Virtual Reality

Hyped VR game’s ‘Noose’ sequence sparks debate over warnings

Looking into a bathroom mirror, a character created by Bonelab examines himself.

Screenshot: Zero stress level / Kotaku

Context is important. What happens before the events gives insight into how and why they unfold the way they do. But what if the context only comes later? What if there was no warning for the traumatic event you were about to experience in a game? Questions like these, the line between artistic intent and players’ psychological well-being, have been at the center of a debate over Stress Level Zero’s latest VR game, bonelab, which has a pretty disturbing campaign introduction. So unsettling, in fact, that some fans are now suggesting the footage should have been entirely skippable.

A sequel to the first-person virtual reality shooter boneworks, bonelab is a sandbox action-adventure game released on September 29 for Meta Quest 2 and PCVR. It’s one of the most hyped VR games in recent memory, with tons of press touting its impressive visual fidelity, avatars affecting gameplayand “relentless intensity.” There’s not a lot of storytelling; instead, sequences take you from point to point. The highly physical first-person gameplay, coupled with extensive mod support, has bonelab set to succeed the super popular physics sandbox Garry’s Mod. So far the game has won a “mostly positiveon Steam, with most players saying it’s great fun with great replayability. However, not everyone is so in love with the long-awaited shooter.

Trigger warning: self-harm, suicide

Image from article titled Hyped VR Game's Harrowing 'Noose' Footage Sparks Trigger Warnings Debate

However bonelab is a sandbox that many will likely play for its mod tools, it features a campaign, and it was the introduction of the story that sparked the debate among gamers. You start the game by selecting your avatar via a randomizer. Once satisfied with how you look, you press a big red button that transports you to a dark room. It’s dark, but you’re not alone :A rope, tied like a slip knot, hangs down in front of you.

Without further instruction or warning, the only possible action you can take to progress is to place the noose around your neck, which then teleports you to a medieval setting. You are surrounded by metal spikes. Fanatics of sorts, lined up in front of you dressed in black robes, await the executioner, who drops the platform below you. You’re suspended… for a moment. You can try to grab the rope above you, but to no avail. Finally, for some inexplicable reason, a glowing knife materializes, allowing you to shoot yourself down.

You can view the sequence in question in the long video embedded below; it starts at 1:24 and is preceded by content warning messages inserted by the video’s creator.

VR ManCave

It was not the second half of the sequence that disturbed the players. Most understand the construction of the narrative world once in the medieval setting. It’s that the game forces the player to physically enact the ritual of hanging themselves, without any warning, which made it feel like an unnecessary and problematic inclusion. bonelabThe story of is widely seen as incoherent, with sets stitched together by fight sequences, so one moment doesn’t exactly connect to the next. This method of storytelling, argued some actors in a post now locked to the Oculus Quest subredditis sufficient justification for the introduction to be at least skippable.

“Well, that seems utterly unsolvable (anyone’s sanity can be affected/triggered by anything, so it’s a battle you can’t win)”, a Redditor commented in response to someone saying that the developers “shouldn’t care” on the mental health of a player. “That being said, suicide is so obvious and affects so many people with horrific consequences that it makes me think it was done by very, very out of touch game designers.”

Zero stress level

“Anyone who calls him seems to be downgraded (same thing happened with Very hot)”, wrote anotherreferencing disturbing self-harm sequences in Superhot Team’s first-person VR shooter that the developer finally made it disableable after facing a backlash. “[It] didn’t really bother me but it seemed unnecessary and the [Bonelab] the devs should have at least given players the option to ignore it.

Of course, many comments also dismissed these concerns, with varying levels of empathy.

Read more: Very hot Game under review after removing ‘depictions of self-harm’

Several prominent VR YouTubers found bonelabThe intro is also off-putting. In a measured video review from September 29, virtual reality content creator Gamertag VR explained how his friend recently committed suicide due to mental health issues. “For some reason putting a noose around my neck instantly reminded me that my friend committed suicide,” he said, before reflecting on how many young players will play this game and speculate on how parents might react to seeing their children hang themselves virtually. . “It’s a bit like a heartbreak. When you think about it, you’re like, “Damn, this is extreme. » »

(The ESRB classified bonelab “M” for mature, because of blood and violence.)


In his negative opinion about the gamevirtual reality review Barnaby “Doc” Neale from the enthusiast site 6DOF Notice was unequivocal in his criticism. “One of the very first things you do in bonelab is to walk up to a noose and physically put it around your neck. No trigger warning, no option to ignore,” he said. “You don’t have to be a trained psychologist to determine that this might be a pretty irresponsible thing to put into a first-person VR game, especially without establishing narrative context. I’m a trained psychologist and I can say with some authority that it’s a bite.

Even self-proclaimed “virtual reality evangelist” Mike Cussell of Virtual Reality Oasis, which has over 600,000 subscribers, called the intro “grim” in his largely positive video reviewsaying that while he doesn’t mind, people should be aware as it can trigger.

And this is the meaning of criticism. The problem isn’t the slipknot or what happens after it’s around your neck, although of course waiting for your execution isn’t a great introduction to a game either. of warning and the forced nature of the sequence that disturbs so many. You can’t advance the narrative without putting the noose around your neck, and virtual reality, even more so than typical flat-screen video games, is a uniquely immersive medium that may just hit differently. The slipknot sequence could be the introduction to bonelab, but for gamers struggling with mental health issues, myself included, this could be the boost someone needs to end their story. A warning is necessary.

Kotaku has contacted Stress Level Zero for comment.

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