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Basic Information

A meme is a theoretical unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols, or practices. In other words, a meme is an idea, or a concept, or way of behaving. The theory of memetics suggests that ideas are contagious, and compete with each other in a method not unlike the natural selection that produces evolution. Memes are like the Genes of thought - they reproduce, compete for resources, and sometimes mutate into new forms. Rumors are a common form of memes.

Catch phrases, melodies, slang, religious beliefs, fashion trends, tropes and even elements of technology can all be viewed as memes.

Meme theory came into it's own in the 1990s, but had much earlier roots.
Richard Dawkins coined the term in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene.
The concept is predated by the (somewhat disputed) Hundredth Monkey Effect, where researchers in the 1950s documented behavior passing from one individual monkey to the entire monkey population of an island very rapidly.
In 1904, Richard Semon presented a concept called Mnemetics, which has a lot in common with later Memetic theory.

List of Memes

See Also


Game and Story Use

  • Memes could, within the context of an RPG, turn out to be a form of alien life, supernatural creature, or wizardry. It's not just a catchy pop song, it's a mind-warping horror from another world!
    • Memes also could exist in physical form in another dimension representing abstract concepts.
      • It might be possible to alter or destroy certain memes in this dimension - or create new ones.
    • Your wizard's spells qualify as memes. When you cast a spell, are you summoning a creature from someplace else?
  • Given a critical threshold of believers, a meme could develop into a Mythago or Egregore.
  • A particularly virulent meme could result in a rapid transformation of a society. Consider Dutch Tulipomania in 1637, or the rise of Nazi Germany. In RPG terms, a society "attacked" by a meme could "reverse alignment" in just a few weeks.
    • An interesting possibility for a campaign would be a society in the grip of a memetic war. Two memes are competing for control of the society, and the PCs have to stop the war before the memetic war becomes an actual war… or keep it going to prevent either meme from taking over.
  • Some types of mass hysteria might qualify as memes - memes so aggressive that they drive their victims insane (possibly even into a type of non-undead zombie).
  • In cinematic games, creating the right memes might work as a form of mind control.
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