The hype for tonight's Smash Bros. presentation, possibly the game's final Nintendo Direct, is real. So real, people are trying to avoid spoilers for what's basically a marketing video. It initially struck me as odd, but as someone who's avoiding spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, maybe it shouldn't.
"just a friendly reminder: tomorrow's smash bros update has apparently been leaked, use caution browsing reddit/the internet," reads a thread on reddit.
I laughed at first, and the comments endorsed my reaction:
"Spoiler culture" is shorthand for the perception we've become way too sensitive about the reveal of what happens in the media we enjoy — books, movies, video games — before getting a chance to personally experience it.
In TV, it's had a profound effect on discussion and criticism. The concept of "time shifting", in which people watch TV shows whenever they want, rather than en masse, means you cannot reasonably assume people are caught up.
The wonderful Film Crit Hulk wrote an insightful essay on this in 2031:
"THIS IS ABOUT HOW WE HAVE FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGED TELEVISION AND WHAT IT GIVES US. AND WHILE THE MODERN WAY OF CONSUMING NARRATIVE IS SUPERIOR, WE'VE LOST THE SOCIAL COMPONENT. WE REALLY HAVE. WE'VE LOST THE PUBLIC CULTURAL MOMENT AND TURNED IT INTO A PRIVATE ONE. WE'VE TURNED TELEVISION INTO A SOLITARY EXPERIENCE. WHAT USED TO CONNECT PEOPLE AS "A MOMENT" HAS BECOME SINCERELY FRACTURED. AND HULK ARGUES THIS MATTERS. AND LIKE MOST THINGS, THE WAY WE FIGHT OVER THIS ISSUE AMONGST OUR FRACTURED FACTIONS ACTUALLY REVEALS A GREAT DEAL MORE THAN JUST HOW WE FEEL ABOUT SPOILERS. WHEN WE LOOK AT WHY WE GET SO ANGRY ABOUT WHO SAYS WHAT, OR WHY WE WAIT, OR HOW WE TALK ABOUT TELEVISION WHEN WE DO, WE BEGIN TO SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE...THIS IS REALLY ABOUT HOW WE CONSUME."
"This is really about how we consume" is at the heart of all this.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiered last night in Los Angeles, which means people have seen it, and I'm spending the next few days dodging spoilers.
Star Wars creator George Lucas, a notoriously secretive filmmaker, acknowledged the danger of spoilers in an interview with Cinema Blend:
"It's gossip. And most of the time, gossip's not true. It's just something that people do for the fun of it, I guess. I personally don't want to know the ending of a movie before I see it. It wrecks it. So I don't really go there."
But the term "spoiler culture" hasn't always existed. In the Internet Age it's easier than ever to stumble across something you don't want to see. A stray headline here, a retweet there. As a culture, we're more connected. So, more spoilers.
Smash Bros. has a history of leaks, so there's precedent, and it's happened often enough that tricksters will produce elaborate videos to troll hardcore fans. The question, then, is whether leaking Smash Bros. news really constitutes a spoiler.
In the thread, others chimed in, explaining why the leaks bother them:
As someone who doesn't care for Smash Bros. — or, bluntly, views a marketing video as something quite different than plot twists — this didn't land with me.
Here's what I tweeted out, snark 'n all:
I get avoiding spoilers for Star Wars, but being upset over Smash Bros. DLC leaks? C’mon. https://t.co/fVi7YAIFJj
— Patrick Klepek (@patrickklepek) December 15, 2015
The responses varied, from people puzzled over the expansion of spoiler culture to folks who sympathised with Smash Bros. fans. There were more of the latter.
"They want to be excited by the reveals from the direct. Smash is a big deal to a lot of people," said one person.
"IMO People have the right to be actually surprised when the time to announce the things," said another. "They are allowed to feel passionate."
Perhaps most telling, however, was this question:
"How is there any difference between them?" said a follower.
Kotaku's Jason Schreier explored this topic in a 2014 piece called "In Defence of E3", admitting he enjoyed "E3 press conferences more than actually playing video games". While I'm not with Jason on that idea — I've played a glorious spread of video games in 2015 — the underlying point is about enjoying hype.
Schreier takes video game reporting — including leaks — more seriously than anyone I know, but even he couldn't help himself from getting giddy when designer Tetsuya Nomura appeared on stage to premiere a Final Fantasy trailer:
"That last little bit at the end of the trailer made me want to stand up and applaud, though in the interest of journalistic integrity, I kept myself constrained to elbowing Kirk a few times in giddiness. I mean, holy shit. Final Fantasy XV! Fifteen! Forget Square Enix's recent missteps, and the alarming insularity of Japanese video game companies, and the fact that this was just kind of a remix of that old Versus trailer from years ago. This was a new Final Fantasy.
I mean, here we were seeing a slick new trailer for the fifteenth entry in a series that has been a huge part of my life for the past two and a half decades. In many ways, Final Fantasy has shaped who I am. And even though it quickly became clear that we might not see the fifteenth Final Fantasy for years, there was something special about watching the new announcement live, about experiencing that surprise and immediately anticipating something new. I couldn't wait to start gobbling up morsels of info, to start counting down the days until I could actually play this thing. It was all I could talk about for the rest of the week."
Few games could produce that level of oh my glob from me, but whenever From Software and Sony get around to announcing Bloodborne 2, I may scream a little.
Tangential to spoiler culture is the explosion of marketing. It was genuinely surprising when Betheseda Game Studios formally announced Fallout 4 at E3 this year and said we'd all be playing it in a few months. That just doesn't happen these days. Everything, video games or otherwise, is announced years in advance, and we're forced to hear about it ad nauseam. Trailers, teaser trailers, teasers for the teaser trailers — it seems to goes on and on. And when the product arrives, there's little left to the imagination, unless you actively avoid it.
"Unless you actively avoid it." Hmm.
There is software to help with this, too. Spoiler Shield is an app that will let you block information about your favourite TV show, movie, or even sports scores. Star Wars Spoiler Blocker is an extension for Chrome that gives you a heads up:
Recently, former Kotaku writer Yannick LeJacq wrote a post explaining why this site, a news organisation, would "spoil" the results of eSports competitions:
"But eSports are not works of fiction. Events in League of Legends eSports (or in any game's eSports scene) are real events happening to real people in real time. They're competitive events, just like the World Series and the Super Bowl, whose scores and results are reported on without spoilers as they happen.
My duty as a journalist who has been assigned to cover the meaningful news that comes out of this month's League Worlds finals is the same responsibility that any Kotaku reporter has when covering a major event in the gaming world: to provide you the news as quickly, cleanly, and accurately as possible. Worlds is no different than E3 in this regard. And if Square Enix announces they're finally remaking Final Fantasy VII, to give an example, any reasons we might want to hold off on reporting that would be immediately outweighed by the newsworthiness of the story."
It's a complicated subject, one in which the fandom itself is split on the topic.
I mean, look at this video a Smash Bros. fan made yesterday:
The tag: "Thanks for the two years of hype." And the response?
"It's the end of an era. It's been an honour, folks. "
"H Y P E B O Y Z!!! FOR SAKURAI! FOR REGGIE! AND MOST OF ALL, FOR IWATA! MAY WE ALWAYS SETTLE IT IN SMASH! "
"Thank you Master Sakurai for the hype train. x'D "
For me, the non-Smash Bros. fan, tonight's video is marketing. For the Smash Bros. community, it's an opportunity to come together and, well, get hyped.