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Playing Both Sides

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Spy vs.    Spy   … vs. Spy.
Storm Shadow: So why do you keep [the mask]?
James McCullen: So that I never forget the most important rule in dealing arms.
The Baroness: Let me guess: 'Never sell to both sides'?
James McCullen: Never get caught selling to both sides.

In any war, there are those that will benefit from the fighting and destruction that it causes. This trope is about when somebody realises this and dupes or manipulates a couple of different groups into fighting each other so that they can turn the chaotic scenario to their advantage.

They could be plotting to take over one of the factions once the war's finished. They could be trying to wipe out both factions. They could be trying to get one side to change from being a neutral party into an ally or perhaps they are trying to use the situation to look good, making the outsider seem like the reasonable party for their involvement in the conflict. Maybe they just want to use the war as a diversion so they can carry out their own plans. There are many ways to benefit, but the crux of the trope is that there is a conflict and somebody has plotted to make that conflict for their own benefit.

Supertrope to Divide and Conquer, which is specifically getting groups to fight to wear each other down so that the plotter can conquer them more easily, and War for Fun and Profit, when someone plans to make money and/or gain amusement from the conflict. Related to the Batman Gambit, since this trope will often rely on some behavior predictions and Flaw Exploitation and the Kansas City Shuffle because such a plan is very dependent on misdirection. If the planner can still benefit by the misdirection failing, then it could be a Xanatos Gambit.

This is a risky Evil Plan to attempt, but not without backup perks. Should one side realize they're being played, they could turn against the manipulator, who in turn could "ally" himself with the remaining side for safety purposes. It would also continue to perpetuate the conflict while the manipulator prepares to reap the rewards (best-case scenario) or get out of dodge (bad scenario).

An even rarer collapse involves both sides catching on and deciding that life would be better without the manipulator. This worst-case scenario is usually solved with the manipulator getting as far away from the now-incensed ex-pawns as possible, if such a possibility is available. If not, the manipulator will likely succumb to the temptation to cancel their own subscription to life.

If a leadership of both sides is Playing Both Sides, that's Running Both Sides.

Overlaps with False Flag Operation.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Turns out to (maybe) be the case with Kiyomi Azumabito and the nation of Hizuru, where Mikasa's mother's family is from in Attack on Titan. Appears to apply to Zeke Yeager too, but his loyalty is still up in the air.
  • The plot of the Digimon Frontier movie was this. The villain started a race war to get humanoid Digimon to fight animalistic Digimon to unseal an evil in a can. Notably, the villain was able to pose as the leaders of both military factions.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Kazudo Gouda plays both sides to incite rebellion in the refugee population of Japan and overthrow the Japanese Government. People would be brainwashed into suicide terrorist attacks on the refugee, then the phenomenon of "Blame the victim" would be stirred up in the main population to bring up resentment against the refugees. Eventually the refugees would be tricked into making an attack to cause the government to hit back and shift to an isolationist and militaristic policy.
  • Gundam:
    • Anaheim Electronics from the Universal Century timeline is a milder example; they don't try to start wars, but they're more than willing to sell their mobile suits to both sides in a conflict, regardless of any sort of moral complication (like say, the fact that the people they're selling to want to kill half the human population). A prime example of this comes in Gundam 0083: Anaheim builds three Gundams for the Earth Federation, then gladly sells the fourth (modified to look like a Zeon MS) to the Delaz Fleet after the Federation passes on buying it. A partial justification comes in the background info, which says Anaheim absorbed Zeon's old MS development firms after the One Year War, and thus has many members who are still loyal. This attitude of theirs is a major reason the Federation eventually creates SNRI, their own in-house Mobile Suit production company, so they don't have to rely on Anaheim exclusively, something that eventually backfires, with SNRI defecting to the Zanscare Empire, though it also brought Anaheim Electronics back in favor with them as they're now the ones supplying mobile weapons to the League Militaire.
    • Haman Karn near the end of Zeta Gundam. When Axis Zeon makes a surprise return in the midst of the Gryps Conflict, both the AEUG and Titans try to get her to join their side. She ends up playing the two against one another so that they'll wipe each other out, leaving Axis as the dominant power in space. It works (the Titans are annihilated almost to the last man and the AEUG is reduced to a single ship), which leads to the events of Gundam ZZ.
    • Rau Le Creuset of Gundam SEED plays both the Earth Sphere Alliance and ZAFT against each other in the hopes of ending the world.
  • Macross Delta: The Epsilon Corporation sells material and intelligence to both Xaos and Windermere, and are brazen enough to openly admit it (they've covered their asses with legal loopholes ensuring they aren't technically breaking any laws). They didn't start the conflict, but they are more than happy to take each side's business. Ultimately, they betray Windermere and throw their support behind the New UN... not for any moral reason, but simply because if Windermere succeeds in unifying the entire galaxy into a psychically enslaved Hive Mind, that would be bad for their business.
  • One Piece:
    • Crocodile manipulates Alabasta into a civil war, first by having his Baroque Works agents discredit the king, and then supplying the rebels with weapons. Furthermore, he has agents in both royal and rebel army to keep the fighting going, all so he can wipe out both sides during the main battle, planning to take over in the aftermath.
    • The Paramount War was instigated by Blackbeard turning over Portgas D. Ace to the World Government, as he knows that Ace's captain Whitebeard is A Father to His Men and will wage war to get him back. While the Navy is preparing for Whitebeard's attack, he sneaks into Impel Down to recruit its worst prisoners, and then shows himself at the War after both sides have apparently worn themselves down enough for him to swoop in and kill Whitebeard and steal his Devil Fruit power.
  • Queen Millennia: It becomes quickly apparent that Yayoi does a lot of things in Earth's favor instead of La-Metal's while doing as ordered when she can. Turns out this was expected and Yayoi has to resort to a full rebellion.
  • Bahbem was playing both sides of the Human/Mulian conflict in RahXephon. He helped the Mu develop their Dolems and find ways to work around the dimensional barrier, whilst also setting up TERRA to fight off any Mulian incursions. He didn't really care which side won, as long as it created an environment that would get the RahXephon to activate.
  • In the second half of SD Gundam Force, we learn that Deathscythe the Knight of Darkness was manipulating both the Dark Axis and the Royal Knights during the invasion of Lacroa.
  • In the anime version of Soul Eater, Medusa resurrects the Kishin Asura, who then is coaxed into helping Arachne. Medusa then sells Asura's location to the DWMA, so that the two sides will fight and weaken each other without her lifting a finger. Played with when Eruka later points out that both sides were so powerful that Medusa never stood a chance against either, though Medusa was certainly hoping they'd manage to wipe each other out entirely.
  • Transformers: Armada: Sideways, working for Unicron, who is manipulating the conflict between the Autobots and Decepticons in order to encourage the hatred and anger of both parties so that Unicron can feed on it and become reborn. The Mini-Cons themselves, supposedly the all-powerful MacGuffins of the series, were specifically created so that the Transformers would fight over them.

