As Every Video Game Becomes A Film, We Have To Be Better About Spoilers

My partner has never played The Last of Us, but she’s loving the TV show so far. She knows I’m a fan of the games, and when we watch it together she has a lot of questions. Can the zombies smell people? Do they need to eat to survive? Do they have to bite you to infect you, or can they just scratch you? Figuring out all the rules is one of the fun things about zombie fiction, and the show is doing a good job of answering all the common zombie questions and slowly revealing those kinds of details that build the world. Sometimes she’ll ask bigger questions, like who Riley is or what happened to Joel’s brother Tommy, but I decline to answer. If those plot points are important to the story the show is telling, they’ll be revealed in due time.

When this week’s episode ended, she did what she always does after watching an HBO show – what lots of people always do. She went online to see everyone’s reaction. The Last of Us is very much a watercooler show even if lots of us work from home now, so Twitter has become the virtual water. As she scrolled through #TheLastOfUs she kept running into tweets that referenced things that haven’t happened yet, and characters she doesn’t know. By the time she stumbled upon the third tweet of David fancasts, she decided it was too dangerous to be part of the conversation anymore and logged off.

Generally speaking, I hate anti-spoiler culture. At some point in the last decade people became so militant about spoilers that any mention of a character or plot can set them off. It’s one thing to spoil the twist at the end of a Shyamalan movie, but I think we’ve gone way overboard with spoiler anxiety. I have a friend who covers their eyes and hums loudly at the movie theater during the trailers. I also know someone that has ended multiple friendships over spoilers. This is not a healthy way to approach media, and you shouldn’t expect other people to go out of their way to shield you from every single detail about a movie you’re looking forward to. The trailer for Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania isn’t going to ruin the whole movie for you, I promise.

There’s a standard etiquette for talking about media online that most people try to respect. You don’t walk out of Glass Onion on opening night and tweet the ending, and you don’t post spoilers for Game of Thrones on Sunday night. You have to give people a chance to see it themselves before you talk about it, and if it’s an especially big twist that actually can ruin it, you never post about it without clear warnings. As a critic, I get to see lots of stuff before other people, but if I spoiled it online I’d be taking away someone else's opportunity to have the same experience I did, and that’s not fair. I hate to appeal to reason, but this seems intuitive. Most people make a reasonable effort not to spoil things before other people have had a chance to see it for themselves.

So how come so many people can’t shut the fuck up about The Last of Us?

I’ve seen some version of the same tweet a dozen times now, that goes “What, am I supposed to not talk about a ten year old game?”. This is disingenuous, obviously. The only reason you’re talking about the ten year old game is because of the brand new TV show – one that’s being watched by millions of people that have never played the game. It’s attracting a new audience, which is kind of the point of adapting a game to film – especially one like The Last of Us that’s already quite movie-like. When you talk about what happens in the game in the context of the show, you’re essentially describing episodes that haven’t aired yet. I’m not sure why people don’t seem to understand that this is not a cool thing to do. If you justified the show’s existence by pointing to the fact that new audiences could enjoy it, you have to let that new audience actually enjoy it for your point to stand.

Some people are just trolls who like to ruin others' fun, and there’s nothing you can do about that. But other people seem to be under the impression that The Last of Us is fair game for spoilers because its story isn’t new, and that just isn’t the case. This might be the first faithful game adaptation, but films have been adapted from books since the beginning of filmmaking. It was no more appropriate to spoil Game of Thrones than it is to spoil The Last of Us – and A Song of Ice and Fire is way older. If you want to talk about your TLOU predictions in gaming spaces feel free, but when it comes to mainstream social media, you ought to be treating The Last Of Us the same way you’d treat a show based on a book. If you wouldn’t want me to tell you the ending of Knock at the Cabin, don’t tell people the ending of The Last of Us. It’s as simple as that.

We’re entering an era of unprecedented video game adaptations now. The success of Sonic the Hedgehog and The Last of Us means that every studio is going to be looking for games to adapt, and Sony will be leading the way with all of the franchises it already owns. We need to be mature and respectful when it comes to spoilers if we want non-gamers to appreciate these characters and stories that mean so much to us. It may be an old game to you, but to millions of people experiencing The Last of Us for the first time, it’s a brand new TV show.

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