The Mystery – An Article on a Concept
I’ve been writing a lot of articles focused on products, games, shows, and things like that, and this one will mention a number of them, but I wanted to write an article more about a concept that popped into my head last night. It has been something that I’ve noticed while Kristen and I are watching shows or movies or if we are reading the same books. I often figure out the twist, solve the mystery, make the connection before she does. That got me thinking — how does that affect my enjoyment of a story, and do I enjoy it less because I’ve figured out the twist?
To answer that question immediately — no, I don’t think I enjoy it less. There’s a sense of excitement about figuring out a twist in a story before it happens, to connecting two things that seemly loosely connected but then really matter. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a show that is built on these loose connections, and connecting those dots before the characters do is fun, because the show does a good job of keeping these things somewhat hidden from the viewer. So, making those connections is fun, and it doesn’t take away from the story.
However, I do think it can for some people. When I’m watching something like Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency or Dark, I’m not what I would consider actively looking for these clues. The shows are built around twists, turns, and mysteries, so as I think about the show, I naturally think about those things. And if you’ve read some of my board game reviews, you know that I enjoy puzzle-y type games, and that I love trying to figure out what clue to give in Hanabi or what cards to play in Gloomhaven to get a perfect score or beat the dungeon. I just naturally think about these patterns.
On the other hand, I know people who actively are searching to make these connections. Their enjoyment is often fulfilled, like mine is, by figuring out these connections, but figuring them out too early or not figuring them out at all can ruin their enjoyment of a story. The hunt is what is enjoyable to them, and once that has passed, it isn’t enjoyable anymore, and conversely, if they can’t figure it out, they don’t enjoy it as much because they felt like the story tricked them or didn’t give them enough to figure out the secret, and they could feel like they are slow because of that.
Finally, there is the type of person who isn’t wired for figuring these clues out, and I think that this can be split into a couple of ways as well — those who don’t care, and those who simply enjoy the story. When Kristen and I watch Dirk Gently, it isn’t as if Kristen is getting less enjoyment out of the show because she doesn’t figure it out ahead of time. She enjoys it as much as I do; I’m just bouncing up and down on the couch because I’m pretty sure I figured something out, and she’s shaking her head and laughing at my antics. That is how it should be — being able to enjoy the story as a story, even if you aren’t picking out all the twists and mysteries as soon as the other people you’re watching it with are.
However, there’s an opposite side of this as well, where someone might feel like they are missing out because they can’t figure the story out as quickly as other people. This shouldn’t be the case, because stories are worth enjoying on their own even if you don’t pick up on the secret before it’s revealed. A fine line can be drawn as to how someone can “help” in this situation, as there are some chance that a person could make it worse. If you are figuring out what is going on before someone else, it can come across as patronizing if you try and say that it is just okay that someone else didn’t figure it out. A better route would be to, when talking about the story, focus on the story itself and what it meant to you, not when you figured out the twists and turns, so that everyone can enjoy the story.
As I started out this post, this was an interesting concept to me. There isn’t a right way to engage with a story as long as you are enjoying it. Remember — even if you figured out the twist in the first scene, don’t spoil it for the rest of us, and let everyone enjoy the story in their own way. To quote what the RPG Academy says (they’re talking about RPGs and how to play them, but I think it’s very appropriate here, too) – “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.”