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Oregon Trail Analysis

Page history last edited by Richard Chen 12 years, 8 months ago

Publisher: MECC

Platform: PC  

Release Date: 1993



“The Oregon Trail is an educational computer game developed by Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger in 1971 and produced by MECC in 1974. The game was inspired by the real-life Oregon Trail and was designed to teach school children about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the trail. The player assumes the role of a wagon leader guiding his party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley by way of the Oregon Trail via a Conestoga wagon in 1848.” – Wikipedia


“Never before had a game based on the concept of education featured such levels of replay value and enjoyable gameplay. And never had they been presented to such an extent that even if the game weren't trying to educate you, you'd still want to play it based solely on its merits as a game. Oregon Trail wasn't the longest, deepest, or most thrilling of educational games, but it helped set a precedent for what an educational game could be. Namely, it was something that managed to both teach and entertain, and it did both extremely well.”  - Alex Navarro for Gamespot


Game Walkthrough 

Players begin Oregon Trail by naming your party leader and four members of your party.  They then choose one of three professions for your party leader – farmer, carpenter, or banker – each having its own strengths and weaknesses which affect the journey.  Players are then first introduced to the time period and setting of the game.  They are then taken to the General Store to purchase your initial supplies.  Once their supplies are purchased, players then begin their journey in Independence.  Once on the trail, players will experience unique gameplay based on their decisions.  Throughout the game, players will face obstacles such as blizzards and will be forced to weight risks to make decisions which is shown in river crossings.



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Game Objectives 

  • Protect party members throughout the journey
  • Manage supplies and funds
  • Make risk-based decisions on how to continue on the Trail
  • Navigate wagon through rafting sequence
  • Reach end of Oregon Trail
  • Gain points based on number of remaining party members and  supplies


Educational Objectives 

  • Learn about Oregon Trail through visiting landmarks
  • Experiencing simulated lifestyle on the Trail
  • Gain knowledge of obstacles pioneers faced while traveling on the Trail


Motivational Elements      

The main reason for players to replay Oregon Trail is to test different options and choices.  Instead using the conventional method of choosing difficulty levels, the game provides many options from choosing a profession to month that you begin your journey.  Players are motivated to test different scenarios and challenge themselves to complete the Trail using more difficult starting options.  Players can play through different decisions and scenarios, while also facing new events, such as blizzards and robberies, which make each playing experience unique.  Players are also reminded of their past journeys through elements such as tombstones, to indicate where their past journeys have failed, and the Top 10 list based on the number of points you receive at the end of the game. 


Educational Outcomes  

Oregon Trail primarily fails in its main educational objective of teaching players about the historical Oregon Trail.  Players can easily play through the game without reading any of the historical context or landmarks.  Players would have the same gameplay experience if the game were set in a fictional time period and setting.  


Although the historical elements of the game are not always obvious, Oregon Trail uses its strong entertainment and replay elements to teach players about history as players gain factual knowledge and understanding through experiencing the journey of traveling on the Oregon Trail.  For example, players may remember a particular landmark because one of their party members died at the location.  Through experiencing the virtual Oregon Trail, the game may garner enough interest in players to learn more about the historical Oregon Trail, comparing their journey to the actual experience of settlers on the Oregon Trail.  At the very least, players will change their attitudes towards the historical subject, as the game makes learning about a historical event interactive and interesting.  


Beyond the historical elements of the game, players gain conceptual and procedural knowledge though management of their supplies.  Conceptually, through decisions to buy, sell, and trade supplies, players understand how planning can affect later events and decisions.  Procedurally, players apply supply management skills when deciding how to ration food and clothes, which helps in understanding the importance of maximizing resources when faced with limiting situations.  Players experience learning through trial and error, as they improve on past journeys where they’re party has died.  Players also gain a better understanding of risk management as they must weigh options and make decisions in order to pass obstacles, such as rivers, throughout the tame.


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