I had a bit of trouble coming up with a topic for Versus Mode this month, inasmuch as I haven’t actually been playing any videogames lately; but I believe the subject I’ve conceived is a worthy one. A battle between two titles many of us were raised on—I know I can’t be the only out there who spent much of the third grade not doing any actual third grade work, but glued to the screen of an ancient-even-by-early-nineties-standards personal computer, traipsing the United States in search of an unidentified criminal, or dying of malaria in the middle of Utah. For this reason, I found it reasonable to stray from GameCola’s videogame norm and present to you something I like to call:
THE BATTLE OF THE PC GAMES THAT KEPT ME FROM LEARNING THE TWELVES’ TIMES TABLE
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (PC): You may not be aware of this, but there’s actually a new Carmen Sandiego game available for all major consoles. From what I gather, though, it’s much more akin to a tomb-raiding game than it is to the string of classics that taught me where Rio de Janeiro is located (South America). To be honest, I don’t even know if the game I played in Mrs. Caputo’s third grade class (New Jersey) was indeed “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”, and not “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?”, “Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego”, or “Seriously, Where in Tarnation is She?”, but it’s not like there’s any major differences between the games. Besides maybe Math Blaster and the game I’m to mention next, Carmen Sandiego is one of few “edutainment” titles that actually remembered that “tainment” part—this game is actually fun to play. You search all throughout the world (Milky Way) in search of clues as to who thieved an important monument, typically something like “The Statue of Liberty”, or “The World’s Largest Mastodon (extinct), and where this thief is located. In all the times I’ve played this game, the thief has never actually been Carmen herself—it’s always, always, always been one of her henchpersons. Not that it typically matters, anyway; an unfortunate problem with this game is that nine times out of ten, you run out of time before catching the criminal, or you issue a warrant for the wrong criminal, or the criminal uses the Game Genie code for “escape from that wily Paul Franzen with extreme ease”.
The Oregon Trail (PC): The consequences for being a terrible gamer in Oregon Trail are much more severe than they are in Carmen Sandiego. The worst that can happen in the latter is that you’ll be admonished by the head of your detective agency; in the former, the best consequence typically involves being shot to death by Indians. All is not hopelessly morbid, at least—once you die on the Oregon Trail, you get to leave a little tombstone on the path with your name and reason for expiration, which you can come across in later games. (In Mrs. Caputo’s class, the Oregon Trail was littered with many such grave markers, which were emblazoned with such clever “names” as “Poop Head” and “Paul Smells Like Tuna”.) I actually completed The Oregon Trail for the first time in my life this past summer, and the only other time I can remember being so proud of myself was when I won the “Dan Miller Birthday Open” golf tournament that was held in my backyard. Of course, dying isn’t all you can do in this well-aged PC title—you can also cause others to die, specifically, deer, rabbits, and other cuddly creatures. Purportedly, this is done so that you’ll have something to eat as you’re traveling past the Grand Tetons, but you always end up murdering more animals than you can carry back to your wagon, you sadistic freaks.
Both of these games have an absurd amount of replay value, compared to other PC titles of the time (I’m still looking at you, Math Blaster). With Carmen Sandiego, you gain points with every criminal captured, able to move up in rank with each impressive victory. (Or at least I assume so—I’ve never gotten very far past “Stupid Gumshoe Who Keeps Arresting the Wrong Person”.) With Oregon Trail, the replay value comes with driving along the road and seeing the dispersed graves of pretty much everyone who’d ever played the game on that particular computer. (Well, the corpses of those people, and then other unfortunate souls whose parents apparently named them “Mrs. Caputo Sux”.) Truth be told, caulking my wagon and buying new axles is more addictive than is interrogating people in Moscow (Russia), so my nod in this all-important battle goes towards the wild west.
Winner: The Oregon Trail (PC)