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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R.I.P. State

Not sure how useful this is to anyone. Gonna post it anyway.

I mentioned in that last post that I started off as part of a community of gamers called State. Some of you might know about it.

Now, this was just a forum of 60 or 70 relatively bright gamers with no platform bias who dumped out a poncy eZine once in a while (containing such treats as current editor of PC Gamer Tim Edwards writing about going down on his girlfriend while she played on a GBA). State wasn’t hugely interesting in itself, but what is interesting is how and why State shut down.

It’s a bit Bioshock, really. See, the promised land of State ended up destroyed against the will of its users by one very angry outsider with his own ideology. I know this, because I was that outsider’s only confidante.

CUE THE MUSIC.

A few years before State was shut down in 2005 a mysterious user called Super Foul Egg created a State IRC channel. Its purpose? To help organise multiplayer games of Operation Flashpoint. The channel drew a lot of interest, but after a chaotic first few weeks as State regulars drifted in and out of its revolving doors the channel became made up of some 15 regulars, myself included. We were #state.

Egg cut an… interesting figure. We knew nothing about him except that he lived in some tiny Northern Hellhole of a village, gave off the impression of being the sourest man alive and knew more about games than anyone we’d ever met. The years I spent sat in the #state channel absorbing his teachings were inarguably my most formative. Together the 15 of us played the most obscure and unmarketable mods and multiplayer games we could get our hands on. We spent a year plumbing the depths of ThieveryUT, and I spent just as long playing the dumbest stuff to ever come out for the SNES and PSX with Egg via the achy-breaky netplay of emulators.

Egg’s knowledge combined with his knack for clipped, razor-sharp witticisms meant no-one ever, ever won a debate with him. It became a running joke. It’s worth mentioning here that every time someone tries to goad Egg into games journalism, he replies that he’ll start writing about games when he’s played them all. Eventually the State forum and Egg’s channel became more and more distinct.

But that wasn’t quite enough for Egg.

The State forum was a place for people to talk about games. It always had been. Egg had ended up there because it was the smartest, most open-minded games community he knew about. But now he had his own community, with the key difference that this was a place where people not only talked about games but played them.

As the years ticked on the people on the forum began playing games less. They got older. They left school for university, or left university for full-time jobs, or found wives or kids or Eve Online, or sometimes didn’t find anything at all; content with what they had, they stopped playing new games. Yet what a lot of them kept was this habit of talking about games as if they knew what they were saying.

You have to understand this hurt Egg and myself because we were working so hard at playing not only everything that came out but blowing the dust of older releases we’d missed. And we knew how much we hadn’t played, too- I knew the Amiga was a vast gap in my knowledge, but the emulation of it was (and still is) a staggering bastard.

This disconnect between us and the forum culminated in 2005 when Egg and I were busy wading through the PS2’s endless release schedule. On the forum a thread was started by a forumite named Bobsy (a year too late) that called itself a review of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Once you opened it, the text of Bobsy’s thread simply read “Half-Life, too.”

Somebody asked him what he was talking about. It might have been me. Bobsy then carefully pointed out for us uncomprehending reptiles all the similarities between Prince of Persia and the original Half-Life; you were spending the whole game exploring a single environment while slowly unfurling a story.

…yeah.

CUE THE OTHER MUSIC.

What turned things like this from an annoyance into a dilemma was that the founder of State, a Swede called Oskar, no longer held the keys to the servers. He’d given them up a long time ago, and those keys (along with the server bills) had been passed from forumite to forumite until finally a Dutch woman named Pat who’d lost all interest in games gave them to her trusted friend… Egg.

You must imagine Egg going for a walk in the bleak country surrounding his home, torn apart by this responsibility foisted upon him. Could he let these people continue to discuss games so arrogantly, these people who didn’t play many games anymore and were no longer earning their tone of superiority?

Worse, word was starting to get around that joining State was some kind of fast-track to games journalism. This changed most of the fresh meat we were getting from people who saw the level of conversation and decided they wanted to be part of that to people who simply wanted to get into the games industry. As Egg said, “People who couldn’t quite pull it off.”

Compared to the rest of the gaming forums on the internet State was still perhaps the smartest place we knew about. But this wasn’t about it decaying or slowing down- this was about State continuing to have its reputation as an intelligent outpost of cutting edge discussion while its inhabitants talked shit.

STOP THE MUSIC. No, seriously, go back up to that YouTube video and stop it.

One day Egg came to a decision. State’s regulars logged in the next day to find their forum’s homepage replaced with this animation that Egg drew himself. Kieron Gillen called it “going out in style”, but then I don’t think he realised we hadn’t told the forumites we were closing their community down at all.

