This may come as a shock to some, but when I was growing up, computers weren’t a big deal yet. Hard to imagine, right? It’s true, we didn’t have a computer until I was in . . . high school? It was high school when I had one of those dumb “What did you do last night?” conversations with my friend, but I specifically remember how his answer, “Oh, I was just surfing around on the internet,” completely baffled me. Not because I didn’t understand what it meant, but just because I couldn’t comprehend why a person would spend time “surfing around.” What was so great about it?
Back to computers. Before our home computer, we had an Atari and a Commodore 65. I was never really into either of them, but when we got the home computer I discovered: Oregon Trail.
Now that was a great game! They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. So simple. So uncomplicated. So brutal.
As addicting as SIMS, yet so much more real. SIMS, with wants like “Throw a party” “Meet someone new” and “Woohoo,” just can’t compete with real-life problems like diphtheria and cholera and being attacked by Indians. Or the utter anguish you feel when that damn wagon sinks in the middle of the river and everyone drowns.
I’m an animal-lover. I’m an anthropomorphist. And still: my favorite part of Oregon Trail was hunting. You’d wait in the field for a deer or a rabbit (sometimes an elk!) to run across and KAPOW! Dinner is served. Sometimes those wily bastards would get away, or you’d wait and wait and wait and get nothing. That was always so disappointing.
The real fun, and okay now THIS is actually my favorite part, was that we somehow made it into a Family Game. Not in the way you’d think—we’d each play by ourselves—but by using the tombstones.
Yes, it’s a little morbid, okay a lot morbid, but sometimes we would create a family with the sole purpose of killing them so we could make the tombstone at the end. What can I say? It wasn’t that challenging of a game, strategically. Once you’d won a few times you had to find new ways to keep it interesting. And the tombstones were saved on your hard drive, so the next person to play the game would see it somewhere along their route.
My brother Scott was especially good at coming up with clever messages that were just as entertaining as playing the game. I could always tell when it was one of his. He’d create a family with the last name Goober, and first names like Obadiah or Snooky. You’d be trucking along, playing the game and feeling proud for making it across the river, when all of a sudden you’d pass a tombstone that read: RIP, Seymour Winky. And then some witty epitaph involving a phrase like long-standing or stunted.
RIP: Seymour Winky. He was stumped by the hardships on the trail.