Monday, October 31, 2016

Take (review)

"Take" is an interactive fiction by Amelia Pinnolla, written for the 2016 interactive fiction competition.

There isn't very much I can say about this game without spoiling it so I'll cut break.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Night House (review)

"Night House" is an interactive game (perhaps Quest?) written by Bitter Karella for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. The protagonist is an eight year old child who wakes in the middle of the night to discover that her family is missing, but the house has been occupied by all varieties of haunts and monsters. The best feature of this game is the spooky atmosphere, achieved through the writing and to a lesser extent the sound effects.

No serious spoilers in this review, but just to be safe, this break-space:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Adriadne in Aeaea (review)

"Adriadne in Aeaea" is parser game written by Victor Ojuel for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I had just finished playing Aether Apeiron, another game inspired by Greek mythology, but this is certainly the better of the two.

Adriadne is an aspiring priestess who before now has made, ahem, some bad personal choices. In order to become a priestess, and not settle for the position of her younger sister's hair dresser, Adriadne must solve a mystery to discover the origin of several sacred artifacts. Part mystery, part historical fiction, part comedy, the dialogue is smartly written and the game solidly coded. Nearly everything I tried elicited a unique and appropriate response.

The puzzles are easy, mostly there just for pacing. I never thought to type "hint" or look for a walk through. The locations descriptions are succinct, as is often the case in parser games. I hadn't noticed this game before now, so it was fun to stumble into something this well done that I might not have chosen based on the blurb alone.

Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles (review)

"Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles _ Book I: The Departure --- Part I: Prelude to Our Final Days on Kyzikos" is Twine game written for the 2016 interactive fiction competition.

The "five finger rule" is a guideline which elementary educators teach to beginning readers in the US (and perhaps elsewhere, as far as I know). The child is asked to turn to a random page, and count the number of unfamiliar words. If there is not a single unfamiliar word, the reading selection might be too easy. If there are five or more, the reading selection is too difficult. I must confess, I reached the fourth unfamiliar word before the end of this over-long title, and found five more in the blurb. The blurb alone is one long stream of made-up words and sci-fi mumbo jumbo. Unless I'm struggling to learn a foreign language, or I'm choosing to play a linguistic puzzler ("Gostak" Carl Muckenhoupt, 2001) I want my hand held while I wade into this alternate universe of unpronounceable place names.


Many of the place names and people seem to be inspired by ancient Greek mythology. I don't understand the connection between Earth's Greece and the distant planet described in this epic. The story advances by selecting highlighted words in the text, but many of the branches loop back to earlier nodes and finding the new ones requires the player to navigate a tedious virtual menu maze. I'm not the right audience for this.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"This is my Memory of first Heartbreak which I can't piece back together" (review) (and one sentence review of Toiletworld)

"This is my Memory of first Heartbreak which I can't piece back together." (hereafter referred to as "Heartbreak") is an interactive graphic memoir written by Jenny Goldstick, with development assistance from Stephen Betts & Owen Roberts for the 2016 interactive fiction competition.

"Heartbreak" uses clickable graphics to tell an interactive story about, well, exactly what the title says. The graphics are well rendered, stylized minimalism. A series of animated scenes recall moments from this ill-fated relationship. When dialogue ends, the player chooses from among several graphic objects within the current scene to bring up another related memory.

Most of the scenes describe moments of conflict...episodes when the narrator should have been asking herself "why am I with this jerk?" The guy is consistently characterized as a douche-bag, and after playing several times I wished there were some scenes where I could better understand why they got together. But of course that is the nature of memory after a breakup. Sometimes we can not remember what we ever saw in the other person.

This particular tale of melancholy may not appeal to all audiences, but the team that put it together is super talented and as an artistic expression, this game is amazing. Frankly, I'm surprised there haven't been more interactive graphic novellas in this competition. The clickable graphic style of interaction is familiar, with potential to reach a wider audience than straight prose.

Finally, I mentioned "Toiletworld" in the title of this post. "Toiletworld" is a troll entry, which wasn't worth my time to write a separate review.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

To the Wolves (review)

"To the Wolves" is a Twine game written by Els White for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. There have been several Twine games this season about an inexperienced youth tasked with some hero's quest. I'm thinking of "Riot", "The God Device" and this one. Of the three, I thought this was the best.

