Friday, 2 March 2012

Spoiler Alert!

What's the problem with knowing what happens in a novel, movie or play before you've even seen it? The idea occurred to me when I learnt that in Victorian Theatre, a play would be preceded by a “dumb-show” or an acting out of the climatic points in the play, before the play has been seen by the audience. The thought which occurred to me was, “If a work is good enough to be seen, it can't be spoiled.” And thanks enough to our pal The Internet, it’s almost impossible to not have anything and everything spoiled to you. So is it really that big a deal? Granted, it is nicer to not know every detail ensuing before you delve into a medium, but if all you're interested in is plain discovery, you may as well read a plot summary.

The thing is, when we decide to engage ourselves in a plot, we're concerned with far more than simply what happens; but for some reason we tend to emphasise the actual events above everything else. This might be because most other things are either dependant on the plot (terrific acting is pointless if the written character is wooden,) or are too abstract to easily convey as a focal point (we're watching it to see what madness really is.) And it gets even more confusing when it’s put in perspective, because often, knowing the crucial plot point or twist can actually make us want to watch/play/read the work more. For example, a fair many of Shakespeare’s plays are known in plot by many of us, (Hamlet kills everyone, Romeo and Juliet both die, The Merchant of Venice never gets his pound of flesh,) and yet people still read and watch them, and yet are so taken aback when someone spoils something else to them. Sure, there are works such as The Usual Suspects (Which has been cited as two movies in one, due to its twists meaning that each subsequent watch is like a different movie.) Where it is important to the film as a whole that they are not spoiled, but these are few and far between, and we have to actually question if these movies, with their elaborate twists, are standing on any ground other than that of their twists.

Another way of looking at it is like seeing the “plot” as two entities, as an overall idea or object which is the “Plot” or as a journey. This diagram can probably explain it better than I can:

An example which comes to mind is the video-game Catherine, which, in my opinion, has an absurdly weak “Overall Plot,” which, ended up being completely underwhelming. Despite this, it is still one of my favourite games ever, and one of the reasons for that is its story. Taking the second definition of “Plot” as a journey, more accurately describes what Catherine has to offer. It’s a game that I’ve played through multiple times, and on each play through I’ve given time to the story, and it’s a story which asks “What would you do.” And while its actual basis for this question becomes absurdly weak towards the end, the vivacity of the journey there makes it worthwhile, and it also makes you realise that ignorance is bliss. In my experience, the game is more enjoyable before you get to the end, and yet, despite the feeling of dissatisfaction at the climax, that sour taste quickly fades away once you get into the game again, and all of the “why is this” and “what is that” of the plot becomes frivolous, because you already know and that lack of mystery allows you to have greater sympathy for the meaning of the story.

I’ve heard a saying that “You’ve never truly read a book until you’ve read it twice.” At first I thought that that saying meant that, upon a second reading, you would pick up what you previously missed, but then I thought, perhaps it meanings that with the clarity of knowing what happens, you will be more aware of what is happening. This isn’t pure speculation either, it’s obvious that many writers are aware of this idea, and use it to their advantage. Shakespeare as one example, the “dumb-show” before every play makes it clear what is going to happen, but this is also prevalent in other media too. Fate/Stay Night (and I must stress that any reference to this series is aimed at the Visual Novel and not the anime or manga) for example makes it clear from the beginning that Saber is going to die.

Now back to my original idea, “If a work is good enough to be seen, it can't be spoiled.” I actually tend to find it that “Work’s with the potential to be spoiled, aren’t good enough to be seen.” An example that springs to mind is Blazblue. Now, Blazblue has been cited again and again for its “in-depth and complex story,” but, as much as I love the game for its art, its personality, and its potential for fun, I honestly think the story is weak. Sure, it’s complicated as hell, and even though I’ve been through every game in the series I couldn’t even summarize it for anyone. And also the majority I know about it is through spoilers. Jin is Hakumen, Ragna is Bloodedge, Noel is a Murakumo unit, Hazama did everything, Arakune is a failed Black Beast. The list of twists and reveals goes on, and on, and on, with every story ending at a cliff-hanger. Sure, all of these complications are pretty cool, and the sheer absurdity of the pile-up give the game a flare in character that not much else could match, but the story doesn’t really say anything, and that’s its weakest point. I think that for something such as Blazblue, it’s the bringing together of many points that make the game enjoyable, story included, but the story alone doesn’t do the game justice.

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