It’s Not Clear What A ‘Spoiler’ Is Anymore

It’s Not Clear What A ‘Spoiler’ Is Anymore

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 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:

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. “


“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.


  • It’s simple, label articles appropriately & don’t give anything away in the title. Not even a sly nod, your sly nod may actually be a dead giveaway to anyone even paying a little bit of attention.

    Conversation? Shut you damn gob unless directly asked.

  • Spoilers never bothered me and probably never will, even for my favouritest things. I honestly do not understand the bunched panties everyone gets over learning something about a work of fiction they enjoy.

    • I see it this way:
      Has friend seen “X”?
      Are they excited about” X”?
      If you’ve seen “X” and friend hasn’t, limit conversation about “X” to what you both know about “X” until friend has seen “X”.

  • Let me get this straight:

    Super Smash Bros DLC is the subject of a 2015 publicity campaign, delivered as a short informational movie. Via Internet. But you’re not expected to actually care. Because of something to do with nerd cred or saving face on message boards.

    But those wanting to be surprised by a new Star Wars movie in 2015, because of the fact you have to disconnect from your device and submit your full attention to something for more than one hour? Good news, your Nerd Cred remains untarnished!

    When will video game sites parroting everything they can about The Force Awakens cover that odious example of heavy-handiness by Disney last week regarding the photo of a friggin plastic toy apparently being ‘spoilerific?’ Or have I answered my own question?

    They’d hold a video game company’s feet to the fire for it, I’m sure.

  • I don’t understand how people are making the link between not considering a new Smash character a spoiler to not being allowed to be excited about Smash.

    As far as I’m concerned, spoilers relate to narrative. Character reveals are not part of a narrative. You don’t get spoiled when someone tells you about the announcement before you can see it for yourself because the entire point of the announcement is to tell people about the character.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t get excited. How you find out about a new character should not impact how excited you are for them.

  • As fair as I’m aware the definition hasn’t changed. If you’re looking forward to personally experiencing something (a movie, a game, whatever) and someone takes that possibility away from you, it’s been spoiled.

    • I still don’t understand. “I know what’s going to happen, so I won’t enjoy it” vs “I know what is happening, I enjoy it”

      • Different people, different tastes, I guess. Personally, I like experiencing stuff without other people’s thoughts and opinions colouring the creation of my own.

        To employ a clumsy metaphor, if I had an ice cream and you licked it I probably don’t want it any more. Sure, it’s still an ice cream and sure still tastes like chocolate, but now it’s all covered in your opinion. Cooties too, probably.

  • The wonderful Film Crit Hulk wrote an insightful essay on this in 2031

    SPOILER ALERT: This essay will not be released for 16 more years.

  • I’ve never understood my friends who try to shut themselves off from ‘spoilers’ such as knowing which pokemon are going to be in the next game.

    Or in some cases when Clementine turned out to be the protagonist of Telltale’s The Walking Dead 2, spoiling the fact that she survives through The Walking Dead 1.

    There is a statute of limitations on spoilers and it absolutely ends once the creators start marketing the sequel.

    …But even though it’s been the punchline of many a joke, I still won’t spoil the ending of Signs, just on the off-chance someone hasn’t seen it. Personal preference, I don’t blame others for doing so. But some are too powerful to deliberately ruin.

    Smash Brothers line-ups do not fucking count.

        • Ah, all good. Yeah, the ending is one of those ones where respectfully you just dont spoil. I toss Fight Club into that mix. If someones seen it, you dont need to mention it. If someone hasnt, you dont WANT to spoil it. If there’s a twist like those at the end, then I get not spoiling it. Its an integral part of why a movie is worth seeing.

          But talking about the ending to Jurassic World, or Fast & Furious 7 is a whole different thing. They arent a twist like Sixth Sense and Fight Club are, so shouldnt ruin the enjoyment if its spoiled.

          Biggest thing for me is that if a movie is good I WANT to talk about it. Why shouldnt I? Are my rights worth so little just because someone else wants their innocence protected? If so, they should turn their internet off, and avoid the TV until they’ve seen Star Wars.

          • Heh. Telling some people to avoid twitter/facebook/rest of the internet would be akin to telling them to go without their left arm for a week.

          • Tell me about it. This is just something that grinds my gears, as a friend puts it. Not just with spoilers, but in a whole range of areas that I wont go into.

    • I’m indifferent to the whole spoiler thing. I dont mind seeing spoilers, its MY choice to keep reading, and having potential key moments revealed. Likewise, if I’ve just gone and seen The Greatest Movie Ever Made, you bet your sweet arse I’m going to want to talk about it.

      Part of my enjoyment in something, whether its a game or a movie, is letting others know how good something is, and that kinda needs discussion on what happens. I’m not going to blurt out that Darth Vader is Luke’s dad, but I’m certainly going to talk about the Hoth battle.

      I havent seen Signs by the way.

