Attack of the Fanboy

Nerd Rage Rising: Do spoilers ruin suspense in games?

by William Schwartz


Spoilers have been ruining friendships since before the internet, and gamers today are vocal about their right to a spoiler-free experience more than ever. Parallels between television, movies, and books are shared in most respects, but just exactly how much does a spoiler affect a games narrative construct or gameplay elements?

You must posses a Matrix-like bullet dodging ability if you don’t want to hear any plot details ahead of time.

Niko Dies, Zelda Goes Bowling

The biggest gripe in recent events would be the ruination of key plot elements being found in all manner of places; from forums with warnings, to YouTube links where the uploader forgets that not everyone is at the credits, and even fans discussing why endings need to be changed openly all over social networks, as with Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending (and it’s subsequent change). Couple this with face-to-face conversations outside of the virtual minefield, and you must posses a Matrix-like bullet dodging ability if you don’t want to hear any plot details ahead of time.

There is a mixed view in science as to what exactly makes this kind of behavior routine; some point to the fear of losing suspense in the narrative (more on that below), research relating to mating signals, and how tricking those signals cheapens the shortcut a spoiler provides, and even the complete opposite, of a relatively equal split for those who prefer knowing key plot details ahead of the narratives reveal.


A huge part of the problem many gamers face is the stance that all aspects of suspense are robbed from them when they get told that everyone dies in Red Dead Redemption, or that, no matter what, the lead character of any other game seemingly never suffers from perma-death in-game, and lives past the credits.
Here’s an example, with three different gamers sitting down to play “Super Mario Solid“. The plot twist in this is that the lead character (Solidario Shroom) gets killed of by his evil clone brother (Liquigi).

  • Gamer A: This one is new here. Gamer A has no idea of the plot twist, having taken to hiding under a rock for the three months prior to the games release, and has been following the narrative closely, piecing things together in the intended order, and will no doubt cry his eyes out when his beloved player character drops dead. This is the ideal gamer to a designer, as their twist works as intended.
  • Gamer B: By choice or not, Gamer B knows what’s coming as the boss fight kicks in. This allows him to scrutinise what he knew was coming, and to really soak up the atmoshpehere, but usually with less surprise. Despite knowing Solidario Shroom dies, Gamer B will still feel suspense as he hangs dearly onto the pot plant above Super Gear GOOM.
  • Gamer C: A series veteran, Gamer C has completed the game already, and is already sweeping up achievements before others have got half way through the title. Despite this, Gamer C sits through all the cutscenes, and still, knowing, and having seen the whole battle play out, feels suspense and gets drawn in to the scene, willing the button mashing to do what is simply not possible, and lift up the lead character.

What does knowing what’s coming have to do with enjoying a game?

Every single one of these gamers gets a similar gameplay experience, after all, it’s game over no matter what you do in this scenario. Yet, all gamers feel the suspense, and wish for Solidario Shroom to clamber up to safety; and yet, all will feel that slight weight in their stomach as he plummets to his inevitable death. So, with suspense intact, gameplay unaffected, and ultimately the same outcome, why does a small bit of information ruin some of us so? After all, the outcome of most games  is still a linear experience.

Taking all three into account, what does knowing what’s coming have to do with enjoying a game? Many of us are content to watch, re-watch, and even be partial to smaller details ahead whilst experiencing narrative in TV, books, films, and other games; so why do we take to Twitter in our droves to complain about gaining a free shortcut? I’ve hidden one games details from myself for five years, so all I know is that I’d be broken utterly if I had that free shortcut presented to me – but what would you do if your favourite series’ new entry had it’s plot presented in it’s full glory to you next time you opened up your browser?

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