The same generation of schoolchildren who traveled the Oregon Trail also crisscrossed the globe in hot pursuit of one international supervillain named Carmen Sandiego. Apple’s early investment in the education market meant schools were filled with Apple IIs and children eager to use them. Brøderbund Software hit the edutainment jackpot with Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? in 1985.

An exciting game with hidden geography lessons

As you likely recall, the game’s premise was tantalizing: The player — armed with the included hard copy world almanac — received clues helping them chase V.I.L.E. (Villains’ International League of Evil) henchmen around the globe as they stole landmarks. The V.I.L.E. henchmen all had punny names (“Sarah Nade”) and were led by the fedora-wearing Carmen Sandiego, whom players could not pursue until they had advanced in the game. With this much international intrigue, it was easy to miss the embedded geography lessons.

The game was a massive hit, with spinoffs including Where in the USA Is Carmen Sandiego?, Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? and Where in Space Is Carmen Sandiego? The State of North Dakota even received permission to produce a Where in North Dakota Is Carmen Sandiego? edition in honor of its centennial in 1989.

Inspired by the game’s success — and a National Geographic study that revealed an astounding lack of geographic knowledge among American youth — PBS aired “Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” for five seasons in the early 1990s. Today, Carmen Sandiego’s legacy continues. The kids who originally played Carmen Sandiego are now watching a new animated series on Netflix with their own children.

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Photo:  Triff / Shutterstock.

Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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