Five Things We Learned From The Oregon Trail

By Aaron Matteson in Five Things, Humor
Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 11:00 am

The Oregon Trail games: teaching our youth about the importance of spare axles.
Well, of course we learned something from the Oregon Trail franchise.  Why read an article about it?  After all, this game was designed with the education of its players in mind, and thus it stands to reason that we would have all grudgingly learned something from it.  Well, that's fifteen seconds of precious thought-time we'll never get back.

But hold on.  The Oregon Trail games sought to teach young minds about the different challenges and experiences that life in the mid-1800's entailed.  However, is this really what the game imparted to us?  Does anyone remember exactly which route to take along the path for easiest conveyance to the promised land?  Did we actually understand why our brethren kept getting scurvy?  Did these games teach our fourth grade selves what the hell a "greenhorn" is?

For most of us, the answer is no.  Instead, this game taught us some very different lessons.

1.) Some people deserve less credit than others.


The original Oregon Trail starts off by letting you choose your profession and hometown.  If you decide to ask what difference it makes, the game politely informs you that you are about to embark on a quest across the Goddamn country, and it's going to be easier if you have some benjamins to lay down for ferry rides and oxen.

However, if you choose to be some wicked pissah Beantown bigshot with a ton of cash to blow on spare wagon wheels, the game lets you know that you will be awarded less points upon your arrival out west (barring the death of you and everyone you love on the harsh, unforgiving wasteland that is the Oregon Trail).

The lesson from the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium here is that, in life, some people have it easy.  But the rest of us should take comfort in the fact that when everything is said and done, they'll get less points than us!

Comforting, right?


2.) Man rules supreme over the animal kingdom.


Hey, that ghost just killed that moose!

​Anyone who played the Oregon Trail games and did not hunt for food at every possible opportunity needs psychiatric attention.  Though part of the game was attempting to purchase enough food at the outset for much of the journey, the unnecessay slaughter of God's creatures was an integral part of life back then, as MECC was happy to show us.

Perhaps the most potent part of it all was that if you managed to bring down a large enough beast, you would be informed that you could only carry a certain amount of the meat back to the wagon.  The rest, presumably, would be left to rot out in the field.  Apparently you are in too much of a hurry to get to Orgeon to make a second trip out to get more of the meat from the carcass of the being whose life you just ended.


3.) Nature, however, must be respected.


93 bullets were lost.

Filled with hubris from his or her ability to blow the brains out of any and all animals between Independence and Oregon City, often players would see a swelling, six-foot-deep river and assume that man's general mastery over the world would assure safe crossing.

This line of reasoning was the death knell of many a good ox.


4.) Life is precious.


Out, out, brief candle!

Any child who thought about all of the loss of life on the Oregon Trail, as signified by the game's abrupt and constant messages to the effect of "DUMBFACE JR has a broken leg" or "fart2000 died from dysentery," would be mortified by the harsh conditions endured by people back then trying to fulfill Manifest Destiny.  Some editions of the game gave you a choice between different treatments -- Timmy just got shot in an ill-advised buffalo hunt in the dead of winter.  Do you wash the wound and bandage it?  Ignore it?  Forget the actual bullet lodged in Timmy's blood-spewing abdomen and just increase his rations?  Many times, no matter what choice you make, the end is the same: cruel, unforgiving Death.

In the back of our minds, perhaps we listened to the message, which was "Carpe Diem."  There will only be so many days to chase little Angela around the playground with a spider on a stick.  Why wait?


5.) The dead live on in the memory of the living.


RIP Andy.

As long as their epitaph is not written by a fourth grader playing a video game.

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