Through the tenacity of my mother and the glory of eBay, I obtained a copy of The Oregon Trail for Christmas. At the age of 22. And guess what...it is even more amazing than I remembered.
The game triggered a lot of procrastination ("Hey, Western history is history, too!") and many Oregon Trail-related Facebook statuses. It also led to an interesting discussion between yours truly and my friend Clare, who also lives the grad student life, in which we debated the ways in which The Oregon Trail is similar to graduate school. Clare offered up "life at a grueling pace" while I bemoaned the "meager rations and lack of good health care". True, we don't have to forage for food, and the chance of a hostile Conestoga overtaking our wagon train is low. But I take Clare's point. We pack all of our belongings into a vehicle of finite size and move off into the unknown, spewing Manifest Destiny rhetoric about how we're doing this "to make a better life" than we could have with our humanities BAs. And the grad student mind is a lot like crossing the frozen Snake River, in that it could crack at any time.
I expected The Oregon Trail to provide me with good clean fun. And it has, save for when my party ran out of food at Deep Sands Pass and I had to trade Alana's last dress for some salt pork (whoops). What I did not expect was the mad rush of fellow graduate students, begging to come over and play. It is like third grade, except that now we know how nasty dysentery really is and the fleeting obsession with the Donner Party has passed.
I must give these Oregon Trail people due props for the quality of the 5th edition game. Great visuals, accurate representation of the fauna and flora, a little weak on Native American representation but very, very good on class hierarchy (shocking!). These things matter when you're a social history graduate student trying to explain why you're playing The O-T on the department computers.