He's been called "The Biggest Troll on the Internet". To me, Jim Sterling is that British guy in Mississippi. He's a writer, a satirist, but most importantly, he's a gamer. Here's an excerpt from the interview Jim did with me.
O.G.: What article do you think it was that started to get the attention of everyone and became one of those “oh fuck what did I say” moments?
Jim: One of those “oh fuck what did I say moments” seems to occur once a month, and it seems to be getting worse. I can’t really point to a moment when it first happened. Within months of working with Destructoid, I was accused of anti-Sony bias which is hilarious because my only real problem with Sony is that I wanted Sony to be as good as I remember so I can love it which isn’t really hatred when you think about it. Then I got a reputation for anti-Microsoft bias, and shortly after anti-Nintendo bias. It got to a point where different trolls were accusing me of hating different companies. Basically, depending on who you ask, I hate everyone and everything thing which isn’t true. I got a lot of love. I just don’t show it a lot because I don’t see the need to. If you’re in an industry where a lot of bullshit happens, you have to be able to call that out and say this is not right. Otherwise no one is ever going to learn and/or change. I’m not so arrogant to think I can make any company change. I can’t stop Activision from releasing ten Guitar Heroes in a year, but it doesn’t hurt to at least try. Anybody with a forum to vent, and say what they want about a subject, will do so. I’m just very lucky that I have as wide a forum that I have.
O.G.: The big thing you wrote that I saw blew up was the Assassins Creed review where you gave it 4.5 out of 10. When you were doing that review and wrote in that score, did you say “oh shit this is going to come back and it’s going to hurt” or did you think that you had to say it without worry about anything else?
Jim: The way I write reviews might be different than the way other people do it. What I always tell everyone on the staff, and what I tell myself, is write the review first and don’t think about giving it a number until you finish writing the review. We’ve got a 10 point scale and we try to use all 10 points. Every single number has a particular summary next to it. We got 10 for Flawless Victory, as close to perfect as possible, right down to 1 where there’s nothing redeeming whatsoever.
I’ll write the review, read through the review, and then I’ll match the tone of the review with the tone reflected in the score (summary). I wrote the Assassins Creed II review out as honest as I can possibly be, aired all my grievances and everything. Read through it, lined it up with my scores, and said that I’ve written a 4.5 review. It’s mediocre which puts it at 5 but there are these other points that are dragging it down. With the tone of the review, I cannot give it any higher.
I wanted to give it higher cause I didn’t want what happened to happen.
Believe it or not, I actually don’t like receiving messages and emails telling me that my family should burn in hell because I gave a game a score they didn’t agree with. I actually don’t enjoy that. If anything it’s gotten boring to read 50+ comment saying “Jim, you are a fat troll!” I’ve heard that for three years, it doesn’t affect me in a way, except it makes me quite tired.
I can’t rightfully put up an inflated score that I feel isn’t right just because I don’t want to deal with some people who seem emotionally invested with what I think of a game. I put it out there, and it was a case of come what may. We all saw what happened. Other blogs wrote about the review, I got all sorts of messages, and then I met a guy from Ubisoft at a party shortly after but he was actually really cool. Then there are some people that don’t like it at all. I’ve seen some tweets from developers in Montreal who don’t tell you what company they’re from, but I’m pretty that a developer from Montreal that tweets “Fuck Jim Sterling!”, that we know where he’s from. It’s a shame; I don’t enjoy kicking the shit out of games. I love games, that’s why I’m paid to play them and have the job that I have. I love games and I love telling people about good ones. It gives me no real joy to tell you a game is shit, especially if it’s a game people are looking forward to.
O.G.: I got to talk about Deadly Premonition. Here was a game with no real hype, and when I finally played it, I thought it was pretty bad. Then I look at your twitter, and you are just ecstatic about it. Tweet after tweet about how much you love the game, and how you wish it didn’t end. Then I read your review and you gave it a 10, I got the idea of that it was so bad that it was actually perfect. Now you changed the whole momentum of the game with just one review. You have seen all the demand that you’ve caused over the game, right?
Jim: Yes I have. I’ve seen tweets from people that work in Gamestops who say that a person came in to buy Deadly Premonition because of my review. That is perhaps the most amazing part of the job, when you know a game that you love has been bought by someone because you talked about it. The idea that you can help the game sell copies is amazing. Again, it’s absolute ridiculous that I should have the power to sell even one copy of a game to anybody.
With Deadly Premonition, I have never been so proud to help people discover that game. It really is something else. A lot of people thought that review was a joke, and that I had successfully trolled the internet in the most amazing way possible. But it wasn’t my attention to make a joke about it. The game is perfect with what it does. I try to judge games as an overall package, what they try to do and what they made me feel. Everything bad about the game made me enjoy it more. Yeah if I were reviewing the game purely from a gameplay perspective, it wouldn’t get a good score at all. As a piece of raw gameplay, it doesn’t do much to recommend itself. If I were to review it just based on the graphics, of course it would get 3 or 4 on the scale because it looks not any better than a PS2 game. But if I judge it as a piece of entertainment, something that made laugh out loud more times than any video game, and generally made me happy the time that I was playing it, then I can’t give it anything but a high score. A game like Deadly Premonition is so extreme that you can only give it a 1 or 10, and I’m not giving it a 1 to a game that had the “F—K” in the coffee scene.
O.G.: How bad has the feedback and backlash gotten because of your articles?
