Do Spoilers Ruin Stories? It’s More Complicated Than That

Depending on who you ask, spoilers are either the bane of a reader's existence or the best thing ever. Fans will tell you that spoilers either ruin the experience or enhance it, but if you ask me it's more complicated than that.

Researchers at UC San Diego are now claiming that they have evidence that spoilers enhance the reading experience by helping you enjoy stories more, but I don't think they're accounting for the full impact of spoilers.

One of the researchers explains their conclusion in the following video.

The problem with concluding that spoilers only enhance stories is that I can recall how knowing the plot twist in Terminator Genisys ruined the movie for me, and I'm not the only one with that experience.

"Yeah, no. Some a-holes spoiled The Empire Strikes Back for me. 'Wasn’t it amazing about Vader being Luke’s father?' they said on their way out of the movie (in the parking lot, but still!)," Meryl Yourish writes over at The Passive Voice. "Then some a-hole guy wanting to impress his date spoiled The Sting for me. I never wanted to murder anyone more than I did at that moment."

spoiler_tshirtConsidering the number of people who threatened to block me on Twitter if I revealed so much as one spoiler from the recent Star Wars movie, this is not an isolated opinion.

Disliking spoilers may be a minority position, but it's still a strong one. But how do we explain the difference?

Given that the UC San Diego research was based on having people read stories, do you suppose people have a different reaction to movie versus book spoilers?

That could be the case, but the more likely possibility is that people responded more strongly to a spoiler when they had more emotional investment in the work.

The readers in the study came at a story cold, and were then asked how the spoiler affected their experience, while movie-goers often anticipate the release of a movie for months before it is in theaters. That anticipation and suspense is an emotional investment which can be ruined by an ill-timed spoiler.

Does that match with your experience?

Did someone spoil a book you had wanted to read, and ruin the anticipation?

About Nate Hoffelder (11594 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

6 Comments on Do Spoilers Ruin Stories? It’s More Complicated Than That

  1. I think spoilers ruin a story.

  2. Meh. If a story is ruined by advance knowledge, then it is **NOT** a good story.

    > ‘Wasn’t it amazing about Vader being Luke’s father?’

    Not really. Even 8 year old me back in 1980 was able to smell that the ass on that pull… Fortunately, the rest of the movie was able to make up for it and didn’t rely on a last-minute twist to be good.

  3. Part of the fun of reading good stories is it feels like you’re taking a journey with the characters. If someone spoils the entire plot, or the ending, then the story becomes less engaging to read for me. If they spoil something from the middle (excluding character deaths) it can actually make me more excited to read the book, so I can find out how the characters get to that point.
    If someone spoils a character death, and I don’t care about the character much it’s not too bad. If it’s a character I really like a lot, then I may just quit the book in frustration.

  4. Spoilers have always ruined stories for me–so their research isn’t relevant to me–or realistic. I think their criteria was missing a lot of variables.

  5. It depends on the content. Spoilers do ruin mysteries. The whole point of reading an Agatha Christie novel is to figure out who the killer is before it’s revealed at the end. Having that spoiled ruins the game.

    Sometimes you’re not ready for a plot or character reveal until a certain point. If something is introduced about a character that you have yet to establish an emotional attachment to or maybe have not been even introduced to, it will not have the intended effect.

    A spoiler used to be defined as revealing something significant about the plot or character. These days there are plenty of fools that equate any description of the premise of a movie, novel, tv show, etc. as a spoiler.

    I think that the youtube video has it wrong. It’s not that spoilers enhance appreciation of a story, it’s that understanding the basic premise of the story beforehand enhances appreciation of the story.

    A good story is not simply one that is plot driven. A good story can be revisited knowing the spoilers. But not all works are worth revisiting. And knowing how everything plays out, it is distinctly different the second time around. There is a tremendous feeling of anticipation that only works if the movie, novel etc. are unspoiled.

    I appreciated Jane Eyre the second time through. I was able to focus more on the characterization and I delighted in the dialogue that had two levels of meaning since I know exactly what the big spoiler is. But I did not experience again the level of suspense I felt when Jane was at the crossroads without friends, shelter or even food. And I never will again.

    So yeah that video was overly simplistic. Bottomline is don’t spoil things, it can indeed hurt the experience some of the time for some people. You can’t judge whether it will or not since it depends on both the material and the audience. So zip it. And also don’t be one of those nutters that considers learning that stormtroopers are in a Star Wars movie to be a spoiler.

  6. I don’t pay much attention to people telling “who really done it” before I’ve read the book. In fact, I’m a little skeptical of their motives and try to forget whatever they said and find out for myself. Even if I’ve been told the ending and remember it, I can still enjoy getting there. I have been a little annoyed when the most famous of famous authors have given away their ending (in my mind). One beat me over the head with who the killer was and the other had way too many innuendos. Both are incredibly famous, so I’m not naming names, but it happens. And I’m not criticizing as they’ve done a great job to become successful… still.

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