What are some topics in games that make you uncomfortable or hesitant to recommend it to others?

Premising that I came from a country where instituitions & asylum is a thing of past:

and that a close family friend is a shrink (basaglian school, of course…), I played slouching toward bedlam more as historical-genre IF, so I admit that for me was a bit difficult understanding the issue around it, but in the end, my external look into psychiatry tells me that healing the soul is much more difficult than healing the flesh, and needs a different approach; and that is unquestionable that asylums and instituition was, and still is, abused as tool of social control.
Perhaps this is at the root of the issue debated ?

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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The psychiatric institution as a social control method is a significant part of the issue, yes. Sometimes people get taken to such institutions to avoid having to put them in police station cells (which are also generally controversial in the sorts of situation where that’s considered where I live), physical hospital (sometimes controversial, especially when used as a de facto mental institution) or to avoid having to fund (much cheaper) community care or social assistance (politically controversial). People in such institutions often get treated like a combination of a small child and a prisoner, and sometimes not even as a sentient being. Getting out is difficult - I’ve been involved in cases where multiple court orders did not suffice to secure a release. (There are several other elements as well, which interact with the social control one in complicated ways).

I find @Kastel 's point interesting, for I had not considered the possibility that overly-gentle takes would frustrate players looking for more intense engagement with the problems of psychiatric institutions. The balancing act I’m in the middle of writing is more complicated than I thought it would be.

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Doesn’t help that the lines between mental illness, eccentricity, socially frowned upon behaviors, and immorality are often blurred, especially in the minds of the masses who are more likely to make judgements based on gut feelings or politicians/corporate executives who are more likely to make judgements based on personal gain instead of quantifiable evidence and well-reasoned principles.

And in defense of creators self labeling their work, it can be hard to know what to label. Sure, there are some things that are universally(at least to the creator’s native culture) viewed as things that might disturb some and should unambiguously be labeled, but there can be specific things the creator views as so vanilla or implied by the genre it doesn’t cross their mind when they start tagging for content or they forget about some minor details. Maybe it’s a story about gang warfare and they include warnings for violence and gun use, but forget about the one scene where someone gets mugged at knife point and it’s the only time a knife shows up in the story, but that one scene triggers someone with a knife phobia or who survived such a mugging who is otherwise fine with most forms of violence… and conversely, if you try to label every little thing, the content warningsrech a point almost no one will have hte patience to read through them all, so it’s hard to say the omission of the knife in the warnings was truly a mistake, especially if there’s other things to warn about more prominent than the one scene terror knife.

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My reply that elucidated on this got admin-vanished, but I want to establish that I do often like very dark subject matter, even stuff that digs into my triggers, as long as it’s done in an informed way with a lot of care and, if not a creator’s personal experience, thorough research into personal accounts. Stories that treat the experience, and the people who have lived it, with the proper thematic respect and gravitas (even when the descriptions are lurid and seemingly gratuitous) are really cathartic for me, whereas things which treat the experience as warm and cozy and positive can leave me feeling uncomfortable and cold.

For an example of the former, I want to bass boost Bluebeard’s Bride, a horror TTRPG based off the old folktale about a blue-bearded man whose wives have all mysteriously gone missing. This game has heavy content warnings regarding such things as: self harm, gaslighting, psychological manipulation, religious abuse, forced abortions, forced pregnancy, torture, suicide, slutshaming, victim blaming, murder, domestic violence, body horror, gore, and sexual assault up to and including rape. Most of the time, the players are the victim of this violence, and some of the time they are the perpetrator. While some of this content can be opted-out of when playing, to play it at all means you’re agreeing to experience the premise, centered around lack of agency and feminine horror.

Why play or run such a horrible, gruesome game? To either learn, through heightened and fanastical depiction of trauma, the ways that the world traumatizes women (and femininity in general) (see Kastel’s Rosebush article about making trauma legible)-- Or to sit with other people in your gaming group, look them in the eye, and via the terror say “I see you. I went through it too.”

I have recommended Bluebeard’s Bride to many, MANY people of various genders who are fans of horror. All of the ones who I’ve gotten the pleasure to sit down and run the game for, even (and perhaps especially) the ones who have been victims of much of the content listed above, have found the game extremely upsetting and extremely worthwhile. But of course, those who wouldn’t find it worthwhile would never sit down and play it in the first place.

Also of note, I eagerly ran the insane asylum alternate setting of Bluebeard’s Bride, where the player character is a woman who voluntarily (“voluntarily”) admits herself into the grippy socks box, with the head of the psych ward being “Doctor Bluebeard”. The creepiest scenes were drawing on real experiences of nonconsensual violence in mental institutions; personal accounts from articles and papers or accounts of my own.

