What Ever Happened to the Oregon Trail?

oregon trail

I’ve sent many kids off on their first day of school, but this year it was my youngest niece who kept up the tradition and it brought back a flood of memories. The fashion, the compartmental lunch trays (I hate my food to touch, but that’s another blog post), and the computer lab.

Oooohhh the lab was awesome, 25 bulky, tan computers that we could play games on, and if we were lucky the computer master (usually the choir or art teacher) would let us use Print Shop. Many kids will never know the joy of Print Shop. it was the program every teacher used when they wanted to make ‘professional’ signs for their classroom; but for us kids, we wanted our name printed out in huge banner form (I guess so we wouldn’t forget it?). I can still hear the sound the printer made, when it printed out our masterpiece, ddduuutt…ddddtt…ddddtttdduut..ddtttttuuddt. THEN we had to take off the perforated edges without tearing the banner, it was super difficult and for some reason we played with the torn off edges for hours.

Many people may giggle about my giddiness, when talking about these memories but you must remember, I was in school during a time when personal computers weren’t accessible to everyone (in the 80s and 90s cough, cough). Most of the students in my class, had never seen or played with a computer, because they were super expensive; the screen was a grainy greenish color; we used floppy discs (do young people even know what that is) and drinks were NOT permitted anywhere near this room.

My school was Hillcrest Elementry (Huskie Pride, woof woof), and at the time, we were lucky enough to have a computer lab for the school. Each class was able to utilize it for 45 whole minutes…once every two weeks. Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t enough time to do much of anything significantly educational, but we were so excited to play on the new machines and the teacher never had to remind us of our scheduled time.

We could chose between five educational games and one of those was named Oregon Trail. If you have never played it, you are missing out. The game allows you to make up a profile for yourself, like an early version avatar and you added the names of your companions. It was like a chose your own adventure book, which meant we never chose the path of survival. We wanted to hunt buffalo and cross high rivers. When we managed to kill the giant animal, with our limited number of bullets, there was always too much meat and we could never take it all.. I always wondered though, if people were stuffed in that covered wagon, why wouldn’t they help carry that hairy buffalo carcass?

This game could cause arguments among friends, we NEVER seemed to complete it and I usually died of dysentery.

With all these fond memories flashing back, I asked my youngest niece about her new school and the computer lab, she looked at me with the craziest look and said “We get our own tablet, Tia, with internet, so we don’t need laptops!”

Uh, sorry kid, and as I was about to correct her attitude, I realized something sad. My niece will never have the fun silly experiences that I had at her age. She will never know the fun of sharing and collecting stickers or passing notes because she will just send an emoji or a text. My adorable niece will never make her own book cover and doodle on it to pass the time in class or know how to make a paper ‘football’ and score the extra point, by using your fingers as goal posts. The zebra cakes, cinnamon chews and slushies I bought from the snack bar, will never be sold again in schools, because they are deemed unhealthy. She may not get to experience the walk home with neighborhood friends, where you gossip about the day and how the kid you liked, gave you his snack (yep, the boys gave me their food). I did that every day with Lupe and Leti (Hi, you two) they made my childhood fun and exciting, and I am happy to say that we are all still friends.

I know I’ve been writing about all the stuff my niece will never get to experience, but in all fairness I have to mention a snip-it of all the positive things she does get. Such as unlimited access to information. If we wanted to know what a kangaroo ate we would look it up in books, all she has to do is type it into a search engine and VOILA, now you know. Lunchables (we didn’t have those until junior high and at that time, the cool kids DID NOT bring lunch to school), or some version of it, think of all the arguments you could have avoided in the morning, when mom was packing your lunch. The Start and Shut Down of our computers, when my niece turns off a piece of technology, its usually just one button and instantaneous; but back in the day it took about 10 to 15 minutes for our computer to ‘warm-up’ and shut down, so when working with a computer time limit of only 45 minutes, it severely cuts into your Oregon Trail time. When I was growing up and friends or relatives moved away, the only ways to keep in touch were by phone calls and letters. Thankfully now, that’s not the case, my family video chats with us every other day, they get to see my daughter growing up in Texas and it doesn’t feel like I’m always so far away from home.

I still think Oregon Trail will beat Minecraft, but I also think her childhood will be just as good as mine in the long run. 

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