something vulnerable, something raw and sickening and terrifying
January 10, 2022 5:06 PM   Subscribe

 
The user claims the game’s content warnings, which mention stalking and unwanted advances specifically, were insufficient to prepare him for encountering those elements within the fiction of the game.

Some people misuse them (which is a separate discussion, surely), but content warnings should always be taken seriously. I think if a content warning is clear and unambiguous (i.e. the type of content described clearly, like in this case), readers/players need to own their agency and stop when the content becomes a problem for them.
posted by tclark at 5:20 PM on January 10 [16 favorites]


man this piece feels like it has half a good point to me -- certainly art can/should be challenging and difficult, and depiction does not (inherently!) mean endorsement, but video games are an artistic medium where immersion and interactivity is sort of the point; it's perfectly reasonable to want or even demand consent from a video game when it's selling itself in a way (dating sim) that wants you to open up to emotional vulnerability.

some games or works of art get this by their natures, e.g. no one will go into a Resident Evil game not being aware that upsetting or horrific imagery, moments, etc. are going to come at them. some don't. some ways of ameliorating this with consent/trigger warnings are extremely valid and useful and at times even necessary; sometimes they're not. it's a complicated issue and this piece feels like it leans too hard on "grow up you victimhood-identity babies" as a response instead of dealing with the thorny, mature aspects of the discourse
posted by Kybard at 5:25 PM on January 10 [12 favorites]


I put about a hundred hours into Hades. One of those gameplay sessions ended with me bawling on the couch. The awful father-son relationship depicted in that game was something that had me (someone who, surprise, had a horrible relationship with his abusive father) a little uncomfortable at times. One particular interaction depicted in the game, combined with whatever mood I was in as it happened, pushed me right over the edge from "hey I'm having a fun time playing a videogame" to disconsolate sobbing about my own hard childhood.

The experience was deeply unpleasant in the moment, but after I dried my eyes and took a beat, that whole episode deepened my enjoyment of the game, and the respect I had for the team that produced it. Fuckin' amazing job, everyone, to produce something so real-to-life (and in such a cartoony, mythical setting) that it contributed to such a powerful emotional reaction.
posted by rhooke at 5:43 PM on January 10 [19 favorites]


If mental health is just health then content warnings sort of look to me like "contains shellfish": depending on who you are, if you consume this your biology might betray you and the experience might be awful. If your reactions are mild, or it's just worth it to you to risk it, sure, go for it, but I don't think it's unreasonable for people who suffer from panic attacks or shellfish allergies to ask that the things that set them off not be sprung on them unannounced.
posted by mhoye at 5:51 PM on January 10 [45 favorites]


The comparisons to and references to the American family association seem appropriate.

A framework for criticism fails, I think, if it can be appropriated by the AFA that easily.

It means the criticism is borrowing from right wing, supernatural, individualist moralisms and practices in the first place.

See: the James Gunn firing, in which right wing scum masqueraded themselves as part of a feminist movement
posted by eustatic at 5:54 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


I stand with sex workers, with pornographers, with artists of all kinds struggling to make something hot, something vulnerable, something raw and sickening and terrifying. If they fuck it up, well, at least they're a person, not some faceless sea of suits trying to get their arms down my throats to pull out my organs. Enjoy your popcorn movies, your Steven Universe and your X-Men comics, but ask yourself, what are you immersing yourself in by not reaching beyond those things? What is prolonged and overgrown childhood doing to your mind and to your moral sense of the world? Growing up is painful, yes, but if you want to learn to love, to open yourself up to others, to touch the deepest, rawest parts of your psyche and your sexuality, you're going to have to suffer.
Gretchen is one of a few writers who are of a variety I'm increasingly appreciating nowadays, in that I think she's really smart and passionate and makes interesting, compelling points, and simultaneously find frequently outrageous and disagreeable in ways that sometimes undermine those same points. Which is of a piece with what she's saying in both these pieces, honestly: I'd rather have somebody try to say something human and messy and difficult than have someone who only ever says the buttoned-down version that isn't saying anything at all, even if I roll my eyes at some of the Two Minutes Hate memes. (I admittedly have some pro-Steven Universe bias, but I find a lot of the critiques of it and certain other punching bags, like Ted Lasso, more kneejerk than genuinely insightful.)

I watched my friend play a chunk of Boyfriend Dungeon, and it's a smart well-made game that does some genuinely thought-provoking things, easily clearing the still-low bar for "things that make a video game exceptional these days." And, having experienced it firsthand, I think the controversy it provoked is dumb as shit—not just ethically misguided but the byproduct of people who literally do not have the media literacy it takes to form well-developed opinions about 101-level storytelling. This was not a "Lars von Trier creating The House that Jack Built"-level moral quandary, it was purportedly progressive people accidentally recreating an incredibly reactionary moral panic, in the same way that atheists reinvented the worst parts of religion when they came up with Roko's Basilisk.
posted by rorgy at 5:55 PM on January 10 [30 favorites]


That said, I think that content warnings are a nice courtesy, though I prefer them to be designed in ways that can be easily skippable. My eyes often take in the details of a CW before I realize that's what I'm reading, so CWs up-front and unavoidable do occasionally irk me.

I've been working on the design of a publication that contains potentially upsetting material, and my fix has been to put an appendix of content warnings in the back, mention the appendix in a forward up front, and mark certain bits of writing with the equivalent of an R rating for a movie: "This one can be a little dicey, turn to Page X if you're worried about its content or want to be prepared." I'm hoping that that solves the problem in a reasonable way for most people.
posted by rorgy at 6:00 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


The specifics of content warning praxis feel very much like an open and potentially rich question to me, but whew, I was frankly disturbed by this complete disavowal of responsibility for attending to anyone's trauma in any way:

"Perhaps a movie reminds a viewer of abuse suffered in their childhood. Perhaps that viewer is then triggered, and must leave the theater in a state of severe agitation. Perhaps their day is ruined, their week thrown off, their compulsive behavior thrown into activation. The harm in this situation, the tangible damage to a human life, was done before the viewer ever bought a ticket. It was done between human beings, and no matter how terrible the effects of being brought back to this experience are, responsibility lies with the trauma’s original cause, not with art which coincidentally recalls it."

Per mhoye's analogy upthread, what Felker-Martin is saying sounds to me a lot like 'the harm of your allergy has already been done, and no matter how terrible the effects of me putting shellfish in your food, responsibility lies with the disease's original cause.'
posted by dusty potato at 6:36 PM on January 10 [16 favorites]


My reaction to the first article is colored rather heavily by my experience with fandom "antis": People who think that "problematic" content shouldn't exist and that people who create it are committing a "sin." I'm using the word "sin" deliberately since a lot of it is tinged with puritanism underneath the social justice language.

Antis tend to be young and have very black-and-white thinking. They get positive feedback from their peers on social media for taking more and more radical positions, resulting in an ever-expanding definition of what "problematic" is.

As I was reading the article, I was thinking: She's talking about antis. These are antis.

This is a well-known phenomenon in fandom and has a name. The thing is, the people who use/want content warnings are not the same group of people. Most people who use/want content warnings are actually pretty chill about it; it's a courtesy, not a moral judgment. For example, one server I'm a member of has a policy to warn for stories involving pregnancy/babies since at least one member has a traumatic history there. No one's saying that babies are problematic, or no one should write about babies.

Then there's the issue that the problem isn't criticizing the social attitudes reflected in (or perpetuated by) a piece of art; this is not a fundamentally invalid thing to do. The problem with antis isn't that they're criticizing art, it's that their criticisms are misdirected or overblown.

There is an instinct to imply that such criticism is fundamentally invalid though, so people who write about, oh, the fetishization of Asian women in Hollywood movies get lumped in with people who write about how obligatory romance in a dating sim is an attack on aromantic people. I think some of that has (unintentionally) happened here.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:57 PM on January 10 [62 favorites]


A lot of this feels like an extension of American puritan prudish culture. We have a million games where your character is assaulted, battered, stalked, ambushed, and you're also forced to inflict massive violence on enemies in order to progress. But somehow if there's stalking in a sexual context, THAT is the line?

I've played games where the NPC "read my mind", where my player character was possessed, where my friends were held ransom.

But oh no, the queer dating dungeon crawler game, that's exactly where consent is needed. Just like it's fine for BTS and Hollywood actors to wear harnesses, but if queer folks wear them at Pride, that's a "violation of consent."

It's just bald-faced homophobia wrapping itself in the language of social justice.
posted by explosion at 7:00 PM on January 10 [23 favorites]


Can you have a content warning that is blanket? In other words something along the lines of the boilerplate that everyone clicks on when "consenting" to all the minutia that you must if you want to use any banking/social media/whatever these days? Would it be fair to simply say that "this piece of material may be triggering for a variety of unenumerated reasons so please do not view/read/play if this would be harmful to you."?? I ask seriously because I do not think that I would like to be burdened by analyzing my own creative output to parse and warn. Especially as I feel like it would be very easy to get it wrong.
posted by Pembquist at 7:01 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


More than one individual went so far as to angrily contact Gross, the stalker character’s voice actor, stating that it “reflect[ed] poorly on [him] to play a character like this,” presumably implying Gross might sympathize with or share his character’s inclinations

Ah, irony! Ah, humanity!
posted by Atom Eyes at 7:18 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


Can you have a content warning that is blanket?

