Oregon Trail 3rd Edition blazes new educational ground
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Once again the Oregon Trail is open for business, or at least for a virtual trip into pioneer times. The Learning Company is allowing gamers to blaze the trail once again through the game The Oregon Trail Pioneer Adventures 3rd Edition.
This game in its various editions has been a popular program in schools for years, and for good reason. It remarkably involves the player in using their knowledge and also learning and applying new information in the areas of history, social studies, geography, geology and various other sciences, all wrapped up in a fun interface.
The game opens with the player cast back into the 1800s. As the player, you are a traveler getting ready to set off on the Oregon Trail. You must first assemble your travel companions for your wagon party. You can either choose an already assembled party chosen by the program, which may not be the wisest choice since you want a good idea of the personalities and skills of your travel mates to insure your best overall chance of survival, or you can visit the local hotel and chat with a variety of potential people for your wagon party. Players may choose up to four traveling companions. These potentials come from a variety of backgrounds and come complete with various skills and resources that they can contribute to the trip.
After assembling your companions, the next step is to outfit your wagon with supplies. The player chooses to buy all types and amounts of food, medicine, clothing, ammunition, wagon supplies, miscellaneous amusements and animals for the trip. Once that is complete, it's time to hit the trail.
This game has a variety of features that make it a great learning tool for students. Players first hand get to experience what a lengthy and dangerous process it was to prepare for, and survive on the journey westward. The game allows the player to interact with characters in the game. The game features 3D graphics and full motion video, with actors portraying the pioneer characters. The characters come from a variety of backgrounds such as former slaves, teachers, nurses, farmers, merchants and other occupations appropriate for the time period. Each of the characters, when prompted, share with the player their pasts and why they wish to move out west.
Players learn a great deal about pioneer life just by interacting with these characters.
Students seem to like the hunting and fishing part of the game best. If the wagon party's supplies are running low and there is nowhere around to trade items, then hunting and fishing are the best bet for survival. [Sorry, cannibalism is not an option.]
The students that I have watched play this game seem to always enjoy this portion of the game the best. The only problem in this version of the game is, if you miss your intended target chances are you will hit one of your wagon party companions and their health status will deteriorate rapidly. Players quickly learn about the good points of hunter safety techniques. Players may also gather vegetation from the surrounding areas, but they must be very careful about what they choose. Gathering the wrong plants without consulting the guide book can spell doom for the health status of your party. Some plants are quite deadly.
Another area that educators applaud in this game is the amount of problem solving that it requires of its players. A variety of problems that faced actual travelers on the trail are set up for players to encounter. A player must decide not only the members and supplies of the wagon party, but also how to handle problems that arise along the trail. The player must decide, among other things, how to handle crossing rivers in a wagon, what to do when a party member is sick, how to manage shady characters along the trail and what to do when an avalanche has blocked their path. If a player chooses unwisely, then negative consequences are sure to follow. Through trail and error players are given life lessons of how to handle the situations that are likely to repeat themselves throughout the game.
This game is a valuable learning tool for players. It offers lessons in history, social studies, geography, science, and problem solving strategies. Players get to experience first hand the hardships of what it must have been like to be traveling and settling out West in the 1800s.
The only complaint I really have about this game is that when a player chooses to interact with characters in the game, that the characters often speak the same video dialogues that repeat over and over throughout the game. That's a bit annoying.
I do find this game to be an excellent learning experience for players. It is marketed for people ages ten to adult, and even if you are an adult this game offers enough of a challenge coupled with entertainment to keep your interest.
Wagons, ho! This game wrestles up 4 ½ GiN Gems for its excellent educational value, interface and replay-ability.
Karen Rosenberry is GiN's Educational Reviewer. She has a Masters Degree in Education and enjoys using computer games to teach her students while they're being entertained. She can be reached at