A little exposition before we start. I've been a professional games writer for over three years now. As in, writing about games has been my primary source of income and pretty much the main focus of my career during that time. During those three years, I've written for three different publishers and had enough articles posted to keep me financially solvent. I know, three years in this business is nothing. But it's long enough to learn a few things.
In these last three years, not one of my articles was ever published without an editor's approval; every piece of writing I've ever put out has been edited, sometimes mercilessly, and sometimes never even published at all. Not that I'm bitter about this, far from it. In order to make a living writing about things I love, I know I have to keep certain thoughts to myself, toe the party line occasionally, or write about things I have absolutely no interest in. I'm part of a system; complete freedom of speech is a luxury I've neither expected nor demanded.
Let me say something else: I'm a big fan of Sterling's writing at Destructoid. Have been for ages. His analyses are spot-on, his satire is deliciously biting, and without his input, I'm sure the "discussion community" that Destructoid is built on would be far less active. I'm more than a bit jealous of his position, as you might have guessed; as far as I can tell, he has the power to write about basically anything he wants and people will listen. But after a particularly biting review of Final Fantasy XIII drummed up a shitstorm of personal attacks, Sterling's response (rebuttal?) made things a whole lot worse.
This is only the beginning...
I fully understand Sterling's desire to defend his work. Writing both the FFXIII review and this response took balls, and since his previous rebuttals have been so sarcastic, I was surprised to see this more personal side of Sterling and such an honest admission of his vulnerability.
But the first paragraph of this article pissed me the hell off.
As I said before, three years in the business of writing about videogames is nothing. But I do take what I do seriously, and I take pride in what I do as a member of the enthusiast press. Please, Jim: take your job more seriously than this. This paragraph is a big slap in the face for any writer who got into this industry with a goal of contributing to society. Not only that, but it's also wrong.
Time for a break! Watch this video.
Hooboy, let's compare Sterling's article to Six Days in Fallujah! Hold on, though...
OK, so you probably see where I'm going with this. People attack Sterling's work, Sterling responds with this paragraph that belittles both his work and his profession ("what does a game reviewer contribute to society? Not a lot, my friends. Not a lot."); therefore, people who say he's nothing more than a jackass with a keyboard get proven right.
"Nobody is more happy to confess how silly his career is than I am, and nobody is more willing to admit that his place in the world is, ostensibly, useless."
I would like to posit the following motto: "Never take yourself seriously. ALWAYS take your work seriously." Look at me, I care more about writing this article this morning than hanging out with friends, or putting on pants! But I'd never call my writing "useless." If it was useless, why would I be doing it? I want to make people think, same as any self-respecting writer.
I understand Sterling's desire to take himself down a notch in order to appease the masses calling for his blood, but by insulting his career (and mine), he's thrown the baby out with the bath water.
And why do I care? So what, another jackass with a keyboard, right? Well, it's indicative of a larger problem that I've witnessed throughout my career as a games journalist: a lack of self respect.
There is one thing that Sterling and I definitely agree upon: The biggest enemies of the games industry are the gaming enthusiasts themselves. Game journalists are no exception. We pander, we flamebait, we try to be the smartest guys in the room, but many of us still don't think of what we're doing as more than pure entertainment. I know because I've pandered, flamebaited, and pranced around as an "intellectual" more times than I can remember, sometimes all in the same sentence.
But I never try to defend my work by saying "it doesn't matter." Even when I'm writing an article I know is dumb, I do my damndest to put something, anything into it that I think will contribute to a broader understanding of how we look at games. I don't always succeed, but I always try.
Mamma always said: If you don't respect yourself, why should anyone respect you?
Too many reviewers write their reviews as no more than just evaluations, or worse yet, buying recommendations. (Sterling is not actually guilty of this, to his credit- this is more a problem with other reviewers I've encountered.) If a reviewer is merely stating his opinion, then that opinion can and will be ignored. When a game reviewer goes beyond "reviewing" and engages in "criticism," he/she is trying to glean some larger, objective insight into the world of gaming. Describing whether or not something works is one thing; describing why it works is something else. And that something else will contribute to our gaming community, if it is insightful enough.
I won't go into the specifics of the FFXIII review because in all honesty, I don't care. But Sterling's reviews in general very often transcend evaluations and enter the realm of "criticism" and for that, I respect him. He doesn't "make a joke of" writing reviews; he often strikes right to the heart of why games work or don't work. But Sterling's article "The joys of being a videogame reviewer" was a disappointment. Sterling could have stood his ground; instead he merely reinforced the notion that games journalists are nothing more than assholes with keyboards.