['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day.]


Explaining why something like Let's Compute! exists is going to take a few sentences. Bear with me here.

In the UK, one of the major 8-bit computer formats in the realm of education was the BBC Microcomputer System, made by Acorn Computers Ltd. for the British Broadcasting Corporation as part of a computer-literacy campaign in the early '80s.

For a generation of British kids, the BBC is the equivalent to the Apple II -- every school computer lab had tons of them, and despite its high price (about £375) compared to the C64 and Spectrum, it was popular enough in the home market to support a decent-sized games scene. The Acorn Electron, then, is sort of to the BBC what the Apple IIc was to the full-sized IIe -- somewhat cheaper (£175), a fair bit cut down in capability, and geared more exclusively toward private use in advertising.

Database Publications' The Micro User (later BBC Micro User) was the predominant BBC mag in the UK. Electron User, a spinoff mag devoted exclusively to the home machine, launched in October 1983 as a Micro User pull-out and became its own publication soon after.

The Electron was never a success on the scale of the Spectrum or C64, but retained enough of a userbase to support a burgeoning games marketplace all the way to the early '90s. It was never a very mature audience, though, and by the time 1990 rolled around, the editors of Electron User realized that most of its readership was very young. So it compensated.

Let's Compute! is the rebranded version of Electron User, with program/game listings suited for all the BASIC-speaking computers of the day but Acorn's assorted systems still getting top billing. It is unabashedly a magazine for children -- almost exactly like CTW's Enter or Scholastic's extremely short-lived K-Power in America.

You have very simple programs, very simple tutorials, a bunch of game reviews and hints, and even some puzzle and comic pages. The cover feature is also not exactly the sort of thing you'd see in PC Magazine, either -- if you can't guess it from the art, it's a piece with tips on earning computing badges if you're a member of the Cub Scouts.

I think in 1991 I was mainly interested in NES games and having Kayla from English class be my girlfriend, so even if I happened to be British and reading this mag when it came out, it wouldn't have been of much use to me.

By all indications online, Let's Compute! stopped publishing after issue 12, one after the issue pictured above. Not too hard to see why -- I have the feeling the editors' hearts were in the right place, but their idea of a kid-oriented computer mag was about five years too late considering the state of the 8-bit marketplace in 1991.

There...did all that make sense to you?

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots and lots of publishers and game companies.]