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To Spoil Or Not To Spoil, Is That Actually A Question?

Tamsin Oxford

To Spoil Or Not To Spoil, Is That Actually A Question?

There’s been an interesting debate on the gaming airwaves lately about whether or not reviews etc should warn readers of an upcoming spoiler. I had no idea there was even a debate about this! Surely it's annoying for everyone? But, no, it appears that there are some who think that anyone who complains of a spoiler is a whiny brat and others who vociferously disagree.

To Spoil Or Not To Spoil, Is That Actually A Question?One side is arguing that spoilers are fine. That the more “dependent a work of art’s emotional power is upon the lizard-brain surprise generated by some putatively shocking revelation, the more cheaply sensationalistic that work of art probably is". [Crispygamer]

Indeed, this is part of the vision by a writer called Tom Bissel. He explains that he doesn’t care one iota about whether or not he reads/hears/learns of a scene or element in a game before he plays it. He believes that the power of the game lies in the “how”. How do the characters get to that point, what drives them and why are they there?

To Spoil Or Not To Spoil, Is That Actually A Question?He wants to eradicate the term “spoiler alert” and believes that true game critique should avoid even mentioning it. He compares it to music criticism, literary criticism and film criticism, pointing out that these forms of critique never resort to warning of a spoiler in the copy.

He says, and I quote, “most of the people who pay enough attention to music, literature and film to want to read intelligent criticism about it do not think of themselves as hapless consumers at the spoiler’s loose-lipped mercy.”

Nice turn of phrase there Tom, but I hardly think that equating film, music and literature to games is placing everything on an even playing field. There are certainly people who like to be, ahem, surprised by a piece of music but this form of art is hardly the same as gaming, and an unexpected glimpse into its depths won't ruin the experience.

While they still lurk nervously on the festering banks of universal acceptance as art, games are about an entire experience. It’s something that uses most of your five senses at once and is hardly comparable to a book or a film or an ode by some classical composer.

To Spoil Or Not To Spoil, Is That Actually A Question?While the latter three are equally rich and vivid experiences in my book, and for those who delve into the depths of appreciation for them, they are not the kind of mediums that would be damaged by a spoiler or two leaking out. On the contrary these may even thrive and become more exciting as a result of a sneaky preview.

Games are just not the same. The sheer magic of gaming is that overwhelming sense of excitement as you step into the unknown. You have no idea what your next move will be or how that move is going to change the face of your game. You don’t want to spend the first half waiting to see some or other scene that you accidentally read about in a random review. It’s about experiencing it for yourself.

I completely disagree with the idea that games that rely on shocking revelation and sudden twists are “cheaply sensationalistic” and that anyone who objects to not being warned of an upcoming spoiler in a review “has to grow up.” Frankly that’s just ridiculous. I’m aware that I am now one of Bissel’s bawling babes in a nappy, smashing my tiny fists against my monitor in outrage, but SERIOUSLY!

To Spoil Or Not To Spoil, Is That Actually A Question?If I’m about to spend my hard earned cash on a game that I’ve been desperately waiting for, and want to read a review or two before I pick up my wallet and buy it, then surely I should be allowed to have some mystery left before I start? Why should I be ok with the fact that some literary jock has played the game and then decided to tell me every last riveting detail? Why should he get the surprises while I get the damp end of his pen?

I am, fortunately, not alone in this sentiment. That has to be one of the most amusing and, ahem, vitriolic responses I’ve read on the issue so far. Dave raises some excellent points and it is his blog that got my blood boiling through my veins. He’s right! I want to be the one to experience everything in a game for the first time. I remember turning off every TV, radio and website that even whispered of HL2 when it was coming up to launch. I really didn’t want to know anything more than the release date. The entire thrill was for me to discover Gordon’s adventures by myself.

To Spoil Or Not To Spoil, Is That Actually A Question?

So yes, please continue to warn me of a spoiler coming up in the copy and don’t expect me to be happy when you don’t. It’s akin to you picking up that book beside my bed and telling me exactly how it ends and why.

Oh, and by the way, before you click on the links above...SPOILER ALERT

Add a comment5 comments
Phil McC  Feb. 5, 2010 at 15:17

"He compares it to music criticism, literary criticism and film criticism, pointing out that these forms of critique never resort to warning of a spoiler in the copy."..

Really? I could name several film and book reviews that have done this, eg Usual Suspects..

Matt Gardner  Feb. 5, 2010 at 15:39

I'm with Tamsin on this one. Mr Bissel is an idiot, and I have to disagree with Crispygamer, which is a shame because they're often bang on. RIP

A twist doesn't mean pure sensationalism. Moreover simply reducing a startling revelation or plot to the mechanical study of 'How' before that twist has been experienced devalues the efficacy of the twist in the first place.

I like reading reviews and I appreciate spoiler warnings because it allows everyone to have their cake and eat it: you know to stay away. But I don't necessarily believe that explaining away a twist or revelation is central to reviewing a game or indeed any piece of work. There is a big difference between launch reviews (arguably primarily geared towards a question of 'Should I buy this?') and cultural criticism.

The beatings people received worldwide after revealing the ending of The Sixth Sense to their mates should have taught us something!

Alastair  Feb. 5, 2010 at 17:26

What is this Bissel guy's email? I suggest we send him spoilers for every major film and book of the last 50 years.

Jonathan Lester  Feb. 5, 2010 at 19:14

A review of a film or game doesn't need to go into plot specifics IMO.

Just commenting on whether or not the storyline is good or not (and vaguely discussing the setting) should be enough - I can't understand why certain critics insist on discussing plot points in their reviews. After all: it's a review not a media arts lecture!

delrio  Feb. 5, 2010 at 23:34

if the story of the game is integral to the experience then i would argue one wouldn't wish it 'spoiled' in the same way i'd be rather annoyed if i were reading a book or watching a film and someone told me how it ended.

of course the journey to that ending is still worth while, but your entire view on it is tainted by what you know is coming

part of the joy of entertainment of these kinds is the discovery of the unexpected. even a review is only useful up to a point as it reflects the personal experience by those reviewing it, and no two people have the exact same experience. a spoiler doesn't destroy the experience, of course it doesn't, but it changes it. and i'm of the mind that people should be given the choice on whether they're willing to risk that this will make the entertainment less worth their time.


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