The online video landscape is a little young yet to have many Thanksgiving traditions, but here’s one of them: The live-streamed charity drive known as Desert Bus, during which members of the Canadian sketch comedy troupe Loading Ready Run torture themselves by playing the most boring video game ever, begins tonight at 6 PM PT.
The past three years of Desert Bus have earned a total of $233,677 for the Child’s Play gamer charity initiative benefiting children’s hospitals, making it the charity’s single largest single donor. Now in its fourth year, the team has already received over $6,000 for this drive — before even getting started.
The rules are simple: A member of the Loading Ready Run team plays Desert Bus, a gag video game created by Penn & Teller to simulate the experience of driving from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada. It takes eight hours of continuous unpausable play to complete the trip and earn one point. The more donations, the longer LRR plays.
The action is tracked with two different livestreams hosted by Ustream: One of the game in action, one of the driver playing it. The latter stream usually includes other members of the Loading Ready Run team keeping the driver company and encouraging those following the action in a live chartroom to keep donating.
Last year’s trip lasted five days and 16 hours, with drivers playing four hour shifts, and this year the challenge has increased, with each of the five drivers (James Turner, Jeremy Petter, Morgan vanHumbeck, Bill Watt and Kathleen De Vere) playing in 24-hour long shifts. The anticipation is that only the first driver might have to take a second shift — however, according to LRR co-founder Graham Stark, via phone, everyone involved has taken the next week off from their various responsibilities. “Regardless of how long we go, we’ll need the rest of the week to sleep,” Stark said.
To support their efforts, special guests call in to the Loading Ready Run headquarters to cheer on the team: Past years have included surprise calls from Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, and this year Zero Punctuation creator Yahtzee and Xbox Director of Policy and Enforcement Steptoe are among the scheduled call-ins. Loading Ready Run has also brought approximately 20 sponsors onto the project: Some of which supply prizes for auction, some of which, like site host ServInt and internet provider Shaw, keep the online action going.
LRR co-founder Graham Stark, via phone, credited those sponsorships to the video game-obsessed site The Escapist, for which LRR produces a variety of web series. “They’ve given us amazing support on their site, and helped us contact the bigger gaming sponsors,” Stark said. Rock Band creators Harmonix this year, for example, have donated copies of Rock Band 2 and 3, as well as a signed guitar, for auction.
Thanks to a formula which sets increasingly larger donation milestones as the donation total increases, the Desert Bus saga will eventually end. But even before the launch, the team has already committed to 90 hours of drive time — so it may be a long time indeed before the ride ends.
Is there a point where this project isn’t scalable anymore? Stark isn’t sure. “We thought that the second year, and then we doubled the amount we earned the third year,” he said. “We’re Canadian, we’re very reserved, so if we can do half as well as we did last year, it’ll already be a major success. I don’t know if there’s an upper limit, but we’re going to keep doing this until we find out.”
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