Retro Gaming: Has Anyone Ever Beaten Oregon Trail?

You have died of dysentery.

You have died of typhoid.

You have died of snakebite.

If any of those phrases have a particular resonance, you either have insurmountable health problems or you played a lot of Oregon Trail.  Hopefully, it’s the latter.
Developed in 1974 by MECC, the original Oregon Trail was created to teach students about the harsh realities of frontier life.  That’s the textbook definition.  That’s what the developers want you to think.  But anyone that’s ever played Oregon Trail knows the truth: it’s an impossible video game with a simple message — life is hard, you’ll never win, and you’re going to die a horrible death if you do anything involving a Conestoga wagon.
The premise of the game is simple: your family of five travels across America in a covered wagon.  Along the way you encounter bad weather, floods, broken wagon wheels, dead oxen, etc.  You can hunt for food to improve your odds of survival, but nobody survives Oregon Trail.  It’s the Kobayashi Maru of video games.   The unwinnable scenario.

What’s devious is that the game gives you the illusion of choice.  Should you float down the river or take the toll road?  Doesn’t matter.  Either way, you’re screwed.  Even if you survive floating the river, ten seconds down the trail a wagon wheel will fall off and you’ll die of a broken leg.  And who dies of a broken leg?!?  This is the wild west.  Saw it off, replace it with a peg, and move the f*ck on.

And at that point, who even wants to finish the game?  By the time you reach the end of the trail you’ve lost half of your possessions, Jenny has contracted smallpox, Timmy lost his foot, and your wife was mauled by a bear.  The only thing left to do is pray to God that your shotgun still works before you blow your brains out.  What kind of a message is that to send kids?

But let’s be honest: any kid that played Oregon Trail wasn’t playing to win, they were playing for death.  Because every child in America was itching to see the tombstone.  See, when you die in Oregon Trail, a funeral is held for your character, and you’re able to type whatever you want on their headstone.  The possibilities are endless — and usually profane:
While your character may not survive, the legacy of Oregon Trail lives on.  A new generation of gamers has discovered the horror of life on the frontier by playing an updated version of Oregon Trail on mobile gaming devices.  Which means you can finally get rid of that Apple II collecting dust in your attic.  Goodbye, green screen!  Say hello to Steve Jobs for me!  Too soon?

You can even buy “you have died of dysentery” t-shirts.  How awesome is that?
So what say you: did any of you actually survive until the end?  Probably not.  A more appropriate question would be: how did you die?  Or better yet, what little bit of nastiness did you write on your tombstone?

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6 thoughts on “Retro Gaming: Has Anyone Ever Beaten Oregon Trail?

  1. In elementary school there was a summer computer program, I guess for nerdy children like myself, probablly an hour or 2 everyweek. There were stacks of 5inch floppys with different games but for what ever reason I played Oregon Trail over and over. I think eventually I was able to finish in the time span cause I don’t think we could save a game. There was a newer version on win3.0, I remember playing the hell out of too. My favorite part was shooting like 2000 pounds of animal meat every time but only ever being able to carry back 100.

    • Floppy disks are something I haven’t thought about in years. Glad you enjoyed the article. Thank you for reading and commenting. My favorite part was the hunting too. I would play as the banker so I could afford more ammo. I think every kid figured out pretty quick that all you had to do was spam the space bar and arrow keys to become a swirling vortex of death. It was awesome. Still my favorite version of the game.

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