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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Oregon Trail: Saying yes to the common good

Posted by: Hammer / 9:10 AM

The news that Minnesota's tax burden is falling compared to other states feels like good news, right?

For the first time in about 25 years, Minnesota has dropped out of the top 10 in per capita tax rankings, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, and now stands 12th in the nation in state and local taxes as well as in spending. But when taxes and spending are measured as a percentage of personal income, the numbers really nosedive. By that measure, the state has fallen to 23rd in taxes and 31st in state and local government spending, according to the report from the Minnesota Center for Public Finance Research, an arm of the nonpartisan Minnesota Taxpayers Association.

Our tax burden has fallen with respect to income, while our spending has fallen even further. I'm sure many not-very-worthwhile programs have been ended.

But it's worth remembering where some of those tax dollars used to go. From 1973 into the 1980s, the state of Minnesota created the best primary school game ever: Oregon Trail.

Minnesota's need for a state-wide educational computing plan was recognized by a committee under the Commissioner of Administration in the early 1970s. The MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) was formed in 1973 with legislative support. It was ideal for MECC to be founded in Minnesota, as the state boasted a history in computing and was a center of technology after World War II. Control Data Corporation, Cray Research and General Mills Electronic Group were founded in Minnesota as well as many other smaller supercomputer and technology firms. Their first products were instructional systems for mainframes. MECC began building a library accessed by educational institutions state-wide through computer terminals.

MECC introduced their first game, Oregon, in 1974. It was accessible through the MECC Timeshare system library and was entirely text based. Oregon was originally developed in 1971 by Don Rawitsch and two other college students (Paul Dillenberger and Bill Heinemann) at Carleton College in Minnesota. The first Oregon Trail was developed using a teletype and mainframe computer, and lacked sound and graphics. It was simultaneously used by 16 students on separate terminals. In 1974, Rawitsch joined MECC and installed Oregon onto the statewide computer system. Since all schools with computers in Minnesota were capable of accessing the system, soon the game was being widely used across the state by children of many ages.

Just one example of how a small, public investment can benefit millions of people.

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the state of Minnesota created the best primary school game ever

Not to nit-pick, or anything, but it was created at a private school, long before MECC existed.

But of course, without MECC, few kids would have ever played it, at least in those early years.

By Blogger Nerdie McSweatervest, at 2:43 PM  

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