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Cosmic Plaything
"I am officially God's court jester or something ... God, dude? You really need to get cable or something, cause I don't know how much more of this I can take."
Azrael, Gaijin Smash

Most of us like to think that our decisions have some influence on our lives. We think we are in control but sometimes, there's the sneaking suspicion that an influence doesn't like us or maybe it does like us but in an abusive way. These character don't just suspect; they know.

For some strange reason, they find their lives governed by events and rules that defy coincidence and logical explanation. They might figure out some of the "rules," like the what and the where, but the how and the why is a complete mystery.

The nature of such a situation allows a certain flexibility to writers, as they don't have to think too hard about why this is happening, or if the character's belief in their situation is correct, allowing them to focus on the immediate story.

Often includes a Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter. May overlap with Powers That Be but real confirmation or sign is not necessary. All that is necessary is the belief that a specific entity or group is working on the character. It may also overlap Can't Get Away with Nuthin' , if the character interprets the situation as an active, immutable force on them personally, rather than "how the world works" for everyone. If there's more than one cosmic entity and the other one guides another character into antagonizing the first, it's a Cosmic Chess Game.

Compare Born Unlucky, Weirdness Magnet and No Fourth Wall. May be caused by a Truman Show Plot. Played for Laughs with The Chew Toy. For a more subjective version, see Designated Monkey. If the character arguably deserves mistreatment by the universe, they might be the victim of Call It Karma, an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, or a Jerkass Woobie.

Opposite trope of Karma Houdini on the karmic scale.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Tenchi Muyo GXP: Seina Yamada. He has a quantified 'bad luck field' that means his life is constantly peppered with accidents, misfortune, and other nastiness. Considering the power and age of the Jurai royal family, he can be considered Seto's personal plaything.
  • Kokoro Connect: A cosmic entity possesses the body of their teacher and flat out tells them that it plans to experiment with them.
  • Welcome to the NHK: While he lives in a painfully mundane world, this is the mental illness of the main character: he thinks he is the target of this type of cosmic conspiracy.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya
    • The title charactuler causes this trope for her entire circle of friends, but for Mikuru Asahina most of all. You know the universe hates you when getting groped by God is one of your lesser problems.
  • The cast of Haré+Guu were in a strange place metaphysically already, but then the god-like Guu shows an interest in them and it gets much weirder.
  • Ah! My Goddess
    • Keiichi Morisato starts this way by being born under an unlucky star (the Star of Misfortune). Even after getting a goddess for a girlfriend, his luck is still remarkably poor; it's just that Belldandy is now around to smooth out the worst parts.
    • This was stretched into a plot point about a thermodynamic-like Conservation of Happiness, where any unnatural attempt to shift luck is dangerous because it has to go to or leave somewhere else.
    • "Urd", "Skuld" and "Verdandi" are the names of the Three Norse Goddesses of fate.
  • Moroboshi Ataru of Urusei Yatsura was born on the second unluckiest day in the Japanese calendar: The thirteenth of April, the fourth month of the year, as well as the day remembering the death of Bhudda. His name means "hit by a shooting star", which would take phenomenally bad luck.
  • Used several ways in Xxx HO Li C: main character Watanuki is a Weirdness Magnet, as his blood is delicious to supernatural creatures and thus draws them to him, much to his displeasure. Doumeki is the opposite of this, as his exorcism/purification powers are so strong his mere presence is a deterrent to the types of creepies that plague Watanuki. Pity Watanuki claims so strenuously he HATES Doumeki... All of this is eventually justified. Turns out the supernatural creatures are attracted to him because he's subconsciously suicidal for remarkably spoilerific reasons, which attracts them like a lightbulb attracts moths.
    • Himawari turns everyone she touches or looks at towards very bad luck; she's never directly affected, and she herself isn't supernatural. Being associated (or even seen) with her has caused: a girl who liked her to commit suicide, a compulsive liar to get hit by a bus, her grandmother to die, her teacher to get stabbed, her neighbor's house to burn down, a kekkai to be broken during a ritual, a college student to discover (and eventually be killed by) a monkey paw, and Watanuki to fall out of a window and require two trades to save his life and he still loses movement in his finger. No one can say why she's like this, and wish-granting sorceress Yuuko tells Watanuki that the only thing that can take away her curse is by trading all the happiness she will ever feel. Himawari unconsciously exerts her effect on others (minus her own parents, her pet bird, which is from another dimension, and Doumeki, who wouldn't care anyway).
  • In Princess Tutu everyone but Drosselmeyer is a Cosmic Plaything. Drosselmeyer is the writer that happens to be pulling the strings.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Touma's power to negate supernatural/magical effects also negates his luck. He's definitely Blessed with Suck with that one.
  • Code Geass:
    • The universe hates Lelouch so much that he has to mind-control God just to get a Bittersweet Ending... which he doesn't even live long enough to experience. On a meta note, the writing staff of Code Geass has often proclaimed their love for the show's protagonist Lelouch...and then they smack him with Diabolus ex Machina after Diabolus ex Machina, causing everyone connected to him to suffer, including Shirley (loses father, goes through severe emotional torment, dies), Euphemia (accidentally mind controlled, reputation destroyed, killed), and C.C. (loses powers and memories up to the age of 10). They insist that they do this out of affection, wanting Lelouch to learn An Aesop about appreciating what you have in life; the Japanese fandom responded by coining the term "Lulu Quality" to refer to such treatment.
    • Suzaku Kururugui has his share too. Seeing his father was about to drive Japan into a war they couldn't win, he decides to kill him to stop the war and save lives. This haunts him as he grows up and he becomes very suicidal for it. Then he meets Euphemia, who is revealed to be a princess of Britannia, and they quickly fell in love, which leads to him stopping being suicidal and forming a plan to make the world a better place. But on the day this plan was initiated (the creation of SAZ) she gets ordered by Lelouch (although accidentally) to kill all the Japanese people present. After the massacre Lelouch kills her, sending Suzaku into despair. The last nail was the F.R.E.I.J.A. incident which was caused due to his "live" geass being activated and making him fire a nuclear weapon killing millions of people. In the end one can argue that he didn't get a happy ending because Susaku Kururugui is now a dead man and he is trapped into the Zero persona.
  • In Ranma ½ Ranma Saotome ends in such hilarious situations that he could only be part of a cosmic joke.
  • Berserk: In this world, is the destiny of mankind controlled by some transcendental entity or law? Is it like the hand of God hovering above? At least it is true that man has no control, even over his own will.
    • As if the Eldritch Abomination Godhand (which can warp reality if needed) weren't enough, a chapter removed from the main storyline states that The Idea of Evil, aka God, is the sole driving force behind every single horrible event in the series. He is very good at that, because in the manga there's like at least 10 horrible events each chapter, ranging from an absurdly huge amount of explicit rape to misery beyond belief. He might not be a case of God Is Evil though, since he sadly needs evil to exist. The really sad thing is that the Idea of Evil was subconsciously created by humans, for humans. Humanity as a whole doesn't want to admit that their suffering has no greater meaning or that they have no one to blame for it but themselves. The Godhand, the Idea of Evil, and the very concept of "destiny" they embody is just an excuse for humanity to deny responsibility for themselves.
  • Death Note: Despite dismissing the possibility that Kira is a god early on, L repeatedly ponders the possibility that he is this. He's right: the plot was kicked off because Ryuk got bored.
  • Rave Master: It is genuinely one of the founding rules of the universe that the Raregroove bloodline be screwed over in each generation. It also pits them against the Symphonias and the Raregrooves are always destined to lose. Just read the series if you don't get it.
  • Hayate the Combat Butler: Hayate isn't quite sure why the universe hates him so much, but he knows it's true. His friends know it's true. His poor luck is so infamous that Wataru is able to successfully gamble by betting on the exact opposite of what Hayate would pick. A major contributing factor can be his tendency to say the wrong thing at the right moment to get him brutally assaulted. This may actually come from Athena giving him a 'lesson' which 'his body never forgot (hint: it involved swords and it wasn't fun) after neglecting to tell her about his kiss with Izumi when he left the castle. Since then his compulsive habit to be stupidly honest overrides his sense of self preservation.
  • Poor Pedro of Excel♥Saga ends up a Cosmic Plaything. After getting killed early in the series, he's revived and spends several episodes as the boy toy for the Great Will of the Macrocosm. Cue a few of his many Big Nos.
  • Edward Elric of Fullmetal Alchemist.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, everyone except Kyubey is this. Come Rebellion, however, Kyubey becomes this under Akuma Homura's new rules, while everyone else loses this status. Payback's a bitch, ain't it?
  • Mitsuo in Daily Lives of High School Boys, who eventually had all other Butt Monkeys' mishaps misattributed to him; even one of those "other Butt Monkeys" sincerely believed it was Mitsuo, not him, who did it.
  • Miyuki in Smile Pretty Cure! for the entirety of episode 13.
  • The entire main cast of One Piece, a.k.a. the Straw Hat Pirates. It almost seems like having a sad past is an actual requirement to join the crew. From staying alone on an empty ship for 50 years, to watching your mother die in front of you (this happened to 3 of them!), every character has had his/her own share of trauma. Fortunately, life gets better after they join the crew.
  • Tomoko from No Matter How I Look at It, It's You Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular. The world obviously hates her.
  • Naruto:
    • Good God, Naruto. When Naruto was a minute old. Not a year, a MINUTE old, he was threatened by Obito TWICE. The result of the attack made Naruto an orphan, a social pariah to the adults with the added bonus of the Nine-Tailed Fox, Kurama sealed inside of him. Probably due to the fact he never had any real training and said monster inside of him messing with his energy, he performed horribly in school, causing no one respect to him. Just when he made friends, his best friend goes crazy and tries to kill him. Just when you think things couldn't get worse, we learn that there are 10 hyper powerful ninja after him. And if he tries to use the Fox's powers, he slowly weakens the seal and causes enough damage to himself that he loses years off his lifespan and is a danger to everyone around him.
    • The majority of the villains qualify too. Most are are people who started out good until various unfortunate events drove them past their Despair Event Horizon.
    • It turns out that all of the misery the world has suffered since the Sage of Six Path's time can be traced back to Black Zetsu.