    Comic Books 
  • One of Batman's Gambit Roulettes blew up in his face when Stephanie Brown tried to implement it to prove herself after he fired her as Robin. This led to the Batman: War Games storyline, wherein Gotham City was consumed in a Mob War that set almost all the city's gangs against one another (Batman's plan would have involved him taking part as his criminal alias Matches Malone, but Stephanie was unaware of this identity so set up the plan without Malone to mitigate the damage). The only crime boss to stay out of the fighting was Black Mask, who fanned the flames until most of his competition had exhausted themselves, leaving him to strike and unite all of Gotham's gangs under his own leadership.
  • Family: Al is working for both current Don Gio and his rival Cane to turn them against each other, as his old partner Silver had promised Al that he would become boss of the Odysseus Family once both Gio and Cane were out of the way. Turns out Silver didn't want anymore family, period.
  • Fantastic Four: Doctor Doom had one where he manipulated Slovakia and an Aesir worshipping country into a tense state. He then exacerbated things by splitting allegiances within the Avengers on the issue; Thor took the side of his worshippers and the others felt this was wrong of him and sought to oppose him. Then Doom gave Slovakia weapons to attack the other country but then used this as a pretext for his country, Latvaria which neighboured the other two, to intervene (i.e. invade) since the Avengers could not do so unbiasedly.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics): During the lead-up to the "Enerjak Reborn" Arc, Dr. Finitevus played both sides of the Dark Legion Civil War against each other in order to test which of Dimitri's descendants would be worthy to become the new Enerjak.
  • Happens a couple of times in Spy vs. Spy. The Grey Spy would often sucker White Spy and Black Spy into fighting each other, sometimes over her affections, and usually profit from it by either offing both of them, stealing the MacGuffin out from under their noses, or swindling them both with shoddy war materials.
  • Transformers fiction features the aptly named Doubledealer, a mercenary who hires himself out (discreetly) to both sides of the war so as to benefit himself. He has no real loyalties beyond self-interest—if he can make money or advance himself through a given mission, he'll do it. His IDW version escalates it to Chronic Backstabbing Disorder—it finally gets him killed when Hot Rod figures him out.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Ares' acts as a spy for both sides when his sister decides to overthrow the throne of Olympus, allowing him to ultimately choose to throw in with Athena in the end when his uncles and father were in the process of killing Diana (Ares' granddaughter whose life he values despite their antagonistic relationship) right in front of him.

    Fan Works 
  • Digimon Adventure 02: The Story We Never Told reveals during Chapter 64 that this is the case with Oikawain addition to brainwashing Ken into the Digimon Emperor and aiding Dragomon, he also created the Digi-Armors and D3s in order to make new Digidestined to counterbalance them, all while unwittingly draining data from the Digital World for his own goals.
  • In Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters, it's quickly established after his first appearance that Charles Ludmoore is doing this with the Meridian civil war. Not only is he an officially neutral figure who provides information and materials to both sides (for a price), but his two brothers are acting as his moles within both Phobos' court and the Rebellion's leadership, manipulating them all along a long-term plan.
  • In the Invader Zim fic Lucky to Be Related, Gaz plays Zim's ego and lack of knowledge about Saint Patrick's Day traditions against Dib's paranoia (about Zim in general and the holiday's supposed leprechaun curses specifically) in order to manipulate them into unwittingly enacting a cosplay fight she can film to win an online contest.
  • Ripples: After the Civil War breaks out on Meridian, Will/Van encourages her friend Tegus (who has since become a mercenary) to do this, making himself invaluable to both sides, ensuring that neither will ever betray him, for fear of him selling them out completely to the other.
  • The Supermen: Wesker is doing this to play the Justice League, the 1000, and the League of Assassins against each other.
  • In With Strings Attached, John lures a whole bunch of skahs warriors to the Abandoned Warehouse where the Uneasy Alliance of Brox and Co. and the Raleka wizards have stashed the Vasyn. The skahs promptly attack the Raleka guarding the warehouse in an attempt to get in, and the resultant chaos on the ground allows John and Ringo to make the attempt to sneak in via the roof.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • In Blue Thunder, the heroes discover a conspiracy inside the U.S. government to stir up problems in the Los Angeles barrios by inciting racial tension between whites and Hispanics. They intend to prove the value of the title helicopter by using it to suppress the resulting violence.
  • Mentioned in GI Joe The Rise Of Cobra, when James McCullen discusses his ancestor who was locked in an iron facemask after being convicted of selling weapons to both sides (which we actually saw in the film's prologue).
  • In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, as it turns out Plutarch Heavensbee has been playing Presidents Snow and Coin against each other, all in his efforts to bring real democracy to Panem. Katniss is his ace in the hole.
  • Common in many of the James Bond movies. For example:
    • The core of Ernst Stavro Blofeld's Evil Plan is to pit powerful countries against each other so they'll wear themselves down, enabling SPECTRE to strike at the right time, often for War for Fun and Profit through elaborate False Flag Operations and Batman Gambits. In fact, SPECTRE offers its mercenary service to anyone willing to pay for them.
      • Blofeld's plan in From Russia with Love is to stage an elaborate revenge scheme against 007 for the death of Dr. No by stealing the LEKTOR cryptographic device from the Russians. Bond will be assigned to recover the device, where SPECTRE's hired assassin Red Grant, will kill Bond. They will then leak compromising photos of Bond and the Russian pawn, Tatiana Romanova, to the press and then sell the device back to the Russians, with neither the British nor the Russians knowing that this was set up by Blofeld.
      • Thunderball: The SPECTRE board meeting shows them distributing Red Chinese narcotics in the US while simultaneously killing an antimatter specialist who defected to Russia on behalf of the French Foreign Ministry.
      • SPECTRE's plan in You Only Live Twice is to start a conflict between the US and USSR by stealing each country's space capsules and then blaming the other.
      • Spectre: Blofeld masterminds a series of terrorist attacks in order to trick the governments of the world into setting up a joint intelligence and surveillance sharing network... which, thanks to his moles, he'll have total access to, allowing SPECTRE to permanently stay one step ahead of the law.
    • Karl Stromberg's plan in The Spy Who Loved Me is to start a nuclear conflict between the US and USSR by stealing each country's submarines, then blaming each other by making the stolen submarines attack their opposite countries.
    • Georgi Koskov's plan in The Living Daylights is to get the British and Soviet intelligence agencies to duke it out while he gets away with his embezzlement of Soviet government funds.
    • In Tomorrow Never Dies, this is exactly what Elliot Carver's plan is. He intends to use the impending war between Britain and China to gain exclusive broadcast rights in China for himself, deliberately amping up the tension himself the entire time.
  • In Lord of War, Arms Dealer Simeon Weisz criticizes fellow arms dealer and Villain Protagonist Yuri Orlov for simply selling weapons and not caring about the politics of who he sells to, which frequently involves selling to both sides of a conflict. Weisz likes to see himself as something of a political activist as well as an arms dealer: he sells guns to sides that he wants to see win and which will promote Weisz' pro-America, pro-Israel, pro-Capitalism agenda. Orlov points out that Weisz sold to both sides in the Iran-Iraq War, prompting the latter to reply that he wanted "both sides to lose".
  • Low Tide: Alan accuses Smitty of playing both sides, almost word for word. Smitty ratted Red out to the cops to stay out of jail but continues to suck up to Red whenever it will advantage him.
  • Lucky Number Slevin turns a gang warfare into a full-blown Kansas City Shuffle.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Iron Man 3, Killian intends to do this with The War on Terror: if he controls both the world's greatest terrorist (the Mandarin) and the world's greatest superpower (the USA through its vice-president and soon to be president), he effectively controls war and can make a lot of money.
    • Captain America: The Winter Soldier establishes HYDRA as past masters at this, orchestrating the Cold War and the War on Terror in order to achieve world domination by showing mankind The Evils of Free Will, eventually leading to S.H.I.E.L.D. being effectively dismantled and discredited and a small organisation under Coulson that is constantly hounded by the authorities.
  • Tom Reagan in Miller's Crossing plays both sides in a mob war in order to make sure his boss comes out on top. It works. This is rather common in film noir, largely thanks to Dashiell Hammett's works Red Harvest and The Glass Key, which inspired Miller's Crossing and Brick, among others.
  • The Clone War in the Star Wars prequel trilogy has this at the core of its Evil Plan. The early stages of the conflict get Naboo's ambassador to the Senate, Palpatine, made into its new Chancellor. Then the escalation prompts the Senate to give Palpatine emergency powers to deal with the Separatists. Of course, should he fail to do so, it's no skin off his back as he's leader of the Separatists too.
    • Star Wars: The Clone Wars revealed that most of the giant corporations such as the Trade Federation and the Banking clan were openly supporting both sides of the conflict, using some Republic trade laws to provide funds and battle droids to the Separatists while still maintaining their Republic Senate seats and influence.
    • The spaceship that DJ steals in Star Wars: The Last Jedi belonged to Korfé Bennux-Ai, an arms dealer who sold Space Fighters to both the Resistance and the First Order.
  • In X-Men: First Class, Sebastian Shaw cunningly manipulates both the USA and the USSR, exploiting the vices and vanity of their military elite to provoke World War III.
  • Yojimbo: This Akira Kurosawa film, one of the most classic examples of this plot, involves a wandering ronin who, coming across a town dominated by two rival criminal factions, engineers an Enemy Civil War between them, at least partially for kicks. the film inspired a number of remakes:

