Posted by: robinsonwarner | August 25, 2008

The Oregon Trail and the Great Outdoors

I remember when I was growing up that there were very many things in my life that were constantly changing, but there were also many things I could count on time and time again.  Some things I distinctly remember is that girls always liked assholes, Saturday morning cartoons were given to humanity by God as a sign of goodwill after he flooded everything, and that no matter how long you had been in front of your computer, playing videogames, or watching television, your mother would come in and tell you that you had needed to go outside and get some fresh air.  Or maybe they would tell you that you were being a “vegetable” or a “couch potato”.  They might also say something about meeting Betty Sue down at the malt shop in your T-bird, and if tonight was the night you were finally going to pin her and take her to the Spring Fling and dance to Buddy Holly.  Or maybe not.


You would of course roll your eyes and tell your parents you would go outside after the show was over.  However the secret brilliance to this was that Fox Kids was running an X-Men: The Animated Series marathon, so technically the “show” wouldn’t be over until it was time for school on Monday morning.  It was hijinks like this that prompted your parents to chuckle at your prospects of being a great lawyer.  However you always knew in your heart of hearts that you were going to grow up to be a masked crime fighter, or Bo Jackson.


Now going outside was sometimes fun, but it was always on your own terms when it was the most enjoyable.  But there was always a healthy mistrust for the great wilderness and outdoors because you realized the danger it posed.  So I would imagine some of you were fearless adventurers, but I was rather convinced I could die at any moment, largely in part to my avid playing of the ever popular game, The Oregon Trail.


For those of you who supported terrorism in your younger years, were big into Dungeons and Dragons, or maybe feared computers like some of your parents, The Oregon Trail was a computer game that came in many shapes and forms in the mid-90’s that highlighted the human experience of westward expansion, manifest destiny, and stealing land from native peoples.


You could choose to be a farmer, a carpenter or a doctor.  The doctor of course could heal his family members and started out with the most money, the carpenter could fix axels but had less money than the doctor, and the farmer had even less money and couldn’t fix anything; plus he would never stop and ask for directions.  I think he also had genital warts.


Now that was just the starting point, but it was the travel itself that gave me a healthy distrust for the great outdoors.  You would be bombing along in your covered wagon, bored as fuck, and then some alert would pop up on the screen and it would say that “Mary has contracted dysentery”.  Now at 8 years old, I don’t know anything about dysentery, but it didn’t seem good because there was a constant update on Mary’s status with her dysentery informing you she was really sick, or she needed some more chicken noodle soup, or she was throwing up blood, or she had actually turned into a flesh eating zombie.  So as a result you could stop and rest to rid her of this mystery disease.  The only multi-syllabic “d” word I knew at that age was diarrhea; which was often followed by “cha cha cha”.


You would eventually press onward and all of a sudden Sue would get cholera.  Now I was fairly certain that cholera was a monster from Greek mythology with the head of a goat, lion and snake.  I soon learned that was the chimera and so I deduced that more rest would be sufficient to cure Sue of cholesterol, chimichanga, cholera or whatever it was.


And then of course you would keep going and Peter would suddenly be bit by a rattle snake while being molested by wagon robbers when at the same exact moment one of the axels broke during a fit of epilepsy from the oxen.  So, at eight years old here I am learning that if I went outside and went on adventures, I could die at any moment.  I had a very robust and healthy fear of the great outdoors.


I mean even when I was playing indoors on a computer game that details the adventures of manifest destiny, I had cyber-lives in my hands and they were being brutally taken away.  Actually I would get more upset when one of the oxen died than when Pete did.  He always kind of a prick anyways, eating all of the fresh vegetables, farting in the covered wagon and not taking responsibility for it, etc.  There was only one way to remedy this situation:  I had to go hunting.


Hunting in The Oregon Trail was easily the best part of the game where you could shoot bears, buffalo, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, people, and maybe the occasional sasquatch.  The satisfying thing wasn’t that you got provide food for your family and they could live another day, but it was satisfying because you were shooting things; you were a bad ass.  Hunting was so satisfying that you would keep shooting and stop only when forced, furiously clicking that mouse at anything that moved until you had accrued 2,000 pounds of meat, but were only able to use 40 of it.  And people wonder why certain animals become extinct. 


For those of you who were overprotected as children, you weren’t allowed violent videogames, violent movies, violent conflict resolution, violent thoughts, or even violent utensils.  You weren’t allowed to have Doom, one of the most violently outstanding videogames ever, so shooting a buffalo moving 2 mph was the next best thing.  If you read the post about Mortal Kombat, I would imagine you will realize violence was not the problem.  You can read that here.


Now I enjoyed hunting, but I also feared the outdoors as well.  This is not to say that I didn’t go outside most days and play tag or hide and go seek or freeze tag, or indigenous holocaust.  I was like every young child in the mid nineties, but The Oregon Trail reminded me of the power that the wilderness has to completely kick the shit out of us, break our axels and give us cholera.  I would imagine it is this same feeling that the Romantic poets had when they looked out onto the sea and remarked on how sublime it was.  Listen, I get it.  Television destroys your brain, but it is so much fun, parents.  I think there is a healthy medium between letting your child get lost in a wonderful story while encouraging them to enjoy nature’s splendor.  It is terribly important to remind them that only poor people get dysentery anymore so that their cushy, middle class lives are safe from that.  It is also important to remind children that there are no wagon robbers anymore.  People don’t just take things from you anymore and there is nothing you can do about it.  That’s the government’s job.


Go outside, but also enjoy a nice story on television and most importantly, be careful of rattle snakes.


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