10 Video Games That Got History Wrong

Dying from dysentery isn't as funny as it seemed.

Assassin's Creed III

You don't have to be trawling a chequerboard castle via an Encarta '95 keyboard shortcut to be taught by a video game, and nor do they have to brandish the dreaded 'edutainment' label, a portmanteau guaranteed to provide absolutely no fun at all. Fact is, many games are secretly filling our brain with bitesize nuggets of information all the time - even if they pretend otherwise.

Little did we know as we pointed and clicked our way through Monkey Island that our wordosity was being dramatically widened, or that our understanding of eastern European hamlets was exaggerated by binge sessions in front of Football Manager. We'd also wager that 80% of long-term gamers were introduced to classical mythology not by overpriced private education, but any number of titles drawing inference from the wonders of antiquity.

That said, the medium isn't a perfect source of enlightenment. Learning your chopping chops in the kitchen via Overcooked won't get you invited to Come Dine With Me, and likewise a PHD in Theme Hospital is the quickest route to being disbarred.

When it comes to history, gaming definitely leans more heavily on 'artistic license' than David Starkey's shoulder. You can't blame them... but sometimes the inaccuracies would make Stalin blush.

10. The Oregon Trail

Assassin's Creed III

History major Don Rawitsch gave dysentery to his 8th grade students at a junior high in Minneapolis in 1971, when he developed a piece of software designed to teach them about American expansion into the west during the 19th century. So popular was The Oregon Trail that it had kids lamenting the peal of the bell, and it soon found its way into schools across the state.

Given his expertise in the area, Rawitsch's cult hit unsurprisingly gets most of its history right - particularly areas of pioneer life frequently misunderstood. Just as depicted in the game, Native Americans were seldom hostile towards peaceful pioneers, and dysentery was the ultimate final boss.

That said, Oregon Trail was designed for 13 year olds, and so took certain liberties for the sake of 'edutainment'. Settlers tended to travel as a caravan rather than a solitary wagon, meaning fording a deep river was impractical. The plains buffalo population had mostly been eradicated by the early frontiersmen, thwarting massive hunting sprees for latecomers.

And lastly, when people died along the Oregon Trail, their grieving relatives tended not to memorialise them with an off-beat headstone. The gruelling, nomadic life was nowhere near as fun as it was in the classroom.

Editorial Team
Editorial Team

Benjamin was born in 1987, and is still not dead. He variously enjoys classical music, old-school adventure games (they're not dead), and walks on the beach (albeit short - asthma, you know). He's currently trying to compile a comprehensive history of video game music, yet denies accusations that he purposefully targets niche audiences. He's often wrong about these things.