The Oregon Trail (video game)

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The Oregon Trail
The Oregon Trail cover.jpg
DOS Cover art
Developer(s) MECC
Publisher(s) Brøderbund
The Learning Company
Platform(s) Android; Apple II, iOS, Macintosh; BlackBerry; Commodore 64; DOS; Facebook; Java ME; Nintendo DSi, Nintendo 3DS, Wii; Windows, Mobile, Phone 7
Release date(s) December 3, 1971
Genre(s) Simulation
Screenshot from the Apple II version

The Oregon Trail is a computer game originally developed by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger in 1971 and produced by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1974. The original game was designed to teach school children about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. The player assumes the role of a wagon leader guiding his or her party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley on the Oregon Trail via a covered wagon in 1848. The game is the first entry in the Oregon Trail series of games, and has since been released in many editions by various developers and publishers who have acquired rights to it, as well as inspiring a number of spinoffs (such as The Yukon Trail and The Amazon Trail) and the parody The Organ Trail.

The Oregon Trail was extremely successful, selling over 65 million copies,[1] after ten iterations over forty years.[2] It was included in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.[3] It was a hallmark in elementary schools worldwide from the mid-1980s to mid-2000s, as school computers came bundled with the game.


In 1971 Don Rawitsch, a senior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, taught an 8th grade history class as a student teacher.[4][5] He used HP Time-Shared BASIC running on an HP 2100 minicomputer to write a computer program to help teach the subject.[6] Rawitsch recruited two friends and fellow student teachers, Paul Dillenberger and Bill Heinemann, to help.[7]

The Oregon Trail debuted to Rawitsch's class on December 3, 1971. Despite bugs, the game was immediately popular, and he made it available to others on Minneapolis Public Schools' time-sharing service. When the next semester ended, Rawitsch deleted the program, but he printed out a copy of the source code.[7]


In 1974 the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), a state-funded organization that developed educational software for the classroom, hired Rawitsch. He rebuilt the game, adding events and consequences for choices based on the actual historical probabilities for what happened to travelers on the trail at each location in the game. He based much of the options in the game on historical narratives of people on the trail that he had read. Rawitsch uploaded The Oregon Trail into the organization's time-sharing network, where it could be accessed by schools across Minnesota. The game became one of the network's most popular programs, with thousands of players monthly.[7][8]

Rawitsch published the source code of The Oregon Trail, written in BASIC 3.1 for the CDC Cyber 70/73-26, in Creative Computing's May–June 1978 issue.[9] That year MECC began encouraging schools to adopt the Apple II microcomputer.[7] John Cook adapted the game for the Apple II, and it appeared on A.P.P.L.E.'s PDS Disk series #108. A further version called Oregon Trail 2 was adapted in June, 1978 by J.P. O'Malley. The game was further released as part of MECC's Elementary series, on Elementary Volume 6 in 1980. The game was titled simply Oregon, and featured minimal graphics. It proved so popular that it was re-released as a standalone game, with substantially improved graphics, in 1985.

By 1995 The Oregon Trail comprised about one-third of MECC's $30 million in annual revenue.[10] An updated version, Oregon Trail Deluxe, was released for DOS and Macintosh in 1992, as well as Windows in 1993 (under the title of simply The Oregon Trail Version 1.2)[11] followed by Oregon Trail II in 1995,[7] The Oregon Trail 3rd Edition in 1997,[12] and 4th[13] and 5th editions.[14] As of 2011, more than 65 million copies of The Oregon Trail have been sold.[7]




An important aspect of the game was the ability to hunt. Using guns and bullets bought over the course of play, players select the hunt option and hunt wild animals to add to their food reserves. In the original version, there were no graphics and players were timed on how fast they could type "BANG," "WHAM," or "POW," with misspelled words resulting in a failed hunt. In the first full-graphics version, players controlled a little man who could aim a rifle in one of eight directions and fire single shots at animals. In later versions, players hunted with a cross-hair controlled by the mouse. Bison were the slowest moving targets and yielded the most food, while rabbits and squirrels were fast and offered very small amounts of food. Deer (eastern section) and elk (western section) were in the middle in terms of speed, size, and food yield; bears were between bison and deer in all three properties. While the amount of wild game shot during a hunting excursion is limited by only the player's supply of bullets, the maximum amount of meat that can be carried back to the wagon is 100 pounds in early versions of the game. In later versions, as long as there were at least two living members of the wagon party, 200 pounds could be carried back to the wagon. In the later version, players could hunt in different environments. For example, hunting during winter would result in graphics showing grass covered in snow. In later versions, the over-hunting of animals would result in "scarcity" and reduce the amount of animals that appeared later in the game.


