Thursday, August 12, 2010

App O' The Mornin': Oregon Trail

If you ever wonder what a kid up grew up in the 1980s might find nostalgic, then wonder no more. Just Google the phrase "You have died of dysentery," and you have your answer. (Also: Smurfs, GI Joe, and that show set in a high-school; you remember the one.)

Oregon Trail was the first computer gaming experience for many kids in 1980s, because someone managed to convince the schools that it was this new thing called "edutainement": it's edumacation, but in an entertaining way! Thus, they became the first generation to use computer technology for dubious educational purposes.

Of course, those who scoff at its educational qualities probably only remember what "dysentery" is because they played this. In truth, there is an element of history and decision-making that made it more informative than most games, and those qualities were improved as the original was enhanced and expanded over the years.

Believe it or not, Oregon Trail is almost 40 years old. Although most gamers of a certain age are probably familiar with the Apple, Commodore, or PC versions, the original game was created back in 1971. It’s been reinvented for new systems ever since, without losing any of its quirky charm or educational value.

The App updating of this classic has captured all of its strange humor and educational content. Gameplay breaks down into a few simple categories: setting a pace for your travel, managing food stores, making decisions about when to stop or who to help along the way, and completing various mini-games such as hunting or fishing.

If you go too fast, and little Mary might break a leg or the wagon may lose a wheel. Go too slow, and you might run out of food. Do you let that rather scruffy-looking old-timer hitch a ride, or pass him by? At certain points, kids can learn a bit about the land and how people survive, or stop to talk with a young Abraham Lincoln. And, yes, the family can still get dysentery.

This isn't just a retro blast for Millennials. Any kid, and most adults, will find this entertaining.


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