People who grew up playing videogames are influenced by them, especially when designing games of their own. The Eighties were an exciting time for video games, as graphics and computing power increased to the point where games started to become visually appealing and interactive.
Thanks to the wonders of the web, the original versions of these games are often available online, and there are discs and ports to other platforms floating around as well. Significance: Showed us resource management could be a fun and thoughtful element within an educational video game, with a strong dollop of historical context to boot. Commentary: First developed in the 1970s by student teacher Don Rawitsch, the game probably stretched the boundaries of good taste in some ways, perhaps making it all the more intriguing to school children. Significance: Showed us a boring school topic (geography) could be presented in an interesting way within the videogame medium. Commentary: According to Wikipedia, Gary Carlston, who helped found Broderbund, was personally committed to making geography fun and spearheaded efforts to develop the game. Significance: Showed us that games without a clear way to win can still be fun, educational, and time consuming.
Commentary: The first smash hit from legendary game designer Will Wright, and one of the first for the Maxis software company, SimCity was destined for greatness. Released: The first title in the Reader Rabbit series was released by The Learning Company in 1989. Significance: Showed us that computer games could be effectively used in early education introducing toddlers to language arts. Commentary: Reader Rabbit is a household name in educational software, and the series remains active. The first edition of Reader Rabbit featured word games designed to introduce letters and sounds to children.
Significance: Demonstrated how basic math worksheets could be fun when delivered within a videogaming environment.
Commentary: Math Blaster is yet another household name in edutainment with versions still being released under the brand. Significance: Showed us computer skills could be effectively drilled through playful software.
Commentary: I was in an electronics store in College Station in the late ’80s, near the software section. Alas, little did the elementary teachers from so long ago know, nor I, nor my roommates, but Mavis Beacon was a marketing nom de guerre. Significance: Showed us that potentially complex and hard to understand concepts like economic theory could be simply and effectively illustrated in a video game.
Commentary: MECC was one of the great success stories of early educational computing, and Lemonade Stand is perhaps their most famous program after The Oregon Trail. Significance: Showed basic skill and drill for math could be much more fun on a video screen than on paper.
Commentary: NumberMunchers was the first title in MECC’s muncher series, followed by WordMunchers and others.
Commentary: Before 1990, early versions of Microsoft Windows were nothing more than fancy menu systems, presenting a list of programs to choose when starting the computer. Commentary: Lazarus Long was a character developed by science fiction author Robert Heinlein as a time travelling fellow who could not, would not die. One of the nice things about writing a blog is feedback from readers, and with any top ten list somebody may feel an important item is left out. This particular game was something I’d heard about and later read about, but never had the pleasure of playing. Commentary: Rocky’s Boots and its sequel, Robot Odyssey (based on the same gaming engine) were puzzle games requiring players to think their way through solutions. Rocky’s Boots (RB), an educational game developed for use with Apple computers, is widely considered to be one of the most imaginative and engaging pieces of educational software currently available. Coauthor Warren Robinett keeps a page devoted to the game here, including a disc image that can be played with an Apple II emulator.
I’m sure this makes me hopelessly nerdy, but this article brought back a ton of great memories. I don’t know why, but even The Learning Company gets the history of Reader Rabbit wrong. The original math blaster was actually released for the black & white mac classic back in 1985.
I remember a game on the old Apple I or II where you flew a ship through very hard screens and landed to exit as a robot and go from screen to screen to attack other robots. Does anyone remember a math game that had alien in the middle of space and you where the space ship. Problem with most of the above games is that they are intended for kids and at that time kids of the intended age did not have access to them.
I’ve observed that in the world of today, video games would be the latest craze with children of all ages.
GoNintendo » Blog Archive » The Top 10 Most Influential Educational Video Games from the 1980s- What are you waiting for?


