I am Don Rawitsch, a co-inventor of the original Oregon Trail computer game. AMA!
The Oregon Trail game was invented in 1971 by Bill Heinemann, Paul Dillenberger, and myself when we were seniors at Carleton College (MN) training to be teachers. I wanted a game to help me teach about the Westward Movement in the mid-1800s. My partner math teachers knew some programming. We had access to a mainframe computer that did all its communicating via printed text. The result was the first version of what became the most popular educational computer game of the 1980s and 90s. I brought the game to the Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC) when I started work there in 1974. When personal computers like the Apple II hit the market a few years later, a MECC team converted the game to a version with graphics, animation, pioneer tunes, and some memorable quotes. A classic was born.
Thousands of students who played Oregon Trail back then continue to enjoy fond memories of the game as evidenced by its appearance on TV and radio programs, T-shirts, online forums, and in everyday conversation. I am here to answer your questions about how the game was invented, what the original version was like, what computing was like at the dawn of its use in schools, and my experiences with OT fans.
I am also interested to hear your stories of how you first encountered the game, what you learned from it, and how it affected you. You might also share these stories with the Strong Museum of Play (Rochester, NY), home of the World Video Game Hall of Fame, which will soon select games to be enshrined in 2016: http://www.worldvideogamehalloffame.org/nominate
Forty-five years ago I was looking for a way to enliven the teaching of history. Thanks to the many people who have let us know we were on the right trail!
EDIT: CLOSING REMARKS I stayed on for 2.5 hours - thanks so much to all of you who wrote expressing your memories of the game and asking questions. For all those I couldn't get to, you might find this article from a few years ago interesting, telling the story of how OT came to be: http://www.citypages.com/news/oregon-trail-how-three-minnesotans-forged-its-path-6745749
And check above for the Hall of Fame link - we need an educational game to go in!
What did I learn about life from Oregon Trail? Plan ahead Be patient If you persevere, you'll find your green valley. Even if the water's deep, sometimes you just have to caulk your wagon and head out from shore. -Don-