Thursday, March 3, 2016

Nostalgia Trip: Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?

This week's Nostalgia Trip remembers a question every kid of the 90s was asked... and the franchise that was the gold standard for fun educational computer games...

YouTube Version:

Production note: Additional footage and music from the 'Where in The World Is Carmen Sandiego' game show. You wouldn't realize how difficult it was to get the clip I included to have the audio feed into the credits at the end..

Blog Version - Note there are some differences between this and the Vlog Version above, but the key points are all the same.

Well she sneaks around the world from Kiev to Carolina, She's a sticky-fingered filcher from Berlin down to Belize, She'll take you for a ride on a slow boat to China, Tell me where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

Yes my friends... this week's Nostalgia Trip, we're talking something nearly everyone in the 90s experienced... a question that we were asked either because of a a computer game in the class room, a game show on PBS, board games, comics (which reminds me I have to order that...) cartoons, books (which I happen to still have)... that question being, where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

Now to quote Greg Lee, "Let me explain it for those who may not know.", the players are detectives for the ACME Detective Agency, which is perhaps the one thing with the ACME name on it that actually worked, and the goal is stop Carmen and her gang of VILE henchmen from stealing artifacts from around the world... and let me tell ya, it's because of this franchise that I was able to sleep-walk my way through history and social studies classes in Junior High and High School

Created as a computer game by Gary Carlston who co-founded Broderbund Software in 1983, the concept was to create a computer game for kids to help spark interest in geography... and what spawned from that is a media franchise that not only covered geography, but math, history, astronomy... Carmen Sandiego to me is the gold standard in educational games that was fun. I remember the Where in the USA edition, game with a copy of Fodor's USA... which I still have, and it was quite useful in being able to track down the villains in the game by following the clues they left behind, which in turn lead to leaning about the USA... in short: you learned and had fun doing it.

Now of course I'll have to talk about the game shows. That's right shows, there were two of them. From 1991 to 1997, two live action game shows airing on PBS (for me it was WHYY Channel 12 in the 4:30 PM time slot), the first being Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, which focused heavily on Geography, while the second, Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego, focused on history. Both shows were Emmy winners, but it's the first one that is most fondly remember, regardless if it was it was for Rockapella crooning the familiar theme, The Chief... or the villains with pun-tastic names, Patty Larceny, Sarah Nade come immediately to mind. Being a kids game show, it had a standard formula of question and answer rounds, skits, an actual process of elimination so that it came down to one contestant tried to capture Carmen in the final round. The show is also remembered for introducing a whole generational to a cappella.

In 1994, when the franchise was at its peak... it took a rather interesting direction, with an action-adventure cartoon series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego that ran on Fox until 1999 (Often on Saturday Mornings at 11-11:30 AM). It was set within the game itself, as a 'player' (shown in live action an from the back) assisted the 'in game' characters of Zack and Ivy in tracking down Carmen and her henchmen. The thing is... the show, while educational to a large extent, but considering it was airing along side X-Men and Power Rangers, Where violence was more often than not the solution, Where on Earth, showed the opposite approach where intelligence, and thinking out a problem or figuring out clues.

Also in the shows favor was that the lead protagonists, were not a typical one brilliant, one not combo, both Zack and Ivy were equal, just having a mind and talent for different things, which made each one identifiable to viewers. Plus, it is here where Carmen got actual character development. We learned she was a former ACME Detective, and despite being the lead villian, she had character growth and shown to have an ethical code and by the end of the series was working with the heroes. Granted this character developed never factored into any of the games that came out since then, but certainly was made the show 'must-see'

Now unfortunately, since 2001, the world has not see a Carmen Sandiego video game on the PC in the traditional sense. These was a game for the PS2, and Nintendo DS, the Wii... even a mobile-game that has PC version... that most people couldn't play. I personally think it's time for a new traditional Carmen Sandiego game for the PC, not only for the nostalgia value it would give those who grew up with the franchise, but I guarantee it would have the same impact on kids today as it did in the 80s and 90s. Because there isn't anyone that wouldn't love to answer the question...

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

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