Answering questions: story secrecy VS reader comfort/health

So, I have a question that did bother me for some time now, and I honestly don’t have an opinion here, but I wanted to hear what people think and see where the debate could lead (though please, stay polite!).

It’s a common thing to put content warnings for IF, at least on the forums and blogs, so people who are sensitive to certain types of content won’t read something that can harm their mental health or wellbeing, which is great. Now, obviously there’s the eternal debate about how many warnings should an author put and where should they put them (at the start of the story, chapter by chapter, with a toggle off, etc), but my issue isn’t exactly about that.

You see, the usual content that warrants warnings is usually pretty general - merely themes present in the story - so while it might be a bit spoilery, it can still remain vague enough so the players won’t really deduce big story related things.
But what if a reader asks if there is some very specific kind of content in the work, because it’s something they are truly sensitive to, and the answer would be extremely spoilery?

With linear media like TV shows or movies and such, it’s usually easier to simply wait for the entire thing to be released, and check the ending online before watching. But with text based interactive fiction or with visual novels, the making of the game may be very long, and the readers may want to be there for the journey, betatest, or whatever…

But if a player asks such a question, would authors answer under spoilers, answer in private, or choose not to answer?

As a rule of thumb, a reader shouldn’t read a story that they consider is “not for them”, since it would be rude to do so and then complain to the author about things they don’t like. But what if they adore everything about the game, yet they know there’s a risk for one specific trope harmful to them to appear? It makes sense to ask the author if that trope appears with the specific goal to know if the game actually is for them, right? But then again, the author may not want to spoil a big thing…

My specific example:

So, I’m a HUGE fan of isekai fiction (“transported to another world” stories, with variants like virtual worlds, other time periods and such). But I have deeply bad reactions to the ending trope of going back home in these works. As in, the MC abandons that new world and goes back to their life from before.
A couple of times, I was so distressed / upset about that when it got me by surprise, that I got almost physically ill, and even if I have more composure now that I’m older, I still can’t stomach that, and the stress, unease and general negative emotions it causes in me are SO strong that I absolutely CAN’T start an isekai before knowing about the type of ending it has. If it’s interactive fiction, I tend to assume the player will have the choice about their character going back to their homeworld or not, since it’s interactive, by definition. But to be safe, I do ask the authors.
Sometimes the author has the same vision as me - it’s interactive so it’s okay to tell there will be a choice. Sometimes the author doesn’t answer, which is understandable too. But I had one person once basically telling me “you shouldn’t fish for spoilers - I won’t answer to that type of questions, don’t ask again” - it seems for them, I was asking for spoilers and trying to justify it by making up some sensitivity. But well, that wasn’t the case, this is literally the thing that upsets me the most in fiction. Even amnesia doesn’t come close to that. But amnesia is a more general thing, that can be easily put in the content warnings. An ending trope is a whole different story.

Now, I’m not asking for opinions about which type of ending is better for the example I put - I just wanted people to see the kind of issue I’m talking about…

So yeah, your opinions? How much an author CAN or SHOULD tell about these things? And should that be done in private or merely spoilered? Fishing for spoilers without a reason is just rude if the author doesn’t feel like answering, but this is a question of wellbeing, and for the player to actually know if they can play the game.

To clarify from my example, this is mostly about odd and very spoilery content one is sensitive to, that wouldn’t be on a “normal” content warning list. Some people can be sensitive to very uncommon thing that just wouldn’t go on a content warning list.

If I don’t get an answer for the example I told you about, I won’t complain - I simply won’t play the game until it’s released, though I can forget about it in the meantime. But it’s upsetting to be reprimanded for asking.
EDIT: ah, I just want to mention - for my example, it wasn’t a work on the forums (Twine based work), and I had asked by sending a private message on tumblr, not even an “ask”, so in this specific case the public or private aspect wasn’t even relevant.

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Well, being someone who has begun to collaborate privately with content creators, I prefer that if a reader asks a specific question about the plot of the story, it should be in private but if it is a question of other types of information such as the use of bad words, the depth in the description of the gore in the story or even the detailed description of a despicable crime. By myself I am just saying that an item does not need warning if it comes with the horror horror label and for adults. The rest do not need warnings since it only mentions what is happening in broad strokes and not in detail such as torture or sex. Now regarding the endings, the truth is that I can understand you through the example you gave of the issekai, yesterday I saw the end of the Trollhunters franchise and I was disappointed in its end because like transporting you to another world and after going through tribulations for someone important with relevance ends by returning to the starting point of the protagonist’s story almost as if nothing had happened. And depending on the type of endings that we can achieve, it is that I was motivated to watch a program, for example I saw attack on titan because a schoolmate shared his impressions of the manga and inadvertently I spoiled the story but not ndage on how it got to that point and so I better began to see the story from the beginning to enjoy the path that is traveled to get to the point where “the great disaster” happens.

