Tim Rogers is invited to my Party

Tim Rogers then. Scurrilous punk that he is.

The internet’s knowledge of Tim Rogers can be summarised as follows: He lives in Japan. He writes laughably long, self-indulgent articles about videogames (like this). He is a liar, because he claims to be poor. He is a liar, because he claims to be rich. He thinks he can write. He is a jerk. He is loathsome. And recently he’s blackmailed his way into having a monthly column on American superblog Kotaku.

Here’s what I know about Tim Rogers: He lives in Japan, and has been working for a variety of games companies for a while now. He’s pushing 30. He writes long, self-indulgent articles about videogames. In fact, when IGN paid him to cover E3 he ended up overshooting his requested wordcount by 80,000 words.

When he first moved to Japan he lost his job teaching English and survived, in part, off donation money from fans of his writing, who’d also send him games. I found this pretty inspiring- the 108 in my twitter username is a reference to Tim.  Thanks to a career as a corporate salarybitch, Tim is now relatively rich.

He can write. And he is a jerk.

When I was backpacking around Tokyo for the first time I got in touch with Tim and we hung out. One night we attended a meet-up for Japanese people who enjoyed Western games, which acted largely as a signpost warning of the million mile weaving dirt road between the Japanese games industry and the West. We watched as a group of 90 or so Japanese men sat smoking intently at projected movie footage of, no word of a lie, the Mega-CD edition of Demolition Man, various scenes from GTA3 and a montage of fatalities from the new Mortal Kombat game. There was also guffawing… so much so that you couldn’t be sure if these men only liked these games for their tone of caveman braggadocio; their guts, and those guts’ exposure to daylight.

Some of these people had shown up because a certain Japanese games development celebrity (you’ve probably heard of him) was meant to be there, and sure enough he was, flanked by an actual posse. At one point during the night Tim began writing in Japanese on a cocktail napkin. He went up to one of this celebrity’s people, and asked them to give him the napkin.

To this day I still don’t know what was written on it. But when I returned to Japan 4 years later, Tim was working in that celebrity’s development studio as a well-paid consultant. This boy? He’s pretty sharp.

Maybe now I’ve got a little traction, I’m gonna say this: Tim Rogers’ games journalism is worth studying.

To echo Tom Wolfe, it’s not often you come across a new style, period. That alone means games journalists should be scouring Tim Rogers’ acres of text for merit (the image of a small community looking for the body of a girl in a thicket springs to mind), not least because there’s an awful lot of merit to be found.

That Tim Rogers writes so much about himself is deceptive. If he’s written a 9,000 word review and 2,000 of those words are about Tokyo, or his band, his hair or whatever, he’s still written 7,000 relevant words. While even his on-topic stuff is verbose, it’s impossible to write 7,000 words about a game and not drop chin-deep into a characteristic depth of analysis that has its place in this industry, to say nothing of how few games journalists I know who could write 7,000 words on a single game at all.

Tim doesn’t just say what’s wrong, what he doesn’t like, what’s clever. Tim points out fixes, outlines whole alternate-universe design documents, and playfully brings the development team’s staff to life through his uniquely intimate relationship with the industry and remembered interviews.

At one end of the spectrum you have Tim pointing out in his Bioshock review that the first things your avatar does in the game (without anybody batting an eye) is beat a man to death and then immediately eat a cream cake out of a trash can. At the other end, you have slower burning work like this piece painstakingly explaining why Another World is the greatest game of all time.

As for a defense of how much Tim Rogers talks about himself, welll, I think there’s a use to that too, but actions speak louder than words. I’m going to be riffing off that exact device in blog posts for the rest of the month and see what happens.

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Comments

  1. His Mother 2 piece is still one of my favourite bits of games writing.

    I was recently describing his work to some friends, and the best I could come up with is that his writing manages to grab you by the hand and take you through Tim’s entire thought process, as wild and convoluted as it sometimes may be. And it’s a rad thought process.

  2. Welllll…okay. I’m convinced. You convinced me.

    So I spent the last couple hours reading his column on Kotaku. He is a new style, it’s true. He has a new style in the way that Hunter S. Thompson or, I don’t know, Hideo Kojima created new styles – styles of one, that no one else can replicate. It’s not like inventing Cubism or Imagist poetry, a movement that others will follow after you. It’s the expression of a refined force of individual personality, which despite and somehow because of its quirks becomes powerful and compelling. If you think what he does works, the only thing you can do to be more like him is to somehow be more yourself than you already are.