  • In the Age of Fire series, Wistala does this with the Wheel of Fire dwarves (who betrayed and killed her family) and Thane Hammar (who killed her Parental Substitute). First, she gains the confidence of the dwarf king Gobold Fangbreaker, and then talks him into setting up a diplomatic meeting with the thane. Then she and her friends spread rumors on each side that the other is planning betrayal, leading to a conflict that results in open war between the thane's forces and the dwarves, during which she leaks vital strategic information to Hammar, leading to massive dwarf losses and a siege of their city. Finally, she sabotages the dwarves' defenses, leading to a massive free-for-all in their city, during which she kills Fangbreaker and leaves Hammar at the mercy of the dwarves.
  • In Neil Gaiman's American Gods, the Batman Gambit Odin and Loki have been working on together is to goad the home-grown modern gods into fighting the immigrant gods to the death, so both Odin and Loki could feed off ensuing battle.
  • Asian Saga: In Noble House, one of the major plot elements is American broker Lincoln Bartlett and his attempt to break the stranglehold of British Hong Kong-based traders on the East Asia trade by playing the newly ascended tai-pan of Struan Trading, Ian Dunross, against his ancestral enemy Quillan Gornt. Both Dunross and Gornt are well aware of what he's doing, and Dunross states outright that Bartlett would be a complete idiot to not at least give it the old college try.
  • In David Edding's The Belgariad, Nyissa attempts to do this. They feel threatened by the impending war between the super powers on either side of them, and so try to keep in the good books of both sides in order to switch to the winning team and therefore survive.
  • Comrade Death, a short story by Gerald Kersh, features an Arms Dealer who specializes in this. There are two separate scenes of him selling weapons to one nation only to turn around and sell countermeasures to their enemy immediately after. Ultimately, his company becomes a monopoly and wars fought are entirely supplied by him.
  • The Demolished Man: Ben Reich, the Villain Protagonist, funds both muggle anti-Esper extremists as well as the more extremist Espers, who want to rule over normal humans. Reich does this because human/Esper cooperation (especially in law enforcement) is a threat to him.
  • Dread Empire The Star Rider disguised himself as an angel and inspired El Murid to start a new religion, overthrow the monarchy and wage war against West. At the same time he manipulated Haroun bin Yousif to fight for the throne and lead the royalist faction, which resulted in a bloody, decades-long civil war.
  • The Dresden Files: Among the Fallen Angels who were banished to Hell by God is one named Lasciel. She holds the monikers Seducer, Temptress, and Webweaver. Her damnation wasn't from siding with Lucifer in his War for Heaven, but rather she played both sides. When God finished with Lucifer, He wasn't amused by Lasciel's machinations and kicked her out too. One of the reasons for her continued anger is all her plots went south.
  • Caleb Trask, in East of Eden took part with his businessman friend Will in war profiteering, buying beans for two cents a pound over fair market value, establishing a monopoly, then selling those beans for more than ten cents a pound over market value several weeks later in the heat of World War I.
  • In the Erebus Sequence, Dino discovers that letters of "advice" from a mysterious Lord Erebus are being received by both the traditionalists and the reformists. The escalation of conflict is largely due to Erebus warning each one about what the other is allegedly plotting.
  • Good Omens:
    • The Witchfinder's Army stumbled into this. Both Heaven and Hell support them, Heaven because it persecutes witches, and Hell because persecuting innocent people is a sin. Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell doesn't know that Crowley the sunglass-wearing mafia man is a demon, nor that Mr. Fell the bookshop owner is the angel Aziraphale, and despite being close friends, Crowley and Aziraphale don't know that they regularly send money to the same groups.
    • When Aziraphale and Crowley decide to share which political leaders are working with them, they discover that three names (out of five on Azriaphale's side and six on Crowley's) are on both lists. Crowley says this just confirms what he's always said about humans.
  • In the Hammer's Slammers novel The Sharp End, a survey team from the titular mercenary regiment goes to a planet run by two competing drug cartels to evaluate them as potential clients. Instead they find a Wretched Hive torn apart by both gangs' drug-addled "soldiers" and are so disgusted that they decide to manipulate the two into wiping each other out before the company can mobilize. "Helping" both sides with covert raids and exacerbating the situation until one gang manages to kill the leaders of the other, and the Slammers team kills their leaders in turn. Then the Cartel they were supposed to be exporting to gets sick of their fighting and brings in a rival mercenary regiment. But then it turns out that the government of the planet hired Hammer's Slammers to clean house.
  • In The Hobbit, Gandalf fools the trolls by imitating their voices to keep them arguing until the sun comes up and turns them to stone.
  • Honor Harrington has Mesa doing this to Manticore and Haven for a variety of reasons. Things are starting to come unravelled as of the latest books though.
  • Jhegaala appears to be inspired by Red Harvest and involves former-assassin Vlad returning to his hometown and finding it a nasty, corrupt place. The two groups responsible for this are a coven of witches and a merchant's guild, and Vlad ultimately plays the two against each other to destroy them both.
  • A major plot twist in The Lost Fleet series is the gradual realisation by the protagonist that the century-long war of attrition his government and their enemy have been fighting has been stage-managed by a third-party with designs on the territory of both. Including sneaking in planet-killing superweapons as a Trojan Horse in the form of the hypernet gates. And nobody would have been any the wiser if not for a fortuitous string of improbable coincidences so unlikely that it's attributed it divine intercession in-universe, which might be true.
  • The title character of Mara, Daughter of the Nile decides to do this when she finds herself being maneuvered into being an agent of two opposing sides. Then she starts Becoming the Mask and everything starts falling apart.
  • Zack, the manipulative main character of The Mental State, winds up being on good terms with both the prison authorities and the inmates. He occasionally has to pit the two sides against each other in order to endear himself to as many people as possible.
  • Skeeve accidentally does this in Myth Adventures, being hired by the Deveels to get the Mob out of their dimension, and also employed by the Mob to run their operations on Deva. This actually works out quite well; as long as they think Skeeve is "representing their interests", the Mob doesn't interfere, so they are effectively kept out of Deva.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy. The cabal who secretly rule Earth are sponsoring organized crime — in the form of the ultra-violent "Light Bringer" cults — both as a means of control from below and to increase the number of criminals they can deport from an overpopulated Earth to work as forced labour on offworld colonies. It's noted that this kind of thing has been tried before but tends not to work (criminals by definition are not people who obey the orders of the government) but now the government can use bitek to enforce compliance in their agents.
  • Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest, which was an indirect inspiration for Yojimbo.
  • The Gentleman from Adam-Troy Castro's Spider-Man: Sinister Six Trilogy has spent most of his life doing this, calling himself an investor in chaos.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: This is Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish's preferred modus operandi. As the series progresses and it becomes clear that there are a lot more than two "sides" involved, it's more like he's trying to engineer the whole war to be one grand Xanatos Gambit.
  • In Star Trek: Enterprise Relaunch novels, the Orions are playing both sides of the Saurian conflict. They openly support the xenophobic dictator (while manipulating him into doing things against his own interests), but are secretly also still supporting an isolationist faction that has publically cut ties with them and joined forces with the rebels.
  • The Sum of All Fears contains a plot of this sort in both book and movie form.
  • #9 of The Thirty Six Stratagems is practically this.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Byerly Vorrutyer in A Civil Campaign is conspiring with both the Richars camp and the Dono camp in the struggle for who inherits the Vorrutyer Countship, and telling each side that he's their spy in the enemy camp. Whose side he's really on doesn't really become clear until the end. He actually works for Imperial Security.
