Feature: Bowling with Megatokyo

April 25, 2003 4:44 AM PST


Bowling with Megatokyo
by tim rogers
04252003

On Saturday, January 4th, 2003, representatives of insert credit, the world's greatest videogame site, wielded ten-to-fifteen-pound balls against representatives of Megatokyo, the web's greatest serialized comic. In a wide building where the American flag flies over a DDR machine of some standing, where beers were served, in the chill of the Saturday night, we bowled.

It was Albany, California, near enough to San Francisco for a non-local such as myself to call it San Francisco. I was in town for a week, jetlagged by three time zones, getting ready to head to Tokyo, where I'd be jetlagged by fourteen more. I was staying between the historic houses of insert credit's Brandon Sheffield and Megatokyo's Dom and Cortana.

I never got to see the Golden Gate Bridge.

I did, however, get to see a bowling alley that served Thai food at the snack bar, which has got to count for something.

While it didn't do much for not-hungry me, it did something for Dom and Brandon. French fries and Thai food were ordered as Google's own favorite "Kingdom Hearts Ending FMV Sora Rikku Disney Squaresoft PlayStation2 OMG LOL" linkboy Chris Woodard started on his first translucent plastic cup of beer of the evening. Not yet feeling the influence, he managed to enter our party's names into the bowling computer.

As for me, Tim Rogers -- my handle, as always, whether as a bowler or l33t f0rum haxx0r, was "108." Everyone else chose something equally personal. As such, I don't remember what names those fine people chose. I do, however, remember those people's real names.

< Brandon’s note: In the choosing of monikers, the word “Ass” was used more than once, this much is certain. Opposing sides were named: The Winners and Team Suck. >

Scott Crain and Dom Nguyen of Megatokyo were out in force. They showed up at Albany Bowl on San Pablo Avenue in Scott's Subaru Impreza with some god-awful J-pop blaring, and we didn't expect any less as we unrolled the red carpet and welcomed them inside for an ass-whipping.

Photographer of all the fancy images you see at the top of your insert credit front page, Aaron Meyers, was on one of our two teams. Also present was friend of Brandon Sheffield's and so-hyped "Andy Warhol of webcomic authors," Chris Ford. High-school friend of some of those gathered, Anne-Marie Jetter, was the only female brave enough to be amongst us.

It's a funny thing, that -- there'd been plenty of girls just hours before. We were at a barbecue at Chris Woodard's place in Berkeley, talking to all kinds of cultured types about all kinds of cultured things. They were feasting on salmon of the fresh-off-the-grill variety, and sipping some kind of wine. Me and Brandon -- naw, we're warriors. Just the night before, we'd ripped with finesse from Gekioh Shooting King to King of Fighters 2001 to Incredible Crisis. We didn't need any fancy next-gen systems, or fancy next-gen grilled white meat. And besides, we're vegetarians.

Me, dressed in the black skull-jacket I'd picked up during my interrupted stint as a Tokyo punk-rock-singer, and Brandon, in death-metal-black from neck to boots, picked up a big rectangular plastic container of firm tofu at a supermarket just after grabbing several dozen crickets from a nearby pet shop for the purpose of feeding a pet it is not the purpose of this essay to explain. The woman who ran the pet shop was Korean, and her left eye was clouded over with gray like a character in a science-fiction movie. It's funny, because just the day before we'd had a run-in with a Korean woman of similarly spooky circumstance. She happened to run an arcade that was apparently a front for some kind of drug operation, and she seemed not-too-happy with our playing of Metal Slug on the old Neo-Geo.

It is not, however, the intent of this essay to discuss scary Korean women. Just as surely as there are some beautiful and un-insane Korean women in this world, there are bad ways to eat Chinese food. One such bad way is to make a tofu sandwich without Tabasco sauce. This is not Brandon's fault, of course. No, it's Chris Woodard's. As cavernous and well-stocked as his kitchen as, as much as his refrigerator resembles that monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, there was no Tabasco to be had. No, just "Louisiana Pepper Sauce."

Brandon -- and let me tell you this in confidence -- is one skilled son of a bitch when it comes to flipping dripping tofu squares over grilling charcoal. The bread upon which the more carnivorous kids were placing meat and eating was better than good -- it was great, and soft. Dijon mustard added something right to the mix. Melted cheese made my mouth -- and my toughly crispy tofu -- happy. Family members watching a DVD of some nameless thriller inside, trendy ladies and gentlemen chatting at tables set up on a patio in the pleasant breeze outside, tiki torches lighting the way -- hell, there was even some Dutch guy speaking with a Dutch accent to someone about something. The joint was classed-up, and the perfect set-up for a pre-bowling-battle relax-down. All that was missing was Tabasco. I was in a mood. However would I rack up my usual perfect 300 score, without my daily dose of cayenne peppers, distilled vinegar, and salt? I mind-cursed the security inspectors at Indianapolis International Airport, for taking away my carry-on bottle: "No liquid allowed that isn't drinkable." They didn't know me and my Tabasco, that was for sure.

