The Oregon Trail creators included UGA grad R. Philip Bouchard

If you played games on your grade school’s computer in the late ’80s and early ’90s, if you’ve ever traversed a river in an ox-drawn wagon, or if your avatar has ever died of dysentery, then there’s a good chance you ‘ve come across the work of R. Philip Bouchard.

Bouchard, who graduated from the University of Georgia in 1976, is a lifelong science educator, a nature photographer, a writer, and, you guessed it, a creator of the classic 1980s version of The Oregon Trail.

To be clear, Bouchard didn’t invent the iconic game.

The first iteration of the computer game, called Oregon, was devised in the early 1970s by three student-teachers who were amateur software designers. In that game, players bought supplies, hunted for food, and tried to survive the journey out west. The entire game was text-only. The computer printed out prompts, and players typed in their responses. To shoot wild game for food, you had to quickly and flawlessly type the word “bang” when cued.

But chances are what you remember most about The Oregon Trail—controlling a third-person shooter to hunt bison, squirrels, and bears; stopping by famous landmarks to buy supplies; and having family members getting sick with cholera, typhoid, and, yes, dysentery—were all unique to the revamped 1985 game created by the Bouchard-led team at the software company MECC.

Philip Bouchard as a UGA students the 1970s at Lipscomb Hall.

From Science to Software

From an early age, Bouchard was fascinated with learning about the world around him. He recalls wandering around the woods near his Cobb County neighborhood as a kid with a tree identification book trying to tell one oak from another and which pine was which.

“I developed a strong interest in nature,” he says. “From that point on, I would be giving nature tours to a younger sibling and neighbors.”

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