    • In The Vor Game, the vampish Commander Cavilo is obviously playing all sides against each other, and sends Miles back to the Dendarii fleet in the belief that he'll do the same with the pro- and anti-Miles factions within the command structure there. Miles has trouble figuring out who Cavilo is really working for; he discovers that it was going to be the Cetagandans, but in the end, she's really only in it for herself.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Tony Almeida does this in the seventh season of 24 by first working with the heroes and later the villains all in his attempt to get close to the season's Big Bad and kill him in revenge.
  • When Blake's 7 try to get the help of organised crime group Terra Nostra in their fight against the Terran Federation, they discover that the Federation is secretly running that organisation as well, in order to run things from both the top and the bottom of society.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 4, the part-man, part-demon, part-robot Adam incites violence between soldiers and demons in order to get a big pile of body parts for making more monsters like himself.
  • In the Community episode "Pillows and Blankets", Jeff gives a Rousing Speech to one side of the conflict that lifts their morale and prompts them to go on fighting. We then find out that he gave the same speech to the other side. As long as the conflict is going on, classes are suspended and Jeff does not have to do any schoolwork.
  • Criminal Minds once featured a Charles Manson-expy who intended to spark a race war between Caucasians and Native Americans.
  • In the Doctor Who serial "Frontier in Space", the Daleks exacerbate tensions between Earth and the Draconians, hoping to spark a war that will weaken both sides and allow the Daleks to conquer both empires.
  • In Dominion, Uriel appears to be doing this with Michael and Gabriel, as she promises both individually that she'll fight on his side during the coming war. The first season finale reveals that she actually intends to use The Chosen One to destroy both of them, as she believes that that is the only way to stop all the fighting. Then she's killed offscreen in the Season 2 premiere, cutting this plot short.
  • Farscape: In season 4, Crichton and his shipmates incite a riot between the techs (Kalish) and soldiers (Charrids) of the bad guys (Scarrans) to cover their escape.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Manipulative Bastard extraordinaire Varys seems to be playing absolutely everyone in his pursuit to be doing the good of the Realm. Tyrion hangs a lampshade when he discusses his work with Daenerys suggesting that he had subtly been in charge of the assassination attempts for Robert while also undermining it at the same time.
    • Deconstructed to an extent with Cersei in Season 7. Rather than help the Northerner/Targaryean alliance in the battle against the Night King and his undead army, she decides to let them fight and destroy each other and stay safe in the south. Jaime rightfully calls this decision stupid, neither outcome will bode well for her - should the Stark/Targaryen alliance win, they'll rightfully be pissed at how the Lannisters abandoned them; should the Night King and his forces win, they'll just march on over to King's Landing and zombify everyone.
    • The Iron Bank of Braavos ends up funding multiple sides of the various conflicts. They were reluctant to send money to causes they thought were doomed to failure, such as Stannis' claim to the throne when he only had 4,000 troops and 32 ships from an island that couldn't grow any food, but they tended to be persuaded one way or another.
  • The Gilded Age: Ward McAllister is an Old Money gentleman and a close friend of Mrs. Astor, the matriarch of the New York elite. However, he quickly strikes up a friendship with the Nouveau Riche interloper Bertha Russell and plays both sides, providing intelligence to Bertha while still throwing his public support to Astor.
  • In the finale of the first season of The Inside Man, "Checkmate," Mark Shepherd and AJ reveal to Mark's handler that they learned he's actually playing multiple sides, offering bids to four different bidders for information they thought was exclusively being offered to them.
    AJ: Yeeeah, but they're probably cool with it. I mean, it's just a bit of backstabbing between thieves, right, Maurice?
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:
    • When Frank plans to retire and his kids Dennis, Dee and Charlie fight over who will inherit the bar, Mac decides to play both sides so he'll stay manager either way. He tells Dennis, Dee and Charlie this at every opportunity.
    • In The Gang Makes Paddy's Great Again, the hustle of the episode involves deliberately inciting political outrage on both sides of the spectrum so that they can sell inflammatory merchandise to everyone.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • In Kamen Rider Wizard, the entire series turns out to be a case of this. While the Phantoms' leader Wiseman and the White Wizard who acts as Wizard's Mysterious Benefactor seem to have opposing goals, about midway through the series it turns out that they're both the same person, a researcher named Sou Fueki. He wants the Phantoms to try to reproduce because every once in a rare while, the Victim of the Week will fight back and develop magic powers — and he needs four magic-users to sacrifice for his ultimate goal of resurrecting his deceased daughter Koyomi.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim: DJ Sagara first appears as an employee of the Yggdrasill Corporation and later resurfaces on the side of the Overlords of Helheim Forest. It turns out towards the end that his true allegiance is with neither, he's the embodiment of Helheim Forest itself and was using both to find a new candidate to become Overlord of Helheim.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid has Kuroto Dan, who generously provides the Riders of the series with the Gamer Driver and Rider Gashats so they can fight against the Bugsters...beings he helped create and that he assists as Kamen Rider Gemn, the Evil Counterpart to the titular Rider.
    • Kamen Rider Build: Juzaburo Namba and Blood Stalk give their aid to all the competing factions for the Pandora Box, with Namba selling Guardians and other military supplies to the governments of Touto, Hokuto and Seito, and Stalk even lending the heroes a bit of help from time to time, but it's only as part of plan to trigger a Civil War in Japan that Namba and Stalk can use to advance their goals. Namba eventually discovers that he too is one of the people Stalk is playing for his own ends.
    • Kamen Rider Zi-O: Swartz is the one who manipulated Sougo into becoming Ohma Zi-O in the Bad Future. The Time Jackers, whose goal is to find a candidate to supplant Sougo by creating Another Riders, turn out to be pawns Swartz is using to create enemies for Sougo to fight and thus guide him into becoming the demon king.
    • Kamen Rider Zero-One has Gai Amatsu, who created technology for the group AIMS to use to fight against Magia...which, again, he helped create in the first place.
    • In Kamen Rider Saber, Master Logos is the leader of the heroic Sword of Logos while Storious is the boss of the villainous Megid. The two are in an alliance, which doesn't spell good for their subordinates on either side.
  • In the Modern Family episode "The Last Walt", Haley asks Gloria if she can have a pool party at their house. She overcomes Gloria's resistance by saying she'll have "her uncle" chaperone. Gloria's son Manny, who technically is Haley's uncle even though he's younger than her, only finds out he's the chaperone when the party starts.
  • For a short time during Power Rangers S.P.D., Piggy plays three sides: SPD, Gruumm, and Broodwing. After helping Grumm capture the rangers, he has a Heel Realization and decides to help them escape and Save the World.
  • In Supernatural's season 7 finale, Crowley plays the Winchesters and Dick Roman against each other, ensuring that he's the season's only true victor. It works; by the time the finale's over, Roman's dead, and the Winchesters are divided and powerless.
  • Survivor: An effective, but tricky, strategy is to float between multiple large alliances. Done well, this gives the person in the middle a lot of leverage, but if done poorly, the player in question will effectively lose the game due to a lack of trust. Notable players to have pulled off this strategy include Rob Cesternino of The Amazon, Jonny Fairplay of Pearl Islands, and Tony Vlachos of Cagayan.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look had a hilarious sketch where a secret agent confronts a supervillain in a casino (guided by two guys in a van by earpiece), each using progressively worse puns and comebacks. Only when they use the same one do they realize that the van guys are getting money from both sides for the same job.
  • The X-Files: In the episode "Kill Switch", the AI sets up two rival drug gangs to have a shootout in order to kill the real target, the hacker trying to get at the AI — and that's the AI's sense of humor.

