Interview with Nerdist News’ Jessica Chobot

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Chances are if you’re into video game and nerd culture, you probably have heard of Jessica Chobot. She took the video game community by storm with her PSP-licking viral photo, and soon after, she got a gig hosting at IGN. Now, she’s the host for The Nerdist‘s Nerdist News and serves as a writer for the upcoming survival horror video game, Daylight, that’s being released on April 29th.

We get to chat with Mrs. Chobot about her move from IGN to The Nerdist, writing for a survival horror video game, mass murderers, favorite scary games and more!

John “Spartan” Nguyen (Nerd Reactor): So recently I’ve been reading a bunch of the comments on the YouTube channel for the Nerdist News. I thought it was cool that you actually comment on there.

Jessica Chobot: Oh, thanks.

Nerd Reactor: For those who haven’t seen Nerdist News, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Jessica Chobot: Yeah, it’s basically a pop culture news show with a focus on tech, and for lack of a better phrase, “geek” kind of stuff. Science and video games, kind of weird, wacky things that make its way to the web, and memes that for whatever reason stick out at us. It’s Monday through Friday, and all done out of The Nerdist studio.

Nerd Reactor: I believe it was originally airing three days a week, and now it’s five days a week?

Jessica Chobot: Yeah. We were doing Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and when we went to five days a week, we were a little concerned because we were all, “We’re still young with this, nobody is going to want to really see a 5-day a week show when we are still trying to find our voice just doing it three times a week.” But it’s really taken off. Everybody has really enjoyed it. We’ve not seen our numbers drop. In fact they continue to grow, and we make sure to have a lot of interactions in the comments section and on Twitter. It’s not just me reaching out to people. Dan Casey goes on a lot. I’m sure Malik, now that he’s got a section under his new blog, is going to be reaching out to people a lot.

Actually, now that I’m mentioning Dan and Malik, the producers do as well. Some of the writers you’ll find on there as well as some of the producers behind the scenes. They’ll hop on and comment, so we have a lot of interaction with people, and that’s kind of the fun thing. Shooting the show is fun, but the interaction aspect gives a lot to it. It’s a lot of fun for everybody. I think it is kind of a highlight for everybody that’s involved.

Nerd Reactor: Do you check the comments section every day? Or only sometimes? Or does it ever become an obsession?

Jessica Chobot: Well I’ve been in the business long enough to know that you can’t obsess about the comments section. Before Nerdist, I was at IGN. IGN had its own interaction with its viewership because they had a comments section for just the IGN videos. Eventually IGN would move their videos over to the IGN YouTube channel, and you’d have a whole different ball of wax, section of comments there. So you learn really quickly, especially being on camera, you’re often a target. You learn really quickly to not obsess about the comments, and which ones to blow off, and which ones to take to heart, or not to take to heart.

So I don’t get crazy about them, but I do check them every day that we have our show, when it goes up, in order to just have a discussion with people on there, to kind of have a little bit of back and forth. I was talking about earlier, very rarely do I ever not comment. If I don’t comment it’s usually just because that day had gotten overwhelmingly busy, or I’m just on a business trip and I am not there and don’t have the chance to hop on. But I try to check as often as possible.

Nerd Reactor: We love positive comments, but then there are some negative ones, and it’s like, “Agh, that’s not cool!” So do you bottle it up, hide it, or is it just like, ‘Whatever! It’s not going to affect my world.’

Jessica Chobot: I guess what it is, and what kind of mood I’m in that day. There’s certain days once a month where I’m a little overly sensitive to comments, and so maybe that’s the day that I decide to snap back. And often, I find that if I do do that it’s such a quick instant gratification that I instantly regret making the comment. Because those are usually knee-jerk reactions. I try to avoid them, and I’ve gotten pretty decent at avoiding emotional, knee-jerk reaction responses. However if something is made where it’s just blatantly wrong. Where the person only watched half the video and is making some sort of smart-ass comment, and for whatever reason it sticks in my craw, usually I try to then think out a little bit of what I call a comment, or a shaming commenter-style where I’ll sit there and be just as sarcastic, but kind of snarky, putting them in their place a little bit. But for the most part, even that is pretty rare. For the most part I am kind of able to separate myself from the negative comments, and just ignore them. A lot of the ones that I have run into from the get go, and what I continue to run into but not as often, though it still does happen, is a lot of comments based on my sexuality, in regards to being a female, being married, having a kid. Things like that, that are personal attacks, those are much easier to deal with, and to blow off than ones that are, “Oh, this girl sucks at her job because of ____.” And those are the ones that irritate me. I try to avoid commenting even on those, but sometimes I just can’t resist.

