In the Oregon Trail, players play as a pioneer that is traveling westward during the mid 19th century. Before the game actually begins, you get to decide what occupation your particular character has. You then get to spend a certain amount of money on supplies and you set off on the long journey. Each player has to be able to manage their supplies and monitor the text notifications/updates on how the whole party of travelers are managing. If one member of the party becomes ill, the player has to decide whether to rest or keep moving or if rations are low, the player has to decide whether to hunt or limit rations and risk poor health. The outcome of the game depends greatly on each players’ decisions.
The main historical argument of the game is to depict and let players experience some of the many challenges that actual pioneers faced on their journey westward during the 19th century. Some of the challenges include warding off disease, repairing the wagon, managing supplies, and making fast enough progress to avoid being caught in extreme weather. The West is represented as this vast, mostly unexplored, and dangerous land. The game includes women and people of color, but in a rather limited role. The only times you really hear of these characters is when you are trying to trade or to engage in conversation at certain checkpoints in the game or when a member from your own party becomes ill, injured, or dies. When you do engage in conversation with women and people of color, their depiction especially of African Americans and Native Americans is kind of stereotypical and they are not really depicted as having a significant role in the story. In the game women and people of color are passive historical agents.
The primary protagonist is the player’s own character and there are certain ways to subtly change the narrative such as by deciding what occupation the protagonist has. Having an occupation such as that of a doctor, gives the player a better chance at surviving due to them having for resources at their disposal and being of a “higher” class. Having a visual representation of the game really helps describe some of the actual challenges faced by pioneers, such as the long distance that they traveled and it also gives them an idea of what parts of the country, these people went through. In conclusion, the game is very effective from a history education stand point despite its lack of proper representation of women and people of color.