You have died of dysentery.
Those five words haunted most every child in grade-school in the mid-1980s and ’90s who played the popular computer game “The Oregon Trail.”
The game was a staple in elementary school classrooms and blazed a path for the use of video games as educational tools. Due to its widespread popularity, “The Oregon Trail” is now being inducted into the World Video Game Hall of Fame.
What most people don’t know is that the game was developed in Minnesota.
In 1971, three student teachers in Minnesota created the game to help their students learn American history. The Minnesota Educational Computer Consortium developed a version to distribute to schools, first in Minnesota and then all over the United States.
The mission was simple: Players would assume the role of wagon leader and guide a group of settlers through the pioneer landscape of 19th-century America. You’d hunt bison, shoot rabbits, ford rivers and pick up other settlers while making your way from Missouri to Oregon. Everything would be going swell until members of your party began to contract painful diseases. While you could easily recover from diphtheria, an outbreak of dysentery was almost always a death sentence.
“The Oregon Trail is perhaps the oldest continuously available video game ever made, but more importantly, it pioneered a blend of learning and play that showcases the valuable contribution games can make to education,” said Jon-Paul Dyson, director of the Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games.
The game has appeared on every major computing platform since, including smartphones. Users in search of a bit of nostalgia can even head out on the Oregon Trail via their computer’s browser, thanks to a collection of more than 2,300 MS-DOS computer programs and games that was made available for free on the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library of digital content and programs. (archive.org/details/msdos_Oregon_Trail_The_1990)
“Space Invaders,” “Grand Theft Auto III,” ”Sonic the Hedgehog,” ”The Legend of Zelda” and “The Sims” also were inducted in the hall of fame.