Carmen Sandiego’s 90’s CD-ROM games made me realize I was bisexual

Long brown hair and a wide-brimmed red hat were visible in the dark. A sultry voice cut off their communication and taunted nearby detectives. You wondered how she did it, how she kept eluding you. She committed impossible thefts while looking cool and shocking. She stole many things including my heart when I was growing up and found I couldn’t play her games anymore.

Carmen Sandiego should have made it clear to me in hindsight that I’m bisexual. In the end, she didn’t because I didn’t even know the term existed until I was a teenager; Alison Bechdel had to ensure this awakening with her memoirs fun home. That and Carmen Sandiego isn’t real. She’s a villain from a gaming franchise.

The biggest thief in 90’s edutainment

A quick rundown for those who never followed her: she was an uncompromising thief in most of Carmen Sandiego’s CD-ROM games from the ’90s. Most canons confirmed that she had previously worked for the criminal classification and surveillance agency. The ACME boss, played by the late Lynne Thigpen in various shows and games, explained that Carmen has risen through the ranks as a detective. Eventually, however, catching crooks became too easy for her; As a challenge, Carmen revealed ACME. She even called her past there “embarrassing”.

Depending on the game canon, two different ACME agents claimed they were Carmen’s partner. Chase Devineaux im Word and math detective Games cultivated a dry cynicism while Julia Argent in the treasures of knowledge Game saw the good in Carmen. Both had chemistry with Carmen during their interactions, reminiscent of bitter ex-boyfriends.

One canon kept the chemistry but changed the dynamic: Netflix’s 2019 Carmen San Diego Show made Carmen a heroic thief. VILE criminals raised her as their new weapon, but Carmen rebelled when she realized she wanted her to kill innocent people. She stole from criminals to donate to charity or return items to their original owners. Julia and Chase appeared on the Netflix show with radically changed personalities. As Julia became less active and more perceptive, Chase went from cool badass to impulsive and stubborn Javert archetype. They both admitted that Carmen was difficult to catch but alluring.

A cutscene reveals that

Where on earth is Carmen Sandiego? screenshot
Image: Broderbund

Why is Carmen Sandiego?

The Netflix series began its pilot by asking, “Who is Carmen Sandiego?” Most of its games asked “where.” Eventually, she was able to navigate to another country and steal a large historical landmark in a matter of minutes. With that being said, why is Carmen Sandiego? Why do we love her? What about her makes her attractive and a great villain?

Carmen’s adrenaline junkie tendencies made her attractive; The Netflix adaptation maintained this trend. She taunted the player’s character and dropped hints about her next heist. If the crooks got caught? She blamed her for her incompetence.

Even time travel did not escape her. She stole an ACME device called the Chronoskimmer and ordered her VILE henchmen to go through time and steal historical objects. Carmen closed the game and led the players on a chase through time. When caught, she boasted that high-tech laser rods in prison couldn’t hold her. The swagger had to be admired.

The clothing also reflected the thief’s confidence. Carmen wore a bright red outfit, but she was notoriously difficult to spot while going about her thefts. We do know that she was a master of disguise when needed and could even bend down to adjust her height. Her coat made her stand out from the crowd, but she knew when to switch to a sheer dress and wig. The look remains stunning 30 years later.

Carmen was also obsessed with her character. We played the game as adults because neither ACME nor Interpol would hire a kid to take down an international criminal. We intrigued them because we could track them down without breaking a sweat. You could see that in it Where in the US, where in timeand word detective, where Carmen sends her crooks across the United States. If you traveled from the east coast to the west coast that many times, you would be exhausted. But not Carmen or the player. You stayed right by her tail, ready to rumble. The Good Guides followed your example, beating up criminals or throwing handcuffs when necessary.

Crushing on a villain

Carmen appealed to my bisexuality in many ways. She reviewed the criteria for threatening villains and called for real stakes on a conflict. If she let the heroes live, there had to be a legitimate reason, like a huge mistake or injury to one side during their more serious confrontations. I admired Carmen for being absolutely terrifying at worst.

Carmen was an explicit threat. In her best games, she showed no qualms about the moral hazard of her actions. Steal the Forum from the Romans? That could lead to the empire collapsing faster than in real life. Grab the lightbulb prototype so Thomas Edison can’t profit from plagiarizing Tesla? No one can perform necessary graveyard shifts like on-call doctors. Carmen also had no limits as to what she could steal. Sometimes she and her crooks grabbed national monuments.

word detective showed Carmen at her worst when it came to villainy. She had developed a machine that could steal Babble-On-Machine’s written language from the mouth and brain. That’s bad enough for those who have communication problems or language barriers. However, Carmen planned to steal the world’s language. The beam would mess with people’s brains.

A cutscene shows two characters looking at large buildings in the distance

Where on earth is Carmen Sandiego? treasures of knowledge screenshot
Image: The learning company

I refused to play or even watch word detective as a child. It was too scary. As an adult, the opening remains pure nightmare fuel. Carmen’s Babble-On-Machine captured longtime Good Guide Ann Tickwittee. Ann, credited as Agent 12, had previously beat up crooks taller than her. The Tower catching and tying her up, as well as Rock Solid and many other good leaders proved that Carmen had upped her game. Carmen also exposed the agents to the beam. All they could do was gibberish begging for help while you entered the cave. It was pretty kinky for a child’s game.

It took me until I was an adult to realize that the game wouldn’t hurt you. There were no stakes as you searched for clues to riddles and keys to free your good guides. You could take your time, reset, and worry about nothing worse than some jump scares. However, this game was quite formative for how I saw good villains. It also solidified how I saw Carmen. She was a villain, but she was good.

Turn off the computer screen

It’s a shame it’s almost impossible to play a 90’s Carmen game. You need to know how to run an emulator that mimics a 2000’s Windows screen, download files from a website that Carmen Love maintains, and fix bugs. I once spent an entire night trying to do this and failed miserably, even with a friend’s guidance. Carmen disappeared when the oldest computer in our house decided to shut down forever.

The Carmen Sandiego of my childhood exists in a CD installer that no longer works, some booklets we kept and YouTube Let’s Plays. But she’ll never be gone with the nostalgia we have. Not the awakening that looking back can bring when you see brown hair flapping in the wind. Carmen Sandiego’s 90’s CD-ROM games made me realize I was bisexual

Charles Jones

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