later. Of course, his company in their time used to do the same...
      Eglamore: We have rules for a reason. For your safety. And if you're going to break them, you should try harder to not get caught.
    • Generally the Court uses visible and mediocre security measures which kids can and regularly do hack, jam, or bypass on their inevitable forays into the Court. While quietly employing a very advanced, undetectable, and unexpected in its work tracking system (of course, this ran smoothly only until one young Mad Scientist discovered it while hacking around their network) and/or beings that look innocuous, but are more than capable of stopping most troubles into which students could possibly get.
  • A number of strongly forbidden behaviors in Girl Genius are tacitly acknowledged to the point that the real crime seems to be doing them sloppily, such as students spying on Castle Wulfenbach, Jägers sneaking into Mechanicsburg (where they're forbidden until the Heterodyne gets the castle under control), and nobles being resurrected (which formally results in loss of all titles and permanent ineligibility).
    Gil: My father doesn't choose to play by their rules. But he knows them. And, every so often, some blueblood succumbs to the lure of resurrection — and then desperately hopes nobody finds out. But my father always does.
  • Several of the characters in Schlock Mercenary view all rules as these, including Captain Tagon. Petey, while generally benevolent, loves underhanded methods himself. He once managed to get Toughs off the hook without confronting human governments by eagerly agreeing that the Toughs are less than law-abiding, but making the U.N.S. drop all charges because they don't want him to publish as part of the extradition process the very facts they tried to cover up.
  • MegaTokyo: Trying to convince himself.
  • In Freefall, Sam thinks life in general works like this, since you get punished for getting caught.
  • Billy pulls this in the second magic lesson of morphE. In order to get a phone call to his loved ones all seedlings need to successfully defeat a training dummy using magic and, as a group, banish a spirit. When Asia is struggling to cast on her dummy, Billy knocks it down while Amical is discussing Asia's difficulties with his henchmen. Asia is outraged that Billy would do this and Billy's response is that as long as Amical thinks they won the bet, they won the bet. The specifics don't change the outcome.
  • xkcd: In this comic, the instructor of a cybersecurity final exam tells the class that they've all failed, and that their grades are stored on the department server to be submitted tomorrow. The obvious implication is that the real test is to hack into the server and change your grade.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park:
    • Eric Cartman once posed as a teacher for a bunch of hooligan teens. Instead of teaching them all that normal stuff, he taught them to cheat on tests. While dressed as Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver. "How do I reach these keeeds!?" And to top it off, he continually referenced Bill Belichek and the 2007 Patriots, claiming that the moral of that situation was not "Don't cheat" - but rather "If you got to where you were by cheating, keep cheating!"
    • In "Sexual Healing", Butters and Kyle attend a class to "cure" themselves of their sex addictions (as the WHO named it a disease after many reports of celebrities' infidelities hit the news), but the class doesn't aim to cure their addictions but rather teaches them ways to prevent themselves from getting caught.
    • In a similar joke in an earlier episode, Father Maxi, the town's priest, travels to Rome to attend a conference on what to do about the problem of child molesters in the clergy. The other clergymen center the talks around finding ways to keep the molested children from coming forward. When Maxi suggests that a better solution would be to not molest children, he is laughed at.
  • Megatron once tried doing this against Optimus Prime in The Transformers episode "Heavy Metal War"; he challenges Optimus to a duel of honor, with the loser exiling themselves, only to use a machine to transfer his underlings' powers into him and sending the Constructicons out to destroy the Autobots' computer, so it wouldn't be able to warn them of the duplicity. It doesn't work, in the end, but Optimus did completely miss the obvious signs of cheating on Megs' part during the battle.
  • In one episode of Rocket Power, Lars points out a shortcut to Pi in a street luge race where nobody will see him while he's off the course, stating that "it's only cheating if you get caught." Otto overhears and takes said shortcut, doesn't get caught, and wins the race.
  • In King of the Hill, Buck Strickland hits his golf ball into a rough patch, and "trips" over it, knocking it back onto the green. When Bobby, his caddie, asks if it's cheating, he replies, "Ain't no law 'gainst bein' clumsy. 'Less you get caught." Later, after he makes another bad, far-off shot, he orders Bobby to go find the ball, slipping him a golf ball and whispering, "Find it someplace good."
  • Dan Vs.: In the episode "Dan Vs. The Mummy," Dan proposes stealing Egyptian relics from a history museum.
