PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Games

Discussing Spoilers: Does It Ruin the Game Experience?

Despite popular opinion, I don't think any kind of spoiler can truly ruin your experience with any game.

Before I ever started playing the original No More Heroes I knew all that it had to offer. I knew it was one giant joke, a playful jab at the entire medium and those who love it. I knew about the purposefully empty open world, that Travis Touchdown was a blatant otaku, that he fought with a “beam” saber, and that he was a parody of the stereotypical gamer. I knew about the over-the-top action, the insane bosses, and the game’s embrace of a retro 8-bit style. I thought it sounded awesome and expected to enjoy it, but I hated it. I hated the jokes, I hated Travis, I hated the side jobs, the open world, the Lucha Libre masks, and grinding for cash.

I’ve often wondered what made me hate the game so strongly in those first few hours, and I believe I hated it because the game was spoiled for me. Much of the game’s charm stems from the joy of discovery. Not “discovery” as in environmental exploration but rather the discovery of an unexpected gem of a game. That experience was spoiled for me by the expectations that I had going in. Most talk of spoilers center around plot twists but even a discussion of the experience can spoil a game. And yet, after the wonderfully anti-climatic battle with Letz Shake, I started to warm to No More Heroes. By the time that I heard that robotic voice announce my impending fight with Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii, I was enjoying myself. And by the time I finished the game, its crazy charm had made me a fan. Despite that joy of discovery being taken away from me, despite all the hate I had for the game, I still came to love it, and I believe that speaks to just how inconsequential any kind of spoiler is to video games.

Other media have more emphasis on story. Books, movies, and theatre are primarily driven by their narratives. Anytime that the narrative takes a back seat in these mediums that particular work is considered more abstract than its peers. Therefore, spoiling the story has a far more devastating effect on the audience’s overall enjoyment because it’s their main focus of interest. (Of course, there are other reasons to read a book or watch a movie or a play: the acting, directing, dialogue, prose, etc. but all those pieces are usually working in service to the narrative.) For games, story is, at most, half of the overall experience. The other half consists of gameplay, and if the gameplay is good, no spoiler can truly ruin the experience.

As a kind of cursory “research” for this post, I dug through the archives of multiple game websites looking for preview coverage of Mass Effect 2. I remembered hearing how such coverage contained “tons of spoilers,” and I avoided it months ago specifically because I wanted to avoid spoilers. Going over the coverage now, I understand why so many fans feared this information: Many sites went over the first hour of the game, spoiling that shocking intro. Each video that introduced a new member of the crew stole a little bit of surprise from the final game and even the last cinematic trailer contained some spoiler scenes. To illustrate just how much was shown before the game was released: I’m nearly 40 hours in with just one member still missing from my crew, and thanks to this preview coverage, I have a good idea who this last member will be. I’m slightly disappointed, but watching all these supposed spoilers with 40 hours worth of knowledge of the final game allows me to see just how little is actually spoiled. There are still major twists not even hinted at. Often times what is hinted at in the preview coverage isn’t what actually happens, or it’s just a possibility. But most importantly, no amount of spoilers can take away the satisfaction that I feel after destroying a merc squad with one shotgun blast and a few perfectly timed biotic powers. Spoilers can’t ruin the fun of gameplay.

Of course, some games have a story with a single twist that is so integral to the overall experience that spoiling it would take away much of the suspense, tension, and excitement building up to that climactic revelation. BioShock, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, and Silent Hill 2 are prime examples. They are stories that build up to a single big surprise, one that makes you reconsider all your actions up to that point in the game. But these kinds of stories are rare. For the most part, knowing what’s coming in a game doesn’t ruin the experience because games are so much more than their story.

Every experience that a player has with any game is a singular experience unique to that player. No matter how linear or scripted a game may be, each person brings their own set of mental baggage to the game. For example, a preference for offensive tactics rather than defensive tactics or vice versa or high or low expectations for the game or an expertise or no knowledge of this specific genre. Because we participate in the action, the experience will always feel unique to us. A game that has branching paths will only amplify this feeling, but the feeling is there regardless. Knowing what’s going to happen an hour from now doesn’t change the second-to-second action. That’s why if a game is enjoyable to play, if it’s something that I want to play then no spoiler can ruin my enjoyment.

I’m looking forwards to Heavy Rain, and for the past few months, I put myself on a media blackout. I don’t want to know what happens or even what could happen. I want to start the game fresh, unaware of the potential consequences for my actions. I also downloaded the demo the day that it came out, and now I’m more excited than before.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.