"The Oregon Trail"

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Parents have always worried about video games.  I'm sure even Pong held the threat of perhaps putting an unwary gamer's eye out.  Some, like The Legend of Zelda, have been accused of being too dark (hence this substitution), others, like Grand Theft Auto, are condemned as overly violent.  But do you know what those games all have in common?

None of them forces you to witness the deaths of your own family members, one by one.

But that's exactly what The Oregon Trail does.  On Fridays in fifth grade, we would be allowed 45 minutes in the Apple IIe computer lab, where we had the option of playing either Number Munchers or The Oregon Trail.  I couldn't multiply fast enough to avoid getting eaten by Troggles, so I always opted for the latter game.  We were told this was realistic and educational, and were encouraged to imagine our companions as our own family members.  So I would enter the names of my siblings, cousins, and friends so they could join me on my journey.  Along the way, they would all inevitably die.  They would die of things I'd never even heard of-- cholera? dysentery?  But a broken leg, now that I'd heard of.  You can die of a broken leg?

The other lessons I learned from the game were even worse.  When hunting, you can shoot at deer, or rabbits, or bison.  The rabbits are really hard to target so they should deserve a bigger payoff, right?  Wrong.  Rabbits net just a pound or two of meat (not nearly enough to feed your starving family), while those stupid, slow-moving buffalo offer hundreds of pounds of meat and make for easy targets.  The "correct" choice, then, is just to shoot all the buffalo you like, even though you can only drag back a measly hundred pounds of meat.  But killing them is fun, and in the game, at least, they never become an endangered species.

Lesson learned:
Caulk the wagon; don't ford the river.

The Oregon Trail.  The Learning Company, 1971. 
The Oregon Trail, 5th Edition 


  1. I played that game as a kid as well!

    I could never exactly master the "living-to-get-to-the-end" part.

  2. Because kids are weirdly cruel, especially when virtual lives are involved, the boys in my row in computer class would compete to see how far we could get with Meager rations (but absolutely destroying all wildlife), Grueling pace and ALWAYS fording.