There was something magical about entering computer class as a kid: the dim lighting, the soft hum of the hardware punctuated by the occasional clicking and clacking of a printer or floppy disk at work… plus, we knew we were about to relax and have some fun. Why couldn’t video games be used to teach us high school physics, chemistry or algebra?
No one knew why her last name was a city in California, but what we did know is that she was goddamn hard to find. Somehow, this game got us interested in geography, criminal justice and reading without us even being aware of it. Still, the funny and addictive characters made these games instant winners that went on to become two different game shows as well as a Saturday morning cartoon.
Why did we have access to this at our elementary school? What I imagine is that our computer teacher, Ms. Ellis was probably an awesome closet nerd who rallied to the school board to get this game just so she could play it. Thank you, Ms. Ellis.
Myst was released in ’93, but somehow had graphics that were years ahead of its time. Its special brand of nonverbal storytelling, pacing and puzzle-solving was equal parts fun and frustrating. I’m not sure what school subject this was supposed to reinforce, but it sure was a great game.
If you switch out one letter, “math” is an anagram for “hate,” and that’s basically how we all felt about the subject… until Math Blaster came along. The simple rescue mission combined with colorful robots, flying saucers and yes, blasters, took math from most-hated subject to most-tolerable-only-when-there-are-robots-involved subject.
Mario Teaches(‘a) Typing was a brilliant mix of Nintendo licensing and real-world skill-cultivation. Though the game was fun, I have to admit I’m still a “hunt-and-peck” typer. Mario would hang his head in shame.
Whether you were playing Midnight Rescue, OutNumbered or another one of The Learning Company’s “Super Solvers” games, you’d found a way to make learning fun. You got to use projectile weapons (mostly marbles and such) to fend off robots, perform front-flips and solve math puzzles all while making your way through cool, colorful and sometimes creepy environments.
As young lads and ladies, Reader Rabbit may have taught us more about reading than any English teacher ever did. Reader Rabbit is edutainment at its finest with a protagonist we wanted to be friends with, songs about reading, and of course, the promise that we would all grow up to be literate one day.
As we mentioned in our look at Oregon Trail’s funniest moments: whether it was on a floppy disk or a CD-ROM, in school or at home, the 16-color or the stunning (mid-90s stunning) 256-color version, we all remember playing Oregon Trail. It was a perilous adventure game, simple and linear but with enough strategic nuance and randomized events that it could keep any kid entertained for years of play. Plus you could die from dysentery, which was always quite charming.