  • Any event that occurs in a game which is meant to be surprising, and where the impact of said event would be largely impacted through prior knowledge.

    That’s how I define a spoiler. The degree to which a player is susceptible to spoilers will depend on the amount they’re interested in a game. A hardcore fallout player might have been really excited to see the pre-war setting at the start, an event that could have been less powerful had they known about it. At the same time, someone less enthusiastic about the game may not have been effected at all by knowing about it.

    So on that token, spoilers aren’t unanimous – it also depends on the player.

    A spoiler needn’t be story related either. I would also apply my definition to things like gameplay mechanics or even cosmetic items.

    For the most part, so long as journalists place the nessecary spoiler tags in an article, the harm of accidentally spoiling something is minimized. It’s usually the commenters who choose not to bother with it that cause the most damage 🙁

    Kotaku AU readers are generally very respectful of this, which I really appreciate 🙂 The US commenters on the other hand … I have a few nasty memories from that place -_-

  • Even if you don’t care for something, assume someone else does. Smash character reveals are almost always fun little videos and we should be allowed to be surprised since they clearly put at least a little effort into the presentation.

      • Even before the box art has come into existence?

        A lot of the time with E3 or the Directs or whatever, a bunch of my friends like to get together on skype and watch as a group. So while it’s not so much the game itself that’s getting spoiled, it’s still that shared experience that’s getting spoiled.

      • Seems fair enough to me, but DLC characters are not on the box art. I’d almost consider “it was in the trailers” as fair game too, but I don’t watch more than one trailer for a film if at all.

  • A conversation with my 16 year old sister when I told her I did not want to watch the final movies:

    Me-Have you read the hunger games books?
    Sis- yeah I have them all
    Me- good I’m not gonna watch because I don’t like the way….. Dies in the story and it ruined the book for ns
    Sis- OMG why did you tell me that? Now you have ruined the movie and books for me
    Me- but you said yes when I asked if you read the books
    Sis- I have all the books but I only ever bothered to read the first one

    Yeah people this day are too spoiler sensitive, but the new generation is also lazu

  • It’s about the surprise. Once you know it’s going to happen, the surprise is gone and can’t be recaptured in the moment as was intended. To use the Smash direct as an example, when they said they were announcing a final character, I had my fingers crossed for Shovel Knight. Excitement built. Ultimately I was wrong, but if I had’ve had it spoiled for me beforehand, I would never have felt that burst of anticipatory excitement, which is what the whole thing is about.

    This can apply to anything. Books, movies, marketing announcements, a friend’s baby announcement, the punchline of a joke… For all of these things you get one shot at the surprise. I guess it just matters how much you like that feeling of anticipation and surprise.

  • The only valuable thing I took away from this is that Yannick is no longer writing for Kotaku.

    Thank god.

    Agree that marketing isn’t spoilers.

  • *irately marches back through door like it’s the cheap set from a 90s sitcom*


    I’ll be damned if the hivemind deems priced DLC announcements spoil-able ‘because it’s just marketing’ while expected to cop it sweet when Game of Thrones trades off and actively shills its so-called sacred and ground-breaking narrative so you must must must start talking about it in order to drum up the viewership for the new season of the show.

    *Slams fake door on cheap set. Laugh track. Commercial.*

  • To me it is about respect for other people’s hopes dreams and desires in the world. I don’t want to be the insensitive person that ruins it for them.
    Whether it is a game reveal, a promotional event, a specific story line in a game or movie or book, a sports result, anything. All of these things mean different things to different people and it is not my right to take someone else’s hopes of a spoiler free whatever related to whatever medium they consume for their own entertainment.
    I might not understand why they don’t want to be spoiled but I am certainly going to attempt my best to not take that away from them.
    From a media outlet like Kotaku, it is as simple as the title “all the big reveals about SMASH” (no cuss words) with an ambiguous question mark picture rather than “F**&! Smeh revealed in SMASH” with a large GIF cycling over and over and over again.
    One is being respectful to all of the audience members that read Kotaku regardless of their spoiler tolerance, the other is being quite ignorant to the many walks of life that are your audience.
    If you write about a big event for WWE, MMA, even football or superball or basketball and you aren’t the major media information provider for that topic then again be respectful of your audience and simply assume SOME people might be coming to your site and specifically staying away from the main media outlets because they might feel at least somewhat safe to surf your site without the surprise being ruined for them (regardless if you understand it or not). If you want to report on it, make the title vague enough and the picture also vague to allow your audience the choice, don’t take that choice away from them.
    BIG NOTE: I don’t look at Myspace or any of those sort of sites but again, if I was, I am not going to be the one that purposefully or insensitively ruins someone else’s hoped surprise event.

    Now if Kotaku posts ANYTHING about who wins Survivor before I get to watch it on Saturday, it will be case in point.
    And I would still like to play though the Mass Effect Games and some stage in my life without knowing the results before hand.

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