Print Proposal – Oregon Trail

Poor Carol Ann!


My proposal for a print project would be an analysis on Oregon Trail, one of the most iconic educational games of all time. Mike recently put up some great gaming monitor reviews on his blog, Likely exposed to you in elementary school, the game has been used in classrooms around the nation as an enjoyable but informative break for school children & teachers.  Oregon Trail was not only fun to play but also likely became the foundation and spark of exploration into the history of the old west for many children.    The game is one that both hardcore & causal gamers alike have played and enjoyed in their earlier years. Oregon Trail has taught people many things besides quick reflexes and what Dysentery is.


Originally the game was created with the goal to teach school children the harshness of pioneer life on the literal trail (it connects the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon; over 2,000 miles).  For many people the Oregon Trail was their introduction to this piece of history and became a large influence.  Reaching its peak in the 80’s & 90’s Oregon Trail has had recent flirtations with invading the social gaming realm.

One of the major areas I would want to cover in project was the research and groundwork used to create the original games.  Where did the creators draw of the line from being a historically accurate simulation to a game of enjoyment? I would compare other historical documents that cover the same time period & subjects.  How similar are they?  Do they tend to cover different subjects?  Is there something that Oregon Trail covers that a historical piece of text simply can’t.

Next naturally I would want to look into how the game was used in academic environments.  I would like to research the importance of ‘playing’ in that part of history and how it directly correlates to learning about that subject.  Was it just a cute ‘activity’ to get school children comfortable with computers or was in worked in professor’s history curriculum for the old west?

Some other questions I would like to explore with this project

  • How accurate are the depictions of pioneer in the game?
  • To what degree was the game being used as an historical/educational tool?
  • What research was done to create the game?
  • Could the original game still serve the same purpose today?
  • Why has the popularity in classrooms died off?
  • Is there potential for ‘updating’ the game for further historical use?

The Machine is Us/ing Us

The The Machine is Us/ing Us is a video uploaded in 2007 by Kansas State professor Michael Wesch.  The video presents an overview of the internet & Web 2.0 but perhaps the most interesting part of the entire video is the ending.  Wesch puts the recent advances of technology into perspective, raising important thoughts that are just as relevant as ever.

Despite reaching over 11 million views the Cultural Anthropology professor did not intend to make such a popular video that the blogosphere would quickly take by storm.  In fact Wesch originally created the video for his Digital Ethnography class and sent it only to his colleagues to gather feedback.  From there it spread and the video was being mentioned in blogs & used as a discussion piece in courses.

With the SOPA & PIPA controversy at barely two-weeks old it breathes a new life into the videos declarations of rethinking; copyright, authorship, identity, ethics, governance, privacy, and ourselves.  The truth is that we can never fully be done addressing these issues, because just like technology itself they will continue to evolve as time goes on.  I believe this cause for reevaluation is healthy.  It has been easy to become indifferent to certain issues such as copyrights that have manipulated by companies such as Disney, despite their ironic recent misstep.

Through all of this it has become clear that those who do not understand the internet technology change are naturally fearful of it.

-Colin Musselman (me)

The internet & Web 2.0 has had it’s fair share of criticism; from the MPAA & RIAA lobbying against ‘online piracy’ to the fear of over-personalization.  Even the title of the ‘Machine is Us/ing Us’ implies a negative & fearful expectation for the audience.  But the constant bashing of personalization & cautions of ‘the computer learning too much’ is something I do not agree with.  In fact, I feel that this is something that we should very well embrace.  Yes, the computer does learn from us.  This is great.  What is the worst thing that has happened to someone from this?  Receiving ads that are relevant to your latest google search?

A scary computer that recommends you watch The Mighty Ducks 2 because you rated Toy Story 3 four out of five stars on Netflix


Also the idea of ‘us’ being the machine is something that can be easily construed into a straight-to-DVD horror story.  Human computation is in my opinion one of the greatest and sophisticated concepts today.  Just ask Luis von Ahn, a Professor at Carnige Mellon who has taken the human computation concept to the next level.  First by integrating it into his invention of captchas (those funny looking human-checks) by helping digitize books & his latest project Duolingo having users translate the web while simultaneously learning a new language.  For more in-depth info you can watch this TEDxTalk of his I was able to see in person.

Seen this before? Every time you enter one of these you help digitize a book. MIND = BLOWN

The most important part of all of this is the emphasis on discussion and I believe this is what Wesch was getting at.  His video seemed to not have the message to be timid/afraid about the future of technology but instead be aware of it.  Instead of reacting to the evolution of technology with caution we should discuss it, test it, push it to its limits, see what happens, learn from it, and continue to do great things that change the world.


Project Idea(s)

Taking from the suggested templates for the digital projects I’ll likely create a web exhibit or build an interface to a collection.

As far as the topic for whichever route I take, I’m still debating.  My interests tend to be broad and not very particular.  Most likely I will hone in on some specific niche of my three main interests; music, education, or technology.

I could create a digital exhibit for the discography and history of the record label I intern at.  Or perhaps I could focus on how new technologies have effected how we learn lessons in the classroom.  Regardless, I should probably start narrowing down my options soon…