The Oregon Trail is one of the most successful games of all time, a cultural icon that has given us catch-phrases like, 'You Have Died of Dysentery'. It sold something in the order of 65 million copies and is a treasured school days memory for millions of Americans.
Less well known, is that the game was created in just two weeks.
Mental Floss tells the whole story, of how three Minneapolis student teachers, Bill Heinemann, Paul Dillenberger and Don Rawitsch, worked together in 1971 to make a board game that might help recalcitrant students appreciate life for 19th Century emigrants on the American Plains.
At some point, they talked about using the school's teletype — electromechanical typewriters connected to a mainframe computer — to simulate dice rolls. Although lacking any experience of coding, they took to the task, working out of a former school-janitor's closet.
Two weeks later, they showed the game to students. It was a text adventure in which players were prompted to type in choices as they progressed along the Oregon Trail. The game became popular and was distributed to other schools.
When home computers like the Apple II turned up, a decade later, the game was rewritten by a new generation of coders, with additional graphics and sound. That version is the one most people recall.
The three teachers have no problem with the fact that they never really profited from the game's success. They are still friends today.
"So many others had a hand making it what it became that we never think, ‘Gee, we got ripped off,'" said Rawitsch. "The game has become part of our history for far longer than any of us could have expected. Being introduced as a co-inventor of The Oregon Trail has been a great icebreaker over the years."
The Oregon Trail is available on multiple platforms including Windows, Mac, 3DS, iOS and Android.