Friday, February 16, 2007

Survive the Oregon Trail, Part Two

*This week concludes with a wrap-up to the contest posted on Monday. No score submissions, but I finished another ridiculous physical chemistry midterm, so blogging will again continue*

There’s a lot of history behind the game, hailed as one of the greatest games of all time by some gaming websites, which says a lot for something educational. Whether you used to play it in elementary school or if you recently tried it out for the first time for an easy $40 some good ol'-fashioned fun, there are a few interesting ideas to ponder, such as:

Why is there such overwhelming systematic bias toward white males? You have the choice to do many things on your trails, but one choice preselected for you by the game developers is the fact that you, the player, are a white male. And as a white male, your job is to do the hunting, fixing, and bartering. Traditional female roles during the expedition are ignored and virtually non-existent, maybe because they weren’t entertaining enough to children? And why not?

Was it warranted by the developers to leave out details of the interactions with Native Americans during the migration? The game was definitely intended for younger audiences, but be honest: how much do you remember of the Oregon Trail from any social studies classes you took earlier in your life? If you hadn’t taken any classes on the subject recently at Cal, what would you remember most? Do you remember the “Indian Removal Act”? Buffalo extermination? Genocide? If pretty pictures make up our primary education system here, when then should children learn truth?

The power of social class on levels of opportunity. Let’s take our two professions, the Carpenter and the Farmer, as examples. The Carpenter and the Farmer, being the White Males that they are required to be at the onset, decide to take their boring and unnecessary families with them to Oregon City. They have choices. The Carpenter has the advantage of being a part of a wealthier family than the Farmer. He can thus afford to buy more clothes and oxen for his wagon than the Farmer. The Carpenter's family arrives in Oregon City faster and healthier than the Farmer’s family, and with more left-over money to boot. The Carpenter builds and starts his own restaurant, and succeeds in life.

The Farmer's family arrives later in the year, with little food and less money. With few options for survival, the Farmer works long, grueling hours at the Carpenter’s restaurant, and for very little pay. There is never improvement in the Farmer's family’s condition.

The game disclaimer states that, with respect to picking professions, “The harder you have to try, the more points you deserve!” Most of us would agree with that statement, because as Americans we value equality of opportunity and the freedom to advance based on perseverance. But is that the case in real life? In the game, the Farmer had to try harder to get his family safely across America, with less money to be used for necessities for survival. Extrapolating from that, did he have the same opportunities available to him as the Carpenter did when he reached Oregon?

I think you saw it coming, but now pull back your perspective and look at life today: which family would be more likely to succeed in moving to Oregon? Which family has more options when it comes to housing, clothing, transportation, etc.? Which family has more opportunities for career advancement, for educational advancement, for a less stressful life? Which family “deserves more points” but is still fated to succeed less?

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