Friday, November 7, 2008

DOS, Dysentary and Ducktales- Memories of Seriously Classic Educational Games

To celebrate my quarter century, I'm taking a look back at the educational ("educational") tools of my generation. And to start, OF COURSE, is:

1. OREGON TRAIL!!!!!!!

This game seems to have been a universal rite of passage for people in and around my generation. I'm not entirely sure what it was intended to teach, besides the fact that it totally sucked to be on the Oregon Trail, but it was FUN if kinda macabre. The river fordings, the broken arms, the cholera, the dysentary, the resource management...and those iconic graphics! For a DOS game of the 70s/80s it looks great.

But as we all know, what we really played it for was to kill animals:

Who didn't love hunting way, way more than you could carry back to your wagon? 10,000lbs of bison? Hell yes. So maybe this game does teach you something- as in the game, so in life. Overhunting is man's nature. Or something.

This game was made by the same creators as Oregon Trail, the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, and is based on a real like in Oregon. Why these MN gamers were so interested in Oregon, I can't tell ya. I'm including this game mostly because until I started making this post, I thought it was a figment of my imagination. I had very clear memories of a game where you were a fish and when things came along (other fish, otters, birds, anglers) you either chose to eat it, ignore it or run away. That was the whole game. But anyway, I remembered it being very similar in structure to OT but although everyone and their mom had heard of and played the Trail, no one remembered being a fishy. And googling "trout game microsoft DOS" leads to naught. Even now that I know what its called, if you image search for this game there are like three pictures on all the interwebs. But at least now its existence is confirmed for me. Not crazy.


Basic arithmetic...numbers on space trash and junk food (?), shoot the sum. For some reason I just remember this really well.


Aw, eating the times tables! So cute!


I have SO MANY memories of this game. Once again, not terribly educational, but it was my first exposure to El Capitan, Carlsbad Caverns and the concept of the stockmarket. According to wikipedia, the idea was to get help Uncle Scrooge get more money than Flintheart Glomgold in 30 days...this was incindental. But I loved climbing up El Capitan as Huey, Dewey and/or Louie (mountain goats!) and shooting pictures in the nature reserve as Webigail (pink elephants!) and diving into the big ol pile of gold as Scrooge. There were two other levels that were linear and Mario-like- the cave and the jungle. What always bugged me was that if they fell in the water, you lost. They're ducks for crying out loud! They should be able to swim!

Of course, then as now, the best way to get money was the most boring: playing the stockmarket.

6. SUPER SOLVERS!!! Possibly the ones I remember best. My parents were big on this series.

MIDNIGHT RESCUE- It was first, it was my love, it was learnin' me some reading.

Confrontin' robots:

Takin' their picture:

Readin' stories, findin' clues:

And catchin' Morty Maxwell, the Master of Mischief, before he did something tricksy:

TREASURE MOUNTAIN- I can't remember for the life of me what this one was teaching you. I just remember gnomes and picking gold up off the ground. And something involving two round flowers?

OutNUMBERED- The good math one (fuck you, Operation Neptune). Basically like Midnight but with math.

ANCIENT EMPIRES- To me, this is the absolute apotheosis of educational gaming. From a book-learnin' perspective, it was a little ancient history and a little art history. It took you to Greece & Rome, Indochina, Egypt and the Near East. The idea was to collect pieces of a culturally relevant ancient artifact. And they really were artifacts! The Greek one was this Mycenaen mask, the Near Eastern one was the Ram in the Thicket, etc. I've seen a bunch of them (several are at that mecca of legitimized piracy, the British Museum) and I still get a little thrill of OMG that's that artifact from Ancient Empires! What utter hell I went through to get that thing!

Like a super easy version of your SAT, no? But it got harder...
But unlike the others, and unlike most educational games for children, its gaming elements were focused on logic, geometry and pattern recognition which, as anyone who has taken the SAT can tell you, are important skills to develop. This game was DIFFICULT- even my dad enjoyed it. And the music, my god! I distinctly remember (what I now know as) Tchaikovsky's Slavonic March and Brahm's Symphony No. 1 and there were probably several others equally distinctive and beautiful.

It's funny...I was never a big gamer either in my youth or now. Until a few years ago and the beginning of my not-so-secret shame (yeah, I know, I know), I probably hadn't played a video or computer game since I was about 12. But seeing these images from these games has a very, very strong nostalgic pull on me- you'd think I spent hours and hours in front of these things! Hell, in the case of super solvers (especially the math ones) it was usually a case of my dad MAKING me play them. But fond memories grow out of odd things, I guess.


  1. I'd kind of forgotten about these "educational" games, but we didn't really have to force you to play them....cause they were FUN! I, personally, got to the game finale of Midnight Rescue (over 1,000,000 points) twice! It was a great game. I don't know much about Oregon Trail and Odell Lake(both school games) but you complained non-stop about what stupid games they were. I played all the rest, with you and alone. Your fond memories brought back my own fond memories of shared computer "adventures". Thanks! And Happy Birthday!

  2. Holy shit!!! Straight across the board, those games kick some serious ass. Super Solvers will always be the closest to my heart (by the way Ashley, I see now why I was confused as to whether Midnight Rescue was in the school, because OutNUMBERED, which I conflated with it, is in a very similar place -- a radio station). Ancient Empires was sooo great. I mean, I could easily go down the list and say that about every single game. By the way, I don't care if anyone else played Odell Lake, becuase I distinctly remember (from my foggy past) playing that game, though I didn't like it as much as Oregon Trail.

    Thanks for putting a smile on my face during a day when I will be studying from now until I go to sleep! Love ya!