Schooled: Why video game's greatest thief is the world's greatest teacher


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[Whomever started the whole trend of ‘making learning fun’ did the world a huge favor – just like Michael Giff has done in writing about everyone’s favorite scarlet-clad rogue, Carmen Sandiego. If you make it through this whole blog without getting the legendary theme song from the TV show stuck in your head, you’re not human. Join Michael in getting your work promoted to the Front Page by participating in our Bloggers Wanted prompt! There’s nothing we love more than getting your work in front of the world, so get to work, gumshoes! – Wes]

How do you inspire kids to learn? Sadly, it seems the consensus would be to stick a kid in a seat for a 90-minute lecture, force said kid to read an additional 60 minutes of material in their free time, and finally complete a 30-minute questionnaire for homework. The poor child will have to do this four to five more times depending on how many classes they’re taking. Also, he or she better pray that they excel at this form of learning because they will have to devote twelve years of their life to this monotony. Heaven help you if you fail because the standard solution for under-achievers is to hire a tutor, who will just force you to go through this exact routine over again but longer. Talk about torture! Is there no other way? Thankfully a couple of programmers asked this same question during the early 1980s, and proceeded to combine the latest in graphical user interfaces and a trusty almanac to create not only video games greatest thief, but quite possibly the world’s greatest teacher.

2019 can’t come soon enough!

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiegoreally is an ingenious creation. It tasks players in solving a bevy of crimes by deciphering riddles and clues that can only be solved by reading the included World Almanac. Now why on earth would a kid read a text book to complete a game you may ask? Simple: We really, really wanted to capture the alluring and ultimate enigma, Carmen Sandiego!

By engaging our imaginations and showing us a world that we never knew existed, kids wanted to read. By linking geography and culture into a crime serial, kids everywhere were ready to learn. This formula would end up being a smash hit for the elusive Latina; Carmen Sandiego would go on to appear in countless games, teaching not only geography but also math, astrology, vocabulary, and history. The woman was a one-lady wrecking ball to ignorance, and all because of that sassy attitude and badass hat and trench coat.

Of course she drives a red convertible.

After becoming the undisputed queen of interactive education, Carmen set her sights on stealing our hearts outside the realm of video games. She was on our cereal boxes and ourMonopolyboxes, but more impressively stormed our idiot boxes to turn them into something smarter.Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, the game show was a big deal in my household. Nobody cared about Alex Trebek andJeopardy;we were all in on Lynn Thigpen’s Chief, canned animations, countless puns, and of course that immortal theme song. Carmen would repeat this successful formula withWhere in Time is Carmen Sandiego, along with the animated Daytime Emmy-winning,Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego. Education may have always been the first order of business in her TV offerings, but by splicing it with the competition of a game show or the musings of a Saturday morning cartoon, she had every boy and girl wrapped around her finger and we were learning, whether we realized it or not.

In an era before the internet, Carmen Sandiego was our window to the outside world. Sure our social studies and history professors desperately wanted to teach us the same material, but Carmen enticed us all with a sly smile and a dare to give chase. I myself have never captured the crimson garbed cat-burglar, but our adventures were epic and numerous, and I must thank her for being my favorite teacher.