It's the same old story every time a new highly anticipated movie or game or TV show comes out. Despite multiple warnings on Facebook and Twitter accounts and multiple unfollowed former friends, people are going to post details or tell revealing in-jokes which can be considered spoilers. Stories and experiences get ruined, egos inflate, defenses go up, and friendships end.
There are many reasons why people spoil things. It can be because some don't know what constitutes as a spoiler. Others might not have any reference of when it's okay to talk about certain important plot points. Others still don't consider it rude, or were ignorant to the fact that it is, indeed, rude. Then there are inconsiderate assholes who either just don't care or they do it purely to ruin other people's experiences because they enjoy doing so.
Maybe if we deconstruct what makes a spoiler, why people do it, and propose how get around it, maybe we can lessen situations like where we'd have to unfollow more people on Facebook.
What is a spoiler?
For our purposes, here's the general definition we'll stick with: a spoiler is any piece of information that reveals any detail about any work of entertainment. And no, it doesn't need to be an important part of the story for it to be a spoiler. It's any info that reveals anything about the story, even a minor detail.
Do setting expectations count as spoilers? Well, no, but they are still kind of annoying.
Why are spoilers bad?
Know that feeling you get when something masterful storytellers reveal a pivotal plot point or story detail? That excitement? Hell, that's probably the same feeling that brings people to spoil things for others. When you post spoilers, you are essentially stealing that moment, that feeling for someone else. You're taking away the main benefit that the storyteller designed for his audience.
It ruins experiences and it diminishes the value of the story.
Why do people spoil?
Well, there are a number of reasons.
One would be because it feels good. There is a very real satisfying thrill in having information someone else doesn't have. Having that information makes you feel that you have certain privileges others do not, like being in an exclusive club. But those feelings aren't realized until other people know you have that information. There is also another very real satisfaction in being first. It has led to an Internet habit of being the first to comment on videos or threads, or to the informal competition of being the first to answer questions in forum threads. So being the first person to say who got killed in this show empowers the spoiler.
Another reason is a little less sinister - they want to share the excitement. They felt awesome because of the reveal; and they wanted to share that with his or her friends. They don't mean to spoil you and didn't realize the effect they'd have on you and your experience.
And some people are just assholes.
I am not above being such an asshole. I remember back when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out. I was being purposely malicious - a couple of friends and I looked up the most shocking events in the book online and stood right next to the huge stack of books being sold at PowerBooks in Makati. Every time someone came over, we talked very audibly about Albus Dumbledore's death and how much it shocked us. We did it for giggles, for the responses of the people who excitedly looked at the stack of books. We ruined their experience. We took that moment away from them. And for what? An irresponsible thrill of feeling superior. What a shame. I have learned now, though.
What can be spoiled?
Anything with a storyline. If steps have been taken by the creators to conceal details, it can be spoiled. If the enjoyment of a thing is diminished by certain bits of information, then it can be spoiled.
What are the rules for talking about spoilers?
There are three general rules.
General rule 1: It is as simple as "ABC." Always be considerate. Just put yourself in the shoes of other people at all times. If you're not a psychotic bastard, this one should be easy to remember.
General rule 2: If you're going to be talking about details, always label your post or call out loud "SPOILER ALERT" or something similar. Let people know you're going to be spoiling stuff, so they can leave or opt out. This applies to anything regardless of the age of the work just because if you're considerate, you'd consider that people may not have seen certain works of fiction. Of course, there are exceptions to the age rule - for things like Luke Skywalker being Darth Vader's kid and Bruce Willis being dead all the time, and other very well known twists that have become part of pop culture.
General rule 3: Each type of media/ genre has a "safe time" or allotted spoiler-free time. This is the time that people who follow the rules should NOT post anything spoilery. After this time lapses, spoilers are considered free game. Of course, you have to keep the first two general rules in mind first.