  • Mr. Lamb in The Men from the Ministry episode "Bringing the House Down" accidentally pulls this off by first helping his secretary Mildred fight against City Council's attempt to re-house their family (since they want to clear the entire street and build a new office building in it's place) and then helping the City Council to force a stubborn family to leave. He never makes the connection because his focus on cleaning the department office as well as his general idiocy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech:
    • Michael Hasek-Davion tried this, attempting to play his brother-in-law (and liege lord) Hanse Davion against a nearby opposing House Lord, Maximillian Liao. Unfortunately for Michael, Hanse is a Magnificent Bastard, Maximillian Liao is The Paranoiac, and Michael himself vastly overestimates his own competence in the area of double-crossing. Hanse manages to quadruple-cross everyone involved by leaking proof of Michael's intent to double-cross Liao to Liao, leading to a furious Liao having Michael shot for his treachery.
    • Comstar is infamous for doing this constantly to advance their own agendas. Playing the Inner Sphere House Lords against each other. Playing divisive factions within the Great Houses against their own House Lords. Playing the Periphery against the Inner Sphere. Playing the Clans against the Inner Sphere. Playing the Inner Sphere against the Clans. Arguably the only time they stopped and did something altruistically was when they realized that the Clans intended to invade Terra—Comstar's primary world—and could only be halted by force, leading to the Battle of Tukayyid, where Comstar fought on behalf of the rest of the Inner Sphere.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, Jace Beleren was roped into such a scheme as a teenager: he was taken in by the sphinx Alhammarret due to his huge psychic potential to aid the former in his duties as an arbiter of peace. However, after being sent on his "first" mission to read the minds of an army's command structure supposedly to aid in this, he found to his shock a memory of one of the officers receiving intel from Jace: Alhammarret had been sending him to sell intel between both sides this whole time and wiping his memory immediately afterwards. Naturally Jace wasn't very happy about this.
  • In the Planescape setting, there is the Blood War: an eternal war between demons and devils, each striving to define the true nature of evil. Between them sit the yugoloths, who constantly play both sides. And both sides know they're being played, but neither can afford to spurn the yugoloths because to do so would tilt the war against them.
    • There's also a conspiracy based out of Sigil which tries to keep the war running so neither side has time to turn their attentions on anyone else. They forge and ship countless weapons to both sides of the Blood War, and a couple published adventures use them as a hook or convenient plot device. This conspiracy is run by a trio of celestials.
  • The Followers of Set do this a lot in Vampire: The Masquerade. Because of a mix of ideology and pragmatism, Setites prefer to stay out of the fighting between the Camarilla and the Sabbat, except when it comes to making backroom deals for supplies and secrets. Arguably the best part for them is how few Kindred would willingly admit to dealing with the serpents, so they don't get a lot of flack for their double-dealing.
  • Chaos God Tzeentch from Warhammer 40,000 definitely qualifies. Although all 4 Chaos gods want to destroy the Imperium, enslave all life, and so on, Tzeentch will often hatch schemes through his followers, then betray said followers. Just because it's fun. Tzeentch's plans are even engineered to fail so that another plan can take its place, just so he won't be left the final victor with nothing to do.
    • Genestealer cults too: They usually infiltrate and manipulate both the government and dissident groups to cause a continuous world-wide civil war until the hive-fleet arrives.

