The Oregon Trail

The year is 1848 and you’re a wagon leader guiding your party from Independence, Missouri to the Oregon Willamette Valley. You have to hunt a variety of wildlife for nourishment including bison, rabbits, squirrels, deer, elk, and bears.  Throughout your journey, members of your party may, unfortunately, meet an untimely death in the form of measles, snakebite, dysentery, typhoid, cholera, or exhaustion – many diseases easily overcome by modern, 21st century medicine. In this moment, you are 100 percent on the Oregon Trail!

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The Oregon Trail was originally released in 1971 as an educational tool by Don Rawitsch and has sold over 65 million copies to date. The game was used to teach an 8th grade history class about the trials and tribulations of 19th century pioneers. Shortly after its first installment, the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) recruited Rawitsch to build a stable version of the game they could distribute to schools around the country. Many game-play options were based on historical narratives and primary sources. Most children of the 90s are familiar with the 1985 version of the game, which had improved graphics and easier navigational controls. Since then, multiple iterations of the game have been released, including a 2011 iOS and Android version.

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More recently, the Internet Archive has made it possible for anyone, anywhere to play online for free. The archive’s software library has immortalized other popular MD-DOS games like Prince of Persia, Pac-Man, Sim City, Super Street Fighter II, and Donkey Kong. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, MD-DOS stands for Microsoft Disk Operating System. Games developed for this x86-based system were exceptionally simple compared to games today. By Windows 95, MS-DOS was no longer offered as a stand-alone system.

Over the years, the reception of The Oregon Trail has decreased as game developers continue trying to capture the 1970s appeal of the original game. Regardless of where the game goes now, we can all reminisce on the slightly amusing dysentery deaths or lugging around 900 pounds of meat cargo.