Here’s Why Boyfriend Dungeon Has Reignited The Debate Over Trigger Warnings In Video Games

Here’s Why Boyfriend Dungeon Has Reignited The Debate Over Trigger Warnings In Video Games
Source: Kitfox Games

A Twitter thread about the hit new dating sim action RPG Boyfriend Dungeon has reignited a conversation about giving consent and trigger warnings in video games.

Last week after the Nintendo Switch World Showcase, Montreal-based studio Kitfox Games shadow-dropped their sword-smooching dungeon crawler where you can act out your horny on main dreams and date hot personified versions of your weapons. Over the course of the game, you meet a variety of cuties of various genders, backgrounds, and weapon types, but it’s Eric, the gross non-weapon blacksmith, that’s caused the online controversy.

At first glance, Eric is a cute weapon nerd. Shortly after meeting him, however, you learn that he’s a bit of a douchebag. He’s your classic Nice Guy, manipulatively butters you up with compliments until you shoot him down and he acts aggressive and mean towards you.

Anyone who’s ever been on a dating app — and dates men — has met at least one Eric in their life. The kind of man that negs you for attention, mocks what you wear, and when you reject them, call you their “sloppy seconds”.

boyfriend dungeon eric
Source: Kitfox Games

Irrespective of how you treat him, he stalks you and texts you constantly, and there’s no option to block him. Despite not telling him your address, he leaves you packages at your front door. It’s no secret that he’s toxic but all of this is intentional. Learning to overcome him and his abusive behaviour serves as a power fantasy for anyone who’s ever experienced trash humans like him in the dating world.

On Friday morning, Xbox Outsider Managing Editor Matthew Arcilla took to Twitter to claim that not only was experiencing Eric’s behaviour triggering, but that the developers didn’t do enough to properly warn players that might feel triggered by it.

“The game quickly establishes that this guy is utter nuclear waste, a completely radioactive toxic person,” Arcilla tweeted in a now private thread.

“That’s great, sure. But he’s also a stalker. He won’t stop texting you no matter how rude you are to him. Can’t even block his number.

“I did not consent to this. I know for some games this is just par for the course, but it’s 2021 and I didn’t ask Boyfriend Dungeon to place me into an extremely distressing situation which, from what I can tell, I cannot opt-out of.”

boyfriend dungeon twitter discourse
Source: Twitter (@arcillamatthew)

“I understand that this might be by design and plays into some of the themes you’re setting up in the game, but your content warning is insufficient,” Arcilla added, requesting that the devs “find a way for us to opt-out of this storyline”.

Kitfox Games has since issued a statement apologising for not giving a descriptive enough content warning, and said that they will update the game with a more descriptive one in the coming week. They did not comment on the concerns to edit the character out.

Here’s the thing about all this: as players, we give our consent when we choose to play a game. We can take back that same consent at any time by not playing it anymore. It’s extremely fair to ask developers to give a proper content warning for themes that may trigger someone, but expecting them to remove it to appease one group of people is just unrealistic.

Developers can’t please everyone. That’s just a fact. The game asks you whether you are comfortable receiving supportive text messages from your character’s mum, and it’s a huge step for trigger warnings in-game. But those text messages aren’t integral to the game. Eric’s character is. He’s woven into other dating routes, popping up like a parasite.

Even if the developers could supposedly edit him out, we don’t have any right to dictate their artistic vision. As players, we aren’t entitled to tell developers how to act or how their game should be. Stories are told in a certain way on purpose, and not all stories are intended to be comfortable.

In the end, it’s as Nintendo America localisation writer Kalli Plagge put it best: “In this usage, ‘consent’ usually refers to boundaries around acts of physical or emotional intimacy, the violation of which is frequently assault, harassment, or abuse. It’s serious and it means something specific.

“Encountering something you don’t like or even something triggering in media is not a violation of ‘consent’. It’s a frankly gross bastardisation of language to act as if that’s the case.”

Boyfriend Dungeon is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and Xbox One.

If this issue is triggering for you and you need to talk, know that there are people who are willing to listen. Contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or 1800RESPECT.

Comments

    • If you need trigger warnings for such innocuous things, You don’t need trigger warnings, You need mental help.

      The world does not exist to coddle you.

    • You’re the only soft one here mate. You clearly couldn’t handle someone else’s opinion without getting overly emotional.

    • djbear to people who very likely have been victims of abuse and manipulation when they were kids and were left with permanent emotional and psychological scars: “don’t be so fucking soft”.

      Great advice there, champ. It also lets us know that you are oh so tuff. What a dude.

  • This is…so disappointing yet so unsurprising. I agree that content exists out there that is going to offend people, and that kind of extreme stuff should come with a warning but this…at what point are people just getting offended for the sake of getting offended.

  • // I did not consent to this //
    // I cannot opt out of //
    // I thought that meant backstory elements //
    Christ do people like this just love to move the fuckin’ goal posts purely so they can stay offended.

