Where Hast Mine Passion Gone
This interview is from a couple years back when I got the opportunity to sit down with Reviews on the Run's Scott C. Jones. He was nice enough to sit down with me for a couple hours and provided some really interesting insights. Enjoy!
Press Start : How has Canada been treating you so far?
Scott Jones: I feel very comfortable here. Vic and I make the show in a vacuum. We just do it every day. People in Vancouver are so laid back. They don't make a huge fuss out of seeing us, but then we come here and everywhere we go people know us and it's just so cool. I think it's sort of an east coast/west coast thing and in the west coast people are just laid back, they are too cool for it or something but over here they get really excited to meet Victor and to wait in line for us.
PS : That must be a crazy experience for you because you have been writing for many years, and have been pretty successful, but I'm sure you've never had people lining up to see you.
SJ: I never signed an autograph before in my life until last year. During the Olympics there were a lot of people in town in Vancouver and people would see me on the street, stop me and take photos and it's still very strange because all I ever wanted to do was just be a writer. Vic does his TV thing, he's an icon. I've been watching him on TV for a long time.
PS: I have too. I was standing about a foot away from him and I was just frightened. I couldn't muster up the courage to talk to him.
SJ: Oh yeah, I mean I remember first meeting him at a THQ party at E3 a couple years ago. I'd had a couple drinks because these things were always open bar, and I went up to him said "I love your show, I watch it all the time, you gotta get rid of your co host, that guy is a jerk"
PS : You told him you thought Tommy Tallarico was a jerk?
SJ: Yeah and I told Vic that and we were laughing and he said "Yeah a lot of people say that." A lot of people love Tommy too, I like him and I was just kidding but Vic was my guy on the show. He's the guy I agreed with. It's kind of ironic though that like ten years later Tommy is gone, doing his own thing and now I'm the new guy.
PS: So that's how it all began?
SJ: Yeah what happened was that they were still working together on EP and Reviews on the Run, but Tommy was getting busy doing Video Games Live. They were having trouble scheduling shooting times.
PS: Then he did the guest hosts.
SJ: Yeah the rotating guests hosts, and according to Vic he didn't even remember my name he was just like "Get me that guy I met at E3. He was funny and he told me to get rid of Tommy and let's put him on see how he does." I did a little bit of TV in New York...
PS: You did some CNN Correspondents work among other stuff right?
SJ: Yeah morning news stuff too, three to four minute segments. I was the gamer guy, they would bring me on and I would show them how to play Rock Band or something but I had never done sustained television like Victor, and I didn't know if I could do it. I mean I really remember that I decided that I was going to say no and then I just though every time something has come up in my life where I asked myself "I don't think I can do this" or "I don't know if I want to do this" if I don't at least try it I'm going to be mad at myself. So I said you know what I'll do this first shoot, Vic was coming to New York and we were gonna shoot in New York and I didn't know if it would work or not, and I was pretty nervous for the first two or three reviews and then I just started loosening up and we started to have fun. We really started to click, we started to have some real chemistry with each other and his way of looking at games, and pop culture, and entertainment is very different from mine but they are sort of complementary. His knowledge base is more comic booky, and mine is more regular booky.
PS: Well you have an MFA in poetry right?
PS: So I have to ask you, you have your MFA, you were a teacher for a while, why videogame writing? How did we get here?
SJ: Well I lived in Chicago in the early nineties, just for two years and I worked in a restaurant and I was trying to apply to graduate school, but mostly what I was doing was playing videogames. I was just obsessed. I would buy EGM every month and EGM back then was still published in Chicago. That's where the staff was and I just had this question of "how do these guys get this job writing about games?" How did you get that job? It was like asking how do I get to be Santa Claus. So I would read EGM every night, stay up late, go to my stupid waiter job and then I applied to graduate school, got in, started working on my MFA, but I was always a closeted gamer, literally. I would put my games in the closet. Only once everyone was gone, and I was alone would I play them. I was ashamed, I had to do it quietly.
PS: Why was that?
SJ: There was still just a huge stigma surrounding games.