This is essentially what Archive of Our Own Does with "Choose not to Warn." There's a short list of required warnings, but you can also tell readers that you "Choose not to Warn," which is basically a "read at your own risk."

Authors use it for all sorts of reasons and I think it works pretty well. There's no reason you couldn't say something similar wherever you present your art.

Of course, it become a bit more questionable in contexts where people can't just simply pass up a work, e.g. students in a classroom.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:27 PM on January 10 [12 favorites]


what Felker-Martin is saying sounds to me a lot like 'the harm of your allergy has already been done, and no matter how terrible the effects of me putting shellfish in your food, responsibility lies with the disease's original cause.'

I don’t think this extension of the analogy works. F-M is saying that a bad thing happened or happens to you but it not currently happening as a result of this art. The shrimp painting can’t put you in anaphylaxis, no matter how strongly it reminds you of a time when a real shrimp did.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 7:28 PM on January 10 [13 favorites]


The analogy is not to a shrimp painting, but to actual shrimp in your actual food putting you into actual anaphylaxis. Because although the bad thing happening to you because of the art is different from the original source of trauma, it’s still a bad thing happening to you in the present. Just like someone’s allergy might (I guess, in some pop nutrition I’ve read that probably isn’t medically accurate) be the result of parents introducing that particular food when you are too young, but you still have an allergic reaction each time you eat the food as an adult.
posted by eviemath at 7:55 PM on January 10 [13 favorites]


This article strikes me as really dishonest! For one thing, the study linked as proof that trigger warnings "do not work" is one in which every participant was exposed to the potentially distressing materials. The point of trigger warnings, especially in entertainment media, is to let the consumer avoid the material they would find triggering, something that study didn't allow for at all. Oh, and the following study linked in the article does the same thing: exposes every subject to the same material. That one is helpfully titled "Trigger warning: Empirical evidence ahead," so you know in advance if you're an SJW that you're going to be destroyed by facts and logic, I guess. I don't trust any article citing these studies to make correct inferences about trigger warnings.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 7:56 PM on January 10 [27 favorites]


We had a discussion here on MeFi about that very flawed trigger-warning study. If I weren’t on my phone, I’d try to dig it up.
posted by adamrice at 8:18 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Personally, the buzz I heard about Boyfriend Dungeonwas that it was a cute, fun, queer game where you can date swords. Anything that helps me know going in that it's actually going to deal with serious subject matter, that's great, especially if it differentiates between witnessing it or alluding to it and experiencing it at length.

Reading more about it, players are also right to expect ace/aro options because the game promised them.

“You can be friends with each of the characters if you want, and still achieve maximum Love rank with them,” [creative director Tanya X.] Short said. “And even if you do opt for romance, sex is never required. Some characters accept your choices more gracefully than others, but… that’s how life is.”
posted by knuckle tattoos at 8:40 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


they also cause those who see them to experience heightened anxiety about upcoming trauma-related material.

You know what gives me anxiety about upcoming trauma-related material? Someone so self-important they feel compelled to foist it on me because Art™ Must Be Transgressive. Not that I'm down with harassing voice actors for their lines, but her article goes way beyond that -- it was Lindsay Ellis who taught me one of the three purposes of criticism is to guide the public in understanding art, and Ana Mardoll's comments are completely in fulfilling that role from what I see, with things like:

It's just...jarring to see folks saying "and for the ace/aro folks, there's a cat!!" as though we don't and can't have relationships with people at all and have to confine ourselves to small animals.

I'm just not at all up for lazy, superficial arguments about how the left and the right are so similar in wanting to censor the challenging art that transgresses their prudishness. Again and again with that. I mean is the person who writes this:

Cut to 2021 and you might see the word deployed in contexts which could be generously described as “radically different” and less generously as “connected only by the most willfully wrongheaded and myopic conflation of experiences it is possible to imagine.”

Really prepared to walk a mile in the shoes of the people she's criticizing? To grok where they're coming from and the basis of their concerns?

Anyway count me as one more who's really depressed by how far the "trigger warnings don't work" narrative has run around the world before the truth got its shoelaces tied. The one who's really breaking bread with conservatives in this discussion is the one quoting their pseudoscience.
posted by traveler_ at 8:49 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]


"If mental health is just health then content warnings sort of look to me like "contains shellfish":"

I'm not sure it's totally apt, but follow that through.

What most people describe as "allergies," aren't. They're sensitivities, which can provoke discomfort through non-histamine responses. Most food sensitivities are transitory — even ones that provoke involuntary responses in people tend to desist, especially from childhood to adulthood. We don't know the mechanics of how most of them work.

There is a general obligation to label things because the harm to people can be so great, but it's often condensed down to something like "processed in a facility with nuts, shellfish, dairy." We assume that if you're at most restaurants, unless it's explicitly labeled, there's a decent chance you could encounter those ingredients. It's the responsibility of the individual, in general, to avoid things they're sensitive to, to take mitigating steps (carrying an epipen, taking medication), and to read the menu. There are plenty of times that people give meaningful consent to eat things that will make them feel ill.

The analogy to histamine allergies doesn't really hold when you're talking about harms — a kid with a peanut allergy can die in minutes. It's much closer to food sensitivities and aesthetic preferences, and from there, feels like complaining on Yelp or Twitter is proportionate.
posted by klangklangston at 9:01 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


If you are marketing a videogame to a queer progressive audience you will have to deal with the expectation that you're going to warn the audience about traumatic content. This is because your audience is a group that has far higher than average levels of previous trauma.

PTSD is real and you can't hand wave it away with bromides about the audience being soft and the inherent moral righteousness of real art. I will always be on the side of people with trauma who are standing up for themselves and refusing to be gaslit into accepting material that harms them.

I remember when Gawker relaunched they made a big deal about no longer trafficking in lazy rage bait and they're already back at it 6 months later.
posted by zymil at 9:02 PM on January 10 [13 favorites]


I've been thinking about this a lot recently - mainly in regard to live theatre and performance - and considering the idea that as artists, we need to understand that consent is ongoing. That is, an audience member, viewer, or player must be able to disengage or leave at any time without any implied judgement or stigma. A (clear and unambiguous) content warning at the start or in the foyer is the first question ('is it ok if we talk about this?'), but your work has to accept that it might be ok now but not later. This isn't censorship: you can still make the art that you want to make, but you need to leave the exit door open and ready for someone who thought they might like to be part of it, but realised later that they didn't.

I think, particularly in these days of COVID and post-COVID trauma, being kind to our audiences is paramount. I kind of agree that the discourse of "I don't want to engage with this work because it makes me feel X and therefore the work is bad and should be stopped" is negative for cultural endeavour as a whole, but it's also different from "I don't want to engage with this work because it is actively harmful to a group or community, and I am concerned that if this work is not stopped there will be measurable negative consequences." This means, though, that makers, presenters, producers, developers, etc., need to be clear about what they're doing and why - it's no good saying "this is art because I made it to be art". Instead, the metric for art should be "this is art because it has a reason to be art in this time, and it is enacted in consideration of the existence of art in this time." Audiences have a say, they have agency, and they are not passive consumers. Cultural endeavour is conversational, it speaks between us. "THIS IS BAD AND YOU ARE BAD AND EVERYONE WHO AGREES WITH YOU IS BAD" is a poor outcome for everyone.
posted by prismatic7 at 9:46 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


Reading subsequent follow-ups I might have assumed more good faith than is there. I mean, this:
"It's just...jarring to see folks saying "and for the ace/aro folks, there's a cat!!" as though we don't and can't have relationships with people at all and have to confine ourselves to small animals."
It's one thing to create a dating sim and not include aromantic or asexual relationship options. Like, it would be nice, but it's a dating sim and as an aro/ace person if I'm not interested in dating it's not the first genre that I'll look to. It's another thing to promise aromantic or asexual relationship options and then deliver a cat.

I haven't found all of the discourse yet, but I found one Twitter thread by Ana Mardoll discussing the marketing of the game leading people to believe that it is fun and lighthearted, and then they find out that one of the core plot points of the game is that their character is being stalked. I think it's a mistake to assume a lighthearted tone means that there are no dark themes in the game you're about to buy (a lot of art actively uses this type of juxtaposition), but it's a lot different than "how dare you include stalking."

Their point that stalking is - and is experienced by many potential players - as sexual violence is a very good one.

I haven't played the game, so I don't know what it is like, but I don't feel like the article gives a very accurate representation of what Ana Mardoll is actually saying about it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:28 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


And the cherry of the disingenuous bullshit sundae: waving around a bogus study to bolster it's argument.

