Videogame publishers are not stupid. Ever since the advent of the game console being a household staple, those companies have exploited one clever tactic of getting parents to part with their dollars (remember, all gamers live in America) thanks to the introduction of the “educational” videogame. The inherent flaw of the genre, however, is that once kids are old enough to hold a controller, they can’t really learn much from a videogame. True, there are some titles, like Bubsy’s String-Theory Kaper that can nurture the intellect of adults, but these aren’t the games this list looks at. Nope. I’m zeroing in on games that can’t teach anybody anything.
10) Oregon Trail
Take your pick: Any edition of this game dropping knowledge bombs on the 19th-century pioneer lifestyle ultimately failed its players for not teaching them a single damn thing. Go ahead. Search your memory banks. Do you remember learning anything other than the word “dysentery,” about the existence of bears, or how to name your family members funny things so the game would say, “Who Cares Who died of dysentery?” Otherwise Oregon Trail was a clothesline of ruler-smacks on your knuckles for picking the wrong time of year to leave, packing the wrong supplies, and not understanding how to cross fjords on horseback.
9) Donkey Kong Jr. Math
There are a couple reasons why this simian-soaked calculation game was unable to educate its players. Chief among them? There were no players: Among the NES’ 15 launch titles, this one sold the worst. This was in the days before Metacritic, mind you, so it’s amazing players knew to avoid this unplayable, fever-dream rom-hack-esque title that replaced Donkey Kong Jr.‘s mechanics with swinging around to collect numbers to make sums. Or maybe people knew to stay away because it was called Donkey Kong Jr. Math.
8) Elmo’s A-to-Zoo Adventure
Far be it from me to call a kids’ game over its intended audiences’ collective soft heads, but children hate hate hate this Wii game . It’s poorly designed, has sluggish controls (and an Elmo Wii-Remote cover that interferes with its outgoing sensor), and won’t let you pause it. But don’t take it from me, one review on toysrus.com: “This was by far one of the worst games Ive purchased. My 2- and 3-year-old sons got tired of it after about five mins of playing… We’ve had it for four months and my kids cry when I put it on.” Well, that would explain why every time you boot it up Elmo says, “Elmo loves you! And sadness!”
7) Sesame Street 1-2-3
For the very reasons outlined in this list’s introduction, this NES game is mootness personified. Although its lessons are credible, 1-2-3 has historically been more popular with stoners vibing to the incredibly catchy soundtrack who can feel smart tackling problems like 2+2 (spoiler alert, it’s 4). Even if you’re too young to smoke pot, you’ll feel your intelligence and sideways ponytail being bitch-slapped with insults like counting six stationary green aliens to beam away to their home planet.
6) Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon
All facetiousness aside, Putt-Putt was one of the most popular early ’90s educational game series – but this entry disseminated more mis-education than education-education. Among the many misnomers represented in this game about an anthropomorphic Chevy Bel Air getting blown to the moon from a fireworks factory mishap? There’s just as much gravity there as here, the moon has gas stations, beauty shops, blue women, green mud, and families of monkeys that drive floating space-cars. Right. Mainly, with Ron Gilbert at the helm as co-founder of the responsible developer, Humongous Entertainment, all kids mainly learned was how illogical adventure games are. And that’s an incredibly useful life skill.
5) Sonic’s Schoolhouse
You might’ve heard of the bizarre Mario and Zelda games on the CDi, but did you know Sonic also had a bastard outing on another platform? That’s right, Sonic’s Schoolhouse escaped – it isn’t accurate to say “released” – on the PC in 1996, and it’s notable in two regards: 1) You don’t play as Sonic and 2) It’s perhaps the world’s first FPS educational game. You wander around a catacomb filled with 90-degree turns to gather answers to questions and then “shoot” them at the blackboard. Like, one puzzle has you find a balloon with a violin on it and then shoot it at the blackboard that says “violin.” Really. Given that this game came out in 1996, and that the Columbine shootings took place in ’99, it’s clear to see why the whole “FPS educational” genre failed to launch.
4) I Am A Teacher: Super Mario Sweater
Forget Mario’s Time Machine, Mario Is Missing (sorry, Luigi), and Mario Teaches Typing. The true oddball of the portly plumber’s educational excursions is I Am a Teacher: Super Mario, a Japan-only 1988 Famicom game. It isn’t quite a game – more of a sweater-designing application. Players could fuss over pre-existing Mario-themed sweater design templates and then send them in to Royal Industries, which would take the disks fans saved their designs onto and mail back the sweaters they designed at home. What people at home weren’t taught to do: design sweaters.
3) Farm Vet
From the minds that brought you Murder, She Wrote: The Game comes Farm Vet… a PC game about being a vet on a farm. Although it gives off the illusion of being an immersive farm-vet simulator – its title might have something to do with that – really it’s series of mini-games like poking chickens for their eggs and Dance Dance Revolution-like sequences of catching milk bottles offset with sequences of animals on cold steel tables staring at you while you randomly select up to 30 different medical tools. At least, unlike other medical sims, if you botch your surgeries, you can eat your patient for dinner.
2) Math Gran Prix
As if the title to this 1982 Atari 2600 game didn’t give it away, you can’t even learn how to spell “grand prix” by playing this. Intended as a make-good for 1977’s dreadful Basic Math (a.k.a. Fun with Numbers, which had a decidedly loose definition of “fun”), Gran Prix mashes up a board game with math lessons, and the results are about as technicolored amazing as that implies. It’s so-so as a game, but it can’t teach you math because it just spits out basic math problems at you and you either guess correctly or not. If you’re wrong, you get blasted with a horrible sound and your car goes no where. If you guess correctly, you get blasted with a horrible sound and your car moves forward two or three spots. You don’t have to be a math-a-magician to know that most other games are “greater than” this one. Get it?
1) City Bus Simulator
Yes, this is a real game, for the PC. It’s hard to say what the most misleading thing about it is, though: that the bus is clean, that the passengers are polite, or that the driver is sober. Then again, if you choose to spend your free time playing a bus-driver simulator, then you haven’t really learned much about life or how to live it, have you?