The Oregon Trail Documentary Examines Legendary Game's Origins

The documentary was produced by MinnMax, which partnered with the New Vision Foundation charity.


The best day in elementary school was when your whole class went into the computer lab and instead of using some boring science or math program, you got to play The Oregon Trail. The educational game has seen many iterations and has been around for decades, and MinnMax founder (and former Game Informer video producer) Ben Hanson has produced a documentary examining its unusual origins. You can watch the entire thing right here.

Trailheads: The Oregon Trail is a free YouTube documentary that examines the game's Minnesota roots, including how it was initially created in college by the three-person team of Bill Heinemann, Paul Dillenberger, and Don Rawitsch and donated to the state's MECC organization.

You've almost certainly played some version of The Oregon Trail if you live in the United States, as it has been a staple in schools for years and dates back in one form or another to 1971. It gained particular popularity on the Apple II computer and you can even get a handheld version that resembles that computer. It's the full version of the game, too, with hunting and other mini-games left intact. Be careful, or you'll die of dysentary.

"Few games have reached such popularity with both educators and their students, let alone for several decades," Video Game History Foundation's co-director Kelsey Lewin said in the announcement. "Trailheads does the important work of elevating the history of The Oregon Trail--highlighting the faces behind the beloved classic and sharing their stories."

Because of the Minnesota connection, MinnMax also partnered with the New Vision Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps underprivileged youth learn about coding and digital literacy. The group is looking to raise $3,000 over the next few weeks via the partnership. Thus far, it has reached a little over $1,000. Funding for this campaign will help teachers to continue working remotely for the program.

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