I love reading and writing about games, and it's a privilege to be part of a maturing movement that continues to broaden its scope and sharpen its critical eye. It's no longer difficult to find intelligent writing about games. As Clint Hocking pointed out recently after perusing the blogosphere for critical analysis of games, "we have arrived."
As we mature, we inevitably examine our methods, and in that spirit I'd like to propose a small change in the way many of us write about games. I think it's time to renounce spoiler paranoia. I think it's time we collectively agree to write about games as whole, complete entities that require us to consider them as such. I think it's time we say to our readers, "I'm writing about this game, so you should assume I'm writing about the whole game;" instead of, "I know a bunch of you haven't played this game yet, so I'm going to write about it without spoiling anything for you."
Purposely excluding plot or character details from our reviews and criticism needlessly limits our ability to write comprehensively about them. It seems to me we've painted ourselves into a collective corner by adopting a de facto standard that avoids "ruining" games for players. As a result, many of us have come to assume we are expected to maintain this persistent vigilance as if it were an inviolable contract between us and our readers.
I initially intended to argue that video game reviewers and critics need to behave more like their counterparts who cover books, films, and plays. These writers never worry about spoilers, so why should we? It's a decent argument, but it also reinforces the infantilizing notion that someday our little games will grow up to be culturally respectable like their brethren in the other arts. We should abandon our spoiler vigilance not because The New York Times doesn't fret about spoilers. We should drop it because it's the right thing to do if we intend to write about games freely, without self-imposed barriers.
So am I saying spoiler-alerts are a silly waste of words? Of course not, and I can certainly understand why it's important to alert readers in a discussion forum, for example, if you intend to reveal plot details other readers may not want to know. In certain online environments, this sort of respectful behavior makes sense because what's happening in those environments is a shared conversation that no one owns. If we're discussing our excitement about the new Prince of Persia, for example, and someone pops in and says (OK, here comes an ACTUAL SPOILER) "Hey, did you know Elika kicks the bucket at the end?" - certainly under these circumstances it makes sense for people to insist on spoiler alerts. I can also easily see the value of a "spoiler-free" game review policy for a site that wishes to explicitly offer such a thing to its readers.
If writers wish to avoid spoilers, or announce them every time they occur, who am I to say they shouldn't? But they should not be expected to do either. I don't mean to propose any hard and fast rules here; I'm simply suggesting we challenge the prevailing games writing and reading culture that says spoilers must be avoided at all costs. I say it's time to ditch this ball and chain once and for all.