It all started with a banana spider. New website GamePhobias launches today and aims to help people avoid specific triggers and fears like self harm, needles or sexual assault.
"My wife had been watching me play Dragon Age: Origins, and wanted to play a similar game. However, due to an unfortunate incident with a banana spider when she was three, she is very arachnophobic. I set out trying to find a good RPG that doesn't contain giant spiders, and believe me, that's a tall order, especially because there is no centralized database for that sort of thing," says Andrew Rasmussen, who founded GamePhobias along with Paul Mayfield.
"Our goal is keeping gaming a safe space for everyone to enjoy"
"Meanwhile, Paul was on a similar mission for his girlfriend, and we started complaining about the difficulty to one another at basically the same time. We realized a market existed for a centralized database, and so we got to work."
The two founders started the company with their own funds and it's currently supported by advertising and PayPal donations. The small team is faced with a daunting task - highlighting all the advisory content of even two or three games is a major project - and they're hoping for help from the community.
"We will have to rely on public submissions; we're a very small team, and there are a lot of games out there. The submissions will be moderated before they appear on the website," explains Rasmussen, while Paul wants to get the word out to gamers, therapists and developers.
"Another thing that people can do to help is to talk about the issues that we're addressing here," he adds.
"It's worth asking 'why does a site like this need to exist?' 'Why aren't game developers/the games industry doing more about this?' Maybe it won't 'build our brand,' but at the end of the day, our goal is keeping gaming a safe space for everyone to enjoy. If we can get people talking about this, maybe we'll see some changes and improvements in the way people are treating and handling sensitive issues in gaming."
So far 22 games have been examined and over 70 content advisory tags have been identified. People can also access an online worksheet and submit their own reviews.
They haven't approached publishers directly yet for their support, partly because they want to establish the company first and partly because they're not sure what the reaction will be. For instance, Nintendo might not appreciate that some of the Mario Kart titles warrant a Violence Against Children tag because the baby characters can be attacked.
"We will have to rely on public submissions; we're a very small team"
"We hope to get a little bit bigger before we contact them so that they know that we're serious," says Mayfield.
"Hopefully by then, it'll help them realize that maybe trying to keep their customers safe might earn them some respect, repeat customers, and positive media and they'll be more willing to talk to us."