Jim Sterling and the Case for Reviewer Rage

Jim Sterling and the Case for Reviewer Rage

Nintendo discussion of a different breed.

pocru by pocru on Mar 19, 2017 @ 02:25 AM (Staff Bios)
I know, I know, I’m getting sick about writing Nintendo stuff too. But before you go ahead and close this tab (I assume you opened a tab for this: if not, I’m flattered, but I don’t deserve a whole window), let me assure you that this isn’t going to be another article giving Nintendo the ol’ lash of the tongue for their dodgy business practices. Heck, I’m not even going to talk about the Switch or the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, although both of these things are elements of the true subject of discussion, it’s not really the thrust of things: you could replace the company and the game with any number of high-profile names and we’d still be having this discussion.

And what a discussion it is, to boot. You’ve probably heard the name Jim Sterling thrown about on this and other websites, but for those of you who aren’t aware, Jim Sterling is a former reviewer on Destructoid and The Escapist who became one of the first figures of journalism to successfully break away from one of the major online sites to start his own, independent website called The Jimquisition, funded via Patreon. He’s a rather bombastic figure, and while he’s not the most well-known video games personality out there (he plays games but he’s no lets player) he’s known for being confrontational to an almost suicidal degree, and catapulted into fame for his willingness to review some of the crappiest games released on Steam and tango with the developers who try to silence his criticism.


He’s staunchly pro-consumer, he’s intelligent, and he doesn’t back down from threats. Consider me a fan.

But his most recent fiasco, surprisingly enough, has nothing to do with the dozens or butthurt indie developers who try to abuse the law (or youtube’s copyright policies) to silence his criticism: rather, the latest from old Jim came from a torrent of negative comments and outright rage over the fact that, last weekend, he gave The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a review of 7/10, calling it “good”, but muddied by dozens upon dozens of tiny annoyances that prevent it from being a truly great adventure. Because he had the audacity to give the game a comparatively poor score (when it had been, until this point, enjoying 9’s and 10’s) his site suffered a DDoS attack and the comment thread responding to his review got so overwhelmed by rage that they actually exceeded the capacity for his website to host, causing the entire comment section to crash. People, for lack of a better word, were pissed.

Over a review score.

Not even a bad review score, just “not as good as they wanted” kind of review score. People were calling him a conspirator trying to get revenge on Nintendo, saying he was trying to sabotage the game’s Metacritic score so it wouldn’t be listed amongst the best games ever made, accusing him of using a rigged system that no consumer of sound mind could possibly comprehend, and this all sounds like bullcrap to you, right? Because this should sound like bullcrap to you. It’s bullcrap. I shouldn’t have to sit down and explain to anyone how that’s baffling or illogical. And I don’t feel like condescending whatever audience this article might have with a long-winded discussion on why this is mind-boggling. Besides, by the time this is ultimately posted, there will have been other game commentators who will make the same argument, an argument that shouldn’t bear repeating because we’ve frankly been here before. This happens way more often than anyone would care to admit, and it’s just especially bad now because The Legend of Zelda is such a beloved franchise. But this is the same old song and dance faced during Uncharted, Super Smash Brothers, Sony All-Star Brawl or whatever the heck it was called, I can’t be bothered to Google it.

So I’m going to take an alternative approach. Maybe something a little different. Call it the Mick Jagger in my blood, but we’re going to try to have some sympathy for the devil and look into reasons why this, a single review score of 7/10, could indeed earn a reviewer or a website anger and rage. Bear in mind, I didn’t say “all that anger and rage”, because literally nothing on a video game website, except maybe a long-winded post about how Jesus told the writer in a dream that the holocaust was a lie (or, I don’t know, that Hitler did nothing wrong?) deserves that kind of hatred.


The first, most obvious, and most frequently-cited problem by the angry masses is that Jim Sterling’s score messes with the game’s total Metacritic score. Now, Jim Sterling has been doing that for as long as he’s been writing, for his non-conventional practice (and I wish I was being sarcastic in writing that, but I’m being extremely sincere) in calling a 5/10 “average”, whereas most game reviews that use a x/10 score would call a 5 “bad”. So he was already volatile, and when you’ve got a game that’s earning nothing but 9’s and 10’s, a 7 is going to throw off the curve noticeably… and since Metacritic is one such site where a 7/10 is seen as “average”, it does mean that out-of-context, it makes Jim’s review seem especially harsh. And I’ll grant you this: for competitive gamers, who really believe that Breath of the Wild is the best game ever made and deserves to be acknowledged as such, Jim’s review is pretty much a guarantee that will never happen, knocking it down to third best-scoring game of all time on the site, at time of writing. And if you were looking to find some way to “scientifically” prove that Breath of the Wild is better than, say Ocarina of Time, you’re going to need to find a different source, because Metacritic ain’t it.

Bad, if you find yourself debating another Zelda fan online and looking for validation. Hoo, you’d have a bone to pick with Mr. Sterling after that.

The second reason it could get some player’s goats, often spoken of but almost never explicitly, is it pulls into question any other reviews that may have informed a player’s purchase in the past. Consider you’re a long-time fan of Jim Sterling (or any reviewer), and anytime you were on the fence about a game, you’d turn to them to help you decide if it was worth your time or not. Now, a game that you think is the best that was ever made has been rated as “only okay” by that source that you trust… yeah, there would be a sense of betrayal in that. It illustrates that there’s a sizeable difference in judgment and taste between yourself and the person you trusted. Not only does that mean you couldn’t trust future reviews completely, the way you had in the past, but it also means that any past purchasing decisions you did on their advice might not have been the best ones. If you got Infamous rather than Prototype because Mr. Reviewer Man said it was superior, well… now you’re left to wonder if that 50 bucks you spent 5 years ago would have been better spent on Prototype. That can absolutely be upsetting.


The third reason this could be a potential problem is if, for some reason, Jim Sterling’s review makes a lot of people question their earlier intention of buying The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. With no interest in the next Zelda game, there’s very little reason to buy a Nintendo Switch, so Switch sales start to decline rapidly. With no interest in the Switch, Nintendo will find its next (and probably last) big hope for console development dashed, and after desperately trying to fight to stay relevant, Nintendo decides it can’t support hardware development anymore. But too spiteful to develop for other consoles the way Sega had, Nintendo instead puts all its money into mobile development, making free-to-play mobile titles that abuse and distort beloved Nintendo properties into cheap cash grabs, making them even worse than Konami. With Nintendo’s childhood defining titles being turned into shovelware, the fragile illusion of innocence people had built around themselves using Nintendo properties would shatter, leaving thousands despondent and suicidal as they question their place in a cruel, unforgiving world.

And then the murders begin…

Look, jokes aside, I don’t want to imply that game reviewers are untouchable or beyond critique themselves. I know the way many of them speak, they seem to suggest they shouldn’t ever be held accountable for their reviews, and that’s not true: there is not a single profession or job that is immune to consumer critique. But blind rage because of a score like this isn’t productive, and they certainly shouldn’t be held accountable for that. By all means, if a reviewer says something you disagree with, you can say so. But critique the critic sensibly, all right? Be reasonable about it, accept that there’s always going to be some differences in opinion: which is why you should always use multiple reviewers so you can get the broad consensus, and not just the yay or neigh of one guy or gal.

Maybe if ya'll took a step back and looked at those Metacritic scores more closely, you’d see one 7/10 is hardly a big deal. You’ve still got a game of the year on your hands. Enjoy that much.



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