Trigger warnings are controversial, no doubt about that. And before anyone suggests that it’s some political left vs right, PC vs non-PC disagreement, even the leftish Atlantic has written critically about them:
I don’t think every possibly concerning thing needs a warning, but I do see some benefit in them. For something like sexual violence we can consider that a lot of victims do not report it or seek treatment, and that unfortunately, perhaps much more than for other trigger warning categories, there are a lot of creative works which use rape under the mistaken idea that it suffices for character development. Rape and other sexual violence or harassment is so prevalent in creative media that there are dozens of distinct tropes.
Do you think we know everything there is to know about mental disorders and how to treat them? For example, PTSD was only coined in 1978! Before then, soldiers with shell shock were often considered cowards.
Some men suffering from shell shock were put on trial, and even executed, for military crimes including desertion and cowardice. While it was recognised that the stresses of war could cause men to break down, a lasting episode was likely to be seen as symptomatic of an underlying lack of character. For instance, in his testimony to the post-war Royal Commission examining shell shock, Lord Gort said that shell shock was a weakness and was not found in “good” units. The continued pressure to avoid medical recognition of shell shock meant that it was not, in itself, considered an admissible defence. Executions of soldiers in the British Army were not commonplace. While there were 240,000 Courts Martial and 3080 death sentences handed down, in only 346 cases was the sentence carried out. 266 British soldiers were executed for “Desertion”, 18 for “Cowardice”, 7 for “Quitting a post without authority”, 5 for “Disobedience to a lawful command” and 2 for “Casting away arms”. (Wikipedia article on Shell shock)
We’ve come a long way as a society since then. I’m sure we’ll learn more still. I’m not a pyschologist, and I won’t try to predict whether trigger warnings will be seen as valuable tools or harmful pseudo-therapy in 20 years.
You’re free to have and express your opinion that trigger warnings are unnecessary or even harmful, but your opinion that people who value them aren’t “real adults” is not welcome here. I hope you can see the distinction.
In addition, I’ve heard some groups pushing for the term “content warning” instead of “trigger warning”—because the latter is using a specific medical term, and the term itself is getting devalued because of it (see: the “triggered” meme).
People don’t have to have PTSD to be sensitive to things, after all. Again as a non-PTSD-having person I’d still want a warning before seeing a graphic depiction of animal abuse, for example: just a note up front saying “hey this game contains X, Y, and Z, consider yourself warned”.
Since Twine came up, and since invidious generalizations about the Twine community has been an issue with this forum in the past, I want to reiterate that the issue (such as it is) doesn’t have anything particular to do with Twine or the Twine community. As far as I can tell, what happened is this:
The IFTF, in order to test the accessibility of various IF tools, created two short games and had testers with visual and upper-body impairments play them. One of the games was made with Inform 7 and one was made with Twine. The one made with Twine had a scene where the player eats something. Some tester made a remark about that, which was recorded but not endorsed in the report. This doesn’t have anything in particular to do with Twine or “the Twine community.”
Okay, so I’ll be open here. I enjoy content warnings about profanity, gore, and sexuality, but that’s not what trigger warnings are generally about.
But I’ve had a traumatic event in the last year that reshaped my life. It involved a topic that is extremely painful in real life but frequently shows up in comedy shows. I’ve turned off several shows because I just can’t handle it.
It’s not mentioning it that’s bad, it’s seeing it acted it out in real life, or reading about it, or in songs.
Would a trigger warning help? Maybe. I’d certainly appreciate it, and I could see why some people might want that. I might want that.
I think the food example is the one you’re thinking about the most. But the same article you read about that in says they decided not to implement it. They were specifically asking people to come up with examples of things that might hurt people. What if this person couldn’t think of anything, so they stretched to come up with an extreme example?
Because of my experiences, I understand people wanting trigger warnings.I flagged your original post as being against the rules, because it was demonizing people who are on this forum and who don’t need to be demonized, and who I identify with. I think you have a lot to contribute to this forum, and do contribute, but there’s literally a button to report people who are attacking others, and I used it.
