In November 2009 I was preparing to attend the Montreal International Games Summit and I panicked – it was my first major event as a press representative and I had no way of recording an interview. That was a problem because I was supposed to be speaking to Yoichi Wada, then President of Square Enix, along with some other notable people in the industry. So I rushed to Radio Shack and picked out the cheapest dictaphone I could find, a small gray rectangle from RCA locked in a glass case. I have no idea which model it is, but it has stayed with me throughout my professional career to this day – now, almost 13 years later, it is finally retiring.
I stuck with this device for one main reason: I trusted it. The RCA recorder had no particularly noteworthy features; Sound quality was okay, and having a bunch of AAA batteries on deck was pretty annoying. But I’ve always been paranoid about losing an interview and wasting both my time and – even worse – that of someone who agreed to speak with me for a story. So as long as the recorder worked I had no real reason to replace it. And it always worked. Even when the “delete” button fell off, I stuck with it. But earlier this month, while attending Summer Game Fest, I came to a sad conclusion: the rewind button didn’t work, pushing the recorder beyond the point of its usefulness.
But lived a good life. In fact, it has stayed with me throughout my career The edge so far, which dates back to 2012. Every face-to-face interview I conducted during that period was recorded on this machine. I took it with me when I flew to New York to listen to Shigeru Miyamoto’s great takeaway plan Super Mario to the iPhone and when I was in Montreal to learn how the Ubisoft team is recreating an entire city like Paris. I had it with me when I sat down for a nice long chat with the directors of just a day after submitting my review The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in San Francisco.
I took it to many E3 reruns in Los Angeles to cover the state of the Japanese gaming industry, explore Nintendo’s plans for the future, and try to understand Phil Spencer’s philosophy for Xbox. It was in my hands in 2019 as I tried to keep a straight face while asking Nintendo veterans what a gooey version of Luigi would taste like. It recorded Yoko Taro speaking without his iconic mask on. I was lucky enough to speak to the main minds behind almost all of my favorite games as a kid, be it Super Mario, Metroid, God of War, Devil May Cry, monster hunter, dragon questor final fantasy. Every time I was traveling to an event, a studio, or just going out for coffee with someone in the entertainment industry, I felt safe knowing I had this RCA recorder in my pocket, ready to go.
And in the days before Zoom dominated most of my professional communications, I even used it to record numerous phone conversations. It was awkward – I turned on the phone’s speaker and placed the recorder right next to it – but it always worked. That’s how I managed to track down the artists behind the classic Atari box art and listen to Sean Bean tell me what it’s like to be killed in a video game. In 2013, I locked myself in a bathroom to talk to David X. Cohen about the end of futurama so I don’t wake my first child from a nap.
With the proliferation of video calling and the lack of in-person events in recent years, the recorder hasn’t gotten much work. It’s been sitting in a desk drawer for about 36 months. But earlier this month, I had a chance to use it again when Summer Game Fest hosted its first-ever in-person event in Los Angeles. And it was as reliable as ever; I used it to record interviews with the directors of The Callisto Protocol and street fighter 6 and to record my first practical experiences with peridot. But without a rewind button, actually transcribing those conversations was far too time-consuming.
It’s not clear when I’ll return for another in-person event, so I have time to decide what’s next. It’s not easy to replace a steady companion of more than a decade. I know I will not use my phone to record interviews; Again, I’m paranoid, and I’d prefer something simple and direct so that a dead battery or software update doesn’t mess up an interview. But I also love the idea of a single-purpose device. I fully associate the RCA recorder with conducting an interview, a central part of my work, and it turns out it has become a memory-infused object as a result. If I’m lucky, I’ll find something that will help me capture even more.