    Comic Books 
  • Hellblazer's has two kinds of inversion. John Constantine uses karma to be in the right place at the right time, for instance when he needs to slip onto an air plane without being seen. Yet his life is frequently made miserable by tragedy striking those close to him.
  • In The DCU, Animal Man is a combination of this and the Meta Guy; he realizes that he's a fictional character, at the whims of his writers. However, this awareness decreases and increases over time (naturally, due to the aforementioned whims).
  • Charles Brigman from PS238 has officially become a Cosmic Plaything.
  • Whether it be in video games or comic books, Spider-Man is Marvel's ultimate Cosmic Plaything.
  • Deadpool doesn't really mind being a Cosmic Plaything so much when it's Death wanting to use him as a boytoy. He's not so happy however, when it's Thanos making him immortal so that he can't steal his girlfriend.
  • Deadman's actions generally revolve around the whim of some higher being, whether it's Rama Kushna or the White Lantern Entity.
  • The title character of Nodwick is referred to by the gods as a "destiny sponge". The more he suffers, the less others have to. This makes him sort of a martyr, who then gets resurrected so he can be martyred again, who gets resurrected again so that he can be martyred a third time, and so on, and so on.
  • Calamity James is a character in The Beano whose main trait is his extreme unluckiness. James knows how unlucky he is but is unable to stop it, and whatever he does is doomed to end in disaster.
  • Cyclops has the worst of luck among the X Men its like his secondary power.
  • The titular character of Squee would simply not be himself if he weren't suffering every second of his existence. Of course, this is a bit Darker and Edgier in that Squee is six years old.
    • To elaborate: Squee is the son of a druggie Mom and a Dad who actively despises him (and sometimes just watches his birth video in reverse), the neighbor of a homicidal maniac, the best friend of - literally - The Antichrist, the repeat victim of bullies and alien abductions, and ultimately winds up committed to a Bedlam House. Not to mention that he's haunted by a ghost and something in his teddy bear.
  • Then there's DC Comics' Pariah.
  • Diabolik has the Grey Ravens: whenever their plans come close to fruition, Diabolik shows up from nowhere, kills as many of them he can find, robs them blind and generally beheads their organization. Given they're extremely unsympathetic Western Terrorists of fascist leanings, we Call It Karma.

