Spoiler Alert

I don’t care about spoilers.

I realize a lot of people do. I understand that because I also used to care, but at some point what I realized was the amount of energy I spent worrying about, reacting to, avoiding and complaining about spoilers simply outstripped whatever vague enjoyment I got from being surprised around some plot point. Worse still, most of the time the thing that might have been spoiled turned out to not be that damn big a deal anyway.

Much ado was made back in 2011 about a study from the University of California in San Diego that said (spoiler alert) that having a story spoiled for you is unlikely to impact your enjoyment of that story. According to the UCSD study, in fact the opposite seemed more likely to be true, “Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man’s daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck.”

My response at the time was, “Hey, I was going to read that story about the escaping man. Thanks for ruining it, loser.” It was 2011, I had not yet grown as a person.

My big problem with spoilers is that they are arbitrarily defined. There is no clearly defined threshold for what is and is not a spoiler. It’s not that I can’t live in a world with gray areas, but more that spoilers are really an entirely constructed interpretation of a made up rule, and that rule is exclusive to the person for whom the spoiler exists, unknowable to others in advance, but an imperative for everyone around whom the spoiler-rule exists. Avoiding spoilers might be fine if we all knew and shared the same sets of spoiler rules, but we don’t.

Spoiler rules used to be fairly straightforward and uniform, or at least I thought they were. It was admittedly easier back then, when spoilers were really only about the resolution of narratives. Now, however, the misuse of a gender pronoun can send people into an apoplexy because suddenly they know the hero of some movie they haven’t seen yet is a certain sex.

In part because of that arbitrariness, spoilers are selfish. They restrict and divide, asking people who have the temerity to be interested in talking about this thing they’ve experienced to please go somewhere else. They impose your schedule for consuming media onto others.

It’s not that I don’t understand or sympathize with the desire to keep something a surprise to experience in the intended context. My problem is when people make that desire the responsibility of everyone else instead of themselves. If you want to avoid spoilers, that’s fine, but it’s on you to limit yourself, not on everyone else around you to limit themselves. As far as I can tell, even if that thing you didn’t want spoiled gets spoiled, odds are you’re going to enjoy it every bit as much anyway.

A lot of people have become absolutely obsessed with spoilers. I blame this, to some degree, on the makers of a lot of pop culture, who have themselves become obsessed with “The Big Secret” or “The Amazing Reveal” or “The Game-Changing Plot Twist.” The television and cinemas are jam packed with stories that depend largely on their own secrets. They encourage watchers to micro-analyze every little kernel of story to try and guess the secret. This is problematic because it trains us to doubt every plot point — to believe that any image or half-spoken sentence, no matter how small or irrelevant, could be the thread that, when pulled, reveals the entire thing, whatever that thing may be.

And so we become obsessed with what we do and don’t know about shows, books and films. We imagine that finding out the big secret will provide some kind of enhanced payoff for the time we invest in the story, and as a result we become petrified of anything that might diminish that payoff. Spoiler-obsessed people sometimes seem to think of their entertainment consumption in a transactional sense. I have invested X of myself into this story, therefore the payout must be Y to achieve a positive time-to-cost ratio.

And spoilers? Well those are like taxes, hidden fees, shrink or some other kind of loss against the principal. Spoilers are seen to be this thing that reduces the payoff, and by extension devalues the time you’ve invested, or in the really extreme cases, that time you would have invested but haven’t yet.

Which, I think, is complete nonsense. Worse, I think that kind of transactional stance doesn’t do justice to the quality of the work that’s out there. Reducing things down to the quantification of some gimmick undermines the power of narrative.

Look at a work like Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire series. When I read (or in my case listened to audiobooks of) that series, if I had gone in only for the occasional plot twist or epic event, then I never would have made it through a few dozen pages. That time-to-cost thing just wouldn’t have panned out, because the series is dense mostly with intricacies and world building. And if you spend your time just waiting for the big reveal, it would be like listening to DubStep that waits forty-five minutes before getting to the drop. Why bother?

Big bad things happen in these stories. “Winter is coming.” But the dramatic tension exists not because readers don’t know what’s coming, but because they know, at least in a larger sense, what is coming. Readers know that things will fairly consistently turn for the worse, even when they seemed to be looking up, and the readers’ understanding makes every act of tenderness, loyalty, honor and decadence all the more meaningful. If winter were not coming, would readers even care?

The point being, even if you know everything about the various fates that befall the characters in the story, I would argue that the value of the story is not marginalized at all.

