Does anyone else ever overestimate average IF knowledge?

Because I saw this comic linked in a separate discussion, and it reminded me of a time in class, when I outed myself as someone who knows much, much more about a very, very niche part of computer game history than the vast majority of college students. (And compared to people who are much more active in this community, I consider my knowledge baseline at the best of times…)

This post is about The Oregon Trail, of which the status as an IF game I know is somewhat debated. However, Aaron Reed wrote about it in his 50 Years of Text Games project, so I’m going to equate interactive fiction and text-based games here for the sake of simplicity.

So I was in a class about the development of media throughout the last century or so, and just for fun, our professor found the oldest computer still kept on campus (a Macintosh SE Superdrive) and was able to get it up and running for us to play around with in class.

(which, since we didn’t have anything to actually run on the computer, pretty much meant “playing with the three font options on MacWrite” and “figuring out how to change the display pattern”)

Let it be known, because this is incredibly relevant: the school in question here is Carleton College. Also known as the college where The Oregon Trail was originally made. So I, of course, mentioned that it would be funny if there was a copy of the game somewhere on campus already that we could play. Because, you know, school history! legacy! Aaron Reed’s 50 Years piece about The Oregon Trail was actually something I saw as a sort of omen when I was applying to colleges, so the game and the school are very firmly linked in my mind.

But when I brought up Oregon Trail, I was met with blank. stares. No one else knew that it had been made at our school. No one else… in the “Media Archaeology” class… which is exactly where I’d expect anyone at least somewhat familiar with old games to be. I mean, I was there, so I sort of figured there’d be a different level of average computer knowledge in the class? There was even someone who hadn’t heard of the game at all. So. I left the classroom that day feeling slightly insane. I think since I’ve been playing IF games since middle school, despite the availability of many other games with a less intense learning curve, I forgot that they’re really not widely known about, especially among current college students.

Anyway… do things like this ever happen to you guys as well?


All the time. Though it seems to be more their underestimation (10000000 times underestimation) of how hard it is to make an even decent game. But yes, I mention it to someone and they just go … “Oh … like … (I can’t think of one that’s well know but I know there is one) ?” Or if they’re about 50-60, they mention how they played the Hobbit.


I’d only ever heard about the Oregon Trail videogame in an offhand comment from a documentary presenter on the Donner Party, when I was on a kick about learning about famous cases of cannibalism, like Jamestown, as an early teenager. I suppose it, and interactive fiction, have sort of slipped from the public consciousness.

Or- people might run across it, but not be able to identify it as a large genre or body of work. I was a devotee to Fallen London for like, half a decade, before even realizing that the games I liked to play were more specific than ‘text based browser games.’


I was in elementary school during the 1990s and IIRC we had Oregon Trail or one of its sequels/spinoffs on almost every computer we used. I attended two different schools.

At the time, I didn’t know it existed as a text version before it became a graphic game, or that text only games existed. I knew that Scholastic was pushing it pretty hard in its book sale pamphlets though.

(I still couldn’t tell you where it was developed.)


Oregon Trail… Aah that brings back memories. I remember typing it in from a magazine and playing it on a commodore PET computer.

topherPedersen/OregonTrail1978: ‘Oregon Trail’ as Printed in the May/June 1978 Edition of Creative Computing Magazine (

Now I am tempted to bring it to Twine or Dendry :smiley: .


I think I was introduced to Oregon Trail when I was at some sort of science-y summer camp? For some reason our prof introduced it to us, and my mom also had played it as a kid so it sort of entered my general awareness pretty young.

I definitely had a similar experience regarding IF though… I have no idea how long I spent just searching “text based browser games” in order to find games like fallen london and the dreamhold. pretty sure i ended up trying “interactive fiction” in an attempt to change up my keywords and eventually made my way here lol


Thank you so much for the github link!! Definitely going to try to play around with this if I can find the time :grin:


I’ve found that no matter how famous the IF game is, maybe 40% or less have played it, and for anything that’s not super famous < 10% have played.

For instance, Zork. I suspect less than half of people have played Zork on here, even though it’s one of the most famous IF games. Same with Howling Dogs, which has been featured in museums and such. So if I made a post comparing and contrasting those two, the percent that have played both goes even further down.

For games that aren’t all time famous, it’s even lower. If I took a random game that placed < 5th place in an IFComp more than a few years ago, then I bet that < 10% of people on the forum have played it.

Like, I’ll go look up IFComp 2021, 6th place and see what it is and make a poll about it (I could be really wrong but at least then I’d learn).

Okay, looks like it’s ‘Off Season at the Dream Factory’ by BJ Best, one of the most successful recent authors. I’m interested to see how many people browsing this thread have played it:

  • I have played Off Season at the Dream Factory
  • I have not played Off Season at the Dream Factory
0 voters

Oregon Trail itself is a little surprising particularly because of the Actually-Invented-Here context you provide, and the fact that it has grown into a durable mainstream cultural property (there was a handheld edition a few years back sold in major retail locations, etc.)

But I would be surprised overall to find a random individual…

…right, under the age of 45 or so, who readily acknowledged any understanding of a Text Game Trope at all. Yes, Zork was once a cover story in a major US news magazine blah blah, but a lot of stuff has happened since then and a lot of those readers are dead now.


