Very few things are as beloved by millennials as Oregon Trail; for many of us, it was an integral part of childhoods, whether we played it in the classroom or — if we were fortunate enough to have been able to hop on the home computing wagon early — at home or at a friend’s house. As such, it’s clear that this web-based, updated version of Oregon Trail is clearly for millennials; not only does it push our nostalgia buttons by using the same format as the classic game of our youth, but moreover, it swaps details like dying of dysentery and breaking a wagon wheel for things like drinking too much kombucha and needing to call roadside assistance. Created by the Oregon Travel Tourism Commission, Travel Oregon: The Game is, in a word, hilarious, as well as a delightful way both to pass the time and research that trip to Oregon you’ve been meaning to take for some time now.
Although it’s largely thought of as a staple of the ‘90s, the original Oregon Trail game actually goes back much further than that; indeed, it’s over 40 years old now. According to a deep dive into the history of the game published in 2011 by City Pages, Don Rawitsch, then a student teacher at Carleton College in Minnesota, originally conceived of what would become Oregon Trail as a board game for his history students in 1971. One of his roommates (none of them remember which one), fellow student teachers Bill Heinemann and Paul Dillenberger, then suggested that the idea would make a great computer program — so together, the trio developed it as a text-based game played on a teletype. The game was played for the very first time on Dec. 3 of that year — and in 1974, the Minnesota Education Computing Consortium (also known as MECC) incorporated a revised version of it into their small but growing library of educational computer programs. It was enormously popular, and the rest, as they say, is… well, you know how it goes.
Like its inspiration, Travel Oregon: The Game is educational; however, instead of teaching players about the hardships experienced by people traveling on the Oregon Trail during the 19th century, it introduces players to everything from contemporary Oregon landmarks to visit to laws one must abide by when traveling in the state, providing links to additional information along the way. And, of course, everything from the graphics to the format ape the early editions of Oregon Trail — just with a few… adjustments.
As always, first, you start by picking your occupation:
I went with Winemaker, although it was a tough choice to pick between that and Yoga Teacher. (I know little to nothing about yoga. Then again, I also don’t know a whole lot about winemaking, but I know more about it than I do about yoga, so… maybe I made the right call. Also, wine is delicious.)
Then, you choose the name of your driver (who, of course, drives a station wagon) and of your four additional party members. I went full millennial and named everyone after Harry Potter characters, because of course I did.
Next, hit up the store for provisions for your journey. You have $1600 to spend, although you don’t necessarily have to shop. I did, because if I learned nothing else from my childhood years, it’s that venturing out on the Oregon Trail with insufficient supplies is a death wish.
...Then again, I’m not really these supplies will help stave off dysentery, but… whatever. More artisanal coffee, please. For the curious, I bought two spare tires, four snow chains, five pairs of dry socks, one gas can, 10 cups of coffee, and five six-packs of craft beer. (I skipped the kombucha because it’s not really my jam, and I didn’t bother with a newspaper because everyone knows millennials get their news from the internet.)
It’s when you choose where specifically in Oregon you’re going to begin that the game’s purpose as a tourism ad emerges. I opted for the Portland region, because I have never been to Oregon before and Portland seemed like a logical place to start. (Throughout your journey, your gameplay options will always include the “Book Your Trip” option; you can stop at any point to do so.)
Because I am a responsible adult, I decided to skip the brewery and head right to Willamette Falls; the Harry Potter crew and I are about to hop in a car, after all. When we reached Willamette Falls, however — 19 miles from downtown Portland — I opted to take in a hockey game… and was somewhat surprised to find that doing so threw me into a mini-game. A very, very millennial mini-game.
It… did not go so well. That’s largely because I wasn’t really sure what the mechanics of the game were until the timer was almost up, but… oh well. Hunting bison, this was not.
As you travel to landmarks like Trillium Lake, Rowena Crest Loops, and Anthony Lakes, you can stop along the way to play more mini-games (including a skiing game that’s basically Ski Free, complete with yeti), chat with locals, build snowpeople, and more. I built a snow necromancer whose backstory involves being orphaned when teenagers destroyed its snowparents and subsequently stepping out for revenge. At one point, this event happened:
Did Neville annoy Luna to death?
I guess so.
Uh… sorry, Luna. It appears that even millennials driving in a station wagon in 2017 are not immune to the harsh realities of traveling in Oregon.
Other misfortunes that befell my crew during my brief trip include:
In true Oregon Trail fashion, pretty much everyone died by the end of the game. Also, it turns out that Harry is a terrible backseat driver. Who knew?
There are other hilarious little Easter eggs to uncover as you play the game; for example, if you check your supplies, you’ll find that you’re missing aggressively millennial things like cheese flavored snack mix and sequined ice skates. I assume this means that you can purchase these items at some point along the route — which I probably would have done had I not been slapped with a hefty fine as I traveled.
Learn from my mistakes: If you get a text message while driving…
…Don’t read it.
A new distracted driving law, House Bill 2597, just took effect in Oregon on Oct. 1; if you use your your phone while you’re driving — either in Travel Oregon: The Game or in real life — you’ll get fined $260 for a first offense (more for subsequent ones) and a violation on your record.
See? It really is an educational program. TIL, right?
Check out Travel Oregon: The Game here. Godspeed, my millennial friends. Godspeed.