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”.
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.”
“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.
The content warning for Boyfriend Dungeon inadequately describes the events of stalking and emotional manipulation that exist in the story. We'll update the game next week with a more accurate CW. We apologize for any hurt inflicted by our mistake. Thank you for playing!
— Kitfox Games ???? BOYFRIEND DUNGEON OUT NOW (@KitfoxGames) August 14, 2021
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.”
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.
— Kallie Plagge (@inkydojikko) August 15, 2021
Encountering something you don't like or even something triggering in media is not a violation of "consent." It's a frankly gross bastardization of language to act as if that's the case.
— Kallie Plagge (@inkydojikko) August 15, 2021
keep encountering the words “boyfriend dungeon consent discourse” on here and backing away like it’s a duffel bag that’s ticking
— Brandy Jensen (@BrandyLJensen) August 15, 2021
We all have played games where you do some downright despicable things without consent. Murdering (Including children), stealing, manipulation, torturing, abusing, cheating, etc. But y'all wanna trip over Boyfriend Dungeon? Miss me with all of that!
— O'Dell Harmon Jr. (@ODellHarmonJr) August 15, 2021
Boyfriend Dungeon is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and Xbox One.