The spoiler, and the problem with too much information
It is the third month of 2014. Letofski, a Dark Souls speed-runner and Twitch-streamer awaits the PC version of Dark Souls 2, which was scheduled to release in April, a month post the console versions. During this waiting period, on one of his Dark Souls streams labeled “No DS2 spoilers” a chatter suddenly utters something to the effect of “[Character name redacted] is the final boss”. The stream spirals into a frenzy, other chatters begin typing gibberish in the stream chat just to make the spoiler message scroll up faster than usual and the suspected chatter is blocked right away.
That is quite practically the extent to which one has to go these days to avoid spoilers. The tacit, often-understood time threshold of “what shouldn’t be spoiled and for how long after its release”, has lost all meaning thanks to the troll, click-bait and the instantaneous proliferation of the various sources of information and news on the internet.
The irony of a spoiler-containing piece of content is that while it might reveal something that you wouldn’t actually want to know, you have no way of realizing what that detail is until it’s too late. Thus an element of quick-thinking discretion becomes crucial for being spoiler-free, but we are only human, and discretion is not our strongest suit. Ask the many alien species on the Citadel.
A more ironic aspect of spoilers themselves is that when you know that a spoiler follows, a certain intrigue creeps in. Skipping ahead or avoiding the media altogether takes immense self-control, but again we are only human, and self-control is not our strongest suit either. Ask any of the non-human races in Thedas.
Adding to our fragile humanity are our media consumption habits and preferences. For example I find gaming podcasts hugely entertaining but usually avoid choreographed video content on YouTube, although I love watching Twitch live-streams, which seems odd even to me when I think about it. I seek to avoid spoilers as best I can, but the emergent nature of live-streams makes it tougher and it is often too irresistible. Given to such habits, spoilers to me sometimes never come with a warning, they are either spoken on podcasts or just happen on live-streams.
For instance, even before I acquired my import copy of Demon’s Souls, I would watch live-streams of it; showing boss battles, world tendency shenanigans, Phantom invasions and whatnot. Even today, I cannot resist watching a blind play through of the Souls games. To me it’s a test of the broadcaster’s psychology against mine and an exercise in judging them repeatedly. Honestly, at this point it’s turned into a masochistic hobby. It feels like I was consuming media that had spoiled such a dense sense of discovery, something that I would have enjoyed profoundly had I experienced it for myself.
It’s not just our indulgence in peripheral content that spoils, but also the way we approach video games themselves. For instance, one of my friends from university would always visit a GameFAQs walkthrough page prior to even putting the disc in the system – to check the number of chapters/acts/missions there were to a single player game. I never got the point. To be honest it is quite useful to check the handy HowLongToBeat analysis of games you are about to play, but to glean this information through game-spoiling walkthroughs seems insane.
Having deduced that knowing less of a game prior to launch leads to a usually better, unspoiled experience, I decided on a personal experiment. In March 2014, I selected three games and (as far as is humanly possible in this day and age) I imposed an information blackout on myself. I would skip the podcasts that discussed these games, read no previews, avoided all news and was totally oblivious to all the gameplay, trailers and Lets Plays. These three games were:
- The Evil Within
- Alien: Isolation
These were high-profile AAA games with notable publishers which were quite hard to avoid. But I tried, all in an effort to create/recreate the feeling of being blown away by the unfamiliarity, novelty and first-hand experience much akin to some of my favorite games mentioned above. At the time of writing I have just finished The Evil Within, so this seems like a good opportunity to assess the experiment thus far.
To summarize, The Evil Within enamored me. Having not played Resident Evil 4, I wasn’t playing it to compare it to a classic. I was totally unaware of its weird world until my play through, several instances like the first encounter with an invisible undead or the first boss fight were hectic beyond imagining. The plot made little sense, but the gameplay was complex enough and enemies daunting enough, to make me genuinely fear the discovery of who awaits next, a feeling that I believed I exclusively reserved for the Souls games. The Evil Within will therefore remain a game that is truly special and remarkable – to me, at least – as a result of this experiment.
The next game on my to-do is Alien: Isolation, a game which I have heard has garnered praise for sound and atmosphere from several avenues, but I have somehow managed to keep my exposure to that bare minimum. Hopefully Alien: Isolation will be a better experience for it too. Evolve will follow at a later date.
This is not to be where the experiment ends, though. From here on it is to be a regular occurrence for me, observing this stance for as many high profile games as I can manage, in the anticipation of staying spoiler-free. From now on, as far as I can, it will just be me and the game.