The last job was to rename #state to something else, which Egg did with all the cool grace of Codename 47 hoisting a body into a dumpster.

CUE THE LAST MUSIC.

I got in touch with Egg for the purposes of writing this post and thought I’d ask him whether he regretted closing down such a well-respected gaming forum so cruelly.

Quinns: Do you ever regret closing down such a well-respected gaming forum so cruelly?

Egg: No.

Quinns: Thanks for your time.

So there you have it.

The issue of professionals within this industry having not played enough is still a touchy subject with me, and I feel it’s something we let slide far too often. Nevermind. If I’m right and it is as big as failing as I think it is, that’ll reveal itself in time.

My Secret Origin

Someone in the comments of that last post asked how I ended up writing about games for a living. More accurately, they asked for my origin story.

Well!

I’m writing this with another heartless, damp Irish night outside. My med student flatmates have decided in their gross intelligence to leave the central heating on until the whole house feels like the inside of a lightbulb.

But I am feeling RESTED and IN CHARGE of my life right now, and if someone wants to know how I became a games journalist I’m going to tell it to you guys hard and heavy like a rock standard.

Four years ago I was 19 and looked like THIS:

Or, more regrettably, like THIS:

Or sometimes like this:

I was a university dropout and traveller, and busied myself exchanging shit jobs in England for shit places anywhere else. Janitor, Kampala, kitchen assistant, Dallas, shoe salesman, Shanghai, builder, Tehran, traffic director, Van.

I was a bum, but good at it. I was also already a games journalist and had been for 2 years. I think I’d even already written for Edge.

HOW?

Okay. When I was 14 I joined a (now long gone) online gaming forum called State. To this day I have never encountered a smarter, smarmier community of gamers. After lurking for six months I began creating accounts and posting, then deleting those accounts the moment someone made fun of me, or I revealed my ignorance or told a joke that fell flat. Swapping these personas once a month, I was the Untalented Mr Ripley.

One day I created an account called Quinns and managed to not come across as a jerk. I then started posting these big, pretty news threads on the forum with lots of screenshots as a kind of service, and one night even recorded myself doing impressions of 20 videogames and created a thread where people had to identify where the quotes were from. That went down well.

“Quinns” was the iteration of me that got popular, and State became my life. I can’t overstate the importance of spending several hours of every day reading how these smart people would analyse the industry, break apart games to laugh at ther gooey liquid centres. Not to mention the huge investment of time and energy I sank into sharpening my own sentences, or the hundreds of obscure titles I learned about / from.

State would put out an eZine once in a while, sMag, which could well be the most pretentious games publication ever to see the light of day. Sometimes it was pretty good, and I wrote for it a few times. No correlation there. One day one of the staff writers of PC Gamer magazine came into State’s IRC channel and asked if anyone wanted to do a week of work experience. I was the only guy who said yes.

If I were more of a prick, I could say “That’s right! They came to me!”

Instead, I say this: “They came to me! Because they needed someone who knew their shit yet would travel to their city to work hard for no money!”

When I first arrived at the PCG office I was starstruck. Suddenly all those headshots in the magazine had bodies! Just, really small bodies! I was the tallest guy there!

You know what they got me to do first? They had this big, three foot wide filing cabinet that was heaped full of old CDs containing back issues of the magazine. On my knees, I had to spend several hours sorting them and putting them into labelled CD spindles. Next, the editor came and asked if I had anything I wanted to write for the magazine. I said I wanted to write about the staggering, unsung UT mod Thievery. He said okay. I wrote it. He printed it out, covered the sheet with red pen that said just about everything except “This is shit”, then they gave me the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Official Videogame to review. I played the game and wrote the review over two days. It came back with more red pen.

Anyone in any kind of desirable career will have a story like this. Models, ice-cream tasters, actors, all of them will explain how their first experience as the whipping boy of their dream job was awful and that they bravely soldiered on to become the respected professional they are today. Fuck that! I don’t care how tough your dream job is to begin with, it’s still your dream job. If you have a lick of sense and you’ve tasted the dusty floor that is zero-qualification, minimum wage labour, you do not look back. Ever. If you do it’s because you’re running and want to see if it’s gaining on you.

I loved that week of work experience. Of course I did. I was 16 years old and sat in the PC Gamer office, filing CDs! I was 16 and already getting my work rejected! I was sat at a desk, playing a terrible videogame! It was awesome. I went drinking with the PCG staff after work, and was energetic and young and kept rapt by their stories.

My review of Lemony Snicket’s An Unfortunate etc. got published in the end, several drafts later. Someone on the mag’s forum who didn’t know me commented it was one of the best reviews in the issue.