Throughout the course of the game, members of the player's party could fall ill and die from various causes, such as measles, snakebite, dysentery, typhoid, cholera, and exhaustion. People could also die from drowning or accidental gunshot wounds. The player's oxen were also subject to illness and death. In the Oregon Trail 2/OT2 for PC and later releases, when a member of the player's party dies, the player has the option of conducting a brief funeral: If the player elects to do so (as the game's instructions and in-game advisers strongly recommend in all but the very harshest environments), the player may write a tombstone epitaph for the party member before continuing down the trail; if the player declines to hold a funeral, the party suffers a severe blow to morale.


At the conclusion of the journey, a player's score is determined in two stages. In the first stage, the program awards a "raw" or unscaled number of points for each remaining family member (weighted by party health), each remaining possession (weighted by type), and remaining cash on hand (one point per dollar). In the second stage, the program multiplies this raw score by a "degree of difficulty" scalar corresponding to the party's initial level of resources (determined in-game by the profession of the party's leader); for example, in the Apple IIe game, a banker starting with $1600.00 receives no bonus, the final score of a carpenter starting with $800.00 is doubled, and the final score of a farmer starting with $400.00 is tripled.


The game was popular among elementary school students worldwide from the mid-1980s to mid-2000s, as many computers came bundled with the game. MECC followed up on the success of The Oregon Trail with similar titles such as The Yukon Trail and The Amazon Trail.[15] David H. Ahl published Westward Ho!, set on the Oregon Trail in 1847, as a type-in game in 1986.[16]

The phrase "You have died of dysentery" has been popularized on T-shirts[7] and other promotional merchandise.

Another popular phrase from the game is "Here lies andy; peperony and chease," which is a player-generated epitaph featured on an in-game tombstone saved to a frequently pirated copy of the game disk,[17] and likely a direct reference to a popular Tombstone pizza television commercial from the 1990s.

In 2007, Thule corporation created Thule Trail as a promotional tool. It changed the starting location to Chicago, Illinois, the destination to the "Atlantis Music Festival" in Santa Barbara, California, wildlife to snacks, and made other modern adjustments. In 2008, the band Fall Out Boy released a similarly altered version of the game, "Fall Out Boy Trail," to promote the release of their album Folie à Deux.

The game resurfaced in 2008 when Gameloft created an updated version for cell phones.[18][19][7] A new release for the iPhone and iPod Touch is also available from Gameloft.[20] The game went live in the iTunes App Store on March 11, 2009.[21] On January 7, 2010, the Palm webOS version was released to the Palm App Catalog. On November 11, 2010, an Xbox Live version was released on Windows Phone 7.

The cell phone version of the game is similar to the original, but varies in that the player can choose one of three different wagons: A basic wagon, a prairie schooner or a Conestoga wagon. The player can also choose to become a banker, a carpenter, or a farmer, each of which has unique benefits. Unlike the computer version of the game, players in the iPhone and iPod Touch version do not need to buy guns and bullets. The game has received a major update, which had the player using trading and crafting to upgrade their wagon, buy food, and cure ailments.

On February 2, 2011, a new version of the game was released on the social networking site Facebook.[22] This version was removed from Facebook when Blue Fang Games closed.[23]

In 2012, a parody called The Organ Trail was released by the Men Who Wear Many Hats for browsers, iOS, and Android, with the setting changed to human survivors fleeing a zombie apocalypse.[24]

In 2012, it was revealed that the game was part the back-story of Root appearing in the Season 2 episode "Bad Code". Root was the villain of the episode later going on to become one of the main characters in the TV series Person of Interest.

In 2012, the Willamette Heritage Center and the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem, Oregon created Oregon Trail Live as a live-action event.[25] Teams compete as they master 10 challenges on the grounds of the WHC. Challenges are based loosely on the game: hunting for game becomes shooting Nerf guns at college students wearing wigs and cloth antlers, while carrying 200 pounds of meat becomes pulling a 200-pound man up a hill in a child's red wagon while he recites historical meat facts and points out choice cuts. Independence, Missouri is at one end of the grounds and the Willamette Valley is at the other end. The WHC received the 2014 Outstanding Educator Award from the Oregon California Trails Association for this event.

In 2014, a parody musical called The Trail to Oregon! was made by the musical theatre company StarKid Productions, with several references being made towards the game.

