Spacing Spoilers: The Proper Amount of Time for Spoilers

Chad White

Mild spoilers for a few shows, movies, games, and books follow.

Spoiler alert! Batman doesn’t die at the end of The Dark Knight Rises.

Spoiler alert! Walter White dies at the end of Breaking Bad.

Spoiler alert! No one dies at the end of Gone with the Wind.

Spoilers are probably the worst things in the world especially when encountered unexpectedly.  Surfing the internet can find you unintentionally exposed to them. Take the website Vulture for instance. Following every episode of most major shows, they post a semi-review with an episode summarizing (read: spoiling) headline. If I hadn’t watched True Detective or The Walking Dead the night prior, I’d know my favorite character met his or her demise based on the vague yet pointed title alone. Longer forms of entertainment are harder to spoil as they have larger ground to cover. Books, for instance, can end with a chapter long wrap up but, without context, spoilers can fall on deaf ears. Even so, one has to tread lightly when it comes to print media as the fate of Katniss Everdeen can be ruined in just two sentences. Games, like books, are also difficult as they require understanding of the world and story in order to get the full spoiler.

So what’s the appropriate amount of time for spoilers? It differs from person to person. Some say you should never spoil anything. Some say spoil everything. Many tend to give exact times. Others give vague numbers of hours to years. I’ve put together what I find to be decent timelines for proper spoiler etiquette. The list goes from longest amount of time to shortest.

Books – 1 year

With what seems to be an unlimited shelf life, books take the cake in spoiler time. And really, time is a factor here as books tend to require an appropriate amount of time for a reader to get through. They carry a low cost threshold so it is not a huge determining factor for someone not to get a book. A reader who is not used to speeding through a book or who is unable to dedicate seven nights of reading a week is not able to flow as easily through novels as well as an accomplished reader would. I for one take ages to read a novel.

As I write this, Nick Offerman’s first book Paddle Your Own Canoe sits in my book bag with only two thirds of the pages flipped. Before that, I abandoned Jim Gaffigan’s Dad Is Fat at the halfway point. But I am able to actually finish a book. The Martian is being made into a movie starring Matt Damon set to be released this November so I spent a good three months of on and off reading to finish it.

TV Shows – 6 months

Given the amount of time and resources available to any one person, TV should have a much smaller time for spoiler allotment. However, time is the key here and, if a viewer can only give themselves to one show, then another show falls by the wayside. Not many people, for instance, dedicate their time to both CSI and NCIS. They’re relatively the same shows and they come on the same network so it wouldn’t make sense for someone to spend time with both. The popular AMC show Breaking Bad is still supposedly in spoiler territory. But it’s been on DVD, Netflix, and aired in repeats on its network since its demise. Why does it matter that someone hasn’t seen it yet? They’ve had plenty of chances to join in on the conversation. Similarly, the once event series turned full series Fargo is coming back yet I find myself avoiding spoilers like a fat person avoiding exercise even though I have the first season of the show on my iTunes.

Video Games – 3 months

It takes time to play through a game. It takes money to buy said game. But there are people in the world who make it their mission to finish a game within the first twenty four hours of launch. When Grand Theft Auto V was released there were already people who were halfway through the game criticizing later missions and story elements. The window in which it came out gave me no option to sit down and play this game in time with everyone else. It took me three weeks whereas it took others three days or three months.

The same can be said for my relationship with Mass Effect 3. The ending was being talked about within days of its release. I had no money to buy it but had heard about everything due to the internet’s need to incessantly complain. Sure, I could’ve avoided spoilers by simply not going to sites I love but, at the time, I would’ve been out of the conversation. Countless analyses and videos were made in response to the ending. Cut to four months later when I bought the game during an Amazon sale for $20. A lot of the last few hours were ruined for me but the journey leading up to it wasn’t. Then, by the time I beat the game over a year later, I didn’t even remember most of the ending. And yes, it takes me a very long time to beat games. I can’t sit down for too long, staring at a screen.

Movies – 2 weeks

This one is tricky. Movies, like TV, are fairly accessible to everyone. Most people enjoy a good movie. However, location and time play a big part in said enjoyment. I hear people in San Francisco complain about prices to movies while I pay a third of what they have to. Plus, if you live in such a large city, you’re relegated to parking and other extra fees. But, if it takes me eight months to see Interstellar and someone mentions the movie has black holes, then it’s kind of my fault for not taking the incentive to sit down and watch it. Heck, it was released on Blu Ray in that time frame! Plus, I bought it on Google Play months prior. Sometimes, it’s just your fault.

Sports – 12 hours

Who records sports games? A small subset of people, that’s who. This is a real thing that people really do. Highlights can’t satiate their appetite to see Tony Romo throw another pass to Dez Bryant. The gang on that one episode of How I Met Your Mother tried to avoid the outcome of the Super Bowl for a full day and still couldn’t do it. It’s almost a fruitless endeavor to avoid final sports scores what with social networks, news outlets and normal conversation.

These guidelines are all well and good but where does cross media fit into the equation?

It’s the entertainment brand that falls into several categories. Cross media includes the books adapted into movies or movies turned into shows and everything in between. Game of Thrones, The Lego Movie The Game, and the forthcoming Downton Abbey movie are all considered cross media as they travel from their original mediums to new, unexplored territory. By doing so, these brands can actually extend their previous spoiler lifetimes by variable sets of time. For instance, the Game of Thrones book series is still going and has been doing so since 1996. As such, the story for both the show and books are at times hand in hand. Like The Walking Dead show and comics, even if Game of Thrones deviates from the original story, not many people want to hear about differences between the new story and the old one. So, with now two concurrent stories, cross media angels can exist in an almost indefinite loop of spoiler free territory.

What about comics that are turned into movies?

I’ve read hundreds of comics in my lifetime but I don’t follow them constantly. It’s hard to continue with a series over the course of several years. But the good stories get adapted over and over again. Marvel, for example, is currently doing their Civil War -- an event they did way back in 2006 in the comics -- for movies featuring Captain America, Iron Man and every other character in their cinematic arsenal. In the comic book universe, they’re also doing the Civil War. Again. So readers know the basis of what should happen in the MCU come May 2016 when the movie is released.

Now that I have an understanding – a ruleset – for spoilers I can examine what exactly a spoiler is to me. They ruin the story or a major element. Telling me there is a twist is definitely a spoiler. Mentioning a cameo is a minor spoiler; worth noting but unwelcome. Quoting can be a spoiler if it has anything to do with the main plot. Saying “I don’t want to ruin it for you” is a big no-no. But not everyone agrees with me. It’s up to us to remain vigilant in providing enough information as to not ruin a movie or show or game for someone.