"To the wolves" is about a child from a primitive society who is cast out of her village and left for dead in the wilderness. The tone of the story reminded me of an M Night Shyamalan film, filled with supernatural elements, dark mystery and violent ritualism. The length is appropriate for a competition entry. It offers multiple choice points, some of which seem high consequence, and some of which appear to be remembered until late in the game, affecting the end-game options. The most significant branch points are near the end. But for the most part the story follows along one main sequence with only brief alternate text reacting to player choices.

To reward replay there is an option to save up to two games, an "achievements" link that tells you what branch paths you've discovered so far, and an "endings" link that tells you which of three endings you've discovered. I was able to discover two of three endings. I did find one bug on my second play through, a branch point that ends in a dead-end with the author's note to themselves to append another entry. It's a long game, and not every player will encounter that bug.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Eight characters, a number, and a happy ending (review)

"Eight Characters, a Number, and a Happy Ending" is an interactive story written by K.G.Orphanides for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. The game was written with the Quest authoring system.

I noticed that the title contains an Oxford comma, something which made me smile. Oxford comma is a subject which has inspired some great cartoons, a dopey controversy, and a pretty good song.

A year ago, during the 2015 competition, I began to notice IF authors using a wider variety of authoring tools. The trend had been going on before I noticed it, of course. This came at the same time as a trend toward making parser fiction more accessible to a wider audience. And finally, a trend toward games which toggled between open choice input and menu driven input. I began to wonder if there wasn't some platform available which would allow players to choose how to engage with the story. Players who didn't want to type could interact with onscreen buttons or menu-mazes. Players who felt typing was simpler or more immersive could interact that way. "Quest" might be just that system.

Mild spoilers follow:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Queen's Menagerie (review)

"Queen's Menagerie" is an interactive story by Chandler Groover, written for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. This is the fourth of Chandler's entries I have played in the past two years, and I know he has written several more between seasons which I haven't played. They are all similarly grim, stylized, and poetic, but very different in form.

"Queen's Menagerie" lets you be the keeper of the queen's beastiary. Interaction is simple: you drag the name of some food item up to the beast you want to feed. Then descend to the next level of the exotic zoo. I can't say much more without spoiling the fun. The story has good replay value also, since there appear to be quite different responses, depending on which items you feed to which beast.

Illustrates that a game can have very simple interaction, but still be something worthy of a competition entry, and also unlike anything that could be read on paper.

Riot (review)

"Riot" is a Twine game written by Taylor Johnson for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. The PC is a meek and inexperienced riot control officer name Parker, who is separated from his comrades during the riot. Most of the story involves Parker's experiences in the aftermath of the riot, as he helps others and grows in confidence.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nineteen reviews down!

Just reviewed my 19th game, which puts me a third of the way through the 2016 interactive fiction competition. Not sure what to play next. Any recommendations?

The God Device (review)

"The God Device" is a point and click story written by Andy Joel for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. The story is a pulp sci-fi action yarn about an average Jane who obtains a mysterious device from a stranger during a Trolley accident on another planet. Some powerful beings are after the device, which keeps Jane on the run, but thankfully she has enough time to put the thing in her storage locker, enjoy a drink at the bar, and flirt with some dude who turned out to be another bad agent.

The writing offered enough suspense to keep me going to three different sub-optimal endings (My top score was 8 out of 10, meaning I was near the end.) But it needs further editing. Dialogue feels contrived. Sentence structure is awkward. Lots of choice points makes this fun. Continued revisions would make it better.

"You are standing in a cave" (review)

"You are standing in a cave" is a z-code game written by Caroline Berg for the 2016 interactive fiction competition.

The blurb says:
... you do not know how you got here. The last thing you remember is going out to eat at a fancy restaurant. Perhaps you were drugged. Perhaps you had a bad case of food poisoning and wandered off, feverish, into the outskirts of town. Whatever the case may be, you are here now. Wherever here is. And you want to leave.

IF games about caves and amnesiacs have been out of vogue for so long now, I figured this would either be a joke entry or some post-modern take on the genre. But after playing it for a bit I decided this is a sincere, but flawed, piece of fan fiction doing its best to celebrate the magical underground empires of yesteryear.

