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  • Writer's pictureIndy Goodwin

Trigger Warning - Accessibility for Mentally Disabled Players

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

It was very heartening to read about the measures developers are improving accessibility in their games. The Last of Us 2 (no matter what you think about the game itself) has done beautifully at implementing accessibility features, allowing players to platinum the game no matter what additional support needs they may have. Using things like a high contrast mode and audio cues, players are getting a fuller, richer experience. To my shame, I hadn’t considered the impact not having certain features would cause. I never considered that, while disabled players may be able to complete a game, certain challenges would perhaps be out of reach. As someone who lives for that platinum trophy this was upsetting. Trophy hunting is part of the fun after all.

I am very pleased that things are improving, albeit slowly. However there is one area that is constantly neglected and that is the management of triggers for those who have mental health disabilities like myself. To use myself as an example, I become very distressed when I see suicide or self harm behaviours illustrated. For example, that scene in Heavy Rain where the detective discovers a suicide attempt, that distressed me so much I was physically sick. Management of triggers without spoiling a storyline can be very difficult indeed and coming across them accidentally can cause panic attacks and encourage self harm or suicidal ideation.

So what can be done? In some cases it may be enough just to place a warning about the game’s content in the initial loading screens. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is the only game I have seen address this and I applaud the dev team for it. They outlined the triggering content, confirmed they had researched the behaviour thoroughly and provided a link players could visit should they need help after engaging with the content. They actually could not have done this better, and it is such a simple thing that can make a big impact to a mentally ill player. I would love to see this happen more often.

A more robust method that could be implemented could be a form of censoring. Grounded by Obsidian Games created an arachnaphobia safe mode that allowed you to customise the spiders so they would be less triggering to players. It is possible to censor out blood and gore in games like Mortal Kombat, perhaps something similar could be created. A mode that could cut out scenes that showed graphic self harm and suicidal behaviour perhaps? Avoiding the sight of fresh marks or someone hanging from the ceiling but inferring it can make a trigger more manageable. Unfortunately these depictions are often very graphic, which I understand from a design point of view, but would prefer to avoid.

It can be all too easy to brush off requests for trigger warnings by saying an individual must be responsible for their own triggers. Being responsible for your own triggers involves being aware when media contains potentially triggering issues. If this information isn’t available from a third party (due to it being considered a spoiler or a new game with no full reviews yet) this can make engaging with the content more difficult.

Surely ensuring players are warned about any potential triggering content and allowing them to make their own choice about whether to engage with the media or not is a positive way to help people who struggle with these issues? The player would go into the game informed about scenes that may upset them and would be prepared to see them. These declarations have also been broadcast before TV shows (in Britain at least) with difficult content for years, so why should games be any different?

Gaming as a hobby – particularly during a pandemic – has never been more popular. People from all walks of life are engaging with the hobby. It’s a wonderful thing. Everyone should be able to escape their everyday into the world of their choosing. It’s never been more important to make sure these worlds are accessible to all. Goodness knows that’s how I’m surviving lockdown.

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