Now that school is starting, kids are hopefully scaling back on video games and spending some time studying. But some of my favorite games of all time I actually was exposed to through school, and were fun enough to disguise the fact that I could actually be learning through gameplay.
One of the first video games I ever played was The Oregon Trail on an Apple II computer. The game was originally released in 1985, and has been updated since to run on everything from DOS to smartphones. The game was designed by an eighth-grade social studies teacher to teach students about what it was like to make the pioneers’ treacherous covered-wagon journey from Missouri to Oregon. Along the way, you hunt wild animals and trade with other people, although you’re much more likely to die of dysentery than you are to actually make it all the way to Oregon.
Another game I was able to play in school was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? This game, designed to teach kids about geography, makes the player a globe-trotting detective, solving spectacular crimes and tracking down the fictional criminal mastermind Carmen Sandiego. Whether you travel to Argentina, Australia, Singapore or Peru, you’ll find clues with punny wordplay to lead you toward the culprit. As far as I know, this is the only video game that ever spun off into an Emmy-winning game show for kids.
More than any other game in school, though, I played Sim City. The game is all about building a city, one neighborhood and one power line at a time. It's the player’s job, as the mayor, to balance tax revenues with the needs of the police and fire departments, as well as recreation for the city’s residents. As much as I played Sim City, I’m surprised I didn’t end up as a city manager.
It’s just as well, most of my cities ended up getting trampled by Godzilla, anyway.