They’re not ruining your life, our country, or anyone’s complexion. Just meaningful discussion about videogames.
Admit it. You were scared to read past the heading, that ever-familiar bolded six-letter signpost taunting your trust. It wasn’t so long ago that I would have felt the same. Covering my ears whenever someone even hinted at rolling out a verbal storyboard of a game’s content. But I’ve discovered that most of the tidbits of knowledge that have dis-affectionately been labelled as spoilers, are in fact nothing of the sort. And not only that but, hiding most of this knowledge away from each other takes away from what we could get out of our games rather than holding it safe.
More than fans of any other medium, videogame players fear even the most inconsequential of information being passed on, in case their premier playthroughs are affected in even the most minuscule of ways.
If you haven’t read Romeo and Juliet you should probably tune out for couple of sentences while I spoil the ending for you.
Indeed, everybody between here and the farthest reaching section of the Horsehead Nebula, except possibly Widget the World Watcher, are aware of the ultimate fate of Shakespeare’s two star-crossed lovers. Does knowing how the couple’s misadventure ends remove any of the pathos from the story? No, its content is no less interesting.
It’s amazing what content revelations gamers will get their proverbial knickers in a twist over. In fact, things have really gotten out of hand. This is clearly a result of the player culture losing track of what the word spoiler really means. But even that’s beside the point: why are we scared of discovering what areas, characters and objects our avatars will come across during the course of our (variably) 4 to 80 hour experience?
Perhaps it is because most games are more akin to fairground haunted house rides, filled to the brim with jumps and tons of tacky fun, but little in the way of substantive story. Revealing elements of gameplay lays out on the table the only things that these games have going for them. Daft novelties. Part of the problem could also be the form’s reliance on sequels. Plots are never finished. It’s as if those who have discovered a given game’s secrets can never truly be sure that the seemingly inconsequential moments aren’t going to take on a much larger, more important, role in the future of an IP’s lifespan. It’s a hard question to answer, and there’s probably multiple reasons for this desire for secrecy. One thing’s for certain: the gaming community’s need for all but the most basic of information to remain in ‘spoiler territory’ is driving discussion on gaming as a medium into the ground.
Becoming aware that Assassin’s Creed takes place in a virtual environment within the game was information audiences moaned, screamed, and raged about before the title’s release, even though the so-called “spoiler” is exposed in the first few minutes of the game – and is in actuality one of the less interesting points relating to its plot and themes. More recently, there were a few gamers with ruffled feathers because of the MTV Multiplayer Blog revealing that the character from the first Bioshock is, unsurprisingly, featured in the game’s sequel as a kind of religious, messiah-like figure. Neither of these should actually spoil the substance of either of the two games. The worst part is the same spoiler tags would have spread were these narrative points to be discussed post each of the game’s release dates.
The real drawback of this obsession with keeping the content of our games more secret than a Freemason’s handshake is that it prevents us from having any real discussion about them beyond, “they were fun”, or “the x button allows the player to kick”. It’s also part of the reason the gaming media is filled with clichés such as “compelling narrative/gameplay” and “visceral action”. The old adage “show but don’t tell” is near impossible when one is beset on all sides by angry mobs screaming “SPOILER!” Can you imagine if film critics and/or the film-going public had to hold their tongue if they wanted to talk about the locales that a character visited in a film, the antagonists contained within, or the themes and drama of their celluloid worlds? Most likely not, so why is it that game criticism should be any different? It really shouldn’t be, and in fact in many ways it should be less of an issue.
In reality it should be easier to let information – even what some may call “spoilers” – out of the bag when it comes to games. For these virtual lands contain experiences, not just opportunities for observations. No matter what your knowledge of their content is, the enjoyment that can be gleaned from each is experiential. Prior knowledge can colour your adventure, but when it comes down to it, a great experience is simply that.
Just as you know what’s probably going to be on the table at Christmas dinner – or your culture’s relevant holiday meal – the joy of eating isn’t lessened any by having a precognitive knowledge of its contents. A good game shouldn’t be any different. Sure, major twists and turns of plot are best left hidden from us because they often offer up exciting narrative directions, but beyond these elements, general game content shouldn’t need to remain secret. So next time you discover information about a game’s world prior to exploring it yourself, and begin to feel an anger gurgling in your throat, hold off for a second and think deeply. Question whether or not what you’re about to label a spoiler is actually something that is going to ruin the game experience altogether. Chances are it’s not.
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