    If you kept playing you both consented and opted in, so cut the “Yeah, well I didn’t know!” bullshit… Own it and accept some responsibility of your own actions, or stop playing the game.

  • You basically summed it up in the article, don’t like it? Don’t play it.

    Some people seem to think that everything must cater to them which is probably the must destructive thing you can do to an art form.

    • That’s literally all anyone is asking for. The option to decide whether they’re going to like it before they decide whether or not to play it.

  • You CAN opt out of it… you just stop playing the game. If it’s stressing you out so much then just stop playing……

  • Seems to me that the issue here is that dating sims are comfort games. The issue also reminds me a bit of the bait and switch associated with Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble.

    Devs can do what they like, obviously, but personally I don’t expect to be virtually harassed in a game that I’ve bought for a bit of light downtime romancing a few cute boys. It’s like paying to see a romantic comedy at the cinema only to discover that a whole serial-rapist subplot is running alongside it.

    For what it’s worth, this game was quite high on my watch list, but it’s now dropped right off, something I might feel comfortable reconsidering if there was an opt out on that story line. There’s therefore also a commercial angle as well, depending on how much the dev’s artistic integrity is worth to them.

    • But the game did have a warning that it involved the exact things that they found triggering… they for some reason just decided that it was probably about something else

      • Ha ha, they thought it was going to be a fluffy handcuffs “dungeon” and not a water-boarding “dungeon”, even when the devs warned them that it was both.

      • If the game has a warning, it’s not one you discover until after yuou’ve handed over the cash. There is quite literally nothing on the steam landing page to imply anything of the sort.

        Sure, you could refund the game at this point, but any warning is massively outweighed by all the fluffy boyfriend dating, Nancy Drew mystery solving and isometric monster stomping.

        • I agree. There is no mention of stalking on the Steam Page unless you dive into the User Reviews. I wouldn’t expect a dating sim to go dark, the Store page should make it clear.

  • Lol. We truly have reached a new level of patheticness that I didn’t expect from this entitled generation of softies.

    I see stuff in movies or games that I didn’t want to necessarily see or engage with, I either stop watching / playing or I push past it and keep going. I don’t demand the creator shape the game for myself. This person has a massive mental issue and the real world is going to kick them upside the head if they don’t learn to either take it on the chin, or know when to walk away. The weird toxic language they use as well is entitled af.

    I have no interest in playing Daddy Dungeon (I mean unless I’m wrong it looks like it’s a game where you romance men) but one random snowflake should not hamper the original vision of the games creator. Don’t like it? Don’t play it champ.

  • Welcome to the world of photosensitivity, where if you don’t do some homework or you trust the developer you’re going to be in for a bad time nine times out of ten. This is why people need to wait for reviews of games if they have sensitivities, whether it’s Steam reviews, Youtube or otherwise. It’s on you to do homework for the specifics if the developers don’t include the accessibility options.

      • You’ve *entirely* misread louie’s point for what? A dumb ‘those liberal snowflakes’ comment that as far as I can tell is the opposite of her intention?

        Photosensitivity can trigger pretty serious effects, up to and including death, that’s absolutely something, whatever you think about personal responsibility, that should have clear and specific warnings, and any failures to do so should absolutely be criticised.

        Leaving that aside though assuming Arcilla was commenting in good faith and did have a bad reaction to the content – is it really a good look to judge that as a personal failing? An inability to ‘responsibly’ engage with media?

        No, I don’t think speaking of consent is appropriate, nor does fictional stalking behaviour typically warrant strong enough a reaction that I think the updated content warning was necessary – but people don’t get to chose what they react to and how strongly they react to it. In what seems a light dating sim the content probably hit a nerve Arcilla wasn’t expecting. Twitter sucks and so do most of the comments on Kotaku AU on articles like this one these days, but a bit of basic human decency is understanding what barely affects one person might greatly affect another.

        Sarcastically dismissing strong reactions as some kind of user error is a bit shitty, no matter how mundane what caused the reaction might seem to you or me.

        • I think you’re the one who missed the point actually, and HOW you did is just mind boggling… It’s like you intentionally skipped the entire last half of louie’s comment just to complain about some ‘liberal snowflake’ commentary you’ve completely imagined.

          It is quite apparent louie was using photosensitivity as a comparison to sensitivities of other forms. And the “It’s on you to do homework” part of the comment makes it blindingly obvious that she IS saying that people should take some personal responsibility, instead of relying solely on warnings that may or may not be adequate.

          You know, just as anyone with photosensitivity would generally have to.

          That’s the point, and it is absolutely moronic how much pushback such a stupidly basic level of self-preservation/protection seems to always get.

          So many people want to take zero responsibility for their own well being anymore… Instead they run around acting like they should be able to walk into traffic and have it not be their fault in any way when they get hit by a fuckin’ bus.