Those who played through the 1980s are reaching their professional prime, and the games they played in school are worth examining.
Educational games from that decade in particular taught teachers, parents, students, and designers things that are still influencing titles today. Playing the original versions, while nostalgic, also helps remind us what made these games important. Indeed, almanacs were never so cool as students followed the trail of a master thief across the world. Legend has it the project was turned down by all the big gaming companies, including Broderbund, when Wright pitched it on account of the game’s objectives were ill defined. Earlier this year, the original code was released as open source so it could be loaded on the XO, better known as the “$100 Laptop,” as part of the One Laptop Per Child initiative. Reader Rabbit became one of the early educational gaming series that capitalized on name brand awareness. Brian Crecente over at Kotaku noted a version for the Nintendo DS is to be ported over later this year. A couple of elementary teachers walked in, and one of them saw the Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing box on the shelf.
It turns out the picture of the smiling Mavis was that of a model, and like Betty Crocker she was a persona created to sell products. A holdover from the 1970s, a version of Lemonade Stand was included with Apple II machines into the Eighties. It showed that with judicious decisions, positive outcomes were possible even with variables outside the player’s control (like the weather).
Vaguely resembling PacMan, players rushed to find correct numbers to the problem onscreen before getting “eaten” by troggles, a process which forced quick mental calculations. I recall reading PC Magazine when Windows 3.0 was introduced, telling us that finally here was a version of Windows worth getting, so I did. In Time Enough for Love, readers found Long on a frontier planet, where old fashioned technology was used until colonists could become self sufficient. You can make games with it, but it’s not really a game itself, being a programming language and all. That game was VERY fun… without access to an encyclopedia or the vast knowledge of what the internet holds today, there was no way of knowing where the fugitive was running of to!
My kids, now 26 & 30 could not remember an interactive game that was from our 1st computer (1986 or so). I remember having it on our first computer – around 1995, and I saw it again on a 98 computer at my school in 2002. Almost a year later and I still come back to see if anyone has found anything out about my game.
Sim City and Zork were never marketed as educational or learning games, which let’s you know how much the educational and game communities stayed separate. Here we’ll take a look at what I consider to be the top ten most influential educational games from the 1980s. The hunting mini-game was popular with boys, introducing video game shoot-em-ups on school computers; those were more innocent times.
How they must rue the day now, as the Sim line of titles has sold in the multi-million copy range for years. Many innovators in the edutainment genre followed the Reader Rabbit formula of placing educational content for young players in a fun and interactive environment. It’s hard to find the original online, but for those interested in sampling the look and feel of the series, Riverdeep offers a trial download of the Learning to Read with Phonics version here.
One item of interest is the notion of interspersing math problems within a pure gaming environment. Regardless, the product was a good one, and it has helped countless people improve their typing down through the years. Countless school children fired it up and were introduced to economic theory through playing the game.
The concept has not died, and there are later versions like Lemonade Empire, Hot Dog Stand, and others which follow the same concept. It continues to prove exceptionally popular, both among those remembering it from their school days to new adherents recently discovering the game. The game certainly made players read and think, exercises which parents and teachers have harangued youngsters about for years. Like many others firing up Windows 3.0 the first time, I noticed the Games folder, and quickly tried out Windows Solitaire.
The book provided an interesting dichotomy between space ships bringing in supplies and colonists using farm animals to settle the new world. The concept of using computer graphics in a game designed to make children think was somewhat revolutionary at the time, and Rocky’s Boots won several awards. At one of the auctions, he convinced me to stand by, do nothing, and just watch the price per unit rise and rise.
But really, most video games are educational in some way, if they’re worth their salt, so you have an excellent point.


I never got to play oregon trail and when people were talking about it, my first though was that they were talking about that Lewis and Clark game. You went exploring in a house room to room, there was a rabbit that asked if you wanted some tea, selected different items in each room that would either communicate something or lead you to something else, etc. Simcity is not played by youngsters so they could learn of resource management(which is not obvious anymore and is simplified on top of that) it is played by adults to lose time and this overly simplified resource management actually does harm real life performance. If you want the very best of both worlds, there are lots of educational video games for kids. But teachers in the 1980s were happy to put all those Apple II and IIe computers to good use engaging students.
The Carmen Sandiego games were lauded for their educational content, and found their way into classrooms everywhere. The game spearheaded a wide variety of complex computer social simulations featuring variable manipulations for education, business, and entertainment.
I remember playing a version requiring the proper answering of basic equations in order to load up on ammo for the space “blasting” game. I played an early version of this game thanks to a fun loving uncle who had access to his office’s mainframe after hours. The brilliance behind placing this game within Windows was the fact most DOS users grew up on keyboard commands and shortcuts. The object was to have your robot move back and forth across the screen until you made it to the bottom. I can’t validate whether the name of the game was actually LEWIS AND CLARK STAY HOME or something else. Read on for a trip down memory lane, a discussion of each game’s significance, and some locations to try out versions for free. This particular type of edutainment has been criticized as the “chocolate covered broccoli” approach to educational gaming, notably by Justin Peters in Slate among others. I think the game was an eye-opener as to what could be done with narrative text and programming.
Despite the proliferation of menu systems, most computers booted to the C prompt, requiring a typed command to start programs. Great games, but it seemed like you were just trying to get 10 games and you ran out of titles. The other was (what I thought was Peter Rabbit, but after some searching doesn’t give me any results) some sort of educational adventure where you help a rabbit get back home. It had been seriously bugging me that I could not remember the name of that game or find anyone else that knew what I was talking about. You still need to have the motivation to explore beyond the obvious, something most people dont.
Alas, those wishing to play down memory lane for free will have to check the abandoned software sites. In other words, it couches the boring, educationally valuable stuff (math worksheets, in this case) within a fun gaming environment.
Up to eight guys lived there at any given time; most were engineering or ag science students. It inspired legions of imitators, but was quickly made obsolete by such graphical games as Wizardry and Ultima I. The game was one of a few games we had available, some of which are not mentioned, at school and I remember it being so difficult for a little kid like me at the time.
In that regard, many serious game designers today often try other approaches, such as integrating pedagogy directly in the game play.
Infocom’s fate was tied to the ascension of graphical computing as well, as it was bought out by Activision and faded from prominence before the end of the decade. After a few rounds with Windows Solitaire, even the most diehard keyboard shortcut user who had used the same key combinations since the days of WordStar, became proficient with clicking, dragging and dropping with a mouse.
The game focuses on supply and demand economics, and allows players to take turns exploiting resources on a recently colonized planet (the planet’s name is Irata in the game, or Atari spelled backwards). It was a terrific introduction to educational computing, and PCs were still young back then.
There are still versions of all games in the Zork series floating around online, and its predecessor Adventure. In some ways, Windows Solitaire became the most successful educational video game of all time. To show you what nerds my roommates and I were, all of us took turns on Mavis Beacon to see who could type the fastest, a competition that lasted all semester.



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