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Take a trip down memory lane by way of the ‘Oregon Trail’
Axles, ammunition, river crossings, meat, Jesus, sports and education?
By Colin Yuhl
DAILY BRUIN SENIOR STAFF
THE RIVER WAS TOO DEEP TO FORD. YOU LOST:
Two wheels; three oxen; four axles;
Oh no!! Don't leave me, DUDE!
If your elementary school had computers, you probably know exactly what just happened. Failing to ford rivers was just one of the many tragic and carnage-filled disasters that could befall you only in "Oregon Trail," perhaps the greatest educational video game ever created.
Chances are that you, much like myself, popped in that floppy disk countless numbers of times during computer lab time in order to learn about, uh, the Old West or something.
Did it matter to teachers that by far the most entertaining element of the game involved buying ammunition and hunting for food?
Did anyone ever consider the psychological implications of letting an 11-year-old kid take control of the lives of an (albeit fictional) family, and then watching helplessly as most if not all of that party died cruel and unusual deaths. ZELDA died of typhus; MARIO was lost to an Indian raid.
What does "Oregon Trail" have to do with sports, you ask? I'll get to that.
I've always thought that the game itself was geared more toward discovering which of your classmates was a budding sociopath than teaching history.
You could always tell that little Billy was a bit skewed in the noodle when he spent his entire bankroll on ammunition, refused to buy any spare wheels or even clothes, and then watched as his party perished around mile four while he was shooting deer or bears or whatever ugly brown shape those technologically-challenged graphics were trying to depict.
For an unknown, macabre reason, you could kill 2000 pounds of animal, yet you could only carry back a maximum of 200 pounds of food (incidentally, in the totally innocuous form of boxes, as if that somehow ameliorated the wholesale slaughter of the plains buffalo or something).
Then there were kids such as myself, who planned with maximum efficiency. Would I fail fourth grade if I couldn't successfully navigate my party to Oregon? Was my grade in history depending on this?
If you were like me, you chose to be a doctor (so you could cure your daughters of snakebite and/or disease), bought a ton of extra wagon wheels, axles and yokes of oxen. Ha ha, yokes of oxen.
Then, you set a slow, easy pace, and when all was said and done you had indeed conquered the Oregon Trail.
This was, of course, extremely boring, and after beating the game a few times the closet sociopath within me began to emerge, as I set faster and faster paces, bought fewer and fewer goods, hunted needlessly for food, and started giving members of my party inappropriate names.
I went to a Catholic school and, since I was a slightly rebellious youth, you can only imagine my secret glee at seeing this: JESUS has died of dysentery. Cue the sad music. Doo...doo...doo.
Again, what does this have to do with sports? Hold on a sec.
No other game has even come close to having the same impact on a generation that grew up with the Apple II.
Nowadays kids get their fancy 3-D graphics and their stereo sound. We had blocks of colors and 4-bit mono.
If you showed your little siblings this game, they would probably laugh at you, beat it in five minutes, and go back to playing their PlayStation or Xbox or "World of Warcraft."
They have no respect for the fact that you're atop the "List of Legends," or that you even survived as a teacher.
But for us, it was awesome, and by far the best 30 minutes you could possibly spend in school. Honestly, was there any other reason to attend elementary school?
Perhaps the only thing better was chasing girls around school and tagging them so they would have to kiss you. (As an aside, at my school it was always the girls who instigated this chasing game.)
So, what does "Oregon Trail" have in common with sports? The answer: nothing.
What did it have to do with education? Yeah, same.
I suppose hunting is technically a sport, though if you ask me it's rigged in favor of the guy with the gun. I also suppose "Oregon Trail" had some oblique educational value.
Perhaps one day they'll turn the game into a reality TV show, and contestants will undergo the same hardships as people used to back in 18-something something ... nevermind about that oblique educational value.
Now if you'll excuse me, JESUS (as a carpenter he can, you know, fix things), MARIO, ZELDA, MEGAMAN, and DUDE are going barebones at a grueling pace.
Let's see how far they get until thieves steal their clothes and they have to march through the winter snow naked.