This is one of my favourite weeks of the year. Sure, it’s always cold and rainy, and yeah, final projects are due, and exams are looming, but there’s something that sets it completely apart from all of the other dreary, late-fall weeks: an event called Desert Bus for Hope.
Desert Bus for Hope (or just Desert Bus, for short) is an online fundraiser based out of Victoria, B.C., which supports Child’s Play, a charity that buys toys, games, and other items for hospitals, with the goal of helping children dealing with illness cope with such a stressful and scary time. Desert Bus started in 2007, and as of November 19 this year, has surpassed $4 million (USD) raised in total, with the past four years each raising over $500,000 in the span of a single week.
How do they do it? Desert Bus is the world’s first live-streamed video game marathon fundraiser, during which the participants, a team that has grown to around 60 volunteers, play what is one of the worst video games ever made, and certainly the most tedious. The game, Desert Bus for the Sega CD, has a simple goal: drive a bus along a perfectly straight road between Tucson and Las Vegas. It’s an eight-hour trip with no curves, no traffic, and no challenge to speak of, beyond a slight issue where the bus slowly lists to the right, requiring constant adjustment to keep it from veering off the road. The drivers must keep near-constant focus to keep the bus from crashing, which is no small feat for three reasons: the game is intensely boring, they’re driving in 12-hour shifts, and the room around them is filled with excitement, hilarity, and positivity. The longer people keep donating, the longer they have to play.
While the game is the ostensible draw for Desert Bus for Hope, that last point is the real reason the live-stream has had a steady audience in the 4,000 – 5,000 range since this year’s run kicked off on November 17. The driver is never alone: there’s always a host of other volunteers in the room performing skits and songs, chatting casually, accepting challenges from the viewers, and auctioning off or giving away prizes donated by absurdly talented crafters. The real meat of Desert Bus comes with sinking in to watch for a good length of time, and just revelling in the fun, the positivity, and the hope mentioned in the event’s title.
That tone of the event, the good-naturedness of it all, permeates every aspect of the week. Even beyond the fact that the volunteers putting on the event are putting in an incredible amount of effort and time to raise a massive amount of money for charity, over the course of the week, you’ll realize that they are also a group of wonderful, caring people. It’s from the little things, like making a point to use inclusive language such as welcoming people of all genders rather than “ladies and gentlemen,” or making the event family friendly by replacing swear words with the word “bus” (though slip-ups happen with unsurprisingly regularity). There are bigger gestures, too: there’s a blanket ban on discussing current events (namely politics) on camera or in the chatroom, and more so than ever this year, that’s a much needed reprieve.
We can’t, and shouldn’t, hide from the myriad of turmoils going on in the world right now, but we also can’t immerse ourselves in them 24/7, all year long. We have to take breaks, to have a chance to laugh until we cry, to get lost in the crazy shenanigans until we realize it’s 4:00 a.m., and to immerse ourselves in an overpowering environment of positivity and love. For me, Desert Bus is that week, and this is my eighth year of that tradition. As much as possible without failing classes or skipping out on work, I dedicate this week to relaxing and recharging with a group of people who remind me that, for all of the world’s problems, it’s filled with genuinely amazing, caring, generous people. That’s where the hope part comes from, and if the world has enough people as amazing as the ones involved in Desert Bus, both on screen, and the thousands of supporters around the world, I think we can have some hope for the future.
If you want to join in on the adventure, Desert Bus for Hope will be streaming until sometime late Thursday, November 23, or early November 24, depending on donations. You can watch, join the chat, challenge the volunteers, or donate at www.desertbus.org.