-[Jump Button is a weekly column by Drew Taylor, written specially for GameSetWatch, that focuses on the art and substance of video game culture.]

I'm more than 10,000 kilometers away from home, the TV in my hotel room is displaying an attractive woman in a red leotard, and immediately my thoughts turn to the launch of the X-box 360.

The woman is twisting faux-effortlessly on a lightweight steel and rubber contraption, and all I can think about are plastic homages to Test Drive, The Outfit, PGR3 and Gears of War.

The woman is smiling, turning left, smiling, turning right, smiling smiling smiling, but in my mind's eye it's Xbox 360 faceplate collector Taco Head (real name Josh*) that's looking back at me, short dark hair and caffeinated green eyes, the word 'promise' on his lips.

'It all happened in the Summer of 2005,' Josh says, as if reciting a net romance blog. 'The “NextBox” was finally revealed to the public during E3 as the 360 we know and love today, but the release date of November seemed like it would take an eternity to come.

'At that time, I had taken my family to Palm Springs for a long weekend and had recently gotten a PDA phone with a web browser. I remember being out at the pool surfing eBay and I came across a listing for the #1 of 5,000 E3 faceplates. Instantly, I knew I had to have it.

-'It was the first one of its kind, and the system hadn't even launched yet! But it wasn't easy. This was just the first of many “negotiations” with my wife to secure a rare faceplate.'

Still Josh, now a 37-year-old director of operations for a software company in Southern California, explaining the initial attraction.

'I'd long been a big fan of the first Xbox because its PC-like design seemed to inspire the hobbyist crowd and had generated so many interesting home brew applications and hardware mods.'

'So when I first learned what Microsoft had in store for the 360, I thought, “Wow, these guys have really listened to the hardcore gamers”. There was the Xbox Media Center functionality (although not quite as robust as first hoped) and the dashboards, themes and faceplates. They were really going for a customizable game console that you could make your own.

'I was extremely curious to see what interesting faceplates would be manufactured. Here you had regular guys making all kinds of cool mods in their garages for the original X-box, and now it was going to graduate to the mainstream.

'Or... so I thought.'

-What Josh is talking about here, retrospectively, it's the promise of gaming with Home magazine style. Consoles that can—with the snippety-snap of a piece of plastic—take on the personality of us; and create chic from geek.

This is the gaming world's version of glamour commercials. Mascara ads promising longer lashes. Lipstick testimonies of wetter, fatter, glossier pouts. Ab muscles where there weren't any. An end to erectile dysfunction, acne and loneliness. A more beautiful us.

What Josh is getting at, what he's saying is that this was to be the eternal opportunity—handed to gamers by Microsoft and the Xbox 360—to outwardly express their gaming style. The convergence of hardware and artware. A new Xbox, only now with 15% less boring.

For Josh, the promise was too great to ignore. He had to collect.

'Originally, I envisioned myself picking up a few of these cool little plastic faceplates here and there and putting them up on my shelf,' he admits. 'But soon I ran out of space and was packing them in bubble wrap and shipping them off to my storage facility.

Due to time and budget constraints, I decided to focus primarily on first party plates, game release plates, event plates and signed plates, and I wanted to keep track of what was in the wild, what I'd acquired, and most importantly, which plates I was going after next. So, I made a faceplate index (found at Josh's ad-hoc gaming blog) because no-one had done that yet, that I was aware of. If I've learned anything at all, it's that there are a lot of really nice people all over the world that have a love for gaming in common. I never claimed to be a professional. I know my pictures are okay at best and that the index is a long cluttered table, but it serves its purpose for now and people seem to like it. I try to update it at least weekly.'

-Josh is right; for a web page committed to sought after designer pieces, it lacks fanfare; high gloss images that induce catatonia with their awesomeness, web 2.0-ness that magnifies the envy.

But what is there is a serious, serious collection of one-offs and must-haves. Charity signed ice hockey faceplates, Zero Hour plus DOA tournament plates, an X05 Amsterdam J Allard signed plate, a range of hand spraypainted Gorillaz plates that formed part of a mural wall, a limited edition Prey faceplate, a Blue Dragon Pack (with figurines), Stranglehold, Dead Rising, FEAR and RARE Viva Pinata dev team plates.

It's a collection of gamer love, of faith in the promise, of digital fatherhood. A collection any rival would love to get their hands on.

'Early on, my strongest competition in securing rare faceplates was Sean “Rhinotronics”,' says Josh. 'It was great because you thrive on the competition as a collector. I had a bunch of pieces that Sean would have loved and vice-versa. There were some others that had a piece here and there that I wanted, but he had the most serious rare collection next to mine. He was featured in the (US) Official Xbox magazine several times as a faceplate collector, but for business reasons he sold off most of his collection a while back. He was nice enough to offer me first pick at some of his items, which I happily took him up on.

-'Again, though, my wife needed some convincing that spending so much money on pieces of plastic was a good idea.'

Maybe not his wife, but Josh, he gets that faceplates aren't plastic, in the same way that a photograph isn't just chemicals on a piece of paper. More than just the promise of style, they're the visual stimulus of an emotional and psychological attachment. The proudly displayed memory of gaming.

The olive green and gold designs of the ChromeHounds faceplate isn't about coloured, textured plastic, it's about intense multiplayer squad-based mech battles at 2 am. The DOA Extreme 2 plate isn't about a hot Asian chick in her swim wear, it's 'independent jiggle physics' and voyeurism. The Perfect Dark Zero faceplate, about the excitement of N64 games coming to 'next gen'.

This is what's been forgotten, says Josh.

Adding, 'I think manufacturing a faceplate to support your game release is a powerful marketing opportunity that's often squandered. Early on, publishers would offer a nice faceplate in a box as an incentive to pre-order a game. The artwork was decent and you felt like you were getting quality.

'Over time less effort was put into the process and you'd most often get a blurry glossy logo slapped across the front. Maybe the drop in quality was because the public wasn't going ape over faceplates like Microsoft had hoped, I don't know.

-'A great example of how to make a faceplate for your fans is the BioShock faceplate. It came as part of a nice promotional box with other materials and looks great. But look at the Collector's Edition of BioShock and you'll see that you're dealing with a company that really cares about its product and its fans. All it takes is a little effort. I'll buy from those guys every time.

'Ultimately, though, what's fascinating is that here we are—nearly three years after the 360 faceplates were unveiled—and the scene has come full circle, [back to the way things ended with the original Xbox]. Today, commercial faceplate production has dropped off, but custom-modded faceplates are hot.'

*Full name not given at Josh's request.

[Drew Taylor works in the games industry in Australia and writes video game culture articles for various magazines. The first faceplate he owned was a promotional item for the game The Outfit. He would love to design his own and have it manufactured.]