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Spoilers Don’t Ruin Anything, Your Biases Do

Does spoiling anything whether a play, movie or game using the logo or introduction cut-scene actually ruin it? Apparently not. Let me explain.

First off if you search research on spoilers the first result was a study done in University of California where they wanted to know if spoilers ruined things. To save you time, no, it doesn’t, in fact it showed that spoilers enhanced the viewing experience it. This is clearly strange and I didn’t believe it at first until I started to do some retrospection of my own hatred for spoilers and memories when things were spoiled for me because of X, Y or Z. It didn’t change the fact that I still loved it. It feels strange to know that spoilers don’t necessarily ruin things but we’re going to go and look at some examples instead of from my own life.

Let’s look at Game Theory and Game Makers Toolkit. In their videos you’re greeted with a hook. In the hook you’re told what the video is going to be about and what you’ll learn from it, but in Game Theory’s case you’re given 2 hooks, 1 of which is to entertain but that’s not the point. Spoilers are immediately given.

We can also look at the tech channels: Linus Tech Tips and Gamers Nexus where every single video literally tells you what your going to see and what’s going to happen. This is especially true when it comes to LTTs big project videos like the LMG Gaming Lounge and Ask GN series.

If you hold to the belief that spoilers ruin things then every time they upload a new videos the numbers overall should be dropping. That isn’t the case, in fact they continue to grow through all of that, spoilers and all.

Socialblade statstics for 2016–19.

Now I know what you’re thinking, those are big YouTuber’s. GT and LTT anyways, GMTK and GN are definitely climbing fast but haven’t reached the 1 million milestone which in my opinion they deserve. I’ll point to a few more examples not related to creators.

Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet - Ford Madox Brown

At the beginning of the play, you are literally told they are going to die I’m going to show the entire prologue because it’s fascinating:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

As you can see, it’s rife with spoilers. Two families driven to hate one another with Romeo and Juliet doomed to die because of it. It’s incredibly popular and no matter what form or version the story takes, the spoiler is always known and it still doesn’t stop to audience from loving it spoiler and all.

So I’ve shown spoilers don’t ruin Romeo and Juliet. What about movies? Namely Star Wars.

Star Wars logo — A New Hope

We all know the original trilogy. The one where the reluctant hero Luke joins Leia, Han and the two droids: C-3PO and R2D2 to save the galaxy from the Empires grip.

To summarize the story of the original trilogy if you need a refresher:

  • The Emperor and Darth Vader established the Empire, annihilated the Jedi and took over the galaxy,
  • Luke is hunted by the Empire because he bought R2-D2,
  • Old man Kenobi takes Luke to meet with Han to escape Tatooine,
  • they accidentally enter the Death Star,
  • rescue Princess Leia leader of the Rebel Alliance,
  • Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan,
  • Luke joins the Rebellion,
  • they launch an attack on the Death Star, blow it up and celebrate,
  • the Rebel Alliance is hunted more intensely by the Empire,
  • Luke finds Master Yoda and trains to become a Jedi,
  • the Empire invades the Rebel base on Hoth forcing Han and Leia to go to Cloud City,
  • they’re betrayed by Lando Calrissian and captured by Darth Vader,
  • Luke postpones his training to rescue Han and Leia,
  • Han is frozen and sent to Jabba the Hutt,
  • Luke arrives at Cloud City and battles Darth Vader,
  • Luke learns Darth Vader is his father and escapes,
  • Luke rescues Han from Jabba,
  • Luke completes his training with Yoda,
  • Han and Leia launch an assault on the second Death Star,
  • Luke confronts and defeats Darth Vader,
  • the Emperor tries to kill Luke but Darth Vader saves him,
  • Darth Vader dies and returns to the light side of the force,
  • celebration with the Ewoks,
  • Luke sees the ethereal forms of Yoda, Obi-Wan and Anakin,
  • the end.

So the prequel trilogy should have failed badly because the timeline was established to be starting a young Anakin leading up to the events of A New Hope; everyone knew where the prequels were headed.

Sorry, that didn’t happen.

Though people were disappointed in one part or another with the quality of the movies, not one if at all were unhappy with the fact that the events in the future were already known as well as the fates of every single character shown in the prequel.

