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Trigger warnings: The GamePhobias database

Trigger warnings: The GamePhobias database

Fri 29 Aug 2014 7:40pm GMT / 3:40pm EDT / 12:40pm PDT
Media

A new initiative wants to make upsetting content, from spiders to self-harm, easier to avoid

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.

1

"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."

20 Comments

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

282 1,066 3.8
This is a nice idea! It's a pretty huge project to undertake though, so I hope they get lots of contributors to help out.

I do wonder about Mario Kart qualifying for 'Violence Against Children' though. I wouldn't call anything in MK violent, even getting hit with a shell just seems to cause minor upset. I suppose the distinction is down to the phobic though, not for me to wonder at.

Posted:A month ago

#1

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

855 1,112 1.3
That's the problem though isn't it. We've clashed in the past about what we consider acceptable already. What you hate I might think is fine and vice versa.

Regardless of what these guys do, some people will think it's nannying and some will think that attacking babies is a reason for Nintendo to be prosecuted let alone making this list.

So it's not going to please anybody.

Posted:A month ago

#2

Neil Young
Programmer

296 372 1.3
Popular Comment
I do wonder about Mario Kart qualifying for 'Violence Against Children' though. I wouldn't call anything in MK violent, even getting hit with a shell just seems to cause minor upset. I suppose the distinction is down to the phobic though, not for me to wonder at.
I assume it's because it's specifically warning about "triggers" - it's not trying to judge the games by any standards of acceptability, or classify who they're suitable for.

Compare with the spider example - it's not saying the game has scary spiders, or rating who those spiders are suitable for - it's saying they're there, and someone with the appropriate phobia can asses the game with that in mind. Same for the "violence against kids" thing.

Posted:A month ago

#3

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

814 644 0.8
Any source of information for people who doesn't like that kind of stuff is welcome. Sure you can see the Age rating in the box of a game but a more detailed information (like the content advisory in IMDB, is a good idea). Also will allow info on digital dark stuff like Outlast, for example.

Posted:A month ago

#4

James Berg
Games User Researcher

159 206 1.3
Neat initiative, hope they can get community support. I have a buddy that couldn't play DA:Origins for the same reason - spiders. I wouldn't want to see something like this mandated by law, but as a volunteer approach, more power to 'em!

Posted:30 days ago

#5

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

2,178 1,127 0.5
Oh, good gravy. I did a promo event a few years back at an anime convention where a friend worked with D3 Publisher of America who loaned us a few Xbox 360s with Earth Defense Force 2017 loaded onto them. The FIRST two people to pop into the event was this couple, a heavily tattooed gal and her plain-looking BF who were grooving on the game until that first spider level. The gal LOVED it, but her man dropped his controller and FREAKED OUT because he hated spiders. Which was funny because his GF had a small spider tattoo on her back. Giant ants? no problem! Giant spiders? You get a squeal like a squashed squeaky toy an some guy nearly keeling over. Oh well. I used to be like that, so i sympathized between laughs...

Anyway, I guess this will help some people, but I think some therapy (self or paid) is better than constant fear that goes into adulthood about some things. I used to be freaked out by stuff as a kid and got better as an adult by forcing myself to read books and see stuff I was freaked out about up close and personal. Dragonflies and other odd bugs used to make me nuts, now they don't. There's usually a safe treatment for almost any phobia and to me, that goes a longer way than posting warnings all over a game (which may affect sales if you try to scare people off too much in regards to content warnings).

On the other hand, Mario Kart CAN be "dangerous" in a funny way. I've a friend who's young daughter was watching him play with friends (she's too young to hold a controller), and later on at dinner, she bonked three people on the head with tossed food, something she'd never done previously. See? those damn video games DO make kids violent! :D

Posted:30 days ago

#6

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

282 1,066 3.8
Anyway, I guess this will help some people, but I think some therapy (self or paid) is better than constant fear that goes into adulthood about some things. I used to be freaked out by stuff as a kid and got better as an adult by forcing myself to read books and see stuff I was freaked out about up close and personal.
I think the point of these(and trigger warnings in general) is so that people with these phobic reactions can decide for themselves whether and when they want to be exposed to things that might freak them out. Just like you did, evidently :3

Posted:30 days ago

#7
Is this a wind up just to illustrate the idiocy of the activists and their logic who are currently attacking games, gamers and developers for everything under the sun?

If so well done. If not OMG.

Posted:30 days ago

#8

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

282 1,066 3.8
Actually John, I think it's a legit article about a group of people who are trying to make games more accessible by documenting potentially upsetting content for people with trauma and fear disorders. You know, legitimate mental health disorders.

Caring about the mental health of others? OMG, right?

Posted:30 days ago

#9
Sorry if I'm not sensitive to the people who might be mentally scarred by Baby Mario getting hit by a shell.

