In grade school, the most exciting days were when we were taken to the computer lab and allowed to play educational games. It might sound like an exaggeration, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for those games.
They truly instilled within me a sense of wonder and appreciation for language, math, and science. Classrooms and textbooks have always been boring to me, but shift the education into game form and I’ll absorb every last ounce (and still be hungry for more).
Modern educational games just don’t have the same feel. Fortunately, the people who run The Internet Archive have built up a collection of hundreds of educational games from the 80s and 90s — and you can play them again right now for free!
Oregon Trail (1990)
Oregon Trail is the king of old educational games, at least as far as popularity and nostalgia are concerned. Somehow this game managed to snake its way across the United States and become one of the most beloved games along both coasts.
Simply put, it’s “coolness” factor is entirely unmatched. No other game is as universally memorable as this one.
So it’s unsurprising to see Oregon Trail at the very top of The Internet Archive’s collection of old educational games with 1.7 million plays. To compare, the game in second place — Prince of Persia — has just under 0.7 million plays. Oregon Trail‘s dominance is undisputable.
For those who have never played it, the idea is simple: you lead your family on a journey across the western United States in the mid-1800s while overcoming obstacles like hunger, disease, animals, and a wagon that keeps falling apart. It’s both fun and frustrating, which is likely why it’s so memorable.
Play Oregon Trail online right now for free!
Crosscountry Canada (1991)
Crosscountry Canada is a more modern version of Oregon Trail that focuses on picking up and delivering commodities from city to city rather than surviving a perilous journey and overcoming obstacles along the way.
The gameplay involves management of inventory and gas, among other components, but the educational aspect comes into the picture as players need to navigate Canadian geography, read maps, solve problems, manage time, and make optimal decisions.
It’s actually the sequel to Crosscountry USA, which was released in 1985 but wasn’t as popular. Another sequel was made, Crosscountry Canada 2, but this is the only one that’s available on The Internet Archive.
Play Crosscountry Canada online right now for free!
Amazon Trail (1993)
Despite the similarity in names, Amazon Trail isn’t actually all that similar to Oregon Trail. In fact, even though so many people know about the latter game, not many people — at least in my social circles — have even heard of Amazon Trail, let alone played it.
Instead of wagoning across the United States, you travel down the Amazon River in a boat. There are some survival gameplay elements (e.g. steering and fishing) but mostly you learn about the people, the geography, and the wildlife of the Amazon region.
While Oregon Trail is more about the game than the education, Amazon Trail is the opposite. It’s a fun ride and you’ll learn a lot by the end.
Play Amazon Trail online right now for free!
Carmen Sandiego (1985)
The original game in this massive series, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, is another high-profile educational game that many will recognize. Over the 30 years since its inception, there have been 20+ separate Carmen Sandiego titles released. Impressive, to say the least.
In the game, you play as a detective tasked with tracking down criminals and fugitives at large. Using clues from crime scenes, you travel around the world in pursuit, starting with easy cases that gradually get harder as you prove your skills. Carmen is the very last case, and obviously the toughest.
The two most popular titles are the original, which takes you around the world, and its sequel, which takes you across the United States. The games are humorous, light-hearted, and very good at teaching geography, logical deduction, and research skills.
Play Carmen Sandiego (World) online right now for free!
Play Carmen Sandiego (USA) online right now for free!
Reader Rabbit (1989)
For a lot of people in my generation, Reader Rabbit was the first time reading was actually fun. The game is meant for kids between the ages of 3 and 7, but even so, you can play it again right now and see why kids find it fun.
The game has 4 modes: Sorter (match words to a pattern), Labeler (spell words one letter at a time), Word Train (chain words that have one different letter), and Matchup (match pictures to words). This is about as educational of a game as you can get.
Play Reader Rabbit online right now for free!
Treasure Mountain! (1990)
Treasure Mountain! is an adventure game that takes you on a scavenger hunt up the eponymous mountain, but in order to collect all of the necessary treasures, you’ll have to provide answers to games related to reading, math, and logic.
As the player advances through the game, the riddles become harder to solve. It never gets too difficult though, and the adventure/exploration aspect of the game goes a long way towards capturing the attention of young kids.
Play Treasure Mountain! online right now for free!
Number Munchers (1990)
Number Munchers was one of my favorites when I was in grade school. It’s a math game that teaches and trains kids to get comfortable with numbers and to start thinking mathematically.
Topics covered include multiples, factors, primes, equality, inequality, and challenges. All in all, it’s a great way to get kids excited about math.
The sequel, Super Munchers, is also available to play. It expands the scope from math to other subjects, including animals, famous Americans, food, health, geography, music, and other miscellaneous stuff. It also has 3 difficulty levels, which is nice.
Play Number Munchers online right now for free!
Play Super Munchers online right now for free!
OutNumbered! is another math-based adventure game. This time, you have to track down the Master of Mischief by using clues found in rooms throughout the game. Each room has its own math puzzle that needs to be solved before you can progress.
In addition to math problems, you also have to exercise logical deduction skills in order to beat the game. Players have a lifetime score and as this score increases, the game becomes progressively more difficult.
Play OutNumbered! online right now for free!
Gizmos & Gadgets! (1993)
Gizmos & Gadgets! was the ultimate time-killer in grade school. It’s not a traditional learning game because it doesn’t involve reading, math, or trivia — rather, this game is about physics, mechanics, engineering, and energy. In that sense, it’s nearly one-of-a-kind.
There are 7 puzzle types throughout the game: balancing weights on a beam, constructing electrical circuits, matching energy types, force-based propulsions, completing gear sets, building magnet patterns, and erecting machines out of simple parts. Lots and lots of fun, even for adults!
Play Gizmos & Gadgets! online right now for free!
Which Other Games Do You Remember?
These titles probably fill you with nostalgia. I know they do for me! If you want to tickle that nostalgia itch a bit more, check out these ancient programs that no longer exist, the evolution of Windows sounds, and these retro tech sounds that you might remember.
As far as gaming goes, you may also want to check out these popular 90s computer games that you can still play for free.
Which educational games were your favorite growing up? Are there any others that weren’t on this list? Share them with us in the comments below!