PS: Well when you sort of broke in, you did it before the whole blog explosion on the internet, and in a way that must have been good because you avoided all the clutter, but it also must have been tough because there just wasn't the appreciation, opportunity, and vessels we have now to write about games.
SJ: I never even really started writing about games until even years after I left Syracuse where I did my MFA. I moved to New York, had a terrible job.
PS: The smut magazine?
SJ: Yep. A "Men's Sophisticate" magazine. I'd go in every day meaning to quit, and they'd just keep promoting me. I just kept getting better positions until I became the editor in chief. It was an awful magazine.
PS: Did you use a Pseudonym?
SJ: Yes, my Pseudonym was Harry Montana.
SJ: I made that up on my own. So I had this job, going to all these photo shoots and I was meeting all these horrible people, and it's not that they are horrible, they are just not my type of people. They have a real perverse sensibility about the world and about life, and it's like yeah I'm interested in sex, yeah I've looked at a magazine like this before, but do I want to be around these people? I don't want to meet porn stars. I don't care. It's not thrilling for me. What started to worry me is that I would never get out of that business because once that's on your resume then people will always think of you as "oh that guy who always worked at the porn place." That's what everyone who worked there told each other. They said, oh we can't leave. It's like the island of misfit toys in Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. We were all broken people who had dreams but were washed up on the shore of this terrible place and I never thought I'd get out. What I always did though was read game stuff. Gamespot, Gamespy, always asking how do you get these jobs? How do you get to be a game reviewer for IGN?
PS: And how do you exactly?
SJ: Well I can tell you what I did, and the industry has changed a lot since then so I don't even know if it would work but I started writing about games for free. I worked for a couple of low level websites that had no money, no budget they were just all volunteers and I don`t remember the names of all them but one of them was GameCritics.com.
PS: Sure, that`s a great site.
SJ: Yeah those guys are all great; they are based in New York. I wrote for them for a long time, two years and I never got paid. I just worked so hard on my reviews, and that`s where I learned to write about games. Just working on it because I loved it. I didn't know if it would lead anywhere, I didn't care I just loved getting to go home, play the shit out of a game, and then try to describe my experience. I probably did that for a year and a half or two years, and there was this one guy I used to work with at the old boob magazine, and he was way too nice for it and he moved on to do a bunch of other things, but he ended up actually running the Maxim website. Anyway I always sort of stayed in touch with that guy, and one day I quit the magazine, I just couldn`t take it anymore. It was like handling toxic waste every day; I mean you can't look at that stuff every day without having it warp your mind. You can't touch it every day so I quit and I didn't know what I would do. I saved about three thousand dollars so I just moved back home. I would lie on the couch and just watch Oprah, play video games and just wonder what would happen to me. I made no progress with this New York thing and I was starting over. So I did nothing for a couple months and then this guy Gene called me and asked me if I wanted to do game reviews for Stuff, for the website. They had an opening, and that sort of opened the door for me. I was given a debug unit, I started getting early builds for games, I started getting invited to press events, and I had my own homemade business cards. Things were starting to move and I got my first pay check, and it wasn`t a lot but I was getting paid finally to do this stuff. I just kept meeting more and more people. I would go to E3 every year and pay my own way, and the idea was to go and to try and get enough work out of E3 to break even. Most importantly you get exposure. People start seeing you at all these events, and you start building relationships with PR people, with other journalists, with game developers, you are in the world, you are in circulation.
PS: And now look at you.
SJ: Oh well not a day goes by where I am not grateful. I can`t believe it. I don`t know anyone who has a better life than me. Some days I crab, I get crabby. We play a lot of shit games.
PS: I don`t even do this for a living and I get angry when I play terrible games.
SJ: Yeah we had to review these Chuck E. Cheese party games, it was just terrible. I`m playing it going "this is terrible, I want to die" but then I just have to do my reality check. This is not a bad way to spend my days."
PS: Well and great reviews can stem out of terrible games. You read Martin Amis's review about Iron John or something, and it's significantly more entertaining than the subject matter is.
