I’ve spoken about educational games before, and this is one of the big ones, The Oregon Trail. Most people in my generation (or close to it) played this in school, on the Apple IIe or IIgs in my case, and it was one of the first ‘edutainment’ games I played that was actually fun.
First, read this article about how The Oregon Trail came about. It’s a very well put together story that covers the history of MECC, including some infographics and timelines. Great look at how things worked in the early days of the software industry (including a cameo from the Steves at Apple). Check this, for example:
For the next two weeks, Dillenberger and Heinemann spent each night wedged into a tiny computer office—a former janitor’s closet at Bryant Junior High School—tapping code into a teletype machine. The teletype was a screen-less, electromechanical typewriter connected via telephone to a mainframe computer that could issue prompts, receive commands, and run primitive programs.
How cool is that?
The various versions of the game have varied a little over the years, but the gist is always the same – you are planning your expedition via the trail, with a limited amount of funds to buy supplies and wagon parts. Then you travel the trail, with choices to be made and events happening which require your response – maybe you or your kids get sick, leading to the famous ‘You have died of dysentary’ message. Break an axle and didn’t bring a spare? Better hope you can trade for one. And be careful how you choose to ford that river, choose poorly and you’ve drowned your whole family and lost your food.
As you can probably tell, it was by no means easy, but it had that hook – you wanted to try again, this time I KNOW I’ll pick the right option! Some of my fondest computing memories are from elementary school, playing or watching someone play The Oregon Trail, Carmen Sandiego, Number/Fraction Munchers and more. You mocked your buddy who failed completely at hunting (okay, that’s me), laughed at the ridiculous epitaphs the class clown put on their kid’s tombstone, and the game snuck in some knowledge.
If you want a somewhat recent copy of it, try this link: Oregon Trail 4th Edition, though keep in mind it may take some work to get it running on modern computers, possibly using Dosbox or VirtualPC or something. You can also get a version of it for your iOS or Android smartphones. And you have to see this.