This past weekend, I found a couple of small box in my apartment full of memories from when I was writing about video games for MTV News a decade ago. They might as well have been a buried time capsule.
I had little memory of what I’d saved in those boxes, which I don’t think I’ve opened since I was boxing my stuff up in 2009 to head over to Kotaku. I held on to what I thought was important, amusing or a good time capsule for the era.
The boxes are mostly full of paperwork. I had saved notes from old stories and some old freelance contracts from right before I started at MTV. Here’s me getting assigned to cover E3 for IGN in 2004:
I hung on to a lot of press kits from back then. These days, game publishers don’t bother to print our their press releases and hand them to you at an E3. They just give you a URL for their press site.
For a time, though, you’d get stuff like this very subtle folder full of press info about the 2005 version of the game Narc, which certainly seems to come from a different time in video game culture.
I saved a batch of first-party press kits: folders of Nintendo hyping the then-upcoming Wii, a Microsoft booklet showing off the Xbox 360 with tech specs that indicated it could display graphics all the way up to 1080i, etc.
Printed press kits vanished well before the end of the last decade, as game companies started putting stuff on CDs. One of the boxes I found had far too many CD-ROMs in it, for stuff like this:
The weirdest piece of media in the box was a DS cartridge that Nintendo used to distribute a trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess:
I’ve long been against game publishers sending reporters swag, cute as the stuff may be. It’s better not to hang onto the stuff if you’re planning to report on these companies with full vigor, but it turns out I’d kept some stuff from the MTV era in that box. I was a little embarrassed to realize I’d held on to some of the weird things I’d been sent, including a Betty Crocker box done up like Portal cake mix and an hourglass to promote The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.
I never flaunted the free stuff I got from publishers, all of which would come bundled with a press release or a game. I dump most of it right away. I’d sneer at games reporters who showed up at press events in swag t-shirts. Even if I wasn’t flaunting or using the stuff, it certainly took me some time to start telling publishers to not bother sending it. Fittingly, publishers would sometimes send stuff that made it clear they saw the press they dealt with as “supporters,” as part of the marketing and boosting of a game. Hence mail like this:
In my years at MTV, I was navigating the opportunities of journalistic access and independence. Publishers sent me every game and granted just about any interview I’d request, often with the hope of getting on air. I didn’t want to be an access journalist, though, and was reminded of my delight when I found a PR briefing packet prepared for the makers of a video game based on the Christian book series Left Behind. I wrote about it at the time. An act of independence! The packet was fastened into a binder that was left on top of a garbage can at E3 2006. It was full of dossiers about games reporters and pundits. Nothing too juicy, but still interesting to see, and a fun enough grab that I guess I held onto it.
Some of what’s in the boxes is indeed a time capsule for gaming or games reporting at the time, but some of it also is a mystery to me. Why’d I save a copy of a lawsuit about Xbox Live?
Why’d I save this??
This postcard here? It’s for the game that got some developers noticed and signed by Valve to make Portal.
Why do we save anything? What we gather helps us remember an earlier time but also an earlier state of mind. In those boxes I found not just the physical manifestations of what gaming and games reporting was like from around 2005-2009 but some examples of what I thought mattered and what I valued. It almost makes me want to fill a box now to see what I’d make of it a decade since. As I look around my desk here at Kotaku HQ I realize I just don’t have many physical mementos for this era of gaming and covering games. It’s all gone digital. So I’ll just have this story, ready to load it up in 2026. Oh, and your comments, too.