    Film 
  • Inverted in Bruce Almighty, in which the titular character treats everyone else this way after being given the power of God. Even if he likes you, he's still going to screw with you, albeit in ways that might be fun. note  And if you've made him mad...well, "God help you" doesn't exactly cover it. note 
    • In a funny way the whole plot is set in motion with Bruce believing he's one himself. That God likes toying with him "Like a mean kid with a magnifying glass" and tht he just wants to 'burn his feelers off and watch him squirm'
  • Larry Gopnik of A Serious Man. It is based on the Book of Job after all.
  • The trailer for Vamp contained the following litany of the protagonist's experiences that evening:
    "Tonight, I was nearly hung. I got into a fight with a psychotic albino. I ate a cockroach, my best friend disappeared, and just now I was almost assassinated by a runaway elevator. I've had a bad day!"
  • When Jack Slater, the titular Last Action Hero, finally confronts the actor who plays him (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in the real world, he gives the actor a long, angry rant about how Schwarzenegger ruined Slater's life by putting him through hell. It might have been entertaining to the audience, but having his son die, having his marriage ruined, and being subjected to gunfight after gunfight after gunfight was less than fun for the fictional character.
    Jack: "Let us push his son off the building. You will have eternal nightmares, but you are fictional, so who cares?"

    Literature 
  • Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein takes "Job" to a new level; you could rename the trope after this book.
  • Standard for the Tortall Universe books by Tamora Pierce.
    • Alanna is chosen by the Great Mother Goddess in Song of the Lioness.
    • Daine is watched over by the Badger God in The Immortals and has an unusual strength in wild magic. Later she discovers that it's because she's a half-goddess herself and winds up in the Divine Realms. Later, when she's pregnant, the kid starts shapeshifting in utero.
    • Keladry eventually becomes the titular Protector of the Small thanks to the Chamber of the Ordeal, who points her towards a necromancer and says "fix this." Then she gets orders to run a refugee camp, which gives her a good deal of anxiety about being able to complete her quest. When said necromancer attacks her camp and abducts its children en masse, she realizes that's the opportunity he Chamber predicted.
    • In Daughter of the Lioness, Kyprioth arranges events to have Aly captured by slave-takers and sold to a very specific family in the Copper Isles to fulfill The Prophecy (that he came up with) and defeat Mithros and the Goddess. She takes it in stride and with a good deal of snark.
    • Beka Cooper of Provost's Dog is a chosen of the Black God. It actually helps her quite a lot in her police work—hearing ghosts is useful for solving murders, and the "dust spinners" let her hear conversations that happened several hours before. The Black God is also the kindest god, so she doesn't mind being his instrument.
  • The idea is alluded to by Tris in her Circle Opens book while she's trying to comfort a grieving child. She says it's much nicer to think that the gods are giving you hardships to make you stronger than it happening for no reason at all.
  • Rincewind from the Discworld series is knowingly favored of The Lady (that is, of Luck), resulting in an amazing capacity for survival... but also what he calls "preemptive karma;" if it even looks as if something good will happen to him in the future, his karma will ensure that something bad happens immediately, and continues happening so the good things never come around. It doesn't help that being the Lady's favored puts you on the top of Fate's most-hated list. A side-effect of the conflict between Luck and Fate is that even Death himself does not know when Rincewind is going to die.
    • The only reason that the last statement is true is because of this: Due to the machinations of the Lady, and counter-machinations of Fate, Rincewind has been bounced through time and space so often, the most impressive fact of his life is that he has yet to run into himself. Finding the start, let alone end, of a life like that is damnably hard, even for Death. (Although Rincewind would be (dis)pleased to learn that Death has taken such a personal interest in him that his lifetimer is kept on Death's desk, much as a butterfly collector would keep an interesting specimen. The shape is akin to what you might expect if a drunken glassblower went about making a normal egg-timer, and had a continuous case of hiccups.)
    • So, when the wizards bring him back and make him comfortable, it scares him more than anything. Because things only stop going wrong when Fate is lining up an even bigger punch.
  • Much of Michael Moorcock's work, and all his Eternal Champion stories, are focused on this concept. The Champion labors, usually unknowingly, toward a balance between the opposing forces of Chaos and Law. Ultimately, the Champions actually destroy the Balance, sort-of, creating a supposed world free of destiny, where people have free will. At least, that was the version in the Count Brass books. The most famous Champion is Elric, who is dedicated to a god of Chaos, carries an intelligent sword that doesn't always do as he wishes, and generally is the focus of all the higher-up manipulations. In Stormbringer he gets missives from Fate every so often, telling him to just do stuff, including killing a dead god.
  • Túrin from The Silmarillion (Children of Húrin). Morgoth cursed his entire family. Actually, Tolkien claimed it wasn't precisely a curse, since Morgoth was the source of all evil in the world anyhow.
    "Sit now there, and look out upon the lands where evil and despair shall come upon those whom thou lovest. Thou hast dared to mock me, and to question the power of Melkor, Master of the Fates of Arda. Therefore with my eyes thou shalt see, and with my ears thou shalt hear, and never shalt thou move from this place until all is fulfilled unto its bitter end."
  • Stanley Yelnats of Holes, thanks to his no-good, dirty-rotten, pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.
  • Cazaril, the hero of The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. A god using you as a tool isn't nearly as fun as it sounds.
    • Then there's Ista, heroine of Bujold's Paladin of Souls, who knows she's a tool of the gods, and resents it deeply.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Arthur Dent is the epitome of this trope, being laughed at as an absurdity by the man who once knew all the truth in the universe, having his home (both house and planet) destroyed by Bureaucrats, having his girlfriend blip out of existence for no reason, accidentally killing the same man in each of his reincarnations, the list goes on.
    • You think Arthur's got it bad? Consider Agrajag, who is the "same man" referred to above.
    • "Oh, that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the universe has that."
    • Also Rob McKenna, the trucker who was a rain god and had absolutely no idea? All he knew was that he constantly had a literal raincloud over his head. And had catalogued two hundred and thirty-one separate types of rain. The clouds loved him and want to be near him, but he didn't see it that way.