Isn’t limited to coding, IF and chemistry: I was requested soooo often to reduce the Navalese and/or explain the references to little-known Naval things…

e.g. “Only Italian Navy kept a vestigial figurehead”, here I referred to the fact that the prow of every Italian warship has the so-called “Star of Italy” (“lo Stellone”), a little-known thing even here in Italy…


Interestingly, it’s been adapted as an app for phones/ipad-adjacent devices at least twice as well. I remember having the first version on my iPad in like third grade (technically before I was introduced to the original version of the game, and it was very broken so I don’t think I ever actually PLAYED in on the iPad), and now there’s an Apple Arcade version for iDevices. I downloaded it and tried to play it - this version works, which is an upgrade, at least - but I think it was lacking the simplicity that I liked about the original game.

Specifically re: Oregon Trail, the age thing is also fun to consider… I was talking with my mom about this, and it occurred to us that younger people who know about the game are probably most likely to be children of the people who would have played Oregon Trail in school. Most of those kids are still quite young, I think? I’m pretty sure I’m an exception, given that my mom is relatively young (for having a kid currently in uni), plus my own fascination with the broader world of older computer games. I could be off there, admittedly, but it seems right?

What story are you referencing here? I’m just uninformed haha, would love to know specifically


Discussed on discord which format might be a suitable target for bringing the original game into modern IF engines, I am considering Inform, Twine, Dendry (these are the engines I have played with so far, creating a game in each), and dendrynexus and ink were suggested as well. Considering the rather simple means of input (usually a number or a simple choice) I can probably go for any engine and if I am crazy enough (deranged let’s say) might even automate the process… so anyone looking for the original experience… hold your horses it is coming Real Soon Now :sunglasses:

Which system would you like to see the original Oregon Trail written in?

  • Inform7
  • Twine
  • Dendry
  • Dendrynexus
  • Ink
0 voters

Dendry and its fork DendryNexus are really underrated and underused. They do things just about right. Autumn Chen’s Social Democracy, I guess, was really well done. As a history fan, I am biased, but the novel style in DendryNexus isn’t too bad.

Twine and maybe Ink are going to be the ones that will appeal to the most people, since they are easy to use and play. Choicescript, despite me being in the CoG forum for some time, has a low floor, but a surprisingly high ceiling. Inform- well, of all the systems, this one is the easiest for adapting parser for the modern era, but parser hasn’t been the choice of the majority for about a decade now.

In fact, I probably shouldn’t rehash the “which system is best suited for the task” argument. To each their own, alright?

As to the primary question, overestimating knowledge of IF, I have never touched Zork, Howling Dogs, Off Season at the Dream Factory. Zork was the early 80s- I wasn’t even born yet. Howling Dogs? I wasn’t that into IF when that came out. Dream Factory? My first IF Comp reviews were only last year, so I have very little track record to speak of.

Oh I did not ask for which system is BEST. I do not want to start flame wars. Merely get some idea what people would like to see such old thing rewritten in. I can pick any but want to try to go the fancy way and just ‘test the waters’.


I tend to think middle-aged American nerdy types might have heard of, if not played, Zork (this generally seems to hold true) and pretty much everyone in Gen X and most Milleni-olds will have played Oregon Trail (likewise). I definitely wouldn’t assume anything beyond that, either in the general population or in the forum – heck, I go back a reasonable way but I’ve never Howling Dogs or Counterfeit Monkey, I’ve only prodded at Zork in desultory fashion once or twice (I think I made it through the trap door? But not much beyond that), and likewise bounced off of Curses after like five minutes (I think I was a druid and some Romans killed me, or vice versa?)

For an Oregon Trail remake, I think the easiest way to design it would be as a series of storylets so I think that points to DendryNexus?


I don’t know what people would want to see, but I’m pretty sure doing it in Twine will be the least effort and the most flexibility for customizing the display style.

You’d have to find a numeric-input Twine widget. I’m sure these exist but I don’t know the field.


I guess that depends if you’re sticking to the logic of the original or designing a more modern narrative game. The reason I suggested Twine is that the original is too simple to frame in storylets or Inform’s world-model or anything like that. You could do it, but you’d be in for a lot of work bypassing all the modern capabilities of the system, and why bother?


This could well be, as I’ve never actually used DendryNexus and don’t know how gracefully it “downgrades” – nor have I actually played the original Oregon Trail, come to think of it.

The Apple II version seems storylet-ish in retrospect, though; you have predetermined stopping points of three or four different types, with concomitant choices (forts, towns, rivers, and scenic points with no gameplay value) and then in between those you’re basically pulling from a stat-determined random-events deck (wagon damage, disease, etc.) The climactic river-rafting minigame would be hard to implement regardless of system though!


TBF DendryNexus is like… just a few months old (4 months, according to the GitHub) and does not have documentation further than the one available for the main Dendry format. So it’s not weird that no one but Autumn (who owns the repo) has used it so far… The only known game made with DendryNexus is Autumn’s game for the SpringThing, and the code of the game was only released last week…
EDIT: And there hasn’t been any official announcement about the format.

Both Harlowe and SugarCube (for Twine) can handle storylets too, btw.


I think age is a huge factor that has to be considered. Anyone under 25 is very unlikely to have encountered any text games. Only people over 45 or so are likely to have encountered Infocom or classic text games. And people forget history. I suppose what I’m saying is overall estimates of percentages are useful, but the figures will vary hugely by age. And it’s probably a much lower situation re awareness than we would ever like.

I’m speaking as someone who’s 51, and has played IF since 1980 starting on an Apple II with Colossal Cave. Yes that made a huge impression on me! But there are key areas of even IF that I’m not personally familiar with. And that includes never having played Oregon Trail. It wasn’t so well played over here in the UK. So you have geographical patterns too.

That is not to say that people at the school where Oregon Trail was developed shouldn’t appreciate its history :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: But I can fully understand why lots of them won’t know about it.