Being a pro designer/ inventor is not for the squeamish. Don’t get me wrong, I love my work, and I love the industry, but it’s a lot like having a problem gambling addiction. Each new concept is like a scratch-off lottery ticket. Not getting rejected in the pitch meeting is like scratching off the first number. Hey- there’s a number under there! Okay, let’s try the next one – (scratch scratch scratch) my widget made it to the brand review meeting! Scratchy scratch-scratch – Option Agreement! Scratch scratch #fail. POOF! It’s over. NEXT!
I have adopted a motto: “Hurry up if you’re gonna reject it – your competitors are waiting.” It’s all just making good products, and then dropping them into the timing/luck/karma hopper and waiting to see whether they’ll squirt out the other end in one piece, or be scattered into bits in the ether like that kid in Willy Wonka’s factory. It’s fine – I just reassemble the bits in a new configuration and start over. It’s routine. It’s fine. It’s perfunctory. Like Groundhog Day.
So why do we do it? What’s the point? Though we create some physical things, much of what we do is create intangible things: play experiences for millions, though these experiences are parties to which we’re never invited. What people do with our games and toys after they’ve bought them usually happens behind closed doors and is largely a mystery to us. Yeah, we see sales reports, we hear relatives’ stories, but for the most part, we release these butterflies into the wind and that whole thing about “if it comes back to you it’s yours” – well, mostly they just fly away forever. Bon voyage, little butterfly! They don’t come back.
So we just think up the next whatzitz and don’t spend a lot of brain space wondering about the details of why a kid wants to sleep with it or take it to school. Why it becomes woven into the fabric of family. How it teaches something or makes people laugh. It’s just what we do.
So again – what’s the point??
A couple years ago Sally Field starred in a film called Hello My Name is Doris. My brother saw it and told me I need to see it, but didn’t say why. Said I’d know. Halfway through the film I almost choked on my popcorn: a toy I designed as part of a game I worked on as a staff designer in my first job out of college was featured as one of Sally Field’s favorite office toys - a little yellow squeezy character with orange fuzzy hair and a corky nose for a game called Wacky Blasters. I still to this day don’t know who the inventor of the game was – I just got to design the parts.
Then recently I was watching the Kennedy Center Honors and Sally Field was the Honoree. There it was again in her film reel right on her desk under her monitor. Sqweeee! I made the Kennedy Center Honors!! Heeehee. It’s really a blast to see something show up after decades of obscurity and know it moved somebody somehow, or they liked it enough to write it into the script of a movie. It’s fun to get a kick out of something like this that’s long gone. As a maker, though, this kind of validation is rarified air.
Well, today got a breath of pure oxygen. I got schooled in ‘What’s the point?’. I got a random email from a stranger through my website. Out of a clear blue sky, somebody tracked me down in cyberspace over the love of a game. Over nostalgia and how something was included in and affected their recreational time and memories across a nearly thirty-year span. And it BLEW ME AWAY. Here’s the note:
I don't know exactly how to say this, but one of the board games you created has been a wildly popular source of entertainment for me and generations of friends since around 1991. It may be hard for you to believe, but "Wacky Blasters" has been a staple for decades of my hangouts even today. Sadly, over the years from frequent usage, there has been lost one of the blasters, the die, and most of the puff balls. We've made do with as many substitute pieces over the years as we can conjure up, but I figured reaching out to you was my last shot at full redemption. I'm writing you in desperate hopes that you can assist me with any form of a replacement. I don't know how there hasn't been any on sale online anywhere, otherwise I'd have paid handsomely for it. I wish I could actually speak with you to tell you how this board game has followed me from childhood home, to college dorm, to various living spaces, to workplaces, to camping trips, to well... everywhere. Literally every single person who has even seen us playing the game has not only enjoyed it, but been absolutely obsessed with it. It's a smash hit for the hundreds of people I've been able to introduce to it over the years. I just found out today that you're the game's designer and artist and at the very least I wanted to thank you dearly for it.
What’s the point? THIS IS THE POINT! The holy grail! THIS is why we do this thing we do. This is why we burn the midnight oil, often in solitude, and why when we wonder what’s become of the playthings we make, we just gotta believe we’re affecting somebody somewhere somehow. We’re kind of like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz – we go on this outrageous decades-long up and down zig-zaggy journey of bizarro meetings, missed flights, bigger-than-life characters, crappy hotels, the Toy Fair diet (m&ms and water all day, then prime rib at night) long contracts, legal spats, belly laughs, hot glue burns, lifelong friends, sticking our necks out, late paychecks, artistic gratification, and all that jazz, and it brings us back home where we knew in our hearts all along that this one-of-a-kind thing we created matters. And it will matter to somebody out there, and while we’ll never get to know and understand or measure its ultimate impact, we just gotta believe.