Mary Jo Reutter and the Tree of Rejection
Mary Jo began her career designing and producing video games and other interactive goodies. Then she started to crave something physical, not just virtual, so decided to jump in to old school of board games.
Everyone loves Mary Jo and you'll love her interview.
WHY AND HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE TOY AND GAME INDUSTRY?
When people find out I invent games, there’s a thrill in their voice as they say, “Oh, video games?” followed by a bit of bewilderment when I tell them, “No, board games.” But there does seem to be a growing trend of more and more people playing board games – whether playing with other adults, or as parents playing with their families – and that really excites me.
I came to the Toy and Game Industry a bit backwards – from “new school” to “old school” if you will. I actually started my career in new media and was designing and producing video games and other interactive goodies. It was back when the idea of “casual games” in that industry was still trying to get its foot hold, and the only things that were really selling well were the types of games I just couldn’t get into. I also started to crave something physical, not just virtual, so I decided to jump in to the “new” (for me) old school of board games. I do love how things are crossing over now, and am happy to see games of all kinds becoming more popular.
WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU LEARNED IN FROM VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY THAT HELPS YOU WITH YOUR CURRENT WORK?
The importance of story. While working on larger titles, and on museum installations, was when the role of story became evident for me for the first time. I had always been so focused on the look and feel that “words” seemed like “grey space” to my designer’s mindset. But story is what hooks us, gets us involved, and makes us care. And story can be related visually too. I’m still learning a lot about this topic!
HOW DO YOU JUMPSTART YOUR CREATIVITY WHEN YOU FIND YOURSELF STALLED ON A PROJECT?
That’s a great question. Generating ideas is what being an inventor is all about. It’s the most fun part of what we do, and in many ways the easiest. The editing, development and follow through are where the challenges come in. Let’s face it, for the most part no one asks us to do this, it’s just something that we love and in some ways can’t stop. Plus, the eternal hope of having that big hit seems to linger somewhere just behind each idea. Truth be told, it takes a ton of self-motivation to stick with it. So, when I get stuck, I go back to the beginning and allow myself to play with ideas and ask a lot of “what if” questions. I almost hate to admit this, but I get a lot of my ideas during meditations. I only hate to admit it because it means I’m not really meditating! But it’s when I feel most connected to Creativity (with a big C), that I feel most alive. Bringing those little ideas into the world, and watching them become “real” is one of the biggest thrills I know.
IF YOU WERE ABLE TO SEND A MESSAGE BACK THROUGH TIME TO YOURSELF WHEN YOU WERE MAKING THE CHANGE INTO THE INDUSTRY, WHAT ARE 3 CRITICAL PIECES OF ADVICE IT WOULD INCLUDE?
Trust my gut instinct.
Even when people say they have the ability to visualize, they often can’t. That’s not their fault. It’s my job to make sure my vision is expressed, so take the extra time to explain what might seem obvious to me.
“You can’t win. You can’t lose. You can’t quit.” Wise words of advice from a monk friend of mine, that I still reflect on regularly.
Rinse and repeat.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE TOY OR GAME AS A CHILD?
I loved those art-like toys. Lite Brite, Etch-a-Sketch, Spirograph, and Colorforms. I also liked games that had a lot of physical elements like Operation, Hands-Down and Tip-It. I also have very fond memories of playing Taboo and Pictionary as a young adult.
WHAT MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS AND MUSIC DO YOU PLAY?
I started playing clarinet in the third grade, flute in jr. high and alto sax in high school. Music was really important to me growing up. I loved practicing my part and then coming together with a group to bring all the pieces together. And, yes, there was band camp! Recently, I took a Taiko drumming class, and it was a lot of fun to learn something new (and pound on those huge drums). But I still love the clarinet, and just maybe I’ll get motivated enough to dust off those reeds and squawk again.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE GADGET, APP OR PIECE OF SOFTWARE THAT HELPS YOU EVERY DAY?
I absolutely LOVE my iPhone. It’s the best invention of our times. It’s hard to even remember what life was like without it, even though that was only a few years ago! Can you imagine inventing something with that much impact? Amazing.
WHEN IS THE LAST TIME YOU LAUGHED OUT LOUD? WHAT CAUSED IT?
Ha – everything that comes to mind just sounds like a “you had to be there” moment. I do love improv, and recently took some classes. It’s another place where I learn a lot about story! For me, improv is tough, scary, and fun, and what I like the most is that it delights! Improv isn’t so much about bing funny, as it is discovering and delighting in what’s happening. And I find that delightful. But I will tell you the best kid joke I’ve heard recently: Why did the chicken cross the playground? To get to the other slide!
Thanks, Mary Jo, for a terrific interview!