Few have mastered the art of smart-meets-fun tech and videogame reporting like Jessica Chobot. After a tongue-in-cheek photo of Chobot licking a Sony PSP went viral in 2005, she caught the attention of gaming site IGN, known for its authoritative reviews but less for its video content. That would change, as Chobot – an anime, videogame and tech nerd of the highest degree – became a writer and on-air host for the site, shepherding The Daily Fix, IGN Strategize and Weekly ‘Wood to high popularity. Transitioning to videogame/tech TV channel G4 last year, Chobot has emerged as one of the station’s rising stars, bringing her wry sense of humor and genuine enthusiasm to programs like Proving Ground as well as on-the-street reporting. Fresh from CES, Chobot recently spoke with Flightpath about her early days at IGN, the evolution of her in-front-of-the-camera style, and why a refrigerator was one of the highlights of CES.
Flightpath: When you started at IGN, I remember as a fan, it seemed like they threw you right into the fire doing hosting and event coverage and writing.
Jessica Chobot: The writing part wasn’t so bad. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was not nearly as good as I thought I was at the time. I’m kind of ashamed of what I wrote, actually. [Laughs] But you know, you always have to start somewhere. And that’s actually what I really wanted to do, was to be a writer/games reviewer for the site. However, I was only kind of doing it as a freelancer, and strictly for a paid section of our site, IGN Insider. So it was a pretty light gig, but I was still doing that out of Michigan at the time. And I wanted a full-time job at IGN. So, I told them what my goals were and that if they ever had any openings to call me, and they finally did. The opening though, was to do game reviews for cell phone games. And at the time, smartphones hadn’t come out yet. They weren’t really on the horizon any time soon.
Flightpath: So these were like the Pong versions of today’s mobile games.
Jessica Chobot: Oh, very, very basic games like Snake and things of that nature. Any game that went above and beyond just that, it was a worthy effort but they were never very good. And I didn’t like them, and I didn’t want to do that. Those were not games that I wanted to review, so I went ahead and said no thank you, and then hung up with them and realized, “Oh God, that was a huge mistake. I probably should have just said, ‘I’ll take it,’ and get over there – get over there being go to California – and work my way through the ranks.” So I called them back about 30 minutes later after the first phone call and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it and I’d love to revisit this conversation, because it sounds like a great opportunity.” And they were like, “Sorry, it’s gone,” and then basically hung up on me.
And then for a week I was just crushed, because I thought I’d pissed away my opportunity to get out of Michigan and to do something within the videogame world. About a week later, a different person from IGN called me and said, “Hey, we’re looking to start doing videos and we need a host. Would you be interested?” I absolutely hated being on camera. I’m used to it now – I still get nervous now, but I know what to expect and how to control it. But at the time, I’d never done anything even remotely like hosting or being on camera and trying to make it sound natural and all that stuff. But I just kinda said, “Yeah,” just to get my foot in the door, and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake that I did with the first offer. So I accepted the position, moved out to California, and just did the whole sink-or-swim thing, and managed to swim pretty decently. If you look back at the stuff when I first started, I have a really thick mid-Western accent, you can tell that I’m really nervous, and it was very amateur hour. But it was good, because it was amateur hour for IGN too. They’d never had a video team before, and so over the next four to five years, we grew and learned how to do all of that stuff together. So yeah, it was one of those trial by fire moments, and it worked out. [Laughs] I got really lucky.
Flightpath: And as that took off, was it hard to enjoy games like you used to, as you got more and more entrenched in the industry?
Jessica Chobot: Yes and no. Yes, in the fact that there’s so much coming out all the time, and there’s so much news coming out all the time. I feel currently too, that I go through stages where I feel overwhelmed and want nothing to do with games. But at the end of the day, that is what I love. I love this job, I love videogames, I love the people that work within the industry; I love everything about it. I always come back to sitting down and playing and really getting invested in it. The one thing I have learned though, is that to keep myself from getting burnt out as often, I only try and play the games that I really, really like. I’ll play a little bit of everything, but I really focus on the types of games that speak to me as a gamer, and that helps to keep me from feeling like it’s just this never-ending beat down of titles. So it actually worked out to my advantage – getting a job as host at IGN – because if I was to be an editor, I would have to play everything all the way through, no matter what. And so now I have to know what’s going on, but I get a little bit more freedom to be able to focus on the things that I like.
Flightpath: After you became a host, you eventually developed this style of being very funny but also informative, and that’s carried over to what you’re doing with G4. Is that something you wanted to achieve or did it just come naturally?