It feels to me like deciding not to go on a vacation unless everyone agrees not to tell you where you’re going. It’s the journey and the experience that are valuable. I know when I’m on a beach that I will soon have to return to Minnesota, that winter is waiting for me. If I didn’t know that, I wouldn’t spend all the time, energy and money to go to a beach in the first place. I would not appreciate the sun’s warmth, the calming susurration of the waves, the ridiculous cocktail umbrellas.

So, I’m now moving ever further into that crowd that is simply done with spoilers. I’m done worrying about them, and I’m increasingly done tiptoeing my way around every media conversation for fear that I will reveal something. At least when it comes to the way I consume media, I’m not longer going to worry if I find out the reveal. That’s not to say I can’t be thoughtful of others or that I will suddenly make an effort to spoil your fun just to prove a point. That’s just being a jerk.

It’s time for us to all just relax on the hyper-sensitivity for plot points. It’s honestly not doing us as media consumers any favors, and it’s subverting a lot of great conversation and discussion I wish we were having more often. Let yourself be spoiled here and there. Embrace it, and maybe you’ll realize that your shows, books and movies are just as good even when you know the destination.

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Cool, I guess I'm enjoying it wrong. Having plot points exposed most certainly affects my enjoyment, otherwise I'd just watch a 3 minute recap or read the Cliff's Notes. Apparently I need to grow as a person.

I completely disagree. If a movie or a game is spoiled for me, I spend too much time looking for the spoiler. Movies and games are made in such a way that you don't know what is going to happen until you are told. Some are designed to make you guess what will happen, but you are always left guessing. So that first time experiencing the story is far more enjoyable if you are left in the dark.

I am not saying that watching something twice doesn't bring enjoyment, but the experience changes. For example, watching the Sixth Sense

Spoiler:
for the first time, I didn't predict that Bruce Willis' character was already dead. Once the reveal is made, I spent the next 20 minutes trying to remember the clues. I was so much intrigued by this that I watched the movie a second time, but this time I was focused on the clues. I actually enjoyed the second viewing of the movie since I was able to watch it in a different light. But had I known before the first viewing of the movie, I would have never experienced the movie from the point of view that he was alive which means I missed out on an experience.

Agree 100%.

By the way, the ship sinks at the end of Titanic.

Edit: I think the enjoyment of a good story isn't the summation of the plot. It is the journey that the story takes you on.

Is knowing that Frodo decides to not throw the Ring into the fire at the end of Return of the King really ruin your enjoyment of the book? No, it is the journey that you, as the reader, go on, getting to know the characters, envisioning the setting, being part of the dialogue.

Take the M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs. The stupid idea that the aliens are allergic to water only really hurts enjoyment of the movie after you finish watching it and start thinking about the massive plot holes. The movie itself, does a fantastic job of setting an eerie tone throughout and makes it worth watching (well, once).

LiquidMantis wrote:
Cool, I guess I'm enjoying it wrong. Having plot points exposed most certainly affects my enjoyment, otherwise I'd just watch a 3 minute recap or read the Cliff's Notes. Apparently I need to grow as a person.

+1 to this. Congrats on your realization, Mr. Sands, but I don't agree with just about any of your bold points, and I'm not in a huge rush to change my outlook. Spoilers can and have diminished my enjoyment of many pieces of media.

The internet can get a bit ridiculous about what they consider to be spoilers, but spoiler tags are available and extremely easy to use. When in doubt, use them. You don't care about spoilers anyway, so there shouldn't be any hesitation to click them.

One of the reasons I like to listen to the GWJ podcast is because they are so much better about separating spoilers from the rest of the discussion compared to just about every other podcast out there.

IMAGE(http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mb7zez0Jy21rbehg6o1_500.png)

Nedward Stark defeats Sardo Numspa to win the Game of Thrones. Suck it, spoiler-nerds. I just saved you 800 pages of descriptions of meals.

kazar wrote:
I am not saying that watching something twice doesn't bring enjoyment, but the experience changes. For example, watching the Sixth Sense

Spoiler:
for the first time, I didn't predict that Bruce Willis' character was already dead. Once the reveal is made, I spent the next 20 minutes trying to remember the clues. I was so much intrigued by this that I watched the movie a second time, but this time I was focused on the clues. I actually enjoyed the second viewing of the movie since I was able to watch it in a different light. But had I known before the first viewing of the movie, I would have never experienced the movie from the point of view that he was alive which means I missed out on an experience.

There are a lot of works that are entirely based around a twist. M Night Shamalan's entire career is based around this trick.

