America observes National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 – October 15. It’s a time to reflect on the cultural contributions from millions whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. It’s a perfect opportunity to look at some of the notable Hispanic characters in some of our favorite games. Our hobby tells thousands of stories over the course of a single calendar year. As it grows more diverse, so do the tales it tells.
Video games often get accused of being mind numbing entertainment. That certainly wasn’t the case with Broderbund Software’s Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Arriving in 1983, it succeeded where many educational games fail. It had a sense of humor and was so much fun, players didn’t realize how much they were learning. It was educational gaming’s biggest blockbuster, driven by the impossibly brilliant criminal mind of its main character.
The computer games taught geography and history, later including math and other subjects. Players joined the Acme Detective Agency, tasked with tracking down Carmen Sandiego. She was a former member of the crimefighting group who got bored and began stealing. The crafty crook seemed to do it more because she desired a challenge than anything. While teaching young gamers geography, Sandiego engineered thefts of the Mason Dixon Line, Leaning Tower of Pisa and The Statue of Liberty’s torch.
Carmen’s games won more than 90 awards and became a part of the curriculum for over 300,000 schools. Using vague geographical clues, players had to track the master thief and her henchmen all over the globe. They had such punny names, it’s no wonder they turned to crime. When your birth name is Patty Larceny, what else are you going to do?
She was destined to become a TV star, and PBS was the perfect place for it to happen. Carmen debuted in a game show with an unbelievably catchy theme song from Rockapella.
It ran from 1991-95 and TV Guide listed it as #47 on its Greatest Game Shows of All Time.
Fox realized the potential for a Saturday morning cartoon that could also be educational. The Children’s Television Act in 1990 required TV stations to add more programming that had learning benefits, which no doubt increased the network’s interest. Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? was born, running from 1994-1999.
Puerto Rican star of stage and screen Rita Moreno supplied Sandiego’s sultry voice. Moreno was a veteran of PBS show The Electric Company, which brilliantly combined humor and education too. Writers on this cartoon realized the thief had a bigger fan following than any of the detectives trying to catch her. Thus she became an antihero, often working along the ACME Detective Agency to catch more dangerous criminals.
There are rumors that PBS may revive its beloved show for another run. In 2011 Walden Media purchased the rights to a feature film, with Jennifer Lopez on board to produce and probably star. This crafty criminal will likely never see significant jail time. Since her crimes are completely fictional, entertaining and educational, that’s fine by us.WHERE IN THE WORLD IS CARMEN SANDIEGO – THE DETECTIVE CHASE THAT SHOWS YOU THE WORLD