Spoiler Culture. It’s a phrase that has been commonly used when describing all types of media. From trailers that show too many story elements to people who outright tell people what happens in a game, movie, TV show, etc., it’s often difficult to avoid spoilers. In a world where many people are connected to the internet through a variety of devices, stumbling upon a spoiler is bound to happen.
Recently, I played through Gone Home, the emotionally driven narrative adventure from The Fullbright Company. The game originally launched on PC in 2013. When Gone Home was released, it was the topic of conversation among many video game outlets. Through many Twitter exchanges and articles about Gone Home, I knew exactly what the story was about and how it ended years before I had the chance to play it. Fast forward three years later and Gone Home was offered as a free game via the Games With Gold program on Xbox Live.
I downloaded it and decided to finally sit down and experience what so many people raved about for years. I knew from the moment I hit “New Game” what would happen, but I was determined to enjoy what The Fullbright Company worked hard to release. What followed was an impressive 80 minutes as Kaitlin a girl returning home, trying to discover what happened to her sister Samantha. Gone Home is a semi-deceiving game when you think about it. As Kaitlin, players walk through the empty estate, uncovering clues to Sam’s whereabouts.
I took each step with caution, unsure what awaited around each corner. There were creepy noises, and the loneliness often felt unsettling. If it weren’t for the fact that I knew that the game had to offer, I would have sworn that Gone Home was in fact, a horror game. It has all the tropes of the genre. Dimly lit hallways, the sense of isolation, creaking floorboards, minimal instances of music, and so on. Finding out what happened to Sam is interesting and the overall narrative is an important one, but it should be something that the player learns on their own. Having been told what happened to Sam put a damper on an otherwise fantastic video game. I played through the entirety of Gone Home feeling robbed from what The Fullbright Company wanted me to experience.
Modern movie trailers give away too many plot points. Look at the trailer for the movie Quarantine. It gives the final shot of the film at the end of the trailer. That same scene was used in every commercial for the horror movie. Even in recent films like Spider-Man: Homecoming, the titular hero’s final battle against The Vulture was shown in the trailer. While it’s still great to watch, it’s another instance of knowing way too much before sitting down to enjoy the film. Trailers like this are becoming more frequent. It’s gotten so bad that I have purposely avoided Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi trailers. I haven’t seen a single commercial for the film, and I get up from my chair in the theater while the trailer plays. It’s the first movie in a long time where I’m going in completely fresh.
While I’m not against spoilers altogether, I wonder when and if there is a right time to talk about them. Last year, a few of my friends were talking about Cortana’s storyline in Halo 4, four years after the game launched on Xbox 360. In passing, another one of our friends said: “Thanks, you ruined the game for me.” This person owned the game since Day 1, played through part of the game, grew bored of it, and abandoned the campaign to focus on multiplayer. Instances, when a person should have finished a game but chooses not to, will make me talk about spoilers with friends. Besides that Halo 4 incident, I’m very cautious when it comes to talking about spoilers.
In my articles, I often post a spoiler warning if I discuss important, revealing, or sensitive plot points. When in Xbox Live parties with friends, we’ll stop conversing about a film if someone in my group hasn’t seen it yet. I believe that spoilers can be toxic, depending on the person talking about it. There has to be a buffer period for discussing spoilers. On various Facebook groups that I’m in, moderators make pages catered explicitly to people who want to talk about spoilers. If pages like that don’t exist, there are usually rules set in place that prohibit members to talk about plot points for a certain amount of time.
As someone who is part of the video game industry, it’s very difficult to avoid spoilers. Whether I’m proofreading a fellow writer’s work, or reporting on news, coming across spoilers is inevitable. That doesn’t mean that I actively seek it out. Spoiler Culture is a big part of media. Quite frankly, I’m torn about them. While I think they are necessary to drive forward the conversation about movies and video games, I think knowing important plot points before experiencing them for yourself dampers the game/film.
Think of movies with twist endings. I’ve watched countless films where the characters referenced the end of The Sixth Sense. When that released in 1999, the final moments shocked moviegoers. It was the subject of conversation for years. I didn’t see it in theaters, but unfortunately, by the time I finally watch it, the ending was spoiled for me. Surprisingly, a friend didn’t tell me the twist, an Adam Sandler movie used The Sixth Sense as a plot point and constantly referred to the ending. When my family finally showed me M. Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece, it didn’t have the effect that many people had upon watching it.
What about narrative-driven video games? What if you find out who the killer is in Heavy Rain? What about the big reveal in Knights of the old Republic? Each of those games (and there are plenty of other games with shocking reveals) has a plot point that drastically changes the experience. Would it ruin your playthrough if you already knew the ending? Personally, I think that it would. My time with Gone Home was hindered because so many people were vocal about the importance of the story. In the end, I felt a disconnect between myself in the game because it was difficult to be fully engaged due to spoilers.
I don’t think it’s possible to completely avoid spoilers, but I think people can be considerate when talking about media. If someone blatantly reveals spoilers because they feel like it, there’s a problem. Spoiler Culture is serious and often casts a shadow on some of our favorite movies, TV shows, and video games. I think it’s up to each person to ensure that someone’s experience isn’t ruined because of a passing spoiler. This may sound like a rant, but I feel it’s important for us (readers and those in the media) to make sure that things aren’t spoiled for people. If you must talk about a spoiler in person, speak in a low voice. If you’re writing about plot points, place a spoiler warning. There is a time and a place to talk about spoilers, but we must also be considerate to the people around us. Spoiler Culture will always be here to stay, but we can do are part to moderate the discussion and usher in a new way to talk about spoilers.