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Desert Bus' raison d'etre: proving why games exaggerate reality

The truth behind Penn & Teller's infamous snore-fest.

Why did American illusionists and entertainers Penn & Teller make the excruciatingly boring 1995 video game Desert Bus, which takes a whole eight hours of unbroken concentration to complete, no pauses or mistakes allowed?

To stick two fingers up to the anti-video game lobbyists of the 1990s, who thought this medium with its exaggerated violence was rotting young people's minds.

"Every few years, video games are blamed in the media for all of the ills in society," Teller told Simon Parkin, writing for The New Yorker not Eurogamer this time.

If only.

"In the early nineteen-nineties, I wrote an article for the New York Times citing all the studies that show video games have no effect on a child's morals. But we wanted to create some entertainment that helped make the point."

They chewed that thought over with good friend Eddie Gorodetsky, a renowned writer (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Two and a Half Men, Saturday Night Live), and came up with the idea of a bus driving game.

"The route between Las Vegas and Phoenix is long," explained Teller. "It's a boring job that just goes on and on repetitiously, and your task is simply to remain conscious.

"That was one of the big keys - we would make no cheats about time, so people like the Attorney General could get a good idea of how valuable and worthwhile a game that just reflects reality would be."

Developer Imagineering put the concept together but, alas, the Sega CD platform fell on its face and the game - beyond a few review copies - was never released.

"...get a good idea of how valuable and worthwhile a game that just reflects reality would be."


But such was the infamy of Desert Bus that it was dug up from the crypts of history to become the focus of Desert Bus for Hope, a fundraiser now in its seventh year, and which we wrote about in our Desert Bus retrospective a couple of years ago.

Teller heard about the fundraiser indirectly and contacted the team, which asked if he'd phone to spur them on. He tried but was told to "f*** off" by the non-believer on the other end who'd just woken up after a Desert Bus shift.

Teller tried again on another number and ended up buying a Chinese takeaway for the team, and phoned back every day of the challenge subsequently to buy the team lunch. He and Penn also donated $500 each to the cause.

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