Jim: Honestly it’s not been that bad. I’ve had problems with some trolls, and even some people that I’ve worked closely in the industry who will have a grudge against me for some reason. Some people have tried to ruin my career. Perhaps the worse is a guy who turned his entire site into a site about me, and would post about anything that I wrote. Any discrepancies I wrote, he would report on his site. He started stalking my MySpace, when I had one, then he would get his friends to message me on Xbox Live. If he found out when I would go to a UK event, he would start telling me that he would be there. He never showed up, and you find out that people like this are pussies that go on the internet to act like a tough guy.
Whenever someone recognizes me at an event, game store, or wherever, and ask “Are you Jim Sterling,” I do wince because I don’t know whether they want to shake my hand or punch me in the face.
O.G.: One of the other big controversial articles you wrote recently was the one about indie games. When I read it, you had hit everything I had thought right on the nail. How did that article pop in your head that you needed to write about it?
Jim: It’s an argument I’ve had for a very long time. I first voiced it back when I was recording an episode of our Destructoid podcast, Podtoid. Anthony Birch, who many listeners would know from his video series “Hey Ash Whatcha Playing,” he’s a huge fan of indie games and art games. We did an art game episode and said to play games like Passage and The Marriage. When I played them, with their deliberately based graphics and ridiculously vague directions, I was just like; these games are just acting how they believe they should act because they are art games. There are some fantastic indie games out there, but some developers seem to have it in their head that there must be some particular style. This vague, cloudy, deliberately overly obscure experience and fun doesn’t seem to enter into the bargain. Those games clearly have their place, they clearly have a following, but for me, it was not original and I think that’s where many people misunderstood me.
When I talked about this, they thought I had a go about anything that was original. To me, an art game that acts like The Path, where you’re not given any direction and it tries to subvert your expectations by requiring you to do the opposite of what the game directions tell you to do. That’s not unique to me; you can find games like that. It’s become as cookie cutter and creatively bankrupt as your average AAA FPS. They’ve become just a plagiarizing, self-copying entity in the same way that many big budget retail games have. To me, originality is not derived by how much money has been put into the game development. Some people think that you can’t accuse an indie game or art game of being derivative when most of the popular ones actually are derivative.
O.G.: It’s a shame that people took your message the wrong way. I hope that indie developers read what you said and realize that they can make a great original game for not budget.
Jim: That to me is the challenge. To do something that has all your deep meanings or all your self-indulgent pros, but that’s also entertaining to your average gamer. That to me is a true test of skill. Give me a game that’s “important” and “meaningful” as an art game, but also make it as fun as an indie game like Castle Crashers. If you can combine a genuinely fun gameplay with a genuinely artsy message, I think you will have created a triumph. But it seems that people get stuck in this mindset that it has to be one or the other. I think people thought that I was arguing for one instead of the other. My main argument is for both. Let’s combine them and get something truly original, but a lot of people missed the point.
Funny enough, most of them that missed the point, were members of the gaming press as opposed to developers. I had one indie game developer who emailed me and was like “I love that article. It was brilliant. It gave voice to a lot of frustration that we developers have.” Even Rod Humble, who developed the marriage which is one of the games that I tore apart in the article, he defended his game, but he didn’t diminish what I had to say. He was actually very cordial about it, and I think Rod Humble as a guy is a fantastic man. He’s not arrogant, very down to Earth, and has a great sense of humor. He’s often taken my attacks on art games stupendously well. It was the game media who were unhappy with what I said. I had arguments with multiple people in the gaming press. There were indie game blogs that basically said “Jim Sterling hates indie games.” It just struck me as amusing as it seems these guys are feeling threatened, like if I diminish art games I’m then saying that those, as journalists, are not important. I think there’s quite a bit of selfishness with that where people thought “Well if art games aren’t important, then I’m wasting my time writing about them.” I think some people took that personally.
O.G.: You wrote another article recently about how video game "fans" need to shut up. I saw that on your twitter and thought “Oh Jim, what are you doing now.” I read it, and sure enough, you wrote what I had been thinking for some time since the petition of Left 4 Dead 2. In the article you wrote about the Sonic 4 and Diablo 3 petitions that were started by the “fans”. Was the Sonic 4 petition the thing that kicked off this article for you?
Jim: That was definitely the final straw. I was debating at the time on whether to make it a Sonic article or include the experience of the past several years with these so called “fans”. I don’t want to even call them fans really because they don’t talk like they love what they’re fans of. Instead, it sounds like they hate everything. I’ve been mocking these people for years back when Fallout 3 was released and Diablo 3 was announced. Whenever these people would put out their petitions, I would write about it. The Valve thing, I made quite a bit of enemies with the Left 4 Dead 2 boycotters over the things I was saying. I had guaranteed that they would be playing it when the game came out, and I was right about that.
The Sonic thing pushed me over the edge, and it made it a timely article. It was a good one to write, and I didn’t expect it to be as popular as it was. It seems that a lot of people liked it because it gave voice to something they’ve been thinking. I just wish people would enjoy video games cause I certainly do. I love them. Yes I bitch and moan when something’s not right, but that’s because I want them to be better. Some of these people seem to not even want them. They don’t want developers to even succeed. That’s the worst part of it. They don’t care that someone needs to do something to make money so they can keep making games. They just want everything to be about them and their particular tastes. If it’s not exactly what they want, they’ll just throw all their toys out the pram.(*Note: This is a British phrase so if it doesn't make sense, ask a British person about it)
You can listen to the rest of the podcast below or download it here.
To read all the articles that make Jim Sterling so hated, you can go to Destructoid.com. You can follow Jim on twitter, @Jim_Sterling.
article id: 1019 | poster: OG