In 2015, a 5k fun run held in Oregon City (the end of the route of the Oregon Trail) was modeled after the game with choice points along the route.[26]


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
Metacritic 66/100 [27]
Review scores
Publication Score
GameSpot 3/10 stars (Wii) [28]

The game spawned many remakes, which received average to poor receptions. The Wii version obtained a 3 out of 10 from GameSpot, citing bland graphics, awkward controls and a confusing interface. Despite this, they did state that it could be a good educational tool.[28] The game's iOS remake received a better reception, with a Metacritic score of 66/100.[27] Multiplayer claimed the game was fun at first, but soon went downhill. They gave the game a 65/100.[29]

Polygon described it as one of the most successful games of all time, calling it a cultural icon.[1] IGN (in 2009) described the game as a "fond memory that will not let you down." [30]

In 2015, the World Video Game Hall of Fame selected The Oregon Trail as one of the finalists for its 2015 induction class.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Campbell, Colin (July 31, 2013). "The Oregon Trail was made in just two weeks". Polygon. Future plc. Retrieved October 27, 2014. 
  2. ^ Rosenberg, Eli (January 21, 2011). "Sally Has Diphtheria: Is Oregon Trail the Greatest Video Game of All Time?". Retrieved August 29, 2015. 
  3. ^ Mott, Tony (2010). 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die. Universe Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-7893-2090-2. 
  4. ^ Lipinski, Jed (29 July 2013). "The Legend of The Oregon Trail". mental_floss. mental_floss. Archived from the original on 31 July 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  5. ^ Shea, Jeremy (February 24, 2014). "An Interview With the Teacher-Turned-Developer Behind 'Oregon Trail'". Yester: Then For Now. Retrieved August 29, 2015. 
  6. ^ Veeneman, Dan. "Hewlett-Packard HP 2000 Time Shared BASIC". Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Lussenhop, Jessica (2011-01-19). "Oregon Trail: How three Minnesotans forged its path". City Pages. Archived from the original on 2011-01-23. Retrieved 2011-01-20. 
  8. ^ Grosvenor, Emily (2014-09-25). "Going West: The World of Live Action, Competitive Oregon Trail". The Atlantic. Atlantic Media. Retrieved 2014-09-25. 
  9. ^ Rawitsch, Dan (May–June 1978). "Oregon Trail". Creative Computing. pp. 132–139. Retrieved 22 January 2015. 
  10. ^ Interview with Dale Lafrenz. Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (accessed 1 July 2012)
  11. ^ Oregon Trail Game
  12. ^ The Oregon Trail: 3rd Edition for Windows (1997) - MobyGames
  13. ^ Oregon Trail 4th Edition: Software
  14. ^ The Oregon Trail, 5th Edition: Software
  15. ^ Coventry, Joshua. "Educational computing for the masses". SiliconUser. Archived from the original on 2007-06-28. Retrieved 2007-06-12. [dead link]
  16. ^ Ahl, David H. (1986). "Westward Ho!". David H. Ahl's BASIC Computer Adventures. Microsoft Press. ISBN 0-914845-92-6. 
  17. ^ Stacy Conradt (May 11, 2009). "The Quick 10: The Oregon Trail Computer Game". Mental floss. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  18. ^ Ericson, Tracy. "The Oregon Trail: Contracting dysentery has never been so much fun". PocketGamer. Retrieved October 10, 2008. 
  19. ^ Beidler, Aurae (2008-01-31). "Facebook Oregon Trail Application: Social Networking Website's Version of the Original Educational Game". Suite 101. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  20. ^ Buchanan, Levi (2009-02-25). "Oregon Trail iPhone Hands-On". IGN. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  21. ^ Alaburda, Bob (2009-03-11). "The Oregon Trail Out Now-On". ThePortableGamer. Archived from the original on 2009-03-14. Retrieved 2015-08-29. 
  22. ^ Jackson, A. Diallo (28 January 2011). "Classic games coming to Facebook". Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  23. ^ Osborne, Joe (2011-12-19). "Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail on Facebook will be no more next year". news. Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  24. ^ "Organ Trail". hasproductions. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  25. ^ "Oregon Trail Live". Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  26. ^ "The Oregon Trail Game 5K". 
  27. ^ a b "The Oregon Trail: American Settler". Metacritic. Retrieved October 27, 2014. 
  28. ^ a b Venter, Jason (December 16, 2011). "Oregon Trail Review". GameSpot. Retrieved October 27, 2014. 
  29. ^ Pugliese, Tommaso (December 15, 2011). "The Oregon Trail: Pionieri d’America" (in Italian). Retrieved October 27, 2014. 
  30. ^ Buchanan, Levi (March 5, 2009). "Fond Memories: The Oregon Trail". IGN. Retrieved October 27, 2014. 
  31. ^ Scalzo, John (April 28, 2015). "The Strong announces finalists for the World Video Game Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015". Warp Zoned. Retrieved August 30, 2015. 

External links[edit]