The year was 2006, the month was November. My family had just upgraded from a decrepit 56.6k modem to a screaming-fast-always-on-virus-enabling DSL modem. Gone were the days of scheduling internet browsing around the many phone calls made in a house of six, and gone were the days of stupidly slow downloads.
Equipped with an impressively under-powered “gaming” PC and a 70-foot ethernet cable, the world of the internet was finally mine to conquer. The pre-YouTube days of the internet actually felt conquerable to me. You see, I’d just checked my newly minted Gmail (beta) account, and had been reminded by a high-school buddy that in about a week or so, Nintendo had deigned to grace us with the most amazing-looking Zelda game I’d ever witnessed.
Back then, when you wanted to find the real information about a thing, you looked for forums. And Google had pointed me towards a massive community of Zelda nerds. I was excited about Twilight Princess, and I wanted to be even more excited about it! I wanted to find other folks as excited as me! And oh did I find them.
In fact, I found a world of intensely focused geekdom I never expected existed. My goals for looking online had been simple and innocent. “What do people know about Twilight Princess?” was about as deep as my thought process went. I was about to get steamrolled by the power of the internet.
Once I’d navigated into the General board, my eyes were slammed with a wall of impassioned anger!
While I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, these forums were not. I was unknowingly stepping into a warzone. It was my first experience with internet-fueled hype, spoilers, and the ever-present moderator’s friend, the “Ban Hammer”. And these moderators were wielding it prodigiously.
Every single thread was either titled with a plot spoiler, a moderator threat to ban all those who didn’t mark their threads as containing spoiler, and the vague titles tagged with “*SPOILER*” at the end. It was a total mess, and I couldn’t look away! Pages and pages of this scrolled by as I clicked deeper and deeper.
How did they know all this stuff? The game wasn’t even out yet! Oh, they played it in Japan. Oh, they translated a Japanese magazine. Oh, they played a leaked review copy. Well, there went my innocence.
It’s hard to describe this transition I was experiencing. Is it possible to imagine what the world was like pre-internet? Is it possible to un-know that literally every single game ever made has been recorded and uploaded to YouTube or streamed on Twitch? Is it possible to remember that there was a time when I didn’t know that I had to actively avoid spoilers if I didn’t want the story to be spoiled? It was like I’d been thrust into adulthood far faster than I was ready.
And in those days, I was weak willed.
My curiosity could have killed nine cats right then. I had not yet developed skills to suppress such curiosity. I’d never needed them before.
I clicked a link about Ganondorf. It said Ganondorf was in the game. That his red hair looked cool. It didn’t have a spoiler tag, and I trusted that lack of a spoiler tag.
I saw this.
And I was ashamed.
But I didn’t stop just because I was ashamed; I’d already crossed the line! I clicked on al the things! Spoilers, no spoilers, it didn’t matter. I dove headfirst into the fleshy maw of the moderator threats and the spoilers. I wanted everything these forums could give me. I drank the vile liquid spewing from the wretched firehose in a feeble attempt to cover up my ridiculous guilt.
I learned about Midna, the Twilight Realm, saw Zelda’s awesome hooded face. I saw it all.
I wished that I hadn’t.
Disgusted with myself, I clicked back to the General board in search of another fix, and came across the funniest thread title I’d ever seen in my 18 years of life.
“DUMBLEDORE DIES ON PAGE 596!!!!“
Allow me to put this hilarious title into context for you.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had been released a little over a year prior to this tale of woe. It happens to have a pretty big plot device in it. Something about a main character’s death. It was such a large plot device that main newspaper outlets had been writing about not spoiling the ending for those who didn’t want it spoiled.
But that had been over a year earlier, and pretty much everyone that cared knew that Dumbledore had been killed off. Many who didn’t care knew as well. (Have I spoiled this for anyone?) Injecting this title into the middle of the embroiled Mods vs. Spoiler-ers flame war made it clear how ridiculous everything was.
This was an important moment for me, and I’m glad I experienced it during my first exposure to mass spoilage. I had heard about Dumbledore dying before I’d read the book, and it didn’t ruin Harry Potter for me. Sure, his death may have been surprising had I not known, but I’d had fun hyping myself over the book pre-release. My family had concocted theories at the dinner table. It was part of the fun of waiting.
The spoilers for Twilight Princess were no different. I knew then that I’d not done anything wrong. I was excited, and I got to share my excitement with others. I recognized that what I’d learned wasn’t going to ruin the game for me. Other people’s anger wasn’t ruining the experience for me.
And looking back, I was right. Twilight Princess hadn’t been ruined by my guilty internet browsing.
Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to get super hyped about Skyward Sword and then Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild was the hardest for me to avoid, but I did it. Not because I was afraid of something being spoiled, but because I learned that part of the fun of waiting for a big game to release is the hype and spoilers. It means you’re excited. And so are other people. You’re excited together.
So let go, relax and have fun with the next big Zelda release you’re stoked for, whenever that is. You only get to hype yourself up for a release once before the hype train moves on to the next game.
Enjoy it while it’s here.