The Misconception of Trigger Warnings.

I occasion I get asked about how I handle things such as trigger warnings and mature content for LARPs that I write or run. Overall, I think the answer of ‘don’t be a dick, if something is going to be shocking, give people a heads up’ covers most bases. On one instance I had someone follow up with a closing statement of ‘That makes a lot of sense, given the number of phobia triggering materials you touch on’.  Thinking about the misconception of ‘triggers’ that this person was working from, I thought I would give my two cents on the entire ‘trigger’ topic.

 Trigger Warning: If you don't like talking about a subject and don't have an actual Trigger, you should just leave the conversation.

Trigger Warning: If you don't like talking about a subject and don't have an actual Trigger, you should just leave the conversation.

Triggers are a pretty specific psychological phenomenon that occur when a situation or scenario causes a person to react negatively due to a prior trauma. To simplify (at the risk of over simplification) triggers cause a person to experience or relive personal trauma or issues.  As a purposely exaggerated example, if I knew someone that was killed brutally with Gummy Bears in front of me, I may have a ‘Triggered’ reaction whenever I see Gummy Bears. In short a ‘Trigger’ is something that sets off a memory transporting the person back to the event of trauma.

Triggers can be nearly anything. They can be particular sights, sounds, feelings, smells, or tastes.  It can be a combination of all senses, or, it can a scenario that causes people to relive their trauma due to common themes. Triggers have been known to be topics, locations, and even particular color patterns.

Triggers are not the same as being reminded of an unpleasant thing. Just because someone doesn’t *LIKE* a particular subject matter, this does not make it a trigger. When used incorrectly as a concept or term the idea of ‘Triggers’ can stifles the creative process of making the art of story.  The misuse of ‘Trigger’ causes conversations to become stymied and places restrictions on the expression even in conversation. When misused, ‘Trigger’ is used as a tool for individuals to control a conversation or to cause a conversation to end.

However, some common sense tells you that while as a game designer or even organizer you may not be able to identify every real Trigger in the world, there are a number of reoccurring ‘Triggers’ that can simply be avoided or given ample warning before diving into.  Some subjects are bereft with ‘Triggers’  and require that a simple degree of common sense, discretion, and respect for other people is used when discussing these topics or use them in story. 

You cannot prevent every ‘Trigger’ in the world. Real ‘Triggers’ are not as common item in our society as the internet would have you believe, but they are not completely unheard of either.  Taking the basic, and simple, steps to warn about obvious and common potential ‘Triggers’ before introducing them really isn’t that difficult. It just requires a few moments of forethought and consideration for your player base. If you feel you might be pushing the limits, it is better to err on the side of caution and give a potential Trigger warning before people enter play.

As an example, many of my LARP projects don’t allow the topics of sexual assault or real world racism. These two subject matters have such a high potential for having Triggers in the materials, once control leaves my hands and enters the world that I find that these topics are for the most part best left alone. If, for some reason, if I were to want to do a LARP based on either of these subjects the first pages and details of the scenario would be filled with warnings and extreme during operation safety precautions would have to be taken for mental health.