It worked the first time he did it. It stopped working after everyone realized that's all he's going to do. He makes disposable movies in the worst way, because the twist is quite literally the only thing worthwhile in the film, and once that's over, any enjoyment of the movie is pretty much lost. I would argue that these kinds of movies where spoilers ruin the entire point of the film aren't really good films in the first place.

I'm with Kazar on this to this extent: if I know a spoilery thing about a work, I can't unknow it, and the joy of discovery gets replaced with a gnawing anticipation about when it'll show up. On the other hand, that applies to broad criticisms of media too - e.g., if someone tells me that a given film treats women poorly, I'll have that in the back of my mind watching the whole thing, instead of passively taking it in. It's the sort of thing I prefer in second or third-watchthrus, not so much the first.

Yup. I'm not rabid about spoilers, but I do prefer to appreciate a story in the manner in which it was constructed, figuring it out as I go along. I prefer to either be surprised, or figure it out myself. That said, I can still enjoy a story that's been spoiled, it just ruins some of the suspense and/or figuring out of things.

I feel a bit insulted by the premise that those who prefer to go into a story with no foreknowledge need to "grow as a person."

I have no problem with people who could care less about spoilers, all the power to them. It's when their choice is foisted upon me that I start to get angry. It's selfish, and shows a complete disregard for those around you, especially if the response to their mistake is who cares. I know people aren't perfect, and mistakes happen, hell I have accidentally spoiled things for others on occasion, but I am always completely mortified after doing so and am always super apologetic.

Also I will never, ever, buy into the argument that my enjoyment of a piece of media isn't any less enjoyable after having been spoiled you can't possibly ever now that unless you have some sort of time machine.

Here's what I do know. I have personally experienced how knowing information about a story does have a major affect on an audience being told that story.

My 2nd ever professional acting gig was for a small theater company. We were doing an original comedy that had never been produced before. Our opening night was a huge success, and the audience was totally into the show, lots of great laughs, etc.

Turns out we had a "critic" in the audience that night and the morning after the show our first review came out. We were asked by our director to not read any reviews until the run was over (it was only a week long run) and so I didn't. However we were told that we got a good review and the rest of the run was selling out quickly. I remember hearing the news and thinking to myself great I can't wait to play to a full audience every night, especially considering the response we got that first night.

Unfortunately that's not how it turned out. While people seemed to be enjoying the show we never got anywhere near the response we got on the first night, none of our gags were getting the same big laughs. Not even on closing night when the energy for a show is usually equal to or bigger than the first. I for the life of me couldn't figure it out. As a trained actor you work on being natural but consistent every show and it was really bothersome to me that I seemed to be failing night after night.

Well after the run ended, I finally read the "review" and I was furious! While he did give us a great review 5 out of 5 stars, the rest of the review was a joke by joke, gag by gag explanation of the whole show. He spoiled every big moment we had, and it had a huge impact on not only every audience after that but also on every performance I gave for the rest of that run.

I don't care what the research says, I call bullsh*t. I know from personal experience as a story teller and as a person being told a story, that knowing a spoiler does make a big difference in how I experience a story.

Here's the problems with that UCSD study:

* The study doesn't measure whether or not every person will enjoy a story more knowing the ending. Obviously a person can't consume a story for the first time both knowing and not knowing the ending (unless they use roofies). So they average together a bunch of 1 to 10 scores from different people, half of them reading the twist and the start and the other half getting at the end. At most, you could say that the study shows it's a minority of people who enjoy the twist at the end.

* The people who are being spoiled in the study don't know they are being spoiled. To them, it's part of how the story was constructed. However, when you read the ending to a game/movie/show on the internet, you know you've just been spoiled. The study doesn't measure that effect, so it's a useless comparison.

* A sample size of 12 stories and 30 people is pretty small to extrapolate to every piece of media ever and the entire human race, don't you think?

Quintin_Stone wrote:
Obviously a person can't consume a story for the first time both knowing and not knowing the ending

IMAGE(http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/arts/tv_club/2013/05/130531_TVCLUB_ARRDEV0407_1.jpg.CROP.multipart2-medium.jpg)

Quintin_Stone wrote:
The people who are being spoiled in the study don't know they are being spoiled. To them, it's part of how the story was constructed. However, when you read the ending to a game/movie/show on the internet, you know you've just been spoiled. The study doesn't measure that effect, so it's a useless comparison.

There were three versions of each story: one version presented without a summary; one version with a summary presented in the text; and one version with a summary presented at the beginning that was, to my understanding, clearly labeled as a summary of the story. So at the very least, one third of the readers knew that they were getting spoilers.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:
The people who are being spoiled in the study don't know they are being spoiled. To them, it's part of how the story was constructed. However, when you read the ending to a game/movie/show on the internet, you know you've just been spoiled. The study doesn't measure that effect, so it's a useless comparison.

