Friday, September 18, 2015

C. W. McCall – "Oregon Trail" (1975)

If the snow don't fly and the river don't dry
We can make that valley before we die

That's assuming your covered wagon doesn't tip over when you're fording a river.  And you don't get snakebit, or come down with measles, dysentery, cholera, or typhoid.

Oregon Trail was an educational computer game created in 1971 by Don Rawitsch, a senior at Carleton College who was fulfilling his student teaching requirement in an 8th-grade history class in a Minneapolis school.  A few years later, a state agency hired Rawitsch to rewrite the game code, which he then uploaded into that agency's time-sharing network so it could be accessed by Minnesota students.

Rawitsch published the source code in 1978, and another programmer quickly adapted the game for the Apple II.  I think I first purchased the game when we got our Macintosh Performa in 1995.

My three older kids – who were 12, 9, and 9 – loved the game.  I usually played Oregon Trail with one of them, but I'll admit I played the game by myself a few times.  

The game simulates a journey from Independence, Missouri to Oregon's Willamette Valley via covered wagon in 1848.  Your score is based on how many members of your traveling party survive the journey, and how much of the money you have when you start your trip you still have when you reach your destination.

A map of the Oregon Trail
The key to Oregon Trail's appeal is that the game force players to make hard choices.  For example, you can use your allotted funds to purchase extra wagon axles and oxen before you hit the trail.  That will reduce your final score because you won't have as much money left when you get to Oregon.  But if an oxen dies or an axle breaks and you don't have a spare, you are up sh*t creek without a paddle.

You need to travel at a fairly brisk to reach Oregon before the winter storms hit, but if you push too hard, there's an increased likelihood of illness or an accident.

I remember playing one time when I got this message: "CAROLINE HAS DYSENTERY."

We didn't have very much food left at that point, and we were a long way from getting to a fort where we could stock up on vittles.  So I just kept going.

A minute or two later, this message appeared on the computer: "CAROLINE HAS DIED OF DYSENTERY."

The game then asks you to compose an epitaph for your departed loved one.  In my case, I should have typed "DIED BECAUSE HER FATHER WAS A CARELESS IDIOT."

After that experience, I used a super conservative strategy when I played Oregon Trail.  I spent a lot of money on spare oxen and axles, and I always stopped and went hunting well before our food supply got low.  (The hunting was the only part of Oregon Trail that was remotely like a typical video game.)

As a result, I never had much money when I got to Oregon – which hurt my final score.  But at least ALL MY FAMILY MEMBERS WERE ALIVE AT THE END OF THE JOURNEY!

"Everyone in your party has died . . ."
I was reminded of the Oregon Trail game a couple of weeks ago when I read a review of Bekah Brunstetter's new play, "The Oregon Trail," which is one of the 50 or so plays written by women that are being presented in dozens of Washington-area theaters as part of the "Women's Voices Theater Festival."

Earlier this week, I took my daughters to see the play, which compares the lives of two unhappy teenaged girls named Jane.  One Jane is an Oregon Trail-playing girl living in 1997, and the other Jane is a girl traveling the real Oregon Trail with her family in 1848.

More about that play in the next 2 or 3 lines.

Woody Guthrie wrote a song titled "Oregon Trail" in 1941, but I will go to almost any length to avoid featuring a song by that tedious lefty – including featuring a song by the C. W. McCall instead.

You know and love C. W. McCall for his 1976 chart-topping hit, "Convoy," which inspired the 1978 movie of the same name.

Ain't nothing going to stand in Kris and Ali's way!
That execrable piece of cinematic flotsam and jetsam starred Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw, and Ernest Borgnine, and was directed by the legendary Sam Peckinpah, who must have been exceedingly desperate for work.  (Convoy was Peckinpah's highest-grossing movie ever, proving once and for all that H. L. Mencken was right.)

C. W. McCall was the pseudonym of William Dale Fries, Jr., an award-winning advertising executive who was 46 when he recorded his first album.  "Oregon Trail" was released in 1975 on McCall's second studio album, Black Bear Road.

Here's "Oregon Trail":

Click below to buy "Convoy" from Amazon:

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