Spoiler Alert: Genre Fans love Spoilers. They love reading them, they love avoiding them - hell, our desire for more even saw the media sending Camera drones over the Episode VII movie set last week just for another sweet spoiler hit. But why do we crave getting a glimpse at upcoming stories so much?
Human beings are fickle creatures: we love surprises, but we also loathe the unexpected. We can appreciate a good twist, but sometimes the twist can change our opinion of a story so much that we can fear it just as much as we look forward to it. In our modern consumer age, people are hesitant to invest in something without knowing about it extensively going in - consider how many movie trailers basically tell you the entire plot before the Movie's even out, for example. Why spend money, and perhaps most importantly our time, on something we're not sure if we're going to like or not? We want to be so sure that it's worth spending our time with something, we've even got websites to tell us if we should stay during the credits of a movie or not these days. The spoiler has become more than just the revelation of a secret, it's become a useful tool of consumer advocacy - instead of taking a chance on something, we can learn about it before going in, get our spoiler, and see if we're still interested.
From a critical perspective, Spoilers are equally important in the appraisal of a piece of media as well - if you want to talk about a movie, an episode of a TV show or whatever, sometimes the only thing worth saying is something that is deemed 'spoilery'. How can a review truly review something without discussing the plot, the twists, how it all comes together? On both sides of the critic/consumer fence, spoilers are important to gauge the value of a piece of media as a whole. And considering that such reviews are always going to play a part in people's research when it comes to seeing if they should experience something or not, it's easy to see why Spoilers are here to stay.
Well, according to science that is. Apparently, knowing details of a story's plot in advance can actually increase our enjoyment of them overall. 4 years ago, a much reported-on study by two UC San Diego researchers tasked 30 people to read a selection of stories - one started with a paragraph spoiling a later plot point, one had a spoiler worked into the text early on, and the last read as originally written - and rate their enjoyment of them. It turned out that the stories with the spoiler right at the start were the ones that were the best received, especially if they were tales that relied on a big twist or shocking revelation.
Why is that? Well, instead of focusing on what the twist was, or how it all ended, having knowledge of the spoiler allowed people to focus on the way the story was constructed as the primary source of their enjoyment. It's arguable that the plot itself is never that important anyway - it's how a creator delivers and structures that plot that we derive pleasure from. It's not necessarily the 'what' that we want from a story it's how we get to that 'what' - the spoiler isn't the be all and end all of a piece of fiction, it's the journey that gets us to it that really matters.
But I think that why we fans of comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and all things nerdy actually love spoilers so much is a much more simple truth, and not even really about spoilers themselves: We're so driven to seek out spoilers and behind the scenes footage because we love seeing how things are made.
People who are enthusiastic about genre books, shows, movies and games aren't just enthusiastic about consuming the end product, they want to know everything they possibly can about that end product while we're at it. What did the concept art look like? How was this sequence shot? What was the VFX breakdown for that CGI work? What was the costume design process like? We love immersing ourselves in worlds of fiction so much, that we seek to understand the reality of them as well. And whilst an intrinsic part of that pursuit of knowledge is inevitably going to be filled with what we'd consider to be 'spoilers', we don't usually tend to care. It's similar to what that UC San Diego study found: the plot twist doesn't really matter, the appreciation of how it all comes together ultimately does.
Looking at that way, I don't think spoilers and our desires to know them are necessarily a bad thing in the grand scheme of things. The quest for spoilers speaks to someone's desire to understand and appreciate a piece of fiction much more than it does the capacity for them to 'ruin' it for someone else - and I think there's something admirable about that. Bring on the Spoilers!
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