The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Perhaps the greatest educational video game ever.

No, not Carmen San Diego. Wuss.

I'm talking about Oregon Trail. Clay, at, recently interviewed Phillip Bouchard, the creator of the original Oregon Trail. It's fascinating. Here's a tidbit:

9. In retrospect were bullets too cheap in this game and did children gain a false sense of security as to how easy it was to kill a buffalo?

Unfortunately, in real life it was all too easy to kill a buffalo with a rifle. In later decades hunters would kill vast numbers of buffalos and take only the tongues. So I wanted kids to feel a sense of shame for killing too much and then wasting the kill. That was one of the reasons for allowing the player to carry back no more than 200 pounds of meat. I wanted the kids to develop a sense of conservation while playing the game – to say “We should not shoot more meat than we can carry”. Our field testing showed that this lesson was indeed effective.

On the other hand, I wanted to force the player to master certain skills in order to be successful at hunting. Some other versions of The Oregon Trail made hunting too simple and too easy – in my opinion. In my version, you could move the hunter around the screen in 4 directions and fire the gun in 8 directions – using various keys on the keyboard. Furthermore, I put obstacles on the screen that the animals could run behind. So it requires some practice to master the hunting skills and be successful. Consequently, some new players – and most adults – complained that I had made hunting too difficult. But a visit to any school provided ample evidence that legions of kids – mostly boys – had completely mastered the hunting interface.

Finally, the false sense of security was a double-edged sword. After you get into the mountains, game animals become scare, and there aren’t any more buffalo to shoot. It’s easy to starve in the mountains, and each time you go fruitlessly looking for game, you waste of day of travel time.

Read the whole thing. And don't miss the emulator at the end of the interview!

I (that is, the character named Paul) always got Gangrene or Typhoid or some other horrible disease, but I always had a few people make it, and I ruled at the river crossing.

(Hat tip, FARK)


  • It seemed like whenever I tried to ford the river I died, but whenever I caulked the wagon I crossed successfully.

    Personally, I have mostly negative memories of Oregon Trail because at my elementary school there were never enough computers for everyone, so we'd all have to sit around waiting our turn to play, and nothing sucks more than watching someone else play a video game.

    By Blogger MDS, at 6:13 PM  

  • Amen to that.

    That's a shame though, because as bad as it is to watch others play, playing instead of having class was pretty cool. Plus I now know to put chains on my conestoga's wheels before descending a steep hill.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 9:37 PM  

  • i just killed as much as I could, damn the conservation.

    By Blogger E.S.K., at 12:15 AM  

  • Oregon Trail is why I failed 2 consecutive summers of the typing class my mom made me take.
    The first role playing computer game?

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 1:19 AM  

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