The Responsibility for Spoilers

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I’ve been playing/reading my way through the re-release of Higurashi: When They Cry, one of the big names in the visual novel field, for the first time.  Now, here’s something that’s a total experience.  It’s deep, layered, and twisty enough that even just the very act of knowing what genre it actually is changes the experience you have with the story.  If you know anything about the novel other than “It’s good and you should try it,” you’re experience is already impure.  The story is that complicated.

So, I got to the end of what’s currently available in English on the re-release.  The first two entries in the Higurashi series.  And they took me through a trip.  Such a trip, that I was wanting to go online and explore them further.  Figure out what other people have going on.  And that led me to a problem.

See, the re-release, the one with the actual good translation, better art (and don’t you even), and overall improved presentation is being doled out bit by oh-too-small bit as the translation is finished, while the overall series has been out in other releases and mediums for a decade now.  And I was far from the first person to feel the need to go online and talk about things.

So, I was spoiled.  I was actively trying to avoid spoilers, and I was spoiled nonetheless.  I know big reveals that already change the way I looked at what’s been going on in the story, and are going to keep me from arriving at the conclusions the authors are hoping to lead me to before throwing the table down the stairs.  I know some space where things are more than what they appear, and how.  And I knew of some surprise characters well before they actually arrived.

I was angry, at first.  Most places have spoiler policies for just this sort of thing, and for very good reason, and yet I so easily wandered into spoilers, completely by accident.  I was looking to settle and enhance my experience, yet I ended up ruining parts of it.  And if this were not the kind of story it was, that’d be totally valid.

In most instances, it’s just the basic level of respect to mark your spoilers, to help people avoid them and make sure they get the experience they want.  Here, though, well, this has been out for a long while, and accessible in a variety of formats.  And although that’s not an excuse on its own, as people are picking up new works all the times, I didn’t start looking until after I already knew what kind of story this was, how complex, twisty, and easily spoiled, and that I only had part of the same picture as everyone else.  And it wasn’t like these were being posted on Twitter, Facebook, or another uncontrolled forum like that.  I was actively going out and looking for material.  It is one thing to be throwing unmarked spoilers out there when they’re completely unavoidable, but Higurashi is the type of work that it’s really impossible to have any sort of meaningful discussion about without spoilers.  Really, that was all on me.  It was my responsibility to avoid the spoilers.  Marking and hiding spoilers is a lofty goal, and one should always be respectful enough to do that when possible, but when it’s not, the discussion can’t make way for it.

People need to be able to talk about the works they go through, to help themselves elevate and better appreciate them, getting something more out of it than just their first watch.  Conversations need to happen.  And when it’s impossible to talk about something without bringing up spoilers, well, it still needs to happen.  As long as those who come first are doing what they can to protect the experiences of those who find a story later, the due diligence really falls to the spoilees to ensure their experience.  The conversation needs to happen regardless, and it can’t wait for everyone to reach the same level.

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4 responses to “The Responsibility for Spoilers

  1. I’ve heard of this visual novel, though the only thing I know about it is that it exists and people have been speaking very highly of it. Is the version you speak highly of the one available on Steam? I may have to check it out when it goes on sale…

    Anyway, I know what you mean when it comes to spoilers. From my experience of critiquing games, I’ve found that some of them are easy to discuss without resorting to spoilers while with others, that’s a nearly impossible task. The weird thing is that there doesn’t seem to be a real pattern; it was as difficult to discuss the action-oriented Call of Duty 4 and its sequel as it was Undertale. Meanwhile, Planescape: Torment, the textbook example of an avant-garde, story-heavy game, was surprisingly easy to discuss without resorting to major, unmarked spoilers. Rest assured, every time I have to resort to them, I will include a warning well in advance. The white text idea I got to mark spoilers was me working with the limitations of the site; I realized it was a better way of doing so than to write “BEGIN SPOILERS” and “END SPOILERS” every time.

    What I find particularly obnoxious is when a major development occurs in a TV show that the media assumes everyone is watching only to proudly post it as front-page news. Because everyone saw the show the night it aired, right? They totally didn’t record the program so they could watch it at a more convenient time, did they?

