A Question About Trigger Warnings

Recently I came across an article, linked below, about a study on the effects of trigger warnings. While I personally have never experienced adverse reactions to media, I know that my Dad, who witnessed domestic abuse as a child, has had some struggles consuming content of that theme and matter and so I’ve often appreciated the concept behind trigger warnings for the benefit of others.

However this research study seems to find that these warnings may be counter-therapeutic for some individuals. I know that this topic is important to many people on this forum and I’ve witnessed many users seeking to include and expand warnings for the works presented here, so I wanted to ask anyone who is comfortable discussing it how trigger warnings make you feel? Do you feel, like the study suggests, that warnings make you more closely identify yourself as your trauma? Or do you feel they are beneficial and, as long as you are comfortable explaining, how they positively affect you personally?

Just genuinely curious as someone seeking to be more informed.

Link to Research Article

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I had thought about this possibility, but since I’m not a trauma survivor I didn’t ever question TWs. Figured they’d know better than me.

As for CWs, I do like having them, but for me they tell me whether or not I actually want to play the game. They’re not going to be useful for me if I play the game anyway.

It may be the same for TWs? Seems like in that study, they read the material regardless of whether they got a warning or not, which is probably not going to be the reality of how readers interact with TWs.

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Oh thank you. I’ve been using content and trigger warnings interchangeably but that does make sense that they’re different. Content warnings in the sense of explaining what’s involved in the material does seem like a generally good idea. I’ll try and update the original post to narrow the topic down more to the concept of trigger warnings just to keep things concise.

As for the study itself I also questioned their decision to have the readers continue with the material rather than skipping it but it got me wondering if there could also be a negative response from saying “X is involved in the next scene” and that warning with no other context would bring to mind memories of their specific traumatic event(s).

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I think they’re frequently used in a way that does more harm than good.

When they were first used, they were reserved for cases of graphic content in places where it might not have been expected, but recently I’ve often seen them used when the subject of the warning is barely mentioned, when they’re implied by the nature of the content itself (“TW: suicide” for this article called “What a Suicide Attempt Taught Me”? You don’t say!), and even when the warning itself is more upsetting than the actual content (e.g., a meme that says something like “Nothing is sexier than consent” introduced with “TW: RAPE”). There’s also the potential to offend by not including a trigger warning. I had a Facebook acquaintance who posted warnings on anything even slightly edgier than kittens frolicking in flowery meadows, and the one time she didn’t post a warning, it was on a joke lightly poking fun at a disability similar to mine. Under normal circumstances, I would have found it mildly annoying at worst (mostly because it wasn’t even all that clever), but the implication that that it was somehow not problematic but everything else was really did offend me.

I would prefer we go back to using warnings sparingly. I’d actually like to normalize the idea that the warnings themselves can be troubling to a certain degree, so that we get into the habit of only using them when the content is so potentially triggering that it’s worth subjecting readers to brief discomfort in order to warn them about it. I don’t think it’s good for us to avoid discomfort altogether - dealing with it makes us stronger - but there are references online that people can consult if they need or want more information about the content of their media.

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There’s definitely a lot of overlap and I’m not 100% sure what the exact difference is. CW just seems like a more generic term to me, and probably also includes many if not all TWs. But CWs can also include things that are just generally disturbing to some people, like blood and body horror, even if there’s no associated trauma.

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I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, especially the redundancy of the warnings in cases like the:

Although I do wonder on the point of:

Is there a way to evaluate that worth or potential though? At risk of turning this into a very broad discussion I would like to ask, not just you but anyone with an opinion on it, how does someone like myself who is ignorant of the scope of many potential triggers work towards making sure that we aren’t creating a clutter of less useful warnings while still maintaining an inclusiveness for those in the community who we may offend or injure by not including one?

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It’s hard to know exactly where to draw the line, and you won’t get it right 100% of the time, because there is no one perfect solution. Personally, I would tend to use warnings only when something is extremely graphic (to the extent that it’s meant to be disturbing for people who haven’t experienced a similar trauma in their own lives) or appears in an unexpected context. By example of the latter, I’ve written an autobiographical essay about the time I accidentally handcuffed myself to a kitchen chair when I was fourteen. It sounds hilarious - and I think it’s actually pretty funny, in an extremely dark way - but there’s a major suicide theme. If I share it, I generally mention that.

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Guessing whether something is graphic or not would be really hard for someone with aphantasia, like me. Much of the frequently CWed content, I can easily read in text because I can’t imagine it, but I do not want ever want to look at for even a millisecond.

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I don’t know if I have actual mild aphantasia or just a poor visual imagination because I’m not a very visual person to start with, but when I say “graphic” in reference to writing, I’m not talking exclusively, or even primarily, about visual imagery. I’m talking about writing that is detailed in ways that create an immersive experience. That can involve sensory details (visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory), emotions, physiological responses, or dialogue. Maybe “graphic” isn’t the best word - perhaps “visceral” might be more appropriate?

