Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame Nomination: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Every week, we will present a new game to be nominated for the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame. These nominations will occur every Monday and Friday, respectively. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote – with a minimum of four votes – will be accepted or thrown into their respective Hall.

Game: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Developer: Brøderbund Software
Publisher: Brøderbund Software
Release Date: 1985
System Released On: PC (Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Commodore 64, DOS, Macintosh), Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, NES, SNES, TurboGrafx-CD
Genre: Edutainment/Adventure

Who Nominated The Game: I did.

Why Was It Nominated: I’m a big fan of the original game and it was a childhood favorite. The main reason I nominated Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? was because it proved so popular with our staff back in March when it was the subject of a “S-4” column. No one had anything bad to say about it and all ten of us had nothing to say but kind comments so it seemed like a shoo-in to enter. Of course, everyone enjoying the game and considering it one of the best games of all time are two entirely different things…

Carmen Sandiego is easily the most successful female video game character of all time. Princess Peach? Pssh, she’s a foil with no personality. Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield? They cannibalize each other’s popularity. Lara Croft? She wishes her games were as good as Carmen’s or that her spin-offs were as successful. After all Carmen Sandiego has spawned not only popular cartoon series, but one of the most successful game shows of all time, as well as one of the most popular kids shows in public broadcasting history. Do I even NEED to bring in the Rockapella song?

It’s hard to believe this game is twenty-five years old this year. The original game came bundled with The World Almanac and Book of Facts, published by Pharos Books. It was also one of the first games to use an innovative form of copy protection. In order to log into the game, you’d have to turn to a specific page in this specific almanac and answer a question. Pretty intense, and if you wanted to pirate the game, you’d have to at least buy an almanac.

So even though Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is one of the most famous, respected and successful video game franchises of all time, that doesn’t mean it gets an automatic pass into the Hall of Fame. Let’s see if the staff feels the game is as good as its reputation.

All in Favor:

Christopher Bowen: To date myself a bit, I grew up using computers in school. I didn’t own my own computer until my early 20s, but I grew to become extremely competent on computers from an early age, starting with a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, moving up to a Tandy 1000 SX, then onto Macintosh computers running OS/6, and finally onto “state of the art” desktops running Windows 95 and 3.1 before graduating.

The two consistent things about those computers, at all levels, was my having to play impromptu tech support, before that term had even really been coined, and the requests were usually the same: “Hey, help me run The Oregon Trail” or “Hey, help me run Carmen Sandiego.”

These weren’t just games we played in school because they were better than word processing programs and less likely to get us in trouble than enabling the text-to-speech option and having it read dirty words. These were legitimately fun games that the few of us that actually owned home computers would play outside of school as well, to the point where we almost forgot we were learning something. Carmen Sandiego even came with its own encyclopedia, which I found out recently also doubled as an extremely primitive form of DRM, which helped us learn about the US, the World, and even space later on. But it was this game that got the ball rolling, and made this edutainment game so mainstream it even got its own game show.

I loved this game so much that I actually tried playing a later version as an adult, via the Gametap service. It had been updated, with modern cartoon videos and the like, most of which were unskippable. I put it right down. I didn’t care for it. But recently, I stopped by an abandonware site and picked up the files for the original VGA version of this game, to play them via DOSBox.

I’m 30 years old, and yet I played for two hours straight. And though I admit that I cheated a couple of times – it should be noted that Carmen Sandiego was invented before the internet, let alone Google and Wikipedia – the fact that this game can retain that kind of charm after all of these years further cements its place as a Hall of Fame game.

Alex Lucard: Although Tomb Raider fans would futily disagree, Carmen Sandiego is the most successful female character in gaming. She’s been around for decades, she’s had a successful cartoon, a highly successful game show, kept Rockapella from living in a cardboard box with a sign saying, “Will Do Wop Shoo Wop For Food” and had an amazing number of high quality titles, but most of all it proved that gaming wasn’t just a brain eating waste of time like so many critics thought of it in those early days. Carmen Sandiego made learning fun for many children that otherwise wouldn’t give two hoots about geography, history, or even astronomy.

