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The Madness Place

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Agatha in her Madness Place

"There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line."

Humans have human frailties, and even a character working on something vitally important will eventually have to rest. Tiredness, hunger, or just enemies bursting into the workplace can break anyone's concentration. There are also moral reasons to stop—the experiment is a crime against nature, the "volunteer"'s crying finally gets to you, etc. Most people understand the occasional need to take a break.

Mad Scientists think that kind of attitude is for wimps.

When these guys get involved — or perhaps we should say obsessed — with a project, they ignore all distractions. The prisoner's crying? I don't hear anything. Crime against nature? I haven't been outside in ten years, so I don't really care. Food, sleep? Obstacles. And enemies jumping into the lab are like bonus "volunteers". You don't even have to hunt them down with a taser first!

Those who have found the Madness Place are very productive… for a time. Sometimes even a long time. But eventually, they come back, and have to deal with mere mortals again.

For obvious reasons, this trope is usually associated with the Mad Scientist, but it can appear alongside a Playful Hacker or other personalities. As touched upon above, those in the madness place tend to forget to eat, bathe, and sometimes talk. They may think they've said something, or think it's so blindingly obvious they shouldn't have to mention it. In a sense, It's All About Me.

Compare Happy Place. Not to be confused with the Crazy Place. Or the Cuckoo Place. May be caused by Science-Related Memetic Disorder, though going to the Madness Place isn't necessarily due to a medical disorder. Compare Neurodiversity Is Supernatural, where atypical mental conditions do more than make you good at MacGyvering superweapons.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Crona in Soul Eater spends time in this, a Happy Place and a Black Bug Room. S/he spends much less of the anime in it due to a happy Gecko Ending (less so in the manga). Dr. Stein is constantly at risk of slipping into his. Other "victims" include Justin Law and Death The Kid.
  • Arguably, what Fran of Franken Fran goes into when she begins an operation.
  • In Neon Genesis Evangelion: Angelic Days, Yui is still alive; one of her jobs at NERV is to gently nudge Gendo out of the Madness Place from time to time.
  • In My Hero Academia, Department of Support student Mei Hatsume can get so fixated on inventing new support items that she blithely ignores any other needs. Best exemplified in the preparation for the school's culture festival, when she cheerfully forgoes sleep or bathing for days on end, then crashes hard once her work is done.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Unstoppable Wasp, Nadia dives into this head first after a group of A.I.M. agents attack G.I.R.L. The worst part of this is that she decides to go into her lab in the Microverse, where time moves much faster than in the normal world. What was only half a day is multiple days... and it exacerbates her first major manic episode, attacking her friends while lost in this drive and, once she comes down, is Driven to Suicide over what she did.

    Fan Works 
  • In Rebuilt Harry's mechanical genius irregularly sends him into a state where he ignores food, sleep and the entire outside world, resulting in blackouts when his body shuts down afterwards.
  • Alone, Together: Kim Possible spends her first year in the Other World trying to figure out how to get Dr. Drakken's teleporter working so she can return home. She obsessively spends every waking moment studying math and physics, neglecting personal hygiene and living in a mess of scattered books, notes, and discarded food and water containers.
  • Left Beyond: One of the many things that the Foreman has to juggle is mad scientist Aki Lattinen's mental state. Letting her run rampant damages her health, but helping her stay sane has a cost in research speed, and it's only a few years until the Biblical end of the world.
  • In Hellsister Trilogy, Darkseid's torture technician Desaad gets so engrossed in trying his nightmarish contraptions on helpless prisoners he barely notices -and hardly cares- when his devices blow up on his face.
    In blackness was where Pariah would have preferred to spend his time. He had one small satisfaction: that Desaad had tried to torture him with a complicated contraption that was supposed to work on him physically, on his nerve cells, and the thing had blown up in his face. Desaad, with blackened face, had said, "Yes. Well, now we'll have to try again, won't we?"
  • Princess Twilight Sparkle And The Sorcerous Symbiosis: Twilight spends much of the story slipping in and out of it, pulled by both her scientific desire to study and her desire to keep her subjects safe.
  • In Girl Genius fanfiction Raised by Jägers, Mechaniscburgers have learned instinctively to step way, way back when a Heterodyne is tinkering with something.
    Laszlo picked himself up and retreated closer to the other Jägers, not consciously, but because hundreds of years of being in the Heterodynes' service had conditioned him to steer clear of them when they were working on anything.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas: Jack Skellington spends a lot of time attempting to figure out Christmas after returning to Halloweentown from Christmastown.