SJ: That's a good point, and I think that's key to sustaining the show. Even if the game is bad, the review can't be. At the end of the day what we are doing is giving consumers advice but we are also providing an entertainment and we realize that.
PS: Do you see problems with the game journalism industry?
SJ: Well games have not sold well. I think this year only two games have made a profit. It's been really tough for development companies, and we've seen situations where developers have been strong arming certain sites over review scores and that's ridiculous. You can't do that. At the same time, these people's livelihoods depend on their game's review scores, on their Metacritc scores.
PS: Well I remember you went to Insomniac during the release of Resistance 2, and when a good review score would roll in there would be a huge celebration, but when a negative, or fairly mediocre score would come in, a much more sombre reaction would follow. It must be heartbreaking to them.
SJ: They kill themselves. They literally kill themselves.
PS: And we come along, and in a thousand words we destroy their hard work.
SJ: Yeah, you can't just destroy on people's games when they've worked so hard on them, at the same time I hate this strong-arming, and this pressure that comes from the publishers. You've got to a site that has given a game a 90%, and the site is plastered with ads from that game. It's pretty questionable. You can put two and two together.
PS: You have a bit of a reputation as being the guy who hates everything on Reviews on the Run.
SJ: I hate my reputation. I don't want to be the guy who hates everything. That's not me. That's not what I'm doing. I mean, I think if you watch the show regularly I don't hate everything it's just that Victor is generally more fond of things than I am.
PS: Well and you take reviewing games on a pretty personal level don't you?
SJ: I do and I think I also realize that if Victor and I agreed on everything, delivered the exact same review scores and said the exact same things that we wouldn't be on the air for very long. It's almost like picking a side in a debate. We do that in the name of illuminating, and shedding light on what's happening in the game. Reviews are abstract. It's hard to describe what happens inside of you, in your head when you are playing a game but I think one of the best ways to get at that and to articulate that abstraction is to have that kind of conversation and have that back and forth.
PS: It's pretty obvious too that Victor just sort of has a wonderfully boyish passion for video games.
SJ: He does, and he's really affected by it. You know, he's done so much in the last 10 years. He's put together the Canadian Video Game Awards; he's got two daily shows, there is a documentary division of Greedy but all he really wants to do is go back to his basement and play games. All the stuff that he does is in the name of getting back there. I'll go over to his house, and he is just so happy. He's got stacks of games around him, and that's what he lives for. He's built all this other stuff so he can go back there to do what he loves. He loves this stuff in a way, and I mean I love this stuff, but it's almost an unnatural love. I don't even get it.
PS: In Tom Bissell's book "Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter" he talks about how he sometimes struggles, as a well educated person to really come to terms with his video game love and addiction. You said yourself that you literally used to put your videogames in a closet when people were around, and I too at times wonder if there are better things I should be doing than playing videogames.
PS: Yeah exactly. We don't have to hide our shame. We have no shame.
SJ: No a lot of the shame and kid cache are gone. You know what happened to me, and this is going to sound so morbid but I was in New York for September 11th and it was horrible. It was just a terrible day for everyone. Just going through that experience, I just remember saying to myself "I'm not going to not love this shit. I'm gonna love whatever I love, and that's when the game systems came out of the closet, and when I decided to really embrace this stuff.
PS: Right, for me sometimes games make me happy when nothing else will.
SJ: Yeah I get extreme satisfaction from playing videogames, they are doing things with the medium that I didn't think they'd ever be able to and what we have right now are just the cave paintings for where this industry is going.
PS: Yeah videogames are still just a baby.
SJ: Still a baby and it's an industry not like film where the technology apart from 3D has really peeked. Videogames are constantly and rapidly evolving, and to hold the power we have with them in our hands right now was unfathomable a few years ago.
PS: I can't wait to see what we are looking at 5 or 10 years down the road.
SJ: It'll be great. As long as I keep getting a chance to get back to my games I'll be happy. That's what it's all about. Getting back to our basements, and living rooms, and bedrooms, and getting back to our games.