... Dan Gutman
By Scott Stilphen
The creator of Video Games Player magazine stops by to talk about his experiences in starting up a video game magazine in the 1980s.
DP: What inspired you to pursue a career in writing? Were there any writers or publications that inspired you?
Gutman: Writing always came naturally to me, but it
never occurred to me to pursue it as a career until after college. I always
admired funny writers, like Robert Benchley, Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, and Woody
Allen. I'm not ashamed to admit that the publications that inspired me were
Mad Magazine and National Lampoon.
DP: What’s your educational background?
Dan Gutman: I have a B.A. in psychology from Rutgers University, class of 1977. I went to graduate school at Rutgers for two years, but left to try my hand at writing.
DP: You mentioned getting your professional start in the business by writing about, shall we say, the "blue" side of entertainment. There must be some interesting stories related to that…
Dan Gutman: The truth is that my first job was with a girlie magazine. In 1980 I moved to New York (where all starving writers go) and got a part time job at Stag Magazine. Go ahead and laugh! I learned how to write copy, captions, cover lines, and how to put together a magazine. It was a great experience.
DP: How did the opportunity to create Video Games Player magazine with Carnegie Publications come about?
Dan Gutman: The publisher of Stag, Chip Goodman, was starting to publish some "legitimate" magazines. I didn't want to make a career out of skin mags, and the video game phenomenon was exploding. So I approached Chip with the idea of doing a video game magazine. I worked on it in my spare time while I was still at Stag.
DP: How hard was it to establish a magazine at the height of the “golden era” of video games in 1983, in a field where nearly a dozen different magazines were being published?
Dan Gutman: The competition wasn't the problem. The problem was that my publisher (Chip) went into it in a very half-hearted fashion. He was only willing to put out one issue at the beginning, to test the waters. When that issue was successful, he agreed to do it bi-monthly. But as soon as the sales faltered, he changed the name to Computer Games, and when that failed, he killed it off entirely. He just never got completely behind the magazine.
DP: After VGP/CG ended,
did you ever think about starting another magazine on the subject of video
Dan Gutman: No, but I did work for another one. After my first issue of Video Games Player, the company that put out Video Review magazine started a new magazine called Electronic Fun. They offered me a job there, and I took it. Then, while I was there, Chip called to lure me back and do Video Games Player as a bi-monthly.
DP: Between VGP/CG and 1995, were you involved with any other publications?
Dan Gutman: From 1984-1990, I wrote a syndicated newspaper column about computers, which appeared in some major papers such as the Miami Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer. I also did some humor stuff for Cracked Magazine, which was a competitor of Mad.
DP: Since 1995, you’ve authored dozens of children’s books. What motivated you to pursue that direction with your writing?
Dan Gutman: After Computer Games folded in 1985, I tried my hand at magazine writing and non-fiction books. I published two computer books and a couple of books about baseball, but none of them were particularly successful. My son Sam was born in 1990, and I started reading a lot of children's books with him. And to be honest, I didn't think they were very good. I thought I could do a better job. And as soon as I started writing for kids, I felt, "This is what I'm good at!" I stopped writing for adults entirely and switched over to writing for kids.
DP: What were some of your experiences working in the video game industry with VGP? Do you have any stories or anecdotes from those days that you relate for us?
Dan Gutman: It was a very exciting time for me. I was young (26 when Video Games Player started), living in New York City, and I was on the ground floor of a brand new medium - video games. I remember going to The Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago and Las Vegas, and rubbing elbows with people who were creating all these games and creating this cool new industry. But the best part was that the art director of Video Games Player convinced me that we needed to hire an illustrator to draw the game screens (rather than photographing them). He hired a young woman to do those illustrations. I met her at Times Square and took her to Playland to show her what I needed for her to draw. And to make a long story short, I married her! Nina and I have been together for 27 years now.
DP: Can you describe your career, between then and now, and where you’re currently working?
Dan Gutman: Since the magazine folded, I have been a full-time freelance writer, and loving it! I started out writing three non-fiction baseball books for kids, then came out with my first novel in 1995. I had a pretty successful novel with "The Kid Who Ran For President" in 1996, and the next year started a series of 11 books about a kid who has the power to travel through time using a baseball card as a time machine (Honus & Me, Jackie & Me, Babe & Me, etc.). In 2004 I started a series for younger kids called "My Weird School." There are 34 books now, and the series recently passed four million copies sold. I've written 98 books, but rather than bore you by telling you all about them, readers can go to my web site to check them out.
DP: Do you still own any issues of your magazine, either as a keepsake, or to show friends or family?
Dan Gutman: I saved one copy of each issue I worked on.
DP: Do you still follow or play video games? If so, which of your titles are your favorite, and what types of games in general? What’s your preferred platform for gaming?
Gutman: To be honest, I don't. I played a bit back in
the "old days," but I really got into the field for career reasons rather than
for the love of it. Maybe that's why it didn't last for me. We have a
PlayStation 2 at home, but I never play it. The only games I really enjoyed were
simple shoot 'em ups, like Robotron and Tempest and a few puzzle
games like Q*Bert. The adventure games, and complicated games in which
you have to use multiple buttons always bored or confused me. I do like word
games, though, and I AM addicted to one game on the iTouch - Wurdle.
DP: What are your thoughts on how the video game industry has evolved?
Dan Gutman: I can't really comment on the industry, because I have had no contact with it for many years. But the games themselves have become spectacular! When I think back to the primitive games we were writing about back in the early 80s and look at what they're coming out with today, it's just a remarkable transformation. But I don't know that much about them. I have other fish to fry.
Digital Press now has a partial collection of Video Games Player/Computer Games magazines in the DP Library.
Return to Digital Press Home