There were three versions of each story: one version presented without a summary; one version with a summary presented in the text; and one version with a summary presented at the beginning that was, to my understanding, clearly labeled as a summary of the story. So at the very least, one third of the readers knew that they were getting spoilers.

Three types of stories were studied: ironic-twist, mystery and literary. Each story was presented as-is (without a spoiler), with a prefatory spoiler paragraph or with that same paragraph incorporated into the story as though it were a part of it

You're right, I wish they'd used an Oxford comma!

But let me also point out this: there was one story here enjoyed more without spoilers. What does that indicate?

+1 Gaald.
Please don't spoiler me just because you aren't bothered by spoilers.

Gaald wrote:
I have no problem with people who could care less about spoilers, all the power to them. It's when their choice is foisted upon me that I start to get angry. It's selfish, and shows a complete disregard for those around you, especially if the response to their mistake is who cares. I know people aren't perfect, and mistakes happen, hell I have accidentally spoiled things for others on occasion, but I am always completely mortified after doing so and am always super apologetic.

Also I will never, ever, buy into the argument that my enjoyment of a piece of media isn't any less enjoyable after having been spoiled you can't possibly ever now that unless you have some sort of time machine.

Here's what I do know. I have personally experienced how knowing information about a story does have a major affect on an audience being told that story.

My 2nd ever professional acting gig was for a small theater company. We were doing an original comedy that had never been produced before. Our opening night was a huge success, and the audience was totally into the show, lots of great laughs, etc.

Turns out we had a "critic" in the audience that night and the morning after the show our first review came out. We were asked by our director to not read any reviews until the run was over (it was only a week long run) and so I didn't. However we were told that we got a good review and the rest of the run was selling out quickly. I remember hearing the news and thinking to myself great I can't wait to play to a full audience every night, especially considering the response we got that first night.

Unfortunately that's not how it turned out. While people seemed to be enjoying the show we never got anywhere near the response we got on the first night, none of our gags were getting the same big laughs. Not even on closing night when the energy for a show is usually equal to or bigger than the first. I for the life of me couldn't figure it out. As a trained actor you work on being natural but consistent every show and it was really bothersome to me that I seemed to be failing night after night.

Well after the run ended, I finally read the "review" and I was furious! While he did give us a great review 5 out of 5 stars, the rest of the review was a joke by joke, gag by gag explanation of the whole show. He spoiled every big moment we had, and it had a huge impact on not only every audience after that but also on every performance I gave for the rest of that run.

I don't care what the research says, I call bullsh*t. I know from personal experience as a story teller and as a person being told a story, that knowing a spoiler does make a big difference in how I experience a story.

I would say that's going beyond plot spoilers, which the conversation usually revolves around. That'd be more like spoiling all the puzzles in Myst.

It's when their choice is foisted upon me that I start to get angry.

My point, however, is that works both ways. Again, I'm not touting the idea that people should actively be trying to spoil things, or be thoughtless, but doesn't the responsibility for avoiding spoilers fall to the person trying to maintain that surprise and not to everyone else? I mean, there's a world of difference between a careless reviewer putting substantial chunks of narrative into a review, and the angst that happens when someone talks about what they saw on the "On the next episode of..." commercial.

Also I will never, ever, buy into the argument that my enjoyment of a piece of media isn't any less enjoyable after having been spoiled you can't possibly ever now that unless you have some sort of time machine.

That also works both ways.

I'm curious, are some of you interpreting the article to say, "I'm not going to worry about spoiling other people from now on?"

Because, what I thought I was saying was "I'm not going to worry about what gets spoiled for me anymore."

I'm considering trying an experiment.

I'm thinking about for next couple months spoiling myself on all or at least most games/movies/shows I consume and see if my theory holds. If I actively seek out the ending major plot points of the shows I watch before I watch them, will I enjoy them less?

Elysium wrote:
I'm considering trying an experiment.

I'm thinking about for next couple months spoiling myself on all or at least most games/movies/shows I consume and see if my theory holds. If I actively seek out the ending major plot points of the shows I watch before I watch them, will I enjoy them less?

The theory I suppose is that once you know the plot you don't have to spend mental energy focused on what happens next, so you can instead focus on how all the components of the medium come together to form some sort of wondrous unity.

Oh I probably should have spoilered the answer, sorry!

Elysium wrote:
I'm considering trying an experiment.

