Desert Bus for Hope is an annual charity fundraiser with a somewhat odd name and an even odder plan to raise money: the people behind it stream themselves playing a video game mini-game that’s universally understood to be terrible for as long as people keep donating. As of this writing, they’ve already played 45 of a grand total of 138 hours this year. Like, in a row.
It all began back in 2007, when the folks of LoadingReadyRun, a sketch comedy group, began broadcasting themselves playing the mini-game Desert Bus from the unreleased 1995 Sega CD video game Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors. Over time, this has grown into a much larger enterprise, with over 60 folks working to make the stream a reality every year. Though it’s only one of several mini-games in the larger game, Desert Bus is perhaps most notorious due to its particularly gruesome design — making it a perfect fit for a lengthy stream.
The premise of Desert Bus is that the player must drive a bus from Tucson, Ariz. to Las Vegas, Nev. The trick here is that it actually has to be done in real-time. There are no skips, no way of speeding things up, no real scenery or passengers, and the maximum speed that the bus can go is a dismal 45 mph. That means it takes at least eight hours to play in order to finish, and there’s no way to pause while it’s happening.
Worse yet, the bus veers slightly to the right the entire time, requiring the player to be constantly vigilant, lest the bus run off the road and get towed back to Tucson.
The fundraiser itself donates all proceeds to Child’s Play, a charity that, in its own words, “seeks to improve the lives of children in hospitals and domestic violence shelters through the generosity and kindness of the video game industry and the power of play.”
Since 2003, the charity has raised almost $35 million total, and over $2.4 million of that is from Desert Bus for Hope alone. Given that it raised over $643,000 of that last year alone and each consecutive hour of play requires more donations to reach than the last, it seems like a fair bet that they’ll top $3 million total this year.
However, what do people get out of actually watching the stream beyond the masochistic satisfaction of forcing a group of strangers to play a truly terrible video game and a sense of generosity for giving to charity? There are live and silent auctions, giveaways, guests and more. For example, LeVar Burton (of Star Trek and Reading Rainbow fame) called in this morning to chat, and Jennifer Hale (of Mass Effect’s female Shepard fame) is scheduled to make an appearance later.
So, if you’ve ever wanted to see a bunch of folks do something fairly stupid for the sake of helping children that are having a tough time, Desert Bus for Hope is a solid choice. There’s all the added stuff, like maybe winning something or catching someone famous on the stream, but at its core, it's about helping kids, and there are far worse ways to spend your time and a couple of dollars.