  • In King Lear, after Cornwall has been wounded and dies, Edmund seizes the title of Earl of Gloucester from his father whom he defrauded and had blinded. Goneril finds Edmund more desirable than her current husband the Duke of Albany, and the recently widowed Regan finds Edmund more convenient for her than Goneril. As Edmund is torn between Regan and Goneril, he contemplates whether to choose Regan or Goneril, or take the kingdom for himself.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • At the end of Assassin's Creed, Robert de Sable finds himself with the advantageous position of being able to convince both his Crusader brothers and the Holy Land defenders, the Saladin's Saracens, that they need to group together and deal with the Assassin brotherhood, as Altaïr has been assassinating key people in both. However this plan gets snuffed when Altaïr addresses King Richard directly at Arsuf and calls out de Sable's plan, to which Richard actually acknowledges Altaïr's claims and allows God to sort out whose position is correct by pitting de Sable against Altaïr in armed combat, to which Altaïr obviously wins.
    • Assassin's Creed: Valhalla has this happen at the end of the vanilla campaign after Eivor, having finally cleared up every last Order of the Ancient member, conquered every territory in England and went to Yggdrasil and dealt with Basim/Loki with Sigurd, finds out just who the Poor-Fellow Soldier of Christ is that's fed them and Hytham information on the Order. It's King Aelfred, who's revealed to be The Father, the final member of the Order and instead of being killed, he gives Eivor his Order medal to show that the Order of the Ancients is dead and over with. In fact, he's going to build something better and stronger that doesn't rely on worshipping pagan gods like the Isu.
  • The "Clan War" questline in Borderlands 2 has the player doing this with the feuding Zaford and Hodunk families at Ellie's behest. Marcus apparently does this pretty regularly too, providing both sides of a given conflict with weapons; hidden ECHO recordings in the Bloodshot Stronghold reveal an attempt with the Bloodshot bandit clan and the Crimson Raiders, along with the fact that he also has the audio version of a form letter prepared for it.
  • Bully has Gary orchestrating a massive, all-out brawl with simultaneous Jocks vs. Nerds and Preps vs. Greasers conflict, which was made possible by his earlier plan to pit the Townies against the Academy kids and frame Jimmy for everything they did. And why? Because he was bored.
  • A rather meta example in Detroit: Become Human, as for a long time the natural flow of the game requires the player to be playing both sides, as one of the player characters is a leader in a budding movement to win rights for androids, while another is at the head of a police investigation into this movement and would arrest or kill the ringleader if he could. In most play throughs, eventually the player will have to essentially pick a side, some which can (but doesn't necessarily have to) result in the other player character now becoming the Final Boss. Some endings show that the company making the androids is more or less attempting to do this as well, as one of their backup plans to deal with the uprising is to have one of their advanced models "defect" and co-opt it from within.
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War allows the player to do this between the WTO and The Order. Turns out to be subverted, because the Illuminati is actually running both sides. Later, the player can play this straight with the Illuminati, the Templars, and Apostle Corp.
    • On a more humoristic note, there is a whole subplot about the ruthless competition between the Pequods and QueeQuegs coffee chains. It is eventually revealed that both chains are secretly owned by the same company, which controls and organize the "coffee war" to make even more money.
  • The Doom series has monsters that are programmed to fight one another if you can get them to either blast/wallop each other or if you splash them and trick them into fighting other demons. This allows a player to clear seemingly impossible scenarios, like the room with the Cyberdemon and 18 Barons of Hell. Additionally, some monsters just plain don't like each other, such as the Baron of Hell and the Cacodaemon, a feud lampshaded in the original Doom.
  • Dragalia Lost has Yoshitsune who is the Leader of the Rooster Wyrmclan, but works with both the Twelve Wyrmclans and the Mukuroshu not for good or evil... but because she hates being immortal and wants to die. She's doing whatever gets her closer to meeting Tsukuyomi.
  • Elohim Eternal: The Babel Code: The Kosmokraters are the secondary gods of the Idinites, but they are not above manipulating the Cainites as well in order to sabotage attempts at peace and exploring Mount Sinai. When Avram teamed up with Cain to open the way to the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kosmokraters promised the Cainites a source of manna if they killed Avram and Cain's alliance, but went back on the deal and ordered the Idinites to avenge Avram, ensuring the Forever War continues.
  • Fallout:
    • Fallout 2: Few encounters are as pleasant as the ones where you meet two groups of gangsters fighting each other. Stay out for the first part, attack one side if it's winning too easily, then wipe out the other side afterwards. Then loot the large number of powerful weapons they drop.
    • Two of the four endings in Fallout: New Vegas revolve around this. When siding with either of the local superpowers, the New California Republic or Caesar's Legion, the player averts this trope. When siding with Mr. House or going rogue, pitting the militarily superior NCR and Legion against each other becomes instrumental. In Mr. House's case, he also wants to make sure that the NCR's defeat is mitigated, as he needs their tourism for his own economy.
    • This trope is completely defied, in the NCR and Legion Routes, as they will soon realize that you are working with the enemy, and will give you an ultimatum, and if you continue working for one, the other will see you as a enemy that has to attack in sight.
  • In Far Cry 2, the Jackal is engineering a conflict between the two rebel factions by selling weapons to both sides. He isn't trying to make money from this, though. He wants the factions to fight each other so that neither of them will attack the country's civilians while he helps them escape.
  • A mission in Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings requires you to do this.
  • In the duology of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, the latter reveals that Zelgius has been playing both sides between the warring nations of Begnion and Daein, being a renowned noble general of the former and the Black Knight of the latter. He has been doing so to deliberately escalate conflict on the continent according to his true master Sephiran's plans.
  • Fuga: Melodies of Steel has the true mastermind be reveled to be the voice on the radio that's been guiding the children all along, as years prior, she spread a story about The Lost God Vanargand among the Berman Empire, with the hopes that someone would research into it enough to validate the possibilities of it being true. That someone turned out to be Shvein Hax, who instigated war against Gasco to finally uncover the Vanargand once and for all and become one with the god as per his childhood dream. Meanwhile, the voice was also the one who guided Malt and the rest of the Petit Mona gang to the Taranis, giving them the means to fight back against the Berman invasion and reclaim their stolen land. All of this so the voice on the radio can instigate a rematch with the Vanargand after failing to kill it back in World War III.
  • In Grand Theft Auto III, Donald Love has the player incite a gang war between the Colombian Cartel and the Yakuza in order to bring down real estate prices. In Vice City, Avery has Tommy do the exact same thing between the Haitians and the Cubans, with Donald taking notes (they even use the same wording).
  • Most Halo games have two or more sets of enemies that will happily fight each other. It is possible to engineer a situation where one side narrowly beats the other, allowing you to mop up the remaining forces.
  • Iji: in several sections, you can take advantage of fighting between Tasen and Komato forces.
  • In Iron Storm, it turns out The Federation and The Empire are both manipulated by an American conglomerate that wants the war to last as long as possible for profit ala Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II on the second visit to Agrabah, Sora calls Iago out on doing this after Iago leads them away from Jafar after Iago tries to make an excuse on why he did it.
    Sora: Iago, you're supposed to be our friend. But you've been playing both sides just to make sure you save yourself.
    Donald: I knew you were still a bad guy!
  • The Kingdom of Loathing "Mysterious Island of Mystery" is inhabited by Frats and Hippies who the Council would like to see wipe each other out in time for the tourist season. Though the Obligatory Pirates remain out of sight during the war you incite, it's possible to get them to strike the finishing blow, bombing them all back to the stone age.
  • This is an important strategy in The Last Federation. The player character is the last Hydral, and has to their name precisely one ship, even if it is a powerful Super Prototype. Any serious destruction is going to involve getting one faction to do something for you against the other faction, and this sort of skulduggery does not prevent going back to the other guys and helping them.
  • Last Scenario and Exit Fate: SCF clearly likes this trope. Both of his freeware RPGs involve it in some fashion.
  • On the Howling Abyss map in League of Legends, the Piltovan merchant at the north end of the bridge will greet both Ashe and Sejuani with "Welcome! The next queen of the Freljord!"
  • In Mercenaries, it's generally a good idea to work for all of the factions, to maximize the amount of money you get and vehicles you can buy. It becomes a careful balancing act once the factions you work for want each other dead.
  • In Modern Warfare 2, General Shepherd deliberately engineers a war between the USA and Russia to make America stronger by giving them an enemy to unite against. He does so in cooperation with the radical Russian terrorist Vladimir Makarov, who expects Russia to win the war instead.
  • Mortal Kombat 11 has this quoted verbatim in RoboCop's Klassic Tower ending. After defeating Kronika, her power washed over RoboCop, removing the limitations his designers had placed on his programming. For the first time, RoboCop saw how corrupt OCP truly was. As it turns out, the entire company was selling weapons to both cops and criminals, making a killing by doing so. RoboCop then vows to bring them to justice, and opts to team up with his new allies from Earthrealm to do so.
    RoboCop: OCP is making a killing playing both sides, selling to cops and criminals. When I get home, I am bringing them to justice.
  • In The Outer Worlds, you can simultaneously help Phineas take down the Board, and accept missions from the Board to hunt down Phineas. Eventually, the player will have to pick one side or the other, but until then, the Board pays quite well. And Phineas is fine with this, as long as you give him a heads up and help him set a trap for the Board before giving them his location.
  • In Paladins, Zhin sides with neither the Paladins or the Magistrate, as he stands to benefit the most from watching both sides kill each other off so that he and the Thousand Hands Guild can take over in the ensuing power vacuum.
  • In Persona 5, it is revealed that the true Big Bad, Yaldabaoth, sponsored the Phantom Thieves and Akechi to see whose salvation plan will work; be it Joker's desire for reformation or Akechi's desire for recreation. It turns out that he wanted neither to succeed and only sponsored them to manipulate public opinion so he could "prove" that what humanity wants is for him to control them.
  • In Red Dead Redemption 2, Dutch's gang attempts to exploit a rivalry between the Grays and the Braithwaites by carrying out jobs for both families. It backfires when the families realize that the strangers who are offering to help them are the same people attacking them later.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse reveals that this was the case in IV. While the apparent main villains of IV were Merkabah and Lucifer, Final reveals that they were actually the two halves of Satan. Satan's boss is YHVH, who was responsible for the war in the IV universes by creating both the Law and Chaos factions.
  • In Silent Storm, when the player first encounters Thor's Hammer, they are supplying the enemy (Allies or Axis, depending on the campaign) with advanced Powered Armor. Then you discover that they're giving those to your side as well. This makes their end-game clear. Cripple both sides, and you can pick up the pieces with technology that neutralizes the Powered Armor advantage.
  • Hilariously done, of all places, in Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage! Every level involves you helping a group of creatures, often against another group of creatures, in exchange for a Talisman. All Spyro really cares about is the Talisman, which he needs to fight the game's Big Bad, so he'll head to the Zephyr stage and help the Land Blubbers fight the Breeze Builders, then swing by Breeze Harbor to help the Breeze Builders prepare their counterattack against the Land Blubbers (or vice-versa).
  • Super Paper Mario: It is eventually revealed that Dimentio had been manipulating both the heroes and Count Bleck throughout the game in order to obtain the Chaos Heart.
  • Tales Series:
    • Zelos does it to all three sides in Tales of Symphonia, although he can pull a Heel–Face Turn depending on story path.
    • The first part of Tales of Vesperia revolves around two villains trying to start a war between the Empire and the Guild Union. Though they war is narrowly averted, the tension between the two factions remains a plot point for the remainder of the game.
  • The Administrator of Team Fortress 2 is revealed to be doing this in the online comics. In the early days when the game had little to no plot, the game already had a female announcer who was only a voice, providing info and giving orders to the players, and the voice was the same no matter which team you were. When the story was expanded via comics, she made a physical appearance based on fan-art, and it's revealed she really is playing both the RED and BLU teams against each other. Her reason for doing so is unknown, though it's implied to have something to do with Australium.
  • The entire plot of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is a massive Xanatos Gambit by Smiling Jack and the Cabbie to pit the various factions in Los Angeles' vampire community (particularly the Camarilla and the Kuei-Jin) against one another and destroy all the people responsible for the city's problems. They achieve this by simply introducing an Apple of Discord in the form of the Ankaran Sarcophagus and spreading rumors that it contains some kind of ancient world-destroying power. What it actually contains is several hundred pounds of C4, rigged to kill whoever tries to open the Sarcophagus following the engineered Enemy Civil War.
  • Wrathion in World of Warcraft allies himself with both the Alliance and the Horde, telling players he supports their side in the conflict, regardless of which faction they belong to. He's not trying to Divide and Conquer them, instead he's worried that an outside enemy is coming, and the Alliance/Horde war has to end.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3: The commanders of the colonies each answer to a Consul, a red-armored masked individual who supposedly speaks directly for the Queen. At the beginning of the game, the trios from both nations realize that the Consuls are all from the same organization, meaning that they are clearly manipulating the war for their own benefit.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • In Season 2 of Red vs. Blue we learn that Vic, the Blue team's contact with Command, also acts the same for the Red team. In The Revelation, it's revealed that there never was a war between Red and Blue; Project Freelancer use the UNSC's worst soldiers as fodder for combat simulations, with the teams unaware of it. Season 14's Origins Episode shows that the Blood Gulch Outpost was set up to hide the Alpha AI, and Vic's job was to keep the Forever War going.
    • The Chorus Trilogy sees the Reds and Blues stranded on the titular planet, which is in the middle of a civil war. As it turns out, the war is a front to a massive False Flag Operation by Charon Industries, who want both sides to kill each other off so they can claim the vast trove of alien relics and technology buried within.