  • Superman: Last Son of Krypton. When Superboy gives a teenage Lex Luthor his own laboratory, Lex goes into this state.
    Some of Lex's classmates and a few of the teachers he had not yet intimidated left food outside the laboratory door. Clark Kent, the only student that the Smallville High faculty trusted not to copy answers that were often more accurate than teachers' answer keys, got the job of leaving Lex's tests and homework in the laboratory mail slot. Some days, the food was gone in the morning, but it generally remained. Twice during the two weeks, the accumulated assignment pages were tugged in through the mail slot. The next morning, both times, they were in a neat pile, correct and completed, on the ground outside under a basket of rotted fruit. No one ever saw the door open, not ever. Even Superboy had no idea what was going on inside. He had lined the walls and Venetian blinds with thin lead sheeting. For three weeks, Lex was very like a mystical medieval hermit living in a cave.
  • Tinkers in Super Minion sometimes get the "tinker twitch" when they're bored, have a cool idea to try out, or see something that needs tinkering to fix. They can be very productive in this state but usually can't sleep until they either satisfy the twitch or pass out from exhaustion.
  • In The Phantom of the Opera (the book, not the musical), the title character tells Christine that he sometimes goes weeks on end working on his opera, Don Juan Triumphant, without eating or sleeping much. Unfortunately for him, a few weeks in the madness place have to inevitably be made up for by another few weeks of sleeping most of the time due to being utterly exhausted.
  • The title character of Monstrumologist, a scientist who studies monsters, often goes into week(s)-long frenzied periods of near-constant experimentation and research after he finds a new object of study. These are, of course, followed by periods of deep depression, which include ignoring his twelve-year-old assistant.
  • In Frankenstein, Frankenstein creates his monster during in one long fit of inspiration. At completion, he snaps out of it and immediately regrets his actions.
  • A Deepness in the Sky: The Focus biovirus traps people in this as a permanent condition, so they can be used as brilliant but unquestioning drones for the Emergent dictatorship.
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, Penny rarely has any conscious idea of what she's constructing when her powers are involved. The sequel extends her "madness place" as the ability to take technology from her own personal future. If anything, this is even more terrifying than the normal defiance of physics.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, we get a somewhat-downplayed version with Daenerys Targaryen, as she isn't loud about it and "For Politics, Survival, and Getting My Family's Stuff Back!" doesn't quite have the same ring to it, however social her experimentation gets. Yet, some of the greatest leaps of insight she makes (be they magical, mundane or just too outside the box for others to predict) are preceded by a rather weird reliance on visions and dream-states with the accompanying logic they give. The thing is, she makes it work for her more often than not — particularly in the short-term. (Longer-term...there can be a few issues, however.) She often displays states close to trancing, lucid dreaming, or what looks an awful lot like natural self-hypnosis using mantras or sayings to spur herself along. As she is about the only major Targaryen example we get to go on in the series itself, you've got to ask questions about how much the House as a whole has done similar things down the centuries... be the individuals either the great, middling, or outright nutty ones. Even her less-than-impressive brother, Viserys, could fixate on trying to avenge his House for years. To his detriment, in his case.
  • Igors in Discworld don't have a Madness Place themselves, but their masters often do. If an Igor is working for a mechanical genius who isn't in the Madness Place (such as Hubert Turvy in Making Money, who is constantly fretting about how the Glooper might cause people trouble) they tend to get a bit disconcerted, because there's something weird about people like that.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Author's Ordeal": Rather than engineering things that disregard the laws of physics, this poem describes how the obsession of writing can cause the same sort of casual disregard for food, people, and traffic lights. Authors cannot leave until the manuscript is complete.
  • A Practical Guide to Evil: Masego, as one of the outstanding magical prodigies of his generation, becomes prone to this, often forgetting to eat when he's engrossed in a magical experiment. It gets especially bad after his fathers die - he steals a city, lets himself get possessed by a fragment of the Dead King's mind, turns half the city into a gigantic magical ritual and exclusively tries to re-summon one of his fathers (an incubus) for weeks without sleep.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: "Listen" is basically about the Doctor jumping straight to this place, to the point of doing some ridiculously dangerous and stupid things in pursuit of a mystery that may or may not exist outside his imagination.
  • Game of Thrones: If Madness and Greatness are two sides of the same coin, then King Baelor Targaryen is the test-case. He built a great Sept and an impressive work of architecture, was kind to the poor and brought peace between the Iron Throne and Dorne, but he also neglected his responsibilities and made a mockery of the Crown. He even believed that food and drink were earthly distractions and eventually fasted himself into an early grave.
  • Homeland: Carrie is prone to manic episodes in which she is totally unfit for society, but can process incredible quantities of intelligence to make great insights.
  • Kamen Rider Build:
    • Takumi Katsuragi during his time in Faust. He was not entirely... there when he created the Hazard Trigger or advocated human experimentation. He did snap out of it later on and tried to fix the mess he'd created, but by then it was too late.
    • Sento Kiryu is often the Only Sane Man of his team, but that doesn't stop him from having plenty of these moments that are usually Played for Laughs. He enters a happy science place when he is maniacally cheerfull when inventing and ceases to notice reality until he is done much to the chagrin of his team.
  • NCIS: New Orleans: Cade goes into these during his manic episodes in a distressingly realistic depiction of bipolar disorder. His intro episode has him attempting to remodel Christopher's living room in exchange for letting him stay there, only he hasn't slept in several days and is on a massive adrenaline kick. The room is a half-painted mess and Cade is spinning in circles, too high on adrenaline and too low on sleep to accomplish anything.
  • Downplayed in Heroes with Dr Mohinder Suresh for the first two volumes: he frequently chooses science over sleeping, eating, or personal grooming (one scene shows him so sweaty-looking after an all-nighter, the effect was achieved by the director spritzing the actor with glycerine between takes), but his goals are well-intended if misguided at worst. And then in Volume 3, he becomes his own test subject, and the good intentions go out the window too.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Genius: The Transgression, Geniuses are known to do this, but there's no actual rules for it.
  • Exalted:
    • The Lunar have this as a power in the shape of Inevitable Genius Insight.
    • While less straightforward than Lunars, most Exalted are capable of going to the Madness Place by using charms to forgo or mitigate the need for food and sleep, and many possess the kind of personality to do so. In particular, any scientifically-minded Exalt is at risk of going there when the Great Curse sets in.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The desire to stay in the Madness Place for long periods is a driving force in for many tabletop wizards and sorcerers to become a Lich to escape the distractions of life. There's no need for food and sleep for an undead, and in the off-chance a pesky adventurer interrupts your study and trashes your workshop, well, there's always more time.
    • An evil sorcerer who doesn't become a lich but simply dies while in the Madness Place may linger on as a type of undead called a Gray Philosopher, who... mostly just sits there thinking obsessively, but his thoughts come to "life" as little monsters called Malices that will attack if you try to disturb him.

