My Five Favorite “Educational” Games of All Time

By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief

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5. Lemonade Stand (multi)

lemonade_stand_appleII

I hate math. I find economics completely uninteresting. And I really have very little patience for micromanagement, especially in a video game. Which is all a testament to just how well-designed of a game Lemonade Stand is that I was completely addicted to it as a kid. Figuring out the variables of how much lemonade to make, the cost of the supplies, and how much to sell depending on that day’s forecast was extremely engrossing, and it was always satisfying to have a huge sales day. The basic premise of the game has been brought into the modern era via EA’s Lemonade Tycoon, but having all that animation and adding extra wrinkles like rent detract from the basic nature of the original. All classic Lemonade Stand had in the way of visuals was a screen full of text and a very simple static screen in between of a poorly-drawn stand in front of a very basic interpretation of that day’s weather. Sometimes less is more – not unlike a successful lemonade stand, actually. Of course, expecting a “less is more” approach from EA is about as naive as a child who thinks they can make any real money from a lemonade stand (sorry kids).
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4. Big Brain Academy (DS, Wii)

Big Brain Wii

A lot of gamers lumped in Brain Age and Big Brain Academy in with all of those other “casual” Wii and DS games that our moms and grandmas bought to play for those two years they jumped on the Nintendo hype train in the mid 00’s, along with the likes of Carnival Games, some Solitaire collection, and whatever match-three puzzle game they found for 5 bucks. And while Brain Age focused a little too much on Sudoku and flawed voice recognition for my taste (“Blue. BLUE. BLUUUUE!!!”), Big Brain Academy was a legitimately fun collection of minigames that just happened to also have a learning component. The Wii version in particular, Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree, also had fantastic multiplayer modes, one that is great for a big group, and another that is about racing another person in a series of challenges that you tackle simultaneously via split screen that can get pretty intense. It is honestly my most-played competitive multiplayer Wii game not called Mario Kart – it’s that fun.
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3. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (multi)

Carmen

Carmen Sandiego would eventually task us with searching for her in the U.S., Europe, and literally both time and space, but it’s hard to top the globetrotting original. It’s certainly the one I spent the most time playing. The game is basically a point and click adventure game based entirely around the conceit of tracking and finding the titular criminal or one of her henchmen, talking to locals and picking up clues in each location before choosing one of several possible locations where she may be headed next. Choose the wrong location, and the people in that area won’t have any idea what you are talking about and will give you strange, nonsensical clues, at which point you must take the plane ride of shame back to your previous location in order to try and reassess the clues and pick the right location. Even locating the criminal doesn’t guarantee apprehension if you haven’t gathered enough evidence to be issued a warrant for their arrest. And of course, all the while you are learning real-world facts about each location you are visiting, making for a world geography and global cultures lesson far more interesting than bland 80’s textbooks were providing. Lastly, any discussion of this game must also include mention of the PBS TV show that it inspired, which any kid who was of the right age in the early 90s no doubt has a fondness for (and is singing the theme song to in their head as they read this).
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2. The Typing of the Dead (Dreamcast, PC, arcade)

Typing of the Dead DC

Hey, what is this game doing in here? Isn’t this just a silly reinterpretation of House of the Dead 2 using keyboard button presses instead of light gun blasts? Technically, yes, but it can also legitimately improve your typing skills. I know that because it did that exact thing for me. I tried Mavis Beacon, I even tried Mario, but no digital typing teacher ever had much of an effect on my typing skills. That is, until I was facing down nasty zombie hordes and had no choice but to type as quickly as possible lest my flesh be torn apart. There’s nothing quite like the threat of a long, slow, painful death and eventual reincarnation as a cannibalistic undead creature to make someone learn how to rest their hands on the home keys properly. I really did watch my words per minute increase the more I played this game, and as this game is an absolute riot to play anyway – especially in co-op – I never once felt like I was being “taught” anything. With all the Dreamcast games that have an online chat function long been taken offline, this game is basically the only reason to keep a Dreamcast keyboard handy, and it is absolutely worth the trouble. Suffer like G did? Not if I type “G” in time, I won’t!
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1. The Oregon Trail (everything)

oregon trail

No big surprise here. No matter how many times we broke our legs, drowned our horses, or let our kids die of cholera, we would keep coming back for more, shooting way more animals than we possibly had room to carry each and every time. We criticize games now for making dark, violent historical events like World War II and Vietnam into “fun” games, but The Oregon Trail had millions of kids for generation after generation having a blast as they lived – or more frequently, died – in the unforgiving conditions of early pioneer life, dying in far more horrific ways than most modern games ever inflict on a player. When we got a little bit older and we learned the reality of the diseases we had died from dozens of times in Oregon Trail, it put a whole new perspective on our blissfully ignorant playthroughs of the game as kids. Playing it as an adult might feel more like survival horror once you know the realities of the hardships you and your family are facing in the game. I honestly don’t know if I ever want my kids to play the game, as I don’t think I’m prepared to discuss what dysentery is with a 7 year old.

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5 thoughts on “My Five Favorite “Educational” Games of All Time

  1. Solid choices especially Carmen Sandiego and Oregon Trail. Edutainment at its finest! This probably belongs on nobody’s lists, but I enjoyed playing the computer game, Math for the Real World. It was about a band that dealt with REAL WORLD MATH on the road. I’m pretty convinced this game got me interested in rhythm games too.

    Liked by 1 person

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