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Flashback Friday: Oregon Trail and Early Signs of Nerdery

Yay-Dysentary-Oregon-Trail  We were all abuzz in second grade when a new class was added to our usual rotation of gym, library, music, recess: computer class.  As a seven year old, this was big.  And also as a seven year old, I didn't know what in the damn hell a computer even was.  I wasn't entirely sold on the idea until Mrs. Bergmann introduced to us what would end up, for me, being equivalent to a glittery unicorn jumping through a rainbow whilst a shooting star falls in the sky.  IT WAS A BIG DEAL.  I learned at seven years old the power of addiction; the power of a computer or video game that would just not let you win.  "But I will win," you would mutter, feeling a white-hot rage consume you, "I will beat you at your own game." (Pun.)

And so you'd sneak into the computer room during recess, the burgeoning nerd inside you growing and glowing hot.  And your eyes would burn red, because DAMMIT!  We had 1800 lbs. of food, and while you were trying to concentrate on the possibility of a river flooding ahead you paused and looked at the wagon to see your wagon now has 1440 lbs.  WHO'S THE FATASS?  You can't be a fatass on the trail, not in 1848. It's called rationing.  And then you would wish dysentery on him or her.  Dysentery!  It already claimed two of your passengers.  Now the nerd inside of you breaks through the chains like He-Man (or, as the case may be, She-Ra) and shit is ON like Donkey Kong.  Which, unfortunately, you wouldn't know about for a few more years.  

But then you'd kick off your velcro tennis shoes right there in that computer lab and let your dogs get some air.  You were on a mission, son.

And you were slowly going a little bit crazy because now that fucking mooch MARY BROKE HER ARM. What were you doing, Mary?  Eating 360 lbs. of food, mayhaps?


But you had responsibilities to which you needed to attend - a wagon to navigate to Oregon.  You would clench your tiny fists and set your tiny little jaw. You were going to get there, no matter what.  Screw that ho Mary and her broken arm.  

But then, THEN! Nicole gets struck with dysentery.  Your tiny little brain wouldn't know what dysentery even was, for there was no Wiki to consult back then, but had you known back then that its generally a minorDysentary-oregon-trail  illness, causing mild symptoms normally consisting of mild stomach pains and frequent passage of feces, you would have questioned why, if it's so mild, you lost two passengers. Nor would you know that symptoms normally present themselves after one to three days and are usually no longer present after a week.

No longer present after a week, eh?  Sissies. Well, Nicole can suck it because you're not doing her work for her. 

And there in the computer lab you look down at your fingers, which are bleeding at the cuticles because you've been biting them the entire time you'd been playing.  Also, there's a bit of mustard on your... there.  Got it.

You'd play a bit, enjoying a bit of good luck (despite your own health being poor, but they don't know how strong you are) and gaining some geography and historical facts along the way and the screen would suddenly flash horrible, horrible news.  NO.  YOU WILL NOT ACCEPT THIS. 

Oregon-Trail-Fire-In-WagonDamnation!  Your wagon is on fire!  You'll nod your head and purse your lips after heaving a loud, heavy sigh because you KNOW it was Ron and his effing tobacco.  

Ron and Mary, those degenerate layabouts.  And now Nicole, too!  You had thought better of her.  Now you trust no one.  You should have gone with those nice Donner folks.  You're certain, had you been in that party you wouldn't have experienced all of the stupid stumbles, that you would have not only enjoyed their company, but also you'd gain some new friends along the way; friends that would last a lifetime.

But you're here, and you've got to make the best of it with these hillbillies who've joined your wagon.  They're horrible, just terrible people! 

You take a pout break and then you hear voices, teacher-y, nasally voices, coming down the hall.  You were smart and left the light off, but the glow of the computer screen highlights your face and you slide down your chair so your head isn't visible if they look through the small window on the door.  Please, please, please, you think, I have to get to Oregon!

But you lost your concentration.  The game is continuing and you, focusing on not getting caught and dragged out of computer lab, lose your focus.  The game continues.  Your wagon continues.  This is bad news.  And, though you're expecting it, you see the message on the screen.


Like dysentery, you've no idea that cholera is serious, a severe bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which primarily affects the small intestine, nor would you know the main symptoms include production of profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Or that transmission is primarily by the acquisition of the pathogen through contaminated drinking water or infected food. Or that the severity of the diarrhea and associated vomiting can lead to rapid dehydration and electrolyte loss.

And you would not know the fact that if your electrolytes are not replaced then death may follow.  How would you know? You drink Sharkleberry Fin Kool-Aid glass after glass.  You're one hydrated kid.

But your stomach sinks anyway, because "cholera" just sounds bad.  You also know that once you start getting sick, the game is just toying with you like a cat attacking your foot whilst you sleep, scaring the shit out of you to the point that you wake up screaming, the cat's teeth still stuck in your sock.

And then you get bitten by a snake and your ox attacks you.  Your power over the game and the trail is dwindling, your frown deepening.

As your bad luck would have it, you suddenly are battered about the face by Karma.  The game knows things, see, and it knows that you had a bad attitude about Mary and Nicole.  Ron, Karma doesn't care about Ron, so you've spared yourself that.  But it doesn't matter.  The game knows

That minor illness, dysentery, that is usually gone within a week?  It KILLED U DED.



. . .

Anastacia Campbell has suffered ox attack three times.  She writes about these and similar experiences on her blog, Jurgen Nation . Com.  All she ever wanted was to win, to get to Oregon. 

Snarky Amber will be back next week to regale you with better, less anxiety-ridden flashbacks. 

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Heather Z.

I love this post!

Have you seen the schmancy version of Oregon Trail for today's kids?


I am falling in love with you all over again. I won't regale you about your writing...you already know you're awesome!

