Do you skip to the end? Of a book? Of a short story? Of a film?
Or do you luxuriate in the journey, not knowing the story’s destination as a delicious treat in itself?
The latest standard Magic The Gathering set, War of the Spark, was released a few weeks ago. There is always a certain amount of hullaballoo leading up to these sets, usually consisting of a fortnight of card reveals. This latest set’s reveal was more extended with a three week preview season, justified by the significance of the story depicted in this set. It was the culmination of a narrative arc that goes back years, and so the cards were revealed in story order.
Magic cards are announced by content creators, for the most part: Wizards of the Coast will give previews to community members who have a platform, and then the community members will talk about the card on that platform. It’s a good way for Wizards to support their community of content creators. Usually with these sets people are concerned that early card leaks (spoilers) will rob content creators of their preview, but for this set there was at least as much concern that the story would be revealed out of sequence.
Endgame of Thrones
Coincidentally enough, two other mighty franchises have lately been going through the final throes of significant storylines, and both Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones are stories that I care about. For various reasons, we didn’t go to see Endgame until three weeks after release while we only just started watching the final season of GoT.
It was a lot easier to avoid spoilers for Endgame.
The difference, of course, is that GoT is a series released over a period of several weeks, whereas Endgame is a single point release. The tone around Endgame was set pretty clearly too with the Spiderman: Far From Home trailer, which (at least when we saw it) had a “spoilers!” warning before Endgame while showing the trailer proper afterwards.
For a TV series, people talk about episodes as they come out. While I’m not on Facebook any more, Twitter has been very hard to navigate without gleaning bits of GoT plot*.
I prefer to enjoy my media unspoiled, although this preference sometimes bites me. When I read Binti I had to stop reading at one point because I was too worried that something in the story wasn’t really happening and was actually just an elaborate and cruel prank. I probably would have been less anxious about the story if I had known something more about it before reading.
But if the story is spoiled then we won’t enjoy the media as much!
I don’t think that’s true, necessarily. We want to know about the film we are about to see, the TV show we are about to watch, or the book we are about to read because we want to confirm our interest in it. We want to hear speculation about the story, the characters and the setting before we consume the actual content. We want to know how exciting and cool the content is going to be so we can be suitably excited about seeing it, so we can concentrate on enjoying the ride without being distracted by the vehicle.
There are also many forms of media which encourage the audience to research and learn about the story and characters before seeing the performance: opera, for example, is often seen when the story is entirely known; or communal experiences like The Rocky Horror Picture Show practically require the audience to know everything about the film before it is viewed in a group.
Twist and Shout
My sense about the culture of spoiler avoidance is that it is an outgrowth of two trends: firstly, that with streaming and catch-up video, event television is almost dead (absent live competitive events); and secondly, that blockbusters rely on surprises to be worth watching. There is a feeling that if you already know the twist there is no value in watching the film.
This is not always the case. Films based on other published works have, by definition, their plots already known to a large segment of the audience**. How can these adaptations still be successful when they come essentially pre-spoiled?
The answer is going to be different for each adaptation and for each consumer, but for me I would say that I am looking to be immersed in a world I enjoy, like returning to a favourite holiday spot. Spoilers for these productions are, largely, irrelevant (with the obvious Iron Throne-shaped exception, where the TV narrative has run off the end of the book story).
So maybe if we trusted the film and TV producers to be true to their own world then we would not mind so much if details about the mere story were revealed early.
In other words, if media productions were written better, then maybe we wouldn’t care so much about spoilers.
[*] not to mention anger about that plot!
[**] exceptions being films based on non-narrative properties, such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Tetris.