The sense of magic is there in the writing, but the implementation is weak. "Examine me" gives a default response. "About", "help", "hints" and "credits" all go unimplemented. I scored a few "points" and examined a few things, which kept me motivated for a while. But I was frustrated by a slew of parser issues, and some straight up programming bugs. Had there been a walk-through available on-line, I might have continued. But this isn't something I want to download onto my computer.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Parser Fiction is Not Dead Yet! (Review of "Color the Truth")

Was it only three days ago I forecast the death of parser fiction? Like all similar predictions which came before it, mine was made prematurely.

"Color the Truth" is a Glulx game written by mathbrush for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I was familiar with "mathbrush" as the author of last year's "Ether" I liked Ether, but it was more of an art-piece than a conventional story. "Color the Truth" has a more narrative style, but capitalizes on some truly innovative extensions to the standard model of Inform.

I won't give anything away, because the blurb tells you exactly what this is. You are the detective assigned to investigate the murder of radio personality Rosalita Morales.

A good mystery is one of the most difficult forms of genre fiction to write, because they involve so many plot twists. The author must weave together lies and truth and peel them back in a sequence which allows the reader to solve the mystery at precisely the same moment as the protagonist. "Color the Truth" achieves exactly that. This is as good as any IF mystery I've ever played.

The game also features a novel mechanism for interrogating suspects, and a novel way of relaying the story with multiple cut-scenes from different perspectives. A most impressive programming effort and grand story-telling achievement. You must play this.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Rite of Passage (review)

"Rite of Passage" is a Twine game written by Arno von Borries for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. The blurb says 
"A comedy in four parts about exciting games of instinct and wits, set in childhood. Not necessarily for children."

Should get the award for the most misleading blurb. This is not a comedy.

The Death of Parser Fiction? (a review of several ifcomp games)

Further down I review three parser games from this year's interactive fiction competition:
"Zigamus: Zombies at Vigamus" by Marco Vallarino
"Steam and Sacrilege" by Phil McGrail
"Theatre People" by Michael Kielstra

The 2016 Interactive Fiction Competition has more games than ever (58?). But of these, surprisingly few are parser based games. I count 6 in Z-code, 11 in glulx, and this year only 1 TADS game. That's a total of only 18 parser games, fewer than were entered in 1996, the second year of the competition. Of course this isn't a rigorous analysis. There may be some home-brew parser games I haven't counted. The lines of what constitute a "parser" are kind of blurry. "Mirror and Queen" (Chandler Groover) allows open input and recognizes a huge vocabulary of topics, but doesn't "parse" actions. "Inside the Facility" (Arthur DiBianca) is a z-code game with such a highly constrained list of actions that it has its own unique play dynamic. On the other hand, "Detectiveland" (Robin Johnson) features such exceptional world modeling that it feels like a classic parser game even though "Detectiveland" is actually point and click.

I wouldn't be the first to predict the demise of parser fiction. Pundits were saying that in 1992. Then the following year Graham Nelson released Inform and launched a new age for interactive fiction. I may be wrong now...I haven't played them all, and I've already overlooked "Fair" which actually was quite good ("Fair" published in Glulx by Hanon Ondricek for this year's comp).

Here I plan to discuss three parser games which succeed and fail for different reasons.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Inside the Facility (review)

"Inside the Facility" is a parser game written by Arthur DiBianca for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. The blurb says:

"Your friend Mike thinks no one can infiltrate THE FACILITY, but you're going to prove him wrong."

The cover art is a crayon drawing of an Erlenmeyer flask with pink bubbles rising to the surface.

A map is available, but it's just a Cartesian grid of rooms which I should use to construct my own map during the game. Back in the heyday of parser fiction I could construct maps on the back of an old phone bill or a used napkin, so I should be well prepared.

I imagine this is going to be a light puzzler. We'll see after the break....

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Yes, my mother is... (review)

"Yes, my mother is..." is a CYOA type game written by Skarn for the 2016 interactive fiction competition.

The PC is a therapist, who dispenses advice to a series of clients at her office. This near future fiction imagines a world in which the PC's mother has established an autonomous colony for some group of people who wear colorful masks and identify as "N/A". Yes, another Twine entry about identity labels.

