America Comprehended: The Oregon Trail (Computer Game)

by awindram

THE OREGON TRAIL (COMPUTER GAME): “You have died of dysentery.”

On Sunday I flew from Philadelphia to San Francisco. It was one of those early evening, east-to-west flights where you take off at sunset and from 36,000 feet chase the dimming sun, the plane straining to stay ahead of the encroaching darkness.

It took six hours to cross the continental US. Six hours of misery and tedium in cattle class trying, like all parents unfortunate enough to have to fly with their babies, to keep a tiny, capricious despot happy.

And yet six hours would appear magical to the pioneers that came before, those hearty souls traversing the country without the benefits of either the jet engine or Candy Crush Saga (I swear every third person on the plane seemed to be playing it). All of which brings me to today’s entry (yes, I’m sticking with this America Comprehended schtick for the time being) which is The Oregon Trail.

You may find, if you are aged anywhere between mid-20s and early-40s, that peers will make occasional reference to The Oregon Trail. Most of the time what they are not doing – which may have been your first thought – is referencing the historic route by which immigrants and settlers moved out West. Instead they are referencing a computer game that has a strong nostalgic hold on American Generation Xers.

The game was designed to teach schoolchildren about the pioneer trail in a way that though crudely immersive by modern standards was still considered more fun than making twelve-year-olds watch a Ken Burns documentary.

The premise of the game is simple enough. A player attempts to successfully lead his/her family to Oregon without dying (and ideally without losing too many family members to illness or starvation)

What is noticeable now is that a whole generation of Americans can regale you for hours about this game, but can tell you very little about the Oregon Trail itself – a passing knowledge of cholera, typhoid, and dysentery is surprisingly high, however.

If you are still curious, it’s easy enough to find free versions of the game for your computer. Feel free to play it as you fly westwards while everyone else plays bloody Candy Crush Saga. If nothing else, it may make you feel more fondly of United, Delta, or whichever sour, mid-tier carrier you fly with, as for all their many faults, they lose very few passengers to cholera and dysentery.