There's been a couple of Metafilter posts about conservatives of various stripes waving around Science! like it's some kind of magic incantation without understanding any of the ways and reasons science can be accurate or utterly misleading, done well or poorly, biased and selective results picking or just data.

It's like the sovereign citizens nonsense attempting to make laws mean what they think it should by.... Handwaving transitive property magical similarities or something. So right wing groups are funding Science Done By Actually Science People to get results they want.
posted by Jacen at 10:47 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


We had a discussion here on MeFi about that very flawed trigger-warning study. If I weren’t on my phone, I’d try to dig it up.

The mods deleted the post specifically because they realized that all the post would to is rile people up. But as I said in that deleted post, trigger warnings are just another form of informed consent, which has been the backbone of scientific research for decades - and thus if these researchers are so against trigger warnings, are they arguing that the idea of informed consent is wrong as well?

Also, I am done with "suffering is good for the soul" arguments. If you are arguing that inflicting harm on someone is being done for their own good, you are a horrible person who needs to get their head checked.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:34 PM on January 10 [12 favorites]


The article fell flat for me after it linked to the "trigger warnings don't work" study, but regarding this:

If you are marketing a videogame to a queer progressive audience you will have to deal with the expectation that you're going to warn the audience about traumatic content. This is because your audience is a group that has far higher than average levels of previous trauma.

The game did have content warnings from the start. Albeit, couched in "may include" language, which led to a larger discussion about it.

Original content warning: "This game may include references to unwanted advances, stalking, and other forms of emotional manipulation. Play with care."

Updated content warning: "This game's story involves exposure to unwanted advances, stalking, and other forms of emotional manipulation. Play with care and take breaks as needed." (https://twitter.com/KitfoxGames/status/1427660452520136711)

I personally don't think "consent" should be attached to media experiences that I choose to engage in, but the discussion about the warning language itself is fair.
posted by lesser weasel at 12:20 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


(BOYFRIEND DUNGEON SPOILERS)

I don't have PTSD, or any particular personal trauma I would say. And yet, when red dead redemption killed my horse in a cut scene, I cried on and off for four hours. It was obviously not what I needed right then and my husband was really concerned about me. I did not feel better afterwards, I felt shit for the rest of the day and will never play the game again.

Content warnings are about kindness and care for other people, whose reactions you can't predict.

On the other hand, I did watch my husband play that boyfriend dungeon and the warnings seemed sufficient. Creepy dude was obviously, immediately creepy. It just... Wasn't a great game tbh, the dating aspect was barely there for a dating game. Everyone felt like a cardboard cut out.
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:30 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


In misrepresenting Ana Mardoll's statements about the game and naming no other critics of it, this article's author directed a harassment campaign against xer. This wasn't an accident; she continued fanning the flames on Twitter for days afterwards.
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 1:43 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


The feeling I have about this is that a very high percentage of what constitutes "user / viewer / reader engagement" on media sites is: post some sort of "provokes outrage" content, sit back and let the people fight, collect $$$. If Gawker really wanted to explore this topic, there is a lot to tease out, with thorny issues, and good and bad actors and manipulation and disinformation on all sides. But I feel that this was not the impetus for this article. The author they chose (or chose to spotlight, if the essay was pitched) is a self-described writer of "filthcore horror novels" (in quotes because I'm literally just quoting their bio — not a commentary on the genre), and has a Very Specific alignment on this. I think there is a growing backlash (beyond conservative and alt right groups) against the overwrought and super visible "anti" behavior that Kutsuwamushi describes, and this sort of framing neatly zeroes in on that because all the visible players are (very roughly) on the same page, so it's a "let's you and him fight" scenario, where you and he are mostly on the same team (or at least playing in the same league), and the real beneficiaries are the reactionaries who actually believe the whole "consent" issue writ large is bullshit, and people should just go back to certain members of society freely violating other members, without all this shrill complaining and campaigning, and the best way to achieve that is to foment disagreement and exasperation within the ranks ... not a difficult task, really, especially when the media is slavering to highlight the most egregious aspects of the conflict.

So cherrypick the most ludicrous opinions / voices (or create them), toss out the red meat, and wait for more reasonable participants to start feeling like "maybe I need to rethink my position of support on this issue." The thing that is happening here, in this article, doesn't seem to me to actually be about Boyfriend Dungeon, but about clickbait for Gawker, an oppositional opportunity for the author, and a wedge for more nefarious stakeholders, wherein they don't even really have to do much or reveal themselves — just create a few twitterbots to egg on the young and naive (or older but solipsistic) to attack the venues and providers that actually support more sensitivity and care, then rub hands gleefully over the ensuing community fracturing.
posted by taz at 1:50 AM on January 11 [15 favorites]


The author cites Patrick Califia with approval:
To paraphrase Patrick Califia’s introduction to the 1992 reprinting of his infamous erotica anthology Macho Sluts, nobody ever got beaten or raped by a book. This isn’t to say that someone cannot experience an intense emotional reaction to a video game like Boyfriend Dungeon, but such a reaction’s relationship to the social concept of consent is radically different than if such a feeling arose during an interpersonal interaction.
But I think Patrick Califia leaves something to be desired as an arbiter of consent:
Also in 1992, Califia founded the leatherwomen's quarterly Venus Infers and published "Feminism, Paedophilia, and Children's Rights" in a special women's issue of the pro-pedophile scholarly journal Paidika. Califia has asserted that he 'support[s] Paidika and enjoyed working with the editors of this special issue'.[23] Califia has criticised federal laws against child abuse imagery because it would have 'guaranteed that it [child abuse imagery] would disappear from the shelves of adult book stores'.[24] In 'Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex', Califia criticised anti child abuse / anti child pornography laws because they are applied disproportionately to gay men, commenting that he 'knew several gay men who proudly called themselves boy-lovers'.[24] Califia has asserted that all age of consent laws should be repealed,[24] describing pedophilia as 'erotic initiation'.[24] After becoming a parent, Califia reconsidered his stance on the age of consent and adult / child sex: 'I was naive about the developmental issues that make sex between adults and prepubescent children unacceptable,'; 'I've become much more cynical about the ability of adults to listen to children'; 'Perhaps because I am a parent now, I am less idealistic about the possibilities for an equal adult / child relationship,'.[24]
Particularly the 1992 Patrick Califia.
posted by jamjam at 2:02 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


This wasn't an accident; she continued fanning the flames on Twitter for days afterwards.

There's an irony wherein the too-cool-for-intersectionality left, halfway through complaining about how SJWs are puritans who harass and shut down people who disagree with them, wind up forming little mobs of their own to harass people and shut them down.

Only it's okay when they do it, because they're just being funny and cool, in an ironically-using-the-word-chad-but-also-meaning-it way, and the people they do it to are extremely soy.

I tend to like those people outside of this one bad habit, so I follow a lot of them on Twitter, and the recent fad was everybody shitting on Anita Sarkeesian for her movie reviews, which was... unsettling.

I don't know what my point is here, apart from "it would be nice if people could exhibit just the slightest modicum of self-awareness sometimes."
posted by rorgy at 2:51 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


lesser weasel, above:
I personally don't think "consent" should be attached to media experiences that I choose to engage in
I'm really not trying to be snarky here, but 'choosing to engage' with media experiences - particularly interactive media - is a pretty clear-cut example of consent (which is therefore ongoing and can be withdrawn at any time).
posted by prismatic7 at 3:12 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Okay, I do see what you mean prismatic7, but I also saw this go down on Twitter in real-time beyond the initial tweets and I meant more in terms of consent (an agreement) between two active parties. Media is not an active party. There was a lot of (literal and unironic) "how dare this piece of media give me X feelings, I didn't consent to that" sort of language in the wider discussion once the OP tweets went viral, and that rubbed me wrong (and still does).
posted by lesser weasel at 3:47 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


To paraphrase Patrick Califia’s introduction to the 1992 reprinting of his infamous erotica anthology Macho Sluts, nobody ever got beaten or raped by a book. This isn’t to say that someone cannot experience an intense emotional reaction to a video game like Boyfriend Dungeon, but such a reaction’s relationship to the social concept of consent is radically different than if such a feeling arose during an interpersonal interaction.

This is the sort of argument that makes me think that there is a sort of nihilism in free speech "absolutism" - arguing in defense of free speech while rejecting the power that speech actually has. As I've said before, we teach two things about speech - "this machine kills fascists", i.e. that speech has the power to reshape the world; and "sticks and stones", i.e. that speech is harmless and we are expected to let things like hate speech roll off our backs. What gets missed here is these are mutually exclusive positions - if you argue that speech has the power to change the world, then it has the power to harm (and thus we need to keep this in mind); conversely, if you argue that people cannot be harmed by speech, then you are fundamentally arguing that speech is meaningless. These sorts of arguments are put forth to defend speech, but undermine it by saying "don't worry, it's okay because speech doesn't actually have an impact."
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:51 AM on January 11 [21 favorites]


Some content needs to be treated with the same respect as one gives a sharpened sword. Yes, the sword may be beautiful, but it still must be handled with absolute care, and never handed to the unwary without careful and considered warning. Not because I don’t trust the recipient, but because I have a due diligence to declare the sword as sharpened to every recipient, and to ensure they understand I’m serious, because it’s a serious matter.

