Carmen Sandiego & Its Influence On Our Worldview

Some of you may remember playing some version of the Carmen Sandiego series of computer and video games that were popular in the 80s and 90s. Others might better remember the PBS tv show "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?", if not for the content, then for introducing the world to Rockapella. Well, depending on your opinion of Facebook games, I have either good or bad news for you. Game developer Blue Fang announced on Wednesday that it is putting out Facebook versions of two of the most memorable edutainment games ever: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail.

On the heels of this announcement, Alexis Madrigal, a blogger on The Atlantic's web site, wrote an interesting piece asking what seems at first to be a simple question: what effect did playing games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego have on children's view of the world? Much like the author, there are probably a large number of children of the 80s and 90s who remember obscure geographic facts (like San Marino's economic dependence on postage stamps) because of this game. Madrigal points out, however, that these games likely had a larger influence beyond trivia recall. Just like textbooks, filmstrips, and other primers used in classrooms, these games influenced children's education. And while plenty of studies have been done about the ways textbooks and primers influence students' views, to Madrigal's knowledge, nothing similar has been done for video games. This could be a fertile field for researchers to mine, but the clock is ticking. As older computer formats become harder and harder (or impossible to access), the time we have remaining to look at these primary sources for children's education is running out.