Originally posted on The Inquisitive Loon
The Oregon Trail, for those of you who grew up without this video-game gem, was an APPLE II and Dos simulation released in the early 1970′s by MECC. It was intended to be a learning tool–to educate students about the difficulties faced by pioneers of the 1850′s. Difficulties like harsh weather conditions along the trail, famine, disease, and the apocalyptic hellscape that was the Pacific Northwest. Modern textbooks would have you believe the Northwest looked like this:
It was only by good fortune that Oregon Trail came along to teach us the error of our perceptions. By the mid 80′s this educational wonder was installed in grade schools across America. Because of this, we now know what the early Pacific Northwest really looked like.
Below I have listed a few facts I learned about the Oregon Trail, by playing through the game three times straight in a single sitting. You can join me on this nostalgia-driven walkabout by playing it for free at the official website.
Fact 1) 90% of early settlers were bankers.
At the beginning of the game we’re allowed to choose our character’s profession. You can be a carpenter, a farmer, or a banker. The benefit of being a banker is that you start with significantly more money. 1,600 buck to be exact. Which may seem like a lot to ride into Oregon with, until you realize that Portland Oregon won’t become the strip-club capital of American for another hundred-and-fifty years. So that’s just extra cod-pieces and wagon axles.
The benefits of starting as a carpenter or farmer are exactly diddly-squat. You simply have less money than the banker. And we can assume that your character has given up a successful farming or carpentry business back home to travel into hell’s anus. The game claims that farmers and carpenters accrue more points upon completing the trek, which will be some comfort when your point-scoring skull is being pecked clean by buzzards.
Because of this I can only assume that a player would pick something other than banker because they mis-clicked, or they have such a distaste for wealth and success they’d rather hike naked. Hippies.
Fact 2) The survival rate of pilgrims on the trail was approximately 2%.
This comes with a 2% margin of error, so it could have been as low as 0%. Sure textbooks and articles would have you believe settlers stood a 9-in-10 chance of seeing the green forests of Oregon. But after 3 play-throughs of Oregon Trail and 3 total-party-wipes, we can do the math.
Another fact the textbooks have shamelessly led us astray about is that wagons traveled in groups, shared supplies, and circled together at night. Oregon Trail corrects this misconception, by allowing your wagon to journey into the wilderness alone, and only alone, with your small family to keep you company. If your wagon breaks down you can wait for someone to pass by with extra wagon wheels, foodstuffs, or cyanide pills. But overall your family braves the wilderness like a solitary pack, which would make for the worst car trip in history.
It’s no wonder that during my second play, my character “Joe” wandered off alone and broke his arm. After 5 months in a wagon with ‘The Fam”, I’d be ready to throw myself down a mineshaft too.
Fact 3) The bulk commodity carried by early settlers were mountains of bullets.
Another helpful correction Oregon Trail made concerns the wagon loads carried by settlers. I myself suffered under the delusion that pilgrims would have packed warm clothes, food, wagon parts, food, spare bibles, and more food.
In the game Oregon Trail, all you need in order to prosper (until cholera claims you) is a trusty rifle, a can-do attitude, and a psychopathic killer instinct coupled with a total disregard for nature.
Simply enter the “hunting” mini-game during your travels, and let the bullets fly. Squirrels, buffalo, rabbits, deer, other pilgrims (we’re assuming) can be hunted for sport. “Sport” being the only justifiable reason for your banker’s rampage, since you can only carry 90 lbs of food on those slim, girlish shoulders. You could gun-down a menagerie of mother nature’s children, and have the poles, oxen, and schematics for a meat-sled waiting in your rucksack. The game will still limit you to dragging the corpses through the dirt like a little girl with her teddy-bear.
Fact 4) Oregon was settled by death-proof fish people, and is now occupied by copper-thieving meth heads.
Periodically the game will try to convince you to cross a river. Usually by raft, or by “fording” it, which basically means saying “F*** it!” and driving directly into the river like an idiot. Once again Oregon Trail sets us straight on a very important part of settler life. Every river from Missouri to California is really a spiteful water-spirit, which will try to drag you and everyone you love to the murky depths if you step one soggy boot off shore.
During my three consecutive plays of Oregon Trail, crossing a river (or looking at one) would invariably cost me the life of a party member or hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Possibly because my wagon was 90% lead bullets by weight.
Which leads me to the only logical conclusion I can make about modern-day Oregon. It is entirely populated by the great-great grandchildren of the Mariner from Waterworld. Which would also explain why so many people living in large Northwest cities have a strong penchant for stealing scrap metal and shiny objects.