After dipping my toes into the wading pool of our VR future, I wasn’t quite ready to step away from such realistic depictions of everyday life to once again leap into power fantasy and save the world. I’m too grounded now. I need something that engages me on an intimate level, something that makes me think about my place in the world. I need something… real.
I needed to play Desert Bus.
You’ll hard pressed to find anything more “real” than Desert Bus. It was originally part of the cancelled Penn and Teller game “Smoke and Mirrors” which was to be released for the Sega CD. True to the duo, it consisted of nothing but scam games, designed to trick and frustrate your friends, either by offering unwinnable scenarios or even fooling them into believing that your TV is broken. Desert Bus was equal parts troll and retaliation to the violent games hysteria of the time, the goal being to create the most inoffensive and mundane experience possible. Fair shakes to them, they succeeded.
The game puts you behind the wheel of a bus driving from Tuscon to Las Vegas, stuck on the same featureless straight desert road for eight hours. No, I’m serious. Like, eight actual real-time hours, since your bus can’t go over 45 MPH. Also, there’s a slight veer to the right, so you can’t just tape down a button and walk away. If you do end up hitting the side of the road, you will then be towed… also in real time. Any attempts to pause the game will simply honk the horn. That’s it. That’s the game. Nothing happens for eight hours. Actually, sorry, that’s not true. Around the five hour mark, a fly splats onto your windshield.
Surely there has to be some grand reward for all of your patience at the end of this journey, right? You get one point. One. Point. One-hundreth of a Goomba in Super Mario Bros. You then get to turn around and drive back to Tuscon, because of course you do. It’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t some joke Newgrounds game that came out last year. This was 1995, at the height of the Sega CD’s popularity. Okay, that last part was a lie. The Sega CD never had a height, and in fact the reason the game never came out was because how dead the platform was. It’s still a remarkable relic of a much more interesting package, even going on to be the centerpiece of charity events where masochistic heroes do playthroughs.
Me? I was good with my ten minutes or so in the Java version, satisfied that I finally spent some quality time with a game I’d read so much about. Desert Bus is similar to an experimental film in that sense; not something that needs to be consumed by everyone, but acknowledging that it exists from afar is often good enough.
Now if only they’d make a VR version…