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This trope covers cases where the word or concept of "karma" is used incorrectly compared to the original meaning of the term; see Karma for the more traditional religious use of the term. Frequently paired with Reincarnation.
Originally, the term Karma was a Sanskrit word for a rather specific spiritual concept, but over the centuries the word has been borrowed by countless languages, cultures, subcultures, religions, works of fiction, and even video games. Over time the word has evolved to such an extent that many who consider it to be part of their everyday vocabulary are unfamiliar with its original definition. In everyday terms, Karma has often been simplified as a direct cause-effect Equivalent Exchange reaction to a characters actions, both good and bad.
More generally, much like a sufficiently clever Ice Cream Koan can seem like a perfectly executed Koan, the use of the word "karma" to describe something that isn't really karma as understood by spiritual teachings outside a work can look and seem like actual in-universe Karma, especially if done subtly rather than Anviliciously. While this may sometimes be a case of oversimplification because Viewers are Morons or the author simply Did Not Do the Research, it can also be the result of the author looking for a term to borrow to use for their own concept, much as the authors of this site, seeing phenomena in fiction, seek to provide a terminology for it.
To illustrate, Call It Karma will have a beautifully poetic ironic death where a killer dies at the hands of a "victim" wielding his own knife... while capital K Karma would have him look around and notice that the few things he cared about have been destroyed by his own actions, both directly and indirectly, ala classic Greek Tragedy. Therein lies the problem, the former is easier to be inserted in a narrative, but the latter needs longer narratives for it to be pulled off (thus taking time). For examples of the latter, see Pyrrhic Villainy.
On this very wiki, the term "karma" is used for several tropes of this nature:
- Karma Meter: The use of a simple scale to track a Player Character's morality.
- Karmic Death: Evil acts will bring about a character's certain and Irony-laden death.
- Karma Houdini: An evil character shrugs off any bad karma he has and gets away mostly scott free with all the bastardly deeds he's done.
- Karma Houdini Warranty: An evil character (or lovable rogue) tries to go good, but has all their bad karma catch up to them because they want to change.
- Karmic Jackpot: One tiny good deed creates a cascade of overwhelming good fortune.
- Karmic Protection: Not being overtly evil means the universe can't be overly bad to you.
- Karmic Transformation: Detesting a group or species means you will turn into one of them.
- Laser-Guided Karma: Doing a bad thing will get you promptly and neatly whacked by celestial forces.
- Sexual Karma: When being good gets you goodies, and being bad gets you... boned.
- The Trope Namer is Ghostbusters, where Peter Venkman is saying these 3 words when he, Ray, and Egon are booted out of Weaver Hall after the dean claims that their research is nonsensical.
- My Name Is Earl is all about Karma, a concept developed by Carson Daly, where every action is dictated by Karma which provides instant gratification to good deeds and equally opposite effects.
- Lampshaded in "The Professor", where the titular college professor briefly explains genuine Karma to Earl, before admitting that she prefers his version.
- One episode of The Amazing Race had a contestant explaining Call It Karma to a cabdriver in Cambodia, who was probably laughing inside when comparing it with the real concept of Karma that he was probably raised with.
- The Amazing Race runs on Call It Karma. In Season 15, one racer even stated his opinion that the race is a game of who can collect the most Karma Points
- In Drowtales, Vaelia's religious views:
"Karma is Aura... is soul judgement.
- DDG has Off World, which is where you go to work off Karmic debt if you weren't outright good or bad enough for heaven or hell.
- In The Adventures of Shan Shan, they speak of the balance between virtue and karma.
- In Order of the Stick, in a discussion of a death, and a scolding.
- Lampshaded in one episode of The Simpsons. After Homer causes Apu to be fired from the Kwik-E-Mart for selling tainted meat, Apu goes to his house. Initially Homer thinks he's there to sell something, but Apu replies that the only thing he's selling is "karmic realignment".
Homer: "You can't sell that! Karma can only be portioned out by the cosmos!" [slams the door]
- From the Dan Vs. episode "New Mexico":
Dan: Hey, you date a married woman, you get hit by a bus. Karma.
- The Magic: The Gathering card Karma. The flavor appears to be that because your enemy draws dark power from the swamp, they are cursed to be strangled to death by branches in the swamp. Which is less karma and more Jackass Genie.