Where in the damn World is Carmen Sandiego?
You know how the theme goes.
I’ve never actually watched the show or played the game, but I understand the concept of the franchise: You play as a detective (aka “gumshoe”) whose sole purpose is to catch Carmen, a criminal mastermind who travels the globe stealing valuable items and landmarks. The focus of the games was meant to garner an interest in geography, which — since I didn’t play it — is precisely the reason why I have no idea where anything is on a map.
Much like my conversation with Danny over Charlie Brown this week I had an incredibly fun (and exceptionally nerdy) conversation breaking down Carmen Sandiego with an old friend and designer of our whiskey glass logo, Zanetta.
E: Did Carmen Sandiego ever fence any of the shit she stole?
Z: It was kept pretty ambiguous, but you’d think the Golden Gate Bridge would sell quickly.
E: It seems like a niche market.
Z: Not everyone wants a leaning tower, or a giant rock at any given moment. It’s hard to sell one-of-a-kind things because they are easy to track down. Unless you’re putting it on display in a place where no one will ever go. The risk probably isn’t worth it.
E: Does that mean that Carmen has an entire warehouse of priceless landmarks and artifacts and shit that she’s stolen over the years, and she doesn’t even sell it…?
Z: It’s not like she’s ever at home to enjoy any of it. She’s out stealing the Hollywood sign, or Big Ben, or something like that. Seems like a waste.
E: But then who is it all for, if not for profit? Carmen Sandiego is just a collector?
Z: Did she ever have a boss? Or was she just a freelancing, globe-trekking thief?
E: I don’t think she ever had a boss, but I don’t think she was just a mercenary. She was self-employed.
Z: Her whole livelihood doesn’t make sense. If she’s not selling any of the shit she steals, then where is the money coming from? How is she paying for her airfare, and the ton of gadgets she needs to commit her incredible acts of larceny?
E: 1) She has racked up a lot of miles, has a lot of pilot friends, and 2) The gadgets all come from Skymall.
Around this time the next round of drinks came, so Carmen talk was done.
Though Carmen Sandiego has appeared in many forms and incarnations there has never been much depth to the titular character. There is a reason why we sympathize with villains like Mr. Freeze and Walter White. Carmen Sandiego has always just sort of been there, always one step ahead of the player, but forever leaving puns and clues for the player to find.
She’s like The Bandit without a Smokey, and her one-dimensional personality seems to be enough for most folks. I’m not like most folks — I’m all about adding layers and dimension to characters.
So here is how we change Carmen for the better:
What if Carmen Sandiego fails to steal something? Has she ever failed? (Serious question) …Unless you played the game and you personally were a great gumshoe I’m pretty sure Carmen walked away with a lot of priceless things that she had no personal attachment to. She probably uses the Statue of Liberty as a towel rack, and an Eastern Island head as a car passenger so she can cheat the HOV lane.
It is time to change that and give Carmen Sandiego a white whale; some piece of art (or a landmark) that she has wanted all her life, and has been trying to steal for years.
Unfortunately every time she gets close something goes wrong; The guard deviates from his usual patrol, the exhibit was moved to a different wing. As far as we know Carmen Sandiego has never had to improvise, so to have things go sideways for her would be a great step up from always seeing her confidently airlifted away with the Great Sphinx, the Reclining Buddha, or the Space Needle.
Imagine her frustrations in trying to secure the Wright Brothers plane from the Smithsonian? How much more devastating is it when she has a personal stake in the unattainable piece?
Then the item she wants gets stolen, and she needs to become the gumshoe. Flip the conventions of the franchise, and then poke a ton of holes in it from her perspective.
It takes a thief to catch a thief.
How badly does she need the Sydney Opera House? What if she puts it back as bait for this new thief?
She ultimately becomes Nathan Drake, but without all that climbing shit.
So…a less revealing Lara Croft?
I expect my check in the mail.
Or this concept to show up on next years Blacklist, fuckers.
And just as a cheap shot to end this article, let’s make the unattainable thing she wants something from North Korea. Or Kim Jung Un’s favorite blankie.
And no, Sony Pictures, you’re not allowed to have this one.