    Chris: Aaand, isn't that a felony?
    Dan: California Penal Code eight thirty-three dot four, subparagraph B: It's only a felony if someone sees you do it.
    Chris: You're making that up.
  • Grunkle Stan of Gravity Falls lives by these rules. When Mabel asked if putting fake inspection certificates on his Crappy Carnival's rides was legal, he replied, "When there's no cops around, anything's legal!"
  • The Loud House: In "Driver's Dread", Leni decides to take a driving test while having the family van, Vanzilla, equipped with a self-driving device created by Child Prodigy Lisa. She uses the device during the test, and not only does the proctor never notice this, but Leni ends up passing the test with flying colors.
  • In Winx Club, the Cloud Tower School for Witches allows its students to cause trouble for other schools as long as they are not caught out.

  • CX Debate has what are called "diet cards" or "Skinny arguments". Some arguments with the exact same evidence are used so commonly that people often don't "flow"note  and simply write an abbreviation when they are used, and often take the time to prepare their own argument when they are being read. A diet card has the reader read off a card that is highlighted even less than a normal one, often to the point it doesn't make an actual argument. The hope is that the judge and opposition won't catch this (and they usually don't) and treat it as though they read the full argument. Since the One Stat to Rule Them All in CX debate is the ability to make arguments and present evidence faster than your opponent can counter them, being able to shave a few seconds off an argument is a huge advantage.

    Real Life 
  • Sparta liked this trope:
    • As a rite of passage The Spartan Way, each Spartan boy would be denied enough food to survive, forcing them to steal from the Helots. Stealing was still illegal, however, so if the boy was careless enough to get caught, he would be punished mercilessly. One story goes that a boy who stole a fox cub and hid it under his tunic got caught and denied doing anything, even as the fox woke up and started chewing his way out. Not through the tunic.
    • For soldiers, the same applied to having sex with your wife — the men lived together in barracks and were "forbidden" to go home. The idea was that if you had to break the rules to sleep with your wife, you'd take it a lot more seriously. Sparta always needed more sons.
  • Smuggling was notorious for this in the Early Modern era, to the point that the original "tea party" was in response to a tariff cut putting American smugglers out of a job. The larger problem came from the tariff exemption granted to the East India Company, a corporation owned by the crown and nobility. Because their tea wasn't taxed, they could set up tea houses in the colonies that could undercut the Colonial tea houses and drive them out of business. While smugglers lost their jobs, they didn't generally live in the colonies full time... but the local business owners and their employees did, and their discontent led to the Boston Tea Party. It is nevertheless a historical irony that the tea dumped into the harbor was dumped because it was not taxed. Especially ironic that modern anti-tax activists named their movement after it.
  • Two of the unwritten rules for special forces (read: commando) groups are "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying", and "if you're caught cheating, maybe you're not special forces material." For example, there will usually be some point where a commando will be ordered to report to a distant base, but not given any transportation (or, for that matter, a pass to leave the base they're currently at). It's up to the special forces guy to find a way to get there — following their orders, but against military regulations.
  • In the year 1000, the nation of Iceland officially converted to Christianity. While the transition was smooth and surprisingly bloodless, worshiping the old gods was still allowed as long as it was done in secret.
    • Many religions established footholds and spread like wildfire only after authorities tried to snuff them out. A number of religious philosophers have actually longed for 'fire' to re-forge their groups' beliefs during periods of prosperity, as peace tends to foster complacency and legalism.
  • The Washington Naval Conference laid down strict limitations on the construction of warships, with the idea of preventing an out-and-out, ruinously expensive battleship arms race (similar to the one Britain and Germany engaged in prior to World War I; the war had barely ended and Britain, the US, and Japan were already in the opening stages of a new three-way arms race, with massive battleship programs planned out that none of them could actually affordnote ). Of course, the nations that didn't wiggle through the loopholes (it's 10,000 tons and it carries 15 fast-firing main guns, but it's still classified as an innocent-sounding and unrestricted "light cruiser" just because the guns are six-inchers) decided "screw tonnage limitations!" and started laying down ships that exceeded the tonnage limitations by 25 to 40%. Special mention goes to the Japanese, who categorically denied Western rumors that they were building forty- to fifty-thousand-ton battleships (when the limit was 35,000 tons). The battleships in question turned out to be the ''Yamato'' class, which weighed in at 65,000 tons. Nobody outside Japan knew their exact weight until after World War II. In fact very few people inside Japan knew either. Even in the Japanese Navy. In 1944, Admiral Takeo Kurita didn't actually know the specifications of Yamato even though it was his own flagship. In postwar interviews, he said that he'd figured the main guns (officially designated as "special type 40cm") were probably actually 45cm (17.7 inch) bore diameter. They were actually 46cm (18.1 inch).