I say all this to emphasize that I do like this content and I’m not opposed to tackling topics of mental health, even the trauma and setting that Slouching Toward Bedlam is trying to depict. You just gotta do it with more care.

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And bringing things back from StB to the original topic (sorry about kicking off that long tangent), unfortunately “was this done with care” is something that authors can’t really judge for themselves and give content warnings for. Which is why I appreciate that we’ve got such a strong culture of public reviews!

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To add an example to that—a scene we cut from Loose Ends would have come at the end of the second night. (Currently there are three scenes the first night, two the second, and three the third, each taking about four hours out of your twelve.) The player character is a vampire, and at that point you’d start feeling hungry and have to get blood somehow. You can choose how you want to go about it, spending hours hunting small animals, tricking someone into being alone with you, paying another vampire to do the dirty work to keep your hands clean, and so on.

The intent was for it to feel at least a little bit gross, and make you think about if your character is really any different from these other vampires who are treating the humans of the city like assets at best and disposable tools at worst. And we made sure to have an option that said “I’m not comfortable playing this out, skip to the next night”. But even so, we weren’t able to find a good balance that actually felt enjoyable to play and didn’t just turn people off the whole game.

If we’d kept it for release, whether we handled that with appropriate sensitivity is something I’d hope reviewers would comment on, because we had a lot of back-and-forth trying to find a good balance and never managed to hit it. Better that someone see a review saying “hey this has this sort of triggering content in it” than a player get blindsided by it. (In retrospect, cutting it was the right call.)

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I’ve tried writing replies to this thread a few times. I kept deleting them because I couldn’t get the words right. I also have a feeling like Why bother? But it’s encouraging to see Kastel’s and Aster’s latest posts.

With conversations like these, I feel like two things are happening. The first (call it Point A) is that people are talking about what’s on the tin: topics that are uncomfortable, the value of content warnings, etc. All fine and dandy. The second (call it Point B) is that a sort of “mood cloud” is developing over the community, like a weather phenomenon. When enough people say “I won’t play or recommend games about [topic]” then it can have a dampening effect on authors.

Sex is the big one for me. It’s central to a game like Midnight. Swordfight., for example, but lots of people have criticized that game’s sexual content. Even just the other week, someone posted an IFDB review saying they wouldn’t recommend M.S. due to the “needlessly transgressive” sex which serves “no purpose other than shock value.” I disagree with this assessment completely, but it’s not uncommon. And it can be disheartening, year after year, to hear the same refrain. At one point, I even considered editing the text because it felt like there was so much negative communal sentiment; I ultimately didn’t, but my inclination to write similar games has been dampened.

All my games have always had content warnings. I would never expect everybody to play or enjoy them, either. My suspicion is that people might respond to these comments by focusing on Point A, however, when it’s Point B that I’m talking about. Really, this is just a meandering way to get back around to Kastel’s and Aster’s posts again, and to provide a little context for why I appreciate what they said.

As for myself, I haven’t encountered it much in IF, but usually the only things I’ll avoid reading/playing/recommending are texts with a conservative religious slant, which I consider insidious; and the more “innocent” they outwardly appear, the more insidious they often are. I’ll still give some religious-themed media a chance (I thought Cygnet Committee was great), but it’s got an uphill battle to fight with me.

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I am so sorry to hear this, I’m glad you didn’t change a thing (and please don’t in the future). I love Midnight. Swordfight.!! The sexual tableaus made me feel represented, tbh, and added to the mood of the game.

I think the dampening effect reminds me of this thing that Drew said in another thread:

and that is definitely really discouraging.

Sometimes, with some people, this sort of refrain begins to read as what my friend calls a Lobster argument (based off Jordan Peterson’s takes about lobsters having a natural sex heirarchy).

The concept of a lobster argument is when someone says something that is obviously factually true but there’s an underlying agenda behind the statement in the context of the argument. In Peterson’s case, he made anirrelevant comment that lobster males are usually stronger and more dominant than lobster females (factual biological statement) during discussions about (human) women as politicians. Why would he say that? When people tried to argue against the agenda (sexist implications about gender conformance and subservient women), then he turned around and was like “why are you arguing with me about lobster biology?”

I’m not saying that anyone is doing this here on purpose. But after a while, hearing “many games have triggering and upsetting content and you shouldn’t have to play that if you don’t want to” or even “I have the right not to want to play this” repeatedly from different sorts of people when encountering games including queer representation, sex, mental illness, abuse, and other controversial subjects, begins to smell a bit like lobster meat.

