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The story behind Oregon Trail
August 1, 2013 9:02 AM   Subscribe


 
*dies of dysentery*
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:03 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


*dies of dysentery*

here lies
skycrashesdown

peperony and chease
posted by Copronymus at 9:08 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


It wasn’t long before the kids found ways to exploit the program’s bugs. Spending a negative amount of money on supplies, for example, increased your cash flow.


I can't quite tell you why this fact, among all of them, fills me with joy, but it does. I guess it has something to do with the fact that people were looking for cheat codes before I was born and how that was something I would have tried on the Apple II version of Oregon Trail 10-15 years later. Some weird nerdy circle of life or something.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:11 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember playing Oregon Trail on a Commdore PET 4032 with a tape drive, none of those fancy-schmancy disk drives for us, no sir. I was wearing an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time....
posted by entropicamericana at 9:16 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


the kids who previously had no interest in history knew a little more about the geography of the Western U.S. and the brutal realities facing 19th-century pioneers.

Other than dying of dysentery and "it's awesome to be a banker and have a lot of money"?
posted by jeather at 9:17 AM on August 1, 2013


I played Oregon Trail on my school's Apple IIs, and to this day those ubiquitous "You have died of dysentery" t-shirts make me giggle like a lunatic. Great story, thanks for posting it!
posted by 1adam12 at 9:18 AM on August 1, 2013


When I was in 6th grade, the teachers discovered lots of dirty words on the tombstones littering the trailside. Things like "Here lies dickhead," I guess. They decided my computer class partner, Matt, and I were responsible and told us we had to go through all the machines and clear out the dirty tombstones. How we were supposed to do this was unclear, but eventually cooler heads prevailed and we were able to convince them we were not responsible. (I know I wasn't responsible, but I honestly wouldn't put it past Matt to have done on a day I was absent.)

Anyway, Matt and I prefered Logo anyway. We could make that turtle do way cooler shit than anyone else in class.
posted by etc. at 9:18 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The guy in the middle of the screenshot from the article....that is John C Reilly right?
posted by ian1977 at 9:19 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


(1) BUY AMMO
(2) HUNT FOR FOOD

I didn't realize there was an actual game beyond that for years.
posted by resurrexit at 9:21 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wow! I had no idea how much of my childhood knowledge base was derived from the works of the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium. Seriously, I learned more from their games than I did from any elementary school teacher (except you, Mr. Noonan! thanks for lending me your Monkees LPs and helping me gain a more nuanced understanding of power pop!).

The first time I set eyes upon a computer was in 1993. The school I had been plunked into at mid-year was lucky enough to have a pristine pair of Apple ][ terminals, which were loaded up with all manner of Munchers, Lemonade Stand, Odell Lake, and of course, The Oregon Trail.

I remember marveling over it for hours, thrilling over the fact that I could name my group of travelers after The Beatles. I always caulked the wagon and floated across rivers because the ferry was expensive, even though doing so sometimes resulted in my beloved Ringo meeting a watery grave, and steadfastly refused to hunt bear or bison even when I was out of food because most of the e-meat would go to waste. Solemnly mourned if my faithful oxen perished. Never understood why or how someone could die of a goddamn broken leg. I was nothing if not an exceedingly serious little kid, and angrily called out any classmates who did not hold funerals or pen pithy but heartfelt tombstone tributes for their fallen digital comrades.

Is there a doctor in the house? Paul has cholera.
posted by divined by radio at 9:31 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


My dad's friend had an Apple II in the late 80's, and I definitely abused his hospitality by playing Oregon Trail on his computer for days at a time. And I didn't mess around; when Fartface McButtnugget died of dysentery, I took that shit personal.

THERE'S AN IPHONE VERSION?! Of course there is. I know what I'll be doing tonight.
posted by KGMoney at 9:38 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


[changed link to the non-mobile version]
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 AM on August 1, 2013


I am of the right age to have played Oregon Trail but I never really did. There were much more actions games circulating around the school on floppies.

However I have gotten a fair amount of amusement out of So Long Oregon!, which turns the Trail into an insane little action game. Is only flaw is that you don't get to name your family. I was really looking forwards to seeing little Poopsmith die of disentry.
posted by egypturnash at 9:47 AM on August 1, 2013


when Fartface McButtnugget died of dysentery, I took that shit personal

So it was you! Look, I'm a forgive-and-forget kinda guy, but Matt is the type to hold a grudge. (At least in 6th grade he was.)
posted by etc. at 9:49 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This was every game of Oregon Trail when I was a kid:

Kid next to me in the computer lab: "FORD THE FUCKING RIVER DON'T BE A PUSSY!!!"
Me caving to aggressive peer pressure: "ok"

Everyone in your party has died and you have lost all your stuff.

These days I will not ford that fucking river unless it's my idea to do so.
posted by basicchannel at 9:51 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I grew up in the Willamette Valley, where all those settlers were going. As a kid I always wondered what was so great about Here that all those people would put so much effort into the journey from There.

learning about the western migration in school actually made it more of a mystery, not less
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:52 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


previously. Oddly enough the first comment is exactly the same.
posted by exogenous at 9:57 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


He tallied the ways people died, and he took note of how Native Americans, contrary to popular belief, were actually quite generous with survival tips, letting settlers know whether it was safe to cross a river, for example.

