Blast From the Past: An Overview of Computer Games from My Childhood

Being homeschooled, my childhood was a little different than most of my friends’.  Besides not having to get up early and go to class, we never had cable TV or video games of any type.  (Gasp!)  We definitely weren’t bored, though — when we weren’t doing schoolwork, we would watch PBS, or play outside, or read.  Or, we would get on our clunky old desktop and play computer games.

My boyfriend thinks I’m totally weird when I reminisce about the games we played.  And I get that — the games we played were either your typical homeschool-er educational games, or they were horribly dated even for the years in which we played them, and they  all had to be installed via the incredible CD-ROM.  Even then, it was kind of a weird, novelty thing.  No one else I knew growing up loved playing dorky computer games.  But me and my siblings did.  And it’s time for a flashback.

 

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Ah, Jump-Start.  I’m pretty sure we had every Jump-Start game there was.  But this is the one I remember.  If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you may know that American Girl’s Josefina was what really got me interested in learning Spanish.  Before Josefina, though, there was Jump-Start Spanish.  I learned a ton of vocabulary playing this thing.  When I started Spanish lessons in fourth grade after we began homeschooling, I was a little ahead because of all this vocabulary, and that gave me the feeling that I was good at Spanish, which in turn gave me the confidence to continue studying it.  Thanks, Jump-Start.  (And parental units.)

 

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I remember this being called Math Magician, or Math Mountain, or something like that.  This was one my mom kind of made us play, and we grumbled about it, but it really did make basic math concepts easier.  You play as a cat (I think?) who travels through different places, but to get to the next one you had to successfully solve the puzzles (ie, learn the concept).  There was basic addition and subtraction, and it went all the way through fractions and multiplication tables.  And when you got to the end, there was a little party because you finally made it to the top of the mountain!  Yay!  Math was my least favorite subject, so this really did make it better (although I never would’ve admitted it at the time.)

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This was literally one of my and my siblings’ favorite games.  In all the Carmen Sandiego games, you played as a spy trying to catch Carmen.  For this game in particular, you chased Carmen all the way from the Silk Road to Yuri Gargarin’s launch.  You met Leif Ericsson, Thomas Edison, men from ancient Japan, Native Americans before settlers came, and a ton of others I can’t remember, and you had to solve a problem for each one before you could travel ahead in time.  I think my sister and I probably played this through a good three or four times.  It was fabulous, and we both still occasionally quote the characters.  Also, while I did take an ancient history class in high school, a lot of what I remember came from this game, not our assigned reading.

 

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Oh my word — the Oregon Trail.  Possibly one of the worst, most basic computer games ever created, my siblings and I could not get enough.  We discovered this around the time we were reading the Little House on the Prairie series, so it was just perfect.  We played it a lot, and for a game so simple, it was such a challenge to arrive at our destination.  I only remembering getting there a handful of times.  As a kid, if you haven’t died of dysentery on the trail a million times, you haven’t lived.

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The infamous Barbie Secret Agent — this game had no educational value whatsoever.  The graphics were awful, and so was the dialogue.  It was hilarious to play.  I’m pretty sure the story line centered around someone stealing someone else’s fashion designs, and that just sets the tone for the whole game.  Barbie had the most diva secret agent skills ever — for instance, to sneak past a guard, you had to blow compact power into his face.  It made me and sister laugh every time.  In addition to all that, you could also choose between about 10 different outfits for Barbie (because she’s not Barbie without a fabulous wardrobe).  She had a different set of clothes for each country she had to go to.  For being such a frivolous game, the final level was really hard to beat — I remember that euphoric feeling when we finally achieved it.

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Nancy Drew games were the last few I played before I started growing out of computer games.  Honestly, they’re still kind of fun — my cousins play them at Christmas, and we often have to work together, because the puzzles really are difficult.  I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mysteries as a kid, so playing through these was so much fun.  And at the time, the graphics were good enough that the games could be absolutely terrifying.  It was thrilling and addictive, and I really think it boosts critical thinking.  These are very well done, and I definitely remember them fondly.

I’m sure we had a few more, but those are the ones I remember.  My parents didn’t like us to play for too long at one time, although my siblings and I would’ve played for hours straight.  But I don’t remember a ton of screen time.  Mostly, I remember crowding around the computer with my sister and brother and collaborating to figure out a puzzle, or laughing hysterically at terrible graphics and stories.  As we all got older, we quit playing together as much, because we all have different interests.  But these computer games fascinated all of us, so I think they kept us playing together for a little bit longer than we might have if we hadn’t had them.  I think we’ll be laughing at the memories of these forever.

Also, I just have to know — were we the dorkiest kids in the universe, or is there anyone out there that also remembers these??

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2 thoughts on “Blast From the Past: An Overview of Computer Games from My Childhood

  1. Um Carmen San Diego and Oregon Trail– YASSSSSS! Loved both of those. I mean, did I ever make it across the Oregon Trail without killing my family? No. Did I love it anyway and keep playing over and over? Yes, of course. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! :)

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