This Is the Not-So-Secret Story of How Oregon Trail Took Over the World

We’re living in a golden age of immersive, narrative video games that can transport us to worlds both familiar and fantastical. As odd as it might be to consider it, none of this would be possible if it weren’t for Oregon Trail.


There’s nothing quite as impressive as tricking kids into learning about subject matter they’ve got no interest in hearing about, and even more so when said learning involves copious amounts of reading. But what Don Rawitsch, Bill Heinemann, and Paul Dillenberger, the developers behind Oregon Trail, ultimately accomplished way back in 1975 with the first iteration of the game was so much more than that. Oregon Trail popularized “edutainment” in a way that’s frankly astonishing even by today’s standards.

What’s wild is that as popular and financially successful as the intellectual property went on to become, none of the original developers made a single dime from it—a fate almost as awful as dying of dysentery.

This video was created by Hodges Usry. You can see more of his videos here.

Charles Pulliam-Moore is an NYC-based culture critic whose work centers on fandom, pop culture, politics, race, and sexuality. He still thinks Cyclops made a few valid points.




Look, I don’t hate your childhood, but I do get ticked off by you trying to overwrite mine.

MEC/Learning company games did get a lot of play in multiple countries that had Apple II’s for their computer classes, but Oregon Trail was a sideshow that normally came as part of a bundle. This may shock you, but a whitewashed view on American colonialism didn’t rank super high in the priorities of European schools or their students.

Instead, those math games were all over the place, and we avoided them like the plague. A bunch of the schools I know (and I’m from a family of teachers, so I know a bunch) had sideloaded a few games onto their computers, and the closest to a historical semi-educational game that I found in all of them was in fact Defender of the Crown, not Oregon Trail. Especially once all those Apple IIs started getting phased out and replaced by PCs.

I have very little first hand recollection of Oregon Trail beyond it being... kinda there and being unsurprisingly unintelligible, due to a mix of the language barrier, a completely foreign subject matter and obscure mechanics. It’s great that you guys enjoyed it, but it is a *very* American phenomenon.