I think it’s wrong to act as though the indirect impacts of art on people are not the artist’s responsibility. If art is about one of the CW topics that are generally understood to lead to trauma and risk of life to a vulnerable viewer, then the artist shares the same human duty as the rest of us to try and not accidentally verbally or visually or aurally stab other people in the brain. Those injuries take a very long time to heal, and people can die of them.

I think Law and Order: SVU gets content warnings right, and I think that Boyfriend Dungeon might have been okay without them, but I certainly appreciate them both for having them. I think that Doki Doki Lit got this wrong and should have been much more explicit about exactly which CWs it bears (let’s not discuss those in specific, please). My most traumatizing fiction work lifetime to date is “Memento”, but I wouldn’t give it a CW because I don’t think it statistically poses a trauma risk to anyone else besides me.

The author of this piece misses the essential cornerstone that one can choose to disengage from an artist’s content when presented its trigger warning, rather than having to let yourself be cut by their sword first. It suggests a deeper blind spot exists, where “the artist shall hold power over the witness” is taken for granted as the appropriate way of being. But I was raised on street markets; if the artist or their signage or their dialogue bothers me, I’ll just walk away, and they have no power to stop me.
posted by Callisto Prime at 4:01 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


I think there are a couple of things in the background: the problem that the internet is very large and the nature of the art in question.

When we talk about the internet, I notice that we tend to treat it as though everyone has roughly the same social circle and the same people participate in all discourse when in fact the internet is extremely various, social circles can overlap while being very different, etc. For instance, Ana Mardoll is constantly being retweeted by people I follow, but I have seen zero stuff about this dating sim game and had no idea that there was any controversy. My point being that this business of consent gets narrated as though there are only two large camps - the Marvel-loving mainstream-addled uwu types who can't handle real queer filth horror and the true artists who hate Marvel and love evisceration dramas. Like, the OP really clearly assumes that the type of person who doesn't like in-game stalking is a big proponent of the CIA consulting on superhero movies. I think this isn't a subtle enough way to understand what happens with social media networks; it tends to overestimate support for almost any position and reduces extremely various and contingent groupings to simple factions.

Also: what art are we talking about?

I'd like to say something really snobby here because I think it's a bit useful: A lot of the "radical" queer art (and for that matter highly praised queer SFF) that I see isn't particularly interesting, profound or good; it's often repetitive, genre-bound and as limited in its morality as anything it critiques. It often mistakes gore and, like, monster-fucking for having something profound to say about the world in a way that suggests to me that the writers are pretty young and have kind of same-y social circles. In that respect, it's not really very different from the uwu stuff, and probably the fanbase isn't really that different because people tend to like multiple things.

The fact that there is almost no controversy over ambitious, difficult queer books that don't have hot characters or too much porn in them says a lot IMO. Write the most controversial thing you can think of, but write influenced by John Reechy and make the protagonist a fifty year old woman and you will never, ever have anyone say boo.

I also think the quantity matters - there's so much content, most of which is pretty straightforward/speedy to consume, and we're encouraged to consume a lot and, although I don't have this totally worked out, I think that's not the most productive way to encounter art or the best way to encourage art.
posted by Frowner at 4:43 AM on January 11 [14 favorites]


I am a little surprised by the person who read a content warning about stalking, decided to proceed, and then was upset by the level of stalking. No amount of CW phrasing is going to help if the audience doesn't pay attention to it. I think its also a bit incumbent on consumers to do a little research before engaging with a piece of literature. Reading a mystery by Agatha Christie is a very different experience from reading one by Derek Raymond. Liking Dhalgren does not mean you should necessarily jump into Hogg or The Mad Man.

One of the things that really sets me off is cruelty to cats, and I will almost always skip a story or shut off a movie if it's headed in that direction. I would prefer that they all come with a big CW: cruelty to cats at the start, but that is super-specific, so I can hardly expect that. If I see if in a review, however, that item goes off my read/watch list.

I'd like to know more about the asexual/aromantic complaint -- does the game really go "if you're ace, you can date a cat!" or can the other weapons also be approached in non-romantic or non-sexual but emotionally satisfying ways? The article really doesn't dig into that aspect of the story. I suppose the internet is large, and I can find out more with some digging.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:34 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


The original content warning is "This game may include references to unwanted advances, stalking, and other forms of emotional manipulation."

This is an ambiguous sentence. Does it mean "this game may include references to stalking" or does it mean "this game may include stalking"? Because I think there is a meaningful distinction there (and that's reflected in the updated content warning). "References to stalking" would make me think that stalking was backstory but not present in the main narrative. Or it's present in a low-key way but not in the gameplay itself. That would be a lot easier for me personally to handle than a game where my character is actually getting stalked in the gameplay.

The original content warning wasn't sufficiently descriptive. The devs agreed and made it more descriptive. I kind of wish that this game hadn't become a battleground in the Great Battle of Transgressive Art vs Sensitive Snowflakes because... it's not that big a thing.

(I want the thing that's vulnerable and raw and sickening and terrifying but also I could use a content warning for it. Sometimes you want to have the big cathartic emotional reaction but you don't want to have it when you have to go to your job and smile and do customer service for eight hours.)
posted by Jeanne at 6:36 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


>Also: what art are we talking about?
I have a hard time listening to this without some context: of course #notallmen but the I'm flabberghasted that the text doesn't raise the idea that gamers might have no insight into their actions and so complain vociferously when they're the target not the cause harassing someone for a relationship they believe you're entitled to. Of course not all incels on Twitter, but who the honest f__k was complaining and being listened to? Over half the population says "Stalker? Oh, that's just a realistic depiction of life when you're dating."

I sit in the space where scary movies, rollercoasters and soap operas are safe experiences of horrible events that help us get through the stressy experiences of life with examples of people who survive and move on. The trigger warning is a warning that its creators hope will let you choose how many spoons to expend on the journey, and sometimes they get it wrong.

The clincher is who the audience is. I'm often not the intended audience of a thing, and it's a journey of emotional labour to put myself in the shoes of the character, which results in a learning experience for me. We'll never get an X-Men movie from Disney/Marvell Studios, full of freaks who act for justice against oppressive power, while the audience is China (or Walt Disney) -- for which the second link has:
What you have in the end is a movement which in practice enforces a sort of neoliberal social conservatism, demanding the sanitization of art produced by women and labeling existing art degenerate with the same verve the Nazis displayed in putting the torch to centuries of Europe's artistic history. It's a small, impoverished way to understand the purpose of art and it's fueled by deep, repressed misogyny. If we pretend everything is good, if we act like Marvel will fix racism and sexism if we just give them another four production cycles, if we make our branded dollies kiss and claim it's because the movies portray them in a symbolically homo-erotic context, OBVIOUSLY, then we don't need to look at ourselves or see what we're doing to the people around us.
posted by k3ninho at 7:03 AM on January 11


Also I think there's way too much emphasis on "art should be comforting"/"no, art should be raw and trangressive!!"

I would like to believe I'm a giant weirdo but the world is large and there are lots of people like me. When I think of art that has really changed the way I see the world, art that I return to again and again, art that brings me new insights as I change, etc, it's often neither le comfort fic nor filthcore queer monster horror. Art doesn't have to "comfort" or "transgress" to be powerful and important and art can be pretty bad and/or problematic-as-we-used-to-say while still being comforting or appropriately transgressive.
posted by Frowner at 7:05 AM on January 11 [15 favorites]


I'm cool with content warnings--and have no hesitation providing them--but in this weird backlash world, where suburban Moms in Virginia can claim their children were traumatized by Toni Morrison novels and the right wing is demanding content warnings on/bannings of any mention of the word "Racism" for blatantly political, power-grabby reasons . . . I'm a touch more ambivalent about them than I was a few months ago.
posted by thivaia at 7:58 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


"This game may include references to unwanted advances, stalking, and other forms of emotional manipulation."

This is an ambiguous sentence.


I don't think it's all that ambiguous. It's vague about amounts of content but not the content itself. If I saw a warning that read "This game may include references to cruelty to cats, cat killing, and other forms of animal torture," I would know it's not for me. Or, if I did participate and found it was too much for me, I wouldn't say "that was an insufficient warning." Except for one thing, which is a little particular. So the game is a dating sim (among other things) which means, to my experience, that the narrative is going to be forking, so that "may" might very well have led people to believe that they could identify the branches with the stalking and just not choose them. I found a couple of criticisms of the game that implied that this was their thinking. Indeed, the game apparently points out one character as a possible danger when the stalker is a different character (who I guess is unavoidable?). That that is different than a movie that says "this is a movie with a stalker and stalking" where everyone will see the same footage and story.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:00 AM on January 11


It's too bad that Conflict Is Not Abuse turned out to be not such a great approach to the topic, because some meta-ing about conflict and harm would be useful.

