Penn and Teller have a lot to answer for
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
This November, Victoria-based comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun will be playing one of the worst video games of all time for the sake of charity. And it’s not the worst because it’s poorly made or buggy, but because of its cruelty toward its players, its lack of empathy, its mindless, brutal boredom, and its total lack of reward or entertainment. This game, Desert Bus, is awful in a way that few games are.
It was created in 1995 as part of the minigame collection Penn and Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors, produced by the two famous magicians, and quickly became the most notorious game out of the collection. To score a single point in Desert Bus, you need to drive the in-game bus from Las Vegas to Tuscon. It takes a full eight hours—in real time, on a perfectly straight and unchanging desert road, while listing slightly to the right. If you crash into the side of the road, you lose a point and need to be towed back to Las Vegas—again, in real time. It also can’t be paused or saved. The listing slightly to the right means you can’t leave the game alone for eight hours without crashing; you need to be present and actively controlling it the entire time. And after all that, if you score a point by making the long journey to Tuscon, you’re rewarded with… the ability to drive the same route back to Las Vegas. Such wanton malice towards its own players is rarely seen in gaming.
Desert Bus was made partly as a reaction to anti-gaming sentiment that was popular in the media during the ’90s and early 2000s. Penn and Teller, world-famous magicians and television hosts, sought to prove that a totally inoffensive game is both possible and incredibly boring. The idea of the game, and the rest of the minigames in the collection, was to trick people into playing it and not tell them how long it takes to score a point.
Desert Bus remains a thing of gaming legend. Due to being released on the Sega CD, it’s difficult to play today in its original state as most decades-old consoles don’t work with modern televisions. Emulators exist, but purists will always insist that the true suffering delivered by the game can only be experienced in its natural state: On an old TV, with a controller on the verge of breaking down completely, and no idea that you’re about to face eight hours of mind-numbing boredom.