To use my personal essay again by way of example, there’s almost nothing in it that would be particularly objectionable if you were looking at it in a photograph. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t manage to discuss suicide in terms of motivations, methods, and impact in ways that are (meant to be) powerfully disturbing.

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That just sounds like “good writing” to me. That’s the point of creative writing, to create an immersive experience. If it doesn’t, it’s not written well.

As a person with a fair number of lived traumas and disorders attached to them I typically find trigger and content warnings helpful. Usually I’m in a fine headspace as I have a very many good coping techniques developed over the length of my life time but occasionally I struggle and when I do media, and especially interactive fiction, is one of my favorite escapes.

When I’m in a bad brain space things that remind me of whatever trauma I’m struggling with or disorder that’s flairing inevitably make my spiral worse, but some of these things can be pretty usual depending on the media.

Specifically detailed descriptions of anxiety or panic attacks, stories themed around depression, self harm, or detailed gore can trigger anxiety attacks or PTSD episodes for me and the warnings at the beginning of games are super helpful in that they let me know I shouldn’t read that one right then. They also give me then opportunity to mentally prepare myself for the coming content when I’m in a good headspace and want to play, they mean I won’t be blindsided because I’ll know xyz things will show up at some point.

And I mean they’re less necessary for like, a horror game where I’m naturally going to expect gore and death and fear, but it’s nice to see them included in say a nice fantasy adventure that will have an arc focused on loss and grief, or a game that’s got an academic focus and has a route by which your character might have a nervous breakdown shown in vivid detail.

I find them about as helpful as I find the tags on fanfiction (and I find those very helpful), as they let me make an informed decision and curate my media consumption in the way that’s best for me.

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Of course. My point is to give an example of the kind of thing I meant when I said “graphic” that didn’t necessarily have to do with visual imagery.

Dumb question but like… what needs to be mentioned in a trigger warning?

Violence?

Animal death, in some level of detail?

The deaths of romantic options?

(Nonviolent) Deaths of family members?

If your world is a historical setting with gender biases, would you need to mention sexism?

Bullying of the player character?

Discrimination against the player character due to their heritage?

Veiled references to infanticide?

'cause tbh like my IF might have all of those things…

And it’s not even that dark of a story!

This is the way I view the subject of content warnings and trigger warnings:

Content warnings precede potentially sensitive content. The following content warnings are the most common. This list is not exhaustive:

• Sexual assault
• Abuse
• Child abuse/pedophilia/incest
• Animal cruelty or animal death
• Self-harm and suicide
• Eating disorders, body hatred, and fat phobia
• Violence
• Pornographic content
• Kidnapping and abduction
• Death or dying
• Pregnancy/childbirth
• Miscarriages/abortion
• Blood
• Mental illness and ableism
• Racism and racial slurs
• Sexism and misogyny
• Classism
• Hateful language direct at religious groups (e.g., Islamophobia, anti-Semitism)
• Transphobia and trans misogyny
• Homophobia and heterosexism

Trigger warnings are specific content warnings that attempt to forewarn of singular events in your content.

Once again, the following list is not exhaustive. Some of the most common triggers include:

  • sexual violence
  • oppressive language
  • oppressive actions
  • representations of self-harm

As always, I stress the importance of getting as many different-background readers/testers as you can to get eyes on your narrative. Different experiences and histories often lead to different triggers and disturbing content.

In your WiP, invite your readers to communicate to you content that causes them discomfiture and communicate that you are open to including new warnings as needed; content or trigger.

My content and trigger warnings are always being updated and changed as I receive feedback. Don’t be afraid to go back and revisit your particular warning multiple times as you write.

@roselilymarigold

Writing a historical based setting should convey to your readers a general sense of what they will experience. Using my own WiP as an example, knowing my narrative is about emigrating across the country in the 1840’s should let the reader realize there will be a whole set of possibly disturbing content that was commonly found during that period.

What they may not know is that because my narrative involves a specific wagon train, that there will be murder and cannibalism involved. As a result, I mention those specific categories in my premise/synopses.

Looking at your list, I think you can include all those things listed in basic content style warnings, with perhaps specific trigger warnings for the detailed (?) animal death and perhaps the bullying.

Unfortunately, this is the sort of constant updating that will occur right up until you submit your game, and perhaps after, if the company’s reviewers deem something should be included.

This is why I like the idea of having a choice that allows readers to visit specific warnings content. Here is my basic choice:


*choice
    #View the General Disclaimer
        *goto general_disclaimer
    #View the Trigger Warnings
        *goto trigger_warnings
    #Start the Demo
        *goto demo_start

Letting our readers have choice seems to be the best outcome we can have.

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I hadn’t even realised the difference between content and trigger warnings! I’ll incorporate them into my summary page tonight

I guess I kind of feel like some of these warnings are spoilery (e.g. the family member death one) but I guess it’s up to the reader what they want to find out beforehand.

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