      • His status as a rain attractor was recognized internationally, as several nations and major airports paid him to stay away at all times.
  • Subversion: Dolorous Edd in A Song of Ice and Fire constantly complains that he is one, but compared to what's happened to the other characters in the story he's actually better off...
  • Oedipus Rex makes this Older Than Feudalism. In fact, the gods seem to have randomly picked him out specifically to be their toy: after hearing Apollo's Oracle prophesy that Oedipus would kill him, his father Laius nails his baby son's feet together and leaves him to die on a mountain. Luckily (?) for Oedipus, he's found and brought up in Corinth, where rumours begin to spread that he's a bastard. He goes to the Oracle for proof and hears that he'll kill his father and marry his mother. Not knowing he's adopted, he decides to do the decent thing and run as far as possible in the other direction...whereupon he unwittingly kills Laius and marries the Queen, Jocasta. And just when everything seems to be going well for him, a plague starts up in Thebes. He tries to fix it...by going to the Oracle, who tell him to find Laius's murderer. To cut a long story short, he does. Jocasta hangs herself, Oedipus stabs his own eyes out with the pins from her brooches, then becomes a beggar. And all apparently because the gods were bored. To be fair, the reason usually given for Oedipus' downfall is that by running away after hearing the prophecy, he was "defying the gods" and had to be punished. It's a requirement for tragedies that the "Tragic Hero" deserves it, which often leads to rather extreme punishments for their perceived crimes, such as Oedipus' case.
    • Actually it was because Oedipus's father captured a prince who then killed himself rather then be a slave. (And he wasn't just any old slave to Laius; read "underage gay sex object".) The prince's father then cursed Laius to be killed by his own son. The "marry his mother" part is entirely the result of gods' jerkassness though.
    • Oedipus wasn't the only member of the House of Thebes to be fate's plaything. When the founder of the House Cadmus slew Ares' pet dragon, he was later honored by the gods and married Ares' daughter Harmonia. One of the wedding gifts was a necklace that granted eternal beauty to the wearer but also carried a curse. Said necklace was passed down through the family and brought tragedy to Cadmus' descendants. Nearly every member of the family suffered unfortunate ends.
    • Classical literature in general seems to be like this. For another example, take The Aeneid: Aeneas, after a giant storm scatters and damages his fleet, pulls into the newly founded city of Carthage. The beautiful queen of Carthage, Dido, rapidly falls in love with him, and everything seems hunky-dory, with his tiny band of Trojans being accepted into civil society. However, the gods send a messenger telling him to go to Italy already, twit. Naturally, he complies, but Dido is driven mad by his abandonment of her and commits suicide, lighting an eternal enmity between Carthage and Rome. This all results from the conflicting schemes of Jupiter, Venus and Juno.
      • The Aeneid was written between 29 and 19 BC, and is as much a political publication as an entertainment one (Aeneas founding Rome was an attempt to justify the invasion of Greece). Romans were good at these sorts of stories.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen:
    • In Gardens of the Moon, Ganoes Paran suffers one misfortune after another, as the gods squabble over him constantly. The universe has a perverse sense of humour, however, and in later books he ends up as the guy setting the rules for said gods.
    • Toc the Younger never seems to catch a break—in his first appearance alone, he loses an eye and is tossed into the Warren of Chaos to die. In each subsequent appearance, something catastrophic happens to him, and all of it Played for Drama. Only with his last appearance does something go his way.
  • FitzChivalry Farseer of Robin Hobb's Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies. Described as Fool's "Catalyst," which means he exists largely to Screw Destiny. As Fool puts it, the world is like a wheel caught in a circular rut, and will follow that rut, digging itself in deeper; only a White Prophet like the Fool can see this course of fate, and more importantly, where a wedge — the Catalyst — can be placed to pop that wheel out of that rut and onto a new path. Coincidentally, and to stretch the metaphor a little further, that means the wedge gets run over by the wheel. Hard. And repeatedly, if the first attempt didn't work, making it worse as the rut gets deeper. Fitz definitely has the worst time overall of anyone in the series, getting at best a Bittersweet Ending at the end of Farseer, though he just manages to scrape something better out of Tawny Man, which Tastes Like Diabetes.
  • K.J. Parker's The Scavenger Trilogy. Poldarn: events are possibly being manipulated by the god of the same name to teach him a lesson. Out of jealous love or for revenge.
  • Eugenides of Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series is one of these. The eponymous Thief, he is named for - and protected by - the God of Thieves, and is generally jerked around by the gods to serve their ends. Sometimes he finds it frustrating, other times he is more pragmatic about it; as he says himself, "If I am the pawn of the gods, it is because they know me so well, not because they make my mind up for me."
  • Deconstructed in Thirsty. It blows having your entire life written by a sadistic Eldritch Abomination
  • The basic premise of the children's book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
  • Randolph Carter from H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is this. It turns out the city Carter had been searching for the whole time was actually just jumbled up memories of Boston.
  • Labyrinths of Echo got "being a rather blunt tool of the fate" as almost the defining quality of the series' protagonist. He interacts with magic in abnormal ways half of the time and constantly happens to fall into situations where he sees as the only sane thing to do something ranging from outlandish to considered impossible even theoretically by anyone more competent. He's beaten with this to the point that in the second book of eight they already had such a dialogue:
    Juffin: ...How do you do, Sir Max?
    Max: Normally, perhaps. (shrugs in bewilderment) Just now gave an order of extermination of a whole people... and helped two lovebirds to reunite. Nice, isn't?
    Juffin: Yup, not bad. Normal workdays of a normal Arbiter... You don't plan to make a tragedy out of this, right?
  • By the later books of Galaxy of Fear, each of the three main characters is wholly aware that anywhere and everywhere they go, they are going to find themselves in danger that can't be solved easily, no matter how innocent their current surroundings are. Zak and Hoole even lampshade it.
  • In Pact, this is explicitly the result of accumulating karmic debt-the universe acts to right the balance by making things difficult for you in any way that it can, in the most inconvenient of ways. Sufficiently talented Karma Houdinis, however, can evade the universe's backlash and survive long enough to bear children unto whom they pass the debt. Blake Thorburn is the heir to one such line, and as a result he's forced into increasingly chaotic situations as the universe applies itself to righting his karmic balance.

