The longest-running video game franchise in history just turned 52, and enthusiasts of the game have Minnesota to thank for it!

The Oregon Trail computer game was first released in 1971 (differing reports say either November or December) as an educational tool to help children understand the harsh realities of westward expansion in the 19th century. At 52 years old and counting, today it tops the list of the longest-running video game franchise, surpassing other beloved series like Pac-Man, Galaxian, Space Invaders, Mario and Donkey Kong. What the world may not know is that the game was created right here in Minnesota!

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In a 2016 interview with NPR, one of the creators of the Oregon Trail Paul Dillenberger shared how he and two other student teachers created the game:

I was in Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and I had always wanted to be a math teacher...So there was another math teacher and a social studies teacher, and Don [the social studies teacher] wanted to do a unit on westward expansion, and he came up with this board game idea. And Bill and I kinda looked at each other...we were both computer programmers...and Bill said, 'Ya know, maybe we can put this on the computer, this might be a good application.' And Don said, 'Well, I need this in two weeks,' and we said, 'well, we can probably do that.'

Game Rant shares 10 little-known facts about Oregon Trail, such as:

  • The original version of the game was created in just two weeks and was text-only, meaning it had no graphics
  • The game was rebuilt to include graphics and quickly became the most popular educational software in schools around Minnesota
  • For 47 years the game was created primarily for computer play. In 2018 it was released for the first-time as a handheld device available (initially) as a Target exclusive.
  • The Oregon Trail game inspired a musical, The Trail to Oregon!. A parody of the video game, characters names were chosen by the audience at the beginning of the show.
  • In 2016 TIME put Oregon Trail at number nine on its list of "The 50 Best Video Games of All Time." It was also put into the World Video Game Hall Of Fame.

The newest version of Oregon Trail was released in 2021 for Apple Arcade.

Read more and listen to Oregon Trail founder Paul Dillenberger's interview with NPR here.

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