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Holy shit, you’re Chandler Groover!!! It’s always so weird how you can just run into your favorite authors here on this forum.

I just played MS for the first time this week because of the FIFP, and it BLEW MY MIND. I like all your games and I’ve no idea why I never played MS before, but it has seriously disturbed my top ten IF list and now I need to reorder everything.

Please do not even consider changing the text of that or any game.

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As a small aside, do you have any instances of this in IF that especially come to mind? I can’t think of any I’ve played and I’d like to try one or two to get a sense.

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I know this feeling exactly! It blew my mind when I first realized people like Victor Gijsbers were on the forums. Before I discovered IF, most of my favorite authors were either dead or still otherwise extremely inaccessible. Being able to talk to so many great game designers is incredible.

Nothing that’s really a big famous game. Mostly just small stuff on websites like itch that I’ve stumbled across over the years. I don’t want to call anything out, since I’m not aware of any games like this that have gained enough traction to warrant it. But even though I’m open to reading about almost every subject matter and theme, this is one of the few that puts me on my guard.

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As a small aside, do you have any instances of this in IF that especially come to mind? I can’t think of any I’ve played and I’d like to try one or two to get a sense.

It’s not IF, but if you want to see something that is portrays zealotry with a ton of depth, I’d recommend Patrick McGoohan in Henrik Ibsen’s “Brand” for BBC.

It’s cheating since Ibsen is sometimes claimed by the modern left (actually, he hated the left and the right alike in whatever century he was in), and the script doesn’t touch on modern hot-button issues.

But McGoohan’s portrayal is over the top, and it’s balanced with him losing everything — after he tells other people to do the same — so it succeeds in making him the most sympathetic character in the play. God’s Not Dead wishes it was this. You’ll either hate it or love it.

I’d advise to keep in mind that religiosity, proselitism and (political) conservatism are three different things, though they often appear hand in hand. But you can have either of them without the others. There are a number of examples of religious themes being used in 80s commercial IF that are incredibly naive, mostly because the were intended to be played by the already familiar with their themes: Jericho Road and Galilee by Shards Software fall in this category.

A rare example of game with a vedic hinduist slant is the freeware PC game Escape from Maya’s Kingdom, which feels a bit more “evangelical”, if I may abuse language a bit. But neither of them are intended as proxies for insidiousness: they look innocent and they actually are. Granted, those were different times, but still.

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3 posts were split to a new topic: Explicit content in games, audience appeal, and solutions?

And even when combined, they aren’t necessarily malicious, though plenty of awful people have co-oped religion and political movements alike, and even when genuinely well meaning, it’s easy for certain kinds of religiosity to come off as overly judgmental. Can’t say I’m surprised there aren’t many examples of the really bad stuff among IF though. The kind of people who like to invoke God and tradition to justify their bigotries, at least in my experience, tend to also be the kind of people who denounce modern technology as an abomination or what have you, and IF strikes me as the kind of space primarily occupied by people geeky enough to have been into computer games before they were cool if not before they had graphics. If there are any religiously and/or politically toxic games out there, I’d expect them to be in a more mainstream genre/format.

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I made a list a few years ago of religious games:

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I was thinking about Ian Finley’s Babel which links scientific hubris with (as the name suggests) the Tower of Babel. I guess for horror, though, combining hubris and science is as old as Frankenstein so there’s not much I can read into it in terms of the author’s actual stance on anything in the text.

It’s a good example of there being different types of science/technology though. I don’t think you can boil it down to computer nerds liking every single part of technological or scientific development conceivable or real.

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I thank Mewtamer for his insight, only a little side note:

Personally I have the maximum Respect for the Amish culture and faith, an I think is a matter of pride that aside a little satire on a little-known troll IF of aughties stemming from a certain pun on said troll IF’s name, no one in IF community has bothered the Amish culture & society.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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As someone who identifies as aroace (aromantic and asexual), I don’t like playing games that force a romantic relationship on a self-insert. I get pulled out of the story if I have to watch “myself” flirt or kiss someone else, and if I have to pick a “friend”, I go through hoping it can end platonically (it usually can’t). With characterized PCs, I’m okay with having a spouse/SO/partner that kisses “me” occasionally, but not if it feels like it’s more than just a quick peck. I’m fine with reading static romance, though.

On that note, I don’t like anything sexual, even in static fiction. I’ll just skip/skim it if I can, which definitely takes me more out of the story than just romance. If I can’t, then I get the impression that the author really wants me to go through this and I nope out. Even if I weren’t asexual, I’m in high school. I don’t want to have to picture this.

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