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Just tell the reader in private how the thing will evolve, whatever the thing is.

There’s no new story since the dawn of storytelling, when our ancestors started crafting them around a campfire in a cave. So, don’t mind the spoilers, it’s all about the execution anyway.

And since you told them in private you can straightforwardly lie and say you changed your mind when writing the related scene.

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I think if someone asks, answer in private, and let them know that the answer will spoil the story. :slight_smile:
I think holding onto that surprise is not more important than the trust I want to build with that reader/person.
But of course still create the story the way you want even if the reader won’t read it anymore.

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Well, if that was me writing, I’d answer and I’d tell the truth - I wouldn’t want to be lied to as a reader - not about that example - considering this is something that really severely upsets me. Veeery few things upset me in fiction - well, to the point of me actually feeling bad - so being lied to, getting into the story, and then going through that would be AWFUL. I prefer not to get an answer.

Well done Trigger and Content Warnings aren’t spoilers, I’d say.
The difference is between saying
‘TW: Major Character Death’ (granted that narrows things down, but is not a spoiler) and things like the infamous ‘snape kills dumbledore’.

What I learned is to give people enough of a heads up to enable them to decide whether or not to read something, and if then to be able to go in prepared.

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Yeah, I agree, generally speaking, but my issue is peculiar since it’s an “ending trope”.
Sometimes, there are enough “hints” for me in the game’s presentation for me to think it’ll be okay, but sometimes it’s hard not to ask. Especially since the issue is about “odd” content sensitivities that wouldn’t be on content warning lists to begin with.

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There are a lot of upsetting things in my work. There are also a lot of intricate mysteries and secrecy, and a lot of information is kept from the reader. I have not put up any warnings. I have, however, answered any questions that people have about possibly upsetting things that might appear. I don’t consider that spoilers. People are responsible for their own consumption, and I applaud them for taking that step. That’s why sites like “does the dog die” are such a good idea.

If people are worried enough that taking the step to reach out to an author and check, I consider it a privilege to be allowed to tell them if what they are worrying about is true. Even if that spoils a major part of the book. If they were worried about being spoiled, they wouldn’t have asked in the first place.

I wish more people did this.

EDIT: (especially since there easily can start flying false rumors about what will happen online. Malicious or misunderstandings.)

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If a reader was asking me something that specific, especially if they were feeling upset about it, that’s a good reason for me to tell them straightforwardly. I would personally answer privately, or in public with a spoiler tag. I’d want to be considerate and there’s no benefit to me to prevent a reader making an informed decision about whether they want to play the full thing or not.

Basically this!

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If an author is truly worried about giving spoilers (and unless what is being asked is extremely specific), there is always the option of taking advantage of the branching nature of the medium, and answer a bit vaguely.

Saying something like: “Yes, it is possible to encounter such things is the game-book” or “Yes, that is a possible ending”.

The reader won’t know if it’s a major plot point, or just a small possibility amongst many, but they will be aware that the content is in the game-book.

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@Konoi – I am sorry you had this experience. Sometimes the “bedside manners” of an author/developer are not up to the task of handling interactions with their audience.

Even with that being said, an author/developer that opens their game or demo for review by the public should have the expectations that they will have all sorts of inquiries and concerns directed their way.

It depends on the relationship and situation the author and the “reader” find themselves in.

My alpha readers are reading my most raw material, and therefore, we try to have an open and frank discussion as possible.

My beta testers were handled on a separate and distinct forum/data-base interface, so there was both an official form to fill out and informal means of communication like PMs.

Usually, non-released content was not discussed on the official forum … so if something was asked there, it meant there was a violation of non-disclosure agreements.

The Tumblr and Hosted Games forum “betas” are something else entirely, and I think both @HannahPS and @malinryden have said everything there is to say on this.

Ultimately, this, as painful as it might be (if you love everything about the story) is still the bottom-line action you can take to protect yourself.

Unfortunately, this type of issue happens more than it should. Way more.

I had gotten into arguments with developers who “refuse to engage”, or who lack bedside manners when responding to their audience and/or testers.

Some refuse to interact at all. Some, like Bioware/EA, have a forum, but then decide to nix it.

My personal approach would be to answer an inquiry as specific as this in both private and public. I would answer specific details in private (with the understanding that what is disclosed in private stays private) and then I would try to make a general answer in the public discourse.

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