At the end of the week the guys at PCG offered me a freelance contract and I said yes. Every so often for the next six months they’d throw me a 1/2 page review of some trashy game like this and I would literally end up sending these pieces off at 8am, trying to block out the dawn chorus and ripped to the tits on guarana and caffeine having agonised over my work for 12 hours straight. I would then go to bed instead of going to my prohibitively expensive private school and spasm so much in my sleep that I’d wake up on the floor.

Eventually the 1/2 pages became full pages and my details got forwarded to other editors, and that was that. I had a career. Nothing I wouldn’t give up for the travelling, mind, but then that’s just it. The games, the really good ones, let me travel.

Just so you guys know I’m actually saving up for another spell of backpacking right now. Should be leaving in just over a couple of months, at which point I’m turning this into a travel blog.

I think it’ll be pretty good, though. You should totally stick around.

The Game Shop

There could be no mistaking it. I was to enter the game shop once again.

I stood there in the street, hip flask in hand, alternately gulping mouthfuls of tender air and grain alcohol. I knew there was to be no pleasure in the black transaction that would take place. The high street game retailer is a petri dish of oily emotions; it is a time capsule containing nothing but the engorged, battle-scarred penis of a cossack.

Soon I felt my poison beverage beginning its work, signalling it was time for me to begin mine. With the decisive, leisurely gait of a grown man I crossed the road and entered the shop.

I was not drunk enough, perhaps could never have been drunk enough for what happened next. Before me stood a giant display of The Wheelman boxes and a pyramid of shit Wii peripherals. I raised my hand to smash them, but took pause with my fist in the air. The evil men who did this would only rebuild their totems.


“Can I help you?” spoke a voice.

“No,” I ventured, squinting down the length of the shop. It was already beginning; I was having trouble making my eyes focus. They were acting independantly, snapping to crime after crime, errors on the upcoming releases calendar, pre-owned games that never should have been bought in the first place, copies of Wet and the Saboteur fucking clumsily on a shelf. No, this couldn’t be happening! I had to overcome this reality. Without realising it I’d fallen to one knee. I looked at my hands. These could’t be my hands?

I stood back up, my body at once limp and taught as an unmanned fire hose. Swinging my heavy head left, then right, I caught sight of the PC games section. Perhaps I could end this quicker than I’d hoped. A few clumsy steps took me there, though I could feel old PSX memory cards gnawing at my boots the whole way. I looked up at the yawning shelves, reaching up with both hands and flipping through titles with practiced fingers. Stronghold. Diner Dash. The Orange Box. No, these would never do. I moved my fingers faster, forcing more energy into those bony extremities until the games before me were spinning and flipping like cards on a rolodex. And yet the one I needed was nowhere to be seen!

Then, disaster. In the haze of boxart I lost focus and failed to remove my left ring finger from the path of one of the boxes I’d set in motion. There was a crack, and I withdrew my hand to find the wounded finger curled backwards in the wrong direction as if beckoning at me.

My sad, anguished yelp must have alerted the man I feared to my presence, for suddenly he was by my side. He was more awful than I remembered, and I knew at once I could not run.

“Looking for something?” he asked. His staff t-shirt was too tight for him, and the fat on his neck bulged out of the collar. As he said the words I thought I saw something black and narrow in the dark of his mouth, where the tongue should be. An electrical cable?

“I’m looking for Armed Assault 2,” I said. My voice tasted of ozone and liquor.

“You mean Arma 2,” he said.

“I mean Arma 2,” I corrected myself, terrified.

The man simply gestured at the shelves I’d been searching through. Impossible. There were eight or nine copies of Arma 2 right there at eye level. I snatched at one of them with my uninjured hand and held it to my chest. I looked back down at the shop man with animal eyes, worrying what he’d demand for this boon.

“That’ll be £29.99,” he said. I was lost. There had to be sacrifice beyond this. I removed some crumpled money from my pocket and handed it over to him.

It began as his hand touched mine. Time lost interest in us, our arms remained outstretched, and all sound faded but the wet, machine beating of my taut heart. It was the noise of a kite being snapped back and forth by winds of purest terror. I saw a badness in the man’s eyes, and knew something was coming.

He spoke in a voice bloated with disdain.

“…you do have the PC to run this, yeah?”

It was too much! A powerful spasm snaked through me, vomit exploding from my mouth in stinking shouts. I remember some part of me welcomed the floor as it rushed up to hold my destroyed form, and it was as I lay there I saw an unbridgeable abyss open, seperating me from the rest of existence.

I had to leave the shop. If I fell into unconsciousness, I would be his. My vision began flickering like an old film. With the last of my strength I reached out to retrieve the copy of Arma 2 that lay maybe two feet from me, and then… nothing. That’s all I remember.

I don’t play games anymore. I don’t go into town, either.

Do you understand? You look like someone who might understand.