Nerd Reactor: I’ve been enjoying the show so far. One episode I liked was when you were talking about BD Wong potentially being in the new Jurassic Park film.

Jessica Chobot: So here’s a great example of what’s really weird for us. We were stoked, and legitimately excited to have that news story go up. So you see me get super weird on camera: “Yay!” and everyone’s like “Yeah!” and we were having a blast, right? We’re thinking, “Oh, we’re gonna do the stuff, and this is hilarious, this is fun, and that was a good day.’ And we had a great time. All the comments that day are ‘You’re trying too hard’ or ‘You guys are like you’re on cocaine today.’ or ‘Cut back on the coffee,’ ‘You’re too much in my face with your yelling,’ and I’m thinking, “Are you serious with this? How is that possible? I was just having a good time.” And it’s so funny because there will be days where I’ll call up my producer and be like, “Oh, dude, I’m really sorry that I was kind of boring on camera today. I just couldn’t get into it. I’m sick, or I’m cranky,” or whatever, or, “I’m angry about something.” And I’ll know what I’m feeling on-set while we’re doing the shoot. So I figure that’s what’s translating into the camera. So if I’m feeling that way, or I’m angry or whatever and get really sarcastic. I feel that comes across on camera, and I see that, but those are the days where everybody is just like, “Yeah, we love it when you’re mean.’ and it’s like, “What is going on?! I don’t understand this. I’m not normally a mean person. Why do you guys like this?”

But hey, whatever floats people’s boats, man. I just go and just try to have a good time. The BD Wong thing was a blast for us. Unfortunately some people didn’t agree, but we had a great time with it and so that’s kind of how I approach all our work. I love the crew that I work with, and I love working at Nerdist. While it’s very similar to previous jobs that I’ve done before, this one does allow me so much more personality and freedom than I’ve ever had on camera in this kind of situation. That, to me, is worth so much.

Nerd Reactor: I was wondering what was the push that made you want to take the leap from IGN to The Nerdist?

Jessica Chobot: Well, it was a whole combination of things. 1 – I had just had a baby, so I wasn’t ready to go back to work yet at all. At the same time that had happened, IGN had gotten bought out, I believe, by Ziff Davis, so they were having a huge changing of the guard, and they didn’t even know what they were doing yet. I was working out of LA, but our main offices and our studios are in San Francisco at IGN. And while I felt IGN was absolutely awesome to work at, and was great training for me, I kind of peaked there, and there was nowhere for me to go, nothing for me to do there. There was nowhere new for me to go. We had a wheel that was turning, but it had been the same wheel for quite a while. It was still going and everybody was safe and comfortable with it. I was just kind of getting frustrated that I wanted some new outlets. And then the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco, for both sides, IGN and myself, made trying to do new things incredibly difficult.

And so then I was already on maternity leave and so it’s like whatever. I’ll try and figure something out. Then Daylight was happening at the same time at Zombie Studios, so I was just focusing on that trying to wrap that stuff up and get it going with the zombie crew. And I had done some freelance work with Nerdist for Course of the Force that year, and they had mentioned, “Oh, we might be doing a new show, and if we do, we’ll reach out to you.”

I swear when it rains it pours. I was on maternity leave, I had pretty much stepped away from IGN. I wasn’t really doing anything other than the zombie stuff, and even the Zombie Daylight work was starting to wrap itself up. We were getting close to the end. So I just really wasn’t having anything to do and I was kind of freaking out a little bit because I love to work, and if I don’t work, I go berserk. “Oh my God, this is driving me nuts!”

And out of the blue, Nerdist picked me up for the new show, and I absolutely said yes, thinking that, “Oh, well, I’m just kind of signing on to the same thing that I would be doing at IGN, which is a quick, three-minute hits of me giving you the news kind of dryly and walking off. So when I ended up working over at Nerdist, and saw the format they were going to go with, and saw that I was actually working with some of my old G4 buddies, when we were at G4, I just knew this was going to be awesome.
And then they started involving me in skits and things, which I really love because I love being goofy and stupid. To me, that’s the best. That’s like a great day at work. So then that just worked out perfectly, then all the freelancing stuff with Microsoft and ESports, and all those events started taking off too. So it was just the perfect timing.

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Nerd Reactor: So how did you get into writing for Daylight?

