The context is crucial. By looking at their preludes, you can learn a lot about how and why things happen. Is there a problem if the context doesn’t emerge until much later? And what if you had absolutely no prior warning that a catastrophic incident like this was about to happen to you in a video game? Bonelab, Stress Level Zero’s next VR game, features a very unpleasant campaign introduction, prompting questions about the border between artistic aim and players’ psychological wellness. This moment is so unnerving that some players are now advocating for the option to bypass it altogether.
The sandbox action-adventure romp Bonelab was released on September 29 for the Meta Quest 2 and PCVR and is the sequel to the virtual reality first-person shooter Boneworks. Numerous articles have been written praising its “unrelenting intensity,” “amazing graphic fidelity,” and “avatars that affect gameplay.” There isn’t much of a plot, and the segments just kind of lead you from one thing to the next.
Bonelab has all the makings of a worthy successor to the immensely famous physics sandbox Garry’s Mod thanks to its first-person, very tactile gameplay, and robust mod compatibility. The game has received a “generally positive” rating on Steam, with users agreeing that it is entertaining and has plenty of opportunities for a second playthrough. Some people, though, are not as enthusiastic about the long-awaited shooter.
Bonelab is a sandbox that many people will enjoy for its modding features, but it also contains a campaign, and the game’s opening has sparked heated controversy. At the beginning of the game, you will use a random number generator to choose your character. Pressing a large red button will take you to a pitch-black area after you are satisfied with your appearance. Even though it’s late, you’re not entirely alone: In front of you is a noose made of rope.
The only way to proceed without any additional guidance or warning is to put the noose around your neck, which will transport you to a medieval period. The ground around you is pockmarked with sharp metal spikes. Lined up in front of you in black robes are what appear to be zealots waiting for the executioner to lower the platform underneath them. For some time, at least.
You can attempt to grab the rope hanging above you, but you won’t be able to pull yourself up very far. After much frustration, a bright knife appears out of nowhere, and you use it to kill yourself.
The relevant portion of the long play video is included below, beginning at minute 1:24. The producer of the movie has included content warning notices before this segment.
The troublesome part of the series is not the conclusion. Once immersed in the Middle Ages, most readers can follow the story’s worldbuilding. The fact that the player is given no advance notice and is instead thrust into the act of committing ritual suicide by hanging is what has led some to view this feature as undesirable and unneeded. The plot of Bonelab is widely considered to be illogical, as its set pieces are only connected through combat sequences that don’t feel organically related to one another. Some gamers, in a now-deleted post on the Oculus Quest subreddit, felt that this storytelling technique was sufficient justification for the introduction to be optional.
One Reddit user responded to the claim that developers “shouldn’t care” about a gamer’s mental health by saying, “Well that seems fairly tough to solve” (the mental health of anyone could be affected/triggered by anything, therefore it’s a war you can’t win). “ The suicide option is so glaringly evident, and it has such dire implications for so many people, that I can’t help but feel like the game’s developers are completely out of touch.
A second user said, “Anyone who calls it out appears to get downvoted (a similar thing occurred with Superhot),” referring to the upsetting self-harm sequences in Superhot Team’s first-person VR shooter, which the studio later made optional in response to player complaints. Although I wasn’t very bothered by it, I did think the [Bonelab] developers should have provided an option to bypass it.
Countless more, with varying degrees of empathy, dismissed similar worries in their comments.
Even popular VR YouTubers were frightened off by Bonelab’s opening. Gamertag VR, a developer of virtual reality entertainment, reviewed a game on September 29 and sensitively discussed the suicide of a buddy who had been struggling with mental health difficulties. “For some reason, putting a noose around my neck quickly reminded me of my friend killing themself,” he stated, before thinking about how many younger players will be playing this game and wondering how parents could react to watching their children virtually hang themselves. It’s frightening similarly. The more you consider it, the more you realize, “Geez, that is excessive.”
Barnaby “Doc” Neale, a VR critic for the enthusiast site 6DOF Reviews, was scathing in his evaluation of the game. “When you initially enter Bonelab, one of the first things you do is physically wrap a rope noose around your neck. There was no skip button or trigger warning, he said. It doesn’t take a trained psychologist to realize this could be a dangerous inclusion in a first-person virtual reality game, especially without any background information. Being a trained psychologist gives me the credibility to call it a stupid idea.
A trigger warning should be included in Bonelab, according to 6DOF Reviews, which was updated on October 5, 2022, at 1:37 pm Eastern Standard Time. Players should be aware and prepared for a sequence in which they must put a noose around their necks in order to complete the game.
In his mostly positive video review, self-proclaimed “VR evangelist” Mike Cussell of Virtual Reality Oasis, who has over 600k followers, termed the intro “grim,” stating that while it doesn’t bother him, others should be warned because it might be triggering.
What I just said is the crux of the criticism. The noose itself isn’t the issue, nor is what occurs afterward, albeit waiting to be executed isn’t exactly a wonderful way to start a game, either. Instead, it’s the abruptness and artificiality of the sequence that has many people upset.
You can’t get any further in the story without putting the noose around your neck, and virtual reality is an especially immersive medium that may affect you differently than regular 2D video games. Even if the noose scenario serves as an introduction to Bonelab’s campaign, for players like myself who deal with mental health concerns, it may be the final straw that causes them to give up and finish their experience. A word of caution is in order.
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