Games and History – Playing Oregon Trail for homework

This was actually the first time I’ve ever played Oregon Trail myself. The last time I remember was watching my mom or my twin play it. I’ve never really been into video games in any regard other than dress-up games, I am going to be fully honest.

With that caveat, this game is just about my speed.

As mentioned in our reading for this class, I do think this game, especially this iteration of it, does risk trivializing history and simplifying the reality of these events. How can you really accurately portray the difficulties that all these people went through, not just the settlers. Although this game did mention and have a singular Native character, it did not express much more than that settlers were already affecting the environment and the Native populations realized it was unsustainable. I wonder if that’s giving almost too much credit. This game is an excellent steppingstone to try to get kids interested in history, I think. Like if I had actually played this for myself when I was younger, there’s a good possibility that this would have spurred bunch of research surrounding the Oregon Trail, pioneers. Now, because I have grown into a morbid person, I’d be more interested in diseases and circumstances of cannibalism (which is a personal fascination. I did say I was morbid). But because I am playing this as a young adult, I am definitely not learning as much as I might have as a child, so my understanding of the Oregon Trail has not necessarily been expanded. It does make me wonder, though: how did the game developers choose how many people break limbs/ get bitten by snakes/ get typhoid/cholera/dysentery? What were those numbers sourced off of (if they were sourced at all)? Is that just to illustrate the unpredictability of setting out in a wagon in the mid-19th century? To make the game more fun? How common was it for people to make their whole journey only to have it be rather boring instead of what this game portrays?

At any rate, I found the sudden events both frustrating and amusing. It feels silly to watch someone get measles, get better, get a snake bite, get better, before they suffer from exhaustion, and finally die of cholera. Mostly because I gave them goofy names. I was having a hard time taking it seriously.

Three out of my five people survived and made it all the way through, I somehow managed to end with 2092 points, whatever that means. I am curious to see how poorly you can plan to die as fast on the trail as possible…





One response to “Games and History – Playing Oregon Trail for homework”

  1. Jake Seboe Avatar
    Jake Seboe

    I never would’ve thought to introduce Oregon Trail to children as a beginning learning experience. I just imagine teens in the ’90s playing this, rather than younger people. I was also shocked by the sudden events, but I wonder if that’s just how people would’ve handled some of those situations, such as broken bones and snake bites. I believe that getting cholera and dysentery was less sudden and certainly less amusing, though.

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