    I think it’s because he writes with a much greater portion of his personality and his memories brought to bear on the material than professionals are usually allowed to get away with – and we are, after all, professionals – right? In his Kotaku article about Final Fantasy XIII he has this long drawn-out story about playing FF VI as a kid and going back home now, years later, for Christmas and playing FF XIII while there and also eating Chicago-style pizza there for the first time in years, and his lip is cracked due to airline-induced dryness and it makes eating the pizza hurt terribly, but that doesn’t mean the pizza is not also delicious, and THAT, he says, is what playing FF XIII is like.

    And DAMN if I didn’t understand him perfectly. I wish I could write like that.

  3. Brilliam says:

    This pretty much perfectly sums up precisely how I feel about Tim & his writing. I’ll be damned if the pompous tone doesn’t make me feel downright nauseous at times, but shit– being able to produce novel-length dissections (dissections probably doesn’t do it justice– more like dematerializations) (a word not accepted by spell-checkers anywhere) like he does is something to be lauded. A site I write for published a far over-word-count article lately about Zelda: Link to the Past (I said 150-450 words; I think it pushed 2000) that said precisely NOTHING relevant. I was pretty bummed. Then I see Tim churn out 10, 20, 30x that, and– what? At no point can I find 2000 words that are out of place, or not worth saying. Good on ’em.

  4. DrazharLn says:

    Wow, that Soul Calibur review was certainly… different. I think that’s the first time it’s taken me 45 minutes to read a review.

    Thanks for pointing this guy out. I’ll definitely be reading some more of his stuff if I can find the stamina for it.

  5. Anybody here ever tried to write a Rogers-style piece? I do this thing where I try to emulate the styles of my friends. It always fails, of course. But never so miserably as when I tried to do a Rogers-esque (he’s not my friend, I just tried to do it).

    I got about 2000 words in and started feeling like nobody would want to read past there (most people don’t read past 500 words). I also found myself unable to relate 2000 words of actual analysis of mechanics to something in my personal life. Like I could do it if I started out the piece with: jumping in Mario as my three summers of jumping on a trampoline (say). But if I started with like a serious analysis of Mario’s level design, there’d be no way for me to transition into some discussion of myself on a trampoline.

    That’s why I’m jealous of him. I don’t think he transitions between ideas–or the game and his ideas–well; I don’t think he reads enough of the work of others (he always cites the same boring ideas, like the Uncanny Valley); and I only find maybe 1/10th of his asides worthwhile… but that he doesn’t think twice about just throwing that shit out there, that’s what I’m jealous of.

    Have any of you ever read Wark’s “Gamer Theory”? I see it as kind of a cold, academic, condensed version of the free association games writing Rogers does.

    • @ Simon Ferrari

      Rogers once explained to me that “Tim Rogers” was a persona, so he’s not really putting himself out there, he’s putting “himself” out there.

      That’s not meant as a criticism of his writing (although I’d agree that what you say applies to a lot of his work) it’s just that it’s far easier (try it) to write long essays about yourself when you can ramble freely about things that aren’t true, shy away from the truth, or piece together truth with unreality in whichever way you choose.

      Plus, most of Tim’s writing is designed to mystify himself; calling himself a rock star (sometimes ironically), dropping names, writing about his popularity with other people, especially girls… even writing about Japan, that foreign, exotic land…

      It’s a little sad to see Quinns indulging Rogers in this manner with his (Quinns’) opening remarks, but hey, if no-one else noticed, Quinns was already using the Rogers write-about-self intro. The cuss. Plus, a la Tim Rogers, is there in fact a link between the napkin and his later job… see also “blackmailed”, “a certain… celebrity” and “loathsome”, all hinted at but never explained, adds to the mystique, no?

      Plus; though I would not characterise their whole race as such, the American ability to self-aggrandise and talk garrulously about themselves as if the world revolved around them is clearly one of the stereotypes that Tim perfectly embodies.

      If you’re really going to point to one man in that nation of millions and say I admire /him/, but not for instance every other self-obsessed child of the Stars and Stripes (we play on the stereotype here, and mean no offence), well, that’s somewhat mean spirited of you.

