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Gamers Raise Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars a Year by Playing the Worst Video Game Ever Made

“Desert Bus” lets you undertake an eight-hour-long digital road trip in real time

(Andrew Ferguson, via Desert Bus For Hope)
smithsonian.com

Imagine driving by yourself through a featureless desert for hours on end: there’s no traffic, nothing interesting to look at, no one to talk to and you can’t even turn on the cruise control because your steering wheel is out of alignment. Sounds fun, right? That’s what it’s like to play “Desert Bus,” a video game designed to be as boring as humanly possible. For the last nine years, a group of gamers has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity by marathoning this excruciating journey back and forth across the Mojave.

Desert Bus For Hope was founded in November 2007 by the Canadian comedy group LoadingReadyRun, who regularly raise figures in the six digits from their harrowing annual experience for Child’s Play, a charity that donates video games and toys to children’s hospitals around the country, Owen S. Good reports for Polygon. As of Tuesday morning, Desert Bus For Hope has raised over $200,000 and garnered almost 1.5 million viewers on the streaming service Twitch, where they are broadcasting their 143-hour-long odyssey.

Never heard of “Desert Bus?” There’s a good reason - the game was never actually released to the public. Created in 1995 by magicians and entertainers Penn Jillette and Teller for a canceled video game, “Desert Bus” was meant to mimic one of the most boring, awful real-life experiences they could imagine as a critique of the virulent anti-video game lobbyists of the 1990s.

“The route between Las Vegas and Phoenix is long,” Teller told Simon Parkin for The New Yorker in 2013. “It’s a boring job that just goes on and on repetitiously, and your task is simply to remain conscious. That was one of the big keys—we would make no cheats about time, so people like the Attorney General could get a good idea of how valuable and worthwhile a game that just reflects reality would be.”

In “Desert Bus,” players score one point for every trip they make from Tucson to Las Vegas – a journey that takes about eight hours if you drive at a top speed of 45 miles per hour. There’s no way to pause it and if you don’t constantly adjust the steering, the bus will fly off the road and break down, which means taking a real-time tow truck all the way back to Tucson and starting over.

“That first year, we had no plans for food or scheduling,” Graham Stark, one of LoadingReadyRun’s founders, told Parkin. “If it hadn’t been for friends and family coming by with food, and to just hang out and keep us awake, I don’t think it would have succeeded.”

In 2007, the group scored five points over 108 hours of play before a driver crashed the bus. To their surprise, their efforts garnered a total of $22,085, including $1,000 donated by Penn and Teller themselves (Teller also bought the gamers lunch every day after learning about the charity stunt from a news story). As of this writing, the group has raised almost $230,000 and has just over 70 hours left in their journey. If you want to vicariously experience seemingly endless hours of desert driving yourself, you can check out Desert Bus for Hope's livestream here.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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