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?


  1. I agree. Mind you, there have been discussions about this over at IntFiction. If you wish, it should be simple enough to find the relevant thread - there's a dedicated thread - and join in, if you think it's relevant. There were a number of opinions expressed, and you might find it interesting to read through them.

    Generally, there doesn't seem to be a consensus, except that the sort of place IntFiction wants itself to be right now is a place where trigger warnings can exist.

    1. Thanks for the reference.

  2. "So why do we never read 'This story about the circus contains graphic depictions of clowns'?"

    Unrelated, but I love telling this anecdote: I once bought a packet of peanuts. Your regular peanuts, still in their shells (if that's the right word?).

    Product name: PEANUTS.
    Ingredients: Peanuts.
    WARNING: May contain peanuts.

    True shit, dat.