Panic over spoilers is not new, and certainly not new to games. ***SPOILER ALERTS*** are like red flags on the information highway. And the danger reaches beyond the tight corners of the Internet. This past summer NBC apologized to US audiences for revealing in its own promo spots the outcome of tape-delayed Olympic events yet to be aired on television. Oops!
In the case of Halo 4, the spoilage started with a leak. Unauthorized images of the game discs surfaced on reddit and NeoGaf on October 11. Soon thereafter, game files were available on torrent sites, and gameplay videos were posted on YouTube. Microsoft responded by warning players that consoles with pirated copies of Halo 4 would face permanent bans of their XBox Live accounts. Regardless of Microsoft’s swift response, in less than a week the Internet was a minefield of Halo spoilers.
In considering the damage done by spoilers, sports competitions like the Olympics deserve protection, but other media experiences do not. A UCSD study found that spoilers don’t actually spoil the fun. In fact, they may enhance it. Tom Bissell wrote about games, “interactivity has everything to do with the how rather than the what.” I would add that long in the tooth game franchises like Halo deserve even less spoiler protection because the universe is so well known, and Halo 4 is hardly a reboot. Furthermore, the technical capabilities of the aging XBox 360 console have been exhausted. While I don’t completely agree with Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot statement that the industry requires new consoles in order to spur creativity, I wonder what could possibly surprise us about Halo gameplay? I’ll concede that playing Master Chief again might be worth an hour, but seeing him on YouTube won’t ruin that for me.
The availability of the game three weeks in advance of the official release has only heightened spoiler panic. “Go DARK. Now.” recommends a forum thread at Waypoint, the official Halo news site. Videos like Ready Up Live offer tips to avoid spoilers, including how to change settings in social media apps (protect your Twitter!) and which forums are "safe." Spoiler panic serves industry anti-piracy efforts and pre-release hype for yet another sequel, but their warnings sound like desperate abstinence-only campaigns. Guard yourself against spoilers: Stay Off the Internet! Yeah, that'll work.