The Origins of ‘Oregon Trail’ [geekRetro]

The first time that my fingers ever touched a computer it was because of Oregon Trail. The best-selling educational game of all time not only entrapped me within the confines of its pioneer glory, but millions upon millions of other adventurous people as well.

[CityPages] FORTY YEARS AND TEN iterations later, the Oregon Trail has sold over 65 million copies worldwide, becoming the most widely distributed educational game of all time. Market research done in 2006 found that almost 45 percent of parents with young children knew Oregon Trail, despite the fact that it largely disappeared from the market in the late ’90s.

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 a Facebook game based on Oregon Trail will debut in early February. He’s also received inquiries from movie and television show producers.


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