“As your body grows bigger, your mind grows flowers. It’s great to learn, ‘cuz knowledge is power.”
-School House Rock
When we older gamers were kids, magical devices were introduced to our classrooms that allowed us to enhance our daily learning as well as entertain us. These devices were known as ‘computers,’ and whether it was an Apple II, Commodore 64, old IBM DOS machine or something else, the classroom computer brought with it one thing – GAMES!
Wait… We can play video games in school? Well, yeah. That is, of course, as long as those games taught you something. Sure, there were programs that displayed math problems and had you solve them; and yes, there was software to teach you typing through the use of goofy cartoon characters (does anyone remember “Paw” or Mavis Beacon?). But who cared about that when we had things such as Number Munchers and Oregon Trail?
These games, among others, made up the gamut of educational games commonly referred to as “Edutainment.” Fun word, right? Sure. Fun games, right? Yup. Just for kids in schools? Not in the least!! While the main purpose of some of these games was to teach (some were even made by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, MECC), they could stand up against some of the best video games of their time. (Side note: Later it became known as the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation.)
MECC was responsible for such classics as the aforementioned Oregon Trail, along with the Muncher games – Word Munchers, Number Munchers, Super Munchers, etc. Oregon Trail took the player on an adventure in a covered wagon out west, with a bunch of facts about different landmarks and customs along the way. These were tied together with challenges based around the tragedies, trials and tribulations that came with the time period (“Jake broke his leg, you lost 3 oxen.”) The Muncher games took place on a grid and had the player eating numbers, words, or objects that fit the category. The image above is of a version of Number Munchers that taught the player prime numbers.
Is the only purpose of the MECC games to teach kids about English, math, geography, etc.? I would say “Hardly”. Yes, that is their primary purpose, but why not put Oregon Trail in the ranks of classic PC adventure games? After all, the game has been released in several iterations, including various upgraded versions on PC, iOS and Android, and is played today by more adults than children!
As for Munchers, a lot of people talk about these games as a piece of nostalgia, but looking at them now, they can easily be played alongside many classic arcade games. There is a large section of the online retro gaming community that discusses these games to this day (myself included.) They can even still pose a challenge to modern gamers! Just check out the ‘Genius’ difficulty setting in Super Munchers!
Okay, now that we have MECC out of the way, let’s look at another company, and another series in this edutainment genre. I have two words for you: Carmen Sandiego. It was the fine people at Broderbund Software that brought us the capers and crimes of the greatest criminal in all of the United States, Europe, The World, Time, Space, US History, etc. The Carmen Sandiego games, called “Where in ____ is Carmen Sandiego?,” are basically a combination of mysteries, puzzle solving, and point-and-click adventures thinly veiling a history, geography or space lesson. They even came with an encyclopedia or reference book! (Side note: More recent iterations used in-game links to websites, and now it’s just as easy to use Google.)
Are these games just kid stuff? Well, maybe when it comes to the actual lessons, but they are still fun and challenging games for people of all ages. (I even had a couple criminals escape in “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego” because I did not decipher the clues accurately.) So go ahead. Play them! There are so many other edutainment titles, old and new, out there today (Stack the States, Math Blasters, Treasure Mathstorm, etc.), and parents are constantly getting them for their kids only to find themselves actually playing them. These are not “kiddie” games and are not just boring school lessons. They may be designed for kids to learn things, but you are never too old for the fun that can be had here.
Go chomp some multiples of 3! Take a trip out west in your covered wagon! As for me, apparently a female suspect has stolen the Stanley Cup from Montreal and I need to track her down to her hideout!