Live Sports - Live events like sports are meant to be enjoyed live as a community. On top of that, it is non-fictional, which means that you can talk about it as soon as it happens. We propose that there are NO SPOILER RULES when it comes to live sporting events, even those sports that have delayed broadcasts. It's up to the viewer of the delayed broadcast to isolate himself from social media to avoid spoilers. The one exception to this rule would be professional wrestling because that's more of a show where things are plot rather than result dependent.
Reality Shows/ Competitions - These are weekly shows like The Voice, Top Shot, Master Chef, whose entertainment value heavily relies on the both the actual outcome of the competition and method through which these results are achieved. What's being enjoyed here are the performances or the events, not just the results. The experience can't get ruined by revealing details because the enjoyment isn't hidden in them. That said, I'd like to propose that reality TV shows cannot be spoiled. Much like sports, there are NO SPOILER RULES for reality TV shows.
TV Shows - Here's where this entire discussion started. Typically, every Monday saw the release of a new Game of Thrones episode. On my feed, I saw someone say that it's your fault if you get spoiled because everyone knows GoT airs on HBO at 9AM UTC+8 in Manila, and if you can't catch it then, that means you're no longer entitled to a spoiler-free experience when watching the show. I don't mind GoT spoilers, but reading that pissed me off. It was just so inconsiderate and so narrow-minded.
Here's the thing - even if it airs every Monday at a specific time, some people have jobs that they have to get to, and they won't be able to watch it at that specific time. That's why on-demand streaming services have a market. In today's globalized world, you can't expect people to keep the same schedules. And since with TV shows, a work of fiction usually, the main enjoyment is in the story itself. The more details you prematurely add, the enjoyment diminishes.
However, we understand that at a certain point before the next episodes airs, people will have to talk about the episode that passed. Since shows are more or less weekly, allow for 48 HOURS AFTER THE EPISODE AIRS before talking about plot points openly. Still, though - mark everything with spoiler tags.
VOD Series - These are interesting. On one hand, all the episodes are out at once, as is the case with shows like Stranger Things or Daredevil. On the other hand, the fact that it is video-on-demand means you can choose to watch it whenever you'd like. Consumption schedule of the media is totally and completely up to the viewer. Here's our proposal - 1 WEEK AFTER LAUNCH, you can talk about spoilers. Of course, the general rules still apply.
Movies - Consumption of movies is very different from TV shows because a movie has multiple release dates depending on a number of factors - country, home releases, streaming release dates, etc., but for our purposes, we will stick with theatrical release dates. The rule is WHILE THE MOVIE IS STILL SHOWING IN THE THEATERS, NO SPOILERS. After that, go crazy.
Comic Books - Comics come out every month, unless it's a special publication schedule like the weekly Amazing Spider-Man and DC's 52. Since there is some time between releases, and it's still very important to talk about the issue before the next one comes out, the rule is to WAIT ONE WEEK AFTER THE ISSUES LAUNCHES before talking about spoilers.
Video Games - What I love about most video game communities is that they're very careful with spoilers even after years post launch. Like, if you go into Uncharted forums, and you look at Uncharted: Drake's Fortune spoilers, all of them will still be hidden under spoiler tags. That's because gamers are passionate about the hobby and they understand the importance of story and the delivery of said story the way the developers intended. For games, just so there's a rule we can follow, I think it's safe to say that A YEAR AFTER LAUNCH is enough time to begin talking about spoilers.
Books - No one really spoils books very often. At least, there isn't such a huge outcry over it. Mainly because, much like gamers, book lovers also know the importance and joy of discovery. There almost isn't any need to put rules to this, but just to be fair and to have rules across the board, let's think of one.
Now, a simple book can be finished in one to two hours. A very complex read would take months. Then there's the fact that people acquire books at different times, which adds another layer of complexity. So, let's agree that for books, A YEAR AFTER LAUNCH is enough time to talk about spoilers.
So, after all this rambling, all it really boils down to is to remember a few things: 1. Be considerate. 2. Put yourself in the shoes of others. 3. Don't be a dick. 4. Always warn before spoiling things. 5. Try to not be stupid.
If we follow these simple rules, everyone is going to enjoy our stories much, much more.