1. We all have to expect that despite our best efforts and even despite warnings and help, occasionally in life we're going to encounter material that is genuinely bad for our mental health. Language is uncertain; people have different experiences; what one person finds a sincere, best-shot description of contents may be opaque or misleading to others.

2. "This trigger warning isn't sufficient" is a legitimate critique. If I saw something which said, "may include stalking" I would not interpret it as "you will definitely get stalker content that you can't turn off".

3. Despite best efforts, sometimes there simply won't be a way to create a trigger warning that literally works for everyone because people's experiences are different. "This trigger warning is not sufficient" is a legitimate critique but sometimes it's not going to be an actionable critique.

4. Given 1-3, it seems like our discourse does not have very much space for a good-faith reading of an artist's efforts. "This person did their best to create a trigger warning but it didn't work out [because it was unclear/because my trigger is very specific] and therefore I felt really anxious and upset for a few days, which sucked" is not the same as "what kind of monster would stupidly fail to anticipate that this is an insufficient trigger warning and what kind of monster would voice a character who did a triggering thing in this insufficiently warned game".

5. "Sometimes reasonable, good faith efforts still don't work" is not the same as "only special snowflakes insist that art, especially popular/consumption-oriented art, not send them into a trauma spiral since being willing to confront the raw and transgressive is good at all times and in all places".

6. I feel like a lot of this boils down to loneliness and weak social ties under our present godawful system. Most people most of the time understand that sometimes things are bad and upsetting and it's not really anyone's fault precisely because we have social support so we're not lonely and miserable and looking to anonymous art for our sense of self/companionship. Something can piss you off without sending you down the "death threat to the creator" road if you have enough real-world ties to keep things in proportion, but if all you have is your screen, your screen has disproportionate influence.
posted by Frowner at 8:16 AM on January 11 [20 favorites]


Given 1-3, it seems like our discourse does not have very much space for a good-faith reading of an artist's efforts. "This person did their best to create a trigger warning but it didn't work out [because it was unclear/because my trigger is very specific] and therefore I felt really anxious and upset for a few days, which sucked" is not the same as "what kind of monster would stupidly fail to anticipate that this is an insufficient trigger warning and what kind of monster would voice a character who did a triggering thing in this insufficiently warned game".

The problem is that we live in a culture that valorizes inflicting harm on someone "for their own good", which makes it hard to read whether something is genuinely an accident or yet another example of someone buying into "suffering is good for the soul." If we want space in the discourse for good faith readings, than this spartan streak in our society needs to die, because as long as it remains, assuming good faith will remain dangerous.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:33 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Mod note: One deleted. Old and busted: beginning your rant against content warnings by making a fake content warning that is supposed to sarcastically illustrate the absurdity of content warnings, and not coincidentally, one's contempt for people who use / want content warnings. See also fake personal pronouns, fake statements of ethnicity, sexuality, etc. Not cool, and seriously? not clever. If you legitimately want to join the conversation here, do it with respect, otherwise, it's a good thread to skip.
posted by taz (staff) at 8:38 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]



The problem is that we live in a culture that valorizes inflicting harm on someone "for their own good", which makes it hard to read whether something is genuinely an accident or yet another example of someone buying into "suffering is good for the soul." If we want space in the discourse for good faith readings, than this spartan streak in our society needs to die, because as long as it remains, assuming good faith will remain dangerous.


I have a hard time with this reading because it seems to suggest that invoking discomfort in an audience is inherently hostile and bad vs a valid mode in storytelling. Given that what might be banal to one person could induce severe anxiety in another it's difficult to not see this logic as expecting any harsh elements be sanded off. Content warnings, while imperfect seem to be the best option we have at the moment.
posted by Ferreous at 8:49 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I feel like a lot of this boils down to loneliness and weak social ties under our present godawful system.

I think you are very correct. I also think that social media, with it's increased access, immediate effect, and lack of nuance tends to "increase the heat without increasing the light," which is a real problem as people tend to attack what's in reach when they feel stressed or threatened.

I agree that "this trigger warning is insufficient" is a legitimate stance. I also think that whether any given warning is sufficient is something that people can disagree on in good faith. Also that a sufficient trigger warning for everyone may be impossible, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:54 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Growing up is painful, yes, but if you want to learn to love, to open yourself up to others, to touch the deepest, rawest parts of your psyche and your sexuality, you're going to have to suffer.

I can't GTFO this hard enough. And I don't need to be told what to read or watch by someone who writes "filthcore horror novels," whatever the bleeding hell those are.

It reminds me of an old Letterman bit where he went out and asked NYC doughnut shop owners how many doughnuts they thought people should eat a day. One guy goes, "Ten, twelve." So, the writer who pens this shit thinks that the only way to grow up is to read her not-corporate-art-maaaan shit? Wow, that's not a self-serving argument at all. [/s] Never darken my browser again, "filthcore queen."
posted by the sobsister at 9:25 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


This is the sort of argument that makes me think that there is a sort of nihilism in free speech "absolutism" - arguing in defense of free speech while rejecting the power that speech actually has. As I've said before, we teach two things about speech - "this machine kills fascists", i.e. that speech has the power to reshape the world; and "sticks and stones", i.e. that speech is harmless and we are expected to let things like hate speech roll off our backs. What gets missed here is these are mutually exclusive positions - if you argue that speech has the power to change the world, then it has the power to harm (and thus we need to keep this in mind); conversely, if you argue that people cannot be harmed by speech, then you are fundamentally arguing that speech is meaningless. These sorts of arguments are put forth to defend speech, but undermine it by saying "don't worry, it's okay because speech doesn't actually have an impact."

This argument only makes sense if you take the position that people have no control over their own mind, and are buffeted about helplessly by the power of words. Words can change the world when and if people give those words power (and typically, take action...words that can change the world in and of themselves without requiring any action by anyone would be straight-up magical incantations); likewise, words can be far less harmful than sticks and stones when we choose to deny those words power in our own minds. To take the position that these things cannot both be true, is to take the position that a listener has zero ability to regulate their own emotions and reactions in response to words. Which might even be true, for some people in regards to some subjects - but we expect healthy full-grown adults to be able to regulate their responses, which is why people who cannot do that for certain subjects are diagnosed as having a disorder and (ideally) treated for it. Trying to be sensitive to those folks with content warnings is great! But the existence (or even non-existence) of a content warning does mean that the audience no longer bears any responsibility for their reactions to a piece of media. That's a problem with taking a desire to care for the most vulnerable and extrapolating it out over-broadly to treat everyone as being fully that vulnerable all the time, which is frankly, infantilizing the people you're trying to care for and toxic to any kind of healthy dialogue. A listener/viewer/reader of a piece of media has a responsibility to maintain a reasonable modicum of control over their own mind, just as we expect people to do all the rest of the time.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:08 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Saw a tweet recently that said that every male filmmaker that includes a gratuitous sexual assault scene in their film on the grounds that it reflects the darkness of real life should also have to include one (1) diarrhea scene which also reflects the darkness of real life.

It's possible to be both against "antis" and understand how and why content warnings work and are necessary. I'm a "tough" "man" and I for sure will close my eyes and hum my way through movie scenes that include suicide, and get depressed and pissed off when I don't get enough of a warning to do so beforehand (looking at you, Midsommar).
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 10:30 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


In fandom spaces, trigger warnings:

1) Warn people with trauma that they may encounter content that triggers that trauma. This is the original, intended use.

2) Allows the posting of more extreme content in public, shared spaces by giving other people the option to back out and avoid that content, either by hitting the back button on their browsers after reading an author's note or, more recently, filtering for an excluding the trigger warning tags.

3) Allows users who are looking for that kind of triggering content to search for it. Basically there are a lot of people for whom "stalking" or "rape" is something they are specifically looking for, not something they are specifically avoiding. As with number 2, the use of trigger warnings may actually facillitate the production of more of this kind of content as it becomes easier to find, and the fans of it are more easily able to find each other and form a community.

4) Enables harassers, "antis" and culture warriors to specifically search for the content they are "triggered" by in order to make strongly worded posts about how this content shouldn't exist and the people who create it should be harassed off social media, which they often do for "clicks" or engagement or social stature within their communities.

I think, if you're not in these fan spaces where all four things exist, you can get stuck still arguing about the importance of trigger warnings as if we're still debating whether they should exist or not, like we were back in 2004. But in the last 16 or so years what is actually happening on the ground, in places that use a lot of trigger warnings, might not match your expectations.
posted by subdee at 11:08 AM on January 11 [20 favorites]


P.S. and about point 4) above, which is common and a problem in fan spaces:

I feel this harassment culture is helped along by the right-wing backlash co-opting these terms, as others have mentioned in the thread; and that the right-wing is using these debates to recruit the teens who have only seen the world created by the existence of trigger warnings; the world where it's easy to find upsetting content that is appropriately warned for.

