When Boyfriend Dungeon came out last week, it was one of the few games to include a content warning. For many players, though, that content warning isn’t detailed enough. One storyline touches on sensitive subjects that aren’t mentioned in the warning, subjects that players aren’t able to consent to due to a lack of advanced notice. This has driven the discourse surrounding the indie dating sim, with most discussion of Boyfriend Dungeon focusing less on the game itself than on the content warning and whether or not it’s satisfactory enough. This all emphasizes why content warnings are necessary, and why the games industry needs to be more consistent and more specific in their usage.
To their credit Kitfox Games is currently working on an updated warning that will be added to the game next week. I believe that this is an important next step, and I also don’t think that the material should be removed altogether. While certain elements of a game can be potentially triggering for players, there should also be a more detailed warning that appears before players purchase the game. These warnings need to be made clear to players so that they can choose to avoid the content if necessary.
Notably, Kitfox Games has already done much more in the realm of content warnings compared to other developers. Persona 5 was frequently mentioned throughout this past week’s discourse. Despite being a highly celebrated and popular game, it doesn’t come close to preparing players for the content they are about to consume. For a game that touches on grooming, suicide and sexual harassment, you would expect some sort of warning. It did face controversy for its choice to villainize the two gay characters who sexual harass the character Ryuji, and that scene was slightly altered for the 2020 remaster Persona 5 Royal. However, the remastered version, released four years after the original game’s release, still failed to include a content warning.
Boyfriend Dungeon attempts to aid and warn players, something that most developers fail to do. Kitfox’s initial warning might have been insufficient, but it was still a crucial step in helping players avoid potentially triggering material. These warnings are important to a developer’s audience not just to keep players from unexpectedly experiencing content they are sensitive to, but also to build trust with that audience and to treat them with respect. It shows that developers are looking out for the needs of their audience, which benefits both sides of that relationship.
One of the most common arguments against content warnings is that they can spoil a game’s story, as most potentially triggering material can be found in videogames with prominent narrative elements. However, there are a number of solutions to get around this. Just recently for the re-release of Doki Doki Literature Club!, the game displays a message allowing players to enable content warnings. These warnings are displayed in-game and contain spoilers, but they give players the option to avoid sensitive material. Players can turn these messages off and on at any time, and it is one easy solution to helping audiences opt out of triggering content.
Boyfriend Dungeon isn’t the only recent game to come under fire for a content warning, or lack thereof. Yesterday’s release of Twelve Minutes, Annapurna Interactive’s highly anticipated mystery game, was met with confusion over the lack of any content warnings. While it has an M for Mature rating, it features depictions of domestic violence and potentially triggering sexual elements that are deserving of a warning. Luckily games that omit warnings are receiving more pushback than in the past, but players shouldn’t have to be unknowingly subjected to sensitive content for that pushback to occur.
Content warnings are a simple addition to any game and can significantly benefit players, but most games still don’t include them. There are a few ways for players to review triggering material before playing a game, though. You can search any title on the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s website, which gives a detailed description of sensitive material beyond the rating category that the game receives. Databases such as GamePhobias have a selection of videogames with detailed content warnings, but the website is outdated and hasn’t been updated frequently. That being said, these websites should not be the only source of information on content warnings, as developers hold the responsibility to warn their players on potentially triggering content. It is still vital for developers to include these warnings within their games and make clear to their players that they will be experiencing sensitive material. For many who are triggered by intense content, this reaction is completely out of their power. Audiences deserve to feel safe while playing games, and content warnings are an important and easily implemented way to preserve their safety.
Katherine Long is an intern at Paste and a rising senior at American University. She loves hyperpop, roller skating and videogames and can finish a sudoku puzzle in 43 seconds.