    Live Action TV 
  • Boy Meets World: Cory had an interesting take on why he couldn't get away with things.
    • Turned on its head in B & B's B'n B when Cory gets caught up in Shawns scheme to turn Feeny's house into a Bed and Breakfast for the weekend while he's away. In this instance Cory actually wants to get caught because he believes he should because thats how things in his world should work, but he thinks the universe is determined that they get away with it and after catching break after break as Feeny returns.
  • The Drew Carey Show: While not a central premise, Drew once famously theorized on-show, "I always get screwed by the system. That's my place in the universe. I'm the system's bitch."
    • One episode revealed that the source of Drew's misfortunes might not be so cosmic after all, as he discovers several men from his work have formed a conspiracy to make his life miserable. Apart from that, there was always Mimi…
  • Early Edition: The main character receives a cat and tomorrow's newspaper for no known reason.
  • My Name Is Earl: The central premise of the show.
  • Joan of Arcadia: This is precisely how Joan sees her relationship with God. She would be thrilled if He stopped popping in into her life for rarely-explained reasons. For proof, two of the six WMG spectulate that the 'God' of the show is some kind of trickster.
  • Quantum Leap: In later seasons, Sam theorizes strongly why he keeps appearing in situations he must correct for the better.
    • Lampshaded a bit — in one episode, Sam has to make it rain to fix his host's life. He can't just randomly make it rain... So in a Crowning Moment Of Awesome, he calls God out on it:
      Sam: I don't know who's runnin' this show. I don't know why I was chosen. I bounce around from place to place. I do everything I'm supposed to do, at least the best way I can, but I don't know how to do this one. I mean, you gotta help me. I figure you owe me, for a couple of times, anyway. You make it rain. You hear me? You make it rain!
    • In the series finale, a bartender that is heavily implied to be God in human form shows Sam that he's done a lot of good. Sam then realizes that the reason he hasn't been able to leap back home is because he doesn't really want to stop helping people. God wasn't the one responsible for Sam's situation. Sam was always the master of his own fate.
  • Strange Luck: The central character, named Chance, appears to be at the center of a vortex of extreme improbability both good and bad, beginning by being the sole survivor of a freak plane crash as a baby.
  • Wonderfalls has "Heroine as a Cosmic Plaything" as a main theme. As Jaye whiningly describes her situation, "I don't have a choice. I'm a puppet. The universe sticks its hand up my butt, and if I don't dance, people get hurt."
  • The X-Files episode "The Goldberg Variations" has a man with incredible luck, but he's aware that for him to benefit from it someone else has to suffer. When he picks a winning scratchcard, he says it's too much for his purpose. Despite his warnings, someone else is happy to take it, and is immediately run over by a bus.
  • Married... with Children's Al Bundy sometimes addresses God in the context of being a Cosmic Plaything, usually in a sarcastic way whenever God seems to be inflicting misery on him for fun, or tearfully asking just why God is picking on him in particular when nothing seems to be going right. He attributes this to The Bundy Curse. Supposedly, it only affects male Bundys but it appears to have the ability to rub off onto family, friends, and passers-by when it's narratively convenient.
  • Journeyman: This show owed a great debt to Quantum Leap, and it's no surprise that Dan Vasser is also a Cosmic Plaything.
  • Definitely Seinfeld. Few episodes passed by without one of the character's getting involved in some sort of misfortune, ultimately insulting someone and ruining something. The very last episodes looks back on all of the misfortunes they've caused themselves.
  • Sam and Dean Winchester on Supernatural seem to have been brought into being for the sole purpose of being playthings for Heaven and Hell. Every single event that has happened in their lives has been orchestrated so that they would release Lucifer from Hell and start the Apocalypse. This knowledge has taken a toll on the brothers, especially Dean, whose jokes and banter with his brother and friend Castiel hide the fact that he is "dead inside," as Famine described him. This is so prevalent that the trope was cruelly played for laughs in the season three episode "Mystery Spot," where Dean is killed over 100 times in a Groundhog Day-like time loop caused by a trickster who is later revealed to be Gabriel, one of the archangels.
  • From Doctor Who, Rory Williams definitely. It really seems like the universe just wants him to roll over and die. But it enjoys screwing with him too much to allow him to do that. First- his girlfriend/fiancée and later wife, runs off with another man. Later, he has died at least once, debatably twice, had his stag party ruined by the man with whom his fiancée ran off, was erased from existence, turned to plastic, had his fiancée forget him, shot his fiancée against his will, then guarded said fiancée for almost 2000 years. He then dies another three times. Then his wife gets kidnapped. And then their daughter is stolen, and becomes a psychopath. On the other hand, all this cosmic torture turned him into a Grade A Badass capable of facing down and intimidating a battalion of Cybermen without flinching.
    • A casual viewer could be forgiven for assuming that the writers had some kind of deep-rooted sadistic hatred for the Doctor. And they might be right.
    • Perhaps the Doctor himself, arguably being led around the universe by the TARDIS against his will.
      The Doctor: "You never take me where I want to go."
      The TARDIS: "No, but I always took you where you needed to go."
      The Doctor: "You did."
    • Often Played for Laughs at the start of an episode, where the Doctor hops out of the TARDIS and says something along the lines of "VIVA LAS VEGAS!" to the inside of a submarine.
  • Babylon 5: Londo Mollari claims that he is this on a couple occasions. In one episode in the fifth season, he comments that he would have thought that the universe would say "Well, we've had our little fun with Londo Mollari" and moved on to torturing someone else by now. Of course, he tends to ignore the fact that many of the bad things that occur to him are the direct result of his own decisions, and a lot of things he complains about affect more people that just him.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Xander Harris is used so often in this fashion that he finally declares to everyone that he's sick of being the one "with the Bug Eating and the funny syphilis", and that he's not going to let the universe do it to him anymore. And for the most part, from that point on in the series, the universe doesn't. He is also the Trope Namer for Butt Monkey, describing himself.
    • The series makes in clear that the universe has it in for Buffy and for most of the characters in general. No two ways about it.

