Spoiler Etiquette

Alyssa Rosenberg doesn’t mind being spoiled: “I regularly spoil myself on things I’m watching thanks to Wikipedia, and I fully believe the study that came out last summer that spoilers increase our enjoyment of entertainment.”

Not I.  I get very annoyed and unfriendly at the mention of spoilers, especially because they often end up distracting me while I’m reading the book or watching the show or film.  If I know that such and such a character is destined for an untimely end, I can’t shake wondering at every moment when the expected unexpected death will occur.  Spoiler alert: so it was with Ned Stark and Qui-Gon Jinn.  I may be an exception to study Rosenberg cites.

Hmm. Now that I think about it, Qui-Gon’s pending demise was a welcome distraction from the awfulness of The Phantom Menace.  As a rule, though, I don’t want to know who lives and who dies.

Sometimes this undesired “foreknowledge” has a deleterious affect on me.  So it was when I played Final Fantasy VII.  Knowing that one of the primary heroes would be killed half way through the game, I chose to focus on building the strength and experience of the other playable characters.  It seems having the sight of Raistlin Majere renders me quite the cold-hearted, calculating bastard.

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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11 Responses

  1. Freddie says:

    As I said in a post of my own, what matters is consent, and you can’t retroactively consent to spoilers.


    • Kyle Cupp says:

      I agree, but is it always clear what constitutes consent and when consent has been given? If, for example, I’m having a detailed conversation with a friend about the particulars of some fictional work, and someone else approaches us to join our conversation, do I have a responsibility to say, “Hey, fyi, we’re talking possible spoilers here”?

  2. Jaybird says:

    The discussion that I had took place here.

    Now, the conclusions we met were of the sort that spoilers ought to be encoded somehow (and we fell in love with rot13ing them).

    Reach whatever conclusions you need to, of course. I’m just saying what worked for me and mine.

  3. Plinko says:

    Spoilers have never bothered me, either, but I try to be cozignant of others. Spoiler text/tags/rot13 are excellent choices when one has to deal with a larger community where one cannot be sure all are in agreement.

  4. Fnord says:

    It’s not that spoilers rob me of enjoyment per se; I can very much enjoy the second reading (or viewing, etc) of a work, when I’m certainly “spoiled” thoroughly. But it does deprive me of the unique experience of the first reading (and, perhaps oddly, this is more likely to ruin my enjoyment of second readings, since I enjoy the feeling of anticipation and looking for foreshadowing of major plot points, but if I get that in the first reading…).

    • Will Truman says:

      Fnord gets it perfectly. You only get one change to know what the creators want you to know when they want you to know it. The good stuff you can go through again with near-equal, equal, or greater enjoyment. But that first time…

      (That being said, I don’t typically get hot-and-bothered about things I only intend to see once.)

      • Ed says:

        I’m not quite sure what you’re saying. Forgive me if I’m misunderstanding, but are you saying that a first viewing/reading/whatever offers the chance to appreciate the less than stellar aspects of the work question through sheer novelty? I’m not being difficult here, I’m just curious if I get your meaning.

        • Will Truman says:

          More like, when going through it the first time without knowing more about what is to come than the author wants you to know provides a different experience. An experience you only get one chance at. Subsequent experiences can be anywhere from near-enjoyable to much more enjoyable, but will be so for different reasons. It’s usually not good if a work relies on novelty, but the uncertainty can be a positive part of the experience of a first viewing/reading/etc, denied to you if someone let slip the ending.

        • Fnord says:

          Experiencing a story for the first time and experiencing a story knowing the major plot-points are different experiences. Both can be worthwhile (or neither can be). But if you’re spoiled, you’re robbed of one of those experiences. If you’ve been spoiled, your experience is more similar to that of a second reading. It’s not necessarily less enjoyable, but it’s a different experience. And, if you’re not spoiled, you can easily get both experiences just by reading the book twice. If you are spoiled, it can be impossible to ever get the first read-through experience.

          The effect on enjoyment, if anything, doesn’t happen until the actual second reading. If you haven’t been spoiled, reading a good book twice provides two distinct, worthwhile experiences (and, in some ways, even a combined experience greater than the sum of its parts). If you’re spoiled, reading the same book twice just gives you the same experience twice (more or less; there are certainly works that benefit from even more than two readings).

  5. Ed says:

    Spoilers don’t really matter in a work that is not based around a surprise ending. This means, essentially, anything that isn’t plot based but relevant based on theme or is otherwise somehow idea driven. Most reasonably educated people know how The Iliad, Crime and Punishment, or Hamlet happen to end before reading them, and don’t enjoy them any less because of that. Many works since antiquity have been based on historical or mythological events of which the reader/watcher knew what was going to happen. The point was to deal with the broader and deeper implications.

    However, if your preferences run toward things that thrive on a surprise end or plot twists, I guess it might affect you.