    • Yep, that’s the Steam version I’ve been speaking of. Which, if you’re of a mind for it, you’re probably in the best possible mindset to play it. I was in something similar, knowing little more than it was really well regarded and the tone that it’d eventually settle in on, and man, I reached it’s moment and I was really glad I went in as bare as I did. A feel you do have to be into anime to enjoy this, as, especially early on in a given chapter, everything seems a lot like otaku bait. You’ve also got to be patient, as it spends so much time familiarize you with the characters and day-to-day life before it gets into the meat of the story. The first chapter in particular has a capital-m Moment where it switches gears in the story, that really grabbed me like little else and it really paid off of all that build up afterwards, but I was still getting a little tired of it before that payoff happened. Also, it’s a pure kinetic novel. Absolutely no player input. If you’re interested, it would probably pay to be patient. It’s an episodic game, and they’ve only released two of the 13-15 chapters so far. The chapters are complete stories, each with their own inciting incident, complete arc, and definite conclusion, and they are very sizable, with each chapter taking me 8 hours to get through, but they’re also a little pricey for what are really chapters of a full experience, and I could easily see the costs dropping and the sales getting deeper as they get more episodes out.

      Call of Duty Spoilers were harder to avoid than Planescape’s? That’s really surprising to me. I suppose a lot of it does depend on the nature of the story. Planescape, you’ve got a lot to talk about without getting into the plot events. Even though it does have a large, involved plot, it also has a pretty deep background, setting, and initial outlay. These, players learn shortly after they start the game, so you can talk about them without getting into the reveals, and Planescape does give you plenty of material there. Higurashi, and I’m assuming Call of Duty, have most of their noteworthy material delivered as the story progresses rather as part of the initial outlay, so those are a bit more difficult to bring up to newbies.

      I have to say, you’re one of the most organized bloggers I’ve seen when it comes to spoilers. Apt warnings, you have it set you can just move past the content without worrying about accidentally seeing something, and it doesn’t carry past the marked sections. You’ve got a really good system for them at your site.

      Yeah, I remember when the news would pick up big happenings in comics, they’d always announce that Batman/Captain America/The Human Torch died before the comic in question actually came out. Good for selling papers, I guess, but it makes actually reading the story a lot less fun. I also find myself pretty amused by the lines drawn between the readers of the Song of Ice and Fire and the watchers of Game of Thrones, as you run into spoilers that were written during the Clinton Administration, but a lot of people are just running into for the first time. I don’t think there should be a statute of limitations on spoilers, that you can’t talk about things until a certain proportion have had the chance to see it, but there still should be a basic level of respect there. A huge chunk of the market won’t be consuming something just as soon as it’s available, after all.

  2. I’m glad that I don’t get worked up over spoilers because the internet is a surprise revealing minefield. The big moment from the latest Star Wars was ruined for me by Youtube comments on videos that had nothing to do with Star Wars. When browsing WordPress I also regularly come across anime reviews that blurt out a show’s ending in the first few sentences with no warning.

    Like you say, anyone wanting to read discussion on an older property should expect that plot points will be revealed. All that said people should try to warn potential readers because you never know if the person stumbling onto what you have written has watched/read/played the thing in its entirety.

    Reviewing anime can be tough when certain shows have a big twist in the opening three episodes. If you avoid spoilers completely you will be penning nothing more than a vague synopsis. How something ends can also impact a game/anime’s grade (such as Mass Effect.) It’s tough explaining why you dislike an ending without giving something away.

    • The Star Wars moment was ruined for me by image board comments in pretty much the exact same way, something that didn’t even have anything to do with Star Wars. Yeah, a minefield is a good analogy for the internet. It can take more work than I’d expect to avoid spoilers on certain popular items.

      That is one thing I’ve noticed about a lot of anime reviews I’ve seen, that a lot of them seem to assume you’ve watched at least the first three episodes before even checking a review to see if that’s worth watching. Some of that’s completely unavoidable, as a lot of anime spends the initial episodes taking the viewpoint character from the role of average schmuck into a central figure in whatever drives the plot, and it’s hard to talk about the series as a whole without giving the outcome to the journey there. But yeah, there are others that go too far, and give you the whole story without letting you experience it for yourself.

      A warning before spoilers is usually all that’s needed. The conversation can’t stop to wait for everyone else, but the reader should have enough info to know when they’re in danger of walking into something.

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