Picture yourself sitting at your computer. My guess is that at the moment, this may not be a stretch but bear with me. As you’re scrolling through the front page of your favorite gaming site, you see an advertisement for a game you’ve been waiting for what feels like five lifetimes to play. It’s been out for a few weeks, but you’ll finally have the money to grab it and see what everyone’s ‘oh man’s and ‘you need to play this game’s have been all about. As you scroll down your Twitter feed, you happen upon an interesting looking screenshot and linger a bit too long.
Is that the main villain of the game? Wait, though, that character was clearly being shown as a friend to the hero in the trailer you watched. You would have never seen that coming!
Okay. No problem. It sucks that the plot point was ruined for you, but you get your mind off of it by heading out to the movies for the night. You’ve been looking forward to the new Marvel movie (there’s always one, isn’t there?) and after the diligence you’ve put toward avoiding interviews with the stars and major movie sites, you’re sure you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the two-hour thrill ride that awaits you. You sidle into the line at the snack counter and just as you start to order, you hear the group behind you talking about how they are on their third viewing of this movie.
“Seriously, I can’t wait to see that again! I was totally surprised when-”
Before you have the chance to throw your hands over your ears and sing loudly to mask the voices, you’ve had the entire second half of the movie ruined just because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If you’re someone who wants to go into a piece of media pure and uninformed, the Information Age can be tough. The general populace seems eager to not spoil everything for people who haven’t checked out the latest games, movies, books, and other works of the sort. Eventually, though, the question arises:
When Is a Spoiler Not a Spoiler?
I took to Twitter to throw together a poll, gauging how people felt about spoilers and how long the grace period should be between something releasing and when you can generally get away with talking in a public forum about it in gritty detail. The results?
Like most polls, I was in the minority on this though I’ll get to that in a bit. While I admittedly left out the option for folks to express that spoilers are no big deal, I expected a bit more breathing room between release and full-blown public critiques. Of course, that would be my feeling on this if people hadn’t replied with such well explained feelings on the matter. Given the stipulations and reasoning, six months to a year actually sounds completely understandable. It also comes as no surprise to me that the second strongest answer was that it is never okay to talk about anything spoiler related. I don’t subscribe to the same thought process necessarily- if I want to tell people that they’re going to find Toad (spoiler alert) in seven castles before they actually get to see Princess Toadstool, I’m taking the liberty to do so. That said, if someone wants to go into detail about some of the finer points of a game like Final Fantasy VI, even with a grace period of 24 years I feel that the responsible thing to do is at least warn a fellow gamer.
Thankfully, that seems to be the major caveat that most people who answered the poll added. Providing some kind of forewarning that there are indeed spoilers incoming will help the person looking at your blog or your Facebook post decide whether or not they want to partake in the information you’re putting out into the atmosphere. There is certainly something to be said for consideration when discussing anything in depth especially in a place where everyone can see or hear it plainly. There are a few factors I hadn’t considered in my initial question, though, one of which doesn’t revolve around video games.
The Shameful Narcissist (check out their blog here) made a good point that some of the consideration could revolve around monetary and time commitment. While no one wants to see spoilers for a movie they’re excited about that just released, ticket prices are not nearly as expensive as most games fresh off of the shelf. Along the same lines, a film takes a couple of hours worth of investment whereas quite a few games can range from five to ten hours or so up to even 60-100 hours (I’m looking at you, Persona 5).
Does this make the spoilers for a film less important than a video game? Not at all! The cycle of a film, though, does feel like it lends itself to a shorter spoiler process. Being able to finish a movie in a couple of hours means that it isn’t spread out over the course of a month or two. Rarely can a video game be completed on the first day it’s purchased. How is this judged for things like television shows, books, and other media? In a world full of people who believe the nature of spoilers to be different concepts, it’s tough to come up with one conclusive answer.
What Is a Spoiler?
A miserable little pile of secrets.