Also, detailed content warnings aren’t necessarily making people nope completely out of consuming content. I know people who have weirdly specific triggers (“up to their chin in water”) and are fine just so long as they’re given a heads-up warning beforehand to expect it so that content doesn’t take them by surprise.
The best way to do it is to offer a content warning behind an optional link at the beginning or with a special command. The content in question doesn’t have to be openly displayed to spoil game content. People who appreciate and need these warnings will look for them if they are clearly labeled. Those who don’t like them needn’t bother with them.
How I feel personally is irrelevant. The fact is that everyone is entitled to freedom of speech. I personally may find myself “irked” by a trigger warning (or lack of one). On the other hand I’ve not walked a mile in the shoes of those who find them helpful.
Either way, both “camps” are free to say as they please–freedom of expression is a right and necessarily cuts both ways.
I do not mean to say that IFTF is not free to create, maintain, and enforce their policy. I note the Foundation makes every effort to be inclusive.
If you tell me that you want to know in advance about particular content because it may cause you serious distress (let alone harm), why should I refuse that request? Here are some reasons I can think of:
Because I don’t understand why the content distresses you?
Because I don’t believe that the content distress you?
Because I don’t think the content should distresses you?
Because I don’t care if I distress you?
Because I think I know better than you do what will be good for your wellbeing?
Because I can’t be bothered to find out why content may cause you distress?
Because providing that warning will stop me from achieving what I am trying to achieve artistically (i.e. it will be a spoiler)?
Of these reasons, the only one that seems to me to have even minimal potential weight is the last. Even then I think it would apply in very few cases, and it is almost always possible to provide a suitable warning in sufficiently general terms.
Content warnings silence nobody. They need not damage a game’s artistic effect. They don’t put anyone to much trouble. Blanket refusal to use them sends these messages: I know what’s good for you better than you do, I am entitled to ignore your feelings, I don’t believe what you tell me about your needs, I don’t really care if I upset you.
Here’s an idea. Let those who oppose content warnings include something like “This game does not have any content warnings because I am opposed to them on principle. If you think you need content warnings, then this game is not for you.” It won’t probably increase the audience much. But, heh, what price principle?
There is another reason that some people are alluding to above: “Trigger warnings have become a signal that you are politically on the left, and I am not left-wing”. It is not a very good reason, but one that I think is very important to people, whether they are aware of it or not.
I used to be against content warnings in general, at least in part for a similarly irrational reason: the people who campaigned for them were American and Christian, and I was against (most) things American and Christian. Of course, I would never have used this as an actual argument at the time or admitted that this was my motivation.
These days I tend to feel more positive towards trigger warnings, and I can’t deny that part of the reason is that it have become a leftist cause. I mean, they are still a predominantly American thing, but I am sympathetic to the movement that they are part of.
Those Parental Advisory stickers on music will always be ridiculous, though.
I think the point the original poster was trying to make is that once you start adding less common trigger warnings to game descriptions, you open a huge can of worms, as there are so many triggers spread across the entire population of the planet.
Almost every object, event and/or situation you include could potentially be a trigger for negative thoughts or emotions for someone, somewhere. Once you start adding warnings about food triggers (for example), someone is going to complain if you don’t also add warnings if the game contains spiders, clowns, water, insects, ducks, high places, low places, dark places, small spaces, open spaces…
For what is worth, I read that passage in the accessibility report as a very mild dismissal of the idea of food trigger warnings, with a subtext of “this is an example of how requiring trigger warnings would be a problem”. That is, the writer pretty much agreed with the anti-trigger warning sentiment of the thread starter. A bit ironic that this would turn out to be such a trigger.