    Web Original 
  • Neopets: In the The Return of Dr. Sloth story event, it's revealed that the war betwwen the purple and orange Grundo's was instigated by the titual Big Bad (with aid from a split-colored Agent Provocateur) to keep the two factions from uniting against him.

  • Buck Godot: Buck does it in multiple arcs. A great one is at the end of the Psmith arc, where he starts off with playing two sides while both of them are standing right next to him. The Psmiths believe him, Der Rock the Destroyer doesn't. Which turns out to be a mistake, since he was being truthful to Der Rock. But that was exactly what Godot was counting on. It ends with him getting paid by Der Rock (since he had done the job he was supposed to) getting paid for the job the Psmiths were supposed to do (but failed to because of Godot trickery) and getting paid for aiding in the capture of Der Rock (without actually betraying him, he got himself captured by not believing Godot.)
  • In Girl Genius Professor Tiktoffen is a prisoner and overseer of other prisoners within Castle Heterodyne and is also the "inside man" of at least 16 different factions he's playing off against each other when in truth his only loyalty is to himself.
  • Modern MoGal: The merchant Elf girl sells equipment to both Vampire Dad and Werewolf Mom, who buy them to protect their daughters from the other's kid. She sells the Vampire Dad a device his daughter can use to identify werewolves, while the Werewolf Mom buys a hairclup that can hide her daughter from that same device.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • The IFCC grant Vaarsuvius massive arcane power because they know that having it will encourage the elf to attack Xykon, thus tying both Xykon and the Order up in a conflict while their pawns move in and snap up the MacGuffin.
    • This is also the way Tarquin and his former adventuring party are working on unifying the Western Continent. They act as advisors to the three major kingdoms on the Western Continent and manipulate the battles that take place.
  • In one arc of Schlock Mercenary the team cook gets pickpocketed in a rough neighborhood and the company decides to get the money back by hiring themselves out to the thief's gang. And then it turns out the other gang also hired them and they apprehend both gangs, and then they get paid to bring them to juvie.
  • Unsounded: Ruck is secretly working with Queen Sonorie to figure out how the Dammakhert works so she can possibly destroy it, which would cripple Alderode. But at the same time, you later find out that he is also working with General Bell, who is trying to depose Sonorie because he believes she is breaking too much with tradition and not being aggressive enough in the war with Alderode. In Bell's case, he doesn't seem to realize what Ruck is, as Ruck takes the form of a Yerta statue in Bell's presence. That said, it is unknown if Ruck is manipulating Bell for Sonorie's sake or for his own agenda.

    Western Animation 
  • Aladdin: The Series: One episode had Nefir the imp trick the Odifferans into believing that Aladdin had stolen their sacred crock of cheese, so that they would attack Agrabah, and supplied both sides with increasingly powerful weapons for an exorbitant fee. Once his intentions were revealed (as was the fact that Nefir himself stole the Odifferans' artifact), both sides threatened Nefir into rebuilding Agrabah and refunding both sides' money.
  • One episode of Ben 10: Alien Force has con-men Kevin and Argit sell weapons to both sides of a conflict to make money. Their friends are not happy to learn they were doing so.
  • Bob's Burgers: In "Beefsquatch", Bob and Gene have their own cooking segment in a local talk show and try to sabotage each other. They both enlist Louise, not knowing the other one has also called upon her "services." Louise then happily comes up with ways of messing with both Gene and Bob. Eventually however she gets disgusted at Bob and Gene's competitiveness and quits.
  • In "The Sneetches" segment of Dr. Seuss on the Loose, the star-bellied Sneetches exclude the starless Sneetches from their activities, and Sylvester McMonkey McBean offers the starless Sneetches the chance to get stars on their bellies for $3 each. Later, McBean helps the star-bellies preserve their status with a star-off machine at $10 a Sneetch. They keep going through the star-on and star-off machines while McBean profits greatly from the confusion, until the broke Sneetches forget their star-bellied and plain-bellied status, living in harmony.
  • In the DuckTales (2017) episode "The Outlaw Scrooge McDuck", Goldie encourages both Scrooge and Rockerduck to get into a fight over the giant gold nugget, so she can steal it herself. When it instead gets taken by Rockerduck's Battle Butler, she tries to set him against himself before realising she's run out of people to manipulate.
  • In the Looney Tunes short "The High and the Flighty", Daffy Duck is a novelties salesman who supplies for both Foghorn Leghorn and the barnyard dog in their ongoing prank war. He is found out when he accidentally sells them the same gag (the Pipe Full O'Fun Kit No. 7) and decide to team up against Daffy to trap him in his own device.
  • Mega Man: Fully Charged: Sgt. Breaker Night/Lord Obsidian is leading both an anti-robot human supremacist group and the Robot Masters, pitting the two groups against one another and ratcheting up tensions between humans and robots in an attempt to restart the Hard Age War.
  • In the "Kurward Derby Arc" of Rocky and Bullwinkle, it's shown that Boris is not only on both sides of feud between the Hatfuls and the Floys, but were their leaders. Fearless Leader was so impressed that he awarded Boris the Pottslyvania Two Face medal.
  • The Secret Show had a clown become the World Leader by renaming himself after the ballot's instruction of where to put the "X" to get votes from confused voters along with the help of the Floaty-Head aliens. While U.Z.Z have to conform to his new crazy laws, Victor gets an idea and calls the entire series’s Rogues Gallery and asks them to invade the World Leader’s palace. They all show up at the same time and declare war on each other for the palace, forcing the aliens to leave and the clown defenceless.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The PTA Disbands", Bart takes advantage of tensions between Springfield Elementary School's teachers and Principal Skinner to trigger a strike so that he doesn't go to school. It works till the PTA reopens the school with townspeople acting as substitute teachers, but Bart adapts to that, pranking each of his substitutes into giving up, till Marge gets selected as his substitute teacher, and he finally forces Skinner and Krabappel to settle their terms and end the strike.
    • Played for laughs in "Tales From The Public Domain"'s retelling of the life of Joan of Arc. When Joan (Lisa) is put on trial by the English for heresy in saying that God told her to lead the French to victory against the English, she asks God to appear as her witness, and God actually does appear at the trial, but an English soldier (Willie) at the trial says that God told him to lead the English to victory against the French, and God admits he had told both of them to lead their respective nations to victory, but never expected the two to ever meet.
      God: This is a little embarrassing. Goodbye, now!
      (God leaves the courtroom)
  • On The Spectacular Spider-Man, Norman Osborn is paid by the Big Man to make supervillains while also getting paid by the police to build those villains' Tailor Made Prisons.
  • In the third episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Lex Luthor built a mech and let it get "stolen" by a group of terrorists. Not only was Lex being paid by the terrorists, he knew that the US military would hire him to make them robots to match the ones the terrorists stole.
  • An episode of The Transformers showed that the Quintessions had been doing this to a pair of warring planets for hundreds of years. When the two sides found out about this they promptly cancelled the war.