      Hell, let’s rip out the talk of stereotypes and point to the internet and go – there, there, there – blogs written by people who just want to talk about themselves, or – there, there, there – another someone writing under an internet alias about things he wouldn’t dare to write in his own name…

      To sum, an unwillingness to talk about oneself? How very British to feel no one would care. How very self-effacing to think it must take courage when simple indifference would do the trick.

      • I think that, if nothing else awesome happens to me this week, I can at least content myself in knowing that somebody used the words “how very British” to describe me, a child of the Stars and Stripes. Surely you’re familiar with self-deprecating American Jewish pathos?

      • Tsk, eh? Hope I caused no offence (once again, none intended) by playing on one American stereotype, or deciding you were British because you expressed what seemed like modesty.

        Also, left a short passage unjustified; Tim Rogers lives in Japan so what other country would he situate his marathon essays in?

        I point to Mt Kinabalu and say: I just climbed that today, please forgive my addled mind, I am fatigued.

  6. For a long time, the way I wrote about games was so utterly formulaic. Reviews were all in that gameplay/graphics/sound/overall format that’s about as exciting as picking crusties out of your eye in the morning. It was Tim Rogers and the rest of the guys at Insert Credit that really got me to look at how people wrote, rather than simply looking at the words. Props to whoever showed me that site(I wanna say it was Christos Reid over at GamesPress).

    Tim’s style is really one in a million, especially in the field of video games journalism, which is overrun by some boring ass writers. I can understand that some people absolutely hate his style, but it’s still something worth reading, analyzing, and learning from, not matter who you are. I cringe every time I talk to a games journalist/writer that hasn’t at least read a few of Tim Roger’s works.

  7. Tim is an annoying, whining bastard, but few people can spend thousands upon thousands of words and still be so to the point. A dose of actionbutton.net every now and then – I need that shit.

  8. Louis F. says:

    Thanks for that. I consider myself a big fan, and I think you do him justice, although I might’ve liked the tribute to be more… verbose! Still, that opening anecdote was well chosen, and reminded of Rogers’ style in a way. I look forward to any follow-up.

  9. manleypointer says:

    I would actually make a distinction between Rogers’ early writing and his current stuff. His reviews of Mother 2 and Another World, DQ games, and a few others, are very interesting. They’re obviously the product of a lot of thinking and research, and they have real insight into those works. However, they are full of really overcooked metaphors (the one about Mother 2 being a prostitute is an overly elaborate way to convey a simple idea). Rogers is incredibly egotistical, and will never hold back from repeating boring jokes he made in real life so you can “appreciate” his wit. But it’s worth trudging through that stuff, in the early articles, to get to his real insights.

    His new stuff is just pure ego and tons of whining about himself. His recent column about Japan was like: “how can people smoke when they’re near me, how can people not understand I’m a vegetarian, how can they try to make me drink alcohol, why does nobody understand me, etc.” And then in other places he talks about what a great troll he is himself, I guess because he wants to feel important. It seems a bit like the world trolled him just by not catering to his every whim.

    I really get the impression that he is like a couple guys I’ve known who can’t get along with anybody and insist it’s due to the sensitivities of their little genius. The bit in his recent Kotaku column about how he can figure people out and manipulate them quickly is a classic “delusional asshole” tell. And then he posts a video where you can see how his lamely jokey attitude in real life doesn’t quite gibe with his self-portrait of a master manipulator.

    But maybe he is really good at writing things on cocktail napkins, I don’t know! I’ve never met him. I’m only judging him by his writing.

    If there is a “Tim Rogers style,” I really don’t like it. It’s not that his articles are TOO LONG, it’s that they don’t tell very much for the amount of space they take up. There’s plenty of filler. Really any decent editor would excise 1/2 to 1/3 of every Tim Rogers “essay” and do some structural triage, because Rogers himself never bothers with structure. I don’t mean to sound like an old man here, but I read a lot of film and literature criticism, and Tim Rogers is not a talent for the ages. He’s a guy who can come up with some bon mots, and buries them under (mostly irrelevant) stories about himself. And in his Kotaku pieces, the bon mots are pretty much missing entirely.

    I think anyone who thinks about games a lot can write a “Tim Rogers” style piece. Just think of everything running through your head, begin writing, add in some stuff you think makes you sound cool, don’t stop writing until you’re exhausted, then hit the “Publish” button without rereading any of what you typed. It’s a lot worse than the regular “Quinns style,” which involves some actually smart writing and restraint.

