Last night I accidentally found myself immersed in a world of computer games. I’m not talking about World of Warcraft or whatever the heck it is you nerdy people are playing these days, I’m talking about REAL computer games; the stuff I grew up on.
I eventually landed on “Oregon Trail”; surely someone out there remembers this game. I remember perilous, bloody fights amongst classmates all for the chance to get 30 minutes of pioneering fun via the one and only computer in the room, the reliable Macintosh SE.
My teachers used to use that computer as a form of bribery, only the really good kids were allowed to play on it. It was loaded with all kinds of great “educational” games like “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”, “Lemonade Stand”, and of course “Oregon Trail” and we would happily pay attention during a math lesson as long as it meant we had a shot at being the lucky computer gamer for the day.
Oregon Trail was always my favorite and I have to be honest, I quite enjoyed playing it last night though it would seem that my motives may have changed since I was a kid. As a kid I remember trying desperately to actually make it to Oregon without killing any of my family members – last night however, I found myself constantly trying to better my record of how quickly I could kill off my entire family. I need help, I already know this.
For those of you who have no clue what Oregon Trail is, (you poor, poor deprived people) it was basically a game where you assume the role of the wagon leader, choose 4 family members, buy things like clothing, food, ammunition, and oxen and set off on the trail to Oregon, starting in Independence, Missouri. Its main design is to illustrate how hard life was back in the 19th century as frontiersmen were making their perilous treks across America. As the wagon leader, you are responsible for getting your entire family safely to the destination, a feat that is far from easy. The trail is dotted with many obstacles and dangers such as snakes, buffalo stampedes, diseases, and robbers. Perhaps the best part of the game is that you get to carry a gun and ammunition with you and when you start running out of food you get to stop and hunt things like rabbits, squirrels (yum!), and buffalo, who wouldn’t enjoy this game? You can probably see just why I was so excited last night when I found myself playing one of my favorite childhood games.
Suddenly I remembered something: Oregon Trail was arguably the most frustrating game ever invented.
Beginning of the game, number in party: 5
Miles left to Oregon: 2000
You start off casually rolling along the trail, listening to the peaceful sound of oxen hooves pitter pattering along the dirt path, breathing in the crisp, clean, unpolluted air when it happens. BAM! The axle on your wagon snaps in half.
You have the option to either fix the axle or wait until another traveler comes around that just might have an extra axle you can trade. Word to the wise, don’t waste your time clicking “fix” because you will always get the message: “You tried your best but you were unable to fix your wagon, you wait 3 days until another traveler comes by to make a trade.”
Once you get the axle replaced, you start back on your journey only to realize that somewhere along the way little Susie has wandered off and gotten herself lost. Darn that Susie! How many times have you told her to stay with the party? You spend 5 days searching for Susie and finally just give up; she will have to walk to Oregon by herself.
Lesson 1: Getting lost = Death.
Number left in party: 4
Miles left to Oregon: 1982
A little ways down the path you come across some bad water and your oxen become ill. You stop to wait for them to feel better and wouldn’t you know it, Jimmy gets bitten by a snake. Since it’s the 1800s, snakebite is an automatic death sentence so you dig your hole and throw Jimmy in before he has the chance to squeal about the pain.
Lesson 2: Snakebite = Instant Death
Number left in party: 3
Miles left to Oregon: 1976
Jimmy is sound and secure inside his hole, don’t pay any attention to the mumbling you hear coming from under the mound of dirt, Jimmy is dead, I promise. As you get closer and closer to your destination, it becomes apparent that you are quickly running out of food. You knew this would happen; your wife, Martha, never has been able to practice portion control. Now it’s time for you to dust off that rifle and try your hand at buffalo hunting. You go out into the woods alone and gain some much needed quiet time, they didn’t have laptops and Gameboys back then and you can only imagine what it would be like to travel 2000 miles with 3 whiny kids and a nagging wife.
As you sit quietly, you hear something behind you rustle. A squirrel! You shoot it and gain 3 pounds of food. Another rustle: rabbit! 5 pounds of food. You start to get a little frustrated until finally you see it, a big, fat, fluffy buffalo. You aim, take a deep breath, shoot, and miss. Darn it! Now the buffalo is running straight at you, If you’ve never seen a buffalo, they are not very friendly when they’re angry and being shot at. You have only one chance, you aim again, pull the trigger and…nothing. You’ve run out of ammo. You run back to the wagon, buffalo close behind, screaming at your family to get their tails in the wagon and thankfully everyone listens and you are able to get away safely. Phew, that was close
Lesson 3: Not having enough ammo = Possible Death
Number left in party: 3
Miles left to Oregon: 1963
After you recover from your experience you come across a fort. You are still short on food since you didn’t have a chance to pick up your squirrel or rabbit as the giant bison was attacking you so you decide to stop in the fort and see if you can buy some supplies. While at the fort you speak to another traveler who tells you something revolutionary like “There are many snakes along the trail, watch out, snakebite is instant death”…gee thanks, wish you would have told me that sooner.
After leaving the fort you come across one of the many rivers that you will need to cross in order to successfully make it to Oregon. You are given the option to purchase a ferry ticket across for fifty cents (very expensive in those days), ford the river (basically just stay hooked up and walk across), or caulk the river and float across, which means you have to put the oxen inside the wagon with you (disaster!). You decide that the river is shallow enough to ford it.
You soon realize you made a very bad decision. As your wagon begins to tip over in the river, all of your clothes, food, and ammo spill out. You also look over just in time to see your beloved wife, Martha, fall out of the wagon and drown. What a shame.
Lesson 4: River Crossing = Death
Number left in party: 2
Miles left to Oregon: 1958
Now it’s just you and Billy. Since Billy has been traumatized by witnessing the deaths of his siblings and mother, you decide to make camp for a few days and rest. Billy goes off into the woods to play and a few hours later you hear a horrible screaming coming from the woods. You get up in time to see Billy being chased by a bear. You managed to save a little ammunition before everything was lost in the river so you load your gun and shoot. You hit the bear square between the eyes; good shot, you and Billy will eat well tonight!
Billy looks back just in time to see the bear fall, dead on its feet. The overwhelming joy he feels of not only surviving a bear attack but having dinner tonight causes Billy to jump up in down in joy. His celebration is short lived when his jumping paired with his frail body causes him to break his leg and die. Remember, it’s the 1800s.
Lesson 5: Broken Leg = Death
Number left in party = 1
Miles left to Oregon: 1956
It’s just you now buckaroo, you best be on your way. It’s starting to get cooler out and you want to make it to Oregon before winter sets in.
The journey from here on out is fairly uneventful, it’s peaceful and you have learned to enjoy the company of Molly and Bruno, your oxen. As the days go on you begin to think that you are going to make it after all. Until one morning when you wake up feeling a little under the weather… It appears you have contracted dysentery (which basically translates into diarrhea until you die). You live for a few days and finally it’s over. You have died from dysentery.
Lesson 6: Dysentery = Death
Number left in party: 0
Miles left to Oregon: 1948
Total miles traveled: 52 (Gosh you suck at this game!)
The benefit to dying along the trail is that you get to posthumously decide what you want written on your tombstone. This is your moment to shine, how do you want the world to remember you? You think about it and finally come up with the best epitaph ever:
“Oregon Trail = Death”