    Real Life 
  • War Profiteers in every war ever fought.
  • A few wars in Ancient Greece (e.g. The Corinthians during the Peloponnesian War) began with a such a plot. Typically, side A would deviously provoke a proxy of side B to invade one of their own proxies. Side A thus gained a pretext to invade the proxy of side B, prompting side B to declare all-out war on side A. The advantage was that, in the heavily morally charged political climate of Classical Greece, side B would appear to have been the aggressor.
  • Zeno, Emperor of Byzantium, pulled off one of these in A.D. 488 when he induced Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths, to invade Italy, which was then held by King Odoacer. Both men were nominally servants of the Emperor but actually independent rulers who were constantly causing trouble; by getting them to go to war with each other, Zeno ensured that the Empire would be rid of at least one set of troublemakers, no matter which side won. This could be considered an instance of Divide and Conquer, except that the Emperor didn't follow up his successful gambit (Theodoric won) with a conquest of the Ostrogoths. Although, a few decades later, Justinian did manage to conquer the Ostrogoths and much more.
  • Hernán Cortés initiated his campaign against the Aztec Empire in alliance with the Totonacs, coastal tribes who up to that point were Aztec tributaries, but he also maintained diplomacy with the Aztecs during all the process, basically using each to confuse and pressure the other. In fact, although he had essentially set up a Totonac revolution, he managed to convince the Aztecs that he was just helping them by drowning himself the real revolt, which even earned him a load of Aztec gold as a courtesy reward (which he promptly used to convince the Totonacs that the Aztecs feared Cortés and were sending him gold as a sign of submission). It didn't end there when Cortés allied himself to the Confederacy of Tlaxcala, the second imperial power in Mesoamerica and rival to the Aztec Empire, as he kept telling the Aztecs that, again, he was only helping them by having those dastardly Tlaxcaltecs in check. The farce only ended when a string of events caused the Aztecs to declare war on Cortés and the rest.
    • From the opposite side, there is suspicions that the Tlaxcaltecs themselves might have been doing this with the Spaniards when a rival conquistador, Pánfilo de Narváez, arrived with a much larger Spanish army and supposedly legal orders to arrest Cortés. The latter asked Tlaxcala to send him reinforcements to submit Narváez, but the natives excused themselves by stating that their warriors were scared of fighting so many Spaniards - which might be true, or might be that, seeing Narváez' advantage, they were simply waiting to see if he defeated Cortés and could became their new Spanish ally. In any case, as Cortés defeated Narváez easily (though with a bit of help from the Chinantecs, an unrelated tribe), the alliance remained.
  • The Swiss and the Portuguese during World War II. They did profitable business with both sides.
  • Numerous countries took aid from both the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, usually poor and recently decolonized countries that literally couldn't afford to be picky about their loyalties.
  • Ho Chi Minh took advantage of aid and equipment from both the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union during the Vietnam War. He was able to get away with it because the PRC and USSR had been at each other's throat for some time by the mid 1960s, but the US and NATO had not yet discovered the 'Sino-Soviet split', and both countries wanted to project an image of unified world communism to the West. Being the master manipulator that he was, it is likely that Ho knew this and the whole scheme was a deliberate Batman Gambit.
  • While the U.S. publicly supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, the Reagan administration secretly sold weapons to Iran, hoping to free the seven American hostages held in Lebanon by the Iran-linked paramilitary group Hezbollah.
  • During the Spanish Civil War, the Polish government sold (mostly obsolete) arms and equipment to both sides of the conflict. Although one could expect the government of a devoutly Catholic nation to support the Nationalists only, most weapons were actually delivered to the Republican side. This is understandable considering how dire was Poland's geopolitical situation at the time and how desperately it needed funds to modernize its own army. Poland also didn't see any particular advantage in either side winning, since each was an ally of one of Poland's enemies (the Nationalists with Nazi Germany, the Republicans with the Soviet Union).
  • Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker used to sell "I Hate Elvis" badges so he could make money out of Elvis' detractors as well.
  • During the American Civil War Britain and France never officially recognized the Secession and remained on (relatively) good terms with the US but still saw no issue in selling arms to the South and continuing to trade with blockade runners.
  • Jonathan Wild, Thieftaker General of London in the 1700s. Since London didn't have a proper police force at this point, bounty hunters called thieftakers were paid to arrest thieves, and Wild was the best of these. One slight problem: He also ran most of London's gangs. With his authority as gang leader, he told thieves who to hit, gave pickpockets lessons on how to fit into high society, and bought the stolen goods. As Thieftaker General, he bargained for the return of stolen goods, for a fee, and caught thieves, usually the ones who refused to work for him.
  • The British Barings Bank did this indirectly. They gave a loan to the United States, which the US used to make the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon, who used the money from the US to fund its war with the United Kingdom.
  • Charles II of Navarre was known for his attempts to play both the French and the English to his advantange in The Hundred Years War, almost to the point of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Though born French, Charles II feuded with French Constable Charles de la Cerda, murdered him, then tried to rally the English for support against King John II. Instead of following through with English plans to invade, Charles II forced King John II to make nice and at least appear to reconcile. This did not keep Charles II from supporting a coup attempt against John II, but his stay in prison was commuted by the later King Charles V. Charles II proceeded to exploit a revolutionary uprising to try and force Charles V to concede further, but that attempt burned out and turned into widespread riots and looting. After being ousted from inheriting the lands of Burgundy, a bitter Charles II again worked with the English to oppose Charles V. This went poorly, and at some point both the English and French decided he was not worth the effort of having as an ally—Charles V found Charles II to be too rebellious to be trustworthy, and the English found no reason to keep working with someone who egged on an English invasion of French territory but never actually lent any help when the plans went off. After a lifetime of treacherry, Charles II finally died in his bed, in a manner so unlikely some thought to be a divine statement: accidentally setting himself on fire trying to cure his crippling rheumatism.


Video Example(s):


A Bit of Backstabbing

In "Checkmate" from "The Inside Man," Mark Shepherd and AJ catch Mark's handler having played *multiple* sides, no less than four, each for the same data and each believing that they were being offered it exclusively. Notably the Chinese are among the parties involved. But as AJ notes, it's surely no big deal. After all, it's just a bit of backstabbing between thieves.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / PlayingBothSides

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