Randi Hacker interview

By Scott Stilphen

Randi Hacker has held several titles throughout her career - acclaimed author, publisher, educator, editor, librarian, author, personal assistant to the stars, and video store clerk.  Back in the 20th Century, she was the Senior Editor for the magazine, Electronic Fun with Computers and Games.  She also did reviews for magazines Electronic Games (and later Computer Entertainment) and Video Review, as well as articles for Games.  Randi was kind enough to talk about her experiences with us.


Q: Whatís your educational background?

Randi Hacker: BA University of Michigan, English Lit., and MA St. Michaelís College, TESL.

Q: How did you get your start as a writer?  What or who inspired you to pursue that path?

Randi Hacker: There was a student teacher of mine from 9th grade who was the first to make me believe I could be a writer.

Q: You were the Senior Editor (and later the Managing Editor) for the 1980s magazine Electronic Fun with Computers and Games, during its entire run.  It was produced by Fun & Games Publishing Inc., and featured writing aimed at an older audience. How did that opportunity come about, and what were your experiences working there?

Randi Hacker: Well, I was working on the trades Ė Richard Ekstractís trades Ė on the radar detector and video game beat.  When Richard decided to start Electronic Fun, he asked me to come over and work on it, but I hadnít enough experience to be The Editor, so I campaigned for George Kopp to move over and he did and that was great.  We had a lot of fun working on that magazine.  The editorial group was close and everyone was funny and we laughed and turned out good (and sometimes inspired) copy.

Before that, I worked on Consumer Electronics and, earlier even, I wrote a regular freelance feature (a comic, really) for
Video Review that was illustrated by Sam Viviano.

Q: Did you ever attend any industry shows, such as CES, Toy Fair, or E3?

Randi Hacker: Yes, CES and Toy Fair.

Q: Electronic Fun featured a "gossip" page, near the back of each issue.  For the first 2 issues (in 1982), it was called "Random Access" and was unsigned.  Starting in 1983 it was called "Top Secret" and was signed by "The Fly".  The last 2 issues were under a different name (Computer Fun) and the column was now called "Random Access" again, but this time it was signed by "Qwerty".  Do you know who wrote them?

Randi Hacker: I think it was Michael Brown who wrote that column, though it might have been George Kopp.  But after thinking about it, I feel certain that it was Michael who wrote that column.

Q: After Electronic Fun folded, did you stay in the same field, or was that the impetus to work in other areas (such as writing your own books)?

Randi Hacker: I moved on to become the editor of The Electric Company Magazine, published by Childrenís Television Workshop.  I also began to do freelance humor writing with a partner.  Our satirical essays appeared in many prestigious publications including The New York Times Book Review and Spy and Punch Magazines.  Charles Dickens was published in Punch, you know.  After CTW, my partner and I created P3 - an environmental magazine for kids - that lasted 6 issues due to a clash between idealism (mine Ė I didnít take advertising) and business reality (theirs).  It won a Giraffe Award.  Later, I wrote a television show called Windy Acres that was produced and broadcast on Vermont Public Television and won a New England Emmy.  I have written many educational books for kids.  I have been consultant for Hooked on Phonics, the Learn Chinese edition, and my Young Adult novel, Life as I Knew It, was released by Simon & Schuster in 2006 and named one of the Books for the Teen Age 2007 by the NY Public Library.  So far, all the rest of my novels have been rejected by most major publishing companies (sigh) but I continue to write.  Oh.  And my radio show, Postcard from Asia, is broadcast twice a week on Kansas Public Radio.  You can hear them by clicking HERE.  And then I took I job here at the University of Kansas as the Director of Outreach at the Center for East Asian Studies.

Q: Do you still own any issues of your magazine, either as a keepsake, or to show friends or family?

Randi Hacker: Yes.  I have them all bound.

Q: Former Electronic Fun writer Dan Gutman mentioned he wasnít much of a fan of video games, and viewed writing for such magazines as just a stepping stone for his career.  Did you feel the same way, or did you really enjoy playing them (and if so, what types of games did you prefer)?

Randi Hacker: I was never a fan of video games.  I played them at the office with my co-workers, but thatís all.  I worked on a video game magazine because thatís where the universe put me at that time, though I very much enjoyed playing the Infocom text games, and also, Monty Plays Scrabble. That was fun, too.  I can't remember what we played it on, actually. Probably the Apple II.  Though I think the graphics in todayís video games are fabulous, I donít play them now.  Frankly, Iíd rather read.

Q: I suppose the same could be said of any entertainment medium (movies, TV, music, etc).  Any form of entertainment can have both positive and negative aspects to it, and video games are no different.

Randi Hacker: I worry that people are not relating to one another, are too wrapped up in virtuality, just text or Facebook or play together on computer terminals but not together.  This concerns me. 

Q: It's a bit scary how many people are constantly texting - whether in a restaurant, or at the movies, or while driving. It would be easy to say this mindset is mostly relegated to young people, since cellphones are so ubiquitous now, and kids are growing up with them, but I see it across the board with people of all ages.  My theory is, as a result of all this, we're going to end looking like how aliens are commonly portrayed, with big eyes, and little mouths, because people are spending less time talking and more time staring at screens.  Even all the latest TV sets now offer Internet-capability (web-browsing and such), so my guess is at some point all these devices will either offer all the same features, or they'll all 'merge' into more or less the same all-in-one device (a super tablet device of some kind).

Randi Hacker: I would like to say that I am not on Facebook or LinkedIn or anything and don't have a Smartphone either.  If you ever read Mad magazine, there was a feature in a very old edition (probably from the 50s) showing people in the future with big, big heads and small limbs zipping around aerial highways on speedy, little carts having evolved this way from lack of use of the body.  They might have had big thumbs from living in a push button world but I'm not sure about that.

This multipage comic called Blobs! appeared in Mad #1. Photo courtesy of Doug Gilford of Mad Cover Site.

Q: Have you stayed in touch with any of your former co-workers?

Randi Hacker: George Kopp and I are in touch as are Dan and I.  I wish I could find Michael and also Margie Crane, who was our art director.

Q: What are your thoughts on how the video gaming industry has evolved, and the seemingly-inevitable move from printed publications to online digital formats?

Randi Hacker: I honestly despair over the popularity of games and the preponderance of digital formats.  I worry about neural pathway development, and a growing disconnect with reality and physical fitness.  Oh, and radiation, too.  When I see kids resting their laptops on their groins, I honestly feel concerned about their reproductive organs. I wonder if they will all be sterile.


Randi is currently the Outreach Coordinator at the University of Kansas Center for East Asian Studies: http://www.ceas.ku.edu/

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