There really is a large group of online teens (and ex-teens) who feel strongly that Disney-fied stories are better than the more complex ones because they avoid sinful content, which ties into the "better representation" argument, and I think this argument is amplied by Focus on the Family / Christian infiltration into fan spaces. It's the idea that the secular world is full of sinful content that children must be protected from, and that "good" fiction is necessarily morally correct and teaches good moral lessons. And then teens (and others) have trouble navigating the transition from that heavily sanitized world to the world of mainsteam adult content, which is full of gore and violence and sexual themes etc.

I'm not really sure what to do about it, because trigger warnings are helpful and the compromise "we" as a fan community came up with to help us deal with the fact that people need different things from fiction, but are sharing the same public space. But at the same time, the downsides to trigger warnings aren't some imaginary thing that people are making up because they think you should suffer. It's a reaction to the kind of crazy and extreme takes we're getting recently, and people using trigger warnings to look for the next target for their harassment campaigns.
posted by subdee at 11:14 AM on January 11 [19 favorites]


I think its also a bit incumbent on consumers to do a little research before engaging with a piece of literature. [...] Liking Dhalgren does not mean you should necessarily jump into Hogg or The Mad Man.

So Dhalgren is my favorite novel, but I put off reading The Mad Man for almost 20 years because I had heard what it was about and decided it was Not For Me. I finally got around to it last year ... and you know, I felt intensely squeamish most of the time, but it was also the most rewarding, mind-expanding thing I read in 2021.

I agree that readers should know what they're getting into. I think content warnings are good and triggers need to be taken seriously. And it's not like The Mad Man reminded me of past trauma or anything. But when I let myself be dissuaded by a knowledge of the book's contents, I deprived myself of a rich and valuable experience. I don't think we "have to suffer" in order to grow (as Gretchen Felker-Martin's Patreon puts it), but putting up with the discomfort was an important part of the sentimental education of reading. I was really missing out by sticking to what was comfortable.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 11:23 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


What If Trigger Warnings Don't Work?

The link between shellfish warnings and preventing negative biological outcomes is well-established. The link between trigger warnings and preventing negative mental health outcomes has not yet been proven.

It's great that so many people think trigger warnings are a good idea! We should all care about each other's mental health and look out for one another! But regardless of your politics, the efficacy or utility of trigger warnings is not at the level of a well-established fact.
posted by lock robster at 11:25 AM on January 11


Like Bo Burnham said - it's "the backlash to the backlash to the thing that's just begun" and that goes for transgressive art, which became mainstream art, but is now seen as the new hegemony to fight against, using old-fashioned harassment and trolling methods, which generates its own backlash, and etc etc ad nauseum. And the more we fight, the more the social media hubs make money.
posted by subdee at 11:28 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


The shrimp painting can’t put you in anaphylaxis, no matter how strongly it reminds you of a time when a real shrimp did.

This analogy is so deeply ignorant of what trauma is and how PTSD works. I don't have a lot of time to respond right now, but a quick, more accurate analogy would be: this photograph of your murdered child isn't the same as the murder of your child, no matter how strongly it reminds you of the time when your child was murdered.
posted by overglow at 11:29 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


It also seems that in the anti communities taking down someone considered progressive or trying to be inclusive is a source of clout as cultural currency. Which in turn leads to a racheting effect to find new angles to attack as problematic. Given that said communities are known for vocal harassment it's understandable in a way that creators can get a distorted view of how people are reacting to potentially upsetting content despite good faith efforts on their part. Nuanced takes are going to get drowned out in a flood of hate.
posted by Ferreous at 11:40 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


but it was also the most rewarding, mind-expanding thing I read in 2021.

The Mad Man is a great novel, but it is challenging on a lot of levels, and I would never recommend someone read it without a pretty solid description of what they are getting into. So, I think it's a great example of a work that is enhanced by content warnings.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:05 PM on January 11


I think it's very relavent to this conversation to note that Boyfriend Dungeon was a Kickstarter game, and that the stalking/dark elements of the game were not advertised in that. Lots of people funded the game having been sold one thing and had it arrive to realise it was something quite different.

The reaction to boyfriend dungeon is more about being missold an experience. Yes the content warning was there, and I understand it was expanded upon after launch, but it's kind of wrong to sell someone one thing and deliver another and then be surprised that they don't like it.
posted by Braeburn at 12:34 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


The shrimp painting can’t put you in anaphylaxis, no matter how strongly it reminds you of a time when a real shrimp did.

From a recent article in Quanta
Dogs that habitually hear a bell at chow time become classically conditioned to drool at the mere chime, as the physiologist Ivan Pavlov showed in the 1890s: Their brains learn to associate the bell with food and instruct the salivary glands to respond accordingly.

More than a century later, in a paper published today in Cell, the neuroimmunologist Asya Rolls has shown that a similar kind of conditioning extends to immune responses. Using state-of-the-art genetic tools in mice, her team at the Technion in Haifa, Israel, identified brain neurons that became active during experimentally induced inflammation in the abdomen. Later, the researchers showed that restimulating those neurons could trigger the same types of inflammation again.

“This is an outstanding body of work,” said Kevin Tracey, a neurosurgeon and president of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York. It “establishes that the classic concept of immunological memory can be represented in neurons.” Others before Rolls have suggested that the brain could remember and retrieve immune responses, he said, but “she proved it.”

Decades of research and everyday experience offer striking examples of the interplay between mind and body. Around the time Pavlov was experimenting with drooling dogs, the American physician John Mackenzie watched one of his patients develop an itchy throat and struggle to breathe upon seeing an artificial rose — suggesting that the perception that pollen was present was enough to provoke her allergy symptoms.
I don’t know of a case where an allergic person died from being forcibly reminded of a time they’d eaten shellfish, but I bet experiencing the early symptoms of anaphylaxis is not uncommon.

As NoxAeternum points out so cogently above, speech (and by extension artistic representation in general) has enormous power and can reach deep inside us whether we want it to or not.
posted by jamjam at 12:38 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


It's great that so many people think trigger warnings are a good idea! We should all care about each other's mental health and look out for one another! But regardless of your politics, the efficacy or utility of trigger warnings is not at the level of a well-established fact.

One, a lot of the researchers on trigger/content warnings seem to not understand what the purpose of the warnings are - they're meant to be a heads up to allow a person to make an informed choice to continue or bail out, as well as letting them know that they may need to do the latter for their own sake. Telling someone "this passage may trigger you" and then making them read the passage is the researchers missing the fundamental point.

Two, as I said before, trigger/content warnings are a form of informed consent - something that has been a key part of psychological research as a result of the work of people like Milgram. If these researchers don't understand how the warnings work, it makes me wonder what their view on informed consent is.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:35 PM on January 11 [10 favorites]


Also, this comes back to my point about the valorization of harm - the academy, which has a spartan streak a mile wide that serves to both harm students and serve as a gateway to many, has always had an enmity with content and trigger warnings out of an institutional belief that suffering is part of learning and growth, and those unable to handle it are unfit. This, of course, has only served to further gatekeep education.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:41 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


But when I let myself be dissuaded by a knowledge of the book's contents, I deprived myself of a rich and valuable experience.

I think we fall into the "there is one path to growing as a reader" mindset really easily. Like, on the one hand, yes, you would have benefited from reading The Mad Man earlier and having it as part of your Delaney/literary toolkit for longer, but on the other hand, you weren't just sitting around twiddling your thumbs, either; presumably you were reading other stuff which also benefited you as a reader. And now that you have read The Mad Man, you're coming to it with more reading and more life under your belt, meaning you're a better reader.

With so much of the debate over trigger warnings, content, "transgressive art good/bad", etc, it seems like we're assuming that, like, we only have one book and if we elect not to read that book, we'll be stunted little literary crustaceans forever. Not feeling up to The Story of the Eye today? Fine, you're an adult with some readerly ambition, I'm sure you'll find something to read that helps you grow as a reader.

A problem with the internet is that we're always addressing a composite and static other - a Leviathan who is committed to only ever reading Harry Potter - when really what we're addressing is a figment made up of brief impressions of who people are around fandom. Like, it's sort of a moral eternal September, where you have ten thousand people who each hold terrible fandom opinions for three weeks and then start to wise up, but there's always a new ten thousand.

Not to say that I would not prefer to be a pair of ragged claws; being a pair of ragged claws sounds pretty restful.
posted by Frowner at 1:44 PM on January 11 [17 favorites]


As a matter of preference, I actually like content descriptions over trigger warnings. The best example I have found online is the Common Sense Media site (geared for kids) where they both do give an approximate age rating but more importantly just list short descriptions of the things, focusing on what they think would be dealbreakers. My kids didn't like movies with conflict and it really worked well for that.