    Music 
  • "The Curse" by Disturbed is about this trope, inspired by the events in singer David Draiman's life. On the other hand, its ultimate theme is one of inspiration through hardship.
  • Ironically titled song, "The Lucky One" by Celldweller invokes this. "My head's caught beneath God's thumb, I guess that makes me the lucky one."
  • Sound Horizon's Moira revolves around this concept. Thanatos, enraged at how Moira makes every human being her Cosmic Plaything, decides he's going to get his own Cosmic Plaything to turn into a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds and pit him against Moira.
  • The song "Disciple" by Slayer has lyrics about the Almighty wanting everyone to be miserable. In fact, the chorus of the song features Tom Araya shouting "God hates us all!" over and over again.
  • "Devil on my Shoulder" by Billy Talent is all about this:
    Follow the rainbow, my lucky omen
    There ain't no pot of gold, just copper tokens
    I found the key to life, the lock was broken
    All my accomplishments, are best left unspoken
    I dug a hole so deep
    I'm gonna drown in my mistakes
    Can't even sell my soul
    'Cause it ain't worth shit to take
  • In the ''Vocaloid song "The Game of Life" the protagonist tells her story of her eleven past life were nothing but whims of capricious god. In the end, she may or may not be said god.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Literally true in Greek mythology. If some mortal caught the eye of one of the gods, he/she was seduced by them, or just flat out raped. Worse yet, if the god had a spouse, they could make life very bad for you, up to and including being chased by a giant snake across the continent of Europe. Or worse, if their talents outmatched the gods, or they gave a god an answer they didn't like or gave an award to someone else, they were screwed. And if there was more than one god involved...well, they were screwed either way (just look at The Trojan War). How can it get worse you say? Well, remember the gods could take on any form, including that of any person.
    • The worst thing about Greek mythology is that praying to a god wouldn't get you that god's favor. At best, you'd be ignored. At worst, another god might notice and be offended that you weren't asking him for help and dish out some petty vengeance. There's a reason the gods of Greek Mythology are the Trope Codifier of Jerkass Gods.
  • Job. The Devil makes a bet with God that Job only loves Him because he's got it so good; and if it were all taken away he would Rage Against the Heavens. Job persists in his faith, believing that God works In Mysterious Ways, and is rewarded by getting back 3 times what he lost.

    Poetry 
  • "A Man Said to the Universe" by Stephen Crane.
    A man said to the universe:
    “Sir, I exist!”
    “However,” replied the universe,
    “The fact has not created in me
    A sense of obligation.”

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer 40,000, anyone who worships Tzeentch, the Chaos God of trickery, does so with the constant knowledge that despite his patronage they are nothing more than pawns in one of his elaborate schemes. Beyond that, the lousy state of the galaxy is often attributed to the sheer number of entities - the Chaos Gods, the C'Tan, Eldar farseers, and the God-Emperor - playing at chessmaster and getting tangled in each others' plots. For more specific examples...
    • The Lamenters chapter. The only Space Marine chapter formed during the so-called Cursed Founding to not display obvious mutations or other defects, they nevertheless suffered distrust and prejudice - to the extent that during their debut campaign protecting a world from the forces of Chaos, an allied chapter actually abandoned them, leaving the Lamenters to suffer 80% losses before being rescued by the Ultramarines and White Scars. The surviving Lamenters were then lost in the Warp and presumed dead for two thousand years. After rebuilding their strength, the Lamenters were redeployed to the other side of the galaxy as part of a brotherhood of chapters guarding another warp storm. Unfortunately one of their allied chapters went renegade and dragged the Lamenters onto the wrong side of a civil war, where the Lamenters once again suffered crippling casualties. After the revolt was put down, it was decided that the Lamenters had acted out of misguided honor, and were given the chance to atone through a century-long penitent crusade... right into the oncoming Hive Fleet Kraken. Their last report before further contact was lost mentioned that they were down to three heavily-wounded companies.
    • COMMISSAR CIAPHAS CAIN, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!! has repeatedly stated in his private memoirs that if the Emperor is truly watching over him, He has a twisted sense of humor.
  • In Warhammer, The Knights of The Templars of the Everlasting Light, the order is a well known knightly order that's also infamous for being cursed. Their knights fall of their horses unexpectedly, their swords breaks before a killing blow can be delivered, their grand master got dumped on a cart of manure, and their chapter house is swallowed up in a freak earthquake.
  • The GURPS RPG has two Disadvantages that sum up this trope: "Weirdness Magnet," which attracts inconvenient strangeness to the character (the given example includes a talking dog and aliens making a base in the TV set); and "Cursed" which explicitly states "the GM can hose you any time he feels like it, and you have nothing to say about it, because you are Cursed."
  • In Scion, each character has a "Fateful Aura" that turns them into walking Weirdness Magnets. Also, the more they use their awesome powers, the more likely they are to tie innocent bystanders into their growing legend. The stronger their Legend, the easier this happens and the more pronounced the effects, which is the main reason the Gods left the mortal world in the first place.
    • It's somewhat more complex than that. Fate is in essence the human desire for things to operate based on rules of Narrative story. Being Fatebound offers benefits... one binds oneself to a particular role, and becomes more likely to succeed when acting in it... while becoming less likely when trying to defy it. The Gods gathered the power of being Fatebound as Heroes to the Mortals to defeat the Titans... then withdrew from the world to let those mortals die out so that they could be who they wanted instead of who the Mortals expected them to be.
  • While we're here, this is no doubt the feeling that afflicts anyone who takes the "Things Don't Go Smooth" disadvantage in Serenity: the RPG. As outlined by Mal:
    I want it to go smooth. Why don't it ever go smooth?
  • Prometheans were granted life by the Divine Fire. The catch? The Divine Fire is innately hostile to 'normal' life... and living things know this. Maybe not innately, but deep down, they know it. So a Promethean's life really, really sucks, seeing how every human it meets will eventually flip out.