I felt motivated to discover the hidden backstory of the N/A movement, but I think the pacing is off. There is a lot of text to wade through during therapy sessions, and only infrequent clues about what the titular "mother" is up to. The reader probably won't feel satisfied that they understand the backstory until they have played to more than one ending. During my second game I found myself skimming down the text as fast as I could, trying to find the “big reveal”. But even then, I wasn't satisfied that I really understood what was going on.

Some of the therapy options are a little non-conventional, but best of these is the opportunity to cold-cock a threatening skinhead and send him out of the therapy office in a bag.

Detectiveland (review)

Detectiveland is an interactive story written by Robin Johnson for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I chose to play this next because I was drawn to the cover graphic and blurb. Also, because a quick one minute survey of the online version convinced me that this was a professional quality entry. I was not disappointed.

Detectiveland is written on a gaming platform I had not seen before. The screen is split into separate areas for the narrative stream, the exit choices, items in current use, and the full inventory list. This screen presentation allows for a point and click interface with some of the immersive world modeling features of a traditional parser game. The player can drop items in a location and expect to find them there later. Some of the games puzzles even resemble the old parser standards; using the right item in the right place at the right time.

The game is significant length, with close to fifty locations and a series of three largely unrelated cases. There is no way to die (until just before the end, so do save between each vignette).

The narrative voice is a comfortably familiar one. The hardboiled PI yarn has been a source of camp fiction for many decades. I was first introduced to it on Sesame Street. Comic noir was also one of IFs earliest tropes (Infocom's "Deadline" was a remarkable game for its time, 1982). But that familiarity doesn't diminish the fun of "Detectiveland". This is a polished, professional quality work. Definitely recommended.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cactus Blue Motel (a second look, review)

Cactus Blue Motel is a Twine game written by Astrid Dalmady for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. When I first reviewed it, I had gotten stuck (it turned out) only about a third of the whole game. It's kind of embarrassing getting stuck in a Twine game, but even with that limited experience, I was already duly impressed with the sense place and the onscreen text effects. Having played since to the end (twice now) there is even more depth and meaning to this game than I imagined. If you have not read my earlier review, that might be a good introduction. With respect to the author, I add these more reflective and spoilery notes.

spoilers to follow.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Cinnamon Tea (review)

"Cinnamon Tea" is a Twine story written by Daffs O'Dill for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I chose this game next by closing my eyes and pointing my finger to a random entry on the screen.

As the story begins, the narrative "you" has just brewed a pot of magical tea, which might have the power to render visions of past and future lives. The player can choose from among three options concerning how the tea feels after the first small sip.

Very mild spoilers after the page break.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Moonland (review)

"Moonland" is a Twine game written by BillyJaden for the 2016 Interactive Fiction competion. The last two games I reviewed I had chosen because I already had preconceptions I would enjoy them. This I chose because I had no preconceptions. I picked it from the top of a random list.

This felt like the sort of work one might hear at a goth poetry open mike night, although it has been about a quarter century since I lived in Seattle and remember attending such a thing. The story focuses on a romantic relationship between the narrative "you" and some other person. One or both of you are emotionally disturbed, and one of you could be an android. Or maybe that android thing was just a metaphor.

Text transitions were sometimes too fast, causing me to miss bits of the story. I don't think that mattered. Mostly it is impressionistic. Text spills across the screen like a word soup of mixed metaphors,
Following are examples:

"Wasps crawl out of her mouth, exploding in your face, dripping mud, wet neon-black tears fill your stomach."

"There is an electric recoil screaming through your body. You cringe, taking deep breaths to pull yourself together."

"You vomit like a rainbow."

The story comes with an audio track, though to me the music choice was the audio equivalent of a strobe light. The music reinforced my sense of this as an open-mike night experience.

Maybe someone with different interests will get more out of this game than I did.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Fair (review)

"Fair" is a parser game written by Hanon Ondricek for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I loved the following prose, which I read on my first or second move of the game. This excerpt sets up the backstory and helps to characterize the PC very early.

>x posterboard
Someone took a great deal of time and craft supplies to make a sign of glittery paste-on letters.  It reads Welcome to the 2016 Elementary Science Fair!  Clip art of heavenly bodies festoons the borders, held in place by the sheer gravitational force of a child's adhesive glue stick.
The bottom half of the sign reads "Guest Judge: Science Author A.B. Astherton!" next to the black and white picture of you from the book jacket blown up to an uncomfortably blurry scale.  You are resisting the urge to add the word fiction after the word science with your handy signature-signing sharpie.