Long ago, in the age before Y2K (gather 'round, children!), an online movie message board that I frequented would discuss a website called CAP Alerts. This site contained what we perceived as hilarious movie reviews that were simultaneously reductive and overly-detailed, including exhaustive line-item instances of “offensive” content in six categories (with the acronym WISDOM), each with its own temperature gauge bar graph of offensiveness and personalized Bible-study verses for each specific movie.
We would look forward to this site’s take on blockbusters of the day, branding even popular family-friendly offerings with low scores for content such as “sexual eye-movement”. We loved the overwrought meta-commentary how the reviewer would say a prayer as they trepidly took their seat in the back corner of the auditorium, Bible in one hand, popcorn in the other, hoping for but not expecting that one cinematic experience that would perfectly please Jesus and his flock. We would try to predict how soon in certain films the reviewer would give up tallying the seven dirty words and walk out, not needing to see more but still posting all six temperature bar graphs blazing at 100% offensive.
I showed this website to my best friend with whom I practically shared a brain in hopes he would also become a fan. His reaction was “This isn’t for you. Why would you mock a resource for people who have different values from yours and helps them make better-informed choices for themselves and their children?”
Mind you, this was before detailed TV content warnings beyond those on premium cable channels and more reasonable, less judge-y “parents’ guides” on IMDB. He was right though; these reviews weren’t targeted at me and weren’t “shoved in my face”. I sought them out for ridicule from my personal perspective and hadn’t thought about it from any other.
Just as an aside, there is a school of thought that suggests good art should both challenge and potentially distress. From PaulS’ list above, the obvious missing item is ‘I want this to distress you. You should be distressed. It’s a distressing thing I am writing about. If you are distressed it might encourage you to think a different way…and so on.’ You could argue that hiding content like this behind warnings leads to it not being seen by the people it needs to be seen by.
Well, it doesn’t seem to me that this really applies to the audience for content warnings. If someone has been a victim of a certain kind of violence, and is having a hard time about it, they don’t need to be exposed to distressing examples of that kind of violence in order to be encouraged to think a different way. It’s already distressing to them! And that’s what content warnings are about.
I’ve had some personal experience with a particular violent attack where I had a connection to some of the victims and the institution that was attacked, where I sent a message around to my co-workers letting them know of the connection and that I did not want to talk about it. It’s not that I don’t want people to talk about it at all, and I think anyone who wasn’t disturbed by it should be disturbed by it and should think about what happened. But I personally don’t need to be any more disturbed by it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me avoiding discussion of that particular incident.
Anyway there is a lot of debate about the efficacy of content/trigger warnings. I’ve seen a report of a study that concludes that they’re ineffective or counterproductive (though it seemed to specifically focus on people who received the warning and viewed the content, and ignored people who didn’t view the content because of the warning, which seems like it’s missing the point). The issue with the original post wasn’t that it criticized trigger warnings, it’s that it did so on the basis of misinformation (see my above post on the IFTF accessibility report), and that it was unnecessarily abusive to people who use warnings.
I intended this to be part of my final point – the one that I think has some possible validity. But I’m actually rather doubtful about whether it is a reason not to warn. True, warning may mean that some people don’t read for “bad reasons”. But, in general I doubt we should second-guess people’s reasons: for me to decide that you “need” to see this even though you tell me it may cause you serious distress is morally questionable. I wouldn’t discount it in some very specific cases, but I don’t think it’s weighty enough to count as a general argument against sensible content warnings.
(Much as I like the idea anyway, this whole Leavisite “art that shocks and converts” idea strikes me as largely fairytale anyway. I wish it were otherwise, but my hunch is that such experiences are as likely to reinforce prejudices as to change them. But that’s a whole 'nother debate.)
Those sites can be helpful for people, especially since the author might be blind to how their work is affecting certain folks. However, if the author is aware of troubling material, the decent thing to do is to warn the reader.
Imagine if Charlotte’s Web contained a graphic depiction of the goings on at the slaughter house and there wasn’t any warning. (For the moment let’s pretend it’s a book aimed at adults.)
The story would have more impact, but I question the ethics of ambushing the reader that way.