Hell, do you really want those people sticking around with their dysentery and shooting up all your wildlife?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:58 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kid next to me in the computer lab: "FORD THE FUCKING RIVER DON'T BE A PUSSY!!!"
Me caving to aggressive peer pressure: "ok"

Everyone in your party has died and you have lost all your stuff.

These days I will not ford that fucking river unless it's my idea to do so.


It is possible to win while fording every river, it just takes you until the end of December and almost everyone dies.
posted by Copronymus at 10:02 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


From the article: In the early 1970s, PCs were extremely rare

A bit of an understatement there.
posted by octothorpe at 10:13 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had Amazon trail, where you could die in novel ways such as beri-beri or headhunters. Fishing was the best part.
posted by florencetnoa at 10:16 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oddly, I get this feeling that, similarly to the Final Fantasy series, the further it progresses technically, the worse it becomes.

Maybe it's just PTSD, but when I saw that last screen shot from the most recent version, it filled me with horrific visions of FF7, when Nomura took over as character designer, all the characters became vapid cliches and racial stereotypes that looked like they just walked out of a Kabukicho host club, and the game became completely about spectacle (ZOMG MOTORCYCLE RACE!!! ZOMG SNOBARDIN!@!@?@11) instead of plot.

Yes, I am the kind of person who rolled his eyes at Aerith's death.

Give me command line or give me death. Or dysentery. Same thing.
posted by GoingToShopping at 10:18 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aw, I remember the Apple ][ version of Oregon Trail. My Minnesota elementary school got the MECC computers in 1983 and we were taught to type using laminated keyboard layouts on our desks before being allowed to use them. The height of cool was snagging one of the rare orange monochrome monitors instead of a boring green or white one.

tl;dr: go fetch my cane, youngun, while I show you how this is done.

(Although I always liked Gertrude's Treasures better. RIP, MECC.)
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:21 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nice article!

But the artist that produced the faux screenshots clearly betrays a knowledge of Apple ][ hires graphics, depicting several adjacent orange and green pixels (and also blue + green) which is only possible when pixels occur on a byte boundary, since the high bit selects green/magenta vs orange/blue for that byte -- which includes 3 or 4 adjacent color pixels. Never mind the other fringe effects.

(Sorry, I rarely get the chance to be pedantic about this stuff so I need to take full advantage of the opportunity.)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:34 AM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


//Spending a negative amount of money on supplies, for example, increased your cash flow.//

In 1984 I wrote a blackjack program for my final project in my BASIC class in my junior year of high school. I got a 99 because I didn't account for negative betting and the teacher could bet his entire bank, purposely bust, and double his money.
posted by COD at 10:45 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Played it in my BASIC class in 1978. The school only had 2 dumb terminals -- you had to dial in to the county's mainframe to actually do any computing. Only one terminal had a video display.
Damn I learned to type BANG fast.
posted by JanetLand at 11:02 AM on August 1, 2013


The guy in the middle of the screenshot from the article....that is John C Reilly right?

Yeah, but he's just shadowing the actual Oregon Trail characters as research for his future role as Wreck-It Ralph.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:03 AM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Summary of my experience playing Oregon Trail:

Just let me shoot wolves. C'mon, let's get to the wolves. Get to the wolves!
posted by MoonOrb at 11:09 AM on August 1, 2013


previously. Oddly enough the first comment is exactly the same.

Amazing parallels between the two articles as well.
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:12 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always named my characters after my friends, and they did too, and then we'd inform each other when our namesakes died, which probably happened while the player was off shooting rectangles with legs.
posted by jenlovesponies at 11:18 AM on August 1, 2013


*dies from dysentery*

(Gotta keep up appearances.)
posted by kmz at 11:19 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


For some reason, the computer rooms back then always had this distinctive smell. It was like part ozone and part plastic offgassing. I guess it was because computers were still rare and special, and they always kept them in one small room (or a trailer) that normally had its door and windows closed or something. Anyway, whatever that smell was, just the mere mention of this game makes me recall it.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:25 AM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


A couple years ago my wife and I found an emulator for Oregon Trail and played it on our modern computer. It worked fine, and we didn't notice any differences... until it came time for hunting, and the clock speed differences kicked in. The deer sprinted across the screen, and those white streaks? Those were the rabbits. We howled with laughter and wasted a lot of bullets trying to hit anything. And then the going down the river option turned into an aquatic version of Crazy Taxi. It ess more fun than most modern video games.
posted by happyroach at 11:33 AM on August 1, 2013




Super Amazing Wagon Adventure handles rivers differently.
posted by squinty at 1:50 PM on August 1, 2013


“We’re in awe of the effect The Oregon Trail has had on so many people’s lives,” Dillenberger adds. “How could we have any regrets?”

I would. I would have regrets.
posted by camdan at 1:56 PM on August 1, 2013


Oddly, I get this feeling that, similarly to the Final Fantasy series, the further it progresses technically, the worse it becomes.

Did... did I just read Oregon Trail grog.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:31 PM on August 1, 2013


I would. I would have regrets.

How could you not have? Maya has dysentery. I think she's gonna die.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:46 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]






There were a number of other games in the Trail series which I remember fondly. For example, Yukon Trail, a game which required playing games of chance with toothless old prospectors in Skagway. And Amazon Trail, in which you could look over there and see a capybara.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:49 PM on August 1, 2013


Oh shit... I JUST GOT IT. Andy, you cheeky little scamp!
posted by GoingToShopping at 8:56 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


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