The following is a response to this week's WoW Insider's Community Blog Topic.
A few years back, I had the privilege of going to San Diego Comic Con and seeing a panel with Joss Whedon. For those of you that don't know who Joss Whedon is, I'd recommend sitting down with a DVD set of Firefly. Believe me, you won't regret it. Anyhow...during his panel, he wound up spoiling the ending of Angel for me as I was working through that series. That sucked...though really, if anyone is going to spoil a series, the creator of said series is a good choice to do it. And honestly, the series had been completed for well over three years at that point, so it seemed like it was an OK time. But even then, he hesitated a bit before doing so.
I bring that up to lead into this week's topic: Spoilers. When should it be OK to spoil a major reveal, if ever? Though I don't personally know of any hard and fast rule to this, I feel spoilers are best used in the same way as swear words: as much as best fits the audience, and not around small children.
First, let's discuss the audience and how that affects what IMHO a good spoiler policy should be. When I'm hanging around with the GSS crew, I generally know that they've likely seen everything I've seen. So when I'm talking about Elysium with the folks from Master Control and mention that Bald Matt Damon (BMD for short) did *****, I don't really feel to horrible about mentioning it. Why? They've already seen it, and I pretty much know that. I'd be less likely to talk about that in public with most people, as I'd rather not spoil them. And the average person may well not have seen Elysium.
However, compare something like that with "****, I am your ****!" from Star Wars. I'm intentionally holding the spoiler back there, but it really isn't a spoiler at this point. Given how overreferenced that line above is, it's practically a Meme. It's at least part of popular culture to the point where saying it now really will likely spoil nothing for most people. So, that's generally a safe one, but that's moreso due to societal use than anything. Time plays a part, but I'd argue society and popular use do it more than time itself does.
Still, you can at least be polite about it and warn before you do a spoiler, no matter how long something has been out or how often a spoiler has been used. Throwing in an "Everyone's seen ****, right?" goes a long way towards saving fandoms and goes easily in with any conversation. If you listen to Master Control, they'll usually say a spoiler word (often, it's "Taco") before mentioning any spoilers.
Now, you might have noticed that I also said not around small children. Why not around small children? Simply put, we're all geeks here...and many of us are working on raising the next generation of geeks. Even if not, we're generally around growing current geeks and/or future geeks...many of which have not seen these same films that are commonplace for us today. Part of the joy of these films is often seeing the plot come to life before your eyes, especially for a small child who knows only a world of discovery. By spoiling an ending, we take away some of that first-time magic from the experience. Which for a child in their formative years can easily lessen if not completely diminish the impact any staple of geekdom can have.
I speak from experience on this one. Confession: I actually never got around to watching Star Wars until I got into college. I even had the movies, just never watched them. Once I did, I found myself unimpressed and honestly a little disappointed. Every single plot twist had been pounded into my head for years so much that I found them all formulaic. I can now truly enjoy the Star Wars for what they are and what they were, but I lost a lot of that magic and will never truly understand the fascination, likely because of the pre-spoilers.
Personally, I'd rather just avoid spoilers altogether...but sometimes this world makes that unnecessary. If you need to throw out a spoiler, do it to the right audience and make sure you've given proper warning. And please, stupid though it may sound, don't do it in front of little children. If we want them to feel and live the magic that we do in so many of our geek experiences, we can't ruin it for them before they have a chance to experience it for themselves.