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The Oregon Trail

video game

In 1971, Don Rawitsch, a student teacher in a Minnesota history classroom, created the game Oregon Trail as an interactive way for students to Iearn about the hardships pioneers faced as they made their way across the American West by covered wagon. In this educational game, players assume the role of a wagon leader and guide their party on a 2,000 mile journey from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the path of the historical Oregon Trail. An immediate hit in Rawitsch's classroom, the game soon became available in all Minneapolis public schools. In 1974 the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortorium (MECC) added Oregon Trail to their collection of software, allowing students across Minnesota to access the game in their schools. Made available to the public in 1985, Oregon Trail became the most successful educational video game in history, culminating in eight versions and inspiring multiple spin-offs. Oregon Trail is a game of decision-making and problem-solving. The journey begins in 1848. Before setting off for the Oregon Territory players must make a series of crucial decisions, including their future occupation, when to depart, and how much food, bullets, clothing, spare wagon parts, and oxen to bring along. Not purchasing enough provisions and supplies from the outset can result in fatal consequences, but not saving enough money to purchase goods at trading posts along the way can prove equally detrimental. Players have the opportunity to hunt for food along the trail, but the amount of meat they can acquire is limited by the number of pounds they can carry back to the wagon as well as the quantity of animals available. One must be careful not to over-hunt. Players will inevitably face other hardships on their journey, including difficult terrain, broken wagons, starving oxen, and injured or sick party members. In these situations the player has difficult decisions to make. Will they ford the river or take a ferry? Allow a sick party member to rest for a few days or continue on with the journey? Take a shortcut over difficult terrain or choose the longer, albeit safer, way around? Every decision made effects the course of the game. Players may take advice from people encountered along the trail, from Native guides to other settlers making the westward trek, however, decisions are ultimately up to the player. If and when the player makes it to the Oregon Territory their final score will take into account how well they took care of their party members and managed their provisions. For many people, Oregon Trail served as an introduction to electronic games, and because of this it evokes strong nostalgia. As one of the first instances in which history combined with electronic gaming, Oregon Trail remains one of the most famous games of its genre. This success elevated it from a mere educational tool to a cultural icon.

  • Material: printed paper | plastic
  • Origin: USA
  • Object ID: 109.9639
  • Credit Line: Gift of Warren Buckleitner
Creative Commons License