The other day I was talking about Difficulty and Accessibility and since people liked to hear some thoughts on that topic… and since I couldn’t think of much else to post about today… and also since I didn’t have enough time for a review… I wanted to talk about yet another way of making games more accessible: Triggers. There are countless triggers that people have to deal with from flashing lights that can trigger seizures to topics or elements of stories that can trigger flashbacks, panic attacks, and other effects of trauma and fears. Hence, I was wondering if there are good ways of dealing with this and if games can be accessible to everyone without losing the thrill of certain elements.
Mild Spoiler Warning for one scene in GTA V, one scene in Gods Will Be Watching, one scene in DARK and one scene in The Last Of Us II. I just say that something happens in those scenes. I don’t say when the scenes occur or what the circumstances are and I don’t go into too much detail… mostly since it’s been a while… but you know… It’s there.
Obviously, you can prevent people from buying a game in the first place by adding a trigger/content warning on the store page… But games hardly ever do that. GTA V is notorious for having a torture scene that apparently cannot be skipped really where you pull out someone’s teeth. To progress the storyline, you have to do that. It’s very graphic and brutal and if you planned on playing the story but can’t do that, you’ll need to either “man up” or you just don’t play it. It’s as easy as that. In that case, the game could have given an actual content warning (maybe with spoiler tags) about “Torture”… but it doesn’t. The Steam page says that has “general mature content” which could be anything from sex to alcohol to violence to drugs. “Torture” is certainly mature content but I wouldn’t think of it when I bought a game labelled as “General Mature Content”. On top of that, the content description says that GTA V **MAY** contain content not appropriate for all ages. It’s not even clear.
Little Misfortune is a great game but it contains topics like drug abuse, alcohol, suicide, and other things that aren’t appropriate for all ages. Still, it has the 18+ tag on Steam. No actual content warning anywhere else though and the description, etc. don’t even allude to anything like that to keep the illusion alive… which is an issue. You may buy this game thinking it’s cute but then you notice that the humour is quite dark and morbid while the game’s premise itself is grotesque. Little Misfortune is great, don’t get me wrong, but a content warning would be appropriate here. While other games like Satisfactory and Grounded have an “Arachnophobia Mode” option to make their games accessible to people with severe Arachnophobia, Little Misfortune can’t introduce something like that either, though, since it would remove everything from the game. The game strives from little jokes and references and the most morbid situations… you can’t just turn those off…
And even with Grounded, I like the game but the arachnophobia mode isn’t helping me out too much actually. I wanted to refund it once I encountered spiders and once I got terrified by them… but since I’ve been past the 2-hour mark already, my request got denied. Boohoo. It’s my bad, I guess,… I should’ve known that the spiders would be terrifying even with Arachnophobia Mode… Oh well.
The other issue with topics like assault, torture, violence and other stuff that can trigger trauma, fears and anxieties is… that games hardly ever let you skip them. I think GTA V’s torture scene was unskippable. Gods Will Be Watching has a torture scene that cannot be skipped either. The Last Of Us II has this scene where you have to slowly inject a knife into someone’s throat. You cannot skip it. It’s gameplay after all and not a cutscene. I hated seeing that scene. Instead of letting the player skip that scene or maybe introducing an option in the settings that warns you before those scenes that you may want to skip them… there is simply nothing there. Again, it would be a potential spoiler but if I turn on that setting myself, I can’t complain about spoilers. If I have the option to skip knife injection into someone’s eye or throat or whatever… I’d do it without complaining about “ruining the story”.
While Gods Will Be Watching has a pixel art style, the torture scene is still gruesome for me… Meanwhile, TLOU2 has this somewhat realistic art style, so it’s even worse for me… and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the game as much if stuff like that was frequent (I’ve only seen that scene btw). The game frankly wouldn’t be that accessible to me…
Now, games don’t have to be accessible for everyone but it’d be lovely to get a warning on stuff like this BEFORE making a purchase of 60 bucks or something like that. It’s bad practice, in my opinion, and it may even be intentional. If people don’t know about it, they may buy it and play it… and then they encounter it but it’s too late for the refund. When you front-load the fun and leave the disgusting or terrifying encounters, scenes, etc. in the later parts of a game… then… you can’t complain about it. Feels like a dick move to me if it is intentional. Games don’t need to be to everyone’s liking but I don’t think that we need stuff like that. I’ve been told that GTA V’s torture scene doesn’t add anything to the gameplay or the story really… That assault scene in Netflix’ DARK doesn’t add anything to the plot really apart from giving one character a little bit of depth… at the end of the show… before you wouldn’t see them much anymore… It’s bad. It’s for the quota. It’s there to shock you… because shocking you brings in the impressions on Twitter and Facebook and wherever and then people write about it and it’s free promo and more people will watch it… Shock sells. Sex sells… “Why not combine it?”, I guess. If it’s completely optional to thrust a knife into someone’s throat… slowly… while closing in on it… with realistic graphics… If it doesn’t add much to the story… why do you prolong it so much and make me tap the circle button or whatever to make me, as a player, suffer through it more. Why do you give me that experience instead of letting me skip it?
I’ll sum up my thoughts a bit. Games don’t need to appeal to everyone. It’s 100% fine if they don’t. In those cases, however, trigger and content warnings should be displayed on the store pages (take notes, Valve) where people can see them well… and they shouldn’t be as vague as “it may contain topics that are not appropriate for all ages” but rather outright say that a game contains bad language, sex, drugs, violence, assault, murder, alcohol, torture, etc. (Potentially with a spoiler warning or spoiler tags.) – Scenes that don’t add much past the shock-factor should maybe be skippable in games. Sure, I get that Ellie murdering this character may have some weight on the story… but I personally can’t deal with soft body sections (guts, throats, eyes, wrists, etc.) getting penetrated with pointy objects like knives, scissors, etc. I can’t deal with people pulling other people’s teeth in the most painful way possible.
But what do I know? I’m just one player that may complain about it and get frustrated with a studio and that may not support them afterwards anymore if they do it frequently… There are still a lot of other people that will love it, so what do I know? Who cares about me anyways. What are your thoughts on this? Have you seen games that let you skip sensitive stuff or blurred it at least out? Did you have issues with a game in the past because of your fears, triggers, trauma or other issues? How could devs improve the experience for you? Let me know!