    Video Games 
  • Daniel from Amnesia: The Dark Descent. His entire life - from his abusive childhood with a chronically ill younger sister all the way up to his experiences during the game itself - resembles an extremely cruel and miserable practical joke, and this is without taking into account just what he did while in the service of Baron Alexander, or why. Or that he's afraid of the dark in a horror game with the word "Dark" in its title.
  • Maggey Byrde in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is convinced this is her lot in life, dating back to when she fell out of her family's ninth-story apartment at six months old. As she notes, her luck is bad to the point she's never even tied at tic-tac-toe. Being one of the three characters to be the defendant in three separate cases (the others being Maya Fey and Phoenix himself, who also got three times in the hot seat) goes a long way towards backing up that claim.
  • The Great "Worrier" Susano from Ōkami becomes convinced over time that his feats of skill are a result of the gods toying with him. Given that the player is a god and assists him throughout the game, though, he's not too far off the mark.
  • Curtis Craig of Phantasmagoria 2 is this. Literally.
  • Kratos from God of War. In his own words: "I am what the gods have made me!"
    • Kratos is a subversion. He likes to blame the Gods for the things that happen to him, but in reality most of is his own fault. Played straight as well since both Ares and Athena manipulated him for their own plans.
  • Everyone in the Chzo Mythos is Chzo's plaything.
  • Arcanum has a couple of optional character Traits that make the player this. "Born Under a Sign" makes both critical successes and critical failures more likely, and "Nietsche Poster Child" makes critical failures more likely but improves experience gain.
  • In a similar vein, the first two Fallout games have the "Jinxed" Trait, which increase the chance of a critical failure for the player and also for anyone nearby. While generally reviled, walkthrough writer Per Jorner has stated that Jinxed could be useful for a "pure (and weird) Hand-to-Hand build."
  • Lucas from Mother 3. His mother dies, his brother goes missing and turns up as an evil cyborg who later kills himself to join his mother, and his father goes nearly insane with grief. Even the dog is upset about it.
  • Yosuke's Butt Monkey status basically gets upgraded to this in Persona 4: The Golden. Specifically, he wonders if he is cursed, or insulted a gypsy.
  • In the Never Winter Nights 2 fan campaign, The Maimed God's Saga, the plot ends up revolving around a bet made between Tyr (the Lawful Good god of justice) and Malar (the Chaotic Evil god of evil lycanthropes and cannibalism), and the player is unwittingly dragged into it.
  • In Legacy of Kain, everyone but Raziel is a plaything of destiny. Ironically enough, the lone exception finds himself being manipulated by everyone else because he is the only being in existence with true free will.

    Web Animation 

    Webcomics 
  • Vexxarr. All he wants is a long, boring life full of cake and Halo. Instead, the Bleen Empire (his own species) are trying to kill him, and everywhere he tries to hide has territorial aliens, Ascended Beings, insufficiently advanced aliens and his own incompetence. And his crewmates.
  • Something Positive's Davan and Mike think God has it in for them. They're right; at one point He neglects the backlog of prayers concerning a war in favor of watching horror dawn on Davan's face after the man's latest disaster, and God was pissed that He accidentally let something good happen to Mike.
  • 8-Bit Theater has Black Mage. The universe is practically structured to bring as much pain to him as possible, almost justified as it's hinted to be the world's self-preserve mechanism against his destructive powers. Some of the other Butt Monkeys have also noted their cursed lives of suck:
  • K from Blip. It's outright stated that, since Heaven can't foresee her actions, they're "censoring" her to insure that she has as little impact as possible on the world.
    • Worse still - the forces of Hell want her to stir things up and will always make sure that interesting things happen in her life which Heaven will have to squash down, ensuring that she gets her chain yanked her entire life. She will never be allowed the benefit of dull boredom, always standing on the brink of hope and getting denied before achieving anything remotely fulfilling.
  • It was revealed in Housepets! that King and Tarot are player characters in a cosmic game of Dungeons & Dragons.
  • In S.S.D.D the Oracle ruins certain people's lives for fun. Tessa Edwards being a favorite.
  • Bob from The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! is a proven weirdness magnet. He can attract monsters and such just by standing there. He has no idea why.
  • Every Lineage Child from Sire is one by virtue of "The Binding" a fated narrative that drives their stories and forces them on the road which would confront the morals and obstacles that their Sire/Dam had to face. Fate will outright murder anyone who tries to run away from their story.
  • At one point in The Order of the Stick, Elan starts coming up with possible ideas of what an inactive spell the Order found could do, such as shrinking the group down or turning them into dinosaurs. Vaarsuvius responds with, "Those ideas are theoretically possible, if, for example, the cosmos hated us. (An idea I am not ready to dismiss, given our adventures thus far.)"
  • The titular character of Matchu has been struck by lightning twice in the same day, fallen through weak floors, and had a UFO land on top of him right when he was finally about to talk to his love interest.
  • Howard from Sketch Comedy. (Also, inverted with Susan.)

