It was 48 years ago today that kids first got to play the video game Oregon Trail – the invention of three student teachers from Minnesota who ended up changing video game history without realizing it. Plus: a hospital in San Antonio, Texas marks the holiday season by sending all its December newborns home in red and white hats… and stockings!
Oregon Trail: How three Minnesotans forged its path (City Pages)
Let’s see here, we’ve got food, clothes, oxen, ammunition, wagon tongues… ok, we can start.
It’s Tuesday, December 3rd, and it was 48 years ago today that kids first got to play the video game Oregon Trail.
As was so often the case with the game, these kids were in school and the game was supposed to make learning fun.
The story starts with Don Rawitsch, a student teacher studying at Minnesota’s Carleton College.
To get his students interested in westward expansion, he developed a board game in which students rolled dice to send pioneer families on their way to Oregon.
When Rawitsch talked about the idea with his roommates and fellow student teachers, Bill Heinemann and Paul Dillenberger, they decided it might even better as a computer game, though in the original version the events and actions had to be printed out via a teletype rather than viewed on a computer screen.
And because the technology was limited, the students sometimes had to wait as long as a half hour to take their next turn for traveling west, hunting for food or fording the river.
Nonetheless, it was a hit.
Students not only loved playing the game in class, they would stick around after school to play again and again, no matter how many times they got dysentery.
And that’s how it was for decades afterward, all across the country.
But there’s one more twist in this story.
A few years later, Oregon Trail would be a hit across Minnesota, thanks to an educational software consortium that helped schools in the state with their computer and technology needs.
At one point that consortium, known as MECC, needed to buy smaller computers to replace the large teletypes and mainframes.
They chose to buy 500 computers from a small company run by two guys in California known as Apple Computer.
So if you’ve got an iPad or an iPhone, a little bit of that device was made by possible by my generation’s obsession with getting our oxen to the Willamette Valley before the snow came back and our food ran out.
In December, as the holidays approach, I get sappier and sappier, and I’m giving you the heads-up now.
Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio, Texas is marking the season by sending all its December newborns home in what else- red and white hats and little stockings.
They do not send them down chimneys, though.