Zoë Quinn on the Collateral Damage of “Triggered” Jokes

Over the weekend, game developer Zoë Quinn (Depression Quest, Framed) tackled a meme that many of us with mental health issues struggle with: the rampant, casual misuse of the idea of triggers or being triggered. It’s something we’ve looked at from both a personal and professional perspective in the past, and it’s only become more pervasive since. Quinn, for one, has had enough of it.

In a post on her personal blog, Quinn broke down her own experiences with PTSD, including this excellent explanation of what triggers are when you divorce them from that now-loaded terminology:

There aren’t many things that will send me down that rabbit hole anymore, or make me taste adrenaline and feel the same fear that everything I have is about to be destroyed again. But they exist. They’re extremely specific, innocuous to everyone else but poison to my peace of mind. I’ve calloused over a lot of the minor ones, but there are two or three big ones that feel like a crack across my skull and immediately knock me on my ass seemingly no matter what I do.

Quinn’s whole post deserves to be read, particularly in a time when jokes about triggers are so common they shows up casually on popular gaming sites. And if you’re thinking, well, hey, that’s a harmless joke that really has nothing to do with PTSD, Quinn does a fantastic job of explaining why there’s really no way to separate “triggered” jokes from their mental health roots.

Having a very real aspect of your mental health made into a meme and a joke that has seemingly worked its way into nerd culture at large helps make it feel impossible to actually talk about my mental health, especially when it’s an illness that pop culture constantly misrepresents. The last thing anyone needs when they’re trying to speak up and identify something to someone as being bad for them is to be made fun of. It’s like showing someone a knife in your back and asking them to pull it out for you, only to have them kick it a little to see if it’s real or not first.

Hearing “triggered” jokes is grating and tiresome, especially since bringing up what being triggered actually feels like makes you a huge no-fun killjoy (not to mention the inevitable backlash of people with underdeveloped empathy glands actively trying to trigger me after saying this), but here we are all the same. If it sounds annoying, trust me, I am *way* more annoyed that I have a mental illness than you are. I’m tired. I want to be able to explain to people what is going on with me without the baggage of other people misusing a word for cheap jokes with hidden costs, simply so I don’t have to do all the heavy lifting of educating people just so I can get them to understand that a specific thing messes with me.


Having a mental health issue like PTSD isn’t a political act. According to the National Center for PTSD, 8 million American adults are coping with it in any given year. Those are people across the political spectrum, across genders, ages, and every other demographic. Any stereotype of the commonly “triggered” individual is baseless, and any joke that harms people with PTSD harms all kinds of people.

As a community, we can do better, and Quinn explains exactly why we should.

[Zoe Quinn]
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