context is important. What happens leading up to events sheds light on how and why they unfold the way they do. But what if the context comes later? And what if there was no advance warning of the traumatic event you were about to experience in a game? Questions like these, the line between artistic intent and the psychological well-being of players, have been at the center of a debate on Stress Level Zero’s latest VR game. Bone Lab, which has a rather unsettling campaign introduction. So disturbing, in fact, that some fans are now suggesting the sequence should be entirely skippable.
A sequel to the virtual reality first-person shooter bone work, Bone Lab is a sandbox action-adventure game that was released on September 29th for Meta Quest 2 and PCVR. It’s one of the most hyped VR games in recent times and has been touted by countless members of the press impressive image fidelity, Gameplay affecting avatarsand “unrelenting intensity.’ It doesn’t have much narration; Instead, sequences guide you from one point to the next. The first-person gameplay with high physical effort, paired with extensive mod support, has it all Bone Lab ready to become a successor to the super-popular physics sandbox Garry’s Mod. So far the game has amostly positive” rating on Steam, with most players saying it’s fun as hell with high replayability. However, not everyone is so in love with the long-awaited shooter.
Trigger Warning: Self Harm, Suicide
Even though Bone Lab is a sandbox that many will likely play for its mod tools, it contains a campaign, and it’s the introduction to the story that has sparked debate among players. You start the game by choosing your avatar via a random number generator. Once you’re happy with how you look, press a big red button, which will take you to a black room. It’s dark, but you’re not alone: A rope hangs in front of you, tied like a noose.
With no further instructions or warnings, the only way to advance is to place the noose around your neck, which will then teleport you into a medieval setting. You are surrounded by metal spikes. Zealots, clad in black robes, line up in front of you for the executioner to drop the platform beneath you. You will be left hanging…for a while. You can try to grab the rope over yourself, but to no avail. Eventually, inexplicably, a red-hot knife materializes that you can use to cut yourself down.
You can view the sequence in question in the longplay video embedded below; It starts at the 1:24 mark and is preceded by content warning messages inserted by the creator of the video.
It’s not the second half of the sequence that has players worried. Most understand narrative worldbuilding in the medieval setting. The thing is, the game forces the player to physically perform the ritual of hanging without any warning, which has left it feeling like an unnecessary and problematic involvement. Bone LabFor the most part, the story of is found to be incoherent, with set pieces being pieced together through battle sequences so that one moment doesn’t exactly connect to the next. This method of storytelling has been argued by some players a now-banned post on the Oculus Quest subredditis reason enough that the introduction can at least be skipped.
“Well that seems pretty much impossible to tackle (anything’s mental health can be affected/triggered by anything, so it’s an unwinnable battle)” commented one Redditor in response to someone who said developers shouldn’t care about a player’s sanity. “Nevertheless, suicide is so obvious and affects so many people with horrific consequences that I think it was done by very, very touchless game designers.”
“Anyone who calls it out seems to be downvoted (same thing happened to super hot)”, wrote anotherwhich points to disturbing self-harm sequences in Superhot Team’s VR first-person shooter the developer finally made it skippable after the setback. “[It] didn’t really bother me but it felt unnecessary and that [Bonelab] Developers should at least have given players the option to skip it.”
Of course, there were also numerous comments that dismissed these concernswith different empathies.
Continue reading: super hot The game is bombed by critics after removing “depictions of self-harm”.
Found several prominent VR YouTubers Bone Lab‘s intro also chilling. in the a metered video review from September 29th, creator of virtual reality content, Gamertag VR, explained how his friend recently committed suicide due to mental health issues. “For some reason putting a noose around my neck immediately reminded me that my friend killed himself,” he said, before considering how many younger players will be playing this game and speculating how parents would react, if they saw their children practically hang themselves. “It’s a bit like shattering. When you think about it, you’re like, ‘Gosh, that’s extreme.'”
(The ESRB assessed Bone Lab “M” for mature, due to blood and violence.)
In his negative review of the gameVR critic Barnaby “Doc” Neale from the Enthusiast site 6DOF ratings was unequivocal in his criticism. “One of the very first things you do Bone Lab is to go to a noose of rope and physically put it around your neck. No trigger warning, no option to skip,” he said. “You don’t have to be a qualified psychologist to realize that this could be a pretty irresponsible thing to put in a first-person VR game, especially without providing a narrative context. I’m a qualified psychologist and I can say with some authority that it’s bullshit.”
Even the self-proclaimed “VR evangelist” Mike Cussell of Virtual Reality Oasis, who has over 600,000 subscribers, called the intro “grim” in its largely positive video reviewand said while it doesn’t bother him, people should be aware of it because it can trigger.
And that is the heart of the criticism. The problem isn’t the noose or what happens after it’s put around your neck, although of course waiting for your execution isn’t a good introduction to a game either. Rather, it’s the lack of warning and the forced nature of the sequence that bothers so many. You can’t advance the narrative 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 hit differently. The loop sequence could be the introduction to Bone Lab‘s campaign, but for gamers struggling with mental health issues – myself included – it might be the nudge someone needs to finish their story. A warning is necessary.
kotaku has reached out to Stress Level Zero for comment.
https://kotaku.com/bonelab-metal-quest-pc-vr-stress-level-zero-self-harm-1849615037 The hyped VR game’s “Noose” sequence is starting to spark a warning debate