Desert Bus: This is a Long Driving Game for Someone With Nothing To Think About

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Desert Bus is a horrible, horrible driving game -- and it was meant to be. In the game, you're tasked with driving a bus from Tucson to Las Vegas. The trick is, you have to drive the bus in realtime, at a maximum speed of 45mph -- which means that the trip takes eight hours of continuous gameplay to complete (and there is no "pause" feature). The steering wheel pulls slightly to the right, so you have to sit there and actually "drive" the whole time. Upon completion of the trip, you get one point. One. If you go off the (almost completely featureless) road at any point, you are towed back (again in realtime) by a towing company, as you watch helplessly. It's utterly maddening. Oh, and once you complete the trip you're offered the option to drive the bus BACK on the same trip. The only blessings seem to be the lack of traffic and the pine tree air-freshener twirling from the rearview mirror. (The mirror shows that the bus is completely empty.)

The game was designed by Penn & Teller as part of their unreleased 1995 Sega CD game pack called "Smoke and Mirrors," and was a response to the Clinton administration's declamation of violent videogames. Instead of violence, "Desert Bus" features dullness. What's surprising is that there actually are a few (very minor) things that happen during your eight hours on the road. While I haven't played the eight hours, Andy Baio reports that there is a "bug splat" on the windshield at various points, you sometimes pass road signs, the lighting changes as day turns to night, and, as I mentioned earlier, if you go off the road you'll be towed back. If you complete the eight-hour trip, you get a screen showing your total number of points (with seven leading zeroes, thus a single successful trip would show the point counter at 00000001), and a clock showing your total play time.

Here's a video of a play session (I urge you to zip through parts of it, as there is almost literally nothing to see for large stretches of the game...or maybe you'll find the utter dullness soothing):

If you like "Desert Bus" (or at least appreciate its cruelty), you'll dig Andy Baio's article Metagames: Games About Games. He categorizes "Desert Bus" under "Abusive Games." Other categories include "Minimalist Games," "Game Mechanics Gone Wild," and "Violent Games."

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February 2, 2011 - 7:31am
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