In Defence of Spoilers

This blog may contain spoilers for any media from the entirety of human history. BE WARNED!

Are they gone? Good. I've eliminated those people who most need to hear this blog, devaluing it almost to the point of worthlessness. Conveniently, they are also those most likely to critique it. Now, we may begin.

On the Internet, we've built a culture that reviles spoilers. Communities go to great lengths to avoid revealing even the most trivial of details about media, lest they “ruin” them for other users. But does knowing one detail about the ending of a work really ruin it? For example, does knowing that Rosebud is Citizen Kane's sled tell someone anything about why that movie is considered one of the greatest of all time? Does it even impact the experience in any meaningful way? I don't really think so.

Context is so much more important than the users who cry “spoilers!” and run for the hills realize. Knowing that, in Ender's Game, Ender genocides a race of insect-based aliens doesn't tell you anything about why that novel is a classic work of science fiction. Sure, that's where the book ends up, but me just telling you that, without any context of the novel, has not negatively impacted the experience for you if you choose to read it. The context of the rest of the novel, of why it's so horrible that someone like Ender did that, is completely lost on those who didn't read the novel.

Being unwilling to talk about spoilers also stifles conversation. Can you imagine trying to explain trying to talk about why Super Metroid is so good without spoiling any of the set-pieces? But if Super Metroid came out last week, we'd have to censor ourselves, and not be as able to express our experience. People who read these truncated accounts might think that Super Metroid was just a side scrolling adventure game, not fully comprehending the depth of the emotion behind its non-verbal story.

If I may be allowed to give a more recent example, Dust: an Elysian Tail was a game I was not interested in at all until I heard the spoiler talk for it. I was under the impression that it was just yet another Metroidvainia for the Xbox live arcade. But when I heard the talk on the GOTY podcasts, I was interested because story in games is something I am very interested in. However the fact that I now know that genocide is a major part of the story, without other context, will not ruin the experience for me. Likewise, I read Patrick's article, which was a fascinating look at the way an Indie game was developed, and for all the panic in the comments, the only thing I learned was that General what's-his-face (I was going to look up this name, but it illustrates my point rather clearly) doesn't justify his hate of the race being killed. Presumably this will be much more meaningful to me after I have played the game, but without the context, it was meaningless, and won't affect my experience at all.

It's foolish for us to continue to limit our communication to eliminate spoilers. I feel that allowing more open conversation can only serve to improve on-line communities.

17 Comments
18 Comments
Posted by DrIntrovert

This blog may contain spoilers for any media from the entirety of human history. BE WARNED!

Are they gone? Good. I've eliminated those people who most need to hear this blog, devaluing it almost to the point of worthlessness. Conveniently, they are also those most likely to critique it. Now, we may begin.

On the Internet, we've built a culture that reviles spoilers. Communities go to great lengths to avoid revealing even the most trivial of details about media, lest they “ruin” them for other users. But does knowing one detail about the ending of a work really ruin it? For example, does knowing that Rosebud is Citizen Kane's sled tell someone anything about why that movie is considered one of the greatest of all time? Does it even impact the experience in any meaningful way? I don't really think so.

Context is so much more important than the users who cry “spoilers!” and run for the hills realize. Knowing that, in Ender's Game, Ender genocides a race of insect-based aliens doesn't tell you anything about why that novel is a classic work of science fiction. Sure, that's where the book ends up, but me just telling you that, without any context of the novel, has not negatively impacted the experience for you if you choose to read it. The context of the rest of the novel, of why it's so horrible that someone like Ender did that, is completely lost on those who didn't read the novel.

Being unwilling to talk about spoilers also stifles conversation. Can you imagine trying to explain trying to talk about why Super Metroid is so good without spoiling any of the set-pieces? But if Super Metroid came out last week, we'd have to censor ourselves, and not be as able to express our experience. People who read these truncated accounts might think that Super Metroid was just a side scrolling adventure game, not fully comprehending the depth of the emotion behind its non-verbal story.

