Article – Trigger warnings in games, offence and emotional responses.

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triggerwarning By Paco Garcia Jaen

We’ve heard a lot about the need and demand of trigger warnings in games and gaming environments, let it be conventions, clubs, social media groups or simply around the table.

I am all up for trigger warnings. I have no idea if someone reading or hearing about homophobic actions, racial or sexual assault… whatever, will feel triggered and I can’t see a problem with saying “hey, we’re going to cover some sensitive and graphic content. If you feel uncomfortable, say it now”.

I do have a problem with “hey, I feel uncomfortable/offended; let’s stop the whole thing for everyone else”.

Sorry. No. I feel and understand you have a trauma (I have some traumas too), but that doesn’t mean everyone should be shielded from it like you need to be. And note how I say “need to be”. I understand the need and I think protection should be provided. It must be provided.

I don’t feel that person should just put up with the discomfort and get screwed. And this is where I think some people are going wrong. They think it’s an all or nothing sort of situation where either everyone puts up with the offensive/hurtful behaviour or no one does.

Emotional response is defined as “a reaction to a particular intrapsychic feeling or feelings, accompanied by physiologic changes that may or may not be outwardly manifested but that motivate or precipitate some action or behavioural response.”

When someone around the table, or at a convention or anywhere else, expresses an emotional response, ignoring it or demanding that person puts up with that impact (more often than not damaging) because you want to is the wrong decision to make. Very wrong.

If your game includes rape, paedophilia , sexism, racism or any other “ism” and people feel uncomfortable, demanding they continue playing, or avoiding doing something to minimise that discomfort, only makes you a douche. Seriously.

If you are running a game, the safety of your players is in *your* hands. It’s your responsibility to make as sure as you can that your players have a great time and that no noxious behaviour takes place around your table. And that includes dealing with behaviour that brings an emotional response or offence.

The same goes when you write a book or an adventure. Your work could trigger responses and it is your responsibility to find a way to tell people the contents can be difficult or triggering so they can make an informed choice and not read your work if they feel it’s unsafe.

And the thing is that not every emotional response can be helped. Not by you, not by anyone. And there are lots and lots of people out there who walk through life trying to avoid certain topics because the emotional response they get is uncontrollable and very damaging.

And thus the question I always ask people is: Why wouldn’t you want to warn people that what you write/design might be painful to read?

I don’t get it.

Of course helping the person deal with that emotional response is the best approach. But sometimes we can’t help. So although pandering to the emotional response completely is not the best solution, ignoring it is certainly the worst possible solution. In fact that is not a solution at all.

Point to remember: Just because you don’t consider it traumatic or doesn’t affect you, doesn’t mean it won’t affect anyone else. And if anyone says it’s affecting them, pay attention. People do not say these things for no reason.

Let’s differentiate two things here, though: emotional response vs. offence.

With emotional response we are talking about the psychological response with some physical manifestations (visible or otherwise) when we are exposed to something. The more traumatic the “thing” is, the more acute the response will be.

Offence, on the other hand, is “annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself. “

There are many kinds of offence. Offending someone by using racial, sexual or gender stereotypes or jokes is always wrong. Those are always going to bring some sort of emotional response attached and with good reason.

Also they are a very cheap shot that highlights only how dim-witted the offender is.

And I know people hate hate hate to be told this, but check your privilege. If someone is offended about something, find out why and stop saying “but it doesn’t offend me”. Just because it doesn’t offend you, doesn’t mean it’s not offensive.

That is when the problems truly occur around a table, or writing your game or adventure. It’s not just when you cause offence, but when you cause harm through offence. And repeat offence does cause harm, make no mistake.

And please, do not even think about coming to me with “if it is in the mind is not pain”. Fuck that shit.

It is very true that a lot of people are demanding not to be offended these days and pandering to that attitude is also pernicious. The issue is to make sure the offence is directed at something, not someone. And pondering if the offence was necessary or you’re just being an asshole. Because offending people for the sake of offending them makes you an asshole.

And yes, I think you should include a trigger warning and let people know they are likely to find content they might find offensive. There is no harm in that whatsoever. Then people can decide if they want to join your game, or read your book, or not.

So the point is this: do you want people sitting around your table having a good time? Do you want people reading your book or playing your game/adventure getting fond memories for the rest of their lives?

If your answer is “yes”, then it is your responsibility to make sure they *know* what they’re getting themselves into.

As a creator, you are free and entitled to create anything you want. Offensive, hurtful… whatever. You want to do it? Go ahead and do it.

But tell people! Just let them know!

And of course be prepared to be criticised for doing it. But that’s for another article.

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