The Oregon Trail is a computer game in which the player acts as the protagonistic main character who leads a party of four other non-player characters from Independence, Missouri to Willamette Valley in Oregon. The game itself creates a narrative based on various circumstances present within the game such as illnesses and physical obstacles in addition to responses to player choice. In terms of the primary historical narrative, The Oregon Trail depicts the hardships of settlers enacting in the ideals of Manifest Destiny and the difficulties that ensued while traveling west, albeit in a watered down experience.
Although the there are external factors that could affect the experience of the traveling party, The player pre-determines the occupation of the PC which is allotted the number of funds available for the purchases of resources, and ultimately, the likelihood of the party’s survival. Based on the options of occupations available for the player to choose for their character, the assumption is that the protagonist character is a white male. Throughout history, the role of the “white man” is in tangent with the idea of power and is a constant in the forefront of expressed narratives in comparison to minorities.
In the “Talk” option for the game, the PC “converses” with people who are either traveling or trading at fort posts. Of the NPCs, there were no Latino characters present but there was a white man, a white woman, a white male child, a Native American man, and a black woman. None of these characters expressed any real conflict with the party and mostly did not say anything of significance. However, in one of the statements made by a black woman, she informed the PC that her husband had died but she was still traveling along the trail with her five children. This line intrigued me because it implied the need of this woman to still make it to the West and start anew with her family. To me, it showed equal parts of desperation and determination to reach her destination. Another line that caught my radar was said by the Native American who made note of an increase in white caravans coming into their territory and asked if there was more space available in the East for their people to migrate into. Although the statement seemed extremely passive, it does highlight that there was an issue present of Native Americans being run out of their lands with the influx of people settling in the area. Overall, the characters do not make any gameplay impact or create any influence on the decisions made by the player.
In the end, The Oregon Trail does simulate the difficulties of westward travel for 19th-century pioneers in a way that still seems fun and engaging. Although the certain ailments were present but not as lethal as real life, the player still experiences tension and competition to finish strong with a full party. The graphics contributed to a visual representation of shifts in seasons which makes the player more aware of seasonal changes and various locations. In the end, the game does its job in its representations and still offers insight into what 19th-century American pioneer life was like.