Examples:
Multiverse "Soapy, illogical teen sci-fi drama has violence, swearing."
Spencer "Royal biopic tackles mental health, bulimia; some language." [Language is short form for swearing but also words like bitch, stupid, etc.]

But even so, my triggers are not always likely to be described.

So in that case, a piece of art/book/game/whatever cannot really ever check for my affirmative consent. I like the idea of description, rather than hiding whatever is actually happening. It's like an ingredient list, even if we're probably not going to always get a comprehensive list of ingredients. For me both edits of the warning above would be fine.

That's where I think a classroom (required attendance/engagement in order to succeed) and the world kind of diverge - in an educational or workplace context there's a higher bar.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:34 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Rather than applying a "no good deed goes unpunished" screen to this, creators and publishers really need to consider that content warnings are transactional, not charitable. Creators and publishers who avail themselves of content warnings are seeking to win additional distribution, consumption, acclaim and (if applicable) profit, and like merchants of all sorts, have the primary duty for fitness of purpose, and accept that standards of fitness will change over time, and failing to meet the standards will make them an object of criticism.
posted by MattD at 4:54 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Maybe we are the monsters we've been fucking all along...
posted by Jacen at 6:42 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


What I don't get is why, of all games, Boyfriend Dungeon was the one that enraged everyone. While uncomfortable, the scenes were pretty tame compared to lots of other games that do not have content warnings, a lot of them AAA games like GTA5, Far Cry 3, Heavy Rain and Life is Strange, to name a few. Basically any media where the main character is kidnapped is more impacting than the stalker in Boyfriend Dungeon.
posted by ymgve at 6:54 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Because boys are allowed their torture and kidnapping stories, but girls aren't.

Because content for gay people comes under more scrutiny than content for straight people.

Because Boyfriend Dungeon *has trigger warnings* which made it easier for the people who are going around looking for things they can rage against to identify it as one of those things.

Because the name, Boyfriend Dungeon, also gives a clue as to the contents and some/many of the people criticizing the game have not actually played it.

Because indie art and artists is an easier target than mainstream art, and the people who play Boyfriend Dungeon are more vulnerable to these kinds of arguments about whether they're playing good and moral games than the guys playing AAA games who don't care.

Or maybe it's just bad luck.
posted by subdee at 7:30 PM on January 11 [10 favorites]


I do think genre expectations have something to do with it.

"It's a dating sim, but one of your possible dating options stalks you!" feels like not what I want from a dating sim, to me, in the same way that "It's a romance, but halfway through the hero starts being controlling and abusive!" feels like not what I want from a romance novel. It might be a brilliant game if it's not framed in those genre terms! But playing a dating sim and getting stalking, that's like a box of Ferrero Rochers where one of the Ferrero Rochers is a Brussels sprout covered in chocolate and wrapped in gold foil. It is not what I was expecting, even if I really like Brussels sprouts.

You go into Grand Theft Auto with a certain headspace and you go into a dating sim with a really different headspace. The fantasy of GTA is about power and violence and the fantasy of a dating sim is going on nice dates with nice cute people.

(Yes, I'm aware of Doki Doki Literature Club. I don't think anyone starts playing DDLC expecting it to be a dating sim and continue to be a dating sim and not turn into something much darker. I don't know if it has content warnings, but the hype around it IS a content warning.)

Some people were really angry with Spec Ops: The Line because they thought they were getting a regular war game and they were actually getting a game about war crimes and complicity. I think there's a lot of value in undermining and subverting those expectations, but also - I can't really blame people who really wanted the Ferrero Rocher and were not prepared for the Brussels sprout. (I mean: I can blame them for overreacting, but I can't blame them for being disappointed.)
posted by Jeanne at 8:46 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Note that the stalker is not one of your dating options because he is the game's primary antagonist. So it's not like you accidentally can end up in a bad relationship, there is no relationship at all. (This haven't stopped quite a few people from wanting a path in the game where you do date him, of course...)

(Also the game was never presented as just a dating sim - after all, the second part of the game's name is "Dungeon", and you are dating instruments of violence because you are wielding them in the randomly generated action game dungeons.)
posted by ymgve at 6:22 AM on January 12


I support trigger warnings, but also agree that the concept of consent is problematic when applied to art.

Back in the late 80s, conservatives like Jesse Helms and his Moral Majority posse made a huge stink over “obscene” artists receiving NEA grants, most notably Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. They drummed up massive outrage from folks who surely did not affirmatively consent to viewing photos with BDSM imagery or crucifixes in jars of piss in art galleries or Time magazine or CBS News or whatever.

Or how about how the Super Bowl halftime show always draws predictable complaints from viewers who did not consent to seeing immoral and lascivious behavior during a good ole American football game?

Do these folks have a valid complaint that Mapplethorpe, Serrano, Janet Jackson (not to mention Justin Timberlake who forcibly disrobed Janet) etc engaged in consent violations with respect to the public?
posted by lumpy at 8:28 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


There are actually a lot of really fucked up dating Sims, epsecially if you start getting into the Japanese visual novels that just use "dating sim" as the format to tell different kinds of stories.
posted by subdee at 10:52 AM on January 12


Like Higurashi: They Cry is an adaption of a visual novel with some dating sim elements.
posted by subdee at 10:55 AM on January 12


For those mooting whether "filthcore" can contain anything valuable, here's a link to a review of Felker-Martin's book.
posted by klangklangston at 2:32 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


It makes me a little uncomfortable when people criticizing Gretchen's argument leap to shitting on the books she writes. That feels as kneejerk as, well, the things Gretchen leaps to that I most dislike about her argument here.

Do these folks have a valid complaint that Mapplethorpe, Serrano, Janet Jackson (not to mention Justin Timberlake who forcibly disrobed Janet) etc engaged in consent violations with respect to the public?

This is the aspect of this part of the cultural discussion that most gives me pause—there are ways in which certain aspects of the modern progressive movement feel awkwardly parallel to things about reactionary conservative movements in the past; while I think they have a significant value beyond those parallels, I think it's worth figuring out what separates one from the other.

subdee's comments about antis in this thread are fascinatingsubdee, thank you for talking about that stuff, because even as someone semi-ancillary to some fandoms and fanfics community, that's not a specific phenomenon I've run across before. My own experience of that sort of thing suggests at least two threads of people using trigger-warning discourse in malicious ways: you have the vampire castle sorts who use it as a Machiavellian social maneuvering or pursuit of clout, and then you have the reactionary trad sorts who have an extremely tunnel-visioned idea of what art should be, and either don't think of their outlook as regressive or sincerely think that progressivism ought to mean removing all but the "purest" (or "least problematic") art.

The former reminds me a lot of Jo Freeman's classic essay on "trashing"—I mean, literally the same phenomenon, in the same kind of political space, to the same ends, albeit with even younger demographics of people involved. And the latter feels like it's of a piece with the whole "18 Things About The Sopranos That Actually Look Really Misogynistic In 2022" trend—and that's the stuff that feels most like shades of Moral Majority, and additionally feels like the specific flavor of people that Gretchen's most criticizing in this piece.

Where I think the content-warning community diverges substantially from either of those groups is that, well, it's bare-minimum polite to let people know about things that might upset them, and beyond that might genuinely keep some people from having a really shitty time. Because it's not about (or shouldn't be about) whether or not some things are appropriate to discuss in the arts, or even about whether or not certain works of art discuss those things appropriately. It's about whether art has the capacity to disturb, unsettle, or upset—not just to offend, but to rupture, which is a slightly hoity-toity word but makes a legitimate distinction here. And, if you accept that for some people can be affected by this in significant ways, the question maybe becomes: is there a way to take those people into account without compromising an artistic experience? I'd argue that the answer is "yes definitely," in the same way that providing a quick "flashing lights" warning for people at epilepsy risk doesn't profoundly ruin anything's artistic integrity, as far as I can tell.

THAT SAID: I think it's an ungenerous interpretation of Gretchen's argument to say that her primary argument is that pushing against the notion that warning people of stuff is bad. She dips into that a little bit too much for my liking, which is sloppy reasoning in a way that bugs me, but I think her central concern isn't about consent to experiencing art, it's about the idea that art which depicts something non-consensual is itself a consent violation. And that was what the Boyfriend Dungeon fiasco revolved around: not just "their content warning wasn't clear enough" (a mild criticism that people raised mildly, and which the BD people responded to—everybody wins!), but around the extreme position certain people took, which was that to depict a person who behaves in creepy and upsetting ways was itself an endorsement of, or a recreation of, creepy and abusive behavior. The point at which they started harassing that character's voice actor went beyond anything plausibly like "the issue here was lack of consent warnings." It's full-blown morally unjustifiable territory, the darker offshoot of the lighter fare like the "Martin Scorsese literally hates every woman individually" crowd.

I do wish that the art-enthusiast socialist-y community was a little more precise in the way they dealt with this phenomenon, though. If you're gonna be an angry, condescending dick about a group of people, at least make sure you're being an angry, condescending dick about the right group of people. Nuance is good.

