In the magical world, “meme” does not refer to an image with an amusing slogan. Instead, it refers to a specific type of magical phenomenon. A meme is most often produced accidentally, perhaps by stacking certain magical effects together, by some kinds of magical misfires, or simply out of excessive carelessness in magic. It can also be produced deliberately, though this requires a fairly complex spell.
Regardless of how a meme comes about, the basic characteristics are the same. A meme attacks the mind in ways similar to how a virus attacks a computer. In other words, it’s a kind of magical disease.
Once a person is afflicted by a meme, it will slowly alter their memories and mold their mind into a particular form; the exact form depends on both the specific meme and the number of people already afflicted by the meme.
One thing that nearly all memes have in common is that they force the subject to disbelieve any attempt to inform them of their affliction, often even leading to physical resistance, whether that be running away or fighting to defend the meme.
Memes are also self-replicating – after afflicting one person, it will then pass on to more people. Memes can generally be classified into two general categories: solitary memes, and group-think memes.
Solitary memes only produce one type of behaviour, and everyone afflicted by the meme displays the same altered behaviours, and the afflicted do not work together.
Group-think memes are more complex. The first person afflicted by the meme becomes some kind of leader role, but when they then infect more people, these are instead molded into some type of minion role – for the most sophisticated memes, there may even be more than just two possible roles. The meme can detect when the original leader is compromised (whether that means they were killed or cured), and will immediately mold one of the other afflicted into a new leader when this happens.
The first and, usually, hardest part about treating someone afflicted by a meme is to actually convince them to allow it. It’s almost impossible to reason with the afflicted on this point, so usually the only choice is to deprive them of consciousness.
After this, a skilled mental magic user can delve into their mind to methodically destroy the meme. This is a time-consuming process, as the meme makes every attempt dodge through the mind of the afflicted – for every trace of the meme you destroy, it’s possible that two new traces will pop up. You can’t be careless; it could risk destroying the person’s mind entirely. Ultimately though, somewhere in the mind of the afflicted, the core of the meme resides. If this is destroyed, the meme’s ability to dodge about and replicate is greatly reduced, so the goal is to first wipe the core, then clean up all the other traces.
For group-think memes, it’s usually best to cure the lower-ranking roles first, since the higher-ranking roles will continue to be regenerated as long as there are any afflicted people remaining.
Some memes actually build up an ego fortress1 in the afflicted person’s mind and hide their core inside. This greatly complicates the treatment, as detection and penetration of an ego fortress is incredibly difficult.
Memes are rarely life-threatening – if not treated, the afflicted will continue to live the life the meme molded for them. Some memes will push a person to do dangerous things that they might have otherwise avoided, so death is still possible, but in generally, there’s usually no hurry to treat a meme fast. You can take your time to track it down.
People afflicted by a meme will typically continue to feel the lingering effects of its mental invasion for the rest of their lives. Though it’s usually possible to restore most of the memories corrupted or erased by the meme from the spirit’s backups, some traces of the meme’s damage will still linger. This does depend on the skill of the person who cures them, to an extent, but even the best have difficulty fully healing the damage wreaked by a meme.
Memes can spread by a variety of ways – the simplest is simply meeting eyes with an afflicted person. Physical contact will also spread a meme, and in some circumstances merely trading words with an afflicted person will spread the meme; this depends in part upon the content of the conversation, though.
In other words, memes spread really easily – far more easily than any conventional disease. Physical proximity alone is not enough, fortunately; so as long as you don’t speak to the afflicted, avoid physical contact, and don’t meet their eyes, you should be safe.
In the event that you fail to avoid these things, all is not necessarily lost. Some of the stronger forms of mental protections can prevent a meme from taking hold of your mind. They can worm through some kinds of mental shields, but a sufficiently strong one will block them, and a deep shield will limit the meme’s spread though not entirely prevent it from taking effect.
If you know a meme has started to take hold of your mind, though, there are few options to protect yourself. At this point, it’s too late to raise any kind of mental shield. The only known option that can prevent a meme from fully taking over someone’s mind once it has started is an ego fortress1. As long as the ego fortress is built no more than a day or two after the meme first enters your mind, it will not be able to enter. It certainly would not be able to enter any ego fortress that already existed before it entered your mind. The downside of this option is that an ego fortress can only be built by the mind’s owner; it cannot be effectively created from magic by an external party.
Group-think memes sometimes stop spreading once they reach a certain critical mass of afflicated people, depending on the meme. If this happens, then even meeting the eyes of an afflicted person is unlikely to transmit the meme to you. However, it’s still possible, and if it does happen, the newly-afflicted will end up becoming a new leader who will go on to produce a second, separate group under the meme’s control.