Some people are hazy on the details of Desert Bus and how this thing got started. Let us make savage war on this ignorance:
It begins with Penn & Teller, the comedy magician duo.
In 1995 they loaned their likenesses and creativity for making a videogame, Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors for the Sega CD. The company that was making the game went out of business before it was released, and the whole project seemingly vanished into the bit bucket.
Back in 2006, when that thing happened to my daughter, she and I were together at Children’s Hospital for several days. The playroom was indeed outfitted with videogame systems (Xboxes, at the time) and while I don’t know that they were the fruit of Child’s Play, I can certainly speak to the utility of such things when a kid is sick and can’t go home to their stuff.
And speaking of 2006, that’s when a review copy of the still-unreleased Penn & Teller game found its way into the hands of Frank Cifaldi, who maintains Lost Levels, a website devoted to unreleased games.
It turns out that Smoke and Mirrors is a lot like the Penn & Teller Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends. The game was a collection of mini-games designed to fool your friends into thinking you were psychic, smarter than them, or good at videogames. All except for one minigame…
Desert Bus lets you simulate a drive from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada. In real time. At a maximum speed of 45mph. And you can’t pause the game. And the bus veers to the right, so you can’t just tape down the button, but must constantly course-correct to stay on the road. If you manage to make the entire eight hour trip, you score one point. And then you can do the return trip. If you drive off the road, you will be towed – in realtime – back to your starting point.
The minigame was a response to some of the anti-videogame rhetoric that was in play at the time. (And, seeing as how I wrote a column about that sort of thing at The Escapist just last week, I think we can conclude that little has changed except the names of the Eternally Offended On Behalf Of The Children.) Penn Jillette explained that the game existed as a way of giving the critics the kind of games they seemed to be demanding: Practical, realistic, and just as boring as real life.
Then in 2007, the team from Loading Ready Run did a charity event: Desert Bus for Hope. The idea was that they would play Desert Bus non-stop in order to raise money for Child’s Play. They would have drivers working in four hour shifts, and would continue to drive as long as people continued to donate money.
From their website:
How long the team has to play Desert Bus is determined by the donations we receiveâ€"The more you donate, the longer we play.
In order to reflect the increasing challenge as the marathon goes on, the donations required to add another hour increase geometrically every hour.
The first hour costs $1.00, and the cost-per-hour goes up by 7% every hour (meaning the second costs $1.07). This means that the 10th hour of busing costs $1.84 and total donations are $13.82, whereas the 40th hour costs $13.99 but has made a total of $199.64.
Last year they raised over $70,000, which compelled them to drive for five days. Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade described it as “a prison made of money”. Seeing as how he helped found the charity in question and his voice drove a great many of the donors to the site, I think it can be said that he is the warden of said prison.
This year the event has four main channels of interaction:
1) A live feed of the game itself, so you can watch the tedium in real time.
2) A live feed of the crew, who do a great job of trying to be as entertaining as possible, as opposed to staring at the screen and talking about how much the game sucks. (There’s only one person driving, but the room is usually full of conversations and fun.)
3) A live chat, which is an anarchic madhouse of hundreds of people vying for the attention of the hosts.
4) Twitter, which is being used to spread the word and also allows people to issue individual challenges and requests. Generally, someone will pledge some amount of money to see some particular deed performed. Perhaps a song they want the cast to sing, or for someone to put on a funny hat. If the target agrees, the donor coughs up the dough and the deed is then done.
(Usually the deed is performed on the spot for the amusement of the people viewing the live stream, but occasionally more challenging feats will be accepted for larger amounts of money, and may require the host to go somewhere else and do a thing. An example: On Saturday night someone put up money to have Kathleen De Vere go see New Moon. On her own initiative she additionally did this drunk, and gave running commentary through Twitter. And later threw up. Despite the drunkenness, the vomiting, and being stuck in a room with the most boring videogame ever made for days at a time, the only complaints she’s made have been about New Moon.)
Visit the Desert Bus website to see the current total for this year, how long they will be obliged to drive, and how you can donate if you feel moved to do so.
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