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Originally designed to teach school children about the realities and hardships of 19th century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. The gameplay involved hunting for food, travelling along the trail, and making stops for supplies and rest. Death played a big part of the game, as members of the player's party could fall ill or die from various causes, including measles, snake bites, dysentery, typhoid, cholera, drowning, exhaustion, and accidental gunshot wounds. The oxen drawing the wagon were also highly prone to death, and it shaped the play of the game.
With over 65 million copies sold over forty years, the Oregon Trail was overwhelmingly successful. It became a worldwide hallmark in elementary schools. The Oregon Trail was described as one of the most successful games of all time, and a cultural icon in a review by Polygon.