    Video Games 
  • Dwarf Fortress: In this game, your dorfs will sometimes be taken by a "strange mood", which will cause them to find a workshop, kick out whoever's using it, and lock themselves up in it. They will then start either yelling, mumbling, or drawing the materials they want, unless they're psychotically depressed, in which case they'll either steal a corpse or kill a dwarf and use his remains to make their project. They will never leave for food, booze, or rest. If you get them all the materials they want, they'll create a valuable artifact and instantly gain legendary experience in the field of whatever they were making (with the exception of one mood). Failure to get them the materials, however, will cause the dorf to slip into incurable insanity and invariably die (and, in the case of one flavor of insanity, try to take your other dorfs down with them).

  • El Goonish Shive:
  • Girl Genius is the Trope Namer. When Sparks retreat advance to their Madness Place, amazing things can happennote . Also given a more high-brow term in-setting: "Spark-induced fugue state". You can tell how deep into the madness place a Spark is by the way their speech bubbles are. Mild bouts merely have a more mad font. Deeper in, their speech bubbles have wavering edges on top of the mad font (as seen in the trope image). Really deep in involves yelling (such as when Gil minionizes Wooster through sheer force of will). Occasionally being under drugs (or coffee) can make the things they say entirely incoherent, though the results are still impressive. At one point, Agatha winds up skipping a few meals. Well, that, and using those meals as ingredients in yet more science. So Tarvek, no stranger to this sort of thing, cuts the knot, throws a labcoat over her head, and drags her bodily to dinner.
  • A Miracle of Science has this happen fairly often to SRMD sufferers, often after they get caught (though, fortunately, the symptoms are pretty predictable at that stage).

