This piece originally appeared at Fanbyte in April 2022.
When I first moved to the US in the late 2000s, I’d occasionally hear people talking about an old game they played in school called Oregon Trail. I had no idea what it was, because in Canada — or in Ontario, at least — nobody I knew had played it. The closest thing we had was a game called Crosscountry Canada, which admittedly sounds like something made up to make fun of Canadians on 30 Rock. Nonetheless, it was a real game that cast the player as a trucker making their way back and forth across the country, picking up and delivering goods.
I don’t remember much about the experience of playing it, or what it was supposed to teach you. Geography, I guess? The only lasting lesson I remember gleaning was about picking up hitchhikers, which was universally a bad idea in the game — they’d always end up robbing you. (How a hitchhiker steals a trucker’s cargo on foot in the middle of nowhere is a question that Crosscountry Canada left to our imagination.)
Surprisingly, Crosscountry Canada was the second in a series of titles, most of which — including the first release — take place in the US. This is especially odd considering the games were developed by Vancouver, British Columbia-based Didatech Software (later Ingenuity Works) in the 80s and 90s. I imagine they sold Crosscountry USA to schools in neighboring Washington state, but I certainly never heard anyone mention it when I lived there.
All of these games follow more or less the same basic structure. They’re text adventure titles where the player has to manually enter commands, like “turn on truck,” “sleep,” and “eat food.” Of course, as kids we messed around with all kinds of cusses in games like this. As an adult, I am now beyond such things. I mean, I did check to see how the game would react to different words, but after that I was on my way across Canada, checking my map, stopping for breakfast in Toronto, and taking ill-advised naps on the highway in the middle of the night.
I don’t know that I ever actually finished a game of Crosscountry Canada. It was never my go-to game in the computer labs at school, not when more visually striking titles like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiago? were available. And the subject matter, driving a truck across the country, never really appealed to me — it just seemed so mundane. But replaying it now, it’s fascinating how Crosscountry Canada seemed to anticipate the trucking simulation titles of the last decade. Today, games like American Truck Simulator command huge fanbases, and the simulation genre includes detailed recreations of farming, public transit, and other routine aspects of modern life. Crosscountry Canada seemed dated to me even when I first played it in the early 90s, but in a sense, it was ahead of its time.
If you want to get a glimpse of what it was like going to a Canada public school in the 1990s, you can play Crosscountry Canada on the Internet Archive for free. Just watch out for those hitchhikers.