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Carl. Just the things that happen to him.
  • Prince Zuko of Avatar: The Last Airbender has resigned himself to the fact that everything in the universe seems to be working against him and his pursuit of his goals. He copes with this by priding himself on struggling and fighting for his victories with no help from cosmic luck.
    • Well, aside from that time when he snapped, ending up standing on a mountain peak during a storm screaming for The Universe to try to strike him down like it always does...
    • "The universe just loooves proving me wrong, doesn't it?"
      Sokka: (as it is raining and he is being heavily soaked) Look, I'm gonna make a prediction now. (Sarcastically) It's going to keep drizzling...(Beat.) See? (Everything promptly becomes sunny and sparkly, the clouds vanish, the sun shines warmly and the land is happy again.)
      Aang: Not everyone has the gift, Sokka.
  • While Waspinator of Beast Wars was The Chew Toy, his counterpart in Transformers Animated, Wasp, is a Cosmic Plaything. Instead of getting blown up a lot, his ill fortune lead to him getting framed for being a spy, going to jail for 50+ years, and going insane.
    • And then he is tricked into becoming a techno-organic monstrosity by Blackarachnia, explodes, and winds up in pieces on what may or may not be a version of the prehistoric Earth from Beast Wars. Like his predecessor he lives through the dismemberment, but the scene of him trying to pull himself back together is terrifying rather than comedic.
  • Bill, from The Terrible Thunderlizards, had "When does the hurting stop?" as his Catch Phrase.
  • Homer Simpson instantly becomes one whenever he enters New York City.
    • Frank Grimes.
  • The four main characters in South Park. Cartman had been anal probed for starters, Kenny has been killed many times, and Stan and Kyle would sometimes get ridiculously short ends of the stick, especially Kyle for some reason.
    • Episodes like "Cartmanland" and "HUMANCENTiPAD" seem to imply that Cartman is God's plaything, receiving what he loves and then having it taken away just to mess with him. Definitely a case of Call It Karma, though—"Cartmanland" largely focused on the idea that a universe where Cartman actually got what he wanted would not be just.
  • Timmy Turner, the main character in The Fairly OddParents, is tormented constantly. The writers even go so far as subverting the Wonderful Life trope by letting the character of Jorgen Von Strangle telling Timmy that his very existence causes misery for everyone. He is also frequently tormented by Francis The Bully, Vicky his evil babysitter, and Mr. Crocker his Sadist Teacher. Even when Timmy wishes for his situation to improve, he is forced to wish everything back to normal (more often than not because said wishes proceed to make things worse!), a very notorious Reset Button, thus continuing his ongoing misery.
  • Phineas and Ferb's sister Candace. Her relentless quest to "bust" her brothers and prove their outlandish activities to their parents means she gets dragged through the wringer and usually gets within a whisker of succeeding, only to have it all snatched away at the last moment, leaving her looking crazy. Like Wil E. Coyote, it's only her own obsession that keeps the pain coming, but it does seem that fate has it in for her: even if the entire universe has to expand to rob her of validation, it'll happen.
    • Even worse, a number of later episodes have Candace attempting to rid herself of her obsession, which inevitably fail just as badly as her attempts to "bust" Phineas and Ferb. Basically, not only is she not allowed to succeed, she's not allowed to stop trying.
  • In The Real Ghostbusters, Egon once commented, "Sometimes I think the universe just waits for me to get cocky."
  • Squidward from Sponge Bob Square Pants, it seems that the whole universe is out to make him miserable, whether it be his dreams being shattered like glass (no doubt by Spongebob and Patrick, or just being yanked away by anything), or just being hurt for no reason, it's little wonder that fans of the show have declared him The Woobie.
    • Plankton. If, even for the big bad. It seems that even the most wretched attempts of wanting to steal the Krabby Patty formula, the karma will come back at him with a worse punishment.
  • Henry from KaBlam!
  • Gumball Watterson in the episode "The Curse" where he finds himself under a plague of bad luck for no explained reason.
  • Many characters of Looney Tunes play with this. While karma does play a lot into their bad luck, the contrived nature of their endless pain and misfortune almost comes off as some higher being out there having sadistic fun...
    • Wile E Coyote is a stand out example. While a key rule in his character is that he could stop his pursuits (and thus his abuse) at any time, his schemes to get a basic meal always fail in often the most contrived (and painful) of ways. Even instances he is Genre Savvy enough to anticipate an error in his plan, fate is always a step ahead of him and twists things back in his direction.
  • Frizz and Nug of The Dreamstone bemoan this status endlessly. Given they spend each episode shanghied into villainous missions to steal a MacGuffin they don't give a crap about, usually facing the brunt of their abusive boss, the angry heroes, their own bumbling and anything else that can cause pain for them out there as a result, they're not far off.
  • Garfield is an interesting case. For him, he's only a Cosmic Plaything on Mondays.
  • The three main protagonists of Ed, Edd n Eddy, even when they're not doing anything to deserve it. At one point when Finagle's Law really decides to screw them over, Edd gave us this quote:

    Truth In Television 
  • Anyone who claims to have never had even a single day where it felt like this is lying.
    • Being paranoid certainly helps.
    • Even if they aren't (most likely due to young age), it is inevitable that they will someday experience just such a day.
    • Will be made worst by abusive friendships


Cool LoserLoser ArchetypeDesignated Monkey
Chain LetterLuck TropesDoom Magnet
The Chew ToySliding Scale of Character AppreciationDesignated Monkey
The CoronerStock CharactersCovert Pervert
Consolation BackfireFinagle's LawDisaster Dominoes

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