“One man. One Bus. Three hundred and sixty miles of simulated post-apocalyptic desert and the endless struggle between man and nature personified.” The tagline for computer game Desert Bus makes it sound pretty exciting. It isn’t.
First created in 1995 for the Sega Genesis and now – finally! – launched as a smartphone app, the game requires players to drive a bus along a desert road from Tucson to Las Vegas. The real time journey takes eight hours. If you go off the road, you need to start the journey from the beginning. The bus, which gently veers to the right as it drives at a comfortable (though frustratingly limited) 45mph, requires your constant attention. Each completed journey is awarded with one point. The only challenge is to stay conscious.
The game was developed by American illusionists Penn and Teller in reaction to the anti-video game lobby who spent much of the mid-1990s complaining that computer games were damaging young minds. The pair decided to make a truly life-like game, to prove how utterly pointless a game that reflects reality would be. “Desert Bus was a game we thought would really appeal to people who didn’t like unrealistic games and didn’t like violence in their games. It was just like real, loving life,” Penn Jilette later explained, while discussing it on his daily podcast.
Still, before the game could be launched, the Sega Genesis console became obsolete. Desert Bus seemed relegated to the history books until a copy made its way into the hands of Frank Cifaldi, the founder of Lost Levels, a blog that documents video games that never quite made it.
He reviewed the game on the site and describes his role in bringing the Desert Bus back into the limelight as merely the “guy who torrented it on the internet.”
But mundane as it may seem, the mind-numbing marathon that is Desert Bus has more recently become a force for good. In 2007 the internet sketch comedy group LoadingReadyRun spotted the game and decided to turn the pixelated ordeal into a sponsored race. They founded the Desert Bus for Hope event, in which the more donations they receive, the longer they play. Last year, the group managed to stay on the road for around 10 days, raising $383,125 for Child’s Play, a charity that buys toys for young people in hospital. As they explain: “We here at Desert Bus are really willing to suffer for the children.”
As for whether Desert Bus can claim to be the most boring computer game of all time, Joseph Dowling, co-owner of the Retro Game Base store is not so sure.
“There are many more average, below average and simply dreadful retro games than there are great ones,” he told Trending.