If I may be allowed to give a more recent example, Dust: an Elysian Tail was a game I was not interested in at all until I heard the spoiler talk for it. I was under the impression that it was just yet another Metroidvainia for the Xbox live arcade. But when I heard the talk on the GOTY podcasts, I was interested because story in games is something I am very interested in. However the fact that I now know that genocide is a major part of the story, without other context, will not ruin the experience for me. Likewise, I read Patrick's article, which was a fascinating look at the way an Indie game was developed, and for all the panic in the comments, the only thing I learned was that General what's-his-face (I was going to look up this name, but it illustrates my point rather clearly) doesn't justify his hate of the race being killed. Presumably this will be much more meaningful to me after I have played the game, but without the context, it was meaningless, and won't affect my experience at all.

It's foolish for us to continue to limit our communication to eliminate spoilers. I feel that allowing more open conversation can only serve to improve on-line communities.

Edited by BombKareshi

Knowing some details in advance may not ruin the experience in some cases, but in other cases it might. You cannot deny that some element of anticipation, confusion or tension is lost when story details are known in advance! Let other people choose for themselves how they want to experience a narrative.

Also, you're not limiting your ability to openly communicate by warning people ahead of time that you're about to divulge story details. It's just being considerate to others.

Posted by Ravenlight

I thought this was going to be about a Tower Defense game. Disappointment.

Posted by Tesla

I agree, being so worried about spoilers has caused most conversation about games to be surface level at best. Even on the Bombcast they usually speak in vague, general terms when they're talking about games. It seems silly to me, because so few games have anything of note in their stories in the first place. Not every plot point is on the level of Aeris dying or Bruce Willis having been dead the whole time.

When the bomb crew finally decided to not care about the whiners and just talk freely during the GOTY podcasts, I ended up with more than a handful of new games that I checked out only because the guys were free to go into detail about their favorite games without having to worry about what they were saying. Spec Ops: The Line for example, which is still a fun game with an enjoyable story that was not at all ruined by what I already knew.

Posted by DrIntrovert

I don't have a problem with warning people ahead of time. What I have a problem with, and what the blog is about, is when people choose not to say anything at all rather than warn. The bombcast is occasionally guilty of this.

Edited by ll_Exile_ll

All the complaining about people who don't like getting spoiled is getting out of hand. Is it that hard to understand that some people like to experience something for the first time without knowing plot points beforehand? Just because you don't care about being spoiled doesn't mean other people don't. Sure, some people take it a little too far, complaining about the most minor spoilers in things that aren't really focused on story, but other times it is perfectly reasonable to want to avoid spoilers. I had the end of Red Dead Redemption spoiled for me, and I immediately lost a lot of my interest in continuing to play because I know I will never be able to fully experience what is, by most accounts, one of the best video game endings of all time.

While I agree getting worked up over minor spoilers that would in no way affect your enjoyment of a the work at hand is kind of ridiculous, there are certainly cases where getting spoiled can really suck, like Bioshock, like Red Dead, or any plot focused game, movie, tv show, or book. You can not care about spoilers all you like, but most people do, and disregarding that simply because you want to talk about something is, quite simply, rude.

EDIT: Of course, I mean it's rude if you come right out with it or spoil something without warning. I am all for spoiler filled conversation as long you give adequate warning beforehand.

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Posted by Pr1mus

To me it has always been super simple. For people that go out of their way to avoid spoilers by not listening to a podcast or a quick look or whatever, that content effectively does not exist. For me who doesn't care at all for spoilers that content exist.

If they were to avoid spoilers completely the content would be identical for the person who doesn't want spoilers and those who don't care or actually want spoilers are penalized. If you don't want spoilers it is your responsibility to avoid them without making a scene to have everyone else shut out of some interesting content.

A very simple solution is to add more spoiler tags so that people who care can show themselves out. For the bombcast they could put time stamps in the description for sections to skip for spoiler sensitive people.

Posted by joshwent

If you don't care about spoilers, that's great for you. And it's great that sometimes on the podcasts, etc., they reveal plot things that can get you interested.

Just don't impose your feelings on those of us who want to experience a story fresh from start to finish.

Also, @DrIntrovert:, I'm not sure who's really limiting our conversations online. This whole site has...

these things built right in. USE 'EM!

Edited by planetary

I care about spoilers. I enjoy most of my entertainment experiences much more, the first time, if I don't know anything about their content. But because there are many such experiences vying for my time -- games, movies, television series, books -- I also value some very brief quality signal from trusted sources, which indicate whether this thing may or may not be worth my time.