Actually, that kind of works, doesn’t it? A lot of folks that I’ve spoken with, both online and off, have stated their opinions on what exactly constitutes a “spoiler” in the grand scheme of a game. The story I tell most people to outline my confusion on the topic is that either just before or just when Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released, I mentioned to an acquaintance and diehard fan of the series that the bow that Link uses in the game looks really cool. Their response was for me to stop talking about it because they didn’t want to hear spoilers for the game. Never mind that I haven’t played the last few Zelda games in any capacity but either they had avoided spoilers so much that they hadn’t seen the promotional art or the paranoia of the conversation continuing into spoiler territory was so great that the mention of a prominent weapon throughout the series set off their alarms.
The majority of the people I spoke to and that responded to the question online came down to the same conclusion as to what constitutes as a spoiler concerning a video game. To most, a spoiler is a revelation that would remove the emotional impact from the game as a whole. Whether it be through character beats, plot twists, or the result of difficult choices that may affect the game, people tend to see these as spoilers that are the most egregious. To confide my opinion on this in general, I feel the same way. I had a huge plot twist to Final Fantasy X ruined for me a few months after it came out and still haven’t finished it to this day because- well, why bother when I know the plot now? Experiencing the plot is half of the point of playing an RPG and despite my resolution to go back and finish it someday soon, that mark will always affect my interest in watching everything unfold.
While in the minority of answers to my question, a few people did say that they take it upon themselves to cultivate the amount of promotional material they’ll observe and avoid whatever they can leading up to a game’s release and their time with it. While I don’t take the same approach, the understanding did seem to stress the point of taking it upon themselves to avoid the information. It can be difficult now especially if you read blogs or keep up with social media. There is a lot to be said, however, for people wanting to get the most out of their experience and holding themselves accountable with filters and avoiding their favorite gaming news sources until they can get into the game themselves.
A Conclusion and How to Handle Spoilers
To coin a phrase that I’m sure someone else has said in these exact same words: “Everybody wants something different.” Some people will play through a game regardless of how much they know about the plot and its intricacies while a number will go into a media blackout until that game hits their console or computer screen. Some folks think that spoilers are something that should never be talked about while others think that once a game is released, every bit of information is fair game to post for the world to see. Where does this intrepid blogger stand on it?
Spoilers don’t bother me as much as most at this point in my life. If I’m going to play a game, I’m going to play it regardless. I respect the fact, though, that plenty of other people don’t feel the same way that I do. When I post screenshots of modern games, I try to make sure that they won’t ruin anything plot related or any incredibly interesting mechanics that may add to the experience for someone and aren’t common knowledge. I feel that it’s my duty as a blogger and someone interested in promoting gaming history and analysis to outline when I’m going to discuss topics like that and while I may not always succeed, I hope the effort is as effective as I want it to be. Personally, my threshold for full-on discussion without discussing spoilers openly is about ten years but it does depend on how it might affect the work. Talking about Super Mario Odyssey and its plot and mechanics is a bit different than talking about Octopath Traveller or Persona 5. Still, I don’t see myself throwing out the Plot Discussion and Spoilers portion of my long form reviews anytime soon. I’ll just do my best to keep highlighting and containing that information.
In the long run, games are there to be enjoyed. A lot of people get enjoyment out of surprises and engaging with media with a fresh and clear view and as a community, I think it’s good to bear that in mind. Thankfully, most of the community I’ve spoken with tend to agree as I honestly believe that a big step in creating a positive community around any media is to let people enjoy things the way that they like. Being aware that some people want to have this information highlighted for them at the very least is a pretty small step toward that goal.
If you have any thoughts or want to discuss, feel free to do so in the comments (and much like in my Twitter question on this, I have faith in the folks that talk on here will keep things civil)! How do you feel about spoilers? Any thoughts on how things like re-releases and remasters affect them? Any other advice on how to handle them? Feel free to chat me up here or on Twitter ( @the3rdplayer ) to let me know.
Have a great Friday and weekend, everyone!
– Matt (a.k.a. The3rdPlayer)