get bonus mini-essay from liz ryerson's the blood zone podcast
Jun 4th, 2021
- every time i see Get Bonus it just brings me back to the time when i still lived in Ohio, in 2010. the confluence of a lot of bad things happened in my life right at once and i was just looking to escape and hit the reboot button on my life up to that point. and a lot of online communities i had gotten sucked back into following in the game space seemed like a way out - they felt like the only thing that mattered. something out of an awful, nightmarish present. i think because i always was cynical to a thing like E3 and gamer culture at large... and the event totally seemed like a complete gaudy shitshow to me... this window into it felt cathartic. some youtube commenter at the time referred to it as "some desert of the real shit". just all this bloated awful out of touch industry spectacle i never wanted to participate in and honestly had made me fall out with games as a whole. but then there's Tim and Bob, with their ridiculous company that seems like a joke, waltzing into the land of the giants with no registration and wearing matching tracksuits and sleeping in cars. and by a magical confluence of events and wacky side adventures at Denny's running into fake doors that are not real doors and fitting their camera into places they're not supposed to be, of course they get into the event - they even get VIP passes from some helpful comrade. almost like they manifested it.
- i think most people, in their own way, want to be one of the only cool people in the room. we wanna be the person who was ahead of their time. we wanna be the one who waltzes into the belly of the beast and against incredible odds, kills that beast - or the Dragon, as Chris Crawford puts it in his famous speech. and that was the whole appeal of being an independent game developer in a time where it seemed like the old ways were crumbling... and the lights of new possibility were glimmering just over the horizon. we never know what will be over that horizon, but in that moment we know that we know something all the yacht owners of the world don't know: we know we are a particularly strong vessel out of the dreary and depressing present and into a brighter future. we will inherit the future.
- Bob and Tim never filmed any more adventures they had after that. by the time i actually did move to the bay area and i got the opportunity to meet Tim in person, Bob was out of the picture. i don't really know exactly what happened. then at some point around then Tim deleted Get Bonus off his youtube. it made me a little sad to see it go, but i had way more pressing stuff in my life to be worried about. it seemed like it was going to be gone from the internet permanently, forever stuck in the time it was made and released. in retrospect like i get why Tim deleted it - maybe he was ashamed of all the blatant sexist stuff in it. or maybe it was just because he fell out with Bob.
- years later me and my friend Tammy met Tim in one of his favorite spots, Colonial Donuts, in Oakland California. it was 2017 and i had moved out of the Bay area by then and was just in town hanging around after the Game Developer's Conference. Tammy and I were sitting in a parked car in the parking lot behind Colonial Donuts, and we'd been sitting there for about 15 or 20 minutes waiting for Tim to show up. eventually i got so bored of waiting that i told her to bring up Get Bonus on her phone, which some enterprising soul had reuploaded to the sketchy video site Dailymotion in the ensuing years. we watched for a bit, enjoying the irony of watching virtual Tim while real Tim was MIA, and i winced as i saw a little transphobic joke i didn't remember before come up when Tim says "i think that's a man" about one of the booth babes at E3. we were both like "uh, 2010, right?" eventually Tammy's battery got depleted from watchin Get Bonus so we stopped, and he showed up.
- i think it's fair to say that Tim was at a low point at that particular moment in his life. his big indie project that he'd spent years making and promoting with a few of his crew, the multiplayer game Videoball, sold in ridiculously low numbers. on that particular night at "CologneDohne" as he often called it, it was almost like he had a comically large dark cloud over his head raining on him, like Charlie Brown in a Peanuts cartoon. he said the coffee he bought was like cutting into the last 5 bucks or so in his bank account, and he wasn't going to get a donut because he needed to go home to get his insulin. he had moved out of a bizarre open apartment i referred to as "The Bat Cave" in Emeryville to somewhere farther out in the east bay and he was looking to leave to go to NYC. one of the places he applied was to be a video producer at Kotaku. i guess trying to set his expectations because i didn't think Kotaku was going to hire another white guy at that particular point in time, in spite of him having freelanced for them before, i was like "yeah, i feel like they're trying to go in another direction and i don't know how well your stuff would fit into that" or something like that. anyway he end up getting hired by the same guy he talks to at the end of Get Bonus - Steven Totilo. his time at that job is the primary thing a lot of people i know seem to know him for now, primarily because he never seemed to fit into it very well at all, just like he didn't seem to fit into either his or Bob's tracksuits at E3 in 2010, fresh off the plane from Japan where his visa was about to expire.
- my life out on the west coast didn't really go as planned. it turns out you can't just walk into some gaming conference as this larger than life figure in a tracksuit and have the universe reorient itself around you. especially when you really fucking need the space to keep you afloat...financially and sometimes, emotionally. most of the time i felt like i was just begging people to give me scraps. scraps that didn't materialize most of the time.
- Tim said in a tweet around the release of Get Bonus, "this is either going to get me a million dollars or murdered; either one works". i think we can safely conclude that neither happened. but i get it. making the event into a shitshow inspires paranoia about what your industry friends might think. even Tim couldn't use his personality to worm his way into becoming the next big figure in this gamer dominated space. that fate is all to predictable especially when you watch shit like "Us and the Game Industry" in hindsight. Tim's dream to be the next boy genius of his own might have been stupid - it might still be stupid. but it doesn't matter, because we're all hopelessly tethered to the beast that is the game industry and gamer culture under capitalism. we're all trying to make something out of nothing. the dragon was just so unfathomably big that there was no real way we'd ever slay it.
- when you drive from the bay area to LA and see all the rolling hills and endless fields it feels like you're drifting through some sort of beautiful dreamscape. in reality central california is a really rough, impoverished place, yet that ride almost feels designed to make you feel like you're on a cloud. it almost doesn't feel real. and maybe it isn't. how many founders of tech companies have stared out the window during this ride and thought about all the big plans that awaited ahead of them - plans that they were about to inflict on the rest of us?
- Bob and Tim take this ride when they gun it from a Chipotle near the airport in San Francisco down to LA. the song "Sabaku" by the Zazen Boys comes on the car speakers. it means "desert". as we watch Tim sit and mouth the words to the song, the characters from the conference him and Bob about to attend are all introduced via short animated gif-like snapshots of scenes they appear in. it's like a tableau of kaleidoscopic encounters, a mash of conflicting personalities and moments.
- we likely won't inherit the future after all. Bob and Tim didn't certainly didn't inherit the future. maybe that was all a fool's errand, fueled by speculative bubbles and misogyny and exploitation. but we still do have you and your friends here out in the desert, commiserating, having a laugh and making the best out of all the inevitably stupid and irritating spectacles of the present. we are here in the desert making something out of nothing. we were always making something out of nothing.
- thanks for listening.
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