"sheer gravitational force of a child's adhesive glue stick". There is something almost comically poetic about that choice of phrase.

This review will have a number of spoilers, so I'm jump breaking it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds (review)

"16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds" is a Twine game written by Abigail Corfman for the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I chose to play this next because, darn it, it always shows up first on the alphabetized list before I randomize it. Also, I'd read some buzz about this game on Sam Kabo Ashwell's site and it sounded like something I'd enjoy.

This game was probably not on anyone else's list of "first games to introduce your 2nd grade child to interactive fiction," but that is what happened to us. I mentioned this game to my daughter in the car after school, and by the time we got home she was more than eager to play. Mind you, my daughter is fan of the comic horror genre, started watching Tim Burton when she was three, collects Monster High dolls, and has binge watched more episodes of the classic sitcom "The Munsters" than anyone in the 21st century.

So after fast forwarding through some coarse language in the game's introduction, we shared the experience of interactive vampire hunting. Each of us took turns reading and picking moves. She laughed out loud and so did I. We killed the vampires with garlic, then holly, then crosses, eventually reaching four of the sixteen endings. I played a few more on my own, until the end of the two hours. But this was so much fun I expect I'll keep playing past the end of the judging period.

I tend to think of Twine as the favored platform for somber, introspective pieces about identity labels and personal demons. I know that's not entirely fair of me, or an accurate account of all Twine has been used for (and a small number of those somber pieces have been well worth reading). But I'm happy to see the platform pressed into a different service here, to produce a fun, replayable and effectively challenging comic puzzler.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Black Rock City (review)

"Black Rock City" is a web based game by Jim Munroe, entered in the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I chose this one next because I was drawn to the cover photo, and also because I hoped it would allow me to experience the Burning Man Festival without having to use drugs or suffer a week in the desert. Also, I've been on Jim Munroe's mailing list for years, and bought a copy of a short independent film he produced some time back "Ghosts with Shit Jobs". It was really good. You should buy your own copy.

"Black Rock City" employs a novel interactive interface. The player chooses one of two verbs from the bottom of the screen, and drags it up to the relevant noun within the current text description. Usually there is only one noun available, but sometimes there are other choices. The story moves along in a sort of dreamy, disconnected way which reminded me of the style of the old "Choose your own adventure" paperbacks. In that series, one's choice would fundamentally warp the direction of the story, but often not in a logical or predictable way.

There are multiple story arcs available in "Black Rock City". The blurb claims they all have six choices, which would suggest up to sixty four possible paths. I replayed enough times to confirm that the stories are always short, always have the same dreamlike quality, and always end in a dust storm.

When I felt finished, I went back and read the subtitle: "Choose your own burn-venture." So my sense of Munroe's literary influence may be correct.

Mirror and Queen (review)

"Mirror and Queen" is a web based interactive fiction entered in the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I chose this game from near the top of a randomized list, in part because I recognized the author's name "Chandler Groover" as a talented writer from last year's competition. Groover has experimented with some interesting ways to make parser based games more accessible to new players. Last year's entry "Midnight Swordfight" understood an exhaustive list of object words and conversation topics, but the player was trained during the game's opening turn to limit their verb choices to a short explicitly defined list. Once the player accepted that convention, the game became a highly immersive experience.

"Mirror and Queen" takes that one step further, inviting the player to "think about anything" and removing actions altogether. The player character (an aging evil queen) stands in front of her mirror reflecting on whatever actions, objects or abstracts the player types, without ever taking action herself until late in the narrative.

This isn't the first time I've seen this mechanism in an IF game, but Groover carries it off beautifully, delivering unique evocative responses to everything I thought to type, and fostering the illusion that the parser really understands the player's commands. (only once, during the very first turn, did I read a response which hinted I might be working outside the parser's vocabulary. I had typed the word "llama". After all, it had prompted me to think about anything.)

For an open-input game, this is highly accessible. On the flip side, this game design does not provide for the highest level of player agency or branched path story telling. But if you accept that, "Mirror and Queen" is a solid piece of writing.

