Hunting buffalos and fording rivers make the Oregon Trail an unforgettable game

Cheryl McEvoy

Looking back on our middle school years, we all recall the burning question that plagued us: ford the river or wait for the ferry? For many, “The Oregon Trail,” “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and other computer games were childhood staples, played on computers both at home and school. Despite their rudimentary graphics and sound effects, the classic software programs still hold a place in our hearts. Therefore, it is only proper to pay homage to the games of our youth and the life lessons they taught us.

One rarely encounters a college student who never played “The Oregon Trail.” Adventure! Death! Buffalo! What more could a computer game need? When the game loaded, we all became pioneers on a dangerous quest to traverse the unsettled plains and reach the promising Oregon Country. However, a successful trip required several skills and wise decisions, such as selecting an occupation, supplies and month of departure. Was it better to be a doctor leaving in March, so you could cure the sick and arrive before winter or to be a carpenter leaving in October, so you could spend more on supplies to survive the snow?

There was also the chilling decision to make when the textbox popped up to inform you that (gasp!) Betty Lou had diphtheria. Should you rest for five days or take your chances with death? The most popular skill to master, however, was hunting. Villanova’s Facebook group devoted to “The Oregon Trail” cites hunting as the top pastime.

“My favorite part was shooting too much buffalo to carry with me,” sophomore Rob Keller says. Junior Ryan Flynn, who recalls having class time set aside specifically to play the game, said his favorite moment besides the buffalo was the raft ride at the end.

“Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? That was a great game,” junior Matthew DiDomenico says. Exercising detective skills was a favorite activity in middle school. We all aspired to achieve “Super Sleuth” status as we jet-setted around the world in search of clues with the always elusive Carmen, her red trench-coat and matching hat still etched in our minds. Interviewing tourists and compiling background information about a specific stolen treasure or landmark, we built a case against the vile suspect.

Those crafty game creators even slipped in some geography lessons along the way. “Carmen Sandiego” was so popular among elementary and middle schoolers that PBS created a game show based on the software, complete with a Rockapella theme song about the “double-dealing diva with a taste for thievery.”

Students can also mention several other personal favorites. Junior Adam Kessel remembers playing “Doom” and “Mist,” to which friends offered affirmative nods. Thanks to the games of our youth, we have memories of an age before the technological empire of Ipods, DVDs and Playstation 2. And we’ll always know what to do if our wagon breaks an axle.