That's just like not caring about schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders and other mental health issues.

Posted:30 days ago

#10

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

282 1,066 3.8
I think you could probably do with being a liiiittle less condescending about what are actual life-affecting disorders for some. People with PTSD and phobias don't get to pick what sets off their panic attacks, no matter how ridiculous you might think they are.

Posted:30 days ago

#11
You're missing the point. Those are serious conditions however something like this devalues them to nothing more than a joke.

Which is fine if it is actually meant as a parady for the reason given but not if this is something to be taken seriously.

Posted:30 days ago

#12

Jessica Hyland
Character Artist

282 1,066 3.8
How does it 'devalue' them? Who's taking this to be a joke except you?

Posted:30 days ago

#13
Hitting baby mario with a shell is not comparable to violence against children.

I hope this is a joke.

Posted:30 days ago

#14

Michael Vandendriessche
Studying Computer Science

85 12 0.1
I didn't think someone actually wanted this but it's always nice to have more data available.

Great for those who suffer from these phobias! I can't immediately think of an rpg without spiders/rats/insects...

John, it might sound ridiculous to us but there must be at least some people suffering from that. If the people behind this website can help them, why not? I don't think it devalues anything. They're merely giving information.

Posted:30 days ago

#15
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."
Spiders and Baby Mario are now sensitive issues? Ok maybe it's not a joke but it sounded tongue in cheek when I first read it.

Posted:30 days ago

#16

Neil Young
Programmer

296 372 1.3
Hitting baby mario with a shell is not comparable to violence against children.
I don't think they're claiming it is. The point is that people who might be affect by such things, potentially due to past trauma, might want to avoid even a reminder of it.

Posted:29 days ago

#17

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

855 1,112 1.3
But then somewhere will be this line

"Games that depict attacking children with blunt objects: Nintendo Mario Kart"

Which I would imagine Nintendo's lawyers might be interested in. It's just not going to work.

Posted:29 days ago

#18

Paul Mayfield
Co-owner of Gamephobias LLC and curator of Gamephobias.com

1 5 5.0
Popular Comment
Hey there, Paul Mayfield, Gamephobias Co-Founder speaking!

I figured I'd pop here into the comments and respond to some of the comments, both critical and praising!

First of all, I definitely understand the skepticism at including something like, "violence against children" in Mario Kart. It seems a bit over-the top if you only view it within the context of a sort of boolean situation. This is one of the reasons why all of our reviews contain commentary about the context of any particular piece of conent. As some of the commenters above have correctly stated, our goal is to provide a tool to help people decide for themselves whether or not the content of a game is right for them. Most people will go "violence against children?" and look at the provided context and go "oh, that's absolutely fine! I can totally handle that!" I absolutely agree that labeling Mario-Kart as containing "violence against children" and providing no additional content sounds absolutely absurd and makes it sound incredibly dreadful.

Unfortunately, people don't have much control over what can trigger anxiety, panic, ptsd, etc. At Gamephobias, we made the decision early on that it's not our place to judge whether or not someone's reaction to a kind of content is reasonable or unreasonable. If baby characters getting in car crashes and getting hit by explosives, etc, makes someone uncomfortable, that discomfort is real. Is it likely to be very common? No. At the end of the day, however, if we have this big database with 70+ categories we review for, we might as well use them all the way. This way, at least, we can do our best to make sure we're useful to as many people as possible.

To answer those that might say "this is a good idea, but people should really just be in therapy!" I absolutely support people using therapy and counseling to help them deal with trauma and other sources of anxiety! Unfortunately, however, life doesn't stop while therapy is going on.Treatment to deal with anxiety and trauma can take years. During that time, life is still happening. Stress is still happening. Ideally, therefore, the necessary tools for relaxation, fun, etc, such as videogames, are also still happening. There are even studies that have indicated a decent possibility videogames are a good tool to help people actively fight against anxiety and depression! Even in cases in which treatment has been completed however, it often doesn't make traumas and anxieties go away. Rather, most therapy helps people learn to use or develop tools that help them manage their anxiety more effectively than they had previously. We want to be one of those tools.

Additionally, not everyone with trauma or anxiety can get therapy. Maybe they're still in a traumatic situation that limits their autonomy, such as abuse, be it parental, domestic, or otherwise. Maybe they can't afford therapy. Maybe safe therapy options are not available in their location. Our hope is that we're able to provide a free and easy to use resource for as many people as possible regardless of their circumstances. Thank you very much for taking time out of your day to engage in discussion about our business. We very much appreciate it and wish the best of health and happiness to all of you and your loved ones.

~Paul Mayfield
Gamephobias LLC.

Posted:28 days ago

#19
Hi Paul,

Perhaps the examples weren't the best but thanks for explaining. Good luck with the website.

Posted:28 days ago

#20

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