Terrible Video Game, Great Fundraiser: Meet Desert Bus For Hope

Nov 22, 2014
Originally published on November 22, 2014 11:21 am

What would you give to watch someone else play what's arguably the world's worst video game — for nearly a week?

It turns out, people have given millions, as part of a fundraiser called Desert Bus for Hope.

Desert Bus is the game in question. Sitting in a La-Z-Boy in a room in Victoria, British Columbia, Kathleen de Vere, driving the virtual vehicle, says that playing it is awful.

"You are driving down a long, featureless stretch of highway," she explains. "Occasionally you pass a bus stop. There is no one there. Occasionally you check your rear view mirror. There is no one there."

Yet she drives ever onward between Tucson and Las Vegas ... in real time. It takes eight hours to earn one point. Unless you crash — then you have to start over.

The bus veers to the right, requiring constant correction. And you can't pause the game.

"You stay in the left-hand lane until the torment ends," de Vere says, "and then you do it again."

This rotten game was created in the mid-'90s by the magicians Penn and Teller as a satire on video games. Eight years ago, members of LoadingReadyRun-- an online comedy group in British Columbia — discovered it.

They thought a live online marathon Desert Bus session would be fun, and could raise money for Child's Play — a charity supporting hospitals and domestic abuse shelters. And thus was born Desert Bus for Hope, the world's dullest telethon.

"The first year we raised $22,000 and were sort of like, 'I guess we're doing this every year,' " says Graham Stark, de Vere's co-pilot for this shift.

Since that first year, Desert Bus for Hope has grown to more than 40 volunteers working out of a conference room in Victoria. Stark says they have thousands of viewers watching drivers play. The problem is keeping those viewers interested in the world's dullest game.

"The way I word it is, we are the viewer's monkeys," Stark says. "Like, we do whatever."

They dance. They auction off artwork, gaming paraphernalia and boxes of pastries. They do karaoke to songs from Beauty and the Beast.

Playing Desert Bus, in fact, sometimes seems like an afterthought — which may be why de Vere crashed twice during her 12-hour shift.

"I may have been distracted," she says.

The fundraiser seems to be working anyway. This week, Desert Bus for Hope passed the $2 million mark in overall donations.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

What would you give to watch somebody else play what is arguably the world's worst video game for nearly a week? Turns out, people have given millions. Reporter Ted Robbins tells us about a fundraiser called Desert Bus for Hope.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Kathleen de Vere sits in a La-Z-Boy in a room in Victoria, British Columbia behind the virtual wheel of the video game "Desert Bus." Playing the game, she says, is awful.

KATHLEEN DE VERE: You are driving down a long, featureless stretch of highway. Occasionally you pass a bus stop. There's no one there. Occasionally, you check your rearview mirror. There is no one there.

ROBBINS: Yet, she drives ever onward between Tucson and Las Vegas in real time. It takes eight hours to earn one point, unless you crash then you have to start over. The desert bus veers to the right, requiring constant correction and you can't pause the game.

DE VERE: So you stay in the left-hand lane until the torment ends and then you do it again.

ROBBINS: This rotten game was created in the mid-'90s by the magicians Penn and Teller as a satire on video games. Eight years ago members of LoadingReadyRun, an online comedy group in British Columbia, discovered it. They thought a live online marathon "Desert Bus" session would be fun and could raise money for Child's Play, a charity supporting hospitals and domestic abuse shelters. Thus was born Desert Bus for Hope, the world's dullest telethon.

GRAHAM STARK: The first year we raised $22,000 and then we were sort of like, well, I guess we're doing this every year.

ROBBINS: That's Graham Stark, Kathleen de Vere's co-pilot for this shift. Since that first year, Desert Bus for Hope has grown to more than 40 volunteers working out of a conference room in Victoria. Stark says they have thousands of viewers watching drivers play the game online. The problem is keeping those viewers interested in the world's dullest game.

STARK: The way I word it is, we are the viewers' monkeys. Like, we do whatever.

ROBBINS: They dance, they auction off artwork, gaming paraphernalia, boxes of pastries. They do karaoke, the songs from "Beauty And The Beast."

(GROUP SINGING KARAOKE)

ROBBINS: The game "Desert Bus" sometimes seems like an afterthought, which may be why gamer Kathleen de Vere crashed twice during her 12-hour shift.

DE VERE: Yeah, well, there are some - I may have been distracted.

ROBBINS: Seems to be working anyway. This week Desert Bus for Hope passed the $2 million-mark in overall donations.

(CHEERING)

ROBBINS: For NPR News, I'm Ted Robbins. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.