On Triggers and Spoilers

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What’s more important to you: avoiding spoilers or avoiding triggers?

First, a few definitions. A spoiler is when a piece of media is given away before you get to watch it. You know, like that time your friend blurted out the ending of a movie you were super excited to see. When that happened, you were spoiled.

A trigger is an experience that triggers a traumatic memory in someone. Though anything can trigger a memory, visual media — films, video games, comic books — are especially powerful due to their graphic nature. For example, a victim of sexual assault might get triggered when watching a movie that unexpectedly includes a graphic depiction of rape.

For a lot of people there’s a tough balance between spoiling and triggering. Few want to be spoiled, but I’m willing to bet even fewer want to suffer through the anxiety attacks and post-traumatic stress that often come with being triggered.

Unfortunately, trigger warnings are rarely practiced in mainstream media.

In response to this, one of Princess vs Peril‘s core tenets is to alert people, particularly from marginalized groups, to media that could likely trigger them.

Simply put: we want to warn you just like we want someone to warn us.

This has always been a major mission for Princess vs Peril. In fact, I got the idea for the site after countless story swapping sessions with fellow nerdy ladies. We had a nearly endless list of times we’d been triggered: everything from game mechanics built on fending off would-be-rapists to gruesome comic book panels popping up in our weekly pull lists.

It sounds silly, but I’d been turning to Kids in Mind for years to stay away from movies that might trigger me. There’s definitely a level of spoiler you need to be comfortable with to use the site, but if you want to avoid all manner of horrible emotions, it’s one of the few places you can turn.

But as my friends and I shared stories, I realized there was no place to turn for clear warnings about triggers in other media, especially video games and comic books. In fact, few reviews of the books and games that triggered me or others even acknowledged the really problematic stuff that did it.

Frankly, that pissed me off.

Now, no one pretends they’re always going to avoid triggers, and I think most people realize they can’t live in some kind of pop culture bubble (as nice as that might be at times). But a lot of reviewers refuse to even touch some of the more common triggers — assault, rape, torture, violence against women — under the banner of “spoilers.”

Yeah, that’s right. Spoiling a rape scene is apparently more egregious than giving a head’s up to victims that this content might really, really upset them because of lived experiences beyond their control.

Now again: most people don’t want to be spoiled about stuff. I get that, and I don’t expect every review to go into a detailed list about what may or may not trigger someone.

But what about people who would rather avoid triggers than have an anxiety attack? What about someone who ended up with a post-traumatic flashback just because they chose to unwind with what was supposed to be a fun video game? What about the people who would rather not spend $4 on a comic book, only to open it up and realize their hard-earned cash got them an explicit rape or torture scene?

That’s why Princess vs Peril‘s staff works really hard to identify triggers in the stuff we watch and read. And at the risk of (clearly marked) spoilers we try to pass those warnings on to you.

Of course, the bummer is that we don’t have the time or money to play and read everything. In my dreams, I imagine a site with clearly labeled triggers for tons of media. This site also tucks spoilers neatly away so you can get a fast trigger warning without it unnecessarily spoiling anyone. That’d be great. But right now, we cover what we can and try to label both spoilers and triggers appropriately.

Princess vs Peril is still a young, growing site, so I’d love to hear some feedback about this. How do you balance the line between spoilers and triggers, and which side do you take into more consideration?

Writer, knitter, firebrand. Likes superheroes, cats, and changing the world.


  1. Rachel

    May 20, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    “In my dreams, I imagine a site with clearly labeled triggers for tons of media.”

    … side-project?

    • Kelly

      May 20, 2014 at 9:12 PM

      Y E S .

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