And neither did Chris Woodard. He didn't even know me and my methods of novelistic characterization. Here he was, watching me eat a Tabasco-less tofu sandwich, and commenting on my movie script DH: a thirsty demon in tokyo's parking lot with no apologies. The gist of his criticism was that I needed to cut about sixty pages. He says no one in their right mind would want to watch a three-and-a-half-hour movie about a male-model/demon-hunter/swing-dance-instructor in Tokyo of the year 20XX, narrated by a widowed graduate of Tokyo Psychic University, unless I got rid of a certain minor character. What the hell does he know? He's the guy who gave Kingdom Hearts an 8.3!

Brandon says Chris Woodard is "always right." Well. Well, well, well.

"So where are you guys going again?" some girl who wasn't with Brandon or Chris or I was asking some guy who wasn't me.

"Out bowling."

"Who are you guys going out bowling with?" some girl asked Brandon.

"These guys from this website."

Everyone at the party had their own website. Except me. Well, I do have one, kind of. And another one coming soon. Telling people we were going bowling with people who had a website wasn't the best way to get them to agree to come. So we upped the ante a bit.

"They're from Megatokyo."

"What's Megatokyo?"

"Megatokyo-dot-com," we clarified.

"They're, like, a webcomic," Chris Woodard explained.

"A webcomic?"

"Yeah, like, a comic strip on the internet."

I kept it up: "Yeah -- like, a million people read their site every day*."

(*this figure slightly exaggerated)

"Wow."

"Yeah, they get, like, paid for what they do."

"So you're going bowling with, like, the artist?"

"Naw," I had to say. "The artist -- he's, uh, not in town."

"What are these guys like?"

It was a good question -- one Brandon couldn't answer. He hadn't met them, yet. Just two days prior, he'd picked me up at Dom and Scott's house just three minutes after Dom and Scott stepped out to the closest 7-Eleven, probably to stock up on too much kimchee ramen. Just an hour before that, Scott, Dom, and I had some lovely enchiladas at a lovely little taqueria. That, however, has little to do with the story.

I'd spent a day with these guys, I was thinking. What, really, were they "like"? I remembered the look of their domicile: sofa-less, the preferred location from which to view the larger-than-my-mom HDTV on the floor was from a dinette chair. The preferred internet connection was wireless -- they'd even been courteous enough to equip my computer with a 'card just seconds after my arrival. The preferred Xbox controller was some chunky MadCatz number that gave me palm-heel-calluses. Brandon didn't mind it as he sat down for an hour of a freshly-imported Panzer Dragoon Orta. He didn't like what he was playing, and it wasn't because of the controller.

"How much time have you spent with this shit?"

"All night, man," I said.

"You think you can write a review?"

"Sure."

We waited for Dom and Scott to get back. They didn't get back. I grabbed one last root beer out of the refrigerator. It was the best-tasting root beer I've ever best-tasted. Those guys know which root beer to stock. They'd told me it was fresh-brewed, like real beer. It's the kind of root beer a man can grow to love.

And here's the truth: a writing professor once told me that it's common to define characters based on what they love, and how they love it. So I squeezed this knowledge into the question at hand.

"They . . . they love videogames," I said.

"Videogames?" the girl asked.

I thought of Scott and Dom's bookshelf of anime DVDs. I thought of how few of them had titles that rang even the smallest of bells inside my mind.

"Yeah, and Japanese animation. Really, really obscure Japanese animation."

"Oh," the girl said.

Only one of those girls ended up bowling with us all. The rest had something else to do. It's not like we needed girls, anyway -- what with Brandon's girl in LA, and mine in London. Well, maybe Chris Woodard was on the lookout for one. I'll tell you -- the guy may describe himself as what women call "handsome, yet never sexy," though that don't stop him from being one slick bastard. As the evening rolled along toward cosmic-(and-more-expensive)-bowling-time, Chris Woodard had pumped enough cheap amber alcohol into his veins, and transformed into a sort of demigod of cool-mackness. Witnessing his silky-smooth technique, I was very amazed myself.

If there was any amazing going on for the rest of the evening, it was on my part, as I scored two perfect 300s and laid down the Protips on Dom at round after round of DDR. In addition to loud, needless showboating that might or might not have been justified, I lived up the moment with the assistance of my digital camera. As my Memory Stick is only sixteen megabytes, I couldn't quite take as many pictures as I'd have liked, and for this, I apologize. If you can donate a bigger one, by all means, PayPal me the good stuff.

