Should Trigger Warnings be used in Video Games?

Hey, Gamers. This post is a little heavy and therefore I recommend making sure you’re in the right headspace before reading. It won’t be too bad but I am going to discuss things such as child abuse, sexual assault and hate crimes. I will also be talking a little bit about my experience with the first two things (for context reasons) so if you’re not feeling up to that, it might be best to skip this post.

So there are a few things we need to make clear. I think we have a general split in today’s society, which is you either hear the word ‘triggered’ and think everyone is too sensitive or you hear the word ‘triggered’ and you immediately know that things need to change to accommodate that person as they’ve been through trauma. So, the word we need to clarify is ‘triggered’. For the purposes of this post (and in general), ‘triggered’ is used by people who have been through trauma to explain that something – whether that be a sound, smell or experience – has triggered a flashback which usually takes them back to the time of the trauma. It is important to mention that you can have good triggers too, but most people wouldn’t mention that they’re triggered by something good. It’s important to note that these flashbacks can be very real and the person will probably not be okay during or after it happens. It’s best to get them out of whatever situation triggered them.

I love games. I mean, I have a gaming blog and a Twitch so I feel like that’s obvious. I also have a ton of trauma, which I am pretty open about (especially on my Twitch). For this post, we are going to be talking about four games: Persona 5 Strikers (so beware of spoilers of the Osaka jail), Persona 5, Mystic Messenger and Life Is Strange 2. This is obviously a difficult subject for me, but I feel like it is an important one too. So, let’s get to it!

I came up with this post idea last Wednesday. If any of you are watching my Persona 5 Strikers runthrough on Twitch… you probably know why. I got to the end of the Osaka jail (despite the spiders making me feel sick) and… I was hit with a huge trigger for me when Konoe’s trauma was revealed. It felt so close to my own. I was abused as a child by my stepfather, and my mother tried to cover it up because she didn’t want to lose me. All of my attempts to tell my teachers and the police were met with my overactive imagination. This is something I don’t get to talk about much in places like therapy as it happened a long time ago and a lot of traumatic stuff has happened since. I tried my very best to go into Persona 5 Strikers completely blind. I mean, it’s the sequel to my favourite game and I wanted to find out everything as I played it. I regret that, because I wasn’t able to prepare myself for a game about trauma after trauma after trauma. And I wasn’t able to prepare myself for the child abuse. It hit me so hard. I wasn’t able to finish the stream properly as I was hit by vivid flashbacks and panic attacks. After nearly a week of reflection, I’ve calmed down a lot and I’m now prepared to play the game again with this in mind. See, the thing with this game in particular is that if there was a trigger warning, that would also be spoilers for the game. Trauma is such a huge part of this game that it would have been hard to implement a trigger warning without spoiling the game. I know that that would upset more people than the game would trigger people. Actually, knowing Persona fans… they’d probably complain that there’s a trigger warning in the first place, even if there’s no spoilers. Moving forward, I think maybe putting a trigger warning maybe on the back of the case may be the best solution.

I have no screenshots from Strikers yet so uh enjoy this Akechi image from Royal 🙂

I feel like it’s obvious when talking about the prospect of trigger warnings in games, we should talk about Persona 5 (both vanilla and Royal). Within the first 10 hours, there’s sexual assault, sexual harassment and an attempted suicide attempt. It’s a heavy game and it is meant to shock you into realising how compliant society is. Obviously if you’re in a vulnerable mental place, it is going to trigger you. Would a trigger warning help? Honestly, probably not. Persona 5 has been under a lot of flack for “not naming things” such as rape. This gives a little more leeway for the brain to make up something else if need be. The use of traumatic things in Persona 5 is completely different compared to Persona 5 Strikers. It’s used to shock the audience, or as a way of explaining how bad people are.