    • Japan was also building 8-inch gun turrets that didn't have ships to go with them, ostensibly as spare parts for their heavy cruisers. In actuality, those 15-gun light cruisers were always intended to have their 6-inchers replaced by 8-inchers as soon as Japan could get away with it, as the turret mounts were of the same size. And those cruisers were also already weighing in at 12,500 tons rather than the official 10,000.
    • Japan also had to scrap some Kongo-class battlecruisers to comply with the treaty. They instead demilitarized them, stripping them of their weapons and armor and used one as the Emperor's personal transport. Only, they had kept the armor and guns, and put them right back on before the war.
    • Similarly, the Italians relied heavily on outright cheating to bypass the treaty but turned out to just not be as good at it as the Japanese. Prior to World War II, other nations' naval officials were astonished at how Italy managed to build cruisers that were a good 50% faster than comparable ships of other nations. It turned out that the way Italy managed that was to send the ships on their shakedown cruises without carrying such minor items as gun turrets, thus making them come in (barely) below the 10,000-ton limit. In actual combat conditions, the added weight from actually carrying weapons meant that Italy's ships, far from the speed demons they seemed to be pre-war, were actually slower than their British and American counterparts.
    • While not subject to the Washington Naval Treaty, Germany initially was under similar restrictions via the Treaty of Versailles. At the end of World War I, Germany was stripped of nearly their entire navy, and allowed to keep only 6 light cruisers and 6 archaic pre-Dreadnought battleships. The battleships could be replaced once they were at least 20 years old, but the replacements were restricted to 10,000 tons displacement. The intention was that Germany would be limited to coastal defense battleship like those of the Scandinavian navies, and definitely not commerce-raiders. Instead, Germany designed the so-called "pocket battleships", designed specifically for commerce raiding, which were basically heavy cruisers except with 11-inch guns (akin to a small battleship, but with only six guns). Oh, and their actual weight was almost 15,000 tons.
    • The British had argued that the treaty tonnage should not include things like boiler water, since this would be an advantage for navies that didn't need long-range ships (such as the Italian navy, who had little interests outside the Medeteranian), while the British navy had to guard an empire that stretched across the globe. They were granted this concession... then introduced a heavy, water-based torpedo defense on the Nelson-class battleships, with a little tap to the boilers so that its weight didn't have to count towards the displacement.
    • Another possible British cheat are the County-class cruisers. Built up to the 10000-ton limit, these ships had very little armor. Most pre-war photos show the ships riding rather high in the water. When war broke out, these ships were given wartime emergency refits of armor. This didn't seem to hinder the ships much, and in fact, they now seemed to ride normally deep, almost as if the ships had been designed with this extra armor in mind.
    • The French found themselves needing more cruisers than the treaty allowed them. Enter the Surcouf, long-ranged and with the 8-inch guns of a heavy cruiser... on a submarine, which was not limited by the treaty.
    • The Americans' turn at cheating their keels off came with the conversion of the Lexington-class battlecruisers into carriers. No matter what they tried, they simply couldn't get the massive Lexington and Saratoga under the limit... so they decided to creatively reinterpret a clause that stated that nations could refit pre-existing ships with anti-torpedo and anti-air defense (which tended to be severely lacking in older ships) by deciding that the unfinished Lexingtons counted as pre-existing ships and so all the anti-air and torpedo defenses being built in counted towards that clause.
    • Amusingly, all the cheating was for naught; aircraft carriers proved to be vastly more important than battleships, which were mostly relegated to escorting said carriers and bombarding shore positions during World War II. To illustrate this point further, there were only two real battleship vs battleship engagements in the entire Pacific Theatre of the war. Incidentally, focusing on aircraft carriers instead of battleships was exactly how the United States got around the treaty.