I mean, most of the time. It's actually a little bit more complicated than that.
posted by rorgy at 4:05 PM on January 12 [10 favorites]


This is an ambiguous sentence. Does it mean "this game may include references to stalking" or does it mean "this game may include stalking" ?

Not responding specifically to your point - I agree that their revised warning is clearer - but I’m curious in general about how one might engage with warnings about content that isn’t expressly required by a game’s main plot.

In a hypothetical game, there might be a side quest that touches on a violent sexual assault crime; this content isn’t present in the main quest, and a player has to go through a couple hour series of difficult tasks, some of which add context to the eventually discovered crime, to reach the potentially-triggering element.

Do you offer a blanket “this game includes references to sexual assault” or “this game contains scenes of sexual assault,” despite the fact that most players won’t see that element? Do you somehow design the game to pop up a warning halfway through the quest chain, alerting a player before anything happens but breaking immersion and negating a chunk of their progress?

Games are inherently more difficult to contextualize in a lot of ways, given that many inherently lack the linearity of a book or film - if something bad happens at page 152 or minute 48, it will happen there forever, and it can’t be avoided (in the story, at least; one could always skip a page or fast-forward), while in a game there’s the potential to completely sidestep a great deal of content.
posted by Molten Berle at 11:41 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]


Do you offer a blanket “this game includes references to sexual assault” or “this game contains scenes of sexual assault,” despite the fact that most players won’t see that element?

I don't think that this is a hard question. You can say, "this game includes optional side quests that contain scenes of sexual assault." There's no reason that you have to use less informative wording.

You can also note which side quests those are in-game. In many games, there are obvious places you could do so. For example, in AC: Odyssey, which I'm playing right now, there is always a short description of the current tracked quest in the upper left. There are longer descriptions in the quest menu. These often already have warnings, e.g. if it's too high level for my character.

Most games I've played also have warning screens before you accept certain quests: This quest might spoil the late game story, do you want to continue anyway? You can't turn back from this quest, you'll have to complete it once you start, are you ready to do it now? Etc.

Different types of games might require different approaches, of course. Maybe in some games it truly would not be possible or desirable to include in-game warnings for optional content. But this reason for not including warnings does ring kind of hollow when so many games already include in-game warnings for other things.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:56 AM on January 14


This argument only makes sense if you take the position that people have no control over their own mind, and are buffeted about helplessly by the power of words. Words can change the world when and if people give those words power (and typically, take action...words that can change the world in and of themselves without requiring any action by anyone would be straight-up magical incantations); likewise, words can be far less harmful than sticks and stones when we choose to deny those words power in our own minds. To take the position that these things cannot both be true, is to take the position that a listener has zero ability to regulate their own emotions and reactions in response to words.

This is conflating the question of whether words cause people to do bad things with the question of whether words can cause people to feel pain. People are responsible for their actions, but whether someone feels pain is an involuntary experience.

Inflicting pain does not have to rise to the level of breaking bones to be worth caring about. If someone says, "I should be allowed to step on people's toes because it doesn't hurt them very much," I can agree that we shouldn't use the state to punish people who accidentally step on someone's toes but criticize you if you choose to inflict pain when there's an easy way to avoid it.

This discussion is really about whether using trigger warnings is more of a hassle than the pain they spare people is worth. I think that the hassle is so small that they are worth using even if they only spare a few people a little bit of pain. Some people claim that trigger warnings spare them significant amounts of pain. I don't see evidence that many of them are lying about that.
posted by straight at 11:12 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]


The original article starts out talking about how much criticism and social censure we should...encourage? ...allow? for artists who make art that caused pain because they didn't do enough to warn someone. How much warning is enough? How much criticism for insufficient warning is too much?

The author could have tried to address that genuinely difficult question by getting into specifics "Look," they might have said, "failing to provide sufficient warning about this kind of content is not as bad as sexual assault or sexual harassment. Voice actors involved should not be treated like Louis C.K." We could be talking about whether a voice actor has any responsibility at all to ask, "Are you going to warn players about this stuff?"

Instead they go the complete opposite direction. Instead of trying to make fine distinctions, they ham-handedly try to discredit the entire concept of sparing someone pain with content warnings by conflating it with moral censorship. And they conclude by citing a bunch of studies that completely miss the point of trigger warnings. "How much pain can I avoid causing if I don't step on your toes?" becomes "How much pain can I avoid causing if I tell you ahead of time that I'm going to step on your toes?"
posted by straight at 11:50 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


A better analogy would be:

If I say, "Watch out!" does that allow people to avoid getting their toes stepped on? Is it pointless because I never hurt anyone anyway? Does the warning prevent me from occasionally breaking someone's foot? (But still completely different questions from "Does it hurt less if I tell you ahead of time that I'm going to step on your foot?")
posted by straight at 12:09 PM on January 14


" People are responsible for their actions, but whether someone feels pain is an involuntary experience.

Inflicting pain does not have to rise to the level of breaking bones to be worth caring about.
"

An itch is a nerve pain response. There's a tremendously broad range of concern we owe each others' itches, from serious, to none at all.

"This discussion is really about whether using trigger warnings is more of a hassle than the pain they spare people is worth. I think that the hassle is so small that they are worth using even if they only spare a few people a little bit of pain. Some people claim that trigger warnings spare them significant amounts of pain. I don't see evidence that many of them are lying about that."

How beneficial some warnings are to some individuals isn't really up for debate — like you said, no reason to assume people are lying — but since there's other research suggesting that they heighten anxiety, and reason to believe that those people are the least likely to speak up with their experiences when this is discussed.

"The author could have tried to address that genuinely difficult question by getting into specifics "Look," they might have said, "failing to provide sufficient warning about this kind of content is not as bad as sexual assault or sexual harassment. Voice actors involved should not be treated like Louis C.K." We could be talking about whether a voice actor has any responsibility at all to ask, "Are you going to warn players about this stuff?""

I do think more specifics could have helped, but the issues of trigger or content warnings are hugely subjective — what triggers me is likely different from you, and along with that, there's a wide spectrum of harm.

But as far as that goes, well, what do you think? Did the voice actor have an obligation to push the studio to make this apparent? What about the ace stuff — if the actor was aware of the apparently weak representation (I haven't played Boyfriend Dungeon and am not ace; I'd defer to those who have and are about whether the representation is offensive), how much of an obligation do they have to act on that?

"Instead they go the complete opposite direction. Instead of trying to make fine distinctions, they ham-handedly try to discredit the entire concept of sparing someone pain with content warnings by conflating it with moral censorship. And they conclude by citing a bunch of studies that completely miss the point of trigger warnings. "How much pain can I avoid causing if I don't step on your toes?" becomes "How much pain can I avoid causing if I tell you ahead of time that I'm going to step on your toes?""

It's weird to try to distinguish "sparing someone pain" from "moral censorship." It is moral censorship; it's morals that you agree with, a consequentialist harm-avoidance morality.

Is a blanket sign at the entrance of the club "Toes may be stepped on" sufficient? How much effort should be expended to prevent toe-stepping? Is it ok to accept some, or should the interior of the club be redesigned to prevent all toe-stepping?

Felker-Martin is arguing that infinitely specific framework of consent is insufficient for interacting with art and can be co-opted rhetorically by people with illiberal political motives. She does conflate a fair amount of stuff to use that consent argument to be skeptical of trigger warnings, but it's not like there's a ton of great evidence supporting their efficacy either. They're not like wheelchair ramps, where it's pretty inarguable that access allows a wide swath of people to participate in civic life more fully. (And frankly, even ADA access is so ridiculously under enforced that the norm is still thinking of full accessibility as a luxury — people want an equitable society, so long as they don't have to pay for it.)

Maybe it just comes back to the problem of the Democrats: people are much more angry about people who try and fail than they are about people who don't even try.
posted by klangklangston at 7:06 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


since there's other research suggesting that they heighten anxiety

Is there research that the "Hey you might not want to watch/read this because it contains X" kind of warning can heighten anxiety or are you referring to studies of "Hey, brace yourself because you're about to see X whether you want to or not" warnings?
posted by straight at 1:45 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]


It's weird to try to distinguish "sparing someone pain" from "moral censorship." It is moral censorship; it's morals that you agree with, a consequentialist harm-avoidance morality.


No. Just...no. We as a society have been conflating having consideration for others with censorship for too long, and the result is the pushing of a unilateral tolerance that has basically lead to (waves around), because we've said that saying that "hey, maybe you should consider the harm your statement may cause and rethink it" is somehow an affront. When I brought up valorization of harm, this is what that looks like, because the defining of harm reduction as censorship is not a morally neutral statement, especially in our society as structured today - it is very much impuning negative aspects to the idea that people should consider the harm their words can bring and adjusting accordingly, and in doing so impunes that the opposite - not caring about or even intentionally causing harm - is virtuous. Which, thanks to the belief that "suffering is good for the soul" so endemic in our society, is not a hard leap for people to make.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:06 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


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