By Corey Paul
Say you're under 40 and, like most everyone else, you log into your Facebook account today. You'll notice the latest iteration of a game you played in elementary school, Oregon Trail. Only instead of rationing your resources in a classroom, you can now play for hours with friends online, spend real money in the form of Facebook credits on wagon gadgetry, and, say, bomb down the Green River collecting gold coins and rescuing drowning children.
Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, Oregon Trail is the most popular educational game in history. It has sold more than 65 million copies under its rotating cast of owners and through its 10 iterations. In 2008, the current owner, Hougton Mifflin Harcourt released an iPhone application that has since been downloaded 2.9 million times.
"For many people not only was The Oregon Trail their first experience with computer gaming, it was also their first experience with computers," said Jon-Paul Dyson, the director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. And the game has, well, everything to do with Oregon, from all of its iPhone and facebook users to all its elementary-school graduates.
Here's a fascinating article about the origins of the game (oddly, in Minnesota) published recently by Minneapolis' City Paper. Also check back later at Oregon Business for more about the boom and crash of educational gaming and thoughts from game developers here in the Silicon Forest.
Corey Paul is an associate writer with Oregon Business.