Beyond The Oregon Trail: Six PC Franchises that Helped Us Learn

When video games combine education and entertainment, tricky subjects like algebra and geography become interactive play—the best way to learn. These six games offered new ways to master traditional skills.

Math Blaster: Master The Basics Video Game (ca 2006) by Janice Davidson and AppleThe Strong National Museum of Play

Math Blaster

Teacher-turned-game-designer Janice Davidson created Math Blaster! in 1983 to entice afterschool arithmetic students. Players joined a cosmic blasternaut and explored fantastic space worlds by solving math equations. The game’s popularity soared thanks to a partnership with Apple and elementary schools. Numerous sequels cemented the franchise, including a 2015 Facebook version and Blaster spin-offs for reading and science.

Apple II Reader Rabbit Video Game (1986) by Leslie GrimmThe Strong National Museum of Play

Reader Rabbit

Frustrated with early education software, Leslie Grimm wanted games to encourage students, not punish them for wrong answers. Enter Reader Rabbit, an upbeat language teacher she designed in 1984 for software publisher The Learning Company. With this animated companion, players gained confidence through memory game matchups and word scrambles. With multiple sequels and a 2018 installment, the franchise supports new generations of alphabet learners.

Commodore 64 Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (1985) by BrøderbundThe Strong National Museum of Play

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? made geography fun by asking players to join the international hunt to capture the notorious title character. Students traveled the globe as rookie agents and discovered world landmarks along the way. Published by Brøderbund in 1985, the best-selling game also inspired a beloved children’s television show and a 2019 animated reboot on the streaming service Netflix.

SimCity PC Video Game (1989) by Will WrightThe Strong National Museum of Play


Game designer Will Wright created Sim City to play urban designer. Released in 1989, the city-building simulation game tested a player’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Every decision needed to balance what the local populace wants with what the growing city needs to thrive. The game’s success inspired countless sequels and a new wave of simulation games, including Wright’s notable life simulator series The Sims.

Windows 95 Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing 5 (1997) by Software ToolworksThe Strong National Museum of Play

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing

In 1987, Software Toolworks created the fictional typing teacher Mavis Beacon to guide players through beat-the-clock drills. Typing became a fast-moving game with high scores to beat. Too many mistakes? An all-out drag race minigame puts players in a literal front seat, gaining speed with perfectly executed sentences. With modern updates, the franchise continues to be a go-to in typing instruction.

Windows 95 Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia (1996) by MicrosoftThe Strong National Museum of Play

Encarta Encyclopedia

Software developer Microsoft compressed a multi-volume encyclopedia set into Encarta, a playful multimedia CD-ROM. Released in 1993, the digital reference tested knowledge through “InterActivities” like the adventurous trivia game Mindmaze. Players tackled questions about daring discoveries and historical feats to progress through a complex castle. Although disc support ended in 2009, nostalgic gamers can traverse the maze via MS-DOS emulators.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Junior Detective Edition - Press Copy Sneak Preview (1994) by BrøderbundThe Strong National Museum of Play

Conclusion: Playing to Learn

Whether blasting through math equations or capturing crooks across the globe, young players learn invaluable problem-solving skills with educational computer games. Decades after The Oregon Trail first journeyed into classrooms, playing edutainment games on computers, tablets, or phones still turns reluctant learners into eager students.

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Beyond The Oregon Trail: Six PC Franchises that Helped Us Learn is produced by The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

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