    (And Hunter S. Thompson is much more succinct, and nothing like, Tim Rogers. He made each word count — there’s a reason his favorite book was The Great Gatsby.)

    • Actually manley, that Another World piece is pretty recent.

      • manleypointer says:

        You got me; I guess my distinction should have been between “some of the stuff on his website,” which is good, and “his stuff on Kotaku,” which has been bad, in my opinion.

      • @ Manleypointer

        Shit Tim Rogers is exactly as you explain (and the recent link to Rogers via RPS was (oddly) an example of shit Tim Rogers, just braying about unrelated things and never bringing them together properly).

        On the other hand, Good Tim Rogers exists, by which we’d mean long but to the point, indulgent but meaningfully so. For example, http://kotaku.com/5450551/the-best-games-of-sort-of-the-decade which I am only skim reading at the moment, but in the form it takes (a series of mini reviews about his favourite games) really keeps things trim and to the point, and when he does start yapping about His Best Friend Kojima it’s actually interesting and has baring on the point his making (I recommend the MGS2 bit, at the very least).

        Good Tim Rogers may just, of course, be a product of skim reading Shit Tim Rogers. Scientists just can’t tell yet.

  10. pooyanorama says:

    Tim’s writing on Insert Credit and Large Prime Numbers sucked me into the world of new games journalism (barf). Very excited to see what comes of his new company.

  11. Ever notice that tim never actually capitalizes his name in anything?

    In his early stuff he’s even said that tim isn’t his real name, although it’s hard to tell with him because he also claims that he lies in his writing.

    My favorite piece by him is actually about Japanese rock music, specifically Sambomaster: http://www.largeprimenumbers.com/article.php?sid=changingtheworld

    His work is genius. I’m excited about his new game company.

    • Dan introduced tim to me, and my view of blogging/reviews has never been the same. tim is amazing if you can dedicate the time needed to his articles. It also helps if you are into Japan so that the stuff he talks about is educational instead of so much of a tangent.

  12. the wiseass says:

    You know, writing a million superfluous words without coherent meaning should not be considered a new writing “style”. It’s simply babbling and I know several women better at that, than Tim Rogers.

  13. I don’t know why, but increasingly these days journalists feel that injecting their personal experiences and anecdotes into their work comes under their job description, as if having any kind of gimmick or trait to their writing is of the utmost importance. While some people may prefer this, it’s typically only other journalists and people who have something specific in common with the journalist in question (and with tim’s japan obsession you can easily see why he’s so popular).

    I’m not condoning an approach of absolutely no style or personality but it’s not the primary reason for whatever article it is that’s being written, the subject matter should always come first and this is routinely forgotten in favour of emulating people like Hunter S Thompson and so on.

    Another gripe with Tim and alot of other games journalist ‘celebrities’ is that they (and ironically enough this applies less to Tim) really over-estimate not only how much thought goes into typical game design but under-estimate hugely how much budget comes into it. They have this view that all games that aren’t terrible have some deep design philosophy, entirely governed by the vision of the development team, when in reality even independent teams are incredibly pragmatic in their decision making. An example of this would be Cletus Clay, where the company CEO approached a claymation animator entirely because he thought the visual style would secure an IGF nomination and therefore help considerably with getting the game funded and his studio to gain recognition. The interviews with designers making games in tiny teams give a distorted view, a good example is the Adam Atomic interview by Tim, where he steers the conversation to suggest that Canabalt was made with a greater purpose and it wasn’t just incidental due to an iterative game development process.

    I’m a huge fan of RPS precisely because it balances personality with actual reporting very well, with a pragmatism that’s refreshing compared to print media and major sites with their varying issues with regards to publishers and review wording. Tim on the other hand is the 100-ton weight on the proverbial see-saw on the personality end, while I guess the ‘9 for graphics, 8 for story, 2 for sound, 32.432 for crates’ approach is on the other end.

  14. “I’m going to be riffing off that exact device in blog posts for the rest of the month and see what happens.”

    Then no posts til April. Was that the joke?

    Have a good trip!

  15. James Harvey says:

    I know that drawing! Thanks for using it, it is a favorite

  16. James Harvey says:

    Oh wait goddamn I guess the top one is mine too

    Tim has made me draw him way too many times

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