Why ‘Civilization’ Should Replace ‘Oregon Trail’ in Classrooms Everywhere.
The End of the Trail.
If your elementary-school memories took place in the mid-to-late 1980’s, there’s a good chance you probably remember playing The Oregon Trail in your elementary-school’s computer lab. If you weren’t a member of the school’s AV club — or forced to learn simple coding-scripts on an old-school interface — then playing Oregon Trail might have been the only joy you got out of computer time.
The reasons for the game’s popularity in educational-services were simple: not only did it provide an example of the “modern” computer’s capability, but it also provided an interactive history on American-pioneering in the mid-1800’s. Instead of only reading about how the pioneers braved the elements in search of a better life, you could attempt the experience for yourself.
Players are given the option to build a group of people spanning whatever ages they see fit. When the created group starts out in Missouri, the player is responsible for equipping them with resources before they set out on the journey. Although trading posts can be encountered on the Trail, what you start with at the outset determines the level of difficulty moving forward. Stocking up on as many guns as you could possess was always fun but once you ran out of food — or nearby animals to hunt — then the experience took a turn for the worse.
Because of this, the game was primary one of strategy and resource management. Do you risk fording the river with a heavy wagon or do you pay money to cross safely? Do you stock up on food early on or wait until you can exchange other goods at a trading post? Do you wait during inclement weather or press on through?
And so on and so forth.
To win the game, at least one party-member must reach the end of the trail in Oregon. To lose the game was for the entire party to succumb to injury or disease — including one disease so famous in its prevalence and real-life-suffering that the internet-collective made a t-shirt out of it.
This historical-period-turned-computer-game made the rounds even into the 1990’s and 2000’s, where new editions featuring updated graphics allowed Generation Y to experience the fun. However, by the early 2000’s, a new strategy game built by developer Sid Meier and his company Firaxis was already in its third incarnation; while the first Civilization had carried a cult following for a long time, Civilization III was poised to make its debut already bearing mainstream notoriety. The latest release — Civilization VI — even emerged with an educational-version to be available for teacher-assistance back in 2016.
So it’s with this knowledge — and having played both Civilization and Oregon Trail — that I believe the inevitable should come to pass:
Not only should Civilization replace Oregon Trail as the edutainment-game-of-choice in schools across America…but the gameplay and themes in Civilization render it more timely and relevent in today’s globalized society.
Both Games Include Resource Management.
In a normal game of Civilization, you start out in the Bronze Age. Through scientific discovery and exploration, your civilization slowly evolves over time. As your civilization grows, you always have to consider population growth, the size of your cities, where your warriors are on the game map, what valuable resources your civilization has, and what valuable resources the other, A.I-controlled civilizations have. In addition to the one you control, other civilizations are controlled by an artificial-intelligence that you can scale by difficulty. And speaking of difficulty…
Both Games Punish You for Poor Decision Making.
Just as Oregon Trail can make you pay the price for not having enough antiseptic to fight disease or food to eat during the journey, Civilization will make you bleed if you ever decide to declare war on your rivals — or if you make a diplomatic blunder. Depending on the strength of your civilization, you may lose warriors, cities, resources,and even the game itself.
Even if you manage to vanquish a rival, your actions stay with the other nations across the course of the in-game history. The A.I.-controlled opponents will be less-likely to trust your propositions and deals — and even less likely to act as your ally if a world-war ever comes to pass.
‘Civilization’ Contains an Anthropological Lens of Different Periods.
A big appeal to Oregon Trail was the bonus of being able to teach kids about a certain period of United States history. With a game of Civilization starting in the Bronze Age — or starting at specific periods like the Middle-Ages or World War II if you play through a constructed scenario — you can look and see how societies operated from centuries ago. As you discover different political ideologies and religious faiths, the ones you choose to implement will provide different bonuses and drawbacks based on how you play — just as it is in real life…as it is in the game.
‘Civilization’ Also Encourages Global Understanding.
In a 21st-Century, globalized economy filled with cultural melting-pots, knowing how and when to use diplomacy to your advantage plays a part in emerging victorious. Although you can change the victory conditions before you start a game, usually diplomacy, trade agreements, and managing your treasury remain crucial to success. This is not to say a degree in international relations will be obtained by playing a computer game — but it can help foster interest for players already leaning towards an interest in such affairs.
In a nutshell, there it is. While I still think Oregon Trail has a part in the American cultural lexicon, a game like Civilization lives and breathes relevance in the modern world. By understanding not just one specific time-period but many specific time periods, students everywhere — from late-elementary-school to high-school — would gain the ability to see world history through a wider scope.
Losing because you failed to discover gunpowder faster than your rivals did — because you didn’t pump enough money into science-research — is one thing…
…dying randomly from dysentery is quite another.
 This famous tagline in the game usually indicated when a party member was about to die.