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by James Rohl
If we finished the worksheet early, we could use the remaining time to play on the classroom computer and that meant one thing: Oregon Trail. As a 10-year-old, I fancied myself a savvy wagon train leader offering unsolicited advice on the amount of oxen to get (it’s eight, by the way). Years later, in the age of photorealistic graphics on the latest gaming devices, Oregon Trail seems like a forgotten relic. But lately the game is gaining popularity again, through a mix of nostalgia and curiosity. I thought it was a good time to share a game I loved with my boys.
First we entered our names, including the fifth member of our family joining us sometime in April. After ordering our food, clothes, bullets and supplies, we set out on the trail. Both kids thought the 8-bit graphics and music were hilarious but were surprised to see just how unforgiving the trail really is. We hired a ferry to cross the first river, but in a tragic accident, the oldest and youngest boys drowned.
“Wait, so I’m dead?”
“Just like that?”
“Yep, just like that.”
We marched on through water shortages, wild bouts of dysentery, snakebites and treacherous river crossings that had both boys sick with worry. I couldn’t help but smile as I saw the hook setting. This card game created 40 years ago — which was turned into a video game in the 1980s — had captured my kids’ imaginations just like it captured mine 30 years earlier. We lost two more of our party at one of the last crossings when our caulked wagon took on water. We talked about how hard it was for the wagon trains to navigate river crossings 150 years earlier and how we had made a similar journey last summer from Indiana to Portland in the minivan. We all agreed our trip was much easier, not one snakebite during the whole drive!
Sharing the things I loved as a kid is one of the true joys of parenting. Whether it is jumping off the dunes in Gearhart or watching “The Goonies” and laughing about how the kids go into the cave in Astoria and come out at Cannon Beach, I am getting to enjoy fond experience anew through my sons’ eyes.
My oldest is already trying to beat my Oregon Trail score and discussing with me the merits of being a teacher versus a banker in the game. I have a long list of things I can’t wait to share with my boys, and I hope that someday they share some of those things with their families.
James Rohl is a stay-at-home-dad to three boys in North Portland and also writes at sahdpdx.com.