For the last 40 years, The Oregon Trail has illustrated the experience of the 19th century pioneer in the westward expansion of the United States. While the word “game” is almost always used in its description, I would argue that it is more closely related to a piece of electronic literature. To make this argument, I must first define both video games and electronic literature and then illustrate where it lies upon the spectrum. While there are many similarities and differences between the 2 genres, a videogame has a definite end, whereas a piece of electronic literature could be considered infinite.
There are two specific similarities that I wish to illustrate between video games and electronic literature: first, their capability to involve different endings, and second, their ability to evoke, what I like to call “deeper thoughts” meaning: profound views and notions. Whether the piece under evaluation is Mario Kart 64 or Alabaster (the electronic literature retelling of Snow White) the outcomes vary from time to time. How the gamer plays each event in Mario Kart 64 will determine the outcome of each race and depending on the commands you enter into your computer while reading Alabaster, different events will take place and inevitable change the ending of the story. The second similarity, these “deeper thoughts,” are almost always a product of playing a video game or reading a piece of electronic literature but what these “deeper thoughts” entail is a difference between the 2 genres.
“Deeper thoughts” are the main difference between video games and electronic literature. While video games will often evoke more strategically thoughts, on how to play the game more effectively and increase your chances of winning, electronic literature form thoughts more along the lines of ideas, beliefs, and concepts. While strategical thoughts are still developed, they have very little practical use outside of the framework of videogames, whereas the ideas, beliefs, and concepts developed through the reading of a piece of electronic literature can often be linked to larger theories and life.
The Oregon Trail is more closely related to a piece of electronic literature first because of the deeper thoughts that arise from a reader’s experience. During the experience, there is very little strategy developed because the lack of skill involved. The “deeper thoughts” that arise are more closely related to an understanding of the experience a pioneer had and the realities they faced while traveling The Oregon Trail.
Another reason The Oregon Trail is more closely related to a piece of electronic literature is the face that it is telling the story of westward expansion. Whether the player dies of dysentery or completes the long journey to the west, a story of life and death, as well as one of success and failure is being told.
Just because it is fun to play does not mean that The Oregon Trail is strictly a video game. It has been used as a teaching tool for nearly half a century for a reason. Larger ideas and concepts, like mortality and success are developed and instilled in the player/reader, which makes this piece of electronic literature timeless and infinite.