An article about the negative response to Jim Sterling’s Breath of the Wild review, or CLICKBAIT CLICKBAIT CLICKBAIT
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released to a rapturous response. There were so many 10s from critics, you’d think it was codenamed Tye Dillinger. As expected, the internet similarly had multiple orgasms over the product, thrilled to see the return of their prodigal and spiritual son, Link. People have truly enjoyed and been emboldened by this game, and that’s a beautiful thing – this is going to be a whole batch of kids’ new Ocarina of Time, the game that codifies and justifies their interest and love for video gaming. If we could have just left it there, Breath of the Wild would be lovely, instead of the terrible beauty it’s been twisted into by its rabid fans.
“Drink bleach, you fat miserable cunt” went the chorus line of MENSA members all over the Internet. There was a storm in the video game world once more, and, predictably, who was at the centre of it again? None other than independent troubadour Jim Sterling, who – without dressing this up in fancy language – gave Breath of the Wild 7 out of 10 in his recent review. As one might guess, Zelda fans were incredibly displeased, deeming this score an insult, “7” being far too low for a game they had anticipated so hard – some likely not having played it.
In Jim’s defence, 7 is a good score, a respectable one. Might not have been the one that ravenous fans wanted, but it’s an honourable score that any sane mind should be able to live with. From Jim’s review, he states that he “see[s] too many things getting in the way of the brilliance“, and that’s your overview – an excellent game marred by too many annoying details, which is a fair critique. The actual body of the text, while disclosing its fair share of criticism, glows about the game, identifying the graphics, in spite of the Switch’s inferiority, and exploration as big pluses. To Breath of the Wild’s detriment, Sterling underlines weapon durability, stamina systems, and the game making you work much harder than you should have as negatives, which are all fair criticisms that don’t exactly smack of a chancing slimeball reviewer looking for a few hits. Without questioning the literacy of gamers, one might think that they just skipped to the end of the review for the verdict.
Now, in fairness to the gamers, we should consider that while most reviewers use the 0-10 scale, the numbers from 0 to 6 simply don’t mean as much anymore thanks to overzealous reviewers only using the top 4 numbers. Perhaps this quote from Warren Spector, behemoth video game director who also worked on Epic Mickey says it best.
“Literally, we’ve got a half dozen perfect scores and I’ve also gotten the lowest scores I’ve ever gotten on any game I’ve ever worked on. Of course you want everybody to think you made the best game ever, but if we were trending at something like an 8 out of 10? I’d probably have to kill myself.”
An 8 should be a good score, but because of places like IGN and GameSpot handing out 9s and 10s like candy, any other review scores will just not mean as much. If you think that’s just hyperbole, look at the games that GameSpot have given perfect scores. There’s been more perfect scores handed out from 2015 to 2017 than there has been from 1998 to 2006 – that’s 5 versus 4. This is all because of the roaring – and much more vocal – internet hate machine that demands everything be bigger, larger, bolder, and may god have mercy on you if you don’t comply.
This furore, of course, is nothing new at all – similar outcries ensued over the so-called low scores given to Super Smash Bros. Brawl in 2008 by NGamer Magazine and Yahtzee Croshaw, even though the bodies of their reviews were positive, or at least as positive as old Yahtzee can manage. The sun rises. The sun sets. People live. People die. Internet gamers get pissy about review scores. It’s the sad eventuality we live in. Yet it does raise an interesting question – why is it almost always Nintendo games at the epicentre of these uproars? After building up so much childhood goodwill, is Nintendo exempt from criticism, like that one sibling that can do no wrong in your parent’s eyes? It seems completely unhealthy to put this one company up on a pedestal, no matter what they’ve done in the past or how many great games they’ve churned out. Goliath will eventually make a mistake, and it’s unfair to tar him with a different brush, even if we don’t know David that well. Ultimately, it feels like a 7 out of 10 for any other company’s product, no matter how anticipated, would always be a storm in a teacup compared to Nintendo. No, they get the special rage and the fine china for Sundays only.
To this end, why are review scores even that important? We lend a little too much credence to numbers and stars anyway – which might sound dangerous to say as my job is giving out numbers and stars, so I’ll be careful not to lay down my big teeth on any generous hands – especially considering that media review is, by and large, subjective. The only reasoning you could give against this is that it also performs as a consumer review, something to help the average Joe Sixaxis decide if they want to put their hard-earned money down for software. That’s an acceptable argument, 99.9% of the time, but not for Zelda. You knew you were going to buy Breath of the Wild, much less play, enjoy, and love. For Zelda fans, which I hear there’s a couple in the world, this game is just another day at the office – 30 hours of adventure that sinking your teeth into was an inevitability, owing to your deep familiarity with the concept, format, characters, and lore. This is, to put it another way, your jam. It’s always going to be a 10 in your heart, so why bother getting angry at an Englishman you will never meet?
The answer is obvious, maybe to the extent where journalists don’t want to obviate themselves, but fuck it, let me lay it on the line: for some, Zelda is all they have. Video games and Zelda isn’t just part of their identity, it’s the centrepiece, it’s their raison d’être. Thus, when it’s so deeply ingrained within them with nothing else to compliment it, a 7 for Breath of the Wild isn’t just a low score, it’s a personal attack, a perceived insult to how they live and what they love. This differing opinion suddenly becomes a declaration of war, because how dare anyone desecrate their love? A sane mind wouldn’t worry what the hell Jim Sterling thinks; who is Jim, anyway, in the wider scheme of things. Yet that’s how these things start. This is the genesis of pop-culture boogeymen who want to ruin games for the poor, marginalised normal dudes who are in no way a majority at all. Gosh, I didn’t watch the video or read the article to see what they actually said, but doesn’t that sound scary?! The lazy nature of it all, the ability to yell ”CLICKBAIT” or “FAKE NEWS”, thereby succinctly discrediting anything you don’t like from the comfort of your own sofa, mixed with the idea that gaming, or its “overlords” are against you, is a dangerous cocktail. The true hardcore “elite”, the “bona fide gamers”, are becoming more tiresome as time rolls on, so insular in their thinking that it borders on projection – keep all that rhetoric about coddled SJWs in your mind – and even to former outliers like me who scoffed when Leigh Alexander and others said that “gamers were dead” three years ago, I’m beginning to think they were onto something.
Now, I’ll sit back and wait for the angry mob who’ll accuse this article of being clickbait even though this site takes no ad revenue and has no Patreon or any other source of income. God bless the internet.