At the roots of serious games: The Oregon Trail

Developer: MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium)

Genre: Simulation/Management

Educational purpose: History

Target audience: grades 5+

H&H taxonomy class: Historical Reconstruction

Release datesmany editions of the game have been released from 1971 (original version) to 2012 (Windows Phone version)

Platforms: Android; Apple II, iOS, Macintosh; BlackBerry; Commodore 64; DOS; Facebook; Java ME; Nintendo DSi, Nintendo 3DS, Wii; Windows, Mobile, Phone 7

Web:

Let us take a step back in the history of video games, to 1971. Three students teachers (Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger) at the Carlton College, Minnesota decide to make a videogame to teach the history of the pioneers which took the Oregon Trail, from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Initially conceived as a text-only adventure, it has been enriched with graphics in the subsequent releases.

The player takes the role of a wagon leader guiding a group of settlers; the wagon leader’s job influences the initial amount of money and the game difficulty: the possible choices are banker, carpenter or farmer. The player should also choose the month of departure, between March and August: it is very important to reach the final destination before the winter starts, when the chances of survival would be really low.

His task is to manage the available resources, like food and money, in order to keep all the group members alive and healthy; hunting is possible too, and is the most popular gameplay element: the player has to type quickly the word “BANG” in order to shoot the prey.

During the trail, a lot of accidents may happen, like taking a disease, being robbed, or being attacked by wild animals. The members of the group may eventually die if ill, injured or simply too tired; on the other hand, other travelers may join along the road.

Besides being considered one of the first serious games ever made, it has been also a great commercial success, with 65 million copies sold among all the supported platforms.

The new 40th anniversary edition for Nintendo Wii and 3DS features a more action-oriented approach, where it is required to actually ride the wagon along the road with the game controller, and to engage in several mini-games, including fishing and hunting for gold.

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