Specifically for Giant Bomb, I use site reviews (when they happen, which is rare these days) in one of two ways. First, before my purchasing decision, I just look at the star rating, and maybe the one-liner blurb. Second, after I finish the game, I might go back to the review and read it. In that context, I am 100% ok with spoilers, and in fact spoilers enrich the review.

So I'd say this: this site should have some kind of Rotten Tomatoes-like view of all the recent reviews, with the score and maybe a spoiler-free blurb. But the actual review content? 100% spoiler-ok.

All this said, I would appreciate the Bombcast to remain spoiler-free, because I enjoy that content quite a bit and there's no way I could keep up, so I'd probably quit listening.

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

I think it comes down to the amount of time that's passed. If it's a recent game or movie, just don't spoil it or label it correctly. Pretty simple. Some asshole spoiled the end of Walking Dead for me, it didn't ruin the game by any means but it was a shitty thing to do.

Posted by YI_Orange

Part of the problem with spoilers, other than them lessening impact of moments, is I often spend a lot of time thinking about something that was spoiled for me when I'm playing/watching/whatever the thing that was spoiled. I look for hints or lead up or foreshadowing and such(or just think "is this when/when does this happen?"). Sometimes this can be great, and actually make things better, but sometimes it's just a nuisance to so constantly have that at the forefront of my mind.

Posted by MildMolasses

@BombKareshi said:

Knowing some details in advance may not ruin the experience in some cases, but in other cases it might. You cannot deny that some element of anticipation, confusion or tension is lost when story details are known in advance! Let other people choose for themselves how they want to experience a narrative.

Also, you're not limiting your ability to openly communicate by warning people ahead of time that you're about to divulge story details. It's just being considerate to others.

You're right, but what Jeff mentioned on the bombcast a while ago is also true: knowing major plot points in advance can enhance enjoyment. When I went in to The Ring, I already knew the ending because I was familiar with the Japanese version. And all along I was like "wait til these fuckers get a load of the ending in their shocked faces". Then it happened and it was awesome. Anticipating the surprise is better than the actual surprise.

However, that doesn't necessarily mean that someone telling you the end twist of tv series that you've devoted many hours too is appreciated. Those people are dicks. But if you go into something knowing the outcome, you can enjoy it more

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/08/spoilers-dont-spoil-anything/

Posted by DrIntrovert

I feel like I need to clarify a couple things:

1. I am fine with spoiler tags--I use them myself. I don't have any problem with giving adequate warning to people before a spoiler is given, and in fact agree that it is incredibly rude to not do so. While I did make a joke at the top of the blog about spoiler tags, it was just that--a joke.

2. The problem I was talking about in the blog is when people avoid talking about spoiler content altogether, rather than provide warnings. Saying, for example, "This person reminds me of the guilty party of case 5 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney," rather than "This person reminds me of Damon Gant, who was the villain in case 5 of Phoenix Wright, due to his status as chief of police."

The second example is just as polite, but provides much more information.

Posted by HerbieBug

Website's disposition to spoilerish content can have an effect on the extent to which I will patronize that site. It is quite all right to talk about every single detail of a piece of content extensively, so long as appropriate warning is given in the form of spoiler tag, "stop listening now," etc. It is not okay to spoil during the course of a written article, video, or audio that has expressed sensitivity to avoiding such lines of discussion in the past. It becomes a trust issue. For example, I will not watch a video review of any game on Gametrailers.com. The reason I will not do that is that they have proven on multiple occasions to flagrantly show pieces of major plot points in their video reviews.

Your stance on the validity of sensitivity to spoiler content is irrelevant. A large enough percent of the population care about staying relatively ignorant of a piece of entertainment content prior to experiencing it to make this a legitimate issue that requires care. You must meet that percentage half-way, in being clear beforehand when spoilers will or will not be voiced. Do not try to pull shit like toeing the technical line of spoiler territory without warning and then claim no ill intent after the fact. Do not say things like, "well... that's not really a spoiler. not really really." Because doing that makes you an asshole.

Posted by BombKareshi

@MildMolasses said:

You're right, but what Jeff mentioned on the bombcast a while ago is also true: knowing major plot points in advance can enhance enjoyment. When I went in to The Ring, I already knew the ending because I was familiar with the Japanese version. And all along I was like "wait til these fuckers get a load of the ending in their shocked faces". Then it happened and it was awesome. Anticipating the surprise is better than the actual surprise.

I acknowledge that in some cases it can enhance enjoyment. But I feel a viewer/reader/player should still be able to decide for himself whether he wants to know things ahead of time about a certain title or not. Even if the whole world feels I will enjoy some movie more knowing things ahead of time, I know my taste better than others and I'd appreciate being allowed to choose for myself whether I'd like to go in dark.

We're all different, after all, and while knowing the ending of The Ring ahead of time might have made the movie more enjoyable to you, but it just might make me lose interest halfway through. You won't know for sure.

Posted by ThePaleKing

I would never have played Spec Ops if I hadn't read discussions about the ending, and the various other choices and consequences throughout.

Posted by audioBusting

Same here, I read the article not caring about spoilers just to find out that there's almost no spoiler to be read. The big twist in Binary Domain that was talked about (but not discussed because spoiler) on the Bombcast also turned out to be not that big of a deal, I found after playing it. I don't have much problem with people wanting to stay "pure" before they get into a game or people trying to respect that, but it kinda does make the word "spoiler" confusing when sometimes they don't actually spoil.

I read that Why Video Games Matter book just recently and the author does talk about spoilers a bit there, pointing out that people care way more about spoilers in video games than other forms of entertainment. After reading that I start to notice that a lot of movie reviews outline entire plots of movies without being called out.. (and I skip those parts anyway because plot outlines are usually boring.) It is hard to feel out when surprise does matter to the enjoyment of the movie/video game, but I agree that we shouldn't be too afraid to discuss things because of spoilers.

Posted by JoeyRavn

@DrIntrovert said:

What I have a problem with, and what the blog is about, is when people choose not to say anything at all rather than warn. The bombcast is occasionally guilty of this.

@DrIntrovert said:

2. The problem I was talking about in the blog is when people avoid talking about spoiler content altogether, rather than provide warnings. Saying, for example, "This person reminds me of the guilty party of case 5 of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney," rather than "This person reminds me of Damon Gant, who was the villain in case 5 of Phoenix Wright, due to his status as chief of police."

The second example is just as polite, but provides much more information.

Eh. I think that you're forgetting that discussion of a game in the Bombcast is a spoken narration of those events, while writing in a forum is, well, a written narration. It's a lot easier to use spoiler tags when you're writing that somehow segmenting the podcast into "safe" and "spoiler" portions. Remember when they talked about Mass Effect 3 some weeks ago? They told everyone who wanted to avoid having the end of the game spoiled by them to "fastforward 15 minutes" (or something in those lines). They ended up discussing it for more than an hour.

How do you manage that situation in an elegant way? There's no way for anyone who is listening to the podcast for the first time to know where the spoilers end. Yeah, sure, there are some ways in which that situation could have been avoided. They could have left that topic for the very last part of the podcast (like Tested does with their "fake outtakes") or they could edit in a warning with the exact time where the spoilers end before the discussion begins... but, really, that's pretty impractical. I didn't have any problems with them talking about ME3, because I had beaten the game long ago, but I can totally understand that someone who hadn't could be pissed off. Mostly because of how cumbersome would be to skip that part of the Bombcast.

I think that, overall, the rights of those who want to avoid any specific information about the plot of a game trump those of those who don't care about spoilers. Especially if you're involving more than just one game in your narrative, like in your Phoenix Wright example. For me it's just a matter of courtesy: I may not care about spoilers, be them big or small, but other people may. I'd rather be on the safe side and not reveal anything that may be taken as a spoiler and avoid upsetting other people with my lack of care.

@ThePaleKing said:

I would never have played Spec Ops if I hadn't read discussions about the ending, and the various other choices and consequences throughout.

That's a completely different situation, if you ask me. If you didn't have any prior interest in Spec Ops, you were in a win-win situation. Worst case scenario: you still didn't care about Spec Ops. Best case scenario: the ending piqued your curiosity and you decided to play the game. Either way, you don't "lose" anything. But that would be completely different if you were interested in playing Spec Ops before (or, even, if you had been playing it at the moment) and someone spoiled the ending for you. You would have had a certain degree of investment in the game and its plot that you didn't have in your case.