While cruising the Rock, Paper, Shogtun ‘Writers Hive’ sub-forum out of a general curiosity with what was being written there I stumbled upon this response to a Tom Bissell piece about spoilers. Somehow at the time it was published I missed reading the original, owing to a dislike of the crispy gamer website layout, further compounded by a feeling that Crispy Gamer ignored/patronised the critical games blogging community while being nearly identical to us (see previous entry ‘Crispy Bacon’ for a bit more about this).
Anyway, the thread began as a (negative) response to Bissell’s piece in defence of. . . I’m not really sure what. The right to get emotional when having games spoilt for you? I don’t really know – but the important thing was that it got me reading the original Bissell piece and upon finishing I felt like shouting and jumping for joy. Finally! Someone else who feels the obsession with avoiding spoilers is “a pox that must be eradicated”.
Now I’m not one to proscribe how others should or should-not behave, so I’m fine if others want to worry about them on their own web places. Just don’t ever, ever expect me to – certainly not here. If I refrain from them on Twitter or elsewhere, it is only ever out of courtesy for those who do care. Among game critic types I feel it’s generally well acknowledged that spoilers come with the territory.
I wrote a piece for SLRC about the same time last year, in response to a conversation between Michael Abbott and Clint Hocking on a Brainy Gamer post. What Hocking was getting at with his comment was quite similar to what Barnett and Bissell are saying here – that no-once can spoil the self-authored aspect of gaming with a description. In his post, Abbott’s scope was initially only to argue the case that spoilers were detrimental to games criticism in general, not going so far as to claim as Hocking did that spoilers never really spoilt the experience. For Abbott, who I would label as someone very invested in the presented textual story in games, spoilers probably would be relevant, as he seems to have an interest in keeping his knowledge of a game’s story unspoilt. For Hocking, Bissell and myself the pre-written story is the least interesting part of a game.
Returning to the forum post, half-way down the thread Jeep Barnett (of Valve software; one of the original Portal developers) pops in to add some comments and aligns himself with Tom (and myself) in a strong dislike of spoilers. Barnett highlights the following salient point about why worrying about spoilers is only ever going to diminish what Bissell calls the ‘the lizard-brain surprise’ aspect of any game;
…the most interesting thing about gaming is that its interactive experience is partially your own creation. Knowing how a game can play out contains none of your authorship and so it’s very little like playing it yourself.
And I really, truly agree with Barnett & Bissell – it’s probably a personal preference. I also think it’s telling that a couple of the people doing what I find to be the most interesting stuff with videogames right now – Hocking with Far Cry 2 & Barnett with Portal – are the ones to agree about the unimportance of spoilers. But that probably says more about our shared taste than anything else. Perhaps Abbott’s own tastes and opinions are changing.