Thanks for taking me back to elementary school library where I, too, struggled against dysentery, wagon fires, and raging oxen.


For your time-wasting pleasure: Facebook has an Oregon Trail app! Yay!


OMFG. This fucking game. THIS. FUCKING. GAME.

I never noticed how much the "trail" graphic in the last frame actually looks like a steaming pile of runny poop. Probably because I didn't know all those helpful specifics of dysentary and cholera.

I always fared better at the old DOS version of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, but Oregon Trail was the first one to ever teach me about taking video games way, way too seriously.


Now I feel really old, because I had Donkey Kong YEARS before Oregon Trail. And I played The Trail in college. *sigh*


I pink puffy heart "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego'. That was my all time favorite game. Never got to play Oregon Trail though. All of my (outdated) geography knowledge is due to Carmen. Yeah, I was addicted....


Great Flashback by the way...


One of my mottoes in life is "Caulk the wagon. Ford the river."


This was truly a flashback for me. Damn that Mary!


Elementary school? I'm so effing jealous!! We had to wait until MIDDLE SCHOOL to experience the magic of the Trail.


Loved this game. Actually the first game I played was with a farm but I haven't been able to recall the name or find it. It was on a green screen Apple II something in 4th grade. Those were the good old days.


One of my first favorite LOLcats was Kitteh break axel. Lose three days! I cried laughing when I saw it!

Nathan Pralle

My oxen hath died (of dysentery, I'm sure); I don't need your bull.


looooved that game! Loved Carmen Sandiego too! Guess I am a nerd.... but I made it to Oregon!


Aww, Oregon Trail. And I'd always choose people I hated (or boys I had crushes on) to be the ones to die of dysentery. Thanks for the flashback. Carmen San Diego is still my all-time favorite. They had pretty hard clues about the flags of the country, but thank goodness for that world almanac included!

Suzy Q

Dysentery. Is that how you lost 11 pounds in one week, JN? Yeah, I'm not lettin' that go.


I was totally going to add a shout out for Carmen Sandiego. The game belonged to the 4th grade computer class, but during lunch we 8th graders would totally jump the polite line they were standing in to play it.

But there was no food allowed in the computer room! The great dilemma of whether to eat or play!


Heather Z.: Thank you! And I haven't seen the actual game, but when doing a GIS for the screenshots above I saw some screenshots of the newer versions. I dunno. I'm old-fashioned. I want those terrible graphics and the block print that scalds your retinas when you stare at the screen too long. I've heard there are places on teh interwebz you can play the old-style version, but I didn't have the time to try them out. I think that's a good way to spend my Friday night.

Jaek, I'm so not, but thank you. As always, your comments mean a ton to me. :)

Jacki, it does??! I read in the LA Times preparing for this article that the iPhone either has one or is developing one. I'm so buying it.

Amalah, OMG! It totally does! I thought it was smoke or something, but you're actually far more astute. Maybe it IS a steaming dump, because you died of an illness that causes steaming, running fecal explosions. And second, YOU (the general "you," not the specific "you"), for losing the game, are a steaming pile of shit. Yay, children's edutainment!

Belinda, don't feel old. Everyone else is talking about how awesome Candy Saint Diego was and I never knew about it. I'd always HEAR, "Where in the world is Candy Saint Diego?" and I'd hear it so much I'd want to call the missing persons hotline because I DON'T KNOW WHERE SHE IS. I totally misunderstood. And I never played it, which, if it really is/was that awesome, I feel I was slighted as a child.

Dawn, see? Never knew about it. I was robbed. And thank you for your kind words! :)

kdiddy, THAT NEEDS TO BE A T-SHIRT. Preferably a MamaPop t-shirt. "Caulk the wagon. Ford the river. MamaPop rocks out with its caulk out."

Jessi, that fucking MARY. It's always about MARY. I bet that steaming pile of feces Amalah mentioned IS Mary.

PaintingChef, I'm so old. Or maybe our public school was cutting-edge. We DID have a kickass teeter-totter section of our playground. JUST SAYING.

funda62, they really were the good old days. Little did I know that I would be spending most of my adult life on a computer, then a computer and laptop, then email, blogging, writing, etc to infinity. Would I have enjoyed Oregon Trail that much if I were aware of what my future held? I submit: YES.

diamondcait, OMG. HILAR! Love the kittehs.

Nathan, I see what you did there. You win the internets.

SHERRI! Why not rub it in, like pouring salt on a cutter's arm, huh? ;)

Stephanie, did Karma ever beat you about the head for wishing dysentery, too? THE GAME KNOWS EVERYTHING.

Suzy Q, it actually wasn't in a week. What happened was that I stopped going to the gym for financial reasons and before I left I weighed a certain amount on that scale. Let's say, HYPOTHETICALLY, that weight was 150. So, not using that scale, I needed to weigh myself at home, but I was too afraid to see the number (I don't trust my home scale), I'd ask boyfriend to look at the number, subtract or add it to the hypothetical weight that I already knew, but I never knew the number, just the pounds lost or gained. And then I started going back to the gym and had access to the scale, I felt bold one day and weighed HYPOTHETICALLY 135. 15 lbs. My home scale was weigh (pun) off and maybe I had lost a few lbs going back to the gym. But that week was when I recorded the rest of the lbs I needed to get to goal because I was at my goal of 15 lbs. It's a stupid long story, but I don't want anyone to think (a) that it is even possible to lose 11 lbs in a week, because it's so NOT; or (b) that I pulled it out of my ass to "say" I was at goal. So, that's the backstory of the missing 11 lbs.

incognito, it is for this reason I wish they didn't separate out our elementary and middle school. DAMNATION! I'd have been a fixture in that computer lab.

I hope I didn't forget anyone's comment.

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