Long before internet, e-mail, or Ipads, there was just a single slow computer that took 5 minutes to start up. In front of one such old computer sat myself – at 5 years old – playing Reader Rabbit, Doom, and Minesweeper. I’m not sure which adult thought Doom was a good idea for a 5 year old, but I somehow got past the nightmares to kick some serious butt. I owe my early reading skills to Reader Rabbit and my analytical math skills to minesweeper (thanks for teaching me dad!). There was one computer game, however, that made a lasting impression: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Not only did Carmen teach me about geography, she made me want to go to the places she had been. She was my first exposure to the infectious travel bug. For those of you that don’t know Carmen Sandiego, she is a former ACME agent who went rogue and is now a V.I.L.E. ringleader. What is ACME? After years of playing, they never really explained it, but I know it was in San Fran and it had a Chief to report to…so it must have been legit. V.I.L.E. was an acronym for Villain’s International League of Evil (clever right?). The objective of the game is to follow clues and figure out her disguise and her next travel destination by talking to locals. There are also guides who help you learn about the destination you are at. She made jetsetting an addiction.
Without her, I would know absolutely nothing about geography. Carmen made me realize there were 100s of countries I didn’t know the name to. Up until my work with ACME on my globetrotting mission to find her, I only knew of 5 countries: Vietnam because that is where my family is from, the USA because that is where I live, Canada because my dad’s side of the family lives there, Australia because my mother’s family lives there, and China because all our stuff was made there. In my defense, I still couldn’t tie my shoes (despite the rabbit hole method, it took me longer than the average to learn it! Don’t judge). Despite these setbacks, and my lack of knowledge of the world, I wanted to find Carmen Sandiego so I had to learn fast!
I didn’t realize how impressive the graphics and technology were for that time period until now, but it was an incredibly clever game. The character names were even more clever! They include Justin Case (just in case) , Anita Bath (I need a bath.), Sarah Nade (serenade) , Patty Larceny (petty larceny), Ivanna Steele (I want to steal), Hal E. Tosis (haletosis), Ken U. Sparadigm (Can you spare a dime), and Ann Arky (anarchy) to name just a few.
Screw Waldo. Waldo taught me how to find him by looking at a picture and searching for the exact same red and white shirt and beanie over and over again. Carmen made me answer trivia questions on countries around the world and follow clues to find her. That’s some high level rigor right there.
I vividly remember tracking her to Morocco and seeing a camel. Bam, a trip to Morocco and a camel ride went on my bucket list. She definitely helped me contribute many countries onto my bucket list. Without her, I would not have learned half the geography or cultural facts I now know – that the capital of Poland is Warsaw, Portuguese is spoken in Brazil, and Singapore is one of the cleanest countries in the world – before I ever learned to multiply.