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.