Imagine a game so horrifically boring it only consists of performing the same action, steadily, for hours at a time. You can't pause the game, and you can't put it on autopilot—it requires constant attention. The visuals never really change. Now imagine playing that game live, for days on end, to raise money for charity. And the more money you raise, the longer you're stuck playing.
The game is the infamous Desert Bus, and the madmen performing this stunt are a group of affable gamers, comedians and volunteers, who at the time of this writing have been playing Desert Bus on Twitch in shifts for 75 hours. As donations come in, it adds to the time they have to play, and the result is a mix between a sleep-deprived marathon and a giant goofy slumber party you can watch live on Twitch.
In Desert Bus, you drive a bus in real time, at a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour, from Tucson to Las Vegas. (This takes about 8 hours.) The road is completely straight, but the bus's alignment skews to the right, so you have to pay attention the whole time. If you veer off the road, you get towed back to Tucson—also in real time. Successfully completing the trip nets you one point, and then it's back to Arizona.
I reached out to James Turner, project manager of Desert Bus for Hope, to ask why the hell anyone would choose such a torturous game to play for days on end. He told me Desert Bus was chosen "mainly due to its horribleness, but also because it's a game that allows the player to be present in the room and not have to focus 100% of their attention on the game, thus allowing them to participate in the show."
And it is more of a show than anything else. The Twitch feed is dedicated mostly to the room full of pajama-clad participants, who are in large part members of British Columbian sketch comedy group LoadingReadyRun. When I checked in, they were either playing Jenga or dancing (aside from the person currently on the controller). The actual gaming screen showing the player's progress is relegated to a small corner, which is good, because watching Desert Bus is just as boring as playing it.
"Year after year we've pushed the event and ourselves as far as we can. Mainly due to our love for the show, and partially because we're insane," said Turner.
As of this evening, Desert Bus for Hope has raised $241,048 for a great cause. And they still have at least 68 hours to go.