You’re excited for a new HBO show, but the trailers look pretty violent. You can stand some fighting, but you really hate torture scenes. Or you hate puke shots. Or you need to avoid strobe effects. Or your actual dog just died, and you’d rather not be reminded by a movie. Look up the title on Does the Dog Die?, a site that collects warnings about anxiety triggers and unpleasant elements in over 6000 movies, TV, books and video games.
The site tracks 57 avoidable story elements, which it calls “triggers”. They range from kid stuff such as “Does someone fart or spit?” and “Is Santa spoiled?” to more serious triggers such as “Is someone tortured?” and “Does someone die by suicide?”
The site gets specific about forms of violence and self-harm, but unlike many other content warning sites, it isn’t at all obsessed with sex. It cares more about questions such as “Does a dragon die?”
While the site looks bare-bones, it has a smart interface. Under each title, the page lists all 57 triggers. Next to each trigger is a binary yes/no choice, with one of the choices highlighted.
Look closer and you’ll see that it’s actually a vote. Each user (after logging in with a Twitter, Facebook or Google account) can leave one vote in either direction. If you look at the tiny vote numbers, you can see if not everyone agrees that a certain scene “counts”. For example, while 23 people say Game of Thrones has no jump scares, eight people say it does.
Users can also leave text notes to further explain a scene. Readers can star the questions they care about the most, and those will appear at the top of each title’s page. And certain triggers, such as “Does a parent die?” have hidden vote counts to avoid spoilers.
By default, the first question on every page is “Does the dog die?” That used to be the only question on the site. Creator John Whipple tells Lifehacker that while he created the site, “It was originally my sister’s idea. She found it frustrating to watch a movie with a dog in it because worrying over the survival of the dog made it impossible to enjoy the movie.” Even someone who’s typically into hardcore horror might not be in the mood for everything.
Many of the current triggers, he says, were suggested by visitors. “Tracking which movies have strobe effects was not what we had in mind when starting the site but I’m glad we are able to help!”
The site is great for parents who want to get more granular than whether a movie is G-rated. (Maybe your kid is a little too into fart jokes right now, so you’re trying not to encourage her.) Conversely, if you’re a real sick freak, you can look for the titles with the most triggers. So far the top three are Akira, Teen Wolf and Bait.
We found one problem on the site: Works with identical titles are easily confused, so content warnings for the show Teen Wolf ended up on the movie’s page, and some books end up with all the content warnings from their film adaptations. That’s why you’ll see books with the “shaky cam” warning.
The question “Is someone sexually assaulted?” links to the site Unconsenting Media, which tracks sexual violence in media more meticulously. Whipple says he actually helped Unconsenting Media’s creators when they were making their site.
“I’ve been asked why we don’t provide a list of movies for some of the more sensitive triggers (e.g. movies where someone dies by suicide). I believe that detracts from our core values and is not the direction I want to take the site. On the flip side, I’m not afraid to help those qualified to deal with those problems.”
The point, of course, isn’t to avoid everything challenging — plenty of stories are challenging without a single moment of violence or death — but to manage your expectations so you don’t have to avoid everything. As Whipple puts it: “Our focus is to allow people to enjoy media without fear of encountering an unwelcome triggering surprise.”