    Web Original 
  • In The Dr. Steel Show, Episode 2, Doctor Steel seems to be going to this place as his robotic toy creation begins to work and walk around. At least until he runs out of quarters.
  • A Hero's War: Landar goes into "brilliant but oblivious" mode several times, going days without food or sleep but coming up with revolutionary advancements like the beginning building blocks of magic-based computing. She even wishes she could turn it on and off like a switch, but Cato wants her to stop lest she kill herself.
  • In the Whateley Universe, Devisers (Mad Scientist types) have a penchant for going into their Madness Place every now and then. It's so prevalent among those portions of the student body that the cafeteria even offers "Deviser Specials", comprised of finger food and other offerings edible on the fly.
  • Depending on how strong/stable they are, Tinkers in Worm may slip into a state like this when using their powers and working on a project. How strong it is and how long it lasts often depends on how sane they are. Thinkers do something similar when using their powers, but it's much easier to bring them out of it.

    Western Animation 
  • Static Shock: Gear has a tendency to go into one of these and come out with a whole bunch of high tech gadgets.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: When Twilight Sparkle gets stressed over something she can't figure out, her focus on it tends to become obsessive and all-consuming, often leading her to ignore sleeping, eating or resting in favor of increasingly manic study. This is a very prominent character trait in early seasons, but becomes less prevalent as times goes one and eventually stops appearing by the late seasons.
    • In the pilot, it's implied that her Friendless Background comes from spending too much time working on advanced magical theory instead of getting out and about in the fresh air.
    • In "Lesson Zero", she becomes certain that her mentor will punish her if she doesn't write a friendship report — and if she doesn't have anything to write about, she will make something worth reporting. This ends in her having a mental breakdown which causes her to enchant the entire town into an obsessed stampede.
    • "It's About Time" sees her go even deeper into this place when she tries to avoid a horrible, unspeakable evil her future-self warned her about. She disaster-proofs the whole town, goes to Tartarus and back, then locks herself in her laboratory and doesn't eat or sleep for an entire week as she tries to avert the crisis. What did future!Twilight want to warn her about? Not to go creepily obsessive about the future.

    Real Life 
  • Nikola Tesla had this in Real Life. Then again, it makes sense for him, as he invented codified the Mad Scientist trope.
  • Philip K. Dick wrote most of his books in multi-day writing binges (often helped by stimulants) during which he never left the typewriter.
  • Henry Cavendish was apparently never able to leave this state due to (at a bare minimum) crippling shyness. As a child, he supposedly locked himself in a room and derived all of Euclid's laws by hand. He ended up doing important work in just about every field of physics (including ones that didn't exist yet) as an adult but never published any of it.
  • Though generally a mild case when it happens, people with ADD and/or ADHD can sometimes be struck with a brief flash of inspiration. The idea must either be acted upon immediately or forgotten (requiring potentially hours of concentration to recover any of it), so they slip into this. Also happens when they're working on something they're interested in. It's called "hyperfocusing".
  • This trope essentially is a large portion of the manic phase of Bipolar Disorder. In addition to other symptoms, a manic person may start a task (or several) and then obsess over it to the point that they may fail to eat or sleep - if they're even capable of the latter at all, since insomnia is common. Even if they can sleep, normal levels of tiredness may never come, instead being "drowned out" by overwhelming amounts of energy. Conversely, however, failure to bathe is more associated with depressive episodes than manic ones, as quite a few sufferers find themselves driven to look their absolute best during mania, with basic hygiene being an obvious part of that - instead, they simply forgo every other form of self care.
  • The more down-to-earth version of this is a state of mind called "flow" where a person is focused on a task they find interesting or challenging, while utilizing internalized skills. It is a state of intense focus and relaxation at the same time and a person engaged in it will typically ignore basic biological needs, potentially for days on end. Artists, scientists, and athletes often find it easier to attain this state of mind, but anyone can reach it. Playing video games can often induce this state in a player. The problem comes when the state ends and you suddenly realize you haven't eaten or gone to the bathroom in sixteen hours. Athletes encounter those problems less frequently. Getting hit by a linebacker often breaks you out of flow.

Alternative Title(s): Madness Place