Gamer Spotlight: Rebekah Saltsman

Rebekah Saltsman (CEO/Co-founder of Finji)

Rebekah grew up in rural Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan in 2003 with a degree in Communication Studies. She moved to Austin, Texas after school with Adam (her soon to be husband) and worked in PR at a non-profit before taking a job as a technical administrator at a software company. She worked her way up to Product Manager at that company until leaving in 2008 to take over the finances for Semi Secret Software, the iOS developer that Adam co-founded.

She worked behind the scenes with Adam on his projects and in 2014 they re-branded the company as Finji and she took on a more public facing role in the company. She now serves as CEO of Finji and handles everything from budgeting and legal matters, to heading up the marketing and operations team. Finji releases both internally developed games like Overland and Canabalt, as well as handling publishing duties for titles like Night in the Woods and Tunic.

Rebekah and Adam relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2016 where they are raising their two children and recently celebrated their 14th wedding anniversary.

What is the first video game that you remember playing?

“I have 4 older brothers so we had a Coleco with the Atari expansion in the house when I was very very young. I remember “playing” with this but I was also under 5 years old so I don’t really count this at all. We got the NES and the first game I remember playing was Duck Hunt in the few minutes a day I got to touch a controller. When you are the 5th of 6 kids, you didn’t get to play much. This was kind of the case until we got the Super Nintendo in the 90’s and I was both older and I wasn’t 5 kids down the priority line to play. The first game that I remember REALLY playing and REALLY playing well was Secret of Mana. I was finally the next oldest kid to play second player with my brother (aka #4. It’s easiest to just number my brothers in stories like this. Remember I am #5 in my family).

Unfortunately, at this point, I was on the cusp of being a teenager in the 90s and my brothers were getting to the age that they would have a lot of extracurriculars like jobs and Varsity High School sports. And honestly, this was the truth for me too. I started working at 14-15 and played 3 sports/all seasons in high school. This means that we didn’t have another console in the house after the Super Nintendo. We did have a PC and #4 brother and #6 sister played a bunch of PC strategy games but I didn’t really like them at all. I played some Sim City in high school, but all of the games I was most interested in (like Wolfenstein 3D) were things I had to play at my besties house.”

What are your favorite games of all time?

“I love Secret of Mana and picked up the Collection of Mana for Switch. I used to have an extra cart sitting around of Secret of Mana because I was so terrified the battery on my original cart would go out and I wouldn’t be able to play anymore. I was so happy when I was able to get the game on the Wii Eshop. Of course I bought it for my Switch too. I am probably up to like $150+ just on this game in various forms over the past 2+ decades. It’s absolutely my favorite game of all time.

Other games I absolutely love are Katamari Damacy, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and Threes. This is probably a weird list- and I did leave off Night in the Woods and Wilmot’s Warehouse but they are also two of my favorite games of all time. I published those games though- so it might be weird to add them.”

Which hobbies or pastimes do you enjoy besides gaming?

“I love watching movies. Adam and I have been fans of genre film for years and we love digging up really wonderful media that is often hard to get a hold of in the states. We will watch almost anything that is interesting barring movies that delve into body horror. Those really aren’t our jam. Personally, I also really love kdramas but also the intersection between the same stories told across media culture. You can often watch the same dramas based on manga from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and I find the differences in the cultural media representations fascinating. This isn’t applicable really to what I do at Finji, but watching the same story told in three distinct ways helps me think about our own stories and how they can be told across cultural gaps.

I find it hard to maintain a lot of hobbies with both running Finji and keeping our kids in line. But when I do find time for myself, I love to run, although in recent years this has been a lot harder to maintain because of my travel schedule. Finding time to get in 20-40 miles a week is harder than you think! I love my dogs- a pug named Poptart and a corgi named Stegosaurus (Steggi) and dogs are a lovely time sink with their care and attention needs. I also enjoy making costumes for my kids every fall for Halloween, badly growing vegetables in my garden every summer, reading just about anything I can get my hands on, and building Lego. I also really like baking and cooking- I make a huge mess any time I make something new, but I thank my mom every day that she forced me to learn to cook and bake when I was a kid.”

Do you and your children play video games together?

“The boys and I do play games together but not as often as they play games with Adam. I take the boys on Pokemon Go walks which they love. I also play games like Mario Kart with Adam and the boys. We just started playing Secret of Mana on the Switch together this summer and they have been taking turns playing as the second player. I also picked up Pokemon Sword when we got them Pokemon Shield for Christmas so they would have someone to trade with. That was my first proper Pokemon game play experience so it was super fun for me to play one for the first time. Aside from video games though- we play A LOT of board games together. The boys are very capable at playing board games and card games meant for older kids so we can play some super complicated games as a family. This is probably the smartest thing we did as parents over the past few years because with the pandemic, we are not able to play games with our grownup friends. We still need to help the 7yo a little, but the 9yo can definitely hold his own against us. It’s a little scary sometimes.”

How do you make time for gaming with a busy family life and career?

“To be honest, when you prioritize something you love, and in our case that is playing games together, as something that is very important to share with the people you love the most, playing games together will take the place of other less important things. The pandemic has actually made this MORE possible for me because I am not traveling right now. Adam has been the one to stay home with the boys for years while I attended events or conferences. I’ve had more chances to sit down and play over the last 6 months.

In general though, we have a lot of rules about the appropriate times that we play games and we have spent a lot of time drilling in the idea that playing games is something we do as a family or the boys do together. There isn’t a lot of solo gaming in the house. We try to play at least one board game a week together and we will play games a few nights a week either all together after we eat dinner and before the boys go to bed, or they will play together with me or Adam while dinner is being made, or they will get to play, just the two of them, while we are making dinner. We found places where playing games fits, and we make it work depending on the time of year and our schedule.”

What is your proudest moment as a parent?

“A “Proudest Moment” is always a hard split second in time to identify because everyday I have a moment when I am delighted and surprised by the brilliance of my goblin babies. I don’t mean intelligence when I say brilliance – but it’s when you see your child being the best version of themselves in that moment. They may be absolute shits a moment later- but in that moment they were able to show you who and what they can be and it shines. I am always struck by those moments and I think- thank god, we are not screwing up that bad, are we?

Personally, I have a time period in 2018 when my youngest got pretty sick and we were in and out of the emergency room a lot and we had 6+ months of followup care. I was surprised at how well I did- as a mom and as a person- while managing the stress and terror I felt while my tiny just turned 5yo preschooler lost tons of weight, was in intense pain regularly, couldn’t keep food down, was fatigued and unable to run for months. I remember thinking that this little person needed me to be unphased by this because he needed me to reassure him that he was going to be okay. I remember thinking that my most important job was to take his fears from him so what he remembered on the other side of this was how much his mommy and daddy loved him.

I’ve used that experience multiple times since including in our home response to the pandemic that required us to close off a lot of our social circles and activities and be indefinitely home bound. How can I act and behave with my children to build a healthy relationship with traumatic events or scary things? How can I be the adult in the room for them? How can I build a system for them to move through these times with the proper amount of responsibility and understanding? I am really proud of my work as a person and parent in these moments (and Adam’s because we never do this alone) because I am always terrified and uncertain and filled with anxiety.

Being a parent and deciding that raising these babies was always going to be our first priority- that simple fact requires me to always ask how things will affect them first. And once I can see how things will play out, we can make the best decisions that protect them and protect our little family. Sometimes this means I make some pretty difficult changes to our work life, or home life, or school life- but when the season is over- when the external forces that required the change finally ends- I need to know that we did the best we could to come out on the other side with kids that thrived.”

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