Desert Bus

By Shamus Posted Monday Nov 23, 2009

Filed under: Nerd Culture 20 comments

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.

This picture is inappropriate on purpose.

Then in 2003, the guys from Penny Arcade launched Child’s Play, which is a charity dedicated to raising money to get videogame stuff for kids in the hospital.

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.

The most boring game ever made.

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.

Link (YouTube)

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 was a thing that happened at one point.

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.


From The Archives:

20 thoughts on “Desert Bus

  1. UtopiaV1 says:

    That says a lot for the Twilight franchise if the very audience it’s aimed at has to be drunk and pass out!

    It’s great what these guys are doing. People who says gamers contribute nothing to society should take a look at this. The brave LRR fellows get 100% of my support!

  2. Brian says:

    Everybody who hasn’t: go and throw ’em a buck. Shamus Young said so*, so you have no excuse now!

    *Shamus Young did not actually say so.

  3. Mrsnugglesworth says:

    I watched this for 7 hours.

    I didn’t join in any of the other feeds, just the live feed of the crew. I didn’t even watch it most of the time, just listened. They are very interesting.

  4. Randy Johnson says:

    Been watching this on and off since it started, like I do every year since 2007. DO A SPACE JUMP, is still the best.

  5. Chris Arndt says:

    I saw New Moon.

    You know what “mind rape” is?

    I do.

  6. AnZsDad says:

    Oh, my God. Hats off to Shamus yet again for pointing me in the direction of more internet/gaming amazingness. I had never heard of this before. (For a “shut-in gamer geek” I’m not very good at it.) This is the sort of event which brings good press to hobbies. Think about the “World’s Longest Outdoor Hockey Game” runs of a few years ago. The media were all over those and there was NEVER a mention of fighting and violence in hockey associated. Perhaps great stuff like this will help to remove some of that stigma from gaming, as well.

    To all involved (Penny Arcade, Child’s Play, LRR) thanks for using your time and creativity to come up with something so cool. Enjoy the experience. Oh, and come up with an entertaining way to raise money for poor Kathleen’s inevitable therapy bills.

  7. krellen says:

    @UtopiaV1: Kathleen De Vere is not Twilight’s target audience. It’s target audience is 15-year old girls. Who scream. Loudly.

  8. midget0nstilts says:

    We should totally do a Twenty Sided charity! Making Shamus archive binge on some terrible webcomics, or purchase and install SecuRom games, or beat New Super Mario Bros., or something. Or we could vote with our donations which one Shamus would have to do! I’d donate for any of those….

  9. Heron says:

    We should make Shamus beat the original Super Mario Bros 3 (on an actual NES) one-handed.

    Uh, for charity, I mean.

  10. asterismW says:

    I agree, they’re quite entertaining to watch. Too bad I can’t watch at work.

  11. UtopiaV1 says:


    Do it Shamus!


    Wouldn’t that be a job for the guy from ‘Until We Win’?

  12. Spider Dave says:

    I highly recommend tuning in during your spare minutes, and donating however you can. A few of my friends brought them sandwiches yesterday to help keep them going!

  13. Doug Sundseth says:

    In related (-ish) news, Reaper Miniatures is selling The Legion of Justice and Caeke for the same charity. If you’re a miniatures person, I recommend you take a look.

    (Not affiliated with Reaper; just like the figs.)

  14. toasty says:

    And this event is why gamers are some of the coolest people in the world.

    Other famous charity people make fancy speeches and tell sob-stories about unprivileged people. Gamers torture each other and call it “Charity”. Awesome.

  15. Me says:

    Best part about this article? That someone went to see New Moon, hated it, and puked.

  16. Heron says:

    @UtopiaV1 (11): I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with that guy.

  17. Lord Xyfets says:

    Wow. This was absurdly convoluted.
    And absurdly awesome.

    [quote=Chris Arndt]I saw New Moon.

    You know what “mind rape” is?

    I do.[/quote]
    I’m so sorry.

  18. This game is probably far more exciting than the one in Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett. In there, you can fly to Alpha Centauri in real time. Once you get there a screen says something along the lines of “Well done, you made it, now go home”

    1. Rayen says:

      doesn’t the trip to alpha centauri with current tech equal like a 50 year trip? wait are we using current human technology?

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