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August 28, 2011 / jwaxo

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (Resource Management)

How hard is it to notice someone dressed in a gigantic red hat?

One of the long-running rules in our house was that we weren’t allowed to watch TV on school nights. This issue has come up before and was often a thorn in the side of any serious game-playing or television-watching. There were two exceptions: if you were sick, which I often was for non-television-related-but-nonetheless-comfortable reasons, or if we watched PBS. We did not often watch PBS.

There were several reasons. First of all, evenings tended to only have really, really boring shows, like Dialogue, where middle-aged ladies sat around a table and interviewed each other, or Bob Ross, who I would not truly appreciate until I learned how boring folding laundry could be.

The rule about when and what you could watch on schoolnights supposedly could be lifted, if one of us kids got straight-A’s on a report card. Then that lucky individual would be able to watch TV at all hours for an entire semester, before the inevitable B or C appeared in a report.

Naturally, this was never achieved.

Actually, this is not technically true. I think I got it in middle school once or twice, but by that point limits were being placed on computer games, too, and I used my good karma to purchase time there.

Technically I had straight-A’s all through elementary school, of course, unless you count the “minus” I always got on handwriting. Which my parents did.

WHY I NOT WRITE GOOD?

The shows that were watchable on PBS, though, had a pretty good relationship with us. Mister Rogers’, of course, and the famous, awesome Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

WITWICS was a kid’s game show, for the uninitiated, in which three contestants answered trivia questions about the world while trying to track down the eponymous woman dressed in red. The winner would have the chance to jail her and win fabulous prizes like a trip to France or an encyclopedia set. You know, or something comparable in price.

It was all based off of a classic computer game, naturally.

An extremely frustrating, horribly difficult computer game.

First of all, record-setting-straight time: This game was around for over ten years and went through something like three major overhauls. There was a version that pandered to the cartoon that had a good run on FOX, the original classic that was for MS-DOS, the version that came out after Where in Time and was similarly focused. I did not play any of these. Instead, I played the version that was nearly identical to Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?, and was the version that could most easily be found in almost every elementary and middle school.

The one with an energy bar.

This little piece o a;ldfjkabsdflknasdfe

So the game was extremely formulaic and dry. You, as the player gumshoe, would be told that Carmen Sandiego’s crony had stolen something ridiculous and would be directed to some world location to start tracking her down. Once there you could look for dropped clues or ask bystanders about the perpetrator or their next location. Then, once you had tracked them through enough locations, you would fill out a warrant based off of their appearance, pray you were in the correct city, and make an arrest on someone that fit the description.

The problem is, every single action I just described would cost you energy. Asking questions, traveling to locations, making the warrant. All of it would drain your batteries.

And so sure, while traveling around the world/states we would learn a lot about local histories and locations and things. You would need to know these things in order to figure out where the crook next went: esoteric hints like “they said they would stop and see the Oracle at Delphi” are massive head-scratchers to fifth-graders, and now I remember a lot of those random things like they’re common knowledge. But we also learned how to take shortcuts in order to save that tiniest amount of juice.

“This indicates that they’re probably somewhere in the middle-east…”

“TO EGYPT, THEN.”

I’m pretty sure we never managed to beat that game. By the time you get to the last few crooks, each action costs so much energy that it loses all fun, and you need to make ridiculous conclusions based off of small, innocuous clues. Which really undermines the point of an educational game, in my opinion.

In any case, we sure learned how to work that small supply of juice.

And we still have mountains of respect for the late The Chief. Lady could work a magnifying glass.

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