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Hyped VR Game's 'Noose' Series Starts Trigger Warning Debate

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Staring into a bathroom mirror, a created Bonelab character examines itself.

Screenshot: Stress level zero / Kotaku

Context matters. What happens leading up to events provides insight into how and why they unfold as they happen. But what if the context comes later? And what if there was no warning of the traumatic event you would experience in a game? Questions like this, the line between artistic intent and players’ psychological well-being, have been at the center of a debate about Stress Level Zero’s latest VR game. Bonelab, which has a pretty disturbing campaign launch. So disturbing, in fact, that some fans are now suggesting that the series should have been skipped entirely.

A sequel to the first-person virtual reality shooter Bonteworks, Bonelab is a sandbox action-adventure romp that released on September 29 for the Meta Quest 2 and PCVR. It’s one of the most hyped VR games in recent memory, with tons of press being impressive visual fidelity, gameplay-influencing avatarsand “unrelenting intensity.” It doesn’t have much story; instead, sequences kind of lead you from one point to another. The first-person, highly physical gameplay, coupled with extensive mod support, have Bonelab ready to become a successor to the super popular physics sandbox Garry’s Mod. So far, the game has a “mostly positiverating on Steam, with most players saying it’s great fun with hella replayability. However, not everyone is equally charmed by the long-awaited shooter.

Trigger Warning: Self-harm, Suicide

Image for article titled Hyped VR Game's Harrowing

although Bonelab is a sandbox that many will probably play for its mod tools, it contains a campaign and it is the introduction of the story that has sparked the debate among players. You start the game by selecting your avatar via a randomizer. Once you’re happy with your appearance, press a big red button that will take you to a black room. It’s dark, but you’re not alone: ​​a rope, tied like a noose, hangs in front of you.

With no further instructions or warnings, the only possible action you can take is to place the noose around your neck, which will then teleport you into a medieval environment. You are surrounded by metal peaks. Zealots of some sort, lined up in front of you, clad in black robes, await the executioner, who drops the platform below you. You linger… for a while. You can try to grab the rope above you, but to no avail. Finally, for some inexplicable reason, a glowing blade appears, allowing you to cut yourself.

You can view the series in question in the full-length video enclosed below; it starts at 1:24 and is preceded by content warnings inserted by the creator of the video.

VR Man Cave

It’s not the second half of the series that upset players. Most understand the narrative world construction once in the medieval setting. It is that the game forces the player to physically perform the ritual of hanging himself, without any warning, creating the feeling that it is an unnecessary and problematic recording. BonelabThe story is largely perceived as disjointed, with sets stitched together by battle sequences so that one moment doesn’t exactly align with the next. This storytelling method, some players reasoned in a now locked post on the Oculus Quest subredditis justification enough to at least skip the introduction.

“Well, that seems pretty impossible to tackle (anything’s mental health can be affected/triggered by anything, so it’s a battle you can’t win),” a Redditor commented in response to someone saying developers “shouldn’t care” about a gamer’s mental health. “That said, suicide is so obvious and affects so many people with terrible consequences that it makes me think this was created by very, very unpleasant game designers.”

Stress level zero

“Everyone who pronounces it seems to be loved (the same thing happened with… super hot),” wrote anotherreferring to troubling self-injuries in Superhot Team’s first-person VR shooter that the developer finally made skippable after facing backlash. “[It] didn’t really bother me, but it felt unnecessary and the [Bonelab] developers should have at least given players the option to skip it.”

Of course, there were also plenty of comments dismissing these concerns, with varying levels of empathy.

Read more: super hot Game gets bombed after deleting ‘self harm images’

Several prominent VR YouTubers found Bonelab‘s intro unpleasant too. In a measured video review from September 29, the creator of virtual reality content Gamertag VR explained how his friend recently committed suicide due to mental health issues. “For some reason, I instantly remembered my friend who committed suicide by putting a noose around my neck,” he said, before considering how many younger players will be playing this game, speculating how parents might react if they would virtually see their children hanged. “It’s kind of harrowing. When you think about it, you think, ‘Wow, that’s extreme.’”

(The ESRB rating Bonelab “M” for adult, because of blood and violence.)

6DOFReviews

In his negative review of the gameVR critic Barnaby “Doc” Neale of the enthusiastic site 6DOF ratings was unequivocal in his criticism. “One of the very first things you do in Bonelab is walking to a rope loop and physically wrapping it around your neck. No trigger warning, no option to skip,” he said. context. I’m a licensed psychologist and I can say with some authority that it’s a dick move.”

Even the self-proclaimed “VR evangelist” Mike Cussell of Virtual Reality Oasis, who has over 600k subscribers, called the intro “grim” in are largely positive video reviewsaying that while it doesn’t bother him, people should be aware of it because it can be triggering.

And that is the crux of the criticism. The problem isn’t the noose or what happens after it’s wrapped around your neck, although of course waiting for your execution isn’t a great introduction to a game either. Rather, it is the lack of warning and the forced nature of the series that bothers so many. You can’t advance the story without putting the noose around your neck, and VR, even more than typical flat screen video games, is a uniquely immersive medium that can just touch differently. The noose order may be the prelude to: Bonelab‘s campaign, but for gamers struggling with mental health issues – myself included – this could be the push someone needs to end their story. A warning is necessary.

Kotaku has contacted Stress Level Zero for comment.

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