The Story of the Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail, which is considered by many to be the finest achievement in educational video games, and certainly entertained me for thousands and thousands of hours as a kid, started out as a role-playing board game, not unlike Dungeons and Dragons, that was created by three Minnesota college students nearly 40 years ago.

A recent frenzy of nostalgia over the game has yielded everything from popular T-shirts (“You have died of dysentery”) to band tour promotions (“Fall Out Boy Trail”) to humorous references on popular websites (“Digg has broken an axle”).

“It’s hard to think of another game that endured for so long and yet has still been so successful,” says Jon-Paul Dyson, director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong. “For generations of computer users, it was their introduction to gaming, and to computer use itself.”

After passing through a few different hands, the brand is now owned by the Learning Company, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In 2008, an iPhone app based on the game was created. It has been downloaded about 2.9 million times.

And now the world’s most popular educational game is coming to the world’s most popular social network. Learning Company president Tony Bordon recently announced that aFacebook game based on Oregon Trail will debut in early February. He’s also received inquiries from movie and television show producers.

I’m having nightmares about having to ford that river right now.


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