With Facebook’s much buzzed-about Oregon Trail game to be released shortly, let’s take a second to discuss the excitement surrounding the re-release of everyone’s most vividly remembered educational video game about sh*tting yourself to death.
For the past ten to fifteen years, any time the game “Oregon Trail” has come up in a conversation, my friends and I immediately launch into nostalgic musings about dysentery, throwing away 3700 pounds of buffalo meat, and naming characters “BUTTHEAD” so when they die the school computer informs me that BUTTHEAD HAS DIED. Oregon Trail was an absolutely irremovable piece of my educational upbringing, and to this day remains a guaranteed instant bonding experience between myself and anyone born within 5 years of me, simply with the mere mention of a banker dying of cholera (which comes up in casual conversation all the time.)
Sometimes, however, overwhelming positive nostalgia on a subject causes us to forget that the thing itself was, in an objective sense, pretty much just terrible. Which is totally fine – just because a thing is stupid doesn’t mean that we were wrong for liking it as kids or are wrong now for remembering it with genuinely loving reflection – but when Facebook is set to release an Oregon Trail game, and that game is a loose adaptation of the original that includes purchaseable in-game upgrades, and hordes of internetters my age are giving themselves whooping cough with excitement, now’s the time to remind ourselves of a truth that our collective memories have clearly obscured: Oregon Trail was a terrible, terrible video game.
My friend Jeff Rubin perfectly summed up the game in this Tweet:
Truth! So what gives me, Blogger McWhinerson, such an advanced perspective? Let me explain:
I was a huge fan of playing Oregon Trail in class. SO BIG A FAN, in fact, that I forced my mom to actually buy me the game so I could continue playing it at home. Once the initial rush wore off — I can play for forty-one minutes without anyone telling me to stop! — the absolute inanity of this acquisition quickly revealed itself to me, even to my feeble video-game-obsessed whatever-year-old brain.
When I was playing the game in class, I was playing it instead of doing school. When I was playing the game at home, I was playing it instead of playing one of my 4,000 far more entertaining Nintendo games (well, 3,999 better games, Hydlide was unplayable), or playing with my 8 billion action figures, or if I felt so daring, going outside. When you’re ranking Oregon Trail against other post-1980 video games, it not only doesn’t stack up, it practically makes you embarrassed for ever having derived enjoyment from it. Anyone who’s ever purchased the He-Man DVD set knows this feeling.
First off, Oregon Trail is way too easy. 98% of the game was text-based randomness, and the only two action-based segments in the game — hunting, and the “going down the rapids” raft ending (in the Apple II version) — were insultingly easy to anyone who’s ever hopped over the first Goomba in Mario 1. The raft part was practically in slow motion, to the point where you’d have to deliberately go out of your way to die on it; frickin’ calculator games took more skill to beat. And this was back before graphing calculators even existed — literally the only calculator game was typing “BOOBIES” upside down, and that was tougher than beating Oregon Trail.
Secondly, there’s only like, nine things that can happen in the entire game. Once you’ve beaten it as every profession (which isn’t hard once you realize that you don’t need to buy food, just get bullets and hunt and instantly have enough food for the entire game), and intentionally killed yourself with every possible ailment (“Snakebite! Sweet”), there’s absolutely no conceivable excuse for wasting more time on it. The only excitement I ever got from playing Oregon Trail at home was naming a character “Damon” after my friend with a broken leg and rooting for him to get a broken leg in the game. That, and graduating BUTTHEAD to ASSHOLE.
Third, you can already play Oregon Trail online for free. Or if you have an emulator or a Wii or just own old systems, you can play equivalently nostalgia-inducing games that are way better — the Mario games, the Zelda games, the Castlevanias, the Mega Mans, nearly every 80s arcade game — with about the same amount of cost and effort.
I’m not saying don’t check out the new Facebook Oregon Trail game when it comes out, I just figured that with the recent explosion of “OMG! Oregon Trail’s back, BABY!!!” comments (from VinceVaughnQuotes.gov), a call to sanity on the nostalgic deification of Oregon Trail was in order. It’s a game we all loved and continue to love reminiscing about, which is great, but let’s not forget exactly why that’s the case: Oregon Trail was always hilariously bad.