Retro Gaming

Find out about video games from the past.




Talk About Retro Gaming

What is your favorite digital game? Is it an app, a website or a console game? How long do you think this game has existed?

What do you think computer games were like 10 years ago? How about 20 years ago? In this activity, you’ll get to try out some computer games from the past.
What does retro gaming mean? What it means is different to each of us. Some of us may remember playing Pong on an Atari, while for others, Duke Nukem, Quake or League of Legends might be considered retro or a game from back in the day.

To expose and discuss the differences between then and now, start by asking members about the gaming systems they grew up with. Make a list of the gaming systems and/or kinds of systems, like computers, Nintendo, Gameboy, they have used. Write these on a whiteboard or marker board.

Now, ask them about their first favorite video game. What’s the earliest video game they can remember? Is it something from a long time ago? If you want, share the game you remember from way back. Maybe even show a brief YouTube video of its gameplay.


Intro to

You can look into a website’s past on, also known as the Wayback Machine. Think of a website that has probably existed for many years. Type a keyword into the URL field of the Wayback Machine to see how the website you chose has changed over time. To see how a site has changed, move along the timeline and compare its different homepages.
Archive.Org is the Internet Archive, also known as the Wayback Machine. It stores a vast history of historical media, including documents, audio, webpages and video games. Do members know what an archive is? Ask to find out if any know. If not, help them make a definition by asking what they know about libraries or other places where media are stored.

If you have a projector, load and take a quick tour. If you’d like, an optional activity is to ask your members to identify five really awesome, but different, kinds of media. What is the coolest audio file, book and image they can find?

You might also consider “showing off” some web pages from the earlier Internet. Click on the Wayback Machine (usually near the top of the screen) and enter a website that has been around for a while, like Then, scroll through the calendar to find the earliest instance. Click on the calendar date to load the web page from that time. Which other websites are members interested in seeing?

Ask members, “What has changed between then and now? How are things different?” To really dig into understanding just how things have changed, we’re going to play some of the best early games.


Let's Get Retro

The Wayback Machine shows you how webpages used to look. Do you have any guesses about how the computer games will look? If the year were 1990, you would probably think these two computer games were really high tech.

-- Oregon Trail, 1990 Version

-- Oregon Trail, 1992 Version with improved graphics and simpler gameplay

-- Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, 1989 Version. At the time, this version was new and improved.

The games are stored in the MS-DOS archive on, which at the time of this writing is located at MS-DOS is an abbreviation of “Microsoft Disk Operating System.” It was a text-based operating system that came before GUI (graphical user interface) operating systems like Windows.

Although old, some of these games may be controversial and/or violent (for example, Doom or Castle Wolfenstein). While no more violent than video games on newer websites, please be sure to monitor members’ gameplay and redirect as necessary.

While hundreds of games are available through, we recommend you focus on two:

Option 1: Oregon Trail

In Oregon Trail, the player assumes the role of a settler who must guide his or her party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley on the Oregon Trail. The player must choose their profession, provisions, travel speed and route wisely. Safe arrival is not guaranteed.

There are two versions of Oregon Trail available through

Oregon Trail, 1990 version

Oregon Trail, 1992 version with graphic enhancements

Each version requires about 45 minutes to play through. After gameplay, engage your members in the following discussion questions:

-- What can you learn by playing Oregon Trail?
-- How is this different from games you play now?
-- What was most fun about playing Oregon Trail? What wasn’t fun?

You can also track these additional challenges if you want:
-- Who can get the highest score?
-- Who can finish in the least amount of time?

Option 2: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

In “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”, the player’s objective is to to track Carmen's criminals around the world and arrest them. The ultimate goal is to arrest Carmen herself. The player must glean information from clues in their starting country to determine where to go next. At each step along the route, the player may gain or lose proximity to the bad guys and Carmen herself.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, 1989 Enhanced Version:

The game can be played in as little as 20 minutes. Ideally, though, players should have about 30-40 minutes to play through a series of missions. After gameplay, engage your members in the following discussion questions:

-- What can you learn by playing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”
-- How is this different from games you play now?
-- What was most fun about playing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” What wasn’t fun?

An additional challenge is: 
-- Who can capture the largest number of bad guys and attain the best detective ranking?

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