There’s one other game that I’ve been triggered by since my gaming journey began, and that’s Mystic Messenger. Now, I was obsessed with this game last year and I played it from March to… around September, maybe October. Now this is really personal and it serves me right for playing a game in a toilet but I got sexually assaulted in several bathrooms by my ex, which is why I try not to use public bathrooms. But regardless, it happened years ago and since I was in my own house, I didn’t think of it. And then I played Saeran’s route. Now, it is important to note that ‘another story’ has a slight trigger warning at the very start, stating that this version of the game is not appropriate for people under the age of 15. So I play because, I mean, I’m 21 and these fictional characters are the only people blowing up my phone, and… I’m met with threats of sexual assault by the person I am meant to be romancing. And I made the mistake of doing this part when I was in the bathroom so I read this and was suddenly triggered. I finished that route… and I have yet to do another route. Now I have a lot of issues with Saeran’s route as I have DID and feel like a ton of that stuff was harmful to the community but I also know I’m probably being a little too sensitive there. Usually this would all be fine and I am aware that these circumstances are personal… but I can’t help but think of other people who are in a similar situation to me. I would never wish being triggered on anyone, especially something like this. I just feel like this could have been handled differently. If they had just put a trigger warning of sexual assault when you go down his route… I feel like that wouldn’t be a huge spoiler and people could just restart after the four days if they weren’t in the best mental place.

Now, we’re going to talk about something that I haven’t personally been triggered by… but I feel like it’s something that could trigger people. Life Is Strange 2 is a beautifully written game (much better than the first in my opinion). The main characters are from Mexican descent and the game is based in America… so I’m sure you can already tell that there’s a whole load of racism in the game. I’m from Britain, and I felt quite ignorant the first time playing the game (which, if you’re interested, is on the 2nerds1game YouTube channel). I felt like there was so much about the culture in America that I didn’t know. I did some research because I felt like I needed it to fully understand what the characters were going through, and to understand how real their situation was. After talking to some people in America (of different races, family backgrounds etc), it blew my mind that people experience this level of racism and worse on a daily basis. But I’m just a white girl who likes to think that she’s doing good in the world so what does what I think matter? The general census is that some people may be triggered by the scenes in Life Is Strange 2, but because racial attacks happen to them so often, they just use it as a way to make themselves stronger. A lot of people said that you could tell their race from the trailer and therefore racism should be expected. At first I was against this, but seeing how often it happens, I have to agree. So personally, I don’t think a trigger warning should be implemented here but, again, I’m just a white girl so I really have no say in how something I don’t experience affects people that it does affect.

I have no screenshots from Life Is Strange 2 because I played it before this blog was even a dream of mine so uh have a screenshot from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons because they remind me of Sean and Daniel.

So, overall, it really depends on the trauma, how the game portrays it, if it’s obvious in the trailers and all that stuff. I think it’s important to remember that being triggered is a serious thing and trauma is no joke. I know the gaming community can be not the best, but know that if you get triggered by a game, that was not the intentions of the creator and people are usually understanding when its explained… but you shouldn’t have to explain your trauma if you’re not ready. All trauma is valid. All experiences are valid.

Wholesome Persona 5 Royal pic because this post was a bit heavy

So, that’s it for this post, Gamers! Leave your thoughts and feelings in the comments below. Hit the like button for me to do a little happy dance. Head over to my socials to keep updated, and if you are looking for a Twitch channel to follow, I hear 2nerds_1game is great (the voices in my head tell me, because it’s actually me and my partner and we stream almost every day – apart from this past week because I’ve been sick). See you next post, guys!

Bonus content:

If you want to find out any more about the following games, I’ve written something about all of them!

Persona 5 (and Royal) (this isn’t everything, this is my favourite game so I’ve written a bunch):
First impression of Persona 5 Royal (I did weekly updates): https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2020/04/01/persona-5-royal-first-impressions/
First part of my confidant analysis: https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2020/04/05/confidant-analysis-persona-5/
Persona 5 for Dummies: https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2020/12/06/persona-5-for-dummies/

Persona 5 Strikers:
Why the third jail trauma hits differently (wow I was so naive when I wrote this): https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2021/03/14/526/
Akane’s Joker: https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2021/03/29/3-akanes-joker-3/

Mystic Messenger:
Mystic Messenger is… Good?: https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2020/11/22/mystic-messenger-is-good/
In defense of Jaehee’s route: https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2020/12/20/in-defense-of-jaehees-route-mystic-messenger/

Life Is Strange 2 (and the original):
Grooming in Life Is Strange: https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2020/03/15/what-life-is-strange-teaches-us-about-child-grooming/
Life Is Strange 2 Game Review: https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2020/03/29/life-is-strange-2-2018-game-review/
The significance of Mushroom: https://eleanorreesgaming.com/2020/05/06/the-significance-of-mushroom-in-life-is-strange-2/

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