Lessons From The Worst Video Game Ever

On July 9th, 2013 Simon Parker wrote for The New Yorker about the very worst video game ever created.

Desert Bus is a legendary unreleased game from 1995 - conceived as a satirical part of a collection to be known as Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors. The mind-numbingly-inside-joke-boring gameplay of Desert Bus never made it into the hands of gamers because Sega CD (an add-on for the Sega Genesis console) was scrapped just as the game developer was readying Desert Bus for market.  According to Simon Parker: “The only record of the game’s existence was a handful of review copies that had been sent out to journalists in the weeks before the publisher went bust, in 1995."

As a perverse oddity from a simpler era, the legend of Desert Bus has refused to die. And - in a weirdly inspiring way - Desert Bus has even become a leading example of how gaming and 21st century storytelling can be powerful catalysts for building community.

A game that started as an intentionally boring joke has become, in comedian Graham Stark's words, the "horrible glue" that binds participants and an engaged audience into an annual event about overcoming challenges and sharing meaningful experiences: Since 2007, players have raised over 1 million dollars for sick kids by soliciting sponsors to donate money as they play the intentionally awful Desert Bus.

In my view, the journey from worst game ever to the catalyst for the world's longest running internet-based fundraiser is instructive. In the 21st century, internet users are building tribes around content. And the rules about how those stories are written and spread are not the same storytelling rules that prevailed in the 20th century.

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