Jessica Chobot: You know, I think practice makes perfect, so in that sense, it was something I wanted to achieve. I would watch all of my shows and see the things I didn’t like and try to fix them while I was doing it. But also, I’m kind of a big goofball. That part comes naturally. I have no problem making fun of myself, and I have no problem making fun of others, and I have no problem having them making fun of me! And I actually find that that is the best way to approach it, because at the end of the day, this industry is fun. It’s all about fun. You can get philosophical about it – it makes billions of dollars, blah blah blah. You can talk about all the dry stuff, but at its core, it’s about playing games. And for me, I find that having a sense of humor and approaching things with a serious eye but a light-hearted attitude is the best way to make it entertaining for myself and for others.
Flightpath: You just covered CES for G4. What was the coolest thing you saw?
Jessica Chobot: That’s tough. I really liked the Toshiba glasses-free 3D [television]. They’ve got it set up where it’s finally starting to make sense to try and have it as your own personal home entertainment. Basically, what they’ve done is made it so that up to six people can sit in a room and watch 3D. Granted, those six are still locked in a fixed position so that the 3D is best for them. But if you wanted to watch 3D with a group of friends, you can.
That’s really cool, but the thing that really struck a chord with me is that they have a camera built into the frame of the TV that has facial-recognition [technology]. So if you want to watch 3D just by yourself, you flick a little switch, the camera locks on to your face and tracks you around the room. So you can see 3D no matter where on the couch you are, [and] you’re no longer stuck in that one spot, without glasses. To me, that is really finally going down that road where I see it as something I would want to pick up.
I liked a lot of the TVs. [Laughs] Samsung has a Super OLED smart TV. They didn’t give us a time for when it was getting released or cost. But it’s super super sharp, super beautiful. The colors are amazing. And because it’s a smart TV, it has facial recognition, voice recognition, and it also tracks your movement. So you really truly do not ever have to hold or screw around with a remote. You can do everything through voice or through gesture. They said that the facial recognition is good enough that if you select a group of preferences – let’s say you watch a lot of X-Play – if you sit down in the room and turn on the TV, it will recognize that it’s you sitting there and will pull that up as one of your preferences. So to me, that’s pretty outstanding.
Flightpath: Unless you live with your twin. Then, it could be a problem.
Jessica Chobot: Yeah, I forgot to ask if they’ve tested it with twins or not. [Laughs] I didn’t do that. But that’s very sharp. I should do that next time.
So the TVs really impressed me, and this also was the first year I covered a home appliance. LG has this fridge called the Blast Chiller, and it can perfectly cool a can of soda or any kind of 12 ounce beverage in five minutes. It does two cans in eight minutes and it does a bottle of wine in eight minutes. They did a demo there, and it really is perfect.
Flightpath: I was wondering about the refrigerator. Because when I saw that, I was like, “I don’t know if this is the best thing or the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. I can’t figure it out.”
Jessica Chobot: I mean, I don’t know how often you would use it. I think the bottle of wine thing, that would make sense to me. I don’t know how often I would use it for a soda, because you know, I go shopping and instinctively put my soda in the fridge. I guess if you want one right off the bat, that would work. But then by the time you go to your second or third soda, it’s fine. [Laughs]
Flightpath: It’s also like, it’s just soda. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
Jessica Chobot: Yeah. [Laughs] It’s good to go.
Flightpath: And what was the dumbest thing you saw?
Jessica Chobot: We actually didn’t waste our time covering the dumbest thing. I pretty much was shuttled from one spot to another spot as far as what we were going to cover, so I didn’t really have a lot of exploration. But I’m sure there’s plenty of dumb things out there. From previous CES’s past that I attended through IGN, I remember there being a lot of really unnecessary Nintendo Wii third party controller attachments.
Flightpath: Like a tennis racket shell that does nothing.
Jessica Chobot: Yes, like tennis rackets or boxing gloves or golf clubs. Just dumb stuff that maybe if you have a kid you could justify it that way, but I can’t imagine that anybody cared about those things.
Flightpath: I think my parents might have bought them all.
Jessica Chobot: Oh, gosh! The tennis rackets too? No! That’s a shame.
Flightpath: I was not going to ask you any PSP-lick questions, because I know you’re probably sick of that.
Jessica Chobot: [Laughs]
Flightpath: But my boss said to me, “I was watching G4 last night and saw Jessica Chobot at CES. And there were a bunch of guys standing around her, chanting for her to lick the PS Vita.” He was confused because he has no idea about the origin of it. I just think it’s funny, because now there’s been enough distance where people like my boss might see references to the PSP thing, but not know where it comes from. Now it’s this whole other thing of, “Why is this happening?”
Jessica Chobot: Yeah. It’s been a long time since that first happened. That’s weird, I’ve never thought about it from the perspective of people that might just find out about me now, and are like, “What is the deal?” It’s just an inside joke for those that have followed me for the last five or six years.
It’s kind of like my hit ’80s single at this point. It is what it is, and it’s gonna both follow me and potentially haunt me for the rest of my days. [Laughs] And that’s fine. At the end of the day, it’s a meme. I think it’s kinda awesome.
Be sure to come back on Thursday for part 2 of our interview with Jessica Chobot!