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In my world there is a villain who rules over the unhappy. In fact, we recently determined that he actually absorbs their happiness and uses it as energy to make himself stronger. This world does, in fact, have magic. Plenty of it. But what I want to know is can this be done without magic?

A few more details:

  • The victims are humans. Their happiness, therefore, is like ours.
  • The leech is humanoid. (human, alien, mutation.) Whatever works to make the answer work as long as they look mostly humanoid. (a spare tentacle is acceptable.)
  • The leech species must be able to exist in isolation. In my world there is only one known leech, although it would be nice if others may exist in potential.
  • The victim is not otherwise adversely effected. At least not significantly. They could still fight, if they can overcome the ennui of depression.
  • The depression can take just about any form of what is commonly referred to by that term. The only requirement is that the depressed see the world as Dark.
  • There is no constraint on range or area of effect but the bigger the better. (However I imagine contact would almost have to be needed.)

Is there any way this could be made plausible for a humanoid creature to obtain any sustenance from Happiness? Be it Dopamine or Serotonin or whatnot.

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    $\begingroup$ For me to venture an answer, I would need to know what you mean by "happiness". One definition could be "infused with dopamine", but that would be contraversial (and possibly interesting for your world, exactly because it is contraversial ...) $\endgroup$ – cryptarch Jan 19 at 4:31
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks that does help clarify at least a little bit. Maybe a better way to word the question would be something like "How would a villain gain enhanced supernatural or magical abilities as a result of giving people depression?" But then, there are different facets to depression, maybe not all apply? There is a difference between morbid ideation, unhappy mood, and reduced energy levels. Perhaps you mean the villain does all those things, or perhaps you mean something more specific? $\endgroup$ – cryptarch Jan 19 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ Without magic? So like, the CEO of any major multinational corporation. $\endgroup$ – boxcartenant Jan 19 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ @bruglesco What I'm trying to say is, there are multiple symptoms associated with what is commonly called depression, and not all those symptoms need to apply in any given depressive case. So, if you intend all those symptoms to be present, that would be worth mentioning. On the other hand, if you only intend "unhappy mood and reduced energy, without necessarily morbid ideation" (for example), that would also be worth mentioning. $\endgroup$ – cryptarch Jan 19 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, I think it was a confusing and unnecessary statement. The leech is a magic user, but this isn't magic. Same as wizard in a story about wizards, wouldn't use magic to gain energy from food they just eat. I will edit out that odd line. $\endgroup$ – AGirlHasNoName Jan 19 at 5:08
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Based on the comments to the question, it seems like the question is really about:

How could an entity gain some kind of energy in return for causing people to see the world as dark in some sense?

I see multiple ways that this could be approached:

  • There is some kind of bounty available for spreading visions of darkness.
  • Visions of darkness erode the barriers between realities, making it easier for the villain to access reservoirs of their chosen energy source.
  • A suitably trained person could choose to perform seemingly supernatural feats whenever they like, with the understanding that this induces morbid visions in people who are close to them (either spatially or socially).

Option 1: It is a bounty!

The villain has an arrangement with some other power/market/mentor who can grant energy. The more people who the villain can corrupt with visions of death and darkness, the more energy is up for grabs, according to the market agreed price.

In a narrative, this could manifest in a lot of different ways. It might be well suited to narratives intended for exploring themes of greed and corruption.

Option 2: The visions are real!

There really is some kind of "bad" universe out there full of cool dark energy ready to be used by the enterprising sorceror. Think of the "upside-down" in Stranger Things, or the Negative Energy Plane in Dungeons & Dragons, or the Dark Dimension in Marvel.

The villain is at home in <insert bad place name here>. That is where they get their energy. When they are at home, no problems. But now they are visiting planet Earth, how can they get their sweet nectar? Easy: erode the barriers between dimensions.

Through whatever means, the villain is able to induce morbid ideation in regular humans which actually reveals visions of the villain's homeland. Seemingly harmless (albeit unsettling) these visions are actually true and show how things really are in that bad place. Recipients of these visions could go insane, but they also gain insight into the true nature of reality; but the villain doesn't care about all that, all that matters is that these visions make it easier to "phone home" and grab some sweet energy drinks from where they are kept cold.

This option would be good if you're going for a kind of creepy Stephen King/Stranger Things atmosphere.

Option 3: I ain't the bad guy here!

The (so-called) villain discovered that they have some special power which they can freely use whenever they want, but it has an unfortunate side-effect: it induces morbid visions and feelings of darkness in the people around them. When should they use their power?

If they save someone, does it matter if that person is irrevocably changed, so they can no longer be friends with the person who saved them? Or, a person is saved, but maybe the effect of the darkness induces them to do something drastic, such as committing suicide, or becoming a dangerous criminal?

