Genius of Play Ambassador Spotlight: The Toy Insider’s Marissa DiBartolo
April 6, 2021 | For Marissa DiBartolo, play isn’t just a pastime of her youth but an integral part of her daily life as the editor-in-chief of the Toy Insider and the Pop Insider, two leading toy and pop culture news and review sites produced by Adventure Media & Events. Toy News Tuesday editors spoke with DiBartolo about her passion for play, how she believes everyone can incorporate more play into their lives, and her new role as a Play Ambassador for The Toy Association’s Genius of Play initiative.
Q1: How did you get your start in the toy industry and what you are doing now?
DiBartolo: I went to school for journalism and immediately set out to work as an editor after graduating. When I was 22, I landed my first full-time job as an assistant editor at Adventure Media, where I wrote about toys and licensing for the Toy Book. At the time, I knew nothing about the industry, but I leaped at the chance to dig in and learn everything I could. That was back in 2012 — and I’m still here! I am so proud of the fact that I’ve built my career at Adventure Media & Events. I’ve grown to love the toy industry, and I’ve learned that it is truly a tight-knit community. Now, I’m the editor-in-chief of the Toy Insider and our newest publication, the Pop Insider. I get to share all my industry insight with consumers through dozens of broadcast TV segments every year, I’ve written hundreds of toy and game reviews, and I’ve gotten to know so many people in the industry. I can’t imagine working anywhere else. The toy world is a truly magical place, and I feel so incredibly lucky to be a part of it.
Q2: Why was it important to you to become a Genius of Play Ambassador and what does play mean to you?
DiBartolo: Play is more than a pastime; it’s an interactive, creative experience that provides opportunities for personal growth and development. It helps forge meaningful relationships, strengthens imagination, and teaches kids how to be kind, compassionate people. Play is so important to me, and I absolutely love sharing the message of how powerful play can be with my friends, family, and followers. As a Genius of Play Ambassador, I cannot wait to connect with the other ambassadors and help share the message of why play matters, providing people with new ways of thinking about toys and play.
Q3: Play benefits our emotional and physical wellbeing at any age, so what steps have you taken to make play a part of your daily routine both in and outside of work?
DiBartolo: Toys are my life both in and out of work. My workdays revolve around scoping out the best new toys and games, reporting on trends and new products, and keeping my finger on the pulse of the industry as a whole.
But even before I started writing for the Toy Book and the Toy Insider, I was a huge geek for all things video games, board games, and pop culture. Pre-COVID, my fiancé and I were well-known by our friends for our epic game nights (now we stick to two-player games). We are frequent visitors to our local board game shop, Twenty-Sided Store, and board game café, Sip N Play, in Brooklyn. We never take a trip to Target without a 20-minute sojourn down the toy aisles. I call it “research,” but in reality I always end up buying a few things for myself and the kids in my life.
There’s always a jigsaw puzzle on my dining room table, and my apartment is completely covered in collectibles. I also spend way too many hours a week on my Nintendo Switch. Oh, and did I mention my adult coloring book obsession? Play is a huge part of my life. It makes me feel connected to my inner child, it helps keep me calm and relaxed, and it helps me be more creative and imaginative.
Q4: What is your favorite toy and/or play memory?
DiBartolo: To this day, I can tell you practically every toy I owned, who got it for me, and where I kept it as a child. I had a really strong connection to my toys while I was growing up – they were my best friends! I was born in 1990, so I lived through all of the super fun toy crazes like Tamagotchi, Cabbage Patch Kids Snacktime Kid, Furby, Pokémon cards, and of course, Beanie Babies!
But, of all the toys and all the fun, my favorite play memories are really family game nights with my parents. We played games together pretty much every weekend growing up, and we always stuck to the classics: UNO, Phase 10, Skip-Bo, Sequence, Scrabble, Yahtzee, and Rummikub. My mom and dad always treated me like an equal player at the table, even when I was super young. They were patient, playful, funny, and kind. They taught me how to be a good sport when I lost, and they celebrated with me when I won. Looking back, those game nights taught me so much. And, we had some of our most meaningful conversations while playing. Even now as an adult, the thing I look forward to most when going home to my parents’ house with my fiancé, is breaking out one of those seven games.
Q5: How do you think we as a society can better incorporate play into our lives?
DiBartolo: Everyone knows kids love toys — they go together like peanut butter and jelly! But I think it’s easy for people to overlook the importance of play in all of our lives — not just kids, and not just people who have kids. We all need to take time to play.
I think as a society, we are on the path to celebrating the fun, carefree moments in life more than ever before. Pop culture is on the rise, and it’s finally cool to be a geek! It’s acceptable to be a 20-something who plays video games (some people are even doing it as a profession). Dressing up like your favorite character and roaming around a comic con is the norm. Parents are even ditching their kids for adults-only trips to Disney World! Especially in a world where there is just so much stress and seriousness around us 24/7, it is so great to be able to look to some of these easy, fun moments full of smiles.
Marissa DiBartolo is the editor-in-chief of the Toy Insider and the Pop Insider. She has been featured on the TODAY Show, Tamron Hall Show, Access Hollywood, Fox and Friends, ABC World News Now, MSNBC, CBS, NY1, WPIX, and more. You can follow her on Instagram @thattoygirl. The Toy Insider’s annual Spring & Summer Gift Guide will launch April 20, featuring more than 250 toys for kids of all ages. The full guide will be available online at Thetoyinsider.com.
This interview is part of an ongoing series that spotlights the members of The Genius of Play Ambassadors program, who serve as play thought leaders within their own professional networks as well as key supporters and spokespersons for ongoing Genius of Play initiatives.