      • Though aircraft carriers were arguably the most ballsy example of cheating to begin with, the treaty also regulated the total tonnage of carriers each navy could have and it was intended most sides would only get two or three full-sized carriers. However, there was a loophole that if they modified carriers to improve seaworthiness, they could still post them at the original tonnage. Thus, it was tradition to launch carriers in a barely seaworthy state, then subsequently improved them to actually be useful. When that failed, it was custom to outright lie about tonnage. The US was able to use this to eke out enough tonnage to construct five additional fleet carriers on top of their planned two while Japan was able to muster four on their own planned two. Japan also tried to build a fleet of light carriers (which were completely unregulated) to get around this rule, but the loophole was patched after they built one.
  • Some people actually believe that rules and laws in general are meaningless unless enforced, whereby breaking a rule, leaving no evidence that a rule was broken, and not getting caught in the act is as good as obeying that rule. (Unless, of course, the rule/law was put in place because of the long-term consequences of breaking it. Or for your own safety.). Examples are Third World countries where laws are often similar to those in developed nations, but since law enforcement tends to be weak/corrupt, only a minority of offenders are arrested, sometimes selectively.
  • If crimes are viewed as "cheating" at life, this is basically the attitude of most criminals. Especially if their motive is profit rather than revenge or just sociopathy. Not only does a thief risk going to prison, they don't get to keep what they stole, either.note  If they're caught stealing something (or afterward caught possessing the stolen property) it'll be All for Nothing. But there are always criminals who are undeterred by prison time and other punishments because they expect to never get caught.
  • (Unofficial) Core value number 9 of the Singapore Armed Forces: do whatever you want, but don't get caught.
  • "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" basically applied this principle to the law against gays enlisting in the U.S. military. It was still illegal, but it was also against regulations to try to find out about it. Annoyingly enough, it's the "trying to find out about it" side of things that often involved more cheating.
  • Riding public transit trains that use pseudo-random human-conducted fare inspections rather than fare gates without paying: Not illegal unless you get caught. Of course, you have to ask yourself: is a "free ride" worth the risk of paying tens or hundreds of times more than what you would've paid if you simply bought a ticket?
  • Similarly, driving without a license. Nothing stops you from operating a motor vehicle without your license on you (whether because you misplaced it or never earned it in the first place). It's not illegal unless the cops pull you over (because you're speeding, driving unsafely, an accident victim, etc), at which point, have fun.
    • Same goes for driving without auto insurance, which in most countries is required by law. If you don't get caught, nothing will happen. But if you get pulled over by the police and don't have proof of insurance, you'll get ticketed and have to pay a fine. Worse, if you get in a wreck without insurance, not only will you face fines you'll also be required to pay out of your own pocket for the other guy's repairs and medical bills. So ask yourself, is it really worth the risk?
  • As seen in Trading Places, using misappropriated or "insider" information to invest in commodities (as opposed to the stock and bond market) was not illegal at the time, although a government courier could still get in trouble for unauthorized release of government information. In the aftermath of the 2008 recession, the law that changed this, Section 136 of the Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act,note  was enacted in 2010, and informally known as "The Eddie Murphy Rule". The chairman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission specifically referred to the film when first publicly proposing the rule change.
  • China lives by this trope and most times don't even bother with the "get caught" part. This page's opening quote is a core belief of many a modern-day Chinese citizen. A lot of laws over there exist merely as a formality, which brings on the whole gamut of cheating-related problems, ranging from the mundane such as cheating or paying to win on online games without qualms, to the very concerning, such as the country's tendency of producing bootlegs, rioting when cheating on the national exams is forbidden, more food scandals than one can shake a stick at... the list goes on. This is usually justified in that, with a population as large as China's, one literally cannot afford to get on their high horse and not cheat, as that usually means they would starve to death. (India tends to have the same problems and also has a high population, which begs the question of whether or not most discussions around epidemic levels of cheating are ignoring the Elephant in the Living Room.)
  • The sport of speed walking is made of this. The entire concept of the sport is that the athletes must move as fast as possible while always keeping one foot on the ground, as moving where both feet are not touching the ground is running. However, there are as many, if not more rules limiting the actions of the refs (such as standing a certain distance away, must always be standing upright, cannot use cameras or playback the race to find cheaters). Due to this, speed walkers try to cheat as much as possible without being seen by the ref, as even normal speed cameras reveal that for your average speed walker, their feet are not touching the ground 10% of the time.
  • Cliff's Notes and other study guides, both print and online, are frowned upon by academia; students may just read those instead of their assigned texts. Some schools and universities have gone far enough to ask bookstores and libraries not to carry these guides; some have even banned their use by students completely. Understandably, this is difficult, if not outright impossible, to enforce.