Let’s reinforce the idea a bit further with the box office gross earnings for the first 89 days of their release. Each of the prequels grossed higher than the original trilogy:

Movie Earnings (89 days after launch)
* Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace - 4.15 million
* Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - 3.78 million
* Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones - 2.99 million
* Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi - 2.22 million
* Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back -1.45 million
* Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope -1.13 million

Not bad for a movie with spoiled plot lines.

Video games are a different sort because we have to emotionally invest ourselves into it. More often than not, we’re committing hundreds of hours into it, especially with RPGs.

Final Fantasy Logos CASUALLY explained - Laser Time

So what got me started on finding out whether spoilers ruin things was a video called “Final Fantasy Logos CASUALLY explained” from Laser Time where he discussed each logo up to FFXV. If you’re not already aware, the logos from FFVII onward depict major events that will happen in the game. They are:

  • FFVII shows Meteor,
  • FFVIII shows the reunion of Rinoa and Squall after Adel is destroyed,
  • FFIX shows the Crystal that lies in the Crystal World,
  • FFX shows Yuna performing the sending,
  • FFXIII shows the crystal spire of Vanille and Fang,
  • FFXV shows the Oracle, the maintainer of the balance of Eos.

I skipped the MMO Final Fantasy’s since they aren’t necessarily linear.

Once you realize that the logo art is depicting a major event or character do you believe the experience of the game was ruined?

One final example of spoiling is in FFX and FFXIII-2.

In FFX we get told that Tidus is nothing more than a dream brought to life by the Fayth’s dream and will disappear once the final battle with Sin is over because when that happens their dreaming stops. This didn’t make anyone unhappy to learn, instead it was welcomed.

In FFXIII-2 Noel tells Serah in a Dying World whenever they change the timeline it brings her closer to death. At the end of the game she does die and even then the game wasn’t ruined. This shows us that spoilers themselves are not the problem.

I’d like to make mention that though I commit to saying spoilers are not the “main” problem I won’t go so far as to say they’re not a problem, rather the situation behind the spoiler is the problem. For this example we’ll use FFXIII since it’s been out long enough for anyone to know the major plots. Take two events and picture yourself in them:

Event A: You’re playing FFXIII and play the game up to when you first meet Dysley. Your friend walks in and tells you that he’s really the Fal’Cie Barthandelous and is manipulating you to kill Orphan, the power source of Cocoon which will plunge Cocoon into a direct collision with Gran Pulse to open Etros Gate which is needed to re-summon the Maker using Ragnarok which Vanille and Fang merge into but instead of Cocoon plummeting down into Gran Pulse Ragnarok creates a crystal spire between the two worlds thereby trapping themselves in between so no one has to die in the end and with all their focus’ completed Lightning, Snow, Hope and Sanz are crystallized but suddenly are freed from their crystal forms and reunited with their loved ones, except Hope’s mother because she actually died.

Event B: You haven’t started playing the game yet and your friend walks up to you and tells you this game is awesome because.. “we’ll use the same spoiler as in event A”.

In event A it’s absurd that someone would actually do that and of course that’s an unwanted spoiler. Yes, you’ll be mad and probably stop playing, at least for awhile. The situation was that it was a game that you invested yourself emotionally too; ruining the major plot and souring your experience.

In event B it’s still absurd that someone would actually do that but there is a caveat. You have not committed any emotional investment; you will be likely annoyed but that won’t stop you from enjoying it.

What this highlights is that the situation of having something spoiled is the main culprit, not the spoiler itself.

So that’s really it, spoilers aren’t so bad under the right situation.

And before I end this off, think of any time you’ve been given a spoiler and the situation that led to it. Were you annoyed by it being shared with you but still ended up going ahead and enjoying it? Or were you so peeved that you couldn’t bring yourself to do it? I’m going to guess that the vast majority of us still went ahead and enjoyed it anyways even with it spoiled for us.

I’d also like to share with you the research done by the University of California that performed the spoiler study as well as their video. Read it here or watch if you want more technical information.

Do spoilers actually ruin stories? - Fig. 1 by University of California

If you’re looking for more articles like this check out my publication: @Gaminglinkmedia or @ryanvelasco.

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Twitter: @ryanavelasco
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Ryan Velasco

Ryan Velasco

I love gaming especially old-school jRPGs, I love them to this day. Now I’ve come to love automating everything and placing things into databases. Super fun.