Jessica Chobot: Well, I’ve always dabbled in writing. I wrote at IGN and I was terrible, but over time I started getting better and better. And then I started writing a screenplay with a gentleman named Steven Lisberger. He’s known for TRON, the first one. He and I had written a script together, and were trying to sell that. We actually did sell that, and ended up getting the option back because it fell through. Typical Hollywood stuff. If we sell it for a couple months on an option, and then it falls through, and you get the option back and try to shop it around again.

But I got a little taste of some extremely mild success. So my writing was getting better and better. And obviously the video game world I’d been working in for so long, and that was so close to my heart that I thought, “I’m going to try and create my own game.” So I’ve been dabbling with friends, talking about making a couple games that had a few ideas. I wrote out a few concepts and one-sheets and whatnot, and things I just had stored away in the back of my head.

And then once I went on maternity leave, I had this this huge amount of time– and actually even before I went on maternity leave, I had a huge amount of time where I was really only working once a week. Towards the end I had all this extra time on my hands and at that same moment, one of my friends, Jared Gerritzen, over at Zombie, he and I started shooting the breeze one day when they were visiting here in LA, and we were talking about horror genre games and how much I love them. I’m a huge fan of Fatal Frame, Silent Hill, things of that nature.

We were talking about that, and the uptick that was happening at the time would be the quickie, free-to-play games like Slenderman and whatnot and how people were kind of getting back into that vibe. While Dead Space is an awesome game, it’s no longer a Dead Space horror genre game. Now it’s more along the lines of your kind of classic Hitchcock-esque kind of a game. So we were talking about that, and we just started bouncing some ideas back and forth. He’s like, “Dude, why don’t you shoot me a one sheet of this concept that you’re thinking of, and I’ll propose it to the team and see what they think.”

So I wrote out a treatment for this story that I thought we could build a game around, and sent it his way. He presented it to his team, and it was go from there. We’re a very small team, and we only started with six people, and we were completely self-funded in the beginning. And I was fine with that because obviously this was my first time doing any of this. So I didn’t want any kind of really, really hardcore pressure. And then Jared tells me that Atlus picked us up, and they’re going to publish it. I was like, “Oh shit!” then I had real deadlines, and real responsibilities, and real fears. That has just compounded the closer, and closer we’ve gotten to the launch date, but that’s just me being paranoid and really worried that, “Oh my God, is anybody going to like this, and I hope they do.” So we’ll just have to see. That’s how I ended up in that kind of project.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah. I love the new generation of indie horror games, where your character is pretty much screwed if you encounter a creature. A game I’m playing recently comes to mind, Outlast.

Jessica Chobot: Oh, Outlast. No, I haven’t played it yet.

Nerd Reactor: I think is one of the freakiest games out there. It’s definitely up there with Slenderman and Amnesia.

Jessica Chobot: OK. I will check that out! The one that really got me, and really stoked my fire was The Room for the iPad. I suppose you could play it on your phone, but honestly on the iPad it’s kind of unique. And then The Room 2 came out, and all of a sudden, it was like a breath of fresh air. I’d tried Slenderman, and only got four pages in before I had a heart attack, and am like, “Oh God, I can’t do this anymore!” I liked it, but I was playing off the PC, and I’m not the biggest fan of playing on a PC, even though I love that game, and I have a Steam account and everything. This is going to sound really lame, but because I have a bad back, after a while, I just can’t sit there any longer. I’m always looking for, how can I kind of transfer that over, that vibe that I got from the Slenderman game, what can I find on my iPad that I can play where can just do a quick couple of levels before I go to bed at night, and I can just sit in my bed and do it.

Nerd Reactor: That’s a terrible time to play scary games! Right before bed.

Jessica Chobot: Oh, no, that’s perfect. That puts me to sleep, man. There’s a reason Jared asked me to write a horror genre game. That stuff doesn’t freak me out. Total tangent, but when I was actually pregnant, I would read this encyclopedia of mass murderers. And my husband is like, “What is wrong with you?” and I’m like, “I just find it fascinating,” That’s what I would read to fall asleep to at night, and I got really into it.

But anyhow so I’ve always been trying to find, what kind of game can I bring across to play before bed when I’m just kind of kicking it and relaxing. That’s when I did some exploring online and found The Room, The Room 2, and there’s another one I’m playing and I have to look it up because it’s on my iPad, but I can’t remember the name of it. Year Walk was another great one, but I will definitely check out Outlast.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, Outlast, it’s available on PC, but it’s also available for the PS4 so you can sit back and relax and play with the controller.

Jessica Chobot: Nice! Perfect. Perfect, perfect.

The Nerdist and Jessica Chobot will be at WonderCon this weekend, so be sure to check them out!

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