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Posted at 9:24 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Heading back to The Oregon Trail (this time, on Facebook)

By Hayley Tsukayama

A Facebook version of The Oregon Trail video game is set to launch today. The Learning Company, which owns Oregon Trail and Where in The World is Carmen Sandiego? -- another classic title coming to Facebook next week -- has indicated the game will launch around noon, though Facebook users have been checking the page since 12:01 a.m.

"I'm so excited I could puke!" one anxious player wrote on the app's Facebook page.

Yes, it's that exciting.

The classic game, invented by three teachers from my home state of Minnesota, is a cultural touchstone for the wired generation. Get a group of young adults together, mention caulking a wagon and suddenly you're in Nostalgia Central.

I have vivid memories of sitting in the computer lab at my elementary school, slogging through typing tests and waiting for the free play time at the end of class, already naming my wagon party after my favorite classmates, tracing the winding westward path and planning the game's crucial first decisions in my mind.

For me, it was always: banker, late winter start, meager rations and a strenuous pace. I ran a tight wagon and never splurged for the ferry. (Come to think of it, my people were never very happy.)

Getting to the final raft trip was always a treat, particularly since we had limited time with the computers in class. I think I probably saw the Willamette Valley only a handful of times when I played in school. But, oh, how sweet it was.

The Learning Company promised that it will steer clear of the in-app purchases that can bog down Facebook games and keep credits out of the picture. "Don't worry," the company wrote to a concerned user on its page, "you can definitely make it to Oregon on your own steam! We wanted to make sure everyone could enjoy the Trail."

Of course, The Oregon Trail has been available on mobile platforms like the iPhone for quite a while now, and it still going strong in PC form. Those versions have more mini-games and side quests now than when I played the educational version in the early 90s, making them perfect for a platform like Facebook.

Because, sure, The Oregon Trail taught us something about Westward expansion, the dangers of overhunting, snakebites and bad berries -- echoes of which all came back to me as I studied American history and manifest destiny in college. But if we're really honest, its appeal is simply that it's a fun game that takes us back to a time when free play in the computer lab was all that kept us going after recess.

So enjoy yourselves, fellow pilgrims. And watch out for cholera.

What are your favorite memories of The Oregon Trail? Are there other old computer games you'd like to see on Facebook?

By Hayley Tsukayama  | February 2, 2011; 9:24 AM ET
Categories:  Gaming  
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