The games were excellent, the characters memorable, and it was fun to play by yourself or even with a group of friends. It was one of those few games, like Pokémon, that spun-off to a point where the characters and basic premise could be enjoyed even by people who didn’t own a computer or play video games. Perhaps most telling is that the game gave (and still can) a challenge to adults as well as children and the writing could be enjoyed on multiple levels. It’s a shame the series has died off a bit, because honestly, this is a game that should be revived for each new generation of gamers and made available in any elementary or middle school. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is what most games in 2010 still desperately strive for: mainstream acceptance and respect from even non-gamers who poo-poo the industry.

Mark B.: I honestly don’t have a lot to say here. I first played the series on the Sega Master System, of all places, before moving onto the PC games later, and I’ve always appreciated the series and the concept as a whole for numerous reasons. There’s nothing wrong with learning while playing a video game, and Carmen Sandiego managed to do this thing in a way few games could ever achieve before or since. Carmen herself is a surprisingly strong character. She’s a skilled woman who bares no skin and is always one step ahead of her pursuers. While her chosen occupation isn’t the best, she’s mighty good at it, and… kind of can be considered a good role model? Like, in the, “women can do anything men can do” sense, not in the, “STEALING IS GOOD MMKAY” sense.

I kind of got lost there. Sorry.

Anyway, the point here is that Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is a goddamn institution, and should be recognized as such. Most of you learned your geography because of that game, either on the PC or through the television show on PBS, and frankly, any series that can teach kids and still be fun for over a decade deserves some recognition on this sort. Inducting the game that started it all, to me, seems like a pretty good start.

Aileen Coe: Like others here, I remember sitting in front of the computer at school playing this game. It was easy to get so involved in deciphering the clues well enough to track and capture Carmen’s henchmen, and ultimately her, before time runs out that you could easily forget you were actually learning something in the process. It helped push the notion that video games weren’t mindless brain rotting fests and, along with Oregon Trail, were the best examples of edutainment before the term really came into use. It even spawned game shows and a cartoon series. It’s a shame that the franchise has faded into the background, but it definitely deserves to be remembered.

Ashe Collins: This is one of those classic games that combines real world trivia with a great spy game and succeeds in entertaining and educating at the same time. While not the first of its kind that I remember, it was the first that managed to capture a rather large age range of demographics and spawned not only several sequels but a popular television version of the show as well (that I also watched avidly). This one gets my vote.
A.J. Hess: As much as I hate the term “edu-tainment,” I have to salute a game that got it right. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? was a great tool to not only get young children acclimated with computers, but a fun way to learn about geography and politics. Crouching the education in a story about a master criminal with amazing powers of theft and a bunch of colorful rogues to track down, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is a great game from the dawn of computer gaming, and deserves a place in the Hall of Fame.
All Opposed:

William Kaye IV: I just never really cared for this one. Maybe it is just me, but the game seemed very repetitive and every crime seemed to end up the same way: with me looking in an almanac at flags trying to determine which country I should go to in order to catch my criminal.

Mohammad Al-Sadoon: Carmen Sandiego was literally the first PC game I’ve ever owned (Back in the halcyon days of Windows 95). Considering that I’m usually responsible for the PC games on this site, that should tell you what an influence this game has on me. I originally bought it because I loved the Carmen Sandiego game show and cartoon (Remember those?) and the game did not disappoint even if it was educating us while we caught criminals.

But even with all that, deep down this game is still about geography and that can only be fun for a while before you’re tired of repeating the same mechanics over and over again to catch every single last member of Carmen’s crew. I never finished it because by the end it got boring and the clues so intensely vague it just made me furious.

I should really fire up DOSbox and see if I can finally catch Carmen with my increased intellect nowadays.

Result: 6 In Favor, 2 Opposed, 75% Approval = ACCEPTED

Conclusion: It barely squeaks by, but Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? becomes the third game to enter the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame, as well as becoming the oldest game to make it in. That’s a pretty nice triumvirate when you think about it. Disgaea, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is an impressive collection few could disagree with.

Next Week: We bypass the first game in Camelot’s popular Role Playing Game series and go right for the second. Can this 16-bit SRPG classic get into the Hall of Fame before its predecessor?



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