Cactus Blue Motel (review)

"Cactus Blue Motel" is a Twine game by Astrid Dalmady entered in the 2016 interactive fiction competition.  About ten minutes into playing this, I felt like it needed a soundtrack to go behind it, so I found "Apache Tears; native flute music."

Spoilers after the break

Sunday, October 2, 2016

All I do is dream (review)

"All I do is dream" is a hypertext type story entered in the 2016 interactive fiction competition. I recognized the author Megan Stevens as the author of "Our Boys in Uniform" an antiwar story which I reviewed favorably in the 2013 competition. I believe she has also published some more recent Twine games which I have not played.

In rough summary, this game is about the lethargy experienced by someone with chronic depression. This is not the first time IF has been used to examine the problem of serious depression. It is uncomfortable to review such games, because the reader assumes that the author may be representing something of themselves through the story and doesn't want a critical review. It isn't a theme that wins competitions. But there too, not everybody enters to win.

The first time I played on my primitive stone-age Ipod, I played up to a point where I got stuck in an endless loop. I liked the writing well enough that I blamed my Ipod and loaded it again on a chrome browser (the whole story only takes about fifteen minutes). Then I hit the same dead-end.  A link that reads "Maybe tomorrow you'll play it again?" clicking on it does nothing but repeat the same message. Maybe that's the point, that chronic depression feels like an endless dead-end loop. But the story is already so short, the dead-end felt instead like it was a programming bug. 

I think this could have been a powerful story if it was a little longer, and if there was just a hint of hopefulness at the end.

How to win at rock, paper, scissors (review)

"How to Win at Rock, Paper, Scissors" is a Glulx game by Brian Kwak entered in the 2016 IF competition. This game was not at the very top of my first randomized shuffle, but it was the first to catch my attention with its intriguing blurb, and simple but clever graphic.

I've been playing the IF comp since 2003, and have written two well-received games myself-both published in 2008 ("Pascal's Wager" and "Afflicted"). I had a child in 2009, and in the years since my only contribution to the IF community has been a number of reviews, often scattered over the internet under different pseudonyms. Looking forward I plan to keep all reviews on this blog.

2007 was the first year judges were allowed to post comment during the competition. That rule change had a hugely positive impact on the competition, generating more buzz than it had seen before. Over time, that buzz has lead to a greater number and variety of games/stories displayed in the competition in the years since. 2016 will be the first year in which the game designers themselves can participate in the conversation. Most reviewers are polite and most designers have a thick enough skin, so I am cautiously hopeful about the rule change.

I realize that many of my links to last year's games are now broken, pointing to the 2016 competition page instead of the 2015 games. I will try some new ways of linking to this year's games that should be more permanent.

If you came here for the review: "How to Win at Rock, Paper, Scissors" is a function parser game, with a few funny moments. Implementation is sparse but adequate. There are several puzzles, with a repeating puzzle dynamic reflected in the title. I completed the game in under two hours, with a single reference to the hints, which I probably could have gotten by without. The external walk-through file is formatted in ROT13, which I like for preventing spoilers. Recommended if you're looking for something light and inconsequential.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

trigger warnings in IF comp 2016

There are two games in this year's interactive fiction competition which contain trigger warnings. Stories and IF games have long had "content warnings". I'm OK with those. But trigger warnings...that's some trendy new slang.

A content warning advises "This story about the Rwandan Civil War contains scenes of graphic genocide". The content warning speaks to a variety of readers, whether they are an actual survivor of the Rwandan conflict, or simply don't care to read about it. Because really, lots of people are averse to violent content, but rarely does the gravity of that aversion rise to the level of a defined psychiatric disorder implied by the word "trigger."

Furthermore, the particular themes which are listed most often as potential "triggers" are the product, to large extent, of a social construct about what we ought to accept as a valid source of anxiety. A quick internet search turns up hundreds of specific phobias likely to trigger a panic attack in affected individuals. So why do we never read "This story about the circus contains graphic depictions of clowns"?

Somebody reading this right now probably thinks I'm an insensitive lout who doesn't care about combat veterans or suffering victims of past abuse. But believe me, I understand panic disorders and have my own peculiar sensitivities (not clowns...I love clowns) that don't ever show up in anyone else's trigger lists. Can't we just stick with content warnings?