*

Due to licensing issues with Namco, I can't show you any pictures of my face. If you must know what I look like, simply imagine someone supremely sexy, and then multiply him by five. Brandon can be seen sporting looks of mock-fiery anger and an authentic rock-star ponytail. Dom is looking fresh in khakis and a sweatshirt. Chris Ford amazes all by looking like he pays attention to what he's wearing. Chris Woodard, in a wife-beater, a leather jacket, and suspenders, should have remembered to spray himself with lady-repellent. Aaron Meyers proves that purple isn't just for teletubbies anymore. Scott Crain earns a big, burly bowl of respect for having a beard I can never have, and for wearing shorts in wintertime. While no one could compete with me -- either athletically or sexily -- let's give them all a general round of applause for trying.

< Brandon's note: Scott is depicted here as a big ugly baby for not wanting his picture in the article. Fie! >

When balls rolled unprotected into the gutter, screams were angry. As the night dragged on and French fries and Pad Thai clotted bloodstreams, laughs were shared. When all was said and done, Brandon took Chris home, and then met Scott and Dom and I fifteen minutes into a game of Panzer Dragoon Orta. Sharing root beers, we had successfully bonded through bowling. At one point, Scott showed us his Suikoden III quest. At another point, we all watched Dom play some kind of freaky . . . love-sim . . . -ish game Brandon has just reprimanded me through IM for not knowing was Bistro Cupid. Later, as the hours passed into morning, Brandon tore Dom away from some Baldur's Gate II to give him a guided tour of insert credit.

I . . . think he liked it.

I remembered overhearing a cell-phone conversation between Brandon and his mother the day before. She might have been questioning his going bowling, like my mother questions my reasons for going to Japan without a job.

"It's like businessmen playing golf," Brandon said, from the cozy confines of his garbage-littered automobile. The torn passenger's seat was, quite literally, cutting my backside, even through my skater pants.

"Yeah, like businessmen playing golf," Brandon said. "Except we're not businessmen. And we're not playing golf."

At that time, we were headed to Chinatown. In Chinatown, we had some fairly decent Taiwanese boba tea. Chilly as it was outside, and freeze the tips of my fingers as that cold boba tea did, it was good boba tea, and it was therefore forgiven.

I could have used some of that boba tea four days later, on January 7th, 2003, as Brandon drove me from his home in Berkeley to San Jose International Airport. It's my policy, when flying overseas, to not sleep for the two days before I leave. I've pulled this off many times before. I sit on the airplane, the flight attendant tells me to buckle my seatbelt -- and keep it over my blanket, so she doesn't have to wake me to check -- and I'm dead-asleep before takeoff. When I open my eyes, I'm two hours from my destination, as opposed to the usual fourteen.

In the case of my latest trip to Japan, I didn't sleep from the night we bowled with Megatokyo.

Brandon and I were headed down the highway. His San Francisco-only car is not stereo-equipped. We had only conversation and rolled-down windows letting in icy whips of sunny-morning air to entertain us. My eyes were rolling back in my head. I had my face out the window, soaking up frozen wind. I was dreaming, in clips, about the time my mom's friend's son showed my brother and I Y's on his TurboGrafx16, and we beheld him with wonder. At one point, at Brandon's suggestion, I slapped myself in the face. Hard. I never knew I was so capable of physically hurting myself like that.

It was a day before I left Japan that I told this story of slapping myself to a Japanese journalist named Mutsue, who's helping me set up my new punk-rock-themed website. She had a new lip-ring that day. She and I were playing pool. She asked me why I was so tired, and I told her about my airplane-tactics. Her jaw dropped when I imitated the slap.

"No way!"

"It's what I do."

"Dude, you kick ass," she informed me. She'd lived in San Francisco for four years.

Back on that day, three days after we bowled with Megatokyo, headed south out of San Francisco, when I awoke from my nine-tenths sleep, Brandon was talking about the future of insert credit. He was talking about advertisers. Getting deals with companies to send us free games. He was talking about E3. He was talking about raising the bar in the quality of videogame journalism. I agreed with him. We stopped at a gas station halfway to San Jose to get me a bottle of Dr. Pepper.

The morning sun was ferocious. The side of my face hurt. Cold wind whipped into the car. The engine roared like a sea lion. I imagined some Yuzo Koshiro composition to fit the mood. My imagination wasn't strong enough. I was dead-tired. My last San Francisco days had been a blur.

"It was good that we bowled with Megatokyo," Brandon said.

"Yeah, it was," I said.

*

This is insert credit: videogame internet. We've bowled with Megatokyo. Let us bowl with you next.

tim rogers