          • We have to take responsibility because part of the problem is that the warnings themselves are subjective and always will be because not everyone reacts the same (photosensitivity or otherwise). Even when they do provide warnings, it often isn’t enough for the specifics of the person’s condition. Battlefield has long warned about flashing lights, but I’ve never had issues playing it because the problem is specific types of flashing light, not necessarily muzzle flash/grenades, etc. In contrast, CP2077 wrecked me because they deliberately used the “right” type in strobe lights.

            The lesson here is don’t trust the developers and look for reviewers who you know cover the issues relevant to you. It’s not necessarily the developer’s fault, but the content warnings themselves are inadequate so we have to double check.

          • You are making several assumptions and most of them come from a place of privilege. You are not triggered by this sort of content, and are assuming the reasons why /anybody/ would or ask for warnings. Wouldn’t you agree that the people who are most likely to be affected by this in a significantly negative way and would have liked a bit more warning are those who have suffered from abuse, manipulation and the such?

            In your illustration, if everybody must be responsible for watching out for traffic themselves… why do we need pedestrian traffic lights? Don’t they exist to improve the chances of those who are most disadvantaged?

        • Swing and a miss…

          “what barely affects one person might greatly affect another.”

          Only furthering the point I made, that you disagree with…

          Has nothing to do with what affects who and to what extent… It’s about exercising personal responsibility… If you know certain actions trigger you greatly, is it up to the artists to bow to the lowest common denominator? Hell no, it’s up to the individual to properly ascertain whether or not that product is suitable for them.

          Louie explained it wonderfully in her follow up comment, using photosensitivity as her example. It’s up to the individual who wishes to partake of said art. And their are absolutely plenty of ways one can find the information about a game/movie/book/whatever online… Not sure about something, there are literally thousands of reviews, etc on YouTube for it. It’s not up to complete strangers, trying to create and realise their dreams to manage a person’s inability to cope with trauma, be that because they choose not to, don’t have the right strategies yet, or it’s simply too fresh for healing to begin. Or whatever reason there may be.

          Personal. Responsibility.

          • What? OK – whatever, you’ll never understand me and I’ll never understand you, sure – and I don’t know why I bothered trying, but how did you miss what louie was saying AGAIN when she very clearly spelled it out in the same followup response you refer to?

            “The lesson here is don’t trust the developers and look for reviewers who you know cover the issues relevant to you. It’s not necessarily the developer’s fault, but the content warnings themselves are inadequate so we have to double check.”

            Yes – people have to exercise personal responsibility, but they SHOULDN’T have to in the case of photosensitivity where people can literally die if the devs get the warnings wrong and the end user isn’t aware. As louie pointed out they frequently are and people in her position have to be careful, and as louie also mentioned the people making the warning – whether at fault or not – can’t adequately express who might be affected or to what extent. But ‘have to’ exercise personal responsibility doesn’t mean ‘SHOULD have to’ as is incredibly obvious in both her original comment and her follow up.

            A fair response to my comment and a fair interpretation of louie’s while maintaining your position might be acknowledging that themes of stalking which aren’t a major trigger for a lot of people are an example of an instance where people absolutely should be employing personal responsibility while acknowledging that other areas, i.e. photosensitivity, should be adequately signposted in which case I’d disagree in a general sense, but agree to a certain extent in this cae and understand your point. But while personal responsibility is important it isn’t the be all and end all of the story when it comes to content and trigger warnings.

          • It would be absolutely wonderful if the warnings were accurate all of the time (or if all games that needed them had warnings), but I sadly feel like there will always be fringe cases that the developers won’t list. Cases like Balan Wonderworld where it still contained strobes in it due to graphical glitches (much like CP2077 had for the same reason in addition to the infamous seizure causing scene), or Incredibles 2 (which received an altered version after reports of seizures in cinemas) and these are the really dangerous ones. If we’re adequately warned we can even have a safe spotter check on it for us, like I often have my family help with. The dangerous cases are where the creators simply don’t think of even placing or assessing content for warnings (which means we always have to check anyway).

            In the case of content warnings for things like stalking, there will be similar problems because people may have a warning, but these warnings might not be enough. Or there weren’t be a warning at all, which means they might not have bought and played the game in the first place if they knew ahead of time (like with undisclosed flashing effects). Like those of us who are photosensitive, the only option is further investigations through reviews or Youtube or to see if someone’s willing to check it out for you. In an ideal world, these warnings would be comprehensive, but we’re a long way off that happening and everyone has to take care.

  • I think they should keep it in. It gives people who may not have encountered this behaviour a chance to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I think it helps bring to light that issues that are caused by people who are like this, out there in the real world. Maybe a more detailed trigger warning is warranted, so those who have suffered this abuse can stop playing, but it’s too important to cut out.

  • You summed in up perfectly in the middle:

    “Here’s the thing about all this: as players, we give our consent when we choose to play a game. We can take back that same consent at any time by not playing it anymore. It’s extremely fair to ask developers to give a proper content warning for themes that may trigger someone, but expecting them to remove it to appease one group of people is just unrealistic.”

    I’m all for content warnings (which they had already) but changing a game for the 1% is a ridiculous request.

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