This option would be suitable for a noirish or angstish storyline.

Summary

Let your narrative direction drive the pros and cons of any powers used, and any drawbacks imposed for those powers. If you choose the power and drawbacks in advance, that will prove to be neither sufficient nor necessary for exposing the theme and plot that you're actually interested in.

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Science-based... reality-check...

No

Dopamine, etc., are neurotransmiters. Not Bananas. If you drained a million people (producing maybe a pint of fluid... I could be wrong, though) you would have something that undoubtadly would taste awful. And once it hits your stomach (which, unlike the brain... where they belong, has acid), they wouldn't be worth a brass farthing.

On the other hand...

Taking away my BBQ ribs makes me very unhappy... and they're more-or-less nutritious.

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  • $\begingroup$ While I suspect this is the right answer, Isn't this a bit of an over simplification? There are processes other than breaking things down in stomach acid. $\endgroup$ – AGirlHasNoName Jan 19 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ @bruglesco, If you'll excuse my flippancy, you could water bushes with the pint of neurotransmitters, or use them to clean the windscreen of your car, or to humidify a room. All three would be as nutritious as drinking them and provide as much energy for the human body through any other means of absorption. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 19 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ If you'll excuse my frustration, I am but a poor uneducated man with zero working knowledge of neurochemistry (which is why I asked the question) I'm not quite sure why it needed so much flippancy at all, but I guess I got my answer. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – AGirlHasNoName Jan 19 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @bruglesco I can understand your frustration, my answer was caustic. Please keep in mind that all Stack Exchange sites expect users to perform basic research before using the service. Had you started with Wikipedia's entry for Dopamine and started reading the linked words that are unfamiliar to you, you would have also found your answer. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 19 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ See I got about 20 minutes in reading about L-DOPA and how it's oxidation can lead to free radicals and how free radicals are consequentially used in combustion reactions and I thought: "Hey, maybe some organism could derive some form of energy to fuel it's magic gland... Or some such nonsense." So no I didn't find my answer. But I also don't really know what I'm talking about, do I? $\endgroup$ – AGirlHasNoName Jan 20 at 1:29
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I can think of a fairly simple solution.

  1. The leech happens to like leeching from humans to gain energy. (Via vines or tentacles or tubes or whatever you want.)

  2. It's venom contains anti-happiness drugs of some kind.

In this case, it would not be using the happiness to gain energy, but the humans would simply become unhappy as a result of being leached of energy from this creature.

The drug could even have the positive effect for the slug by making depressed humans less likely to fight off the leeching, similar to mosquito venom making us less prone to feeling it suck our blood.

I don't know if this is the sort of answer you're looking for.

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  • $\begingroup$ It is required that the happiness itself be the source of energy for the leech. Depressed people literally provide less energy. It isn't just a side effect. $\endgroup$ – AGirlHasNoName Jan 19 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ edited to clarify $\endgroup$ – AGirlHasNoName Jan 19 at 5:01
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It can't be done without magic... unless the world works differently from our world.

Let's say "magic energy" is the energy used by "physical laws" of your world. Dopamine is just a physical form of "magical happiness". It works just like happiness do, but it let physical laws modify its behaviour. (Iron, if made to be in contact with happiness, will lead you to wonder if you should be happy, because happiness has a "magical" physical way to interact with the things it interacts with usually, that is modified by the fact that there is iron molecules in between of happiness molecules and the organs that detect if you are happy) .

Your emotion vampire will eat the happiness directly, which will lower the amount of dopamine because dopamine == physical translation of magical happiness.
Or it will emit a magical wave that will destroy the laws making dopamine being dopamine and turn it into direct "magical happiness" energy, then eat this energy.

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The leech does not obtain sustenance from happiness. Also not from neurotransmiters.

What is really going on is people seeing cause and effect and misunderstanding a process. The leech causes neurotransmiter and hormonal imbalance in the victim, in a very specific way that leads to binge eating.

Check some of the symptoms from the link:

  • Withdraws from usual friends and activities

  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance

  • Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after overeating

  • Feelings of low self-esteem

The leech may also cause disphoria, if the symptoms above didn't already.

This creates a vicious cycle where, to cope with the strees and anguish, the victim eats even more. This is the leech fattening the victim. Then the leech feasts on a person that is rich in omega-6 and LDL, which for the leech are essential nutrients. The fact that the victim is depressed is just a side effect.

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No, unless there is magic. Happiness is an abstract concept. It only exists in your thoughts. Therefore, it's impossible to extract it.

In addition, if the ruler drains happiness from the people, the unsatisfied citizens are more likely to rebel against him, unless they are very unhappy and decide to commit suicide before they get the idea of rebelling. Which, a ruler that rules over a bunch of dead bodies isn't exactly a ruler. :)

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