I'm thinking about for next couple months spoiling myself on all or at least most games/movies/shows I consume and see if my theory holds. If I actively seek out the ending major plot points of the shows I watch before I watch them, will I enjoy them less?

An interesting experiment, but there is no way to really know for sure since you can only do one option. If you could clone yourself maybe you could provide an objective result. I believe you would enjoy yourself after being spoiled, but I believe you would be denying yourself the experience of learning the plot for yourself. Effectively when someone spoils the plot, they are making you live that first time experience, and I doubt they do as good of a job as the movie or game.

Elysium wrote:
I'm curious, are some of you interpreting the article to say, "I'm not going to worry about spoiling other people from now on?"

Because, what I thought I was saying was "I'm not going to worry about what gets spoiled for me anymore."

Honestly, because I don't really see the harm in saying "no thpoilerth!" which I view as really saying, "hey man, please don't talk about the ending of Bioshock until I am gone!"

I don't see careless disregard in asking people *not* to talk about spoilers in front of them, but I do see careless disregard in dropping spoilers with no respect for audience.

You can spoil something, but not unspoil it. At least with current technology.

I would also put forth the argument that if not getting spoilered on something is that critically important, then consume the media when it is relevant. Expecting to be able to maintain no foreknowledge of something six months or so after the media was released is (IMHO) putting an undue burden on those around you who want to openly discuss plot points.

Minarchist wrote:
Quintin_Stone wrote:
Obviously a person can't consume a story for the first time both knowing and not knowing the ending

IMAGE(http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/arts/tv_club/2013/05/130531_TVCLUB_ARRDEV0407_1.jpg.CROP.multipart2-medium.jpg)

That's exactly where I went, Minarchist!

Forget-me-nows have useful scientific applications

Elysium wrote:
If I actively seek out the ending major plot points of the shows I watch before I watch them, will I enjoy them less?

That's an unanswerable question, because...

Quintin_Stone wrote:
Obviously a person can't consume a story for the first time both knowing and not knowing the ending

Felix Threepaper wrote:
Forget-me-nows have useful scientific applications ;)

That's what I tell the ladies too.

MeatMan wrote:
Elysium wrote:
If I actively seek out the ending major plot points of the shows I watch before I watch them, will I enjoy them less?

That's an unanswerable question, because...

Quintin_Stone wrote:
Obviously a person can't consume a story for the first time both knowing and not knowing the ending

No, but obviously you have consumed a story not knowing the ending. If you consume a story knowing the ending and still enjoyed it, I would say you have a general answer. Of course every story is unique (or the same if you're the philosophical type) but you can still enjoy something with some foreknowledge.

Nevin73 wrote:
I would also put forth the argument that if not getting spoilered on something is that critically important, then consume the media when it is relevant. Expecting to be able to maintain no foreknowledge of something six months or so after the media was released is (IMHO) putting an undue burden on those around you who want to openly discuss plot points.

I totally agree, which is why I don't read reviews or go to relevant threads until after I have played a game. I don't spoil, but others do. I just played Bioshock: Infinite and didn't know the ending because I went on media lockdown. It is possible if you are disciplined, and if you politely point out to others when they start to talk about the game if they could just wait until you leave to continue the conversation.

I think the UCSD study measures the wrong thing. The question for me is whether the reader/viewer/player experiences the same emotional highs and lows when they experience the twist, not whether they like the overall product more or less. You may like it less because of your emotional response, but it is that emotional thrill I want to protect by avoiding spoilers.

Nevin73 wrote:
I would also put forth the argument that if not getting spoilered on something is that critically important, then consume the media when it is relevant. Expecting to be able to maintain no foreknowledge of something six months or so after the media was released is (IMHO) putting an undue burden on those around you who want to openly discuss plot points.

Therein lies the crux of the issue. Those of us that are adamantly anti-spoiler avoid threads where discussion is current when we're behind. I don't catch up on a TV show thread until I've seen the latest episode. I've been out of the Game of Thrones Book thread for a long time because I haven't read the latest book yet. The issue is when people come into threads that are clearly marked as non-spoiler threads yet continue to make comments that they feel are non-spoilery when all it takes is two clicks to tag it if it's questionable. Just because you [non-specific "you"] enjoy your entertainment differently and don't mind "Coming Next Week..." montages or knowing upcoming characters and don't understand why I would take offense at having them unexpectedly dumped in front of me doesn't mean that I'm strange for it and should just loosen up. I want the opportunity to enjoy my entertainment from a blank slate without any pre-exposure that's gone through someone else's filter of importance.

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