Oregon Trail Analysis

The narrative structure while barren is evident in the gameplay itself. The story is crafted by a brief intro that essentially replaces the role of stat building in a Dungeons and Dragons game. It gives your character a backstory that doesn’t play a critical role in the game minus the amount of money you start off with. The occupation of the character basically is a difficulty mode above all else. The player can use that in a sort of role-playing method if they choose but the game will not provide a backstory.  The story of the game is told through text. The story of making it to Oregon is basically a series of dice rolls that only stop when the player chooses with minor lore the player can take part in if they choose; normally this lore expresses the hardship. The representation is that Western travel was brutal and unforgiving. The time in which you start the journey can make the game easier but you’re still at the game’s mercy as a rough image of how that time was.

The American West is represented as a harsh, untamed and rugged land. In the game it is an obstacle more than it is a setting, half of the gameplay is reacting to what the land throws at you (snakes, lack of food for ox, etc.).  Historically, there is a case being made that the trail was as rough as we make it out to be and that real sacrifices had to be made to venture out West before rail roads. The choice in occupations doesn’t make it seem like simple farmers (or escaped slaves) could make it out West either without a major increase in difficulty. For example, a farmer and carpenter have their final score multiplied, double for a carpenter and tripled for a farmer. This choice also effects the money your group can spare for the game. There’s hardly ever a positive in that world, for example you can find supplies but only because the wagon you found them in is abandoned with no leftover survivors or any trace. While barren and hostile, the West does have people.

`While in my playthroughs there is a lack of minorities and they seem to appear on certain parts of the journey, they are available to talk to. An interesting thing is that you cannot play as one or at least, it doesn’t’ seem that way. The names the game provides your squad are normally very white names like Mary, Beth, and John. Only your character can be named to follow that DnD style role playing, there’s no native style names or African American style names. That roleplaying aspect can only be done so much. Context doesn’t really exist in this game and thus you must make it yourself. In the end, there’s no way to reserve or effect history, your two options are making it to Oregon or die. You cannot turn around and go to New York. However, when you’re on the way West, you meet others in the wild, they are just trying to survive as well, there’s no need for weariness of attack from my playthroughs. No fear of attacks from natives or scavengers with bandanas over their faces. The way these previously mentioned NPCs speak is general as the writing is in a more modern cadence to help a young player understand or maybe to avoid controversy that games like Freedom! created.

In review of the education aspect of the game. From a very basic standpoint, the game hits the simple aspect of a grade school level lesson about the Oregon Trail. For an adolescent, this is a fun way to learn some very basic history that would normally be skipped in a early history class. While it doesn’t make a huge historiographical argument, it doesn’t need to. This was made to be a fun little history lesson to a mass audience and it clearly worked, we still talk about it in the forms of memes and other sectors of internet communication.

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