When are Spoilers Okay?

Toy Story SpoilersSpoiler Warning: All examples provided within this article are fictitious. No actual story elements are revealed.

If you are talking to friends, around the modern day equivalent of a water-cooler, you know the media they consume and their tolerance for extraneous information. When talking on the Internet, it is difficult to gauge who will jump into your conversation. Everyone online is your buddy (no one is ever mean to each other on the net) and people just want to feel included. In each interaction is the potential your, tweet, podcast, video or blog accidentally reveals more information than someone bargained for. You will be labeled  a “spoiler.” This can occur because you didn’t appropriately prepare the audience for sensitive information or considered something common knowledge that others don’t.

The Time Paradox

There is a general consensus that after X amount of time has passed, all bets are off. At one point, the X variable for movies appeared to be for as long as they were in theaters. But with the immediacy of Twitter and rush of information from news sites this period has shifted to as short as opening night (or earlier if you caught a pre-screening). The argument becomes, “If you didn’t watch Winter Soldier and see that Steve Rogers is a clone on opening weekend, then you didn’t care that much. ” Which is not appropriate, because the movie will exist for years to come and not everyone watches movies within a set window from release. 

There is a finite amount of time available to consume products. Some people are truly excited about a comic book but only read them in trade, buy a videogame during a Steam sale or watch shows once the entire season is on Netflix. Beyond these examples, sometimes someone has heard millions of things about a release but hasn’t gotten around to it for years. There is no amount of time that can pass before revealing that Godzilla is the reincarnation of George Washington, won’t ruin the entire experience. Just because you rushed out and completed a game as soon as it was available, but others are a Slowsky, does not provide you the right to dissect the plot in front of them. The Internet’s ability to turn plot points into memes means that unknowing consumers can encounter vital details without ever seeking information about the release.

No amount of time is acceptable to pass before you can spoil a release, someone out there has never watched an episode of Friends, and if you tell them Rachel and Monica are long lost twins now, you’ll take that revelation away from them forever.

Facts are (Sometimes) Spoilers

Bruce Wayne is Batman. Krypton explodes. Mushrooms enlarge Mario. There are some elements of information that are ingrained as part of the character. These are not spoilers. People will continue to have conversations about these properties, and must be Batman Spoilerable to say more than “yeah, Link is good.” The fact that he carries a sword, rescues a princess and uses a multitude of weapons are important to the character’s identity, and are basics of the property. We cannot cripple our ability to discuss these subject in fear of spoiling anything.

Tom Cruise is a ghost during Top Gun. The DeLorean was invented by aliens. Master Chief if a twelve year-old girl. These also fall into the ‘fact’ category but go beyond the top level information revealed in a trailer or character bio. There is a difference between high level details and plot points. If sharing plot elements, which can be character information depending on the impact to the story, then the discussion is a spoiler.

If the reveal is integral to the story or changes expectations of the audience, then it is a spoiler.

Opening Scene Fallacy

One spoiler shield is, “this happens in the beginning, so I’m not really spoiling anything.” Incorrect. Sometimes the opening moments are the most powerful and can be used to subvert expectations. Video games especially, will release a plethora of footage from key segments of the game, which is not necessarily from the beginning. The developers expect players to know they control Jak through a gritty post-apocalyptic world, but wanted the player to be surprised in the opening moments when Daxter is crowned King of Atlantis. This surprise reveal sets the tone for the game and not knowing what was going to happen in those vital few minutes was by the creator’s design.

The placement of information is not relevant, the impact that it has on the experience determines whether or not it is a spoiler.

Researcher’s Dilemma

There are consumers who actively seek every morsel of information regarding a release. There are plenty of sites which tell them small details about character designs, costume choices and filming locations. Other sites will reveal entire theories, review trailers frame-by-frame and dive into every press release. Just because you took the time to learn that Storm marries Magneto, doesn’t GoT Spoilermean you should bring it up in conversation as if it is a known fact.

Websites are most guilty of this conundrum. They want to provide their readers with as many scoops as possible, to drive traffic, but they have a responsibility to be good stewards of information. Media outlets that don’t specialize in spoilers should never contain information that could ruin a plot in the header or landing page. Only by tagging information appropriately and requiring participants to actively engage in its reveal, should key details be exposed. This goes especially true for podcasts and YouTube. Saying spoiler warning, at the 7:08 mark, and then diving into the fact that Drake gains the ability to shoot fireballs from his hands in Uncharted 4, at the 7:10 mark, is not enough time for consumers to avoid the spoiler landmine.

The information is available online, it is up to everyone to decide for themselves if they want to seek it out, not you.

Tweeting for Beginners

Not everyone watches shows at the same rate, see above, or wants to know key gameplay moments, again see above. The people on social media might follow you for your amusing anecdotes, uplifting puppy pictures or similar interests in Local Sports Team; not because they want a play-by-play of whatever book you are reading, trophies you earned or show that is currently airing.

Please refer to this sample posts as to what is and isn’t a spoiler on social media:

“Jon Snow ripped off Geoffrey’s arm with Lady’s severed wolf head” – Spoiler
“You won’t believe who dies in The War of Three Dragons.” – Spoiler
“This episode of Game of Thrones was the best one ever!” – Success

Just because someone followed you, doesn’t mean they watch shows at the same pace or read the same sites as you.

Spoiler Warning: The Article Ends in Two Paragraphs

Spoilers are not always bad. There are some games I haven’t played, movies I will never watch or books that I don’t need to read because I saw a comprehensive overview. When people are excited about something, they have a right to talk about it with people who know as much about the product as they do. There is an appropriate time and place for these discussions to occur such as; sites that specialize in spoilers, obviously marked articles or dedicated message boards.

Spoilers are a problem when information is provided that is beyond the scope anticipated. People aren’t upset because they want to remain in the dark, but because they want to experience the product as intended. Let people enjoy the show to the fullest possibility and try not to destroy their enjoyment. Unless it’s Citizen Kane, I can save you a lot of time, Rosebud is Luke’s Father, who is a ghost that is actually from modern times. You’re welcome.


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