Mind control in fiction

Some works of fiction – especially sci-fi and fantasy – can feature ways to manipulate one’s mind. In this post, I’ll look into the challenges these elements bring from several aspects, such as character power or ethics.

Affecting someone’s mind is a powerful tool – and in wrong hands, very dangerous. As I said, it also brings some questions regarding the ethics – something I’ll mention later. Because of its nature, such abilities are more often used by antagonists than protagonists. Now, let’s have a closer look at them, starting with one important difference.

Mind vision would be a situation when a character looks into the mind of the other without manipulating their thoughts while mind control involves actively manipulating another character’s mind. Different cases might impose different limitations – from just manipulating their thoughts to taking a full control of their body. Likewise, the power cost can differ.

Likewise, the mechanics can differ. Borrowed control means the controlling character takes control of its victim but can’t control their own body at the same time, leaving them vulnerable. This offers a counterbalance to a powerful ability. Indirect control is a situation where the controlling character is not in complete control. They merely confuse the victim into obeying their orders and thus their control is weaker but they stay aware of themselves.

Full control is a case where the controlling character has varying degree of (usually strong) control over the victim while staying in (almost) full control of their own body with minimal limitations (such as inability to cast another spell at the same time). This makes mind control an extremely powerful ability, more so when it can be done on a distance.

In any case, both mind vision and mind control are not only powerful abilities but also highly controversial. After all, invading one’s mind – let alone taking control – is an unprecedented breach of privacy. It can be considered a major crime with severe punishment – such as lifetime sentence or even death sentence.

Mind vision

Mind vision doesn’t grant control – and thus is likely to be less demanding. Even then, it can be a powerful tool – looking into the mind of someone who doesn’t know how to defend themselves against such a magic can reveal bit of a plan in the making – and give the user an edge in upcoming confrontation.

However, there’s a potential for benevolent uses: looking into the mind of someone injured, especially if they’re in no state to cooperate, can be a way to learn more about their injuries. A reversed mind vision (showing someone your memories) can be a way to quickly share important information without the need to tell them – and can be faster, depending on how the author designs such magic.

Mind control

On the other hand, mind control is most often the tool of an evil character. A typical way is to take control of someone to do their dirty work. Should there be no proof of mind control (which might be impossible to prove if not caught in the act), they can do severe crimes without even being accountable for them. Should they be caught and proven, though, such an act can be the shortest way to a capital punishment.

Benevolent uses of mind control might be rare but are not impossible. One of those coming to my mind is when Eragon had his sword forged by the elven smith – who used mind control to forge it with Eragon’s body (due to her swearing to not forge blades for dragon riders anymore – but mind control was a loophole).

Fighting fire with fire

As those using such skills are likely to be very dangerous, those tasked to deal with them might be allowed to do the same without the usual negative consequences.

Defending your mind

Mind control or vision is powerful tool but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fought against. What ways can be used to protect one’s mind against such magic can differ – a magical shield might work to prevent being hit by such a spell but would require the victim to see it coming – which is unlikely to be the case.

Another option to explore are the possible ways of resisting such spells. The common option would be willpower – someone with stronger will could actively fight the control to some degree, based on their skills.

I believe I’ve exhausted what I wanted to share on this topic. I’ll welcome your questions and opinions: have you read a book where mind vision/control exists? How satisfyingly was it done? Have you written such a story?

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