Lo-Fi Let’s Play: Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?

I’ve been doing a series of Let’s Play videos exploring old adventures, text games and lost design forms from the 1980s Apple IIe and Commodore 64 era and beyond. In a time when young men shout over new action games, I will talk softly over strange old ones.

When it comes to my Lo-Fi Let’s Play series, I have just a few hard-and-fast rules. One: No twitch, no arcade. Two: No hits. Don’t ask me to play Monkey Island and King’s Quest unless it’s New Year’s Eve and you’re paying for my party, so to speak.

But today, I buckled. It’s the season for copious work travel, conferences and speaking engagements, and when I found myself in a Helsinki airport on the way to Malta with an hour to kill, I got this itch. In the car to the airport, the Finnish cab driver was scrolling through his dashboard computer, trying to find Malta on the map, I think so that he could tell me how much more daylight I could expect there than here, when the sun has set each day at 3:30 PM after cold-rinsed mornings of perfectly-white skies. Here, I took a jog to the sea, or what I thought was the sea. What are these snowfields, I wondered? Oh, it is the sea, totally frozen.

I know where Malta is because of Carmen Sandiego games. I know where a lot of things are because of them. It’s an experience unique to my generation, and for me, an imaginative child, clutching my Fodor’s Almanac full of flag pictures, it was a window to the rest of the world, to a presumed future of chasing around the world in pursuit of justice, or glamour, or both. There exists a picture of me as a six-year old kid in costume jewelry, wielding a fingergun. An international superspy, hunted but untouchable.

In some small sense, I know what it feels like to be hunted, to read online threads about my destination, my appearance, my performance in those places. The games told me that I was the hero. Weird.

Anyway, I played Carmen Sandiego for you in an airport, surrounded by the romantic ambient sounds of gate calls and rolling luggage. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for watching my video series.

The entire Lo-Fi Let’s Play series is available and regularly updated at my YouTube channel if you’d like to subscribe, but my friends at RPS are graciously syndicating them here from now on, with some additional written analysis and commentary.

15 Comments

  1. BobbyDylan says:

    These games were teaching me geography long before I needed to know it. Great games, and fond memories.

  2. TomxJ says:

    Always Atmosphere over Acoustic Quality. Always.

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    Oakreef says:

    We had the 1996 version of this on the computers in school. It taught me a few things outside of geography too. E.g. I learned that jockeys are short because of one of the clues for the crook’s appearance.

  4. Richard Cobbett says:

    Don’t forget the TV shows! Don’t listen to the PBS one’s theme tune. You will never get it out of your head.

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      It’s too late. It’s been in my head all day and on every plane.

  5. CelticPixel says:

    I got this second-hand for the Mega Drive on one of those wacky old cartridges EA used to make and hand drew a massive spreadsheet with all the different info for each country. Good times!

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    timzania says:

    The computer was upstairs, the encyclopedia downstairs. I was like 11 and nerdy as ever, the volumes all quite heavy. I’d play until I was exhausted. Research used to burn more calories.

  7. Joe The Wizard says:

    Great video. I loved these games as a kid and have fond memories of playing the Apple II version of this same one.

    I also think it’s great that you’ve been in the UK long enough to pick up a bit of a lilt in your speaking. Accents and the way people pick them up unconsciously are super interesting.

  8. vorador says:

    I still remember the sense of urgency when you arrived to the city where the perp was and animations of weapons appeared on screen everytime you checked a location.

    Oh, and i always found funny that i had almost the same printer in reality.

  9. Ross Angus says:

    This narration is excellent. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say it’s only partially about Carmen Sandiego.

  10. jrodman says:

    I was a bit precocious on geography — I once painted a globe onto an (easter) egg from memory. So these games were a fun exercise in not looking up where stuff was for me.

    Imports, exports, the flags of less populous countries? Those I learned in depth from Carmen Sandiego.

  11. sinister agent says:

    Several people namedropped this as a relative to Covert Action. I’ve never played it, but I can totally see where they were coming from now.

  12. April March says:

    A reminder that Anna Anthropy made reimagining of this game that made me weep because she doesn’t spend all her time writing sci-fi novels.

  13. SalaciousJames says:

    I was SCREAMING at my computer here at 6:30 AM when you picked Tokyo. Didn’t you see the hint about Spanish colonial territory?!!

    Just ribbing you, it was a great video – thank you for a great start to my Monday.

  14. apa says:

    No better place to do a Carmen Sandiego piece than in an airport :) Hope you had a nice time despite of the cold Finnish winter!