I have chosen to write about the historical game “The Oregon Trail” for my first blog post. The game was first published in the early 1970s, and since then, has had new editions released regularly that modernize and advance gameplay. Later, different versions of the game would be released via different mediums, such as the Wii or cell phone apps. The objective of the game is to help Americans in the nineteenth century move across from Missouri to Willamette Valley in a covered wagon and with limited resources. The characters are subject to disease, poverty, and general catastrophe, for instance, their wagon capsizing in a river and losing all their resources.
When “The Oregon Trail” was first released, it was a text-based game where players had to manually type in their decision in reaction to in-game events. As time passes in the game, the player can watch the statistics of the characters, including health, food rations, and weather, change. The game pauses when an event occurs or when the player presses the enter button, and the player is invited to make a decision. One aspect of the game is hunting, in which players would have to quickly type specific words to shoot the animals. In later editions of the game, with better graphics, players could manually aim and shoot the animals.
When analyzing “The Oregon Trail” through the perspective of Chris Crawford, it has all four makings of a game: representation, interaction, conflict, and safety. The game represents the hardships of the Oregon Trail in the 1800s, the player makes decisions that affect game outcomes, the goal of the game, to make it to the trail end, is blocked by electronic obstacles like dysentery, and the game makes crossing the Oregon Trail, a risky and life-threatening task, safe for gamers.
“The Oregon Trail” also has the characteristics of mimicry and ludus. The mimicry comes from the imitation of reality in the 1800s; real people had to cross the trail and encountered hardships like lack of resources and dangerous environments. The ludus aspect comes from the clear goal of getting to the end of the trail in Willamette Valley. The game is very structured; the player can only choose which pre-existing decisions to make. In other words, the player cannot choose to turn the wagon around and journey to somewhere like Boston, since the creators did not include that as a decision.
The game was produced as an educational product for a Minnesota eighth grade history class and was then discovered by a larger organization that hired the creator, Don Rawitsch, to continue developing the game. Home computers became more popularized in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, so the majority of players at the beginning of “The Oregon Trail’s” release played from school computers on which the game came pre-installed. The game has since been used primarily as an educational tool; however, the concepts and familiarity behind